Make God A Priority

Make God A Priority

Friday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

There’s a story told of four men that went into the woods on a deer hunt one morning. The men split into groups of two and set out for the day. When evening rolled around, 2 of the 4 hunters had already returned and set up camp and were waiting on the other 2 men to return. Hours passed by when finally one of the hunters staggered into camp carrying a massive 8 point buck. The hunters asked where the other guy was, and the man answered and said, “He had a stroke earlier and is a couple miles up the trail.” The men are shocked and they say, “Why did you cary the deer back and leave your friend?” The hunter paused for a moment and said, “Well…I didn’t want my deer to get stolen.” 

Sometimes in life our priorities can get a little mixed up. Maybe not to the point where we would choose a deer over a person, but nevertheless, each one of use is prone to lose focus. The definition of priority is “something that is regarded as more important than another.” For example, when you choose “priority shipping,” it is regarded as more important by the postal service and reaches its destination quicker. The things that we prioritize are the things that take up the majority of our time, money, and effort. A student trying to get a good grade will make studying their top priority. A football player that is trying to be the best will make training, exercise, and memorizing the team plays a top priority. And so it is with any aspect and profession. 

There is revealed to us a top priority for us as christians in God’s Word. In Matthew six Jesus is just about halfway through His sermon on the mount when He turns His focus onto the subject of worry in verse 25. He says multiple times “do not be anxious.” And He goes on to give us a reason why. Jesus explains that God’s care for us is our reason for not worrying. We are more valuable than grass and birds. Therefore do not be anxious. God values us infinitely more than birds and flowers. It is at the end of this section that we find our priority. Verse 33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 

According to this verse, what is it that we should make a priority? What should we be putting our energy and focus into? The kingdom of God. “Seek first” literally means to “chase after.” Jesus tells us that we are to be in constant pursuit of the Kingdom. This means we are actively chasing and longing for it. Not just the kingdom of God, but also HIS righteousness. Not our own, but God’s. This is accomplished through constant prayer and daily scripture reading, continuous reflection and growth, caring for those around us and copying the mindset of Christ in everything. 

Make God a priority, and the worries of this world will be taken care of. Chase after God and He has promised to take care of us. 

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How To Avoid Worrying About Your Kids

How To Avoid Worrying About Your Kids

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

For those not on social media and connected either with Kathy or any of our three sons, Carl, our youngest (and Thursday’s blog writer), was in a serious motorcycle accident a little over a week ago. A large pickup truck tried to turn left onto the highway and Carl hit it going highway speed. Our concern was for both his immediate safety and longterm health. Add this to two sons unofficially assisting police in breaking up a local theft ring, a son tackling a shoplifter attempting to flee a store and interrupting a gang initiation beating, broken bones, ER trips, ICU stints for health issues, and that’s not to mention innumerable “close calls,” “near misses,” “close shaves,” and “narrow escapes.”  Of course, it’s not just health. What about their relationships? What about their jobs, careers, and financial futures? What about the country they are inheriting or the children God may bless them with? Most of all, what about their spiritual condition, their faith, and their relationship with Christ? With each new phase of life, we are left to numerous consider “what ifs.” For future empty-nesters, that does not decline or disappear when they leave home. If anything, it mounts. So, how does a Christian not worry about their children?

Philippians 4:6. Paul urges us to “be anxious for nothing.” That word for anxious depicts apprehension, being unduly concerned about possible danger or misfortune. We can drive ourselves crazy thinking of all the scary scenarios. Paul says instead to pray (speak to God and petition His help), supplicate (urgently request God to meet the need, suggesting begging and pleading), and express gratitude. Specifically articulate the help you seek from God. Won’t this just make things worse? Not at all. Instead, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (7).

Luke 12:25-26. Luke records Jesus’ voluminous teaching on various material concerns. In the middle of it, Jesus shares a principle that applies to any number of matters. He teaches, “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?” What a practical, sensible truth. What do we change by endless fretting and worrying? Does it change outcomes? Does the exercise of worry keep the bad and scary things from occurring? Does it override the freewill choices of our children or others? We are at one place at a time. God knows everything (30). “He who keeps you will not slumber…nor sleep” (Psa. 121:3-4). Trust that! 

