Altars And Allies

Altars And Allies

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Israel had made political and religious decisions, all of which showed they had left God for the world. Hosea addresses these in Hosea 8. Their national and spiritual interests were to make treaties “among the nations” (10) and make “idols for their own destruction” (4). God did not recognize Israel’s kings and princes (4). 

As irrational as Gomer’s decision to leave the love and provision of Hosea for lovers who used and abused her, Israel’s apostasy was self-defeating. On the surface and at the moment, it may have seemed alluring and promised satisfaction. But they were setting themselves up for hurt and failure. Look at how the inspired prophet evaluates their decisions:

  • They were carrion for the vulture (1).
  • They were incapable of innocence (5).
  • They sowed the wind, and they were going to reap the whirlwind (7).
  • They were swallowed up (8).
  • They were a useless vessel (8).
  • They were a wild donkey wandering alone (9).
  • They were going to writhe in oppression (10).
  • They had erected multiplied altars for sinning (11).
  • They regarded God’s laws as a strange thing (12).
  • They were going to return to a state of bondage (13).
  • They were going to be devoured by fire (14).

It must have pained Hosea to write those words. No doubt, it pained God to have to say them. But, Israel persisted in her unfaithfulness. What was it like for God to look down, day after day, only to see that His chosen people paid no attention to Him. He never entered their thoughts. They pursued a path He knew would only lead them to hurt and destruction. They sought protection from fallible, wicked people. They offered praise to vain, lifeless idols. All the while, their Creator and caregiver was there wanting to be their shield and salvation! 

The application may be obvious. We have the same choices today. We can put our trust in our country and we can make something (work, relationships, pleasure, etc.) the object of our affection in place of God. We may, like Israel, still come to worship (13), but spend our lives with something else laying upon the altar of our heart. That was the condition addressed by Hosea. That was what God illustrates through spiritual adultery. God is belaboring the point, but it’s an eternally important one. He wants us to get it because He loves us so much! 

Ancient altar discovered at Manoah (via Biblewalks.com)
The Little Boy With The Front Row Seat

The Little Boy With The Front Row Seat

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

It was a great Sunday night crowd. Why not? Between the monthly Q&A sermon, the monthly singing night, and the ice cream fellowship, there were several additional drawing forces. It was so enticing for one grade-school boy that he made the unusual decision to sit on the front row, dead center. If you were there, you probably saw him. If you weren’t, you can see him on YouTube.

This young man had an unobstructed, undistracted view to some significant events. First, he was literally a couple of feet from Hiram as he preached. On multiple occasions, when he posed a question to the audience in his sermon, this young man nodded in silent answer. He was “locked in.” If he moved or squirmed, I didn’t see it.

Second, he witnessed the love, care, and support of the church family during the invitation song. One of our new Christians responded, asking for prayers and expressing a desire to live a more faithful life. Joe not only had the preacher on one side and an elder on the other, but the little boy had to move down to make room for several men who came down front to show their love and support for Joe. This great young man watched the emotion, joy, and concern of a church obeying the command, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16).

Third, he sat there and sang several songs after the response. Each time I looked, he was enthusiastically trying to sing even songs he probably did not know. He has an expressive face, and the prevailing emotions I could see–including when I led–appeared to be all positive and interested.

After services, he was in the multipurpose room (MPR) indulging in some ice cream and having as much fun as a little boy could hope to. He was visiting and playing, and he was eating. Then, he went home.

I did not get the chance to ask him if he enjoyed being at church last night, but I think I know the answer. Children don’t do the best job of pretending, if they do or don’t like something. He appeared to have enjoyed himself. But he did more than that. He served as a great example to me. Not only did he come to the worship, but he came to worship. As he gave, he also received. I’d like to think his experience last night will be something he never forgets, something that serves as a foundation for his spiritual future. His mom brought him last night. Pray for him, that as he grows up, he will develop a faith that brings him to worship and carries him through life (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5).

