IN THE GRIP OF A PYTHON

IN THE GRIP OF A PYTHON

Neal Pollard

What a sad story emerged from Campbellton, New Brunswick, last week.  Two little boys were spending the night at a friend’s house. The friend’s father, Jean-Claude Savoie, owns an exotic pet store and was apparently keeping a 14-foot-long African rock python in his home. During the night, while the boys slept, the python got loose from his glass enclosure, crawled through the ventilation system, and landed in the living room where the boys slept. It was then that, incredibly, he took the lives of the boys.  Reports indicate the children had been to Savoie’s farm earlier in the day and had played with llamas, goats, horses and dogs, but had not bathed.  Officials speculate that the python probably mistook the boys for prey, thanks to their scent.  The parents must be grief-stricken and the snake-owner devastated (via http://www.cbsnews.com).

Perhaps what makes this so tragic is that it involves something physical, that can be seen or at least visualized.  Yet, an infinite number of times over daily, a greater tragedy is occurring. Children are being assaulted by “that serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).  But because his deadly work is done upon souls and not bodies, it is so easy to ignore.  Children are placed by their parents into circumstances that expose them to this dangerous predator with seemingly little thought to the consequences.  Parents allow the “scent” of the world to be left upon their children, allowing them to see and hear worldliness, become comfortable with it, and do nothing to be cleansed from it.  God has made moms and dads the guardians of their children’s lives, whether it is their entertainment, friends and associations, activities, education, or the like.  We are responsible for guiding them toward truth and away from error.

Do we ever, rather than taking that stewardship seriously, become lax and careless?  We sing, “This world is not my home,” but are we helping to make our precious heritage cozy in its arms?  May we all resolve to protect our children from the “evil one,” appreciating the gravity of what is at stake.

Staying On The Rails

Staying On The Rails

Neal Pollard

Without A Belief In The Bible’s Inspiration…

  • Why would I read, meditate upon, or study it daily (or at all) to guide my life?
  • What will be the paradigm for directing and shaping my life?
  • From where will I draw my understanding of Who Jesus is, what He did, and how I must relate to Him?
  • How do I form my understanding of where I came from, why I am here, or where I am going?
  • Why would I trust or follow what it says to do in even a single case, circumstance, or verse?
  • What logical, ultimate constraint do I have from any behavior or act I desire to do, no matter how aberrant or outlandish society finds it?
  • How do we evaluate the content of any word, attitude, or action for rightness or wrongness?
  • On what basis would I accept absolutes, which I must (even if I absolutely deny the existence of absolute truth)?
  • Who or what will be my standard of authority?

One of the most famous movie scenes of all time depicts Dr. Richard Kimble, played by Harrison Ford, desperately running, orange prison jump suit, shackles, and all, as a derailed train caroms out of control, rapidly gaining on him, and threatening his life. The videography is spectacular, cutting quite an imposing figure.  A multi-ton mass of metal off the rail and out of control promises nothing but damage and destruction.  As long as the train is on the track, its weight and speed do not pose a threat.  If it is not, the prospects are frightening.

The premise that the Bible is the Word of God from the mind of God through men provides an answer to all the above, weighty questions.  If one refuses to accept the Bible is what it claims to be (1 Cor. 2:11-12; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Jude 3; etc.), then of necessity he or she must choose an alternate guide for life.  It is fair to evaluate that alternative with equal criticism and scrutiny.  Wisdom would seem to suggest choosing what best explains the whole picture–our complex design, moral compass, appreciation for beauty, universe’s order, and more.  What we are talking about are the very biggest issues of life! They deserve our deepest thought and wisest choice.

 

COMIC-CON’s Courageous Conquerors

COMIC-CON’s Courageous Conquerors

Neal Pollard

Since 1970, San Diego has been home to a Comic Book convention that has grown to international renown and is patronized by over 100,000 people per year.  This is where your comic book aficionados, sci-fi fans, and the like congregate to celebrate imaginary heroes from the entertainment world.  From Spider Man to Spock, these fictional characters are honored by attendees who dress, act, and talk like them.  It matters little if the patrons are 5’6″ and 300 pounds.  It’s a place and time to pretend.

