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temptation

When the Tempter Has You Out On A Limb

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

 

You can learn much by observing nature. Not only can one know God by looking at nature (Romans 1.18-20), he can learn specific lessons on various topics by looking at specific aspects of God’s creation (e.g. ants teach industry, Proverbs 6.6-8). I was watching a humorous scene outside my office window recently and was reminded of this.

 Our household, despite being full of “dog-people,” has cats for “pets.” Let’s just say that we feed the cats and provide them outdoor shelter for keeping mice, moles, and snakes away from the house. In many respects, they’re feral but become domesticated long enough to eat the kibble we put out. And, if they feel like initiating it, contact resembling petting may occur. If there is one thing I don’t like about cats, though, it is their murderous nature. Even though well-fed, cats will kill for sport. 1

 This latter observation creates a conflict for someone who has always enjoyed feeding and watching birds as well. We had to give up putting out birdseed when the cats became a part of our household. At first, the birds avoided our house. Yet, kittens learn by watching adult cats. If adult cats don’t teach kittens how to hunt, they aren’t as successful at it. As the senior hunters have passed from disease and predation or gone fully feral, being chased off by other cats, the birds have begun coming back without our encouragement. Frankly, I think a few of those “birdbrains” must be rather smart.

 One such smarty was teasing one of our cats the other day. He or she served as a good example of the tempter. As Angelo, a cat with a pattern of “angel’s wings” on his back, was slowly climbing up a budding, dogwood tree, the bird did not fly away. Instead, the avian adversary just side-stepped further to the right out on to thinner branches. The higher Angelo climbed, the thinner the branch on which the bird rested became. It seemed as if the bird knew that if Angelo tried to pounce on him or her, he would go crashing to the ground while he or she would just fly away. Angelo really thought about his situation. It took him several minutes, but he finally understood that despite his prowess, continuing towards his coveted prize would lead to his harm. Thus, to his chagrin, he slowly made his way back down the tree to the safety of the ground below.

 Herein is the lesson from nature. The tempter will lure you out from “relative safety” in order to bring your desire close, only to ensure when you pounce on it, you will end up falling flat on your face (consider Romans 6.23). We must ensure we are aware of where we are (Hebrews 2.1-4). The branches upon which we make our way may grow thin quickly, depriving us of a solid foundation, and causing us to fall.

 Of a truth, no one ever sets out to fall, he just fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Keep your eyes on what lies beneath your feet (1 Corinthians 10.12).

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1 Traywick, Catherine. “Killer Kitties: Study Proves They’re Not as Innocent As They Look.” Time, Time, 9 Aug. 2012, newsfeed.time.com/2012/08/09/killer-kitties-study-proves-theyre-not-as-innocent-as-they-look/.

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grace Greek kindness Uncategorized

Making Sense Of Grace

Wednesday’s Column: “Third’s Words”

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Gary Pollard III

Grace is a touchy subject. As with many other words commonly used in religious circles, it has potential to be misused or misunderstood. My hope is that this brief study on grace will shed some light on a confusing subject.

First, grace is possible for all men to have (Titus 2.11). It has been clearly displayed and advertised to everyone. The word “appeared” in that passage is epiphane, which means “to make an appearance.” No one is exempt from grace if they follow the right steps to receive it!

Second, grace keeps us in good standing with God if we are walking in the light (I John 1.7,8). In Acts 2.47, chairo (pronounced ky-roe) is translated “favor.” In Luke 6.32-34 Jesus uses it in a very interesting way. He says, “If you only love those who love you back, what credit is that to you?” Credit is charis, the word for grace.

So what is grace? What does it mean to you and me? If we are walking in the Light – trying our very best to follow God’s commands and allowing our faith to be the driving force of our lives – God takes care of our sin problem. When we slip up and make a mistake, God removes it from our record. This does NOT mean that we can sin all we want and God will just overlook it (see Romans 6.1,2). It does, however, mean that God is not waiting to strike us out of the book of life the moment we make a mistake.

Grace is what happens when God wants to do good for mankind. Luke 6.35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, loan to others without expecting anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” The word kind in the bolded phrase is charis: grace. It does not mean the same thing for evil men that it does for the Christian, but it does help us to get a better sense of what this word means.

