Categories
cross singing Uncategorized

Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Neal Pollard

Most of us have favorite songs and hymns. My favorite category of hymns is songs about the cross. I love the somber, dramatic feel of Beneath the Cross of Jesus, a hymn penned right after the close of the Civil War by Elizabeth C. Clephane and one set to the music we sing with it by Frederick Maker a dozen years later in 1881. The cross of Calvary is treated as a metaphor of protection for one in a wilderness. One might envision the wandering Israelites making their way to the Promised Land and apply that, figuratively, to our journey through this world of sin toward heaven. But the song will change scenes multiple times until, in the last verse, it is a most personal challenge to each of us to be faithful disciples of this crucified Lord.

The first verse introduces the foot of the cross as a shadow of a mighty rock where we find relief and a home to rest in from trials and difficulties while pilgrims in a weary land (the world). We might easily think of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Some songbooks have a notation to define “fain,” a word used in the first line. It means “gladly.” I am happy to shelter behind Christ’s cross in adversities.

The second verse builds upon the metaphor of the first verse, then subtly shifts to an event from the book of Genesis. The cross is, again, a shelter and refuge. But, then, he shifts to an allusion to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10ff). He has left his father’s house and his brother’s wrath and beds down near Haran. He lays down, using stones for a pillow, and falls asleep. Moses writes, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (12-13). This is where God reaffirms the promise He had made to Jacob’s grandfather and father to make of them a great nation. It symbolized hope, reward, and heavenly assistance. The song writer says the cross is just like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, except that I ascend to heaven by way of the cross. Again, Clephane uses a poetic, if obscure word, in this verse: “trysting.” The word means “meeting.” At the cross, God’s perfect love and justice meet. His love is shown and His justice satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice.

The third verse becomes a straightforward look at a literal remembrance of the graphic, horrific suffering of Jesus on the cross. She focuses on what our reaction should be–a smitten heart, tears, and a proper conclusion. How great is His love! How unworthy I am that He would demonstrate it to me (cf. Romans 5:8).

The last verse is the challenge to respond to that sacrifice. We are to live in the shadow of the cross, daily reflecting upon it and letting it affect how we live. We are to ignore all else to focus on Him. Clephane seems to allude to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:14, if ever so subtly. Too, there’s a challenge to not be ashamed of Jesus and the cross, but reserve our shame only for the sin in our life that made the cross necessary.

It is beautifully and intricately woven. Despite some unfamiliar, even archaic, poetic words, it is powerfully written. What a great song to prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper or to sing when our motives gets clouded and our priorities get muddled. May we take the time, when we sing it, to consider the truth it teaches and the challenge it contains.

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Categories
attitude flesh fruit of the Spirit Uncategorized

Enmities

Neal Pollard

“Enmities” is a work of the flesh, found in Galatians 5:20. It’s something we may not quite understand. How do “enmities” arise and is this something you and I may fall prey to?

  • Enmities arise by holding a grudge.  In fact, it can be very difficult to know when you cross the line from the one to the other.  When you harbor feelings of resentment toward someone from an offense real or imagined, it will eventually grow into hostile feelings and possibly hostile acts.  The old law warns against bearing a grudge and even makes it antonymous (i.e., opposite) with love (Lev. 19:18).  The Lord tells us what to do when we have a problem with a brother or sister (Mat. 18:15ff).  If we do not follow this, to whom are we listening?
  • Enmities arise through prejudice.  Prejudice occurs on much more than the basis of the color of one’s skin or one’s ethnicity.  Prejudice is nothing more than a preformed opinion, one formed without all the facts but instead through “insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes” (Encarta Dictionary).  How often, based on how we think, feel, or believe another to be, do we work ourselves up against another and allow enmity to rule our hearts?
  • Enmities arise when the mind is set on the flesh (Rom. 8:7).  Paul is contrasting the Old Law with the gospel of Christ in this context, but he reveals a compelling principle.  When we fail to live spiritual lives, but instead make our decisions driven by our passions and fleshly inclinations, we open ourselves up to works like enmity.  Incidentally, this same bent will lead one further and further down the road of those ensuing works in Galatians 5.  Notice that this hostility is pointed toward God and His law (cf. Jas. 4:4), but it will impact our demeanor and attitude in all relationships.  This hostility plays out “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:8), the very activities and attitudes upon which Paul focuses in Galatians 5:19-21.

