Categories
evangelism prejudice

Avoiding The Samaritans

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength


Brent Pollard

I recall a decision in 1999 to take the “scenic route” home from the Richmond (Virginia) metropolitan area, where I had attended a lectureship, to my home in Coffee County, Tennessee. West Virginia and Kentucky indeed proved to be beautiful states, but I added about three hours to my trip. I was exhausted. I decided to stick to the fastest route in the future.

In New Testament times, there were many routinely taking the longer route. No, they were not enjoying the scenery. According to Charles F. Pfeifer, author of Baker’s Bible Atlas:

“Prejudice was so great that many Jews chose to detour across the Jordan and travel through Peraea, rather than go through the land of the despised Samaritan, when making trips from Galilee to Judah.”  (Pfeifer 1)

It appears a trip through Peraea was more palatable since it was a district inhabited by Jews during New Testament times. I wonder how many hours this detour added to their journeys?

Jesus made a point by traveling through Samaria on this one occasion. What was that point?  Everyone needs Him. I imagine this point seems less significant compared to the “meatier” portions of John 4. Typically, we focus on His discourse with the woman at the well. Yet, note verse 4. Translations vary in the wording, of course, but the gist is that Jesus had to travel through Samaria.  (I do not deny that His rationale may have been logistical, to save time. Regardless of the exact reasoning, however, Jesus intended for the Samaritans to hear the Gospel. We see early Christians taking the Gospel there in Acts 8. Therefore, Jesus provides an example by speaking to the Samaritan woman, showing Samaritans deserve the Truth.

That the Gospel is for all was a hard lesson for even the Apostles to learn. Consider the example of Peter. The Lord chose Peter to preach to the first Gentile convert to the Faith (cf. Acts 10.9-15,28). Even so, Paul had to later rebuke Peter for avoiding the company of Gentiles for the Jews who had recently come from Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 2.11-14). Can this not also be a hard lesson for us? In our era of identity politics, it is easy to feel uncomfortable among those who do not share our demographic. Thus, we go out of our way to avoid others with whom we share less in common. We avoid others because they have more or less melanin in their skin. Socioeconomic difference likewise becomes a justification for avoidance. Maybe we don’t want to associate with someone less educated than ourselves. Whatever the reason, we may go out of our way to avoid such persons.

It is time for us to stop the unnecessary detours we take to avoid contacting those making us “uncomfortable.” Everybody needs Jesus. The Lord expects that you and I must go through Samaria too!

Sources Cited:

1 “New Testament Palestine.” Baker’s Bible Atlas, by Charles F. Pfeiffer, Baker Book House Co., 1961, pg. 191. 

Categories
resurrection

Because He Lives

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words (Round 2)

Gary III

Gary Pollard

 

This song by the Gaithers was written in 1971 at the height of the Vietnam War. Also happening in this country was great civil unrest, school and public arena shootings, civil rights/suffrage/anti-war protests, political unrest, economic downturn, and concerns over the rising influence of communism. It was written during the Cold War when children had to do nuclear attack drills at school.
I never noticed how important the line, “this child can face uncertain days because He lives” was until seeing the year it was published. Those were definitely uncertain days.
Our time isn’t much different. I don’t have to elaborate on the stuff that makes our days uncertain – we’re very aware. We are able to handle what’s going on because He lives. No political unrest, civil disorder, threat of war, disease, or economic downturn can keep shut us down for good because He lives.
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He hold the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
Categories
Bible study cancel culture mind political correctness study

The Virtue of an Investigative Mindset 

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Socrates famously said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Obviously, Socrates did not say that one cannot learn since that would sabotage his career as a teacher and philosopher. Instead, Socrates meant one could not take what he believes for granted, understanding that his “knowledge” may be incorrect. Socrates told us always to investigate. There is a certain humility arising from this mindset.

Consider an example of two such people who questioned: Copernicus and Galileo. For how many hundreds of years were people taught that the earth was the center of the universe before Copernicus showed them otherwise? Even so, Catholicism banned Copernicus’ book after his death. Within a few decades, Galileo, who assumed Copernicus’ mantle, stood trial for teaching the same heliocentric model. Galileo was forced by the Catholic Church to recant his life’s work. Yet, we know how the story ends. The Ptolemaic geocentric model of the universe, embraced by Catholicism, would not withstand future scrutiny and would be abandoned, vindicating both Copernicus and Galileo.

