“Killfies”

Neal Pollard

What do high cliff ledges, train tracks, animal game parks, bridges and buildings have in common? They are apparently popular sites for people to take selfies, and places, among others, where over 200 people have died in the last 5 years in pursuit of that “perfect selfie.” The Economic Times of India, a country leading the world in deaths by selfies, reports that 86 people in 2016 and 73 people in 2017 died in this tragic, needless way. Since 2014, 128 have died in the course of taking selfies in this densely populated nation. But other countries are getting involved in trying to stem the tide of such tragedies. Irish doctors reported, “The consequences of poorer spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has lead to multiple traumas” (Indulekha Aravind, 2/18/18).  There are people in Russia that have become celebrities because of their daring self-centered photos (ibid.). Nowhere social media has gone is there an exemption from this trend, including here in our country.

Because I do not have a background in psychology, I freely admit I could be wrong about this. But, could these extraordinary lengths to capture oneself in these kinds of photos be an act of desperation for acceptance, friendship, or even love? Could the yearning for admiration, congratulations, and adulation drive people to disregard all restraint and precaution? I’m not sure I know the answer to that. 

I do know that, as Henry David Thoreau said in 1854, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Walden, ch. 1, p. 8).  Perhaps these daring selfies are a symptom of that sensible observation. With selfies, we are able to project exactly the image or perception of ourselves that we want others to see of us. We don’t publish the unflattering nor do we want to show the boring. We want to be seen as valuable, relevant, and attractive. Why? Though we might lose our way in the process, human nature is to desire community and relationship (cf. Gen. 2:24). There are a great many destructive ways to do that, and being self-obsessed is certainly harmful.

It’s very interesting that God planned the church from eternity (Eph. 3:9-11) as a place and a way for us to focus on others. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So much about being Jesus’ disciples gets us outside ourselves and into the lives of others—not just other Christians but people from every walk of life outside of Christ. He wants our energy, effort, and focus to be turned outward. It’s not so much about projection, but about service. Through that, God will be glorified and others can be satisfied. It seems that such is why God has us here!

 

 

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Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Neal Pollard

1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. It is obvious that Peter’s readers would have seen or at least heard about these kings of the jungle for the analogy to make sense and be practical.  Lions lurk, longing for lunch.

In the savannas of East Africa, their meal of choice is usually either the wildebeest or zebra. Despite this, these two animals continue to graze and migrate together. In fact, because they are chief prey of the lion (and other big cats), they need to stick together. Various observers and experts give different explanations for why. Zebras have great farsightedness and the wildebeests have excellent peripheral vision, but each are poor at seeing what the other sees well. Others explain that wildebeests have mouths better suited for short grass while zebras’ are made for the long grass that grow intermittently together on the plains. Still others point to the zebras superior memories, recalling the safety routes of the previous year, and the wildebeests uncanny ability to find water even when such is scarce. Probably, it is the combination of these facts that cause the symbiotic relationship between these two large mammals. They do not all survive, but the vast majority do. The reason is because they utilize their own abilities but also because they rely on the abilities of others.

In a letter where Peter is addressing a people who were at times spiritual prey, he does more than use the simba simile. He urges Christians to stick together and look out for one another. He calls for sincere, fervent, from the heart love for one another (1:22; 4:8). He urges complaint-free hospitality toward one another (4:9). He commands serving one another (4:10). He teaches there to be mutual humility displayed toward one another (5:5). He ends the letter exhorting an affectionate, loving greeting of one another (5:14). As much as anything, this is a recognition of mutual dependence.

If we understand that we are not at home in this world (2:11) and are living and longing for the inheritance in heaven (1:4), we should come to understand our mutual need of each other. That does not just mean looking for others’ help, but also giving it. This is by God’s design. Notice, for example, the proactive protection we provide each other by being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…” (3:8-9a). Right before the lion passage, Peter talks about different groups looking out for and helping each other (5:1-6).

Any of us, through suffering, temptation, doubt, or some other factor, could drift away from the safety and security of the fold. Let us be more than mindful of each other. Let us depend on each other to survive the hunt and make it to eternal safety.  I will face the lion many times in this life, and I depend on you to help me survive.

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Why Do You Serve?

Neal Pollard

Has a preacher ever been motivated by finance, popularity, or fame? Has an elder ever been motivated by power, influence, or notoriety? Has a Christian ever served in any way for notice, accolades, or to satisfy pride? In individual cases, it’s so hard to tell (ultimately, it’s impossible). But, knowing human nature, we would have to say motivation can be tainted and corrupted.

Paul says as much of preachers, that they preached Christ from envy, strife, and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15,17). Greed propels some preachers (1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:3,14). Woe to the preacher who falls into traps like those! He may do harm in this life, but it cannot compare to the ultimate harm he does to himself and others. Peter calls out elders who he says serve for sordid gain or on a power trip (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Woe to the elder who serve from such a base motive! He will not joyfully anticipate the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:4)! Christians have been led by their appetites and an earthly mindset (Phil. 3:19). Woe to the Christian who serves God for selfish reasons. Such will not be able to successfully endure their spiritual race.