This year, three stuntmen promoting an upcoming movie heard the screams of onlookers as a drunk, jilted woman had climbed outside the railing of the balcony of her fourteenth story apartment.  In her inebriated, distraught state, she intended to take her life.  The stuntmen sprang into action, scaling a fence and then racing up to her apartment, before stealthily racing out to stop her from what seemed to be an imminent jump.  They had been trained for lifesaving operations, but they typically used those skills for entertaining moviegoers (via http://www.abcnews.com).

When I heard about this, I thought about the wonderful opportunities you and I have, week after week, to assemble and study God’s Word together.  Added to that, hopefully, is daily time spent by each of us in the Bible in personal devotion.  While this time and effort is meant to spiritually strengthen and protect us, it is also training for the work we have to do as Christians.  If we are not intentional, however, we can find ourselves in some ways resembling New Testament Christians without doing the heroic things they did.  Or, we can undergo that continuous spiritual training without putting it into practical use to save those who relatively soon will head into eternity.  God needs us mustering the courage and conviction to put what we know into practice in order to save those in desperate need of rescue.  What will we do this week to reach out and help someone in need of Jesus?  Doing nothing, as a matter of practice, makes us, at best, pretenders.  Seeking to save the lost makes us heroes on an unparalleled magnitude!  May we so strive.

An Exhortation To White And Black Christians

An Exhortation To White And Black Christians

Neal Pollard

I rarely modify the word “Christian” with adjectives like red, yellow, black, or white.  Occasionally, however, an event happens that threatens to divide God’s people of a racial nature.  The recently ended George Zimmerman trial in the death of Treyvon Martin is one such event.

It seems to me that so many children of God have reacted to the verdict in that trial along either political and, as often, racial lines.  Everyone from adherents of the NRA to those of the NAACP seems to have strong opinions and stronger reactions.  From such a long distance away from the facts of the case, many whose opinions are decidedly sympathetic to one side or another seem certain that either justice or injustice was served by the jury.

While forming an opinion about cases like this one may approach inevitability, there is a caution to be heeded.

We cannot allow the world’s division, whether due to politics, religion, race, or the like, to infect us and divide us.  That means that we should be very careful as we communicate with one another through the various means we use–Facebook and other social media, email, the Bible classroom and pulpit, and even our conversations with people.  Our passion cannot be rooted in these things that do not matter in eternity!  Eternal things ought to be our cause and obsession.

When I was a graduate student at Freed-Hardeman, Earl Edwards taught a course on missions.  He depicted the first-century scenario powerfully, asking, “Can you imagine Paul and the other apostles spending all their time picketing abortion clinics, lobbying Rome, or consuming themselves with the social causes of their day?”  His point was that the early Christians’ focus was on the living hope (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3).  They were not distracted by the causes and factions of their world.

Please be careful of rhetoric in defense of Zimmerman or lament of Martin that raises walls that Christ died to destroy.  While his focus was Jew and Gentile rather than black and white, his words apply to us today that Christ “is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Eph. 2:14).  The wall of separation, in context, was the Old Testament.  But, the law represented that which kept the two groups apart.  Christ reconciles us in one body and makes us “one new man” (Eph. 2:15-16).

There will be no “white heaven” and “black heaven” (or whatever race comes to mind).  That being the case, we had better develop and maintain colorblindness on earth. Let the world be divided, if they will not submit to Christ. Let us be united, submitting to our Lord!

HATCH AND MATCH

HATCH AND MATCH

Neal Pollard

I have heard of Shake-n-Bake, cash and carry, Mutt and Jeff, and Laurel and Hardy, but “Hatch And Match” was a new one on me.  It was reported by Ruth Gledhill, the Religion Correspondent for The Times Online out of London, England.  “Hatch and Match” is the nickname for religious services being conducted by certain congregations within the Church of England for couples, already shacking up, who want not only to get married but have their children baptized (or even themselves baptized) into the Church of England.  While the rank and file of priests are opposed, there are officials who believe it is a good idea.  Stephen Platten, chairman of the liturgical commission, is quoted as saying, “This does not mean the Church is changing its teaching.  This is a way for the Church to reinforce its commitment to marriage.  The Church has always attempted to meet people where they are.  But it has also tried to teach something of what it believes the Christian faith to be.”  Statistics reported in The Times reveal that 44% of children in England are born to unmarried women.

