Categories
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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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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Categories
apostasy faithfulness perseverance salvation

Right Back Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water.  He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive.  Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.

Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham.  Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).

What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense.  Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution.  The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering.  We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return.  We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start.  Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before.  We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.

Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away.  He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).  Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.

May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

Categories
doctrine error lies truth

MIKEY, LIFE, AND POP ROCKS

Neal Pollard

Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s remember the infamous Life cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the finicky little boy who liked the taste of that cereal.  Somewhere along the way, the story got out that Mikey—whose real-life name is John Gilchrist—ate Pop-Rocks candy, washed it down with a Coca-Cola, and had the resulting chemistry experiment explode in his stomach, killing him.  How many mother’s absolutely forbad their children eat Pop-Rocks and drink Coke thanks to this story?  It turns out to have been a hoax, urban legend, or whatever you’d like to call the fabrication.  Today, Gilchrist, who appeared in a total of 250 commercials, is sales director at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Who knows how these silly rumors get started?  It has been said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (stated by banker David Hannum rather than P.T. Barnum, as is popularly thought, by the way; R.J. Brown, editor-in-chief, historybuff.com). The idea is that people are gullible and many are trusting to a fault.  Cynicism is its own problem, and gullibility can be amusing.

Too many, however, have bought into ideas that could not be more destructive.  Consider the following sentiments:

  • “One church is as good as another”
  • “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere”
  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “Anything’s permissible between two consenting adults”
  • “Truth is whatever you think it is”
  • “If it feels good, do it”

Obviously, the list is rather long but these are illustrative of the point. How remarkable it is that such lies are nearly as old as the world itself.  The serpent lied to Eve, selling her on the belief that she would surely not die if she ate fruit forbidden by God (Gen. 3:4).  Jesus taught a group notorious for changing God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Who are we listening to? Are they telling us the truth?  “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Categories
Christian living depression discouragement perseverance struggle

“The People…In The Wilderness”

Neal Pollard

Shortly before Joab turns the tide of Absalom’s rebellion by killing him, David, the rebel’s father, had reached a low ebb in his reign.  David and his faithful followers had been on the run from Absalom for some time, hiding and trying to escape rout and death. Worry was a regular exercise for David during this time (2 Sam. 15:14), as was weeping (2 Sam. 15:30) and weariness (2 Sam. 16:14).  Just before the fateful day of his son’s death, David and his loyal followers fled for their lives and survived thanks to the crafty counsel of Hushai.  The state of the people, at this point, is described in 1 Samuel 17:29: “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”  They were at the end of their rope, worn and frazzled by their very real problems.

Have you wrestled with worry, weeping, and weariness lately?  Can you relate?  Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and overmatched by things going on in your life.  As we read this account, there are several reasons to hope.

THEY WERE NOT ALONE.  2 Samuel 17:22 notes that it was “David and all the people who were with him” who arose and crossed the Jordan to go to Mahanaim.  Each struggled, anxious and uncertain, but how comforting that they were able to go together.  The Christian should never have to go it alone.  There are those around us who to help bear our burdens (Gal. 6:2).  From the beginning of the church, this has been the case.  Acts 2:44 says, “All who had believed were together.”  While each of us may be struggling with individual problems, struggling is part of the human condition (Job 14:1).  In God’s wisdom, He has made the church a place where we can help and support each other (1 Th. 5:11).

THEY WERE BENEFICIARIES OF KINDNESS. What happens when they get to Mahanaim? Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai are waiting for them.  That had to be encouraging by itself.  But look what they had with them—“beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans, lentils, parched seeds, honey, curds, sheep, and cheese of the herd” (28-29a).  Those three men saw their brethren were suffering, hurting, and needy.  So what did they do?  I have seen this in the church more times than I can remember.  A brother or sister was in financial, emotional, or spiritual need, and their brethren showered them with kindness and love. So many of God’s people take to heart Paul’s exhortation, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted…” (Eph. 4:32a).  See 1 Corinthians 13:4, Colossians 3:12-15, and 1 Peter 3:8, and you see the heart of so many of our fellow-Christians.  How helpful when we are in the wilderness!

