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David division motivation Old Testament pride

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Civil war has broken out in the kingdom after Saul’s death. David is a patriot who loves his people so he offers to treat Saul’s followers well after Judah crowns him as king. However, a man named, Abner, takes matters into his own hands and he defies God’s chosen king. He sets up Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, as their new ruler instead. Abner, who was the general of Saul’s army, along with the servants of Ish-bosheth, make their way to the pool of Gibeon. This was a large pool carved out of rock by Saul’s father. Once they arrive they sit down. On the opposite side of the pool, Joab, David’s nephew, and his servants meet them and sit as well. Behind them, two armies stand in formation, ready for war— brother against brother. Abner, perhaps to prevent the death toll that a larger battle would bring, suggests that their servants fight for them. Joab agrees, but this idea quickly leads to a slaughter. Each servant grabs the other by the head, clinching hair in a tight fist, and cuts each other down simultaneously. This short altercation doesn’t provide a victor, so both armies charge each other. It’s a battle that is fought with so much passion, but God grants David’s army with the win. I imagine the Man After God’s Own Heart did not take joy in this victory. The chaos of war has already taken so much from him, including the life of his best friend, Jonathan.

After the battle of Gibeon has ended, David’s nephew, Asahel, takes off after the fleeing Abner. Asahel was known for his speed and agility, with it being likened to that of a gazelle. This speed allowed him to pass the others that were also in pursuit and he finds himself on the heels of Abner in no time. His swiftness will bring him a swift death. While Abner is not as quick, he is older with more experience. Twice Abner asks Asahel to stop this foolish attempt to take his life, but Asahel doesn’t take this advice. This is when Abner thrusts his spear behind him and the butt end of the spear goes through Asahel’s stomach and out the other side, killing the young warrior. 

This is probably an account you never heard in Vacation Bible School, but there is so much we can learn from this event found in 2 Samuel 2:12-24. We notice how deadly pride can be. First, there is the pride of Abner in rejecting David as king, and then there’s the pride of Asahel. He was famous for being quick on his feet, but clearly slow in thought. Preachers and teachers can become well known for their ability to speak and proclaim God’s word. This fame can also be their own spiritual downfall if they begin to think more of themselves than they should. When we post scriptures, baptisms, or other good deeds on social media for our own praise and admiration, God may be the only One that sees your heart. Those are the only eyes that matter since they belong to the One that will be our final Judge.

We also learn from this story that serving a dead king is futile. As Christians we serve the King of Kings, God’s anointed son. Those standing with Him will always win. Those that chose to take matters into their own hands are fighting a losing battle.

When we read about events like this in the Bible it should also make us thankful for the day when we will enjoy a place where there is no heartache, bloodshed, or wickedness. Even David had to endure his share of trials, but now he’s with the God he modeled his heart after— and, we can assume, Jonathan. No matter what struggle we may find ourselves tangled up in, let’s place our focus on that heavenly reunion. 

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photo via Flickr
Categories
humility poetry prayer pride Uncategorized

From The Pollard Poetry Archives (III)

Two Prayers In The Temple
Neal Pollard

Up high and proud my boasts I declare
I brag and I crow with my head in the air
Til I look in the corner and see him down there
Why is that poor sinner locked up in despair?

I abstain from eating two days every week
I give money too freely, Thy thanks I now seek.
Why is that man crying, the tears stain his cheek
He’s beating his chest, must be some kind of trick.

Lord, I’m not like the swindler, the philanderer, the cheat,
Or even like that tax collector with whose prayer I compete,
I’m walking out now, Lord, my preening’s complete,
But I’ll see You here next time my boasts to repeat

While scarcely detected a man whispered his plea
His face to the floor, if not on one knee
All the sinner could say was, “Be merciful to me!”
And he left more justified than the proud Pharisee.
(Luke 18:9-14)

(prayJune 8, 1997)

Categories
greatness humility purpose Uncategorized

Who Is The Greatest?