I have to agree with the objecting majority.  “The proper place for sex is within marriage” and it will certainly “confuse” people’s thinking about sex and marriage.  So often, those in the position to most influence a moral recovery and repentance seem far too ready to compromise God’s Word to accommodate people’s sinful lifestyles.  As those striving to restore New Testament Christianity, may we never bow to the pressure to conform the church to the world.

A story is told of an army flag bearer traveling with a regiment charged with taking a strategic piece of ground.  Enemy fire was brutal and casualties were mounting.  The brave flag bearer made his way up to the hill, where he planted his nation’s flag.  Meanwhile, the battle heated up and the weary soldiers were ready to beat a retreat.  Their highest ranking officer still standing pled, “Bring the flag down to the troops.”  The flag bearer retorted, “No, bring the troops up to the flag.”  Thus we find ourselves in a fierce battle with Satan and the world.  The temptation is to plead, “Bring the standard down to us.”  But our Lord demands, “No, bring the people up to the standard.”  May that be our conviction as the world moves further and further from God, in ethics, morality, and doctrine.  Let us not only stand our ground, but advance toward higher ground!

Dale Pauls’ Reflections On Women’s Role

Dale Pauls’ Reflections On Women’s Role

Neal Pollard

An article written by Dale Pauls, minister for the Stamford, CT, Church of Christ, is rapidly making its way across the internet (www.gal328.org/good-news-naomi-walters-named-minister-in-residence-at-stamford-church-of-christ/).  I do not know brother Pauls and certainly harbor no personal animosity toward him.  However, I very strongly disagree with his apology (i.e., defense) of women serving in pulpit ministry.  As his statement seems to have drawn so much interest from so many, please allow me to contribute a few observations about this situation.

This is not a new position for him.  For those unfamiliar with brother Pauls, you might assume that he has just studied himself into a position favorable to hiring the Christian sister as a part-time Minister in Residence job.  In fact, a June 1, 2006, article in the Christian Chronicle featuring that congregation revealed they had long established the practice of women deacons, the eligibility of women to serve as elders, leading in worship and even occasionally preaching (from “Exodus Connecticut,” Bobby Ross, Jr., 6/1/06, online ed.).  Thus, the congregation and Pauls were already clear on where they stood on the matter.

The majority of his defense of the position is either his interpretation of history or an appeal to emotion.  Pauls’ declaration was reposted on gal328.org, a site created to appeal to churches of Christ to place women in a fully “egalitarian” (i.e., equal) position when it comes to their role in worship and church leadership.  What is striking from his “Reflections on Announcement” is that his appeal is mostly built around a contrast between his genesis in ministry and the young woman’s.  Essentially, he says that we, as the church, are behind the times and will cause our own serious decline. He appeals to women like this young lady, with the desire and the ability, being unfairly denied the chance to act upon such.  Scant little scripture is asserted for their decision. In fact, direct reference to scripture appears in only two of the 14 paragraphs of his article.

His appeal to scripture for his position begs the question without proving anything. An uncritical analysis of his brief use of scripture might satisfy one who asks for biblical proof.  He asserts that the two passages that restrict woman’s participation, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15, “address specific circumstances in the particular cultural context of their original first-century audiences.” Interestingly, he does nothing to prove that.  Here is why.  There is not proof.  The text allows for no such interpretation.  In 1 Timothy, Paul explains that the epistle was to allow him and Ephesus to know how the church was to conduct itself (3:15).  The role of women is just one of a great many “household matters” dealt with in the letter.  A weak and illogical comparison is made to Paul’s words to slaves to obey their masters, an apples (gender distinctions are present all places for all times) to oranges (slavery has not been all places in all times) comparison.  One is instruction for what a person does who happens to be a slave, while the other, in which Paul leaves his own culture to appeal to the beginning of time, governs on the basis of gender.  His other “proof text,” Acts 2:17-21, deals with the miraculous.  Ironically, this is a text that can be shown to be restrictive to a particular culture and time but Pauls uses these verses to appeal to the “universal” he attempts to establish.

To say that we are holding people back or down, that we do not respect them or believe in grace because we wish to respect, trust and obey Scripture is both dangerous and insulting.  If certain ones are intent on changing God’s command for the sake of their own preferences, they are going to do so.  Jeroboam did the same thing in 1 Kings 12.  But, as Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). No man can do that, but he can break himself trying.