Are you and I immune from “enmities”?  We can strengthen ourselves against such
especially through the “antidote” of love in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  Love actively seeks and strives for others’ good.  If we sincerely give our hearts to loving others, our brethren or the lost, we will have a harder time harboring hostility and hatred for them.  Maybe if we will take the time to know others better and try to get insight into their circumstances, struggles, and challenges, it will temper our feelings toward them.  It will certain demonstrate that we are led by the Spirit and not by the flesh!

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Categories
division Uncategorized unity

THE CHRIST?ANS

Neal Pollard

I’ve seen the play advertised locally. Lucas Hnath, a 36-year-old playwright, has a background in religion. His mother attended seminary and he even sat in her classes. The New Yorker reveals that there were expectations early on in his life for him to become a “pastor,” a choice he forewent for the arts instead (“Divine Intervention,” 9/7/15, Hilton Als). The play is about a megachurch preacher who has come to believe there is no hell and who believes God gave him this revelation. The result of his divulging this in a sermon is a church split, led by the assistant pastor who does believe in the reality of hell. While doctrine lays at the heart of the split, the play is said to focus on the personalities and behavior of various folks making up the church. Alissa Wilkinson, in a flamboyantly titled review, says this play resonates because “schisms, church splits, or at least disgruntled storming-outs are familiar to virtually everyone who stays in a church long enough to be committed to its life” (Christianity Today, 9/23/15). At least in advertising I’ve seen, the play title appears “The Christ?ans.” The idea is that, judging from their behavior, it is questionable whether or not they are truly Christians.

There are heartbreaking stories of congregations of the Lord’s church whose internal battles became known to the community and the brotherhood at large. Some have resulted from battles over doctrinal issues, whether regarding morality, fellowship, worship, leadership, or the like. Some have resulted from dueling strong personalities, jockeying for power, position, and prominence. Some have boiled down to squabbles about money. In all of them, tragically, Christ has been relegated to the corner and forced to be quiet while His “followers” duke it out.

While the implications over a doctrinal dispute and a personality power play are different, too often the predominant feature is a show of the flesh.

Many with a background in religion will be able to relate to the theme of the play because they have seen schisms in churches before. The world is a divided place, full of rancor, backstabbing, infighting, and unfair fighting. The church, particularly the church of the New Testament, must never exhibit such traits. Corinth set off such an alarm with Paul for this very reason. He urges no division to mar them (1 Cor. 1:10-13) and goes on to address both doctrine and attitudes in the letter. Philippi had two quarreling women straining the unity of that church (4:2) and Paul goes right to the heart and the mind.

We must strive to conduct ourselves with one another in a way that is always exemplary before the eyes of the community, the brotherhood, and the world. I thank God to work with a church that has been around so long and been through so much and who have weathered those storms by sticking together. Yet, too often, people have aired their dirty, unsightly laundry out on the clothesline of public purveyance. This soils the reputation of the Savior! That fact alone should horrify every child of God. May we always strive to be a beacon of light (Mat. 5:16), shining a spotlight on the Sinless Savior and not squabbling saints!

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Categories
Christian living Christianity fruit of the Spirit gentleness Uncategorized

FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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Categories
attitude motivation purpose worship

THE FOLLY OF CHRONICALLY PLAYING THE WORSHIP CRITIC

Neal Pollard

I’ve known individuals whose sole purpose in the assemblies has seemed to be to critique those who lead the worship or show up to engage in it, from their appearance to their aptitude.  While we certainly need to avoid having someone blatantly engaging in sin and error (that’s an article for a different occasion), if that is one extreme then hypercriticism of the worship and worshipper can be another.  If you or someone you love is tempted to play this deflating part, consider the following.