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me…” (Mat. 18:1-5).

Kevin praying for Joe, with our little fella on the front row (far left next to Bryce)
No Regrets

No Regrets

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Did you see the candy bar commercial where the tattoo artist was so into her chocolate that she accidentally inked the words “no regerts” onto the arm of the tough, bald guy? When somebody eats something with high calories but that is tasty or stays up too late at our house doing something fun, they might borrow that phrase. There may be some cost involved, but the point is that it was worth it.

Yet, there is really only one area where there can truly be no regrets. There is a word in the New Testament that means “experiencing remorse” (TDNT 589). With this word, there is “the sense that one wishes it could be undone, be very sorry” (BDAG 639).  It is found five times and translated “regret,” “feel remorse,” and “change his mind.” 

  • In the parable of the two sons, one was asked by his father to work in his vineyard. He answers, “I will not,” then “afterward he regretted it and went” (Mat. 21:29). In explaining the parable, Jesus rebukes the chief priests and the elders because they did not feel remorse (regret) for not believing the message of John the Baptist (Mat. 21:32).
  • In Matthew 27:3, Judas felt remorse about betraying Jesus. While he returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, he did not return to Jesus like Peter did. He took his own life. 
  • Paul at first felt regret for causing the Corinthians sorrow, but ultimately he did not regret it. Why? Because he helped them achieve “a repentance without regret” (2 Cor. 7:8,10). 
  • The writer of Hebrews quotes Moses and Samuel to remind us that God “will not change His mind” (7:21). He is perfect and, unlike man, makes no mistake or misstep that he should change it. 

These passages give us some great insight about how we can conduct our lives without regret. First, we will not regret serving our Father, even if it goes against the grain of what we prefer or desire. What we will regret is knowing He wants us to work in His vineyard but letting something, anything, to keep us from it. Alexander Graham Bell is credited with saying, “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” True regret is not seeking the open door of service. 

Second, we will not regret the effort and self-denial involved in repentance. It will hurt and cause us sorrow, but it will produce an end we truly want if we are thinking as we should be. That was Paul’s message to Corinth and to us. We cannot let our remorse be so strong that it keeps us, like it kept Judas, from overcoming the overwhelming tendency of guilt which Satan will use to defeat us. 

I don’t suppose any of us make it through this life without thoughts, words, and actions we regret. But, there is a difference between momentary regret and a regret you cannot overcome. Thankfully, God gives us the needed insight and encouragement to break free from the prison of regret. He calls us to a life of no regret. Let us live it! 

What It Takes To Follow Jesus

What It Takes To Follow Jesus

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Luke moves from a sample of Jesus’ teaching and work in the synagogues to His teaching and work among the common people in Luke 5:1-11. For the first time, in Luke five, we see individuals responding to His teaching by following Him. Though Luke only identifies one of the men at this point, the three other gospel writers mention that Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew, was also in that number. Matthew and Mark tell us that the men in the other boat were James and John. These four fishermen would soon “be catching men” (10). Luke seems to focus his attention on the reaction these men had to Jesus, His teaching, and the impact the miracle with the fish had on them. Their reaction to Jesus mirrors the reaction we need to have when called by His Word to follow Him.

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES EXPOSURE TO JESUS’ WORD (1-4).

Luke shows us Jesus teaching in close proximity to the fishermen, but gives no clear indication of how much or if they are listening to Him. He does show how compelling Jesus’ teaching is and how the people were listening (1). John tells us, though, that Andrew had already been listening to Jesus and was trying to persuade Simon to follow Him (1:40-42). Paul’s teaching that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17) will be apparent in the lives of these followers, as Luke will demonstrate in this gospel and the book of Acts. We cannot follow one whose ideas, instruction, and incentives we do not know or believe. 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES UNCONDITIONAL SUBMISSION (5-7).

