Narcissus and Echo 

Narcissus and Echo 

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Greek mythology is fascinating. So much so, in fact, that the Romans co-opted it as their own. As such, the Roman poet, Ovid, tells us the story of Narcissus and Echo within Metamorphoses. You likely recognize Narcissus’ name because of the mental disorder named for him. Narcissism. You may not have known that the phenomenon called an “echo” also derives its name from a mythic figure. Echo was a beautiful, but talkative, forest nymph. She cut off the goddess Juno so much during conversations that the peeved goddess cursed her with the capacity only to repeat the last words spoken by others. 

Without delving too deeply into the mythology, suffice it to say Echo fell in love with the picky Narcissus, whose standard for a consort was so high that none could meet his expectations, including poor Echo. Already cursed, Echo was not able to convey her feelings to Narcissus. On one fateful day, however, Narcissus had sensed Echo’s presence and called out, “Is anyone there?” After she replied in the same, he said, “Come here!” Echo ran to Narcissus as she repeated his command. Echo’s actions repulsed Narcissus. He told her he would sooner die than allow her to enjoy his company. Echo was humiliated and ran away. Yet, she continued to love Narcissus. The vengeful goddess, Nemesis, saw Narcissus’ actions. She cursed him by making him fall deeply in love with his reflection. 

There was no redemption for Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus lingered by the pool of water, looking longingly at his reflection. Echo persisted in her love for Narcissus. As the years passed, Echo’s beauty faded, and her body wasted away, leaving only her voice. Narcissus committed suicide, realizing his impossible love would remain unrequited. A flower bloomed where he killed himself. Yes, the narcissus.  

It is easy to use Narcissus as an object lesson for us, spiritually.  Both James and Peter quote Proverbs 3.34 from the Septuagint to remind us that God resists the proud (James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5). A haughty look is something we know God hates (Proverbs 6.17). Our Lord went about doing good (Acts 10.38). Since He is our example (1 Peter 2.21), Paul tells us: “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2.4 NASB) 

But what lessons do we derive from Echo? Her tongue is what initially got her into trouble. Just because the tongue is an unruly member, per James 3, doesn’t mean that we should not seek to control it. There is the talk we must avoid (Ephesians 4.29; 5.4; Philippians 2.14). Besides this prohibited speech, there remains gossip and lying, which both Testaments condemn (Exodus 20.16; Psalm 15.1-3; Proverbs 6.19; 2 Corinthians 12.20; 1 Timothy 5.11-13; Titus 2.3). 

Echo also squandered a precious commodity in her quixotic pursuit of Narcissus, time. We are supposed to take advantage of the time given to us (Ephesians 5.15-17). There comes the point where even preaching the Gospel to the hard-hearted equivalent of a brick wall is like casting “what is holy to dogs” and throwing “pearls before swine” (Matthew 7.6). 

Lastly, Echo loved someone incapable of justifying the precious investment of her heart. The world is like Narcissus in that regard. John reminds us that the world with its lusts will one day pass away (1 John 2.15-17). Even so, how many have laid up treasure on the earth? (Matthew 6.19-21; Luke 12.33-34). We cannot pursue both God and mammon (“wealth” NASB— Matthew 6.24).  

May it be that as you search your heart that you find no kindred spirit with Narcissus and Echo. Focus outwardly upon others’ needs, be mindful of the precious commodity of time, and give your heart—and tongue—to the One Who will best use and appreciate it (cf. Matthew 22.36-38). 

 

A Simple Way To Simply Live Better

A Simple Way To Simply Live Better

 Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

We would all like to improve in many ways, but many of us are also well aware of the flaws we feel are holding us back. Those shortcomings tend to get in the way, slow us down, or even prevent us from achieving the quality of life that we desire. While there is plenty of room for improvement in my life, I have found that there is a simple way to clearly envision where I am currently, and also plan for where I would like to be in the future. 

It’s true that our burdens often come from our blessings. For example, the blessing of having a car may result in the burden of expensive bills that follow a mechanical issue. 

I believe that there are five major buckets of blessings that we all must give our time and attention to. They are the five categories that if purposefully tended to, our lives can be wonderful. On the other hand, if neglected, we find ourselves in a head spinning spiral of worry and anxiety. 