  • It’s unwarranted.  Who earns the right to be the official analyst of the worship?  How does one properly and fruitfully engage himself and herself in John 4:24 worship while assuming this presumptuous activity?  The Bible nowhere portrays such a one in a positive light.  One critic of another’s worship we do read about is unflatteringly presented and unfavorably analyzed by God in Luke 18:9-14. We should ask why we feel it necessary that we grade and rate others present with us before the Great I Am.
  • It’s unscriptural. This can be the case in many possible ways.  First, if we gossip or speak about someone rather than addressing it with them, that’s wrong (1 Pet. 2:1; Mat. 18:15). Second, if our tone is biting, sarcastic, and unloving, that’s wrong (2 Tim. 2:24; Eph. 4:15).  Third, if in being critical we ourselves are not properly engaged in worship, that’s wrong (John 4:24).
  • It’s unwise. It is so easy to undermine and squander one’s own influence who reduces himself or herself to nitpicking others in the assemblies.  It can cause others to lose respect for us and even seek to avoid us.  This is especially important to remember if, in a close and final analysis, what we criticize does not rise to the level of meriting such criticism.
  • It’s untenable.  The critic is exposed as doing what he or she is condemning others for—i.e., not offering acceptable worship.  It’s somewhat like the child who sees a sibling with eyes open during the prayer and who tattles to mom and dad, who promptly ask, “How do you know?”
  • It’s unwelcome. The chronic complainer, sooner or later, develops a reputation for such.  It causes others to avoid them for fear of the carnage it could create.  The Corinthians were urged to be edifiers in their assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12,26). The worship critic works against that ever-present need.
  • It’s unbelievable.  How incredible that one would misuse the assemblies to nitpick minutia when the Creator, the Savior, and the Revealer are present and expecting worship from all present!  What a gross misunderstanding of our role as Christians to abuse the time in such a way. In fact, it is utter audacity.

There may be a bit of the critic in all of us.  Certainly, we should be striving to make worship better in every practical way we can. That involves teaching and training. It involves singing songs with words we actually use and understand. It involves probably 1,000 other things, but let’s not get so lost in the pursuit of “improving” that we forget to do what we assembled to do:  worship God!

Categories
Holy Spirit revelation

Attributing Work To The Holy Spirit

Neal Pollard

Inquiring minds want to know.  How does God work through providence? How does He answer our prayers to strengthen, help, lead, and endow us with wisdom? We are without doubt that God is active, interested, and involved in our lives today. Deism denies this, saying that a Creator set things in motion and then permanently stepped out of the picture on planet earth. Theism affirms His present involvement and interest in the affairs of men today. The dogmatic at either extreme purport to speak for God, absolutely affirming or denying what He does or does not do. There is an area in which we cannot say how God operates or whether it is the Father, Son, or Spirit who is at work simply because it has not been revealed and we are not in a position to observe what is transpiring in the heavenly realm. Moses once said, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).  Moses told Israel that some things aren’t revealed to us, but he also said some things are revealed. We are obligated to observe what is revealed.  We are on dangerous ground when we affirm what Scripture does not reveal.

Scripture does not reveal that the Spirit is involved in our decision-making in a direct way apart from the Word. It does not indicate that He is stirring inside our hearts, influencing us to think, speak, or act in a given way for a given purpose or moment.  He does not give us our words in the miraculous way He did for the apostles, who had no need to prepare or study for a given moment (cf. Matt. 10:19-20).  When we boldly assert such things, we stand without the foundation of revealed truth beneath us and, at best, stand upon dangerous conjecture.

The Spirit’s work in written revelation informs my heart and mind, and it (Scripture) awakens me to appreciate and depend upon the power of God through that word and its promises.  The Bible says we are strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man (Eph. 3:16).  We do not know the full implication of that promise, though we are thrilled by it. What a leap it is to go from acknowledging the Spirit strengthens us to claiming He gives us thoughts, ideas, or direct guidance in addition to His Word.  If we say, “The Spirit led me to take this job” or “The Spirit told me to speak to that person” or “The Spirit told me I’m saved,” we speak from ignorance (i.e., lack of knowledge or information). Kathy once studied with a woman and showed her the multitude of passages proving the essentiality of baptism, but she replied, “But the Spirit told me I’m saved.” We know that it was her own will and desire in her heart that she attributed to God. That is the danger of such reckless assertions. We easily confuse what we desire and prefer with “the will of God” or even “the Spirit’s work.” God repeatedly warns that our hearts can deceive us, that we can credit God for what, in reality, is our will (Prov. 14:12; 16:25; Jer. 10:23).