Matthew 6:33. What Matthew records is close to parallel to the material in Luke 12, though the wording and setting are different. The counsel here is about prioritization. It’s hard to “let go and let God,” but that’s Jesus’ bottom-line guidance. Again, in context, He’s dealing with material things rather than our kids. But substituting the one concern for the other does not change the principle. We are well-served to practice “God-firstness” from as early as possible, before our children are born. We should strive to live by that principle throughout the years they are in our homes, trying to show it to them. Then, we must continue to live it out personally and exemplify it before them after they leave the home. God’s kingdom, His will, His righteousness, His goals, His Word comes first and foremost. Keeping focus on that, trust Him to take care of not only us but those whose lives we care about. Jesus sweetly consoles us, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (34).

1 Peter 5:7. I love how Peter acknowledges that we all have anxiety. We’re all tempted (and all of us at least occasionally succumb to the temptation) to worry. Peter’s words are practical. Humbling yourself under God’s all-powerful hand, throw all your anxieties on Him. He is strong enough to carry it. Do you know what’s the best part? Not only can He do it, He wants to. Why? He cares for you! He’s your Father. “Care” here means concern and anxiousness. Our lives matter to Him. His heart is involved. We may not stop to think that all of us are His children. The difference is that this Father can see the future, is fully in control, will never be startled or surprised, and never lacks for what to say, how to react, and what to do. How foolish not to give Him the things we would obsess over, be consumed with, and eaten up by. 

I wish I could tell you I will never worry about Gary, Dale, and Carl again. Those who know them know what a tall task that is. I wish I could tell you that you will never worry about your precious children again. But, none of us should. We can make progress and get better if we’ll feed on the rich truths of passages like the ones we’ve visited briefly together today. Go back and read them again. Drink deeply of their comforting, helpful truths. They will help you trust Him more with whatever frightening prospects you face regarding your children’s lives. I don’t promise. He does! 

 

Saturday at Hebron church of Christ (where Carl, center, preaches). This was at Carl and Emily’s wedding shower. The boys had just returned from hunting wild hogs near Demopolis, AL. It never ends!
Division

Division

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
 
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
 
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
 
  1. We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
  2. We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
  3. We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
  4. We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
  5. Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
  6. We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
  7. We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
 
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
“We Have Nothing to Offer but Fear Itself” 

“We Have Nothing to Offer but Fear Itself” 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

We have entered the vestibule of a new year. Upon reflection, one might realize how subjective the significance of this day is. Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to point this out annually. For example, in 2011, he tweeted: “January 1, 2011: Happy New Year to all –at this arbitrary spot in Earth’s orbit around the Sun.” (Tyson) Consider China. They may observe the Gregorian calendar to conduct global business, but they will not celebrate the new year until February 12, 2021. Why is there a discrepancy? The Chinese, like the Jews, have a lunar-based calendar. God may have created time as a construct in our material universe, but the only “clocks” He provided were the moon and the sun (Genesis 1.14-19), and it is easier to mark time by the moon since we watch it wax and wane. The sun may appear a little lower or higher in the sky, but it is always making its same east-west circuit.  

Even so, we choose January 1 as a special day to begin making necessary or desirable changes to our lives. I would hope that in an age of “fear porn,” the child of God will choose calm. I apologize if the use of that four-letter word is offensive. However, “fear porn” is an expression that has entered our vernacular. Oxford defines this specific usage of the word “porn” as follows: “[in combination or with modifier] Television programs, magazines, books, etc. that are regarded as emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest in their audience.” (“Porn”)  Perhaps the definition provided by a user of the less-authoritative Urban Dictionary is more accessible.  “Mainstream Media content that deliberately and enticingly plays on people’s fears about disaster, disease, and death.” (Animalfarm1984) 

While addressing the Great Depression, Democrat Franklin Delano Rosevelt famously stated, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Among others, Michael Reagan, speaking of his political opponents, has altered the maxim to be “the only thing we have to offer is fear itself.” (Reagan) I imagine there are those considering that indictment up to debate. However, it is not my point to assign blame to political parties or politicians. Many thrive on instilling fear regardless of political affiliation. As one writer for a pop-psychology magazine opined, fear is “the most powerful motivator of all.” (Wilson)    

I set out to recall a time in my life in which no Chicken Little was trying to scare me about something. I fail to remember a season when all was well with the world. In nearly a half-century of life, alarmists told me of the perils I face from nuclear war, a new ice age, a hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, killer bees, the deforestation of the Amazon region, the policies of Ronald Reagan, Y2K, global-warming-no-wait-let’s-call-it-climate-change-to-cover-all-our-bases, the policies of Barrack Obama, Ebola, the very existence of Donald Trump, the Illuminati, Globalists, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and, now, Joe Biden’s socialist regime. Phew. Sadly, I have occasionally given such Chicken Littles a greater hearing than the assurances found in God’s Word.  