This is not a one-time act. Submission is a process that must be practiced continually. But, no one can choose to follow who does not surrender his or her own will to Christ’s (cf. 9:23-26). Jesus, the carpenter, tells these fishermen how to fish. Despite their all-night total failure at their craft, they trust Jesus’ word. Simon says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets” (5). Success followed submission, something they would see in greater, more important ways as they continued to follow Him. Jesus asks us to do difficult and perplexing things. Our task is not to question, but simply to surrender. 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES A HUMILITY TO SEE OUR SINFUL SELVES (8).

Simon will show traits which prove him to be a work in progress, from impetuousness to inconsistency. Yet, Jesus could see his heart and the inspired Luke sheds light on it, too. When Peter sees the power of His Lord, he says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (8). All of us will disappoint Jesus in our walk with Him, but He loves a heart that harbors no stubborn pride. This is the man Jesus will choose as a leader and spokesman, one who does not try to project perfection and superiority. So it is today (1 Pet. 5:5-6). 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES PROPERLY CHANNELING EMOTION (9-10).

Exposure to Jesus left these fishermen “seized” (enclosed, completely taken hold of) with “amazement” (9). It made them “fear” (10). Others felt emotion like this who were exposed to Jesus’ power and preaching, and they audaciously reject Him (4:22-30; 8:26-39). These four men, amazed and afraid, will be prompted by this to make the life-changing (and life-giving) choice to follow Him. I have seen people in Bible studies and in their pew who realize the truth of the gospel, showing (and even telling of) remorse, dread, and anxiety over their lostness, but who just cannot make the decision to deny self and follow Jesus. I cannot think of a greater tragedy. In my own life, it is not simply enough to feel sorrow over my sin. I must allow this to move me to obedience (2 Cor. 7:9-11). 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES RADICAL CHANGE (11).

Luke will record several positive examples of people whose encounter with Jesus is transformational! Think the sinful woman (7:36-50), the demoniac (8:26-39), the grateful leper (17:11-21), and Zaccheus (19:1-10). Some, though, were just not willing (18:18-27). Luke records multiple occasions where Jesus warns that discipleship requires radical change (cf. 9:57-62). Other writers will contrast it as putting off the old man and putting on the new man (Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 3:5-17; Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:1ff). Here, Luke simply relates how that they immediately left everything and followed Him. While that may not be a literal necessity today, we cannot hope to have eternal life while holding onto this life so much that we are not following His will. 

These men were about to see things they could not have imagined, experience highs and lows they did not know existed, and be given opportunities they could not have anticipated. It wasn’t going to be an easy life; in fact, it would demand everything they had. But it gave them something only Jesus could give them. This hasn’t changed. If we want what they received, we must do what they did! 

Unity Through Subtraction

Unity Through Subtraction

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

As Paul works his way through some of the challenges and issues the Corinth congregation was dealing with, he turns his attention to an awful situation. As he says, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). This was being openly practiced at the congregation, and Paul compares how they were reacting to how they should react. Even if the congregation unanimously embraced this situation, the end result would not be unity in truth. As Moses said in his day, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil” (Ex. 23:2).

Paul rallies them to unite in doing what pleased God. This began with amending their hearts, mourning rather than being arrogant (2). It should be followed by removing this man from their midst (2). Based on the report (presumably from Chloe’s household), Paul already knew what needed to be done (3). While the term “church discipline” is not used in the text, that is the action. Paul uses such words and phrases as “deliver to Satan” (5),  “clean out” (purge, 7), “do not associate” (9,12),  and “remove” (13). Why was such a drastic action necessary?

“THAT HIS SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS” (5)

By withdrawing fellowship from him, the goal was to induce his sorrow and cause his repentance. This relationship was unrighteous, and it would cost him his soul if he did not end it. How uncaring is it to validate an unscriptural relationship, knowing what Scripture says about it? Paul is about to write that fornicators and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9). 