These buckets are: 

  1. Faith 
  2. Mental maturity 
  3. Physical health 
  4. Relationships 
  5. Work 

If one of those buckets isn’t filled with the proper content, I’m sure you’re aware of the negative effects. If these crucial categories are filled correctly, our quality of life will only improve. 

God is the Creator of life itself which makes Him the leading authority on the subject. Consider how He can help you in each of the five areas listed above.

Faith 

By denying self, our focus is diverted away from our negative self- absorption. Putting God and others first can give you a better, fresh, and positive perspective. 

Acts 20:35

Mental maturity 

When we seek to understand our own minds and what makes us tick, we’ll be able to identify where these negative thoughts and reactions originate. 

Philippians 4:8

Physical health 

Poor health habits like fast-food diets, lack of physical exercise, and sleep deprivation only make dealing with stress all the more difficult. God designed your body to function properly when properly taken care of. 

Luke 1:37 

Relationships 

Every kind of relationship, whether marriages, friendships, family, co-workers, or the church, has one thing in common—they were made by God. Thankfully, God wrote a book to help us understand who we are to be to each individual that make up those groups. 

Romans 12:16

Work 

God built us to work— He expects us to. Some choose to be lazy and suffer. Others choose to constantly work to the neglect of the four other areas mentioned. There must be a balance, and God knows that. 

Psalm 128:2 

While there’s a lot more to be said concerning these five categories, I hope this simplified things and helped you refocus on what really matters. 

Hopefully, looking at life through His divine lens has reminded you of Who you should turn to for everything. He has given you the ultimate assurance— and He is willing to give you the ultimate assistance. 

When Adversity Makes You Feel Unproductive

When Adversity Makes You Feel Unproductive

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

If there’s one thing disappointing me most, it’s the lack of productivity I often feel. There are many things I want to do. I don’t think I get even a quarter done. For many facing a similar predicament, it’s a matter of poor time management. Time is precious. We’re told to make the most of it since the days are evil (Ephesians 5.16). Contextually, this pertains to the efforts made by first-century Christians in their daily walk. Persecution was coming. Indeed, for some, their lives would soon be at an end. Did they want to depart for eternity’s shore feeling as if more could have done but had not been? That message remains prescient today. We enjoy civil liberties now including religious freedom. However, a tempest has been growing for half a century which seeks to strip away the vestiges of religion and morality from the body politic. In but a short time we may face the same uncertain prospects as they. Hence, our struggle to be productive is as important as ever.

This exhortation may be limited in scope, but I wish to address those who might have certain mitigating factors making Paul’s inspired admonition more difficult to keep. It’s one thing to be a timewaster when one is able-bodied. It’s another matter entirely when you’re limited from accomplishing as much by the limitations of the flesh. There are those accustomed to doing much. One day they young, full of vigor. In the blinking of an eye, though, they no longer recognize the person staring back at them in the mirror. The snow of many winters covers what hair is left on their heads. For such, it hurts getting out of bed. Something as simple as buttons on garments becomes a time-consuming challenge. They may be asking, “Why can’t I get as much done as I used to?” This can be especially vexing, spiritually.

Perhaps, you have an illness of the body or mind. Maybe you don’t have old age to blame for your aches and pains but an autoimmune disease that others dismiss because, from appearances, you look fine. Not only are you in pain but you feel alone because some have unfairly surmised you’re just lazy. It could be that you’ve had chemotherapy and experience what has been termed “chemo brain.” You find yourself struggling to remember simple details. If you don’t write something down, you’ll forget about it. Truly, I could share a plethora of other scenarios in which some malady besets the body or mind and causes one to feel unproductive or a timewaster. These should suffice.

