Categories
perseverance perspective

“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

carry-cross-600x350

Categories
contentment faith happiness joy Uncategorized

Happiness Guaranteed!

Neal Pollard

Who wouldn’t find that appealing? Many years ago, Hugo McCord wrote a book entitled, “Happiness Guaranteed.” In it, he wrote, “Is happiness difficult? Yes, to those on the wrong road. Is it elusive? Yes, to those who want it without a price. But to the simple, plain folk of the earth, willing to walk God’s road, willing to pay God’s price, happiness is, like God, not far from every one of us.”  Many spend a lifetime in a desperate, elusive attempt to be happy. What if there was a formula for true happiness? I believe we find it in Psalm 37:23-26. This text tells us what we need to be happy.

We need a direction mapped by God (23). If we make life a self-guided tour, we can guarantee ourselves a life of misery. Even a Christian’s heartaches often stem from our trying to “go it alone” without His guidance. He guides us through the Word (Psa. 119:105,133). He knows everything at the deepest level of comprehension. He understands what kind of life will make us happy and miserable. David says life without God’s guidance is chaotic and disorderly. I read about an optometrist who examined an elderly patient and asked, “Can you read the fifth line of the chart?” “No.” “How about the fourth line?” “No.” “Hmm. Try the second line.” “No.” “Surely you can read the first line.” The old man said, “Truth is I’ve never learned to read.” Have we learned to read? Have we gotten into the regular habit of consulting God’s divine roadmap?

We need a delight in His way (23). In a matter of minutes, you can find out what a person enjoys in life. It could be sports, politics, travel, shopping, mechanic-ing, nature, reading, fishing, horseback riding, or stamp-collecting. Kept in proper place and priority, these can be good, healthy, and legitimate. But way too many people get their thrills in illegitimate ways. They enjoy the unwholesome, filthy, perverted and vulgar. To many, “The word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it” (Jer. 6:10). Solomon adds, “A fool does not delight in understanding…” (Prov. 18:2a). God’s outline for living, when followed, leads to delight. Other ways are paved with the heartache of others who foolishly paved those same paths previously.

We need a dependence on God’s providential care (24-25). Seven times in the Psalms, the writer tells God, “The righteous trust in You” (5:11; 9:10; 17:7; 25:22; 31:19; 55:23; 56:3). Your faith can be built if you trust that God, even when things seem doubtful, will provide what is needed and what is best. Not just materially, but in times when spiritual decisions must be made (cf. Gen. 22:8; Rom. 4:18-21). When we place our future, fears and fortunes in God’s almighty hands, we find true happiness (1 Pet. 5:7). David challenges us to find a case of a true follower forsaken by God. Satan wants us to think God doesn’t care about us. That’s what he wanted Job’s problems to do to Job—make him turn against God. If you are suffering right now, be assured that God hasn’t left you.

We need a duty to others (26). Norman Vincent Peale said, “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised” (The Power of Positive Thinking, 54). Psalm 37:26 mentions two responsibilities we, being richly blessed by God, have to others. The  first, mercy, should express itself through acts of kindness. The second, lending, shows generosity. God ties generosity to true conversion. We give our money, our time, our talents, our heart, and ourselves. Listen to the joyful words from those spend themselves serving others. They say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Lk. 17:10).

We overcomplicate life with needless worry, harmful actions, and heavy burdens. So many people, from a financial, social, and physical perspective, have every reason to be happy but are miserable! The opposite of that is true, too. One may be drained of every resource but faith, but no one can rob them of their joy (Ps. 128:2; Pr. 3:18; 14:21; 29:18)!

