Caesar’s Citizen Headline: “The Jerusalem Church Splits Over Politics!”

Neal Pollard

Barak monitored the results of the latest Imperial policies out of Rome. And he hashed it and rehashed it with his brethren at the fellowship meals, on his job at the fish market, and definitely, with vehemence, within his inner circle of friends and family.  Elchanan came from a long line of zealots, and, although he had become a Christian several years before, his leanings and passion about the matter were well-known to anyone who spent any time with him. Michael, Zechariah, and Esther voiced their empathy for Elchanan’s position, while Gaius, Claudia, Junius, and Manius, ever loyal to the politics of their native homeland, aligned themselves with Barak. Unfortunately, they all also were Christians who worshipped together or in neighboring congregations around Jerusalem. They got so caught up in it that they marched, they protested, they pledged allegiance with oaths, they argued, and they held one another in contempt and suspicion. Meanwhile, Jews and Gentiles all around them lived and died without hearing the message of Jesus and the purpose He died to make available to them. They did not associate those early Christians with love. They had no clue about the heart of the gospel message, the good news they needed in the unstable times in which they lived. They failed to see distinctiveness and kindness. They saw a mirrored reflection of their unregenerate selves. Mired in the smallness of contemporary concern, the church at Jerusalem, distracted from their mission, never taught lost souls, devoted themselves to service, or lived lives that showed utmost trust in Jesus and His power to save and transform. Predictably, these small bands of disciples circled their chariots around themselves and hid their lights under their baskets.

That’s not quite the way Luke records it. Politics was a constant, headline news matter in the first century. There was volatility and polarization. With the theatre and stadiums, there were no shortages of entertainment diversions, too. But, reading the book of Acts, you find a quickly growing band of disciples reaching the thousands in number precisely because they stayed above the sensual fray of politics or any other ephemeral concerns. They understand what lasted and what wouldn’t. From the first verse that records their collective activity, they were “devoted” (Acts 2:42). Their devotion was powerfully, primarily, and passionately Jesus and His will.

It doesn’t matter that we’re 2000 years removed from that, or that our situation isn’t exactly parallel. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our primary focus must be the same as theirs. Ever wonder who benefits the most from our getting mired in the mud of these carnal things? It isn’t Jesus!

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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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My Daily “To-Do” List

Neal Pollard

  1. Be Productive With Your Time (Eph. 5:16).
  2. Be Pure In Your Heart (Mat. 5:8).
  3. Be Proactive In Your Relationships (Eph. 5:21-6:4).
  4. Be Peaceable With Your Provokers (Rom. 12:17-21).
  5. Be Purposeful With Your Life (Rom. 8:28).
  6. Be Praiseful With Your God (Psa. 150).
  7. Be Pleasant In Your Demeanor (Prov. 16:24).
  8. Be Prayerful In Your Decisions (Phil. 4:6).
  9. Be Patient In Your Challenges (1 Th. 5:14; Psa. 37:7).
  10. Be Positive About Your Future (Phil. 1:20-21; 4:13).
  11. Be Persistent In Your Evangelistic Pursuit (1 Cor. 9:19-22; Mat. 28:19).
  12. Be Pitying Of The Downtrodden (Prov. 19:17).
  13. Be Picky About Your Associates (1 Cor. 15:33).
  14. Be Passionate About Your Spirituality (Rom. 12:11).
  15. Be Perseverant In Your Trials (2 Th. 1:4).
  16. Be Prospective In Your Opportunities (Gal. 6:10).
  17. Be Petrified Of Falling Away From God (Heb. 6:1-6; 10:26-31).
  18. Be Powerful In Your Faith (Luke 7:9; 2 Th. 1:3).
  19. Be Persistent In Your Study (2 Tim. 2:15).
  20. Be Penitent In Your Sins And Failures (2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 3:19).
  21. Be Plentiful In Your Gratitude (1 Th. 5:18).
  22. Be Permeating In Your Influence (Mat. 13:33-34).
  23. Be Profuse In Your Generosity (3 John 5; Prov. 11:25).
  24. Be Prolific In Humility (Mat. 23:12; 1 Pet. 5:5).
  25. Be Pining For Heaven (Heb. 11:16; Phil. 1:23).

