The Eye Test

The Eye Test

Neal Pollard

We covet those parking spaces close to the store, whether because we think we will save a little time or several steps by nabbing them.  Yet, we are in “competition” with others who are seeking the same spaces. No one rushes to the back of the parking lot to grab up those spots. But at a Costco in Canada recently, this vying turned violent as two middle-aged couples literally fought over a parking space. As in, it came to fisticuffs. As of this writing, police are still investigating and there may be fine details to be added to the story. Basically, however, as a YouTube video shot by a local realtor shows, anger over who should put their automobile in that space escalated to foul language, pushing, shoving, name-calling, and thrown punches. Four people who might otherwise be respectable, dignified contributors to society now share an infamy that may dog them for a long time. All because of a failure to conduct themselves properly in a public place.

We shake our heads at this animalistic behavior, but in our self-righteous sense of superiority we might do well to examine how exquisitely we execute our example before the eyes of the world. Consider some places where Christians can be oblivious to the watchful eyes of others:

  • Social media brawls, whether over matters clearly addressed in Scripture or matters of judgment and opinion.
  • Bible class discussions, where visitors, new Christians, and weak Christians might see the redeemed’s  inhumanity to the redeemed.
  • Public arenas, from the retailers to the restaurants and from the grocery store to the department store, where subpar (or even adequate) customer service evokes an unChristlike response from a disciple of Christ.
  • Arguments between spouses or parents and children, members of a “Christian home,” who resort to the tactics of their worldly counterparts as they wage war before such witnesses.
  • At ball fields, concerts, movie theaters, and the like, where something displeasing to us provokes an impatient, harsh, and retaliatory response that eclipses any view of Christ.

Certainly, these are just a few ways and places where we might forget ourselves and squash our precious influence by allowing the flesh to dominate our presumed spirituality. It is good for us to consider that those things cannot come out of us unless we are allowing improper things come into us. We must guard against the things that might creep in—“immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5), “…enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions…” (Gal. 5:20, which are a bulk of the works of the flesh specifically identified by Paul), and more (cf. Mark 7:22-23, etc.).  We must work to control what comes out, harnessing the tongue (Jas. 3:2ff) and controlling the temper (cf. Eph. 4:26). We must strive to cultivate thoughts and feelings that, when expressed, build up and draw others to Christ (Col. 3:12-13; 1 Pet. 3:8-11; Gal. 5:22-23; etc.).

Like it or not, we’re hilltop cities and lighthouses (Mat. 5:14-16). Let us keep our behavior excellent among the “Gentiles,” as they observe our deeds, so that they will see Jesus at work in us (cf. 1 Pet. 2:12). Our attitudes, speech, and actions may not become a viral video, but we are still being watched. Let’s take care to display ourselves in a way that would not embarrass (or condemn) us were we to see it again, played by the Lord, at the Judgment Day.

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Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

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Poking The Bear

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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CHAMELEONS

CHAMELEONS

Neal Pollard

Chameleons are truly one of God’s most fascinating creations.  Their tongue can be twice the length of their body! Their feet are climbing marvels. Their eyes can focus on two objects at once, and they have a 360-degree arc of vision. They can see both visible and ultraviolet light (information via Journal of Comparative Physiology, 2/98, PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 12, A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, et al). Despite all of this, what do we associate the chameleon with?  It changes colors to blend in with its environment.  From this alteration of appearance, we have come to use the word in a figurative sense. To be a chameleon has come to mean one who becomes like those around them in order to blend in with them.  Often, the term is not used in a complimentary way.

Paul tells us that he was able to relate to people of different circumstances, adapting himself to peoples of different backgrounds in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Context and other passages would not lend support to the idea of compromising biblical truth in order to fit in with anyone. He would not sacrifice doctrine for fellowship with those in error nor would he sacrifice moral truth to accommodate those of a worldly mindset. Motivated by a burning desire to convert the lost to Christ, Paul went among the Jews, those under the Law, those without the law, and the weak and used his knowledge, experience, and familiarity with people in those circumstances “for the sake of the gospel” (23). But he did all of that, being under the law of Christ, in a disciplined way (27).

We are tempted to alter our speech, compromise our convictions, hedge our beliefs, and place ourselves in ungodly situations in order to fit in with people whose acceptance we seek. We may feel we have to put our lights under a basket (cf. Mat. 5:15) to appease a client, coworkers, non-Christian family, or others whose association or friendship we’ve made. It can feel more comfortable to blend in, to conform to them (cf. Rom. 12:1).