Sometimes, our words and actions betray our motives and intentions. So often, what gets in the way is self— self-service, self-will, self-interest, self-indulgence, self-importance, selfish ambition. It leaves a sour taste and sounds ugly when said. It is manifestly unattractive to even read the words. It is detestable when witnessed in others. But “self” is such an impediment to spiritual service.

I don’t know why anyone else is serving Jesus. But I need to be careful to examine myself. How terrible to let my speech and actions be the cause of anyone questioning what moves me to render any act or service. Let our goal be to live so selflessly that no one has legitimate cause to ask why we do what we do in God’s Kingdom. Paul contrasts Timothy with others, saying, “ For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:21). Let’s be a Timothy, moved by a genuine concern for others (Phil. 2:20). That’s just what this cynical world needs to see!

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But, They Were Certain!

Neal Pollard

Have you ever been absolutely sure about something, only to find out you were wrong? Maybe, it was the name of the band that sang your favorite song or the name of the third baseman on your favorite team when you were in elementary school. Sometimes, the stakes are higher and being wrong more costly than that.

Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, is about a man and an entire bureau’s certainty that cost probably 6,000 their lives. And because they were so certain that a hurricane could not strike Galveston, Texas, a lot of people made fatal choices based on their own certainty—they were certain of houses that would stand, trains and tracks that would get them to their destinations, and that the slope of the coast would deter tidal waves and storm surges. Yet, in September, 1900, on Saturday and Sunday, probably the worst hurricane in modern history struck the exposed, helpless booming Texas city.

Some have been so certain about spiritual matters, but were wrong. They have been certain about what to bring God to worship (Gen. 4:2-3), about how to be saved from death (2 Kings 5:11-12), and about how to carry out God’s command (1 Sam. 15:13ff).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of some who seemed certain, but were certainly wrong. Depicting the Judgment scene, Jesus preaches, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mat. 7:21-23). These folks will have done religious acts in Jesus’ name. They will haven been certain they were on the right path, but Jesus says they will have been mistaken. They will not have done the will of the Father.

How many people will this ultimately describe? They have confidence in a preacher, a teaching, a tradition, a feeling, or a belief. Sadly, they have not even questioned whether or not it might not be what the Bible says on the matter. Jesus ends His sermon by talking about storms. This storm is more powerful than the one Larson writes about. It determines destiny (Mat. 7:24-27). We must base our certainty on the Rock!

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Ursuline Academy in Galveston, Texas, before the hurricane.

Service With A Smile

Neal Pollard

Jesus showed the greatness of service by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:12-17). As they fought over who was the greatest, Jesus revealed that He came to serve and not to be served (Mat. 20:25-28). God refers to Him in the great prophesy about His suffering as “My Servant” (Isa. 52:13; 53:11). Why, then, are we more apt to jockey for prominence, position, power, and prestige? Is it not that, in such times, we’ve lost our focus and stopped “looking unto Jesus” (cf. Heb. 12:2)? What are some practical ways we can reflect Jesus through service? Consider the following as a pump-primer:

  • Write a note of encouragement
  • Pleasantly let a merging driver merge in front of you
  • Fervently pray for the good of someone who has been hurtful to you
  • Meet a widow(er) for lunch or coffee
  • Volunteer to babysit so a young couple can go on a date
  • Anonymously send a small amount of money or gift card to a college student, preacher student, or missionary
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Participate in a feeding the homeless event
  • Tell an elder you love and appreciate him
  • Pay for the meal of a young family who looks like they could use the help
  • Ask a neighbor if there is something you can be praying about on their behalf (and, if they’re willing, pray for that on the spot)
  • Text or email someone you know is in a stressful circumstance and express confidence in them
  • Take a small group to go sing for someone confined to a hospital or nursing home
  • Volunteer to work with small children to make a craft or baked good for the elderly
  • Police the bathrooms and pews at church and tidy up little messes you see
  • Make visitors to our assemblies feel welcome and help them find a class or a seat (with a pleasant smile)

There may be profound ways we can serve, but realize that any act of service may be far more profound than we think. We may not know in this life how a simple act opens a heart and opens a door of opportunity for Christ. Think like a servant and seek ways to serve! The greater others think you are, the greater your need to serve. But however much or little you think of yourself, think of others. Then, serve them!

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A Footprint, A Fingerprint, And An Imprint

Neal Pollard

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What will they put on your headstone?” It’s the kind of fundamental questions that accompany us all along the road of life. We want to have significance, to serve purpose, and to matter.  Whether motivated by legacy or something larger than self, the thoughtful periodic evaluate the difference they are making to those whose lives they touch. Of all people, Christians should take that matter seriously.  Consider this.

You Are Leaving A Footprint. Your decisions are observed by friends, family, and even those who only know you incidentally or even not at all. You are a leader.  So many people will eventually wind up somewhere because of what you do with and in your life. Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In the most dramatic facet of this fact, people will be led toward an eternal destination through your influence. You are leading people toward or away from heaven. It’s in your heart, attitude, words, priorities, conduct, and passions.  To a line of folks longer than you could imagine, you are yelling, “Follow me!” Ask yourself, “Where am I going?”