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What Would Our Slogan Be?

Neal Pollard

A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination.  The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!”  Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.

But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?”  If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be?  For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).

Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:

  • “We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
  • “We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
  • “We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
  • “We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
  • “We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
  • “We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
  • “We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
  • “We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • “We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).

The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.

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LESSONS I WANT MY SONS TO CARRY INTO ADULTHOOD

Neal Pollard

I preface this simply by saying that I have far too imperfectly modeled these lessons far too often, but I maintain their worthiness. The world is rooting for our children to fail and fall, but the Word is written to counteract that! Prayerfully consider the following:

–Character Is More Important Than Charm And Charisma
–Hard Work Is Its Own Reward
–Be Honorable In Every Relationship—The World Sees Too Little Of This
–Conduct Yourself As A Gentleman, No Matter What Society Preaches
–Have The Courage To Stand Up For What’s Right, Even If You Stand Alone
–Notice The “Little” People—Those Who Cannot Advance Or Help You
–Trust Divine Principles Over Cultural Practices…Every Time!
–Purity Of Heart Is Directly Connected To Cleanliness Of Life
–Do Not Leave Devotional Time Out Of Daily Living (There Is No Day You Don’t Need Him)
–Stewardship Is A Whole Life Concept
–Serve God Faithfully And Forever, Whatever Your Profession
–The Church Needs You Now—Procrastination Here Is The Devil’s Delight
–Stay Humble, Especially When You Succeed Or Do Something Well
–Volunteer For Jobs No One Likes To Do
–Who You Marry Has The Most Impact On Where You Are Going—Choose Wisely!
–“Count Your Blessings, Not Your Crosses” (A.U.)—There’s Equal Opportunity To Do Either.
–Love And Respect The Church’s And Society’s Eldest Members
–Realize There Are People Watching You When You Least Expect It—Shine!
–There Will Always Be Those Who Are Led By Your Actions—Be Wise!
–Happiness Is Self-Determined, Not Externally-Driven
–Appreciate The Gravity, Value And Importance Of Your Word
–Never Outlive Your Love For Christ
–Don’t Allow Your Negligence To Cost Other People (Whether Time, Money, Trust, Or Good Will)
–Do Not Let The World Rob You Of The Profundity Of Your Purpose
–Honor The Name You’ve Been Given By Living A Godly Life
–A Moment’s Passion And Indiscretion Can Destroy A Lifetime Of Godly Living
–“Never Do Anything In Your Mate’s Absence You Wouldn’t Do In Her Presence” (Wendell Winkler)
–Appreciate The Preciousness Of Life Every Day
–Make Spreading Cheer A Conscious Priority (And Involve Your Face).
–Choose Compassion Over Cruelty
–Keep A Song On Your Lips
–Lead As Many People To Heaven As You Can And Know That Your Life Will Open More Doors Than Your Lips.
–Integrity Trumps Image… Every Time!

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Psalm 127:3

Allergic To Church?

Neal Pollard

A Christian lady asked her neighbor to attend a gospel meeting with her. The neighbor said neither “yes” nor “no.” He said that he and his wife could not attend church because of her allergies! Apparently, the perfumes of those attending so bothered her that she could not go to a house of worship. He conceded the awfulness of her situation, but he was confident God would overlook their lack of attendance.

This same sister, who knows and loves that couple, had bumped into her sneezy neighbor countless times in the grocery and department stores. The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary with a party they hosted in their home. Many guests attended, most of whom presumably “attended church” somewhere. The sister attended, too, and sorrowfully reported that almost every guest wore perfume. Fortunately, the neighbor survived the party.

Few excuses will outdo getting sick from church. Yet, some of the excuses we give are equally flimsy, if more trite. Truly, God will judge each individual for only He knows the heart and the circumstances (cf. Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 4:12). As that is so, how often is He snubbed and insulted by Christians who willfully intend to miss the assemblies? What does He think of the chronic excuser, who attempts to justify “skipping church” with horribly poor rationale?

