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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Christian, Who Are You?

Neal Pollard

  • You Are An Insurance Agent—Life (Philippians 2:16), Health (cf. 1 Peter 2:24), and Fire (2 Peter 3:9-10).
  • You Are A Tour Guide (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 8:31).
  • You Are A Soldier (Ephesians 6:10ff; 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • You Are A Slave (Romans 6:17).
  • You Are A Firefighter (Jude 23).
  • You Are An Ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • You Are A Priest (Revelation 1:6).
  • You Are A Conductor (2 Corinthians 2:14; 9:11).
  • You Are A Day Laborer (John 9:4; cf. Matthew 20:1ff).
  • You Are A Farmer (2 Timothy 2:6; Luke 8:5).
  • You Are A Fisherman (Matthew 4:19).
  • You Are A Gem Distributor (Colossians 1:27).
  • You Are A Taste Tester (Colossians 4:6; Hebrews 5:14).
  • You Are Royalty (Revelation 1:5-6).
  • You Are A Student (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • You Are A Body-Builder (Ephesians 4:16).
  • You Are A Restorer (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1).
  • You Are A Physician’s Assistant (Hebrews 12:12-13; cf. Mark 2:17).
  • You Are A Standard-Bearer (Philippians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:13).
  • You Are A Builder (1 Corinthians 3:10).
  • You Are A Judge (John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 6:2).
  • You Are A Nutritionist (1 Timothy 4:6).
  • You Are A Maintenance Worker (Phlippians 2:2; Titus 3:8,14, KJV).
  • You Are A Cleaner (2 Timothy 2:21; James 4:8).
  • You Are A Runner (1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2; 5:7; etc.).
  • You Are A Boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26).

I’d be amazed if I did not leave out several of our job titles and descriptions. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of work for all of us to do. The next time we find ourselves figuratively twiddling our spiritual thumbs, wondering how we can be involved, let’s draw from the exhaustive inventory of tasks the Lord has left us!  Remember, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23).

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DIVIDING OVER POLITICS

Neal Pollard

“Rancor” is synonymous with hostility, bitterness, spite, and vitriol. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul warns the Christian against “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice.” While it didn’t seem possible that this election cycle could produce more heat and saber-rattling than the last couple, it has already exceeded it. It is almost painful to watch the cable news networks, but we should expect the world to behave like the world. Yet, when I see brethren so vehemently defending their candidate and excoriating those who disagree with them, I am truly disheartened. Social media continues to pour gasoline on this already potent fire.

I try to imagine the apostles and early Christians, were they to have such an outlet, tying into one another and beating their chest as they debated each other over the merits of Claudius over Nero, devoting so much time arguing their points about which candidate would better favor the cause of Christianity.  Inspired writers had every opportunity to show such a participation and bias, but they are conspicuously silent. While I do not agree with the extreme that David Lipscomb took in his book On Civil Government, can we not, if we are not careful, veer toward the other extreme through blind allegiance to rulers who, when dispassionately and objectively viewed, honor and demonstrate evil over godliness? Whether it is foul language, deceit and dishonesty, and glorifying sexual immorality (a la Playboy!) or lying, pro-abortion, and criminal behavior, I am baffled as to why a Christian should get so invested in one candidate or exorcised at the other.  May we never prioritize America over our dear brotherhood or our heavenly goal. We gauge that priority by our thoughts, speech, attitude, and actions regardless of what we claim.

As a husband and father for whom the prospect of grandchildren may not be many years hence, I grasp with such personal investment the gravity of this year’s election and the current world situation. Yet, I can let the fear of that eclipse the infinitely bigger picture. What a glorious day it would be if we could steer our consuming passion toward Jesus and the mission He left us!

You may have a decided leaning toward the Republican or Democratic offering in this year’s election. Given this year’s choice, I don’t believe you can cling to either without your hands being very dirty. That being said, may we all be prayerful and imminently restrained in our interchange especially with our brethren and before the eyes of the world. Our unity in truth, our common mission, and our Christian example are eternally more important than politics. Period!

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Embracing The Struggler

Neal Pollard

So much is said about the deficiencies of youth and young adults in our current culture. While every generation has its shortcomings, I have observed a hopeful trend. Perhaps it rests on the faulty foundations of political correctness and relativism, but young people today seem much more prone to accept and nurture those who have discernible difficulties like handicaps, mental or physical challenges, or social limitations.

Another way it shows up, specifically in the church, is the way they rally around those who are spiritually broken or in need. When a teenager or young adult responds to the invitation, watch how their peers flock to their side to show their support. This beautiful, tangible act is reflective of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it is a trait that the father so wanted from the older brother (cf. Luke 15:20,31-32). It looks a lot like the tender goodbye between Paul and the elders in Acts 20:37.