Fortunately, we serve a gracious God. Not only is His grace sufficient for coping with our lot in life (2 Corinthians 12.9), but it takes into consideration our current estate. One can debate whether there are degrees of punishment from Luke 12.48. That’s not my purpose. A principle is established here, however, stating that we’re held accountable according to the responsibility entrusted to us. Why would God hold the enfeebled or impaired to the same standard as the able-bodied? This must be true of redeeming one’s time as well. Note, one cannot forsake his or her Christian duty. Yet, rather than beat up on yourself because of what you left unaccomplished, trust that God knows your situation intimately. The main thing is to show up and do the work of which you are capable (Matthew 20.1-16; 21.28-32). This is how you remain productive even while facing adversity in these evil days.

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LESSONS FROM ADVERSITY: LIVING WITH ONGOING ADVERSITY

LESSONS FROM ADVERSITY: LIVING WITH ONGOING ADVERSITY

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard 

While in the exceptional care of the physicians of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System, I met Dr. Alan Siqueiros as he was completing his Fellowship. He could tell I was depressed. My lung function was at 25% from my history of three pulmonary emboli. I had no prospects for a “normal” future. Yet, Dr. Siqueiros left me with some words of exhortation, since he was about to depart for Yale’s Danbury Hospital to do his Residency. “You’re a bright young man. You may not have the health you wanted, but you have a sharp mind. You’re still young. If I were you, I would focus on developing my mind and see where that leads.”

 

There’s something to be said about doing what you can with what you have at your disposal, isn’t there? The woman with the costly oil of spikenard did what she could when she took her costly oil and anointed Jesus’ head. When people complained she wasted something precious, Jesus told them to leave her alone since she had done what she could for Him (Mark 14.1-9).  A woman in the first century had limited options for service and this was a risky step. Even so, she was motivated to do what she could with what was available to her. Jesus understood and appreciate her effort.

 

We all expect our trials to be swift, don’t we? We don’t anticipate the possibility that we may find ourselves in a situation where adversity persists and may not go away. If you have an illness, others may see your adversity and help. Even so, there are also those forms of adversities people face on their own since no one else notices it (e.g. unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse). So, if you are living with ongoing adversity, what can you do?

 

First, accept God’s sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12.1-10). You don’t have to enjoy adversity, but trust God’s grace to give you a reason to rejoice, even if only in His strength. His strength shines through your weakness, when you’re living faithfully.

 

Second, go ahead and do what you can, even if it’s just with a box of “costly oil of spikenard.” As we’ve seen, even a simple act has its place when used to God’s glory. Christ has entrusted us with the gifts we may use (Ephesians 4.7-8).

 

Third, don’t compare yourself to others. We each have our own cross to carry (Luke 14.27). And the execution of our duties produce the results God intends (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).

 

Lastly, keep going (Hebrews 12.1-4). We know that we will only receive the crown of life if death finds us faithful (Revelation 2:10).

 

The nature of your adversity may be ongoing. It may be something you feel you face alone. However, the sufficient grace of God, coupled with the tools with which He has entrusted all of us, permits even those living amidst adversity to live a fulfilling life leading to our eternal home.