True Christians truly seek the Kingdom of God first (Mat. 6:33). Spiritually living Christians hunger for each opportunity to worship God and fellowship with other Christians (cf. Psa. 95:6; Mat. 5:6; Acts 12:12; etc.). Cross-centered saints do not look for “reasons” to miss worship and Bible study with other saints! It is incongruous to think of a spiritual-minded person (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5) battling with the decision (?) of whether or not to attend. May each of us develop the yearning of David and say, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psa. 122:1).

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“Truly In Vain Is Salvation Hoped For From…”

 

  • A politician or political party.
  • Wall Street.
  • Military might.
  • Our net worth or economic savvy.
  • Government programs.
  • The second amendment.
  • Popularity and fame.
  • The worship of nature.
  • Exercise and fitness.
  • The appeal of our good looks.
  • Walls.
  • The importance of our occupation or position.
  • Our national identity.
  • The Supreme Court.
  • Ethnicity and race.
  • Science and technology.
  • Any religious figure besides Jesus Christ (even those claiming to represent Him).
  • Family members and friends.

In Jeremiah 3:23, the prophet writes, “Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.” Jeremiah’s brethren put all their eggs in the wrong baskets. They neglected to see where true hope was found and where saving faith was to be put. Their misguided trust led to their downfall. It cannot be otherwise in any generation, including our own.

We may never say we put our trust in anything besides God, but “the proof is in the pudding.” We demonstrate what’s first and foremost to us every day, in word and deed. Ultimate deliverance from our greatest trials, struggles, and challenges comes from only one source. Jeremiah succinctly identifies it.  Is that what you are trusting? If so, let’s make sure everyone who knows us knows that!

—Neal Pollard

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What Are You Living For?

Neal Pollard

A man had the good fortune and insight to take a chance with a credit card company in the Baltimore area several decades ago. He retired a wealthy, high ranking executive. In the course of his career, he put together a streak so impressive–35 years in which he never missed a day of work–that “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr., wrote him a letter commending him for it. When he retired, the company gave him a classic car as well as many other lavish gifts. He had a great many benefits and perks, the admiration of peers and competitors, resort townhouses, and considerable wealth. But, one day very soon after he retired his life was dramatically changed after a visit to the doctor. He had an aggressive form of cancer. A few months later he was dead.

This is not a commentary on the morality or priorities of the man. I know nothing about either. His story points out that his well-laid plans and successful career could not forestall the inevitable end result common to every man.

It should also provoke a question. What are we living for? Is our identity tied to our career? Do we want to be known as the life of the party? Is it all about travel and adventure? Does life revolve around going to the river, campground, fishing hole, beach, or mountains? Is it sports, shopping, spending, or spirituality? Of necessity, all of us have a central focus. It is the thing that forms the bull’s eye we repeatedly find ourselves aiming at. Too many times, some thing becomes the thing in “first place” over Christianity. Colossians 1:18 reminds us Christ must come to have first place. When it comes to our jobs, Jesus must take first place. When it comes to our recreation, same thing. When it comes to relationships, He deserves primary position. Whatever we say or do, Jesus must be at the forefront.

He warns that we may invest in the wrong kind of treasure rather than the true riches (Mat. 6:19-21). He admonishes us to seek the kingdom first over “things” (Mat. 6:33). He warns against choosing family members over Himself (Mat. 10:37).

When life draws to a close, one will be confronted by the reality of what he or she made first place. Certainly, when we cross the sea of time to eternity, there will be no denying, rationalizing, debating, or arguing what our “bull’s eye” was. But, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all know what’s most important to us right now? It’s what occupies the greatest amount of our interest, time, energy, emotion, and effort. It is what we live for. When we die, will what we live for help us live eternally or be the cause of eternal death (cf. Rev. 21:8)? Let’s hear Paul’s encouragement to “set your affection on things above and not on things of the earth” (Col. 3:2).

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A LOOK AT SOME GREAT MEMBERS

Neal Pollard

Anything special, big and worthwhile a church attempts, be it a new program, evangelism, visitation, the Bible School, or a lectureship, will fail if it rests only on the shoulders of the elders, preachers, or select few. The late Wendell Winkler was fond of saying, “Programs do not work. People do.” Programs are only as effective as the people in the local church work to make them.  It is estimated that nearly a gazillion little things must be done for something of any magnitude to go smoothly, and the active, tireless labor of as many as possible makes all the difference.