What was it that the inspired Apostle John said? “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4 NASB1995). Jesus created and now sustains creation (Colossians 1.16-17). It is He who will destroy it when the time comes (2 Peter 3.10). In the interim, as God promised Noah: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8.22 NASB1995).” It may be that we figuratively see the writing on the wall as Belshazzar indeed did in Daniel 5, but even so, God will be our Rock. Even if the mountains crumble and fall into the sea, He is still our refuge (Psalm 46). It is OK to face uncertainty with apprehension like Habakkuk did as he awaited the impending Babylonian invasion (Habakkuk 3.2,16). Yet, like Habakkuk (and the Apostle Paul), we must bravely move forward, recognizing our dependence upon Providence (Habakkuk 3.17-19; Philippians 4.11-13). Regardless of what 2021 may hold, if you seek God and His Kingdom first, God has your back (Matthew 6.33)! 

Works Cited 

Tyson, Neil deGrasse (neiltyson). “January 1, 2011: Happy New Year to all –at this arbitrary spot in Earth’s orbit around the Sun.” 1 January 2011, 2:55 p.m. Tweet. 

“Porn: Definition of Porn by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com Also Meaning of Porn.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries,www.lexico.com/en/definition/porn

Animalfarm1984. “Fear Porn.” Urban Dictionary, Urban Dictionary, 26 June 2020, www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Fear+Porn

Reagan, Michael. “Stories in the News – Ketchikan, Alaska – The Fear Peddlers.” Sitnews, Stories in the News, 15 May 2003, 4:25 p.m.,www.sitnews.net/Columnist/051503_reagan.html

Wilson, Robert. “The Most Powerful Motivator.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 23 Sept. 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-main-ingredient/200909/the-most-powerful-motivator

 

Making My Lot A Lot Better 

Making My Lot A Lot Better 

Monday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Nothing makes a problem bigger like feeling discontent.
Nothing makes the future dimmer like being discontent.
Nothing buys you happiness, no matter the money spent. 
It breeds greed and disappointment, and above all— the discontent. 

According to Psych Central, discontentment leads to some unhealthy ways of coping with anxiety and depression. It can lead us on a never ending chase of those fleeting and euphoric moments which always leave one feeling empty inside. 

Paul would pen the words, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11b).

He writes to the church at Philippi, from prison. Paul was no stranger to being wrongly charged as a criminal. He spent several nights behind bars throughout his life, but from Philippians 1:20  he seems to know that his time on earth is coming to an end. 

The Romans were notorious for finding the most creative ways of torturing their victims before their final execution and Paul preaches the gospel of a Man who was crucified for His ministry. The agonizing thoughts of a similar death had to have entered into the apostle’s mind. Though the details of his anxieties are not recorded, what is recorded is the awe-inspiring language he uses to describe the kind of faith he owns. He is unafraid of death; he even seems to welcome it! 

In the gloom of a prison cell where there was no doubt a melancholy atmosphere about him, Paul’s mind is thinking on those things which are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. This mindset has led him to be content and at peace. His contentment remained the same regardless of the bleak outside circumstances. 

His life teaches us three basic truths about contentment: 

  1. Anyone can be content through anything— at any time. 
  2. Contentment is a recognized and willful dependence on God.
  3. It is something that has to be LEARNED (4:11).

Being a prisoner of Rome had some negative social stigmas, just as it does today. Timothy even struggled with Paul’s imprisonment, so what made the church at Philippi listen to his letter from behind bars? Paul’s unshakable faith and commitment to the work of Christ had to play a part in inspiring them. A lifestyle that can offer hope and peace that nobody and nothing can take from us— speaks for itself. Paul demonstrates the power of Christ at work in him to the church at Philippi, and to every congregation that’s ever existed since then. 

We have everything we need but don’t deserve because of Jesus— let’s be content. 