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Be Fearlessly Fervent 

Be Fearlessly Fervent 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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It takes a special individual of both breed and brand to truly impact the world. The fact is, many will live their lives comfortable and content to never break any molds or “step outside the box,” as they say. Most believers understand that God has called us out of this world to be lights and to be different, but that means being uncomfortable (James 1:2-4). We don’t like that aspect of faithful walking and at times the fire inside us and the will to go on is at the verge of being snuffed out. On every side we are surrounded by a raging current of mainstream ideologies and beliefs that drown the masses sweeping them closer towards eternity—unprepared. That familiar and depressing reality can discourage and frustrate us to the point of tears. Preachers, elders, and leaders are constantly fighting these feelings as they huff and puff under the weight of it all.
Christian fathers and mothers anxiously worry about that painfully uncertain future their children will battle. Young people are plagued with convincing thoughts that a faithful life is all but impossible today. How can we make an impact? You may wonder what difference you could possibly make as you observe such a powerful and evil force.
Here is the bad news, it’s hard. But here is the wonderful new, it’s worth it! God has given us an instruction manual on how to become mighty misfits in a culture that rejects righteousness. There are permanent footprints left by the feet of godly men throughout history, and their tracks lead to victory for those that choose to follow them.
For example, there is the trail blazer and zealous disciple, Paul. He serves as an inspiring nonconformist when he abandons his previous life of riches, respect, and comfort. His courage, faith, and determination can produce a powerful stirring in our spirits. If that man with the thorn can overcome fear and defeat the devil’s endeavors, despite his own weakness, then by the grace of God we can too. Our lives can leave an impact and they can serve as beacon of light for generations to come.
Notice how Jabez demonstrates this point in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Within a lengthy list of family lines that make up the sons of Judah, Jabez breaks the mold. While numerous names are given, there is something more to be said of Jabez. He stands out as one who was “more honorable” than those who were before him in verse nine. Though his name means “son of my sorrow,” a label associated with affliction, he refuses to let this name define his future. The key to his success is given in the following verse which says, “Jabez called upon the Lord saying, ‘oh that you would bless me, your hand be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not give me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.” That verse is loaded with valuable lessons for this age and every age to follow.
Lesson one, don’t interpret your future by looking at your past. It doesn’t matter what family you were born into or how you were raised. We all have been given at least three common blessings. If you are made in the image of God, and you are, then that means you have talent, opportunity, and a life. The amount of talent, number of opportunities, and quality of that life is irrelevant. You have everything you need to succeed which is precisely what our Father desires.
Lesson number two, only God can grant you gainful glory. Jabez established his lasting legacy and was victorious because he understood one thing. God is the God of impartiality. He offers a heavenly hand to help the stereotypically weak and sinful human break the stereotype. The cards of life you hold in your hand mean little to the God who owns the deck. Jabez, Paul, and many faithful others understood the weakness of humanity. Their lives are a statement and a confession— God can help anyone rise above the crowd. He can help you achieve the only recognition that counts and give you the precious gift of a future with certainty.
The path to victory is a narrow one according to Matthew 7:14. Few have found it and few have finished it, but with the right Guide it can definitely be done. Are you unsure of your current location? Look down at the tracks you are following, and the guide walking with you. If you are holding the hand of the Savior— you can be sure you’re going in the right direction. Allow that comfort to strengthen you and break out of whatever mold you are in. Let God use your weakness and failures to leave an eternal mark on a world that needs it. There is no congregation that can’t grow, no Christian that can’t improve, and no unsaved person that doesn’t deserve the chance to hear that life changing message of the cross. There’s a great day coming, and that should provoke some excitement as well as motivate us all to diligently and fearlessly work until then.
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THE DAILY PLANNER

THE DAILY PLANNER

MONDAY COLUMN: “NEAL AT THE CROSS”

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Neal Pollard

It’s the time of year when so many are buying or receiving calendars and planners or using an electronic version of the same. These can be key to organizing our lives, maximizing our time management, and strategizing ways to grow and improve in the future. Good stewardship really demands that you are “making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16).

In this task of planning life each day, please consider planning to do the following each and every day of 2020:

  • Tell someone about what Jesus has done for you every day.
  • Tell God how great He is and grateful you are for Him as you pray every day.
  • Let God speak to You through His Word every day.
  • Tell your spouse, children, and family you love them every day.
  • Show someone the servant heart of Jesus in your deeds every day.
  • Do something that will help you look more like Jesus every day.
  • Help people see the joy and satisfaction of living the Christian life every day.
  • Encourage someone (via card, social media, phone, etc.) every day.
  • Compliment someone every day.
  • Examine yourself every day.
  • Provide an example of leadership to someone every day.
  • Invest in someone every day. 
  • Count your blessings every day.

That’s enough to keep idleness from plaguing us, isn’t it? Consider how helpful this will be, not just on January 1, but also March 19, June 6, September 25, and December 30. This life is about overcoming (1 John 5:4), but perseverance is as much about the daily grind as it is the dramatic and grand. Zig Ziglar wrote that “people often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” How profound! Plan on being a better you and on doing what that requires, day by day. 

Selling Children

Selling Children

Neal Pollard

In March of 2007, in Owensboro, Kentucky, a couple tried to sell the woman’s 15-month-old daughter for $3000 and an SUV. The noble purpose behind this attempted transaction was “money to pay off [the boyfriend’s] fines for previous criminal charges.” Surprisingly, they denied the allegations and maintained their innocence, an effort that would eventually be unsuccessful.