“A LITTLE LEAVEN LEAVENS THE WHOLE LUMP OF DOUGH” (6-8)

Paul calls this the leaven of “malice and wickedness” (8). Allowing sin unchecked and unaddressed to continue in a congregation does not make the sin all right. It allows the influence of sin to spread throughout the congregation. Remembering that the church is the body of Christ (see chapter 12), how can the body act in rebellion to its head and still please God? For the purity of Christ’s body, this action must be taken.

THERE IS GUILT BY ASSOCIATION (9-11)

Paul expands this beyond just the situation of the man with his father’s wife. He says not to associate with the immoral, covetous, idolatrous, reviling, drunkard, or swindling brother in Christ (11). Even eating a fellowship meal with them sent them the message that they were okay living in rebellion against God. Remember, this is not about vengeance or angry resentment. This was about honoring God’s will in a matter that God’s word clearly addresses. 

IT IS AN EXERCISE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT (12-13)

This was not a matter for human courts, which in most civilizations do not legislate morality. This is an “internal matter,” a child of God “judged” by the people of God according to the will of God. God established the pattern. 

When I preached in Virginia and Colorado, the elders in both churches practiced church discipline. It was done in such a loving way, with the elders first going to the individuals in various sinful situations and pleading for them to repent. When they refused, the elders brought the matter before the congregation urging any and all with any influence and relationship to plead with them. When that did not work, they announced that it was necessary to withdraw fellowship from them. There was no angry or hateful rhetoric, no gleeful attitude that such an action would be taken. To the contrary, it was as sad and solemn a moment as I’ve experienced in the family of God. I am happy to say that I have witnessed on several occasions the ultimate repentance and return of some of these wayward Christians. That was the goal in every situation. It would seem to me that one of the most neglected, disobeyed commands among God’s people is the practice of church discipline. It is unpleasant, frightening, and unpopular, but it is what God commands. God knows what is best and what is the best way to handle every situation among us. We should always trust Him and submit to His pattern for handling every difficulty and dilemma among us. The end result is biblical unity. 

Bowl full of dough
Showing Up When It Counts

Showing Up When It Counts

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

brent-portrait

Brent Pollard

I recall watching the Atlanta Braves when they were the perennial cellar dwellers of the National League. The Braves’ games were broadcast on UHF station 17 out of Atlanta before the little independent television station went national via cable and satellite. In those days of the baby blue uniforms and small letter “a’s,” I watched stars like Dale Murphy, Rafael Ramirez, and Phil Niekro play the game of baseball on a TV with rabbit ears.  

Fast forward to 2021, and the Atlanta Braves have won the World Series. It is interesting to talk to younger fans who only know of above-average play in the last few decades. Such fans are blissfully ignorant of those days when you could count on the Braves to have more losses than wins. Yet, I noticed something about this championship year. If you look at the records of the LA Dodgers (106-56) and Houston Astros (95-67), both teams won more games during the season than the Atlanta Braves (88-73). This truth suggests that it is essential to prevail when it counts. In other words, the Braves showed up when they had to, which is why they are the national champions.  

There is something to be said of that in Christianity as well. Regarding this, Jesus gave a parable about two sons (Matthew 21.28-32). A father went and asked his first son to work in the vineyard. He refused. So, the father went to his second son. The second son said he would go and work but never showed up. In the interim, the first son regretted his answer and went to work in his father’s vineyard. Jesus ends the parable by asking who had been obedient. The crowd responded that the first son had obeyed. Jesus informed them that there would be sinners entering the kingdom of God in like manner before the religious elite.  

The religious leaders were like the second son. They gave lip service but never actually followed the Law of Moses, only their traditions. As a result, they did not show up when it counted. But the prostitutes and tax collectors, cognizant of their sins, showed up when Jesus extended His invitation (Matthew 11.28-30). So, while it is true that there is none righteous (Romans 3.10), we still note that there are people who we count on to show up despite their flaws. Ultimately, this is what matters.  