God is rooting for His children (Christians). He WANTS us to get through this life and die in Him (Psalm 116;15). He isn’t our accuser waiting for us to slip up so He can condemn us. He helps us along the way, He shows good will to us, and He gives us His grace so that we can spend an eternity with Him as long as we are walking in the Light.

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Judgment Judgment Day pornography Uncategorized

God Will Bring Every Act To Judgment

Neal Pollard

72% of Americans, age 13-24, view pornography frequently (55% of men 25 and older). Those numbers only drop to 41% and 23% of those professing to be Christians (Barna, July-August 2015, Barna Study Here).  So, perhaps this was inevitable. A few years ago, potentially millions of people started receiving a disturbing email from an anonymous source claiming to have hacked into their email and installed malware to discover their pornographic consumption. Experts say these hackers have just enough facts and information to frighten many of the recipients. They attempt to blackmail the recipients, demanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bitcoin. Otherwise, they promise to email proof of their readers’ perverse, clandestine interests to everyone in their contact list.

These hackers are relying on people’s fear of being found out, thinking that if even a tiny percentage of fearful folks pay the ransom it will make their spam to millions pay off. This hoax has probably raised the heart rate of many who consume pornography but felt like they were getting away with it. But the FBI say it is just that–a hoax.

God created man with a built-in sensitivity to our accountability. Many have a “certain fearful looking for of judgment” (Heb. 10:27). Some day, the secrets of men will be judged by God through Christ (Rom. 2:16). Solomon said, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). But, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he was done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).

The good news is that no one has to be afraid of the judgment or having everything which is hidden shared with the whole world. “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Peter adds, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

God wants our sins to be covered by the blood of His Son. Not just “big sins” (as we distinguish them), but every sin, great and small, that we struggle with! How great to face the judgment with those sins hidden from His perfect view.

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gossip slander tongue Uncategorized

INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRIVATE OFFENSES

Neal Pollard

The Son of God gives specific instructions for what to do when a spiritual family member sins. Jesus clearly says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Notice the Divine pattern. 

  • Perpetration (15a)–“If you brother sins.” This is what initiates the situation.
  • Presentation (15b)–“Go and show him his fault in private.” Paul would teach this later (Gal. 6:1). Notice that this is to be done privately.
  • Aspiration (15c)–“If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Ideally, this is where the matter should end.
  • Escalation (16-17)–Jesus tells one what to do if a sinner refuses to listen. Start by taking one or two. If that does not work, then tell it to the church.
  • Repudiation (18)–If all three of these approaches fail to win the sinner, then you reject them.

Tragically, we very often disobey Jesus’ instructions about this and fail to understand that rebelling against His commandment then makes us a sinner, too.  How often does it happen that a person, rather than dealing directly with the sinning brother, tells someone else? Then, that someone tells another. Soon, a whole group or even the whole church knows about the sin. Often, something that was private and even between just two people is made public by gossipers who continue to spread the matter. In some cases, those who hear and spread the matter never even speak to the offender. This prevents the sinner from being aware of who knows about it or being able to reconcile. It can even be the case that the sinner has repented and handled the matter with the original offender, but now others are brought into the matter after the fact. Those who have come to hear about the situation treat the sinner “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” without ever once speaking to them about it. Rifts form and relationships are affected. 

When we fail to do things God’s way, we will make matters worse. May we consider passages like Mark 7:21-23, where Jesus places “big” sins like “fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness” alongside “little” sins like “deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.” Jesus’ analysis is that “all” these things are “evil” and “defile the man.”

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Satan Uncategorized

Satan’s Schemes

Neal Pollard

Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes). 

But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins. 

When might he seek to employ his schemes?

  • When new elders are appointed
  • During building programs
  • As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
  • When preachers come and go
  • In a flurry of exciting activities
  • In the heart of some church problem or struggle
  • At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
  • Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
  • When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church

Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.