We do need to study the personality, the work, and the Deity of the Holy Spirit more. It is obvious, hearing and reading after even some brothers and sisters in Christ, that we have neglected studying about Him. Let us handle each other without suspicion, in a spirit of love and kindness and without attacking people and personalities. Let us also always be careful not to “exceed what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6), never adding to or taking away from what is revealed (Rev. 22:18-19). Yet, let us be grateful that our great God is interested and involved in our lives, being content to affirm only what Scripture reveals.

Categories
attitude balance church heart obedience

I Have Learned…

  • That some people are not happy unless they’re in a fight with someone.
  • That there are still lost people hungry for to know God’s will for their lives.
  • That it is so easy to make excuses and so hard to make the effort.
  • That I still have so much to learn, so far to go, and so little time to do it.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the right.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the left.
  • That some people get “preach the truth” but not “in love.”
  • That some people know how to be loving, but are unwilling to preach the truth.
  • That there are some who believe they are judge, jury, and executioner.
  • That some preachers decide what to preach based more on popular opinion and felt needs than honestly, courageously seeking to preach the whole counsel of God.
  • That some run roughshod over others while hypersensitive to their own rights.
  • That some can tell you what the preachers’, elders’, and deacons’ jobs are, but think their only job is to tell you that.
  • That many of God’s people are striving to live right every day, often at great personal sacrifice and despite great opposition.
  • That there are some who do good all the time, and would be mortified for others to know it.
  • That some make sure others know every good thing they do.
  • That everybody is extremely busy, but some are better time managers than others.
  • That with some people you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent, and you may still be guilty in their minds.
  • That no one can hand you success, prosperity, or discipline.  God gives you the tools, but neither He nor anyone else can make you develop and sustain them.
  • That elders and preachers who work together create a bond that holds the local church together.
  • That we have overemphasized specialization (evangelism training, youth workers, Bible class teachers) to the point that many feel unqualified and “opt out.”
  • That every one of us that gets to heaven will get there with much help from God and brethren.

—Neal Pollard

Categories
self-control

TAKE A PILL OR EXERT YOUR WILL?

Neal Pollard

They are currently touting a diet pill that is a normal size when one takes it, but it expands up to 100 times its original size when taken with a 16 ounce glass of water before a meal.  This is to give the one who takes it the exaggerated feeling of being full.  Then the pill eventually reduces in size afterwards.  Some are calling it the answer for those who are severely overweight but who have a harder time cutting back how much they eat.

Ours is an age prone to offer easy alternatives to what the Bible calls self-control (2 Pe. 1:6). This word is defined as “‘to hold oneself in,’ ‘to command oneself,’ ‘to be a chief of oneself,’ ‘to make one’s heart be obedient,’ ‘to command one’s own desires,’ ‘to be the master of what one wants,’ or ‘to say No to one’s body'” (Louw & Nida, np).  Few of us excel at this all the time, but the Holy Spirit through His inspired writers call it a characteristic of the sanctified.  Paul preached it to individuals like Felix (Ac. 24:25) and to congregations like Corinth (1 Co. 9:25).  Perhaps some limit their understanding of “self-control” to sexual matters. While that is certainly an important area, all passions and desires must be kept in check.  Paul told Galatia, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).

That applies to diet and exercise as surely as it does tobacco, alcohol, and various lusts.  If one looks to a pill as a substitute for portion control and healthy food choices, he or she is bypassing the exertion of a trait that is supposed to be a sign of faithful Christian living. How many of God’s people have eaten themselves into health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and the like?  It is often easier to excuse our unhealthy lifestyle by pointing to stress, heredity, metabolism, or busyness than to exert the necessary discipline needed for us to better care for our bodies.

Some of us may have to work harder at this than others thanks to genetics, age, or the other factors just mentioned, but that is what self-control is all about.  It is about exerting the effort required to master our wants and say no to our bodies.

This may be an unpopular subject to address, but in our ever-expanding society that has eaten its way into weight problems and obesity God’s people are to lead by example.  That means demonstrating self-control not only by what comes out of our mouths or from our deeds, but by what we put into our bodies.  We don’t do that by taking a pill, but instead by exerting our will.