THEY WERE SOON VICTORIOUS.  David draws up a battle plan in 2 Samuel 18:1, and before long the threat was quelled. There were still plenty of challenges that lay directly ahead, but they had doubtless learned a valuable lesson in the wilderness. Their victory did not mean that they were exempt from further problems, but they had experienced God’s deliverance. What a powerful lesson for us!  Yes, we will continue to struggle so long as we are pilgrims on this earth (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11), but there is a victorious “day of visitation” on the horizon (1 Pet. 2:12).

Are you “in the wilderness”?  Hang in there!  Focus on the people God has put in your life, be attuned to their kindness and encouragement, and remember the great victory God has promised you.

Categories
Current Events sin temptation

The Shocking Truth Of The Alligator That Bit The Electric Eel

 

Neal Pollard

All puns aside, the event really happened in the Amazon back in 2010 and was captured on You Tube.  An unidentified Brazilian fisherman documents the rare, extraordinary event.  The electric eel can generate up to 600 volts of electricity.  A hungry caiman with a fatal appetite found this out too late to let go and live.  The best reports indicate that both creatures, intended predator and potential prey, lost their lives in the interaction (www.telegraph.co.uk).

While the fisherman had caught the eel and had gone to get a knife to cut the line, the caiman saw the eel thrashing and could not resist trying to make a meal of it.  Animals are instinctive creatures and thus such intellectual and emotional responses as lust, malice and forethought, or hostility did not drive its decision to dine.  Nevertheless, it was still a fatal food choice!

Think about the instances where we can get into even more serious, spiritual trouble than the aforementioned reptile.

  • The allure for a married person to have an affair or an unmarried person to have an illicit sexual encounter or relationship.
  • The decision to get drunk or high.
  • Provoked by the words or actions of another, unloading on the provoker with sinful anger expressed by ungodly words and/or actions.
  • Exacting revenge on someone, thinking it will be “sweet” and not “bitter.”
  • Sending that angry email without deliberating, praying, or consulting a trusted friend first.

Really, any impulsive reactionary word or act can create ramifications we cannot predict or anticipate.  So many, in a momentary heat of passion, have created longterm headaches and heartaches.  Before we give in to temptation, we need to give due thought to the consequences all the while appreciating that we cannot foresee them all or the extent of them.  Eve was the first to fail to do this (Gen. 3:6), but she was far from the last.  May we pray for and pursue the wisdom to mull before we munch!

 

Categories
Current Events temptation

These Snakes Can Find Their Way Back

 

Neal Pollard

Even those not inherently squeamish about snakes are uneasy about a phenomenon occurring in Florida.  Former pet owners of Burmese Pythons probably started releasing them in south Florida back in the late 1990s.  On February 4, personnel found an 18-foot specimen in the Everglades.  That they are huge predators was already a known fact.  Yet, researchers from Davidson College and members of the U.S. Geological Survey organization trapped six of these snakes and moved them 13 to 20 miles away. In less than a year, all six had navigated to within three miles of their original location.  This means these huge creatures are capable of “homing,” whether by sight, smell, or by way of the earth’s magnetic field (Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, 3/19/14).

As unsettling for some of us as that idea might seem, there is a predator far more deadly than that whose cunning and wiles are even greater.  Satan, called “that serpent of old,” is said to have “devices” (2 Cor. 2:11), and is depicted by Peter as being predatory (1 Pet. 5:8). While he is not able to make us do evil—that’s something we do ourselves (Js. 1:13-15), he is subtle and beguiling and desires our destruction.

The implication of the article and those researchers is that moving the snake is not the answer.  They make their way back.  The answer is to destroy the snake.  As we fight temptations in our lives, we must be aggressively proactive!  We must take radical, decisive steps to keep the snake from coming back.  From faithful Bible study and prayer to exerting will-power and self-control, we can prevent the old serpent from invading our lives!  James urges us on, telling us that by resisting the devil we can put him to flight (Js. 4:7-8).