PUTTING OUT FIRES

PUTTING OUT FIRES

Neal Pollard

The last few years have brought heightened fire danger to Colorado.  Our forest fires have made the national news several times during that span.  They seem to start spontaneously and spread, well, “like wildfire.”  Untold property damage, millions of charred acres, and even loss of life have followed the paths of these fires.  The cause of the fires are sundry, from human carelessness to beetle infestation mixed with drought and high winds.  The cost to fight these fires is exorbitant, but ignoring the fires is not a wise option.  Time, resources, and manpower are diverted to these fires, and this naturally occurs at the expense of other pursuits.

I have noticed that there have been quite a few fires popping up among God’s people in the last few years, too.  There’s the push for instrumental music in worship.  Akin to this is the push to fellowship the Christian Church.  One of the largest conflagrations involves the push for woman to assume leadership roles from worship to roles like deacons and preaching ministers.  Of course, certain fires had been previously burning that are not yet contained–a looser view on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, denying the inspiration of the Bible, and such.  There are even areas we could consider tinderboxes, poised for combustion. How far are we from having to combat the spreading idea that those in committed, homosexual relationships should be part of our spiritual fellowship.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not being fatalistic or giving up hope.  I believe we have the time, resources, and manpower to fight these fires.  Not only that, but we must be engaged in this business.  Ignoring these fires is not an acceptable option.

Yet, putting out such fires comes at an expense.  There is a lost world to be won to Christ.  There are so many opportunities to be proactive and serve the benevolent needs of our communities.  There are needed programs to build our fellowship, Bible school, singles, young adults and college students, and more.  There is the need to solicit greater involvement from members.  There are projects to take on, from media ministries to mission works.  These require our interest and effort.  Let us man the firebreaks, but let us not be wholly consumed with just putting out the fires.  Neither let us be afraid to equip ourselves to battle those flames.  Such will require balance, wisdom, courage, and love.  May God help us have a double portion of them all.

A Head Transplant?!

A Head Transplant?!

Neal Pollard

An Italian Neuroscientist, Sergio Canavero, announced this week that human head transplants are now possible!  I will spare you the gory details except to say it could happen within two years and should involve, in his opinion, someone who has a fully-functioning brain but who suffers from a severe bodily malady like progressive muscular dystrophies or genetic and metabolic disorders (“The Independent,” via Times Of India, 7/3/13).

We could debate the ethics of this, ponder whether Italian neuroscientists just have too much time on their hands, or discuss how realistic the possibility of this is.  We might also ask whether or not we should do something just because we have figured out how.  While the news out of Italy may seem like science fiction, there is a spiritual need for us to change our “head.”

Too many are riddled with guilt and beset by negative thinking and pessimism.  Christians ought not be fatalists.  That is a worldly point of view.  We have hope (Rom. 5:2) as well as the power of God (cf. Eph. 1:19) to help us cope.

Too many are consumed with lust and fleshly desires.  Christians should not be enslaved to such passions.  This is deadly and destructive.  God can help us, as we will it, to have a clean heart and new spirit within us (Ps. 51:10).

Too many are weighted down with jealousy and envy.  They cannot trust, even when they have no reason to suspect and distrust.  God can help us cope with these feelings and whatever drives them (cf. Gal. 5:24-26).

Too many are eaten up with anger, hatred, and bitterness.  The reverses of life, both real and imagined, can ruin our character.  We can feed our grudges until they become a gargantuan monster that turns on us and devours us.  God can help us cultivate a forgiving mind, letting go of resentment and allowing Him to transform us (Eph. 4:31-32).

You get the idea.  In our own individual ways, we are all “head cases.”  We have spiritual struggles in our hearts and minds, things that need changed into the image of Christ. Thank God that He is the Great Physician who has been successfully doing His superior kind of “head transplants” since the beginning of time!

