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conflict peace prejudice unity

Chasing Calm In The Chaos Of Conflict

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Conflict stinks. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable, and far too easy to do poorly. Conflict is a delicate game balancing a desire to achieve a certain outcome without causing unnecessary escalation.

We live in a world where evil is alive and well. No one wants evil to exist, but it does because of sin. Both good and bad people sometimes do evil things. Those people should be held accountable and justice meted. Our country has had a consistent pattern of civil unrest after an injustice. We no longer know how to have healthy conflict. 

  • Do you want to perpetuate hate? Use the actions of an evil person as an excuse to harm others, burn businesses, and contribute to civil unrest. 
  • Do you want to stifle positive change? Share polarizing rhetoric. It will flawlessly push either side more firmly into their ways. 
  • Do you want to keep a rift between entire groups of people? Play the blame game instead of holding those responsible accountable. And, when those responsible have been held accountable, continue to accuse others of complicity. 

Every single person on the planet is guilty. Every single person on the planet is hopeless without God. Every person on the planet would die lost if not for Jesus and the forgiveness He offers. Not one person is perfect. 

  • Do we want peace? Be good to all people (Galatians 6.10). 
  • Do we want to eradicate prejudice? Unite within the family of God (Galatians 3.28). God created people, not factions. 
  • Do we want to eliminate hatred? Be patient, kind, humble, not jealous, not self-centered, not easily provoked, not a grudge-holder, not someone who relishes in dysfunction, love truth, not retaliatory, and be full of hope (I Corinthians 13). 

We must face the fact that the only way to have true stability, love, acceptance, and goodness is to go through God. Only when we look to an objective standard – one that cannot change simply because man’s threshold of tolerance has – will we have peace. 

“Happy are the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). 

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Categories
accusation cooperation division Uncategorized unity

You Push That Way And I’ll Pull This Way

Neal Pollard

While it is true that each of us possesses unique abilities within the Lord’s body (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12), that fact bears closer scrutiny. God can use each of us, with our unique personalities, backgrounds, and experiences, to reach so many among the lost and to help so many among the saved. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of how we contribute to the health and growth of the congregation we are a part of. 

For example, the following should not be considered talents useful to the Lord’s cause:

  • Being gossips and busybodies (2 Th. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13).
  • Causing strife and being jealous (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3).
  • Judging your brother (Rom. 14:10; Jas. 4:11).
  • Returning evil for evil and insult for insult (1 Pet. 3:9). 
  • Being an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Rom. 14:13).
  • Speaking deceit (1 Pet. 3:10).
  • Giving the devil an opportunity (Eph. 4:27).
  • Keeping your leaders from doing their work with joy and not with grief (Heb. 13:17).

Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of ways we may misuse the stewardship of our speech and actions as members of the body of Christ. It can be so tempting, when we look at the church’s imperfections and people’s inevitable shortcomings. We have new Christians. All Christians have weaknesses. Those who lead and conduct the church’s work could inevitably do it better. 

What does the Lord want each of us to do as individual members of the Lord’s church? He calls for living in harmony in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). He wants us fitted, built, and held together (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:16). He wants us “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Practically speaking, this means getting behind the work of the local church, contributing to it and building it up. It means asking how we can help and throwing our energy into that. It means constructively helping when a work is lagging or in need of direction. It means lovingly, respectfully interacting with the other members of the body. 

Comedian Steve Harvey compared his rise to success with pulling a wagon uphill. He said that many people may hop on that wagon and contribute something, He said they all need to be doing something to help you get that wagon up the hill. He warned against those who get on the wagon and have no value (via OWN, 9/12/14). Perhaps you’ve found yourself pushing toward a spiritual objective, only to feel the resistance of someone working against you. This is frustrating! However, never find yourself opposing good, needed works through misuses of your resources in ways like those in the bulleted list above. In the worst case scenario, we may even find that in doing so we “may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:39). Let’s do all we can to help build up the body of Christ, prayerfully studying what that does and does not mean!

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Categories
authority criticism hypercriticism hypocrisy inconsistency standards Uncategorized

WISDOM IS VINDICATED BY ALL HER CHILDREN

Neal Pollard

There was an old joke or riddle that went, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” How would a man respond? If he said “no,” it was tantamount to confessing to being a wife beater. If he said “yes,” it suggested that he was a former wife-beater. Either way, the conundrum had him struck.  Have you ever had someone try to place you into such a bind?

It has been said that the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. If you are striving to serve Christ and fulfill your purpose as a Christian, there is at least some likelihood that you will be opposed and even accused in some way. Jesus discusses that very matter in Luke seven. He’s teaching His disciples and compares His generation to children who criticize no matter what a person does—some criticizing people for being too somber, others criticizing people for being too festive. Jesus uses that illustration to speak of how God’s enemies criticized John the Baptist and then Himself. The criticism revealed that if John had acted like Jesus and Jesus had acted like John, the critics would still have been dissatisfied.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not give us a manual for handling labeling, libelous critics? He does not say to write books or articles, preach sermons, get on TV or the radio, and the like, spending the precious resources of time, money, and influence countering the charges of those who are seemingly not content unless they can bully or intimidate their prey into conforming to the gospel according to them—the arbitrary standard for others they have created and uphold.