This virtue of the investigative mindset should not surprise Christians engaged in a study of God’s Word. We are encouraged to be noble Bereans, checking what we hear by the standard of Scripture (Acts 17.11). Furthermore, we must test the spirits to see whether they are of God (1 John 4.1). There is a warning to us that we should reject even an angel’s message if it is contrary to the revealed Gospel (Galatians 1.8). The father of lies is Satan, who used one lie to murder humanity (John 8.44). Since he works to deceive, and his ministers can take on the appearance of servants of righteousness, Paul encourages us to take our confidence in our weaknesses, which highlight God’s strength (2 Corinthians 11.13-15, 30).

Unfortunately, we seem to live in an era encouraging lockstep conformity in thought. There are those calling this “progress.” Critics rightfully call it “cancel culture,” pointing to a desire of “social justice warriors” to cancel contrarian viewpoints. If beliefs can only persist within an ideological vacuum, how is it any different from Catholicism forcing Galileo to recant? It is not. So, those ironically crying “fascism” in the streets act as the brownshirts of Hitler’s fascism in Nazi Germany. (I apply this truth secularly and politically since it is evident on the news and in the streets.)

In regards to politics, of course, the end is inconsequential for the Christian, since he or she must submit to the governing authority (Romans 13). Note we are not told to waste our time trying the political spirits, but those purporting to be spiritual. It may be that in making a stand against false religious doctrine, though, that we will enter into conflict with a political ideology glorifying what God calls abomination and permitting infanticide. However, that is not our principal task.

Praise God that our struggle for wisdom is much simpler than that of Socrates. After all, we believe in an infallible God who gave us His Truth within the Bible (John 17.17). We can admit our ignorance of what that Word says and test those things we hear from preachers, but we are not left to grope blindly for truth. Indeed, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”  (Proverbs 9.10 NASB). Ultimately, it comes down to adopting the mindset of Paul, who determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2.2).

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Categories
Bible exegesis interpretation Uncategorized

“Weaponizing” The Bible

Neal Pollard

While politicians have quoted the Bible as far back as the founding fathers, have you noticed the trend especially in the last 20 years or so to use Scripture to push a policy or score a point? Perhaps it’s to pander to a group or to reinforce one’s position. During the historic impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, the Bible was “weaponized” by both sides of the aisle in embarrassing, repulsive ways. One side compared the impeachment trial of the President to Jesus before Pilate, producing a tasteless, horrific analogy. The other side ripped Romans 1:25 from context to admonish the President’s supporters as worshipping the “creature” more than the “Creator”–I wonder if this extremely liberal politician bothered to read the very next few verses? The God of heaven must be filled with righteous wrath over such misuses of His Word!

Unbelievers have long tried to weaponize the Bible against those who believe God’s Word is inspired. A favorite “go to” is Matthew 7:1 (“judge not that you be not judged”) as a shield for any number of immoral deeds which Scripture itself condemns. This is often an effort to turn what people claim to follow (the Bible) against them to defend their actions. John 8:7 (“let him that is without sin cast the first stone”) is a close second and used similarly 

Yet, each of us needs to be careful not to remove a Bible verse from its context to make it say what it is not saying. Peter warned that “the untaught and unstable distort” the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). Often, it’s a general ideas like “God wants me to be happy” or misuses of Scripture like “where two or three are gathered together in my name” to have it say what it does not mean.  Perhaps we defend our actions with our physical or Christian family by appealing to wonderful Bible concepts like grace, love, and freedom, but in effect weaponize them to suit our lifestyle choices. Scripture itself says these concepts can be misappropriated (Jude 4, 1 Cor. 13:4-7, Gal. 5:13, etc.). 

Scripture is a powerful weapon which God intends for us to use in spiritual warfare (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:14-17). But, as with every weapon, it must be handled properly (2 Tim. 2:15). I must understand that God will be displeased if I misuse this omnipotent tool. Used properly and in context, Scripture is powerful. Used otherwise, we will hurt ourselves and probably others!