CONVENIENT CONFESSION

CONVENIENT CONFESSION

Neal Pollard

Lance Armstrong went on Oprah Winfrey to confess his doping, but he has refused to testify under oath about the cheating.  The World Anti-Doping Agency director, David Howman, said of the TV interview, “What he is doing is for his own personal gratification. He’s welcome to do that, no one is going to criticize that component, but if anyone thinks that in his wildest dreams that it is going to have any effect on his life ban then they are in the same fairyland” (Steve Keating, Reuters, 1/18/13).   It is reminiscent of baseball power-hitter Mark McGuire’s famous, tearful confession to MLB Network of using steroids.  He said it was wrong, but maintained he only did it (cheated) to help mend or prevent his injuries, not enhance his power.  But, as journalist Larry Stone wrote, “He confessed because he had to confess” (Seattle Times, 1/11/10).  I remember being at a congregation which supported a missionary in Africa. The missionary was repeatedly asked by the elders if he taught polygamists that they could keep their wives when becoming a Christian so long as he did not accumulate more.  Other missionaries in the region reported that he did, that they confronted him, but that he refused to change his teaching.  But, the missionary vehemently, repeatedly denied teaching that.  Several years later upon retiring from that mission work, he saw one of the men who had served as an elder. The now former elder asked him if he had told polygamists they could keep their wives.  He answered, “Of course, but ‘everybody’ did it.”  His confession was convenient at that time because telling the truth would not cost him financial support.

Christians are told in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  James adds, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16).  This is a confession driven by a conviction to please and obey God and make things right with those we have offended.

“Convenient confession” is not convicted confession.  Confessing if and only if we are caught is convenient rather than convicted confession.  Confession meant to conceal or control the discovery of other and even greater sins is not convicted confession.  Pharaoh confessed to get relief from God’s punishment (Ex. 9:27; 10:16). Balaam went from cursing to confessing only when he could see the angel of the Lord (Num. 22:34). Achan only confessed when God picked him out of the crowd (Josh. 7:20). Saul confessed when his back, spiritually, was against the wall (1 Sam. 15:24, 30; 26:21).  Time and testing proved the insincerity of these confessions.

Everyone will confess Jesus at the Judgment, when doubt will have died (Ph. 2:11).  Each of us are confronted with a sin problem, and at best we will wrestle with it (Rom. 7:14ff).  For confession to be effective, the Bible urges honesty and sacrifice.  Self-serving, self-preserving confession is convenient confession.  “Convenient confession” is not convicted confession.

GLORIFYING THE PERVERSE WHILE REJECTING THE PROPER

GLORIFYING THE PERVERSE WHILE REJECTING THE PROPER

Neal Pollard

On the front page of today’s Section C (Colorado Style) in the Denver Post, there is what is undoubtedly meant to be a heartwarming story of love between Ned and Sara.  Except that Ned is now Koko, a man who contends he identifies himself as a woman.  Ned also is attracted to women, so he considers himself a lesbian.  The piece subtly contains the barb that if he had an operation, he and Sara could “only have a civil union.” As it is, they can be legally married and all because of anatomy.  The clear implication is that our current laws unfairly exclude homosexuals and discriminate against them.  With complete sympathy, writer Claire Martin gushes at this “unconventional trip to the altar” that will culminate in their July wedding–both of whom will be brides wearing bridal gowns (C1,C8).

Speaking against such thinking and behavior as this is increasingly unpopular.  In a “live and let live” world, whose inhabits decry and detest judging behavior as right or wrong, calling scenarios like the one presented in the article perverse is considered unacceptable. An agenda-driven media, as well as other, like-minded institutions, continue to foist homosexuality and perversity upon the “consumer.”  Not only is it promoted, it is normalized, dignified, and even glamorized.  Through such relentless publicity, so many are becoming desensitized and callused to what is advocated.  Interestingly, people get more comfortable with perversion but get quite uncomfortable with any denouncement or disapproval of perversion.

Consider Paul’s warning to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 4:17-24).  Nonbelievers can be found “walking” (manner of life) with a mind set on valueless and useless things.  The result of such thinking and living is moral darkness, spiritual death, ignorance, hardness of heart, shamelessness, an insatiable desire for pleasure, and a craving for what is wicked and lewd.  Paul contrasts the thinking of the world with those who have “learned Christ.” We are not to be corrupted by deceptive desires.  We are taught the truth, which leads to a new mind, a new man, and a new morality.

That means we should be able to distinguish between the normal and the perverse, the proper and the improper.  This will be more important as the world continues to lose its grip on such distinctions. We must keep our bearings!