As the saying that we attribute to Benjamin Franklin goes: “Well done is better than well said.” But, of course, this idea was Biblical long before the famous Pennsylvanian put quill to paper. James reminds us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers (James 1.22). It is far too easy for us to blend in with other congregants. “Worship, Fellowship, Retreat, and Repeat.” Now, I will be the first to say that worship service attendance indicates spiritual health, but there is a vineyard out there in which we must labor. The Father asks us to go out and work in the vineyard. What is our response? We will have fulfilled our required tasks even if we have previously said no by our words or conduct but have shown up anyway. Better to be a latecomer than a no-show. Yes, we must show up when it counts. A gracious God will make up for a less-than-stellar record and proclaim us champions (cf. Matthew 25.24). 

 

Jeff Burroughs (1977) (via http://atlantabraves19701980.blogspot.com)

Guilt Can Be a Positive

Guilt Can Be a Positive

 

While feeding the cats this morning, two males got into a kerfuffle. I stuck my foot between the two moggie pugilists and gently but firmly sent them to their mutual corners.  One of the participants, the victim, decided to make himself scarce for a time. Meanwhile, the instigator continued chowing down. Enter my father. My siblings can attest that my dad can cut quite the intimidating figure. It seems apparent that even cats can appreciate this. Dad sternly stated the aggressor’s name and walked towards him. The feline perpetrator may be the alpha among the cats, but he slinked away from my father. The guilty glances he returned to my father said, “Yes, I did something I should not have done.” Even so, the guilty cat lacks the intellect to grow from having been caught in his transgression. 

Despite being human, there may be many persons able to identify with our mischievous cat. They may feel guilty when confronted with their sin, but they will not allow that discomfort to prompt restoration. Eventually, they will sufficiently recover to resume their everyday life. Hence, wrongdoers may view guilt as a wholly negative emotion, a pesky nuisance. Sadly, they might find validation from a few pop psychologists. I recall one Christian telling me that her therapist assured her that she would feel better if she would discard her pesky religious convictions. Despite what such pop psychologists have said in the past, this guilt can be a positive. The apostle Paul addresses this subject in his second epistle to the Corinthians. 

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7.10 NASB1995) 

So, if you will permit me to anthropomorphize my cats further, my cat experienced worldly sorrow. This lack of godly sorrow means that the next time a similar situation confronts this male cat, he will fall back into the same behavior that earned his initial rebuke. 

Fortunately, God gave humans the propensity to experience sorrow according to His will. This sorrow can lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7.8-9). No one enjoys being like Nathan, pointing the accusatory finger at a friend (cf. 2 Samuel 12.1-15), not even Paul.  Paul said that he initially regretted his role (2 Corinthians 7.8). However, such finger-pointers realize, like Paul, that inflicting momentary guilt leads to a restoration of another’s relationship with God. The only prerequisite for imposing godly sorrow upon another is to ensure your eye is free of beams while spotting specks in your brother’s eye (Matthew 7.3-5). 

We feel guilt for a reason. Guilt helps us understand that our actions have strained our relationship with God and others. As such, guilt causes us to preserve our connective bonds. When acknowledging we have wronged someone, we make amends to them. We will not allow the rift to continue or grow. Research also suggests that you may be more trustworthy if you are more prone to feel guilt (Emamzadeh). Such guilt-prone people are more reliable because they want to avoid the guilt that comes from strained relationships entirely.  Therefore, they will avoid situations imperiling a relationship. Just as a quick aside, we should not confuse shame with guilt either. Shame causes a person to see themselves as a failure rather than seeing a mistake that they can rectify with another. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). So, we all have flaws. However, we can make sure that we do not purposely do anything disrupting our relationship with God and others. To that end, guilt can be a positive thing that though uncomfortable, leads to our refining in the fire. 