How heartbreaking that anyone could act so heinously. Truly, “Children are a gift of the Lord…a reward” (Psa. 127:3). Yet, while they are a gift from the Lord to us, in another sense they still belong to Him (cf. Ezek. 18:4). We cannot sell what ultimately does not belong to us.

What Charles Hope, Jr., and Amber Revlett did in Kentucky was certainly criminal, but they are far from salon among those trying to “sell” their children for one reason or another. In order to give their children popularity, gratification, or material success, some parents are encouraging their children to live a life of sin, worldliness, and selfishness. Secular courts would never convict them, but what they are doing is even more heinous than that attempted by those lowbrow schemers from the Bluegrass State. As Christian parents, we have an obligation to recognize this tendency and not “sell our children” out to anything that could replace their undivided loyalty to serve Christ. We want their hearts centered around Christ and His will (Mat. 6:33).

Let us both teach our children and realize ourselves their intrinsic value as ones made in the very image of God (Gen. 1:27). Within each of our children is a soul, every one of which is more valuable and important than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). May we never do anything that would lead them to exchange their souls. Whatever they gain, they will lose everything! To the extent we, as parents, can influence this, let us do with diligence. God has placed their training and spiritual wellbeing into our hands (cf. Deu. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:1-4).

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If Today Was My Last Day On Earth (Poem)

If Today Was My Last Day On Earth (Poem)

Neal Pollard

[NEAL’S NOTE: This poem was from the conclusion to the sermon I preached on this subject from Psalm 90]

If today was my last day and tomorrow found me gone
How would life be different, if that unknown somehow was known

Would I be a better person, would I live a better life
How much would I feed resentment, envy, bitterness and strife?

How would I choose to live, and what would be my emphasis
Being a blessing or a burden, full of service or selfishness?

Where would God be in my life, what place would He occupy,
If today was my last day, and before tomorrow I would die.

If today was my last day, and second chances all were through
And I stood before my judge and my eternal fate I knew

I would mourn and fall before Him, if I had not done what’s right
If I had chosen self and sin, if I had chosen eternal night.

But there’s no reason for apprehension, I can die w/head held high
If I die to self & live to Him, it won’t matter when I die.

WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

Neal Pollard

In discussions about the smartest person who ever lived, William James Sidis’ name will come up as being in the mix. Though measuring IQs with a specific number is not an exact science, he is reputed to have had an IQ of 200 or more. He was reading the New York Times at 18 months old. He taught himself eight languages and made up another one. He enrolled at Harvard University at the record young age of 11. He was a professor at what’s now Rice University by the age of 17. He was a renowned mathematician. But, adjusting to mainstream society proved an ongoing problem for Sidis, whose extreme, socialistic politics and eccentric behaviors dogged him for the rest of his life. He died of a brain aneurysm in 1944 at the age of 46. With such a brilliant mind, his contributions to the world were relatively small. In fact, most of us have never heard of Bill Sidis (much information from Amy Wallace’s sometimes disputed biography, The Prodigy, Dutton: New York, 1986).

We all know people who rose from poverty, dysfunction, and perceived disadvantage who have risen to great heights in their profession and their personal lives. Those abused as children, those who grew up in homes afflicted with drug use or alcoholism, and those whose parents went through failed relationship after failed relationship, have grown up to break such patterns by becoming loving, effective parents and spouses. Some who were given little have done much with it.

Jesus teaches the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, which demonstrates the good and bad stewardship of three particular individuals. Two faithfully used what they were given, but another was unfaithful. The Lord shows us God’s dim view toward one who fails to use what he or she has been given.

Most of us are somewhere on the continuum between the one talent man and the world’s smartest man. Scripture shows us that we must be faithful stewards (1 Cor. 4:2) and that we will give an account for our stewardship (Mat. 25:14-30), whether money, abilities, opportunities, time, or whatever our relative resources. May we be encouraged to do as much as we can with what we have been given. How great to be acknowledged by Christ before all nations as one who did the most with what we had!

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Tools In God’s Toolbox

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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