91yglo5s5dl

Categories
character development influence leadership optimism

How To See The Good In Others

Neal Pollard

Some just can’t! They assume bad motives, intentions, and behaviors in others. They like to predict failure and disaster. Some take that attitude toward people, including Christians. “They won’t last!” “They can’t cut it as a deacon/elder.” “He won’t ever be a good preacher!” “They just want the praise of men.” Think about all the people you know and interact with. Some are exceptionally talented and pleasant and some are pretty worthless and repulsive, but most are in-between the two extremes. But, what if I told you that you could influence what others become?  Barnabas did (Acts 4:36).  He was so good at encouraging people, “encouragement” wasn’t his middle name but his first name. Who was the first one to see good in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:27)? Who saw great potential in Antioch (Acts 11:23-26)? Who still believed in John Mark (Acts 15:37), who Paul would later think valuable once more (2 Tim. 4:11)? Barnabas was a great leader because of what he could see in others. We can make an eternal difference in people by seeing the good in them.

First, take them where they are. Jesus did.  Do you remember when Jesus met Peter (Luke 5:1-11)? Peter calls himself sinful.  We know he was impetuous (John 18:10) and could use unsavory words (Mat. 26:74). Peter’s business partners, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) seemed to have some anger management issues. In fact, Jesus made it an emphasis to take sinful people and work with them wherever they were (the woman at the well, the sinful woman caught in adultery, Bacchus, publicans, sinners, etc.). We will never help people get to heaven if we can’t take them where they are.

Then, see them for what they could be. Whether it’s a non-Christian or Christian, they need us to be able to see their potential and think the best of them. I don’t mean gullibility or compromise, but optimism! Why did Christ put such effort into Peter? He was a sinful man when He met him, made many mistakes while he was with Him, and denied Him in His greatest moment of need (Luke 22:60-62). He saw what Peter could be (John 21:15-17). Look past people’s quirks and flaws; imagine the possibilities.  There’s got to be a soul-winner in every Christian, since Christ commands it of us all (Mark 16:15-16). Every one of us can be faithful, dedicated, and fruitful Christians. Every lost person could have their hearts softened by the gospel–at the least the gospel has the power (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Remember, love “hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Finally, help them be what they can be. It’s far easier to be the critic and tell people what they’re doing wrong. But remember, “To belittle is to be little.” Criticism alone is useless.  It’s a lot tougher to help people improve and to go about helping with patience. Jesus didn’t end His work by telling people what sinners or failures they were. He guided them to the better way (Mat. 7:13). He told the adulteress to stop sinning (John 8:11). He told Peter to go feed His sheep (John 21). When He was through with Zaccheus, he went from thief to philanthropist. Jesus’ whole purpose was to take people afflicted with sin and transform them. It is rewarding work to invest in people and to help them grow. The Bible tells us to help people do better and be better (Gal. 6:1). To see the best in others, be willing to help and lead them (Luke 6:39-40).

If we are negative and pessimistic, that really is just a commentary on us. Look for good in others. Accept, anticipate, and assist!

Categories
attitude joy perseverance suffering

What’s My Excuse?

Neal Pollard

Mark Speckman is an interesting story. He was a High School star linebacker, played Junior College then at a four-year NAIA college at the same position, and then coached college football for 20 years (he followed Dan Hawkins at Willamette in 1998).  He can write, type, use a cell phone, drive, play racquetball, and play trombone (USA Today, 10/4/05).  What’s so unusual about that?  Speckman was born without hands!  He has never let that stand in his way, but has used the handicap to inspire and motivate others.

Each of us will enjoy advantages and suffer some disadvantages throughout life, regardless of our age, income, citizenship, looks, and background.  While some seem to have greater challenges than others, the greatest determining factor seems to be attitude, focus, and determination.  Do I use my “handicaps” as an excuse? Am I full of self-pity? Do my problems cause me to give up and check out?

We will not know on this side of time what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know it tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7), drove him to his knees three times in prayer about it (12:8), and was a weakness for him (12:10).  He writes this after detailing the many trials he faced for doing what was right, preaching the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-33).  Yet, he never fell back on any of this as an excuse for failing to reach, teach, serve, and help others.  Apparently, as he hurt within and worked through his own limitations, he kept his focus on doing the Lord’s work through his Christian service.

The question is not whether you suffer and struggle or even if you have a thorn to contend with.  In your own way, you probably will and on an ongoing basis.  Will it be a crutch or a catapult?  Will it hold you down or launch you higher?  That depends on you.  What will you do about it?