Active members are so crucial to a church being successful, in God’s eyes. Here is a tribute to some very special members of a congregation:

The REMEMBERS: These are the folks who don’t “forget” events on the church’s calendar, who don’t say “Oh, was that this week?”  As you involve yourself in the church’s work, you take seriously the ever-relevant principle, “But you shall remember the LORD your God…” (Deut. 8:18). God does not like to be forgotten (Psa. 42:9; Jer. 2:32; Ezek. 22:12).

The DISMEMBERS: These are folks who are willing to sever themselves from their normal routines, preempting other events, to support an activity or event.  Such are living out Matthew 6:33 and Romans 12:1-2. God richly blesses Christians who make such decisions.  You are those who know it is better to “cut off” anything that keeps you from doing what you can for the Lord (cf. Heb. 12:1).

The EMBER MEMBERS: These are members who are involved, supporting the works and activities of the church. You have your fire lit. You want to be a better child of God. Keep the fires of enthusiasm, rededication, and determination burning brightly. We see your glow. It encourages all of us. You can help smoke out spiritual enemies even better through your faithful participation.

God bless every faithful member of His church. Your support for good works is overwhelming.  Let us use each event and opportunity to make the church, with its every member, stronger.

What Does 1 Timothy 4:8 Mean?

Neal Pollard

“The Battle of the Bulge.” It was not just a crucial conflict in a world war. It has come to describe America’s battle with its expanding waistline. Obesity is a national problem. Weight gain often seems inevitable.  “Dunlap’s Disease” is many man’s (and woman’s) problem.  Solomon is rebuking many of us when writes, “Put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite (Prov. 23:2)! A Christian’s body belongs to the Lord and must be properly maintained (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2; 6:19). One’s body can be harmed by overeating and being overweight as it can with alcohol and tobacco.

One tried and true way to prevent disease and bodily harm stemming from being overweight is exercise. Doctors say that no diet is complete without it! Proper exercise aids in the prevention and management of heart problems, diabetes, cancer, and several other serious conditions.

Many times, perhaps defending their own inactivity, well-meaning people cite 1 Timothy 4:8: ” For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Their basic position seems to be that, since exercise “profiteth little” (KJV), they are justified to live out a couch potato’s life. Let us consider Paul’s statement.

THE VERSE IS SPEAKING COMPARATIVELY. The “little” in the first part of the verse is contrasted with the “all things” in the second part of the verse. Compared to godliness (i.e., God-likeness), which impacts one’s earthly and eternal existence, bodily exercise pales in importance. The same can be said of retirement efforts (Matt. 6:19-21), recreation (1 Tim. 5:6), household chores (Luke 10:41-42) and even work (John 6:27).  Yet, all of these are legitimate, even necessary, pursuits. So it is with bodily exercise.

THE VERSE REVEALS THAT EXERCISE DOES PROFIT. What does it do a “little”? It profits. It benefits. It gives advantage. The healthful benefits of exercise are well-documented. Some would contradict Paul and say it does no good at all.

THE VERSE WARNS AGAINST EXTREMISM.  The fitness craze can become fanaticism. Some seem to have made bodily exercise their god! They are obsessed. The Greco-Roman culture, to which both Paul and Timothy were regularly exposed, were extremists on this point. The Greek Games were the original Olympics. The gymnasiums and other venues showed it to be a constant obsession. Paul says such extreme devotion is ludicrous. So it is today!

THE VERSE WARNS AGAINST POOR PRIORITIZING. Anything put before service to the Lord is in the wrong place. It is possible for exercise (and gluttony, TV, video games, etc.) to come between one and putting God first. To this extent, any activity or pursuit is sinful (Matt. 6:33). If you spend several hours per week exercise and only a few minutes studying the Bible, visiting the sick and needy, praying to God, evangelizing, and doing Christian service, your priorities are wrong! If some gave as much devotion to godliness as they did bodily exercise, our churches would be much stronger!

But let us avoid abusing this–and any–passage! Paul is not denouncing exercise. To the contrary, exercise will improve us physically and mentally. It can improve our attitude and performance as a Christian. It must, however, be kept in its proper place. If we are going to be fanatical about anything, let it be our service to God as Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). That is the key to making everything, well, “work out”!