221b Baker Street

Categories
government politics priorities priority Uncategorized United States unity

Knowing What D.C. Stands For

Neal Pollard

Inasmuch as we don’t want laws or policies enacted that violate God’s Word and we want precious freedoms, especially religious ones, preserved and protected, we can really get into what is going on in Washington, from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue. Many know that “D.C.” is an abbreviation for “District of Columbia,” an area of land created at about the time of our nation’s founding under the direct jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress that is not a state.

However, as politics has vied for sports and entertainment as an idol in our culture, it has become the source of unnecessary and even immoral strife between Christians. Blind support and allegiance for one major political party or the other can do more than make us inconsistent. It can make us a stumbling block. It seems to me that D.C. can stand for some dangerously different things.

Distracted Christians. Search high and low in your New Testaments, written during the time of the wicked, often unfair-to-Christians, Roman Empire.  The disciples were about the business of evangelism (Acts 8:4) and growing the church (Acts 6:7). Can the rumblings and drama from the nation’s capitol get us so transfixed that we cannot see past it or through it to our individual and collective mission as God’s people? He has us here to get people into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Everything else is secondary. 

Divided Churches. For as long as I’ve been preaching, I’ve seen politics come between brethren in the local church. Thankfully, it does not usually become significant enough to trouble the entire congregation but I have seen it do so. What’s more, I’ve seen brothers and sisters become so confrontational and flagrant about politics–especially through the relatively recent medium of social media–that it has been a stumbling block to new and weak Christians. Perhaps the political world in our country has never been so intensely divisive as it currently is, and what typically troubles the world troubles the church. But, when souls are negatively impacted, God will hold the offenders accountable. 

Devil’s Cauldron. Please don’t misunderstand. Politics, like money, is a neutral matter. But, like money, it can become the root of all sorts of evil (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10)–enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions (Gal. 5:20). Just prior to this list of activities that are the carrying out of the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), Paul warns, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14-15). Who benefits when things like politics distract and divide Christians? It is not the lost, the church, or the Lord!

I can think of a least three godly, wonderful Christians who are public servants in political office and making a profound impact for good–Bill Reiboldt, Sheila Butt, and John DeBerry. They demonstrate that God’s people can devote themselves to politics without sacrificing their faith and example. For those of us “on the outside looking in,” in our love of country and freedom, may we never allow our attitude, words, or actions to betray our highest calling. The more effectively we reach lost souls, reflect the mind of Christ, and reveal the hope of the gospel, the better our nation (and world) will become. What will that make us? Disciples of Christ!

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From my last trip to Washington, a few summers ago. 
Categories
attitude perspective Uncategorized worldview

What You See Depends On How You Look

Neal Pollard

You get to choose, just like Jesus did (Mark 2:14) and the Good Samaritan did (Luke 10:33). When you look, who or what do you see? May I encourage us all to…

  • See people, not pigment.
  • See souls, not status.
  • See minds, not money.
  • See Christ, not color.
  • See relationship, not race.
  • See opportunity, not obstacle.
  • See hope, not hopelessness. 
  • See by faith, not by features.
  • See spiritually, not stereotypically. 
  • See empathetically, not exclusively.
  • See persons, not politics.
  • See biblically, not bigotedly.
  • See impartially, not impassively.
  • See lovingly, not loathingly.
  • See compassionately, not condescendingly.
  • See eternally, not externally.
  • See responsibility, not reactions.
  • See bridges, not bunkers.

The world tells us to see the things or in the ways represented on the right hand side of the comma. But the Word urges us to focus on the left hand side of it. Don’t let the world be your guide.

Categories
attitude brotherly love division social media Uncategorized unity

The Fight Between The Skunk And The Snake

Neal Pollard

Some time ago, I wrote, “I passed by a skunk and a snake, fighting tooth and nail. I didn’t stop and pet either or take sides. I got out of there as fast as I could.” That was metaphorical rather than actual, though I’ve had encounters with each animal individually. My point had to do with some of the “fights” that regularly occur on social media about some of the most unnecessary causes.

The common ground of these posts and articles are their extremely polarizing effect, drawing a multitude of allies and opponents. So often, they relate to matters that, of themselves, will not effect a single person’s eternity (though the poor stewardship of time, emphasis, tone, and attitude might imperil more than a few).