Here is Jesus’ summation: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”  What does that mean? Look at the offspring of the teaching. What is the result of Jesus’ ministry? People are taught the truth, led to live the way God wants, and are pointed to the narrow way. Criticisms notwithstanding, that’s the fruit.  Speaking of which, Jesus also uses that analogy in the sermon on the mount. He begins and ends the analogy with the idea that “you will know them by their fruits” (Mat. 7:16,20).  But, this is a fair test for everyone.

What is the fruit of the hypercritical attacker? Not only ask if what they teach is technically true, but do they meet the tests of honesty, consistency, kindness, fairness, and love. Do they demonstrate the spirit of Christ, bear the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrate the Christian graces, fulfill the inspired definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, act like the new man, and the like? So often, we do not stop to inspect the inspector. Whether we do or not, the Lord will inspect the work of us all at the end.

Each of us must focus on pleasing God and being absolutely sure that we are submitting to His authority and obeying His will. The standard of judgment at the last day will not be the man-made rules of even the potshot-takers, but instead the words of Christ (John 12:48). Let us be careful to grow in our knowledge of His will each day so we can discern between divine expectations and human regulations. At the end, what we should desire is heavenly vindication. The rest will ultimately take care of itself.

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Categories
division prejudice strife Uncategorized

TO THOSE WHO DIVIDE BRETHREN

Neal Pollard

—“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
—“A worthless person, a wicked man is one who…spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12,14).
—“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: …one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16,19).
—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12).
—“Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Prov. 26:26).
—“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
—“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).
—“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).
—“He who loves transgression loves strife…” (Prov. 17:19a).
—“Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).
—“An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (Prov. 28:25).

Suffice it to say, the Lord has not been silent on the matter. Our age is marked by the manufacturing and fanning the flames of controversy, endless argument, and divisive issues. Men seem to take pride in starting strife and stirring the pot. When we share the gospel, in gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24) and love (Eph. 4:15), it can still be met with devastating disagreement and vehement vituperation. But, thanks to mediums like social media, some among us have seized the platform to spread division where they could as easily work to promote love and unity among brethren.  I cannot presume heart or motives, but the fruit has been to start brotherhood brawls and to stratify schisms. It is worrisome that while we manufacture outrage on politics, race, law enforcement, “guilt by association,” nitpicking the church, or constantly bringing up the latest “what’s wrong with the church” scenario, 151,600 people die around the world every day (via http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/)! Most of that number will have traveled the broad way that leads to destruction. Surely we can redirect our passion and conviction away from divisive diversions and do our part to stem the tide of such an eternal tragedy!

Meanwhile, we can resolve to see people, not skin color, God’s sovereignty, not party affiliation or uniform, the local church’s autonomy, not an opportunity to be a busybody, and with every other, similar scenario, not major in the minors. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness while scrupulously focusing on matters comparatively minor (Mat. 23:23).  We have a brief time to use our talents and influence on this earth. Will our cause be social justice, brotherhood policing, or political activism, or will it be building up the kingdom through evangelism, edification, and benevolence? May God grant us all the wisdom to “not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Be a builder, not a basher!

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Categories
edification example speech Uncategorized wisdom

Poking The Bear

Neal Pollard

It’s not a Social Media phenomenon, but those platforms have proliferated this problem.  Begin by making a provocative statement about race, religion, politics, other social issue, matter of judgment, or the like, then step back and watch while the unrestrained and undisciplined scratch and claw at one another. Soon, the issue is obscured by hateful remarks as combatants escalate the rhetoric. The tactic is utterly worldly, yet too often it is brothers and sisters in Christ with the sinister stick in their hands jabbing at the hibernating grizzly! My consistent question is, “Why?”  What is the purpose? Certainly, we should all be more critical thinkers, but such tactics as these generate much more heat than light. Rather than logical, rational points and counterpoints, they usually produce ad hominem attacks, reductio ad absurdum, and other Latin diseases!

When you consider how the New Testament governs our speech and guides our conduct in dealing with each other, you have to ask where the above-mentioned ploys fit in.  Here is a sampling of admonitions and instructions the Holy Spirit gives us through Scripture:

  • “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).
  • “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).
  • “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
  • [God hates] “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19b).
  • “Pursue peace with all men…” (Heb. 12:14a).
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).
  • “Love does not act unbecomingly” (1 Cor. 13:5a).
  • “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
  • “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul…” (Acts 4:32).

Be careful. In an attempt to be clever, relevant, and cutting edge, could we instead be alienating, divisive, and polarizing? There’s a big difference. May we all pray for the wisdom to differentiate. Especially in a divided world that is watching how those who claim to be Christians speak, interact, and treat them and each other, may we “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mat. 10:16).  Be dove-imitators, not bear-pokers.