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Picture from my last trip to Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania, 12/17.
Categories
sin Uncategorized

The Peril Of “Covering Up”

Neal Pollard

Misty Ann Weaver made a tragic decision.  The Houston-area licensed vocational nurse is charged in the burning death of three people after she started a fire in her six-story office building.  Why did she take such horrible measures that resulted in the unnecessary, tragic deaths of these victims?  She was  apparently behind on an audit for her plastic surgeon boss, and she feared being fired.  She just wanted to start a small fire, enough to cause a distraction and buy herself more time.  Obviously, she accomplished more than she intended.

Ms. Weaver is an extreme example of the tendency to try and avoid consequences by resorting to sin to “cover up” a shortcoming or failure.  While few of us will wind up facing three felony murder counts, we are all tempted to “cover up” in this way.  When we fail to study for a test, we may resort to cheating to “cover up” that fact.  When we have a low self-image, we may resort to gossip or backbiting to “cover up” perceived flaws about ourselves.  When we are afraid of negative consequences for not meeting some responsibility or expectation, we may turn to lying to “cover up” that inadequacy.   The irony is seen in that the “cover up” inevitably puts us in greater spiritual trouble than before we engaged in it.

We may “cover up” for fear of the disapproval of others, out of embarrassment or shame, or out of concern for certain repercussions.   Yet, to turn to sin to shield ourselves from the ramifications of our actions is to compound the problem.  Let us have the courage to face God and man, to provide things honest in the sight of all men (cf. Romans 12:17).  Israel was warned about the danger of adding sin to sin (Isaiah 30:1).  It is strength of character to do our best in our every endeavor, but it is also strength of character, when we have failed to so do, to courageously, honestly “face the music.”  However we rationalize, the fallout from this will be less severe than the “cover up” is!

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freedom hope Jesus Jesus Christ salvation Uncategorized

The Greatest Longing Of The Soul

Neal Pollard

Quick. Name the top three accomplishments of Grover Cleveland’s presidency. I’ll wait. 

Nothing? Don’t feel dense or unpatriotic. He’s not in most historians’ top 10 (25?) of American presidents. But on yesterday’s date, 132 years ago, he was at the helm and dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  This, if you don’t recall, was the proposed gift of French historian Edouard de Laboulaye in honor of America’s alliance with France during the Revolutionary War, sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, designed by Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), completed in France in 1884, and delivered to America the next year with the last rivet fitted on October 28, 1886 (via Instagram). The pedestal of the statue contains a sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus, well-known to most of us, that reads, 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door” (ibid.).

With all the debate about immigration–a Reuters story revealed that immigration tops the economy and healthcare as the top issue for voters (Read here)–there is no denying why so many people around the world want to come to the United States. We have long been regarded as the haven for poor masses yearning to breathe free and wanting a home inside “the golden door.” Many have come and achieved incredible success in our country. Many more than that have come to find that immigrating here did not solve their problems or make their dreams come true.

There is a greater longing of the soul, a desire for something even more than prosperity.  Jesus teaches us that material things won’t last (Mat. 6:19-20). Peter tells us what comes of such ultimately (2 Pet. 3:10). 

There is a greater longing of the soul than even freedoms afforded by nations and governments. Many will abuse those freedoms through immoral choices.  Proverbs 14:34 strongly applies.

The most noble, highest longing of a soul is for the freedom only Christ can provide. To be free from the slavery of sin (John 8:31-36), from guilt of sin (Psa. 51:1-14), and from the power of sin (Heb. 2:14) is man’s wisest quest. A person with an abundance of money, liberty, and other earthly advantages may still be buried by the influence of sin. To know there’s a solution right now–who wouldn’t want that?

Don’t forget what Jesus tells people everywhere: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28). 

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Categories
fear problems stress Uncategorized worry

When Will I Ever Be Free…

Neal Pollard

…Of concerns over the future–decisions to make, the specter of tomorrow, growing old, retirement?
…Of sin–fighting temptation and not always winning, beating one thing and then finding another cropping up in its place, and the guilt it brings?
…Of disappointment–both of what I inflict and what is inflicted upon me?
…Of fear–when it comes to my spouse, my children, my parents, my brethren, our nation?
…Of doubt–whether in the process of prayer, struggles with asking God “why?,” or especially doubting myself?
…Of neglect–leaving undone things central to my purpose as a Christian due to apathy, distraction, misplaced priorities, and the like?
...Of failure–trying and not succeeding, not trying hard enough, not knowing what or how to try, and of simply falling short?
…Of betrayal–whether through gossip, lying, broken promises, insincerity, or treachery?
…Of insecurity–that can result from any of these and other struggles?