Neal Pollard

  • The preacher who dazzles with his insight, personality, influence, popularity, or following?
  • The teacher who is the students’ favorite?
  • The member who is “balling” (making a lot of money and having a lot of success in business)?
  • The family with the biggest house and nicest automobiles?
  • The one with the best academic pedigree, with the proverbial alphabet soup behind their name?
  • The folks who are best known and most influential in our community?
  • The ones who are incredibly fit and attractive?
  • The greatest debater, philosopher, and reasoner we know?
  • The elder who is most successful in his career?
  • One who seems to combine a great many or even all of these attributes?

It could be one of these individuals, but despite and not because of the specifics just mentioned. But, we so easily fall into the trap that causes us to think that those criteria are what make one greatest.  Such can cause us to vest blind trust in them or put them in a higher place than is right. Worse, we can try to be motivated to define and promote ourselves as greatest through these means.

The tendency is so fundamental. Jesus warned against it in places like Matthew 20:25-28 and 23:12. His disciples, like James (4:6-10), Peter (1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5-6), Paul (2 Cor. 10:12-18), Jude (16), and the rest, at least implicitly, address the same trap. We all fight the desire to be seen so as to be admired. We may do so through our marriages, our children’s accomplishments, our economic status, our apparent importance, our having it all together, our professional prowess, or any other asset we feel responsible for having. If we use these things to place ourselves above and/or push others below, we are disqualifying ourselves for greatness in the only way that matters—God’s way. False modesty isn’t the answer, either.

We must look at ourselves as dependent creatures. It’s all His and without Him we’d have nothing!
We must look at ourselves as devoted stewards. It’s all His and He expects us to use it wisely, on His behalf!
We must look at ourselves as divine instruments. It’s all His and He works through us to do His will!
We must look at ourselves as dutiful slaves. It’s all His and so are we, living and serving at and for His pleasure!

The warning and disclaimer is that this transformation must happen at heart-level, rooting out thoughts and attitudes that, while fleshly, are so easy to embrace. If the weeds of pride aren’t dislodged from deep within, this effort will prove impossible. But, if it could not be done, God would not have spent so much time instructing us to live and walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh and mind. It is the old song, “None of self and all of Thee.” To the degree we adorn that mindset and make that transformation, to that degree we will achieve greatness God’s way!

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Categories
pride self service

What Is “Selfism”?

Neal Pollard

I came across the term “selfism” in Dick Meyer’s 2008 book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.  He defines it as “American individualism redefined by the age of marketing, self-help, moral relativism, and the belief that the “self” is something that can be deliberately found or made” (36).  He warns that “it is different than the older, can-do, self-made-man American spirit because it substitutes feeling for doing” (37). Later in the chapter, Meyer ties this hyper-emphasis on self  to a growing belligerence in society.  He writes, “On the Internet, belligerence can be anonymous, faceless, and hence risk-free. In schools and offices, for example, the Web is a problem, because parents and workers say nasty things in e-mail that they would never say in person. Chat rooms, blogs, and online comments are clogged with vitriol and hate-mongering…the need to make others wrong has turned into an addiction” (44).  One of his points in the chapter is that the elevation of self is not just a problem of narcissism, but it has become commonplace to vaunt self by stepping on, insulting, and ridiculing others to do it.  We are witnessing an ever-growing game of “King of the Mountain,” where in a rush to get noticed we are shoving off anyone who might eclipse or overshadow us.

Selfism is Satanic rather than sanctified behavior, but each of us must wrestle with it.  The temptation to join them rather than “beat” them through Christlike humility is ever-present.  What is “one-upmanship” if not an effort to present self as above another? In certain circles, the ability to respectfully and civilly discuss differences has been assassinated by hired killers like vanity, self-importance, animosity, and contempt.