This willingness to reach out and comfort one another is a supremely biblical way of interacting within the family of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”  God calls His people to have that kind of nurturing spirit. When we see those who are physically hurting, we should respond (Mat. 25:35-36; 1 Jn. 3:17). When we see those who are emotionally hurting, we should respond (Rom. 12:15). When we see those who are spiritually hurting, we should respond (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). The response should be more than token and certainly should not be heartless and surface. It should not be shown with favoritism, but to everyone who is in need of it.

This warm and loving response may not come as naturally to some of us who are older, but oh how crucial it is that we stretch ourselves to do it. Embracing a sinner does not mean embracing a sin. Let us discipline ourselves to see the difference. Hear the words of the Hebrews 12:12-13: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

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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 The Israelites Lost Besides Canaan

Neal Pollard

If you were to ask the typical Bible student what the consequences of Israel’s following the foolish counsel of the ten negative spies, you might hear talk of the wilderness wandering or the fact that God denied them the Promised Land. This was truly, from a physical standpoint, the most visible result of their faithlessness. Yet, looking closer, the Israel of that generation lost much more. They teach us today what not to do in doing the Lord’s work.

–They lost proper perspective. Who did Israel send to Canaan? Every tribe sent a “leader among them” (Num. 13:2; lit., “An exalted one; a king of sheik; captain; chief”). Also, who was Israel? They were not a people chosen of God because they were the biggest, strongest, or fiercest nation, but because God loved them (Deu. 7:7)! But, when Israel goes into Canaan, they walk by sight (Num. 13:28,32) rather than faith. They saw the giants, not the God who made them. They saw themselves as grasshoppers (Num. 13:33), not God’s people! They saw by fear and not by faith.

So often, today, we set our aim too low because our perspective is skewed. We launch out as far as we can see and go no farther. This hamstrings our budgets, our goals for evangelism, and the extent of our involvement in needed works. If we focus solely on ourselves, we become latter day followers of the Israel described in Numbers 13.

They lost sight of their purpose. Why had they left Egypt? At the bush, God told Moses (Exo. 3:8,17), and Moses, between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai, told Israel (Exo. 13:5). From the days right after their exodus from Egypt, Israel knew she was journeying toward Canaan. Certainly, she was prone to get sidetracked, as when Aaron led the calf-building project (Exo. 32) and when the people periodically, bitterly complained (Exo. 15-17). But, they ultimately plodded up to the precipice of the Promised Land. They camped at the corner of Canaan. This was where they were going. What happened? A few challenges, formidable as they might have seemed, derailed them. Rather than occupy the land God promised them, “They said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt'” (Num. 14:4). How exasperated with them God must have been!

Do we get like that today? Our purpose for being on this earth, to win souls (Mat. 28:19), help our brethren get to heaven (Jas. 5:19-20), help people in need of it (Jas. 1:27), and save ourselves (Acts 2:40), can get lost in the shuffle of career success, material gain, worldly acceptance, and even the material rather than the spiritual concerns within the local work of the church. Why are we here?! That determines where we go from here!

They lost the sense of their identity. They were God’s special people. He had covenant with them and they with Him (Exo. 24). They were God’s children. Exodus 6:7 captures succinctly God’s sentiment toward Israel, where God says, “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.” Nobody could defeat them. Nobody stood a chance before them. They were the hands and feet of God on the earth. No army stood a chance against them. They could have recalled Egypt as “Exhibit A” of this (Exo.. 15:4; Heb. 11:20). Instead, when they looked in the mirror of fear, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.

Christians are God’s people. We are the Lord’s army (Eph. 6). Can you think of fighting for a more powerful ruler? We are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12; Col. 1:18). Can you think of a healthier, stronger organism? We are branches of His vine, and the Father’s the farmer (John 15). No drought, pest, or conditions can keep us from being weighed down with fruit for Him! Yet, we have got to conquer the cricket concept if we want God to be pleased with us!

We are able to do more for the Lord, and we are able to do it better. But, this requires our enthusiastic, wholehearted participation in the work of the church. Don’t let the giants of time, apathy, inaction, and distraction turn you back. Through Christ we can do all the things He’s already commanded us to do! On to the milk and honey!