We don’t always have days when we wonder these things, but they come around often enough that they can prey on our minds. Sometimes, we face these questions due to our shortcomings. Other times, it’s because of the failings of others. Both can lead to despair.

The wonderful news is that we can be free of them all. There is a day coming when none of these will weigh us down ever again. I love the encouragement of the Hebrews’ writer, who urges, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:1-3). 

Whether we are struggling due to our sinfulness or if it is any other weight, we’re encouraged to hang on and hang in there. When the struggle might be the greatest, that’s when we’ve got to turn and fix our focus on Jesus. Watch how He won! See what He did! Remember that He helps make it possible for us to fight and win.  

If you are in the valley of despair right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up! Look to Jesus. Hang on! The end is in sight. Through Him, we will overcome!

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Lamentations repentance sorrow Uncategorized

“Good That Comes From Bad”

Neal Pollard

With a name like “Lamentations,” you know it isn’t a joke book. It’s not lighthearted or jovial. It’s the inspired record of Jeremiah’s tears and troubled spirit over the punishment of Judah for her idolatry and abandonment of God. It is graphic (see 2:20-21; 4:4-10; 5:11-14). Conditions became terrible for the nation (cf. 1:9-10). The book is filled with apocalyptic language and hyperbole (3:1-16).

In the middle of the prophesy, though, Jeremiah expresses the hopeful effect of all this calamity and reaping. The desired effect of captivity was three-fold, according to Lamentations 3:40. First, it was for self-examination–“Let us search out and examine our ways.” Second, it was for repentance–“and turn back to the Lord.” Finally, it was for spiritual development–“Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”

When we sin or even are caught in some long-term transgression, there will very often be consequences. If we fail to overcome it, the consequences will be unending and most serious. Yet, if we “come to ourselves” (cf. Luke 15:17) and let go of what is keeping us from being right with God, it can have those same three positive impacts on us. It cause cause us to engage in proper self-examination. It will hopefully lead us to repent. Then, this paves the road for us to grow close to God through proper spiritual development.

The ideal is to avoid spiritually spiraling out of control or into some sin problem. Yet, if or when we do, let us remember Lamentations 3:40. Good can come from bad.

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Categories
authority immorality morality standards Uncategorized

The Eye Of The Beholder

Neal Pollard

The theme of our recently completed lectureship was, “Every Man Did What Was Right In His Own Eyes.” This seems to be the summary statement of this entire period of Bible history. It is interesting that this idea shows up more than in just the two verses where the statement appears (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Samson wanted the woman of Timnah because “she looked good to” him (Judges 14:3,7; literally, “she was right in his eyes”). In reality, she was a loose, treacherous, and idolatrous woman, but she seemed right to him. In that dark story about the Levite man, the elderly Ephraimite man, the Levite’s concubine and the Ephraimite’s virgin daughter, the old man, seeking to placate the wicked Benjamites, offered the women to them “to do with them whatever” they wished (Judges 19:24; literally, “the good in your eyes”). Obviously, what was right in these men’s eyes was reprehensible and vile. It is one of the most extreme examples of wickedness recorded in the Bible.

Elsewhere, the Bible says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15a), and “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2a). We often think things seem right when they are far from it (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25; 18:17).  After talking about those who mix up right and wrong and good and evil, Isaiah tells us why they do this. He warns that they “are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21).

In the world, the church, and our own lives, we are tempted to do what is right in our own eyes. We justify habits, relationships, desires, religious practices, lifestyles, and choices about which God warns in His Word by ignoring that and rationalizing, rewording, and reframing them. We use emotional arguments. We twist Scripture. In the end, when we do these things, we reject God’s authority and seek to become the standard ourselves. The book of Judges was written, in part, to show us what happens when we do it and how God feels when we do it.  The well-worn phrase goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That may be. But right and wrong is not such as is in the eye of the beholder. That is determined by the One who possesses “the all-seeing eye” (Proverbs 15:3).

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