Do we have a more difficult task than obeying Jesus’ command to deny self (cf. Mat. 16:24)?  When Paul urges Philippi to eliminate selfish ambition and conceit while esteeming others as better than self (Phi. 2:3), do we appreciate the polar opposite this is to the cultural arch-hero of selfism?  Jesus came into this world to show us the selfless life.  It is scary to live that way, especially in a world full of adherents to the cult of self.  We fear that being selfless with selfish people will lead to being walked over, preempted, or mistreated.  What will help is developing the faith to trust that living the way God commands leads us to the best life possible.  The best life possible is one where self is suppressed in deference to Christ and others.  Such a life will be noticed as a beacon in our choppy seas of selfism!

Categories
attitude

“NO, HE’S ABOUT LIKE YOU!”

Neal Pollard

A new preacher was moving to work with a church in a community where there were several more congregations. Two of the preachers already working in that area met for lunch and the conversation soon moved to the new preacher. One of the men asked, “Have you ever heard of this guy before?” The other said, “Yes, I know him very well.” The first, picking at the second, said, “Oh? Well, does he preach as well as you?” The second dryly said, “No, he preaches about like you!”

That second preacher had healthy self-image, didn’t he? He was obviously joking, but you probably have met his counterpart-someone who took such self-evaluation quite seriously. We call them the “one-uppers,” “the toppers,” and the one most likely to say, “Oh yeah? You think that’s something.” You hear them at work, at your kid’s ballgame, out with a group of friends, at family gatherings, and even with spiritual family members. Different things may make them tick-arrogance, low self-esteem, insecurity or feelings of inadequacy, a felt need for being the center of attention, and any number of other things. Typically, such behavior is thought boorish and overbearing and only rarely endearing.

The Bible tells the church, with its many and varied “parts,” that no one should “think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3). You are precious and valuable in the sight of the Lord, no doubt! However, you are not more special or valuable than any of His other children. Your soul is not even more valuable than the lost, as yet unredeemed soul of that wino in the gutter, that prostitute walking the street, that murderer on death row, or that blind mute living out a short life in the obscurity of an orphanage in Albania. My Grandpa Mitchell was known to often say, “Remember that nobody is better than you are and you are no better than anyone else!” What an even-handed, level-headed way to look at life. You are better at some things than others, you do better in certain areas of life than others, and there may be one of more things at which you are incredibly talented, competent, or proficient! Be grateful to God and give Him the glory for it or them. But never let it turn to sinful pride or an over-inflated ego. That is a turn off to men and God!

Categories
attitude Bible service

WRONG QUESTION: “WHO’S THE GREATEST?”

Neal Pollard

It was the late ’70s and I was spending the night with my best friends, Patrick and Jody Smith.  We had just finished watching The Bionic Man on TV, and there was a special on Muhammad Ali.  I can still remember his banter with Howard Cosell and the gifted boxer looking at the camera and saying, “I-am-the-greatest!”

“Who is the greatest?” is a burning question in men’s minds.  We want to know who’s the greatest.  Whatever the profession, endeavor, or skill, there are folks vying for the top spot.  People once immortalized for feats and accomplishments, like Tom Courtney, Neil Armstrong, George Washington, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, or Muhammad Ali, fuel future competitors to meet and exceed their successes.

The disciples wanted Jesus to tell them, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1).  On a journey to Capernaum, they argued among themselves about who was the greatest (Mk. 9:34).  Here were twelve men who were selected by Christ to have a part in the greatest work on earth.  That was honor and purpose enough, but they wanted more.  If that was good, being the best of the best was better.  Such thinking was way off base, which Jesus repeatedly demonstrated through His humility, sacrifice, and service for the good of others.

Today, we wrestle with the same affliction.  Whether in our daily lives or even within our function in the church, we can get caught up in being recognized as the best.  This is a destructive exercise and misses the point.  If we are Christians, we are among God’s chosen on this earth.  What a privilege!  We have the highest, most important business to do.  Let us do our best and work our hardest, but let us never get caught in the trap of showing others that we are the best.  The very attempts disqualify us.