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Categories
attitude Christ Christian living Christianity church church (nature) church growth church of Christ civility courtesy Jesus Christ judging kindness rumors teachers teaching unity worldview

“Let Them Alone”

Neal Pollard

It is a commendable mixture of righteous indignation, conviction, and affection for the Lord and His church to want to answer all the critics, rebut all the troublemakers, defend all the reputations, and fight all the false teaching out there.  Knowing how best to deal with the pot-stirrers or the novel-doctrine-peddlers can cause quite the consternation.  Do we answer every allegation and oppose every little quibble?  Are there times where the best answer is to simply ignore “one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19) or those who attempt to “preach any other gospel” (Gal. 1:9)?  That requires great wisdom and judgment as to the specific situations which arise, but it is clear that the Bible has given disciples the counsel to just let some things lie.

A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE: The Pharisees Of Matthew 15.  These religious leaders elevated human traditions (1-2,6,9), made their own rules they bound others to follow or else (3-6), had heart problems (7-9), and spoke defiling words (11).  They intimidated the disciples, who were concerned that Jesus offended the Pharisees (12). Jesus pointed ahead to the judgment that would determine the nature of their work (13), but counseled His followers to “let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (14).  So often, those who strive and divide, as well as those swayed by them, experience the fruit of their work in this life.  Others, unheeding of cautions and pleadings to the contrary, find out in the end (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24-25).  While the Pharisees ultimately nailed Jesus to the cross, His view of their divisive tactics was to simply “let them alone.”

A POSITIVE EXAMPLE: Peter And John In Acts 5.  Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the Law and member of the Sanhedrin Council, weighed in on the work of Peter and John, two faithful gospel preachers. He looked at past movements of those claiming to be someone, Theudas and Judas, and compared them to these followers of Christ. His advice, “stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-40).  While we have no indication that Gamaliel’s advice is inspired, as Caiaphas did (John 11:49ff), it is hard to find fault with his logic.  In the case of the apostles in Acts five, their plan and action was of God. In the case of the other two “leaders,” it was of men.  Time typically tells.  Inspect the fruit.  Listen to the words.  Watch the attitudes.  Discern the actions demanded and urged. Examine it all in the light of carefully studied Scripture.

Apathy and indifference can lull us to sleep.  The antagonistic or the agents of unscriptural change can both serve to wake us up, get us to reexamine our stand, get into our Bibles, and work to ensure our message and our methods are “by the book.”  But do we have to accept every challenge and dare?  Jesus once drew in the dirt in the face of those who demanded an answer from Him.  There are some times when the best answer is silence.  As for those who make demands of us? Sometimes, we’re best to just “let them alone.”

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arguing controversy

Avoid Foolish And Ignorant Disputes!

Neal Pollard

A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ.  He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher.  The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful.  In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.

Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23.  One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.”  We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate!  Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn.  I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.”  Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?

And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler.  For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar.  The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not!  That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.

Remember what Paul tells the Romans.  “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19).  The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this.  Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words.  “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving.  You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!

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Uncategorized

Strife Spreaders

Neal Pollard

Who couldn’t use more of any number of things–money, time, opportunities, friends, etc.  Our families would be blessed with an increase of precious memories, traditions, vacations, and even those glorious, ordinary moments together?  The nation could use more politicians with courage, public figures with proper, moral convictions, and ordinary citizens whose believe in and love for the God of the Bible were strong enough to turn the tide.  The church could use more volunteers, more holiness, more qualified elders, more preachers with backbone and compassion, more programs to accomplish God’s purpose on earth, and that list could go on for a while.  But, the church does not need more “strife spreaders.”
“Strife spreaders” are those who spread strife.  They may do so openly or clandestinely.  They may do so directly or even through innuendo and insinuation.  They may do so by peddling their side of a two-sided story.  They may do so by stirring up the discontent or dissatisfaction of other members.  They may do so through gossip or lying.  They may do so through assassinating the character of others, whether elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, or other members.

But, they that do so, do so at a tremendous price!  Solomon describes a worthless person as one who spreads strife (Prov. 6:14).  Then, he follows that up by speaking of “the seven deadly sins,” things done by man that are hated by God.  Last in the list is “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19).  Solomon strikes hard at “strife spreaders.”  It is fueled by hatred (Prov. 10:12).  It is fed by pride and arrogance (Prov. 13:10; 28:25). It is fired by a hot-temper (Prov. 15:18). It is a feature of perversity (Prov. 16:28).  It flies from a fool’s lips (Prov. 18:6; 20:3 says, “Any fool will quarrel”).  It is a feature of sinful anger (Prov. 29:22; 30:33).  None of those verses mentions adultery, fornication, murder, theft, or false teaching, but strife will have done much harm to the souls of men when all is said and done.  It is easy enough to spread strife, but it is exceedingly and eternally unwise.  Paul warns that those who practice the spreading of strife will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:20-21).  That should be enough warning for all of us to continually be on guard against spreading strife, instead choosing to be those who sow the seed of peace and produce the fruit of righteousness (Jas. 3:18).