You Are Leaving A Fingerprint. You are touching people’s lives. Your hands are in a variety of endeavors—your occupational life, your social life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. You are a servant of something and someone. Paul says it’s inevitable (Rom. 6:16). Everyone works at something, even if it’s laziness. It’s a legacy of labor. Where will people remember that your hands were most often seen? Will your chief legacy be whatever your occupation was? Your civic service? Your material accumulation and notoriety? Your pursuit of pleasure? Or will it be your involvement in people’s lives and with people’s souls? Consider this challenge, to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Heb. 12:12). Your hands will find something to do (cf. Ecc. 9:9). Make it count for God.

You Are Leaving An Imprint. Isn’t it sobering to think that all of us are associated with some quality. When our name is brought up, something—either directly or indirectly—is attached to it. For some, it will be: “grouchy,” “gossipy,” “complaining,” “foul-mouthed,” “critical,” “selfish,” “dishonest,” “arrogant,” “icy,” and the like. Fair or not, such broad labels are typically made interaction by interaction. For others, it will be: “humble,” “sincere,” “encouraging,” “dependable,” “loving,” “joyful,” “godly,” “positive,” etc.  You may feel yourself plain and insignificant, but you will leave an indelible impression on others throughout your life.  Even the one talent man, who tried to bury his talent, had to give an account for it (Matt. 25:14-30).

Leadership, labor, and legacy. These are gifts given by God to us all. What a powerful opportunity, one that lies before us daily! The great news is that if we don’t like the footprints, fingerprints, and imprints we have left and are leaving behind, we can change course. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol (and the best version!) is the one starring George C. Scott. He captures the remarkable transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a malevolent miser who becomes a merry mirth-maker. Charles Dickens shows us that anyone is redeemable if they’ll genuinely and fervently change. Of course, the Bible beat him to that message (Rom. 12:2; Acts 3:19; etc.).  Our time here is so short. May we all have the wisdom to know what is most important and pursue it relentlessly.

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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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In Awe Of The Greatest Freedom

 

Neal Pollard

I once was without representation,
Not a citizen of that chosen nation,
Enslaved and oppressed,
Deprived of the best,
And discouraged by my lowly station,

But my freedom was bought at a price,
With the one ransom that would suffice,
Sweet liberty was bought,
And my freedom I sought,
When I opted for virtue instead of vice.

Independence is becoming and sweet,
It is found when I fall at His feet,
And make Him my Master,
I avoid pain and disaster,
He offers me victory for my defeat.

I celebrate privileged position,
Embrace His heavenly mission,
Knowing the blessings He gives,
Is because He still lives,
He hears the faithful disciple’s petition.

As we celebrate the blessings in this land,
Bestowed by a Providential hand,
Let us never forget,
That He paid our great debt,
He’s preparing what’s infinitely more grand.

Whatever may become of our dear country,
I pray that our eyes will always see,
That no earthly place is home,
We are strangers who will roam,
’Til we reach the Great City across the sea.

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Tools In God’s Toolbox

Neal Pollard

Romans 6:13 tells us our body is an instrument, and we choose to use it for righteousness or unrighteousness. The Greek word translated “instrument” there means “tool or weapon.” What kind of tool or weapon are you? Are you an instrument God holds in His hand to do His will?

  • Are you a battering ram? The ancients would use a log or some other hard object to break down a wall or door. Have we filled our hearts with the Word to the degree that we can, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), break down barriers keeping the honest-hearted from God?
  • Are you a crowbar? Crowbars pry objects apart. There are things we should separate from our thinking and lifestyle. Are we trying to pull away from worldliness (Js. 4:4)?
  • Are you a chisel? This is a tool that does meticulous, detailed work. Its blade carves or cuts hard materials. Do we have the tenacity and trust needed to use God’s Word and benefit from His providence to remake our lives into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)?
  • Are you a level? We live in not only a dishonest world but also a corrupt world. So many call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). Can people find in us a reliable standard of right and wrong, as we reflect the principles of God’s Word? Levels are used to determine whether something is true and as it ought to be.
  • Are you a plane? The plane smooths rough surfaces by repetitiously moving back and forth across the surface. All four Gospels (Mat. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) speak of John the immerser’s work as making ready the path of the Lord, making His paths straight. We are not forerunners of Jesus; we follow in His steps (1 Pe. 2:21). As we do follow Him, we are going to forge a path safe for others to follow (1 Co. 11:1).
  • Are you a magnet? A magnet is an object that draws and holds another object disposed toward such attraction. Magnets can be used as tools themselves, but they are often made a part of other tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers. By living like Jesus, you will draw people to Him.

Paul also referred to “tools” or “weapons” when talking to the Corinthians. He mentions “armor of righteousness” and “weapons of our warfare” (same word). In both cases, the tools or weapons are spiritual and figurative, yet with them we can help shape and build up those around us. Be a tool in God’s toolbox!

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