Work Cited 

Emamzadeh, Arash. “New Research Determines Who You Can Trust the Most.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Sept. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201809/new-research-determines-who-you-can-trust-the-most

 

David’s Year Away From God

David’s Year Away From God

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

carl-pic

Carl Pollard

 
“You’re the man” is what we say when someone comes through for us. It’s used as a compliment that helps us convey our gratitude. “You’re the man” means that the person you’re saying it to deserves to be praised for what they’ve done or will do. We find this same phrase in scripture, but it’s used in a completely different manner.
 
David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was still a man. He made mistakes and sometimes failed to live the way he should. There’s one instance in his life that we are all familiar with. 2 Samuel 11 records for us the time David committed adultery with Bathsheba and got her pregnant. In order to cover his tracks he had her husband killed. Chapter 11 ends with Bathsheba crying over her husband’s death, while David waits for her to get over it so he can move her into his house.
 
This chain of sins committed by David creates a rift in his relationship with God. The last phrase we read in chapter 11 is that “the things that David had done displeased the Lord.”
 
What I find interesting is that God doesn’t immediately punish David. He didn’t do anything when David first slept with her, He didn’t do anything when David killed her husband, and God didn’t punish him when he bore a son with Bathsheba. For what appears to be about a year, David seems to live without any consequences for his sins. But this lack of immediate punishment didn’t mean that God was overlooking David’s sin. Rather, God had a plan that we read of in chapter 12.
 
David found himself in a place that he wasn’t normally in. For a year he wasn’t a man after God’s own heart, but his own heart. For 12 months David didn’t walk with God, rather, he walked away. For 365 days David was no longer a friend of God, he was an enemy. Think about what was going through his head. He had sinned, and he knew it. After David spends a year living with the sin he had committed, God comes to him with a message. It is a message that is summarized with only four words: “YOU ARE THE MAN.”
 
From 2 Sam. 11:27-12:1, there seems to be a gap of about 12 months, a time where nothing is said about the sin David just committed. Just because nothing was said doesn’t mean everything was normal. After the awful sins David committed, God was silent. Why? I believe it was for two reasons:
 
  1. So that David could think on his sinful actions. Think about what was going on in his head. He had to live with the guilt of sleeping with another man’s wife and then killing her husband in secret. Every time David looked into the eyes of Bathsheba he was reminded. No one knew except David and Joab (the one David used to get Uriah killed in battle). After the sins were committed, David was left to think about his sin and David knew that God knew. He lived for a year knowing that God didn’t approve and was angry with him. God was silent so that the noise in David’s head could be heard.
  2. So that David would truly feel and experience the burden of his actions. Psalm 32 and 51 were both written after David had confessed his sin, but he writes about what his life was like (Psa. 32:3-4; 51:12). David was eaten up with guilt. He carried a weight that was destroying him and his life was void of hope and joy. God was silent so that David could think about what he had done and so that he could feel the weight of his sinful actions.
 
David chose to ignore his sin for a year, but that year was a time filled with stress and guilt. We can either fix the sin, or ignore it and face the consequences. If we ignore it and take God’s silence as a lack of punishment we WILL face the punishment that is promised on those who live in sin. We must choose the first course of action. 
How Not to Deal With Your Addiction 

How Not to Deal With Your Addiction 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

Brent Pollard

Robert Aaron Long serves as a vivid example of how one should NOT deal with his addiction. While politicians and activists may seek to politicize the “massage parlor shooter’s” motives, law enforcement is painting the picture of a mentally disturbed man who seeks to justify the murder of others because of his sex addiction. Long evidently has a problem dealing with his lusts. Hence, these massage parlors’ existence, which he patronized in the past, presented such a temptation that he felt it necessary to kill the proprietors and workers of said establishments.   

 

As rationally thinking people, we readily see the problem with Long’s logic. Why would the perpetrator of the violence not turn his anger inwardly? He is the sinner, regardless of who the temptress may be. Would it not have been more effective to actually pluck out his eyes or remove other body parts causing him to sin? At least, one could twist Jesus’ hyperbole in Mark 9.34ff in such a fashion to justify self-mutilation for the sake of entering the Kingdom of God. If you seek to live righteously, would such extremes not be better than taking the life of eight people? 