 

Categories
poetry

Happiness (POEM)

Photo by Ying Prinyanut

Neal Pollard

What do I need to make for joy?
To beat those troubles that annoy?
Can it be bought or taken from others?
What would I get if I had my druthers?
Would I find it in possessions, investments, land?
A car that’s new or a house that’s grand?
That perfect someone to make me satisfied?
A high position to feed my pride?
When I have seen some with hardly a possession
Who know nothing of materialistic obsession
Anonymous to paparazzi and heads of state
Facing perils and diseases with no way to abate
Living contentedly, day after day
Trusting God gladly to provide them a way
Loving their neighbors and spiritual siblings
All without virtue of a bevy of things
That tells me something, I’d better take notice
Of something the apostle Paul long ago wrote us,
“Whether you have or don’t, or you spend or are spent,
Whatever you face, in life be content.”

Categories
Bear Valley church of Christ Daily Bread Neal Pollard poetry Pollard blog Uncategorized

The Value Of Self-Forgetfulness (Poem)

Neal Pollard

Imagine a garden of flowers

With a rose in its midst in full bloom

This one blossom feels that it towers

Over all others sharing its space and room

It’s sure that its pedals are most plush

No other more red in its hue

No stem greener, no rival more lush

It sought every admirer’s view.

One day the gardener visited the flowers

For a customer desired a bouquet

They’d shared the same sun and showers

Shared the same rich soil day by day.

But the proud flower stretched tall its red blooming

Puffed itself to its broadest dimension

But the man searched out ones unassuming

Their modesty drew his closest attention.

For the budding roses would bloom with more vim

In the care of the interested client

Trusting food, water, and housing to him

The posy proved itself quite reliant.

But the abandoned, proud rose surely wilted

His pedals dropped one by sad one

By each customer it felt painfully jilted

Til finally it was dead and gone.

The moral of the story conjures sadness

But its truth we ought never to hide

Fullness of self is pure madness

We hurt self most when we’re full of pride

Forget self, be more modest as you grow

Don’t seek glory and men’s adulation.

The Gardener sees all and surely does know

How to use us. Trust His perfect estimation.

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Uncategorized

THE GLORY-HOG

Neal Pollard

There are people who die some very gruesome deaths in Scripture–Eglon, Jezebel, the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, Judas, and others, too.  But maybe none is more disturbing than the death of Herod the Great.  A wicked, godless ruler, Herod  Agrippa I had just overseen the execution of the apostle James and intended to do the same to Peter.  About this time, Tyre and Sidon sought to appease and flatter him, subjugated people in need of food from Galilee but who had somehow offended this Judean king.

What happens next is recorded in Acts 12:21-23, but is also found in The Works of Josephus.

Josephus writes that at a festival in honor of Caesar, Herod appeared before the people in “a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful” (344). The sunlight hit the garment making it shine “after a surprising manner” and caused the crowd to spontaneously shout that he was a god.  The people cried, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature” (345).

Josephus says that after he had not rejected their praise, “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner” (346). His pain then became violent and severe, and he lingered five days before he died at the age of 45 in A.D. 44 (347).  The inspired Luke tells us the cause of death–“He was eaten with worms” (Acts 12:23).  Why?  Because he did not give God the glory!

When I understand God’s reaction to those who take for themselves glory that only belongs to God, it should humble me to the core!  If it is a sermon, a program, an idea, an act of kindness or benevolence, a rendered service, an article, a Bible class, a Bible study, an evangelistic success, or any spiritual triumph, I should go the second-mile to deflect and divert that praise! We who preach, teach, and otherwise serve the Lord in any way on any occasion must have a healthy sense of who we are.  Paul says that we have the glorious gospel treasure “in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7).

May we be deeply impressed with that, especially when faced with the flattery and praise of men.  The sports analogy, “Don’t believe your own press clippings,” holds true.  Paul was quick to deflect such praise, saying, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5-6).

The next time we are tempted to be a “Glory Hog,” may these biblical truths rush to the forefront of our minds.  After all, thanks to Herod’s demise, we know how God feels about it.  To God truly be the glory!