Peter writes to Christians faced with persecution, encouraging them to suffer in this world in order to gain unsurpassed joy and blessings in eternity. They were tempted to enjoy comfort and acceptance here only to forfeit God’s acceptance at the Judgment. It is so hard to see past what we’re facing right now, but we must ready to suffer with Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Our challenge is to relate to as many people as possible, understanding and loving them without participating with them in what’s not right or making them think that they are right in living contrary to the way of Christ. Politicians may “go along to get along,” but Christians have a higher calling. Make sure your Christian light shows up in the crowd!

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Protect Yourself

Protect Yourself


Neal Pollard

Helmets, seat belts, bullet proof vests, insurance, handguns, and home security systems are all means we use to protect ourselves.  The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” has proven itself worthy time and time again.  We want our homes, families, and health preserved, shielded from potential danger.  What about our inward selves?

It’s possible for us to become a spiritual casualty.  We can fall away.  Peter urges us as Christians to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves in 1 Peter 2:11-12.  One is negative and the other is positive, but both are necessary!

Abstain from fleshly lusts (11)!

We must do this because of who we are (“pilgrims and strangers”).  We must realize where we’re from and where our home is (cf. Heb. 11:13-16).  In a moral and spiritual sense, we have a higher law.  We don’t see right and wrong, fair and unfair, the way the world does.  Our ethics, morals, and our principles are derived from God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

We must do this because of what they are (“fleshly lusts”).  Peter is addressing base physical desires, things like he discusses in 1 Peter 4:3.  These are things the world engages in that can do physical damage, but they certainly lead us away from God.  They are morally wrong in God’s eyes and are destructive desires.  God knows there are things that harm us, hurt our influence, and are hated by His holy heart.

We must do this because of what they do to you (“wage war against your soul”).  Just as desiring the sincere milk of the word (2:1-2) gives you a taste for God’s kindness, satisfying fleshly lusts will destroy your soul.

What a valuable guidelines God gives us as we evaluate an activity, a means of entertainment, who to befriend, an indugence—whatever it is.  We should ask, “Where is this thing or person leading me, toward God or away from Him?”  Instead of debating our Christian liberty or looking for loopholes to pursue something we crave or desire, we would do well to analyze it through the prism of Peter’s petition in verse 11.

Keep your behavior excellent (12)!

Moral and holy behavior does more than just protect our souls.  It reaches others.  You are being watched on the job, at school, and everywhere you go.  More people are guided by your influence than you realize.  How many measure right and wrong by your example?  They may not the Bible, but they know you.  By your wise and righteous conduct, who knows how many you may lead to Christ?  Ultimately, there will be people who stand on the Lord’s right hand at the judgment because you led them there by excellent behavior.  So many people are looking for the purpose and meaning of life, and as Christians we know what it is. As we consistently live it out before them, they will want to know more about that way.

WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

“What’s Wrong With The Church…”

“What’s Wrong With The Church…”

Neal Pollard

The blogosphere is getting pretty rife with posts about how the church is inept in method or impure in motive on just about everything, from good works to evangelism to preaching to leadership to cultural relevance. It appears that we (the church) have a skewed perspective of the past, we are doing practically nothing now (at least nothing right), and we have a doomed future.  We have no clue how to reach millennials or keep converts (not that anyone’s winning anyone).  We’re losing our young people. We’re full of hypocrites. We have no vision or it’s the wrong vision.  We’re at once too legalistic while too soft on sin and uncommitted in discipleship.

Do such posts draw an elevated number of hits or similar attention?  Do they gratuitously spark or provoke strong emotions from readers?  Do they make good tabloid journalism?

The church faces enormous challenges that require greater service, dedication, faithfulness, and sacrifice.  Being full of sinners, we’re imperfect and have plenty of room for improvement.  I guess my question is what the objective of this “Negative Nelly” approach is.  To better motivate and encourage growth? Or is it to beat down, create guilt, or demonstrate some sort of superiority by the “pundit”? Is it a spiritual approach or does it look more like the world than we might like to admit? May we never be like the ostrich, head buried in the sand and ignorant of reality around us.  Yet, as Christians, may we exemplify a joy and positivity borne of following Jesus.

Because of sin, things have always been bleak–including when He walked the earth.  Yet, rather than lament a falling sky, He came to make a positive difference in this world.  His followers’ writings were rich with words like “hope,” “grace,” “heaven,” “faith,” “unity,” “forgiveness,” and “peace.”

What if we made more suggestions and used less sarcasm? What if we concentrated more on our own example and less on everyone else’s errors? What if we balanced our hand-wringing about what’s wrong with the church with hand-raising about what’s right with it? What if?