 

If anything, this incident demonstrates the sad state in which our modern world finds itself. Long knew enough to realize he had a problem with his fleshly appetites. Had no one taught him to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2.22)? Had he pursued righteousness with others calling on God’s name, he would have learned how to “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4.4 NASB1995). Older Christian brothers could have encouraged Long to exercise self-control (Titus 2.6).  

 

I cannot claim to know the particulars of Long’s home life, but I can inspect the fruit born of contemporary society (cf. Matthew 7.20). These types of crimes result from a nation that has excluded God from the public square. With God’s teachings, one notes that the one accountable for sin is the individual committing it (James 1.13-15). John identifies the three main avenues the world uses to tempt us: “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2.16 NASB1995).  

 

The correct application of the passage from Mark 9.34ff mentioned previously is that one takes personal responsibility in removing such influences. In the case of sex or pornography addiction, turn off the television and internet. Avoid the parts of town where more seedy businesses operate. Remove your libertine friends who desire to patronize things like strip clubs and “massage parlors.” As Paul indicates of his daily walk, it is self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9.24-27).  

 

And do not try to tackle addiction alone. Again, we observed that Paul told Timothy to flee lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with other Christians. (2 Timothy 2.22) Addiction is difficult to overcome. The addicted can fall off the wagon periodically. Hence, he or she needs others to help lift them back up. We are mindful of the truth that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12). Join this truth with prayer and Bible study, and one can find the necessary strength to overcome. Isaiah reminds us that God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40.29) 

Having seen how not to deal with your addiction, like Robert Aaron Long, decide to take responsibility, purge your life of the evil leaven, ask others for help, and turn to God for strength.  

 

Sources Consulted: 

Pagones, Stephanie. “Atlanta Shooting Suspect Tells Police Attacks Not Racially Motivated, Was Purportedly Driven by Sex Addiction.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 17 Mar. 2021, www.foxnews.com/us/atlanta-shooting-suspect-police-attacks-not-racially-motivated-sex-addiction.  

 

“Toying With God All My Life”

“Toying With God All My Life”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

It was such a beautiful moment yesterday morning. A brother in Christ from our area who has been attending with us for a few months responded to the invitation. As Kevin and I took his confession, he spoke of sins in his past that fill him with regret. Though he was raised in the church, he has been away from the Lord for a long time. Among the things he expressed from his tender heart, he confessed, “Ive been toying with God all my life.” His point was simple. He felt doubt about God’s existence and concern for him, and it led him to make regrettable choices. But, recently, his study of God’s word and fellowship with God’s people led him to see how real God is and how much he needs Him in his life. 

I wonder how many of us could confess that, at times and in ways, we’ve toyed with God in some way. Perhaps we appealed to Him only when we were in trouble that we couldn’t solve ourselves. Maybe we promised Him we’d be faithful if only He’d give us something we specifically prayed for or thought we needed, and when we got it we broke our promise. It might have been a time or season when we “played church” and acted the role of Christian in the building but acted like the world when around them. 

This is not a tendency that started in our current generation. It is a human tendency. Bible writers exposed such thinking. God tells Ezekiel, “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them” (Ezek. 33:30-32). This is similar to what Isaiah wrote (29:13) and Matthew (15:8-9) and Mark (7:6,7) quote. It’s playing with God to speak as though we desire His Word and even listen to it but be driven by desires and a heart that practice something different (cf. Jas. 1:21-25). 

I need to have the good heart our dear brother expressed on Sunday morning. One who wants others to see and know how much He believes in God, loves Him, and intends to serve Him. May we all keep our hearts tender to God’s Word and let its power do its surgical work in removing what doesn’t belong and moving us to act on what does belong.