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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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Live Beyond Yourself

 

Neal Pollard

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

The first stanza of the powerful, convicting poem by C.T. Studd has been the seeming anthem of one of God’s great, 21st Century spiritual warriors, Cy Stafford. I first met Cy around 2000, and his balanced, measured information and guidance helped us identify and deal with a false teacher in East Africa. His interest and concern were for the Christians, new and more seasoned, who might be impacted by this man’s influence.  That godly zeal for God’s people was an indicator of the mind of a missionary, minister, and mentor of men.  The subsequent years have shown me what a true leader and visionary, with God’s help and to God’s glory, can accomplish. Cy is not larger than life, gregarious, charming per se, or glossy in any way. He is steady, focused, and determined.  He has helped change the world by equipping men and women to reach the world. Alongside so many missionaries and Christians indigenous to East Africa, Cy has steadily worked to grow the church and its influence where some of the earth’s poorest and humblest people live.  He often has spoken of the window of opportunity that daily shrinks and he has worked with an urgency to do what he can to make sure everyone has the opportunity to hear the gospel at least once.

Cy and Stephanie have made countless sacrifices of time, comfort, safety, and security because their mission was far broader than themselves. While some in ministry appear motivated by self-interest, self-promotion, and self-absorption, the Staffords have valiantly sought to put the spotlight foremost on Christ and then upon others’ needs.  On whatever day each exchanges the cross for the starry crown, their legacy will have been that of living beyond themselves.   What a convicting challenge to each of us to engage in thoughtful self-examination! What is my agenda? What is my aim? What is my aspiration?

“Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Hebrews 11 speaks of great Old Testament heroes of faith who lived and died as those with a “desire” for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one…” (16). These same ones are called “strangers and exiles on the earth” (13), whose sight was set much higher than self. The whole of the New Testament reveals that a heart set on heaven will reside in one who also has his eyes on others (cf. Phil. 2:3-4). All too rarely do we receive such vivid examples of individuals who have so fully committed themselves to the Great Commission, who challenge us to imitate them in living beyond self. Cy is one of the best examples of this I will ever know.

“Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. “

God, give us more Christians like Cy Stafford! Let that begin with me.

cy and stephanie

Things That Get The Church Excited

Neal Pollard

I grew up in the church, and something I learned long ago is that the majority of God’s people want to serve and please the Lord. There are sin problems we fight, doctrinal confusions we must confront, personality issues that arise, and distractions that sidetrack us far too often, but many times we fail to recognize and acknowledge that, with proper direction, a great many Christians are ready to mobilize and be about our Father’s business.  While the elders, deacons, and preachers have been frequently meeting together for the last couple of years to plan and organize the work here at Bear Valley, we have discovered so many positive things about each other. We are closer to each other and more excited about the church’s work.  We care more about the lost and the saved, and we are eager to prove it and spread that attitude congregation-wide.  As we have met and excitement has continued to build, I have been reminded of some basic, vital things that creates such an environment.  Here are three needed things I believe that still get the Lord’s people excited.

Purpose.  Have you ever heard a sermon on the church’s work and purpose? Of course! And bulletin and periodical articles, Bible classes, and gospel meetings and seminars. We talk a lot about purpose, but when you take tangible steps to accomplish the saving of souls, non-Christian and Christian souls, and meeting genuine needs you get excited knowing that you are partnering with God to do His will on this earth. Often, you have to measure progress in baby steps, but when you can look over an increment of time and see progress, it is absolutely exciting!  When Barnabas worked with Antioch, he “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23).  Purpose of heart still encourages the church!

Unity.  I’m not talking cheap union that is built upon nebulous, conviction-less coexistence, but unity built solidly upon the bedrock of truth!  That kind of unity is forged by having the difficult discussions, teaching the whole counsel, and striving together to fulfill the will of God.  When you couple doctrinal conviction with the aforementioned purpose, the net result is a unity that excites!  Joining with others who have the faith to take God at His word emboldens and propels you forward to do great things, right things, that glorify Him.  The inspired David point this out, saying, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).  Tell me that is not exciting!

Leadership. Who sets the pace in articulating purpose and urging unity? Leaders! We know who leaders are. They are the ones leading.  They know where they are going and how to get us there, too.  We hear their voice and are eager to follow.  We are not willing to blindly follow those who are not right behind the Chief Shepherd, but those who are, in word and deed, we are willing to follow even through thickets and brambles. We trust them. We believe in them.  In fact, “We esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Th. 5:13).  God has designed elders to be those “senior leaders,” and He expects us all to be growing our spiritual influence and example.  It’s exciting to be a part of a church full of people conscientious about their influence!

I’m not unrealistic or purely idealistic.  I know that the Devil is unhappy with the church who is actively working to fulfill God’s purpose, being united in truth, and possessed of church leaders who have Christ as their pattern. We can let selfish ambition and improper motivation undermine the Lord’s will.  But, let’s not be unmindful of how great the work is and how great our opportunity to partner together with Christ and Christians to do it. It’s exciting!

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HOW TO MAKE GOD SICK

Neal Pollard

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.