BEWARE OF SPIRITUAL ATTRITION

BEWARE OF SPIRITUAL ATTRITION

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Life has dramatically changed for us on a daily basis. Whether it be liberties that have been restricted or routines that have been disrupted, we have experienced significant upheaval. Some of it has been dramatically better, as for many we have been given a slower pace that has produced much more time with family and projects done together that we will always treasure. There is vast potential for much better marriage and family habits to come from this experience, as well as a reshuffling of priorities on the other side of this quarantine.

Of course, for many this will be remembered as a season of trial. We are hearing of members of the church who have contracted and even died with this deadly virus. Church families around the nation have members who are part of the at least ten percent of those who have lost their jobs or been laid off. How many parents, grandparents, and other loved ones are in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and residences where we cannot have physical contact with them for their safety’s sake? As devastating as anything, though, is the dreadful disruption to “church life” because we cannot assemble together for church services, fellowship activities, devotionals, seminars and workshops, and the like. There will be permanent, far-reaching impacts physically, economically, and socially, but what about spiritually?

Guard Against Social Disconnection

For the time being, we are more or less forced into social distancing. Hopefully, this can be modified soon and ultimately return to pre-virus levels. It will be important to return to the physical dimension of contact with each other provided uniquely through our assemblies. My prayer is that we will treasure fellowship like never before. We will zealously obey the command to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds through our assemblies (Heb. 10:24-25), being “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10) between our scheduled services (Acts 2:46). Don’t let the devil use this to form a permanent social wedge between you and the church.

Guard Against Stress And Anxiety

There are no psychological studies to measure the effects of mass isolation and sheltering in place on a scale like this has caused. No doubt, the more functional and stable the home environment and the more emotional support available to a person, the better he or she will fare. How many cut off from their normal routines are also constantly feeding themselves a steady diet of the news, which none can rightly classify as edifying? Conspiracy theories aside, there are the stressors like the ones mentioned above. Fears can eclipse faith and worry can lead to weakness. This trial is an excellent opportunity to build trust (Psa. 37:3-6), endurance (Jas. 1:3), righteousness (Heb. 12:11), hope (Job 13:15), and more. 

Guard Against Spiritual Doldrums And Self-Absorption

This has tested our time management skills. Having more time on our hands does not automatically translate into “making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5). Will we have done more binge-watching or Bible reading through this? Will we have tended more to self-care or finding ways to serve (phone calls, texts, emails, cards, etc., to spiritual family and others we might influence and encourage)? Will we have focused more on how this has impacted us or how we can impact others?

The good news is that, for all of us, this is a story whose last chapters have not been written. Each day is an opportunity for spiritual growth and improvement. None of us would have wished something like this to happen, but each of us chooses what we will make of it. Let’s remain vigilant. Certainly, Satan would like to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11), and he could use our current circumstances to dislodge us from faithfulness. Yet, Scripture promises something that we can count on: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8a). May that be the end result for us all! 

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Satan’s Schemes

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.
LANDMINES IN RESOLVING CONFLICT

LANDMINES IN RESOLVING CONFLICT

Neal Pollard

“I.” The late Wendell Winkler once said that beneath most marital conflict is basic selfishness. “What about my needs?” “What have you done for me?” “I am not happy, fulfilled, etc.”  The Bible warns of the destructive nature of selfishness (Luke 9:23; Eph. 4:22,24; Phil. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:2)! One of the most frequent casualties of selfishness is marital happiness. 

“You.” This is really the other side of the conflict coin that blows up progress and growth in relationships. If selfishness is blind to the needs and concerns of the other person, blame and deflection is the total denial of guilt or shared responsibility. “You don’t treat me right.” “Why don’t you pull your weight?” “You are not enough of ‘X’ or too much of ‘Y’!” Accusation, which puts one’s mate on the defensive, is a poor framework for resolving conflict. The very first couple played the blame game, to no avail and with no success. 

“They.” A mirage is “something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.” We usually think of a mirage in the desert, an optical illusion created by extreme conditions. How often do married couples in conflict see marital mirages? A couple is hurting, and as they look across the burning sand they see “perfect couples” and “perfect marriages.” We are not helping ourselves by comparing ourselves to what is not what it appears anyway (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Every marriage is comprised of flawed, sinful people who are constantly faced with overcoming. Whatever you think you see in other couples “is not in fact so.”

“God.” Now, hear me well. God is the answer to all conflict, if we consult Him. Yet, when we blame God or let conflict affect our faith, then our attitude toward God can become a major landmine preventing resolution. “God doesn’t care.” “God isn’t listening to my cries and prayers.” “Where is God when I need Him?” Trials are going to test our faith, but be careful not to give God credit for blame that rests upon us and our spouses. 

The good news is that “I,” “you,” “they,” and “God” can all play a fruitful role in resolving conflict. When “I” am humble and honest and focus on my role and responsibility, good will result. When “you” are treasured, valued, and sincerely loved, things will start looking up. When “they” are reasonably treated as role-models and inspiration, it can be helpful. When “God” is totally trusted and obeyed, there is no insurmountable problem! I wish marriage had no saboteurs or hazards, but the best of them do. Let’s work to avoid triggering them, trusting that God’s pattern for everything, including marriage, gives us the best shot at success. 

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How Do You Spell “Cross”?

How Do You Spell “Cross”?