I have been tempted to weigh in on probably a thousand of these spats and civil wars, but I do not. It’s not that I do not have decided views on nearly all the debates. Instead, I try to project myself into the future. Will it expand my influence for Christ for good? What will my comment add to the spirit of brotherly love, magnanimity, unity, and church growth? Will I truly be helping struggling souls? Will it elevate the view of Jesus’ bride in the eyes of the lost, the weak, and the wayward? 

After reflecting, the answer is always the same. I cannot answer that for my interjecting brethren. Nor am I one to avoid preaching or personally discussing matters because they may be unpopular or alienating. However, because social media is more impersonal and lacking in the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interaction, we run a much greater risk of being misunderstood. 

Today, controversy can be created in real time. As a good friend of mine put it, “Everybody has a megaphone now.” What really requires courage is stepping out from behind a computer or phone and personally interacting with someone we disagree with in civil, loving discourse. It may not foster page views, mass reactions, and reams of online comments, but in the end it may reach more hearts and minds. 

In our current culture, dividing people into camps against each other is incredibly easy. But is it wise? Is it right (Proverbs 6:19b)? 

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Categories
abortion government politics race social media Uncategorized

How To Unite In A Culture Of Division

Neal Pollard

It’s no news flash to observe that our culture seems hopelessly divided along political lines. That seems to impact race, gender, and other lines, too. The most tragic consequence of this is that it has not left the church unaffected. Social media is often a barometer for how emotional and passionate brethren on both sides of this divide can become when discussing some specific aspect of this. We cannot hope that social media will provide the answer. Who your friends are and what their leanings are on political issues influence what shows up on your homepage as they share politically or socially charged blogs, videos, and the like. Pundits have, for a few years, theorized and analyzed the reality of a “political social media bubble.” Barton Swaim, in an August 1 article on The Weekly Standard online, said, “more than any other social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter are avenues for the kind of acrimony that has embittered our politics and poisoned reasonable dialog” (https://www.weeklystandard.com/barton-swaim/a-political-social-media-bubble). It’s not just conservative publications making that observation. Google the term “political social media bubble” and conservative, moderate, and liberal outlets can at least agree about its existence (a trip to The Guardian, New York Times, National Review, et al finds plenty of material if written from different points of view drawing different conclusions).  Too often, God’s people get drawn into this hurtful, messy arena and turn on each other like gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. The God of heaven must certainly weep.

This weekend, I visited the Lord’s church in Chesapeake, Virginia, a state that is often a political cauldron boiling hotter than many other places. I’m not sure how many congregations were represented, but we had to have had close to half white and half black people attending (with various Asian and Hispanic visitors there, too). Politics were mentioned a few times, but only in the sense that they have too often become a stumbling block and distraction in the Lord’s church and that they cannot solve our nation’s problems. But I was beholding the answer without it having to be pointed out. Those in attendance had a thirst for a “thus saith the Lord.” People of different colors lovingly, naturally worshipped, fellowshipped, visited, laughed with, and enjoyed each other throughout the weekend. It was genuine. It was deep. It was powerful. And it was neither contrived nor manipulated. Its glue and bond was the blood and body of God’s Son. Christ is the great uniter. As we unite on His terms and His way, we destroy barriers. That’s by design.

What Paul says to Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2:14-18 can have application between black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, male and female, or however our country wants to erect barriers. Christ is our peace and can break down the barrier of any dividing wall. He helps us view each other as “fellow citizens” and “family” (2:19) who are “together” (2:21,22). When we get ahold of that, nothing can keep us apart!

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At yesterday’s PM worship services at the Chesapeake church of Christ
Categories
culture Uncategorized worldview

Alternate Realities

Neal Pollard

I don’t know when I first noticed it, but I’ve noticed that it has dramatically intensified in the last few years. We might call it the “CNN-Foxnews Dissonance” where a specific event is viewed, explained, and interpreted in such different ways that the observer is left believing that it could not be just one single event but two totally different events instead. The cultural divide in our country is distinctly felt, and it is baffling that the world could be seen in such different ways by people who coexist beside each other day by day. Environment partially explains it, where we grew up, who influences us, and what we value. However, what guides our life–our authority–is perhaps the biggest influence on how we see the world. All of us base our lives upon a premise, a purpose, and a prospect (i.e., where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going). This belief system materially effects how we see our world.