Neal Pollard

  1. “SEE”– Look at Calvary. Don’t turn away. I know it’s not easy. What is done to Him is shameful. I know. But, look closely! Past the spittle. Beyond the blood. There. In His eyes. Friend, that is love. It is love for you! See the nails in His hands and feet, fastening Him to a tree He created for man’s use. Look at the love He has for you!
  2. “ARE?”–Are you able to see that He bled and died for you? Are you willing to admit you’re lost without Him? Are you ready to submit to His will, to obey Him, and to live for Him? Are you prepared for eternity? Are you convinced?
  3. “OH”–Hear His cries of pain and agony. The death of a thousand deaths. Bitter moans of His disciples. The gasp of heaven’s angels. The sorrow of a Father for His only begotten Son! The gasps and exclamations of a hateful mob.
  4. “SS”–That’s the hiss of the beguiling serpent. The one who is bruising the heel of the perfect One, putting God the Son in the tomb. This is his moment of triumph. Though resurrection will soon spell victory for Christ and hope for man, at the cross the devil must be enjoying his front row seat at Calvary. Doesn’t he anger you? Disgust you? Motivate you? Live for Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Don’t live for the roaring, devouring lion.

Friends, the cross spells the difference between heaven and hell, hope and hopelessness, joy and sorrow, night and day!

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The Man Attached To That Hand

The Man Attached To That Hand

Neal Pollard

Something occurred to me that I never stopped to consider as I read about Jesus’ mistreatment in John 18.  An officer for the Sanhedrin, forever anonymous, is memorialized with only these words: “One of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand…” (22).  Was it sheer irreverence?  Was it misguided religious fervor?  Was it hotheaded impetuosity? No matter how one might rationalize it, this man slapped the Savior!  While Roman soldiers struck Him with their hands, no less an offense to Almighty God, the man in John 18 was presumably a religious man.  He expressed indignation on behalf of the High Priest, though Jesus said nothing at all offensive to Him.

What a terrible and difficult thing it is to read and consider, with an open heart, the physical pain and mistreatment Jesus suffered en route to the cross.  But how much worse would it be to be able to understand that you had a hand in it.  Several have conjectured that some of those who heard Peter preached on Pentecost may well have lent their voice to the fracas, clamoring and yelling for Jesus’ crucifixion.  What a burden of guilt to bear!  But, to be the man who slapped his own Creator in apparent contempt?  What a stigma to own!

While it would be impossible for you and me to be a part of that specific physical brutality, it is possible, as the writer of Hebrews later states, to crucify Jesus again and put Him to an open shame (6:6).  To know that my conduct, speech, attitudes, and interactions in this world might not only bring shame but outright assault on my Lord humbles and challenges me.  At the very least, it ought to make us careful about what choices we make, habits we form, entities we support, and causes we champion.  How helpful it would be if I take the time to examine my circumstances of the moment and ask, “Is this a slap in the face of my Savior?” If I know it is, I will flee it.  If I am not sure, I will think long and hard before I do it!  I don’t want to be co-immortalized with that unnamed officer!  I want those who see me to say that I am carefully, lovingly handling Christ!

THE DAY WE HIT JOYCE

THE DAY WE HIT JOYCE

Neal Pollard

I have told this story to several individuals in the last seven-plus years, but have never mentioned it in a sermon or in print.  It was a remarkable event, one my son, Gary, and I shared with five other people right outside Boma Ngombe, Tanzania.  Gary was 10 years old and it was the first full day for one of our sons to be out of the country on a mission trip.  One of the American missionaries was driving us back from Moshi, where I had taught Bible class and preached that morning.  We were on our way back to Arusha, nearly halfway, when a teenaged orphan girl on a bicylce darted from behind a Coaster bus attempting the impossible feat of crossing the road despite automobiles going more than 50-miles per hour both ways.  Our driver did everything he could to avoid hitting her, but the embankment where we were was sheer and steep.  When she hit the windshield directly in front of me, I remember the feeling of horror that went though my head hit the dashboard almost as soon as we hit her.  Gary was sitting in the second row, behind me, and watched the whole thing.  I saw her continue to roll after hitting the road several feet behind our SUV.

As a Christian and human being, I felt anguish and disbelief at the girl lying there. As a father, I felt much guilt for exposing my son to such trauma and danger.  As a brother, I felt great empathy for the young man who had to cope with the knowledge of what had just happened and how it might effect him.  As a fellow passenger, I felt fear and shock.

To allay any apprehension you might feel, the girl survived the accident.  She broke her hip and suffered substantial abrasions.  Yet, I think of that day often.

That day, I saw how zealous some are to evangelize.  Elly Martin accompanied the missionary, who drove the orphan, Joyce, and her adopted mom to the hospital back in Moshi.  By the time they had driven the distance, Elly had gotten the woman police officer from Boma Ngombe into a Bible study and had taken the opportunity to teach Joyce’s “mom,” too.  Could there have been a better object lesson about the uncertainties of life than that?  What gave him the presence of mind to try and win the souls of the officer, the mother, and the orphan?  He appreciated his own salvation.

That day, I saw how quickly things can change.  One moment, we are thinking about lunch at the Meru Game Reserve.  The next moment, and for many moments after, we thought about the suffering of that girl, the devastation of our driver, and how it might impact the work there.  What was Joyce thinking about as she started her day?  Did she have plans?  What was she looking forward to in the days to come?  All of that changed in an instant.

That day, I saw the fragility of life.  I am still amazed that she survived that encounter.  Many, especially on that highway, have not.  My son would tell you that moment helped clarify the importance of his being ready to meet Christ.  Life, that precious gift from God, can be recalled at any moment.  While the whole episode happened in a seeming flash, the Bible refers to the end of time and earth as a mere “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52).

How I wish that never happened!  But, how instructive it has been for me since that day.  Hopefully, undesirable moments like these can be our teachers, guiding us to look past here and now and ponder that which lies beyond, Him who is above, and those that are all around us.