Your worldview effects:

  • The value you place on people, especially as compared to other living things (animals, plants, etc.)
  • The value you place on human life, especially the most vulnerable ones (the pre-born, mentally challenged, chronically ill, terminal, and elderly)
  • The value you place on other people, especially compared to your own rights, feelings, etc.
  • The value you place on objective truth (whether or not you believe it exists)
  • Your stance on moral and ethical matters involving human sexuality
  • Why and how you interact with people in your various relationships (work, school, family, friends, etc.)
  • How you think, talk, and act.

It’s no wonder that people see our culture and our world so differently from each other. It’s more a matter of perception than proximity.  What erases these typically harmful dissonances is a mutual willingness to submit to the supreme authority. If we let God through His Word tell us how to see the world and if we come to it truly determined to listen to Him without prejudice and hardened hearts, we can see eye to eye on anything that has ultimate meaning and impact. What divides us from each other may be ourselves as much as the other person–our view of God, His will, and our submission to it.

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Categories
culture Current Events hope nation opportunity peace Uncategorized United States unity

What To Do When Faced With A Sinking Ship

Neal Pollard

The ship is breaking apart. The timbers of civility. Crack! The planks of morality. Splinter!  The mast of critical thinking. Pop! As we hope to stay afloat, we cannot help but feel growing apprehension over the current state of our society. It’s not a matter of preserving or plastering over a past. It’s a matter of preserving peace in the present, but only if that means God’s people are serious about sharing the only possible remedy–Jesus! Yet, as it increasingly seems our country is ratcheted by prejudice, hatred, division, and rancor, we see the tranquility and calm from so many quarters threatened with the dark storms of violence and uncertainty.

In Acts 27, Paul was with 275 other passengers on a boat bound for Rome from Caesarea, and its captain decided to test the Mediterranean Sea at a turbulent time. A violent storm, known as Euraquilo, caught the ship and ultimately battered it to pieces. It must have been an apprehensive time for the passengers and crew. Luke says the wind was violent, the ship was driven, the sun and moon didn’t appear for days, violently storm-tossed, they incurred damage and loss, and that all hope of their being saved was gradually abandoned. I cannot imagine the helpless, vulnerable feeling they must have felt. At least not literally.

It would be easy to let our national unrest and storminess tempt us to act irrationally (like some on Paul’s ship were tempted) or to give in to fear. But, Paul did five things we should do as we try to respond to the current turbulence.

  • He listened to God (Acts 27:23-24). Nobody else had a better or equal solution to their dire problem. The only way to be saved was to listen to God. Paul sought to persuade the people of this. In the ruckus and tumultuous noise, listen harder to God’s Word! It’s an anchor in stormy waters.
  • He believed God’s Word (Acts 27:25). It’s one thing to comprehend something, but quite another to put your trust in it. What God promised must have seemed quite far-fetched, that this way would save everyone. But, Paul didn’t waver. He said, “I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (25). We are surrounded by people who need to witness our faith. As many as are persuaded will escape a shipwreck of faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19).
  • He encouraged hope (Acts 27:21-26). Despite the foolishness of their leaders, these people were given a message of hope. Paul says, “Keep up your courage!” (22,25). Despite the frightfulness of the moment, Paul offered a possible escape. Right now, you and I are uniquely positioned to give the only true hope available. It’s like an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19)!
  • He warned the disobedient (Acts 27:31-32). There were those trying to break from God’s Word and will and do things another way. They were trying to take matters into their own hands. Paul spoke up against this! Such was defiance against the divine plan. What a message for us, who justify their sins rather than repent of them. We need to keep the message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come before people (Acts 24:25).
  • He prayed faithfully (Acts 27:35). In this ordeal, Paul was a public example of prayer. Read every epistle of Paul’s and you’ll see his faithfulness in and dependency upon prayer. He appealed to the God he knew was the only hope for salvation. How much are we praying about the turmoil in our country (and world)? How much do those around us believe that we are dependent upon God?

Instead of focusing on the frightful winds currently blowing, let’s focus on the One who can calm the storm. Let’s get others to join us in that focus. Whatever happens to our nation, we must save as many souls as possible!

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