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The Curious Case Of The Caratinga Cow

The Curious Case Of The Caratinga Cow

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

 

We know that tomorrow isn’t promised and we also understand that, unless God comes first, everyone will die one day. With that being said, I am almost 100% certain that nobody reading this will pass from this life after having a cow fall through your roof. The “steaks” just aren’t that high. While this is an unlikely way to die, it’s not an impossible way to go. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Joao Souza in 2013. A one-ton cow was grazing on the hills behind his home in Caratinga before it somehow found it’s way up on to his roof. An unknowing Souza was snoozing on his couch when suddenly his life was over. The asbestos-filled roof collapsed under the weight of the cow. Being done in by a bovine is not exactly a bodacious way to make that final transition, but the media had reported two more similar events of cows seemingly falling from the sky in this area just two years prior. Even though this event actually occurred, how ridiculous would it be for us to spend our days in fear— worrying that we will meet a similar fate? 

The last verse of Matthew six will tell you not to exert so much energy worrying about tomorrow. This passage has brought peace and comfort to many Christians throughout the years, but many of us still worry about our tomorrows. I guess if our tomorrows were actually ours to begin with, we may really have something to fear. The truth is, God owns the future. He doesn’t tell us not to worry about the things that are unlikely to happen, He simply tells us not to worry. God’s almighty hand still holds the world, and for the faithful believer this reality can set your mind to rest. I’m not sure what tomorrow brings. It’s possible that a cow could even come crashing through my roof and send me into eternity— but that’s alright. It’s not just alright because I could use a little more dairy in my diet, but it’s alright because a life in Christ comes with a secure future. It doesn’t matter what Fox News tells us when the Good News already told us everything we need to know. No matter what the day may bring nothing can change the fact that Jesus came, He died, and He definitely is alive, well, and active every day. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Let’s live our lives with joy and in the peace only He can provide. 

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    I hope this moos you and that you have an udderly fantastic day. If this beefed up your spiritual cow-fidence please share with someone else.  

My God Is So Big

My God Is So Big

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

My problems are so big, my worries so mighty, there’s nothing my anxieties can’t do. Wait, that’s not how that song goes. It’s been said that the there are more stars in the known universe than all of the sand on earth combined. That being said, in just one grain of sand there are more atoms than all of the stars. That’s pretty amazing. Our planet is but a speck in the grandeur of space. Countless stars, planets, galaxies, lightyears and somehow God is well aware of the happenings of people.

Have you stood on the mountain tops? Have you observed the power of the oceans as the waves crash on the shore? Has your heart almost stopped after the vibrating sensation of a thunder clap resinates in your chest? The might of the Creator is everywhere in the world around us and at times it just demands to be noticed.

1 Kings 19:11-13 is a section of scripture that is mysterious and fascinating. The Lord of hosts is about to show Himself to a depressed and exhausted Elijah, but in a way that he would never forget. “The Lord said, ‘go out on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to stand at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said, ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’” In the hush of Horeb, Elijah seeks to avoid the troubles of his world. The acoustics of the mountainous area along with the time spent in silence must have made the shattering rocks, raging fire, splitting hills, and rumbling earth all but deafening and definitely a terrifying display of divine power. Then in sharp contrast, a still whisper comes. This gentleness, no doubt, is the reason Elijah decides to cautiously emerge from his hiding place. God is teaching His worn-out servant a lesson that holds true for us today.

The fact is, there is no more God, His wisdom, power, and presence in an earthquake than there is in the sweet breath of a blooming flower. The quiet ticking of a wrist watch reveals just as much intelligence and purpose as does the striking of a clock tower’s bell. One may walk out into an open field at night and stare up into the vast sky, lit up with numerous twinkling stars and declare, “I’ve found God!” But God is no more in the sky than He is in the blades of grass flattened beneath your feet. The question came to Elijah from that still voice, “What are you doing here?” To the prophet, his problems were too great and too large and his solution was to run and hide. God, in a magnificent way, is trying to remind Elijah of his place. Our place in life is not to take matters into our own hands or solve life’s many difficulties on our own. The answer is not to run away, but to walk humbly with our awesome God. He is strong enough to lift our burdens, wise enough to counsel us, patient enough to allow us to learn, and loving enough to constantly forgive. My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do— for you, too. 

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A view from Mt. Carmel (Israel)

When Will I Ever Be Free…

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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The Rubber Band Metaphor

The Rubber Band Metaphor

Neal Pollard

The rubber band’s a handy tool
If it but follows a simple rule
It must know how much that it can take
If it goes beyond that, it might break

It does no good inside the drawer
Or on a peg inside the store
It must assume its intended use
If sitting unused, it amounts to abuse

But when in working operation
It must guard against its ruination
Stretched too often or too far
It will not work or be up to par.

Just like that loop which holds together
That which needs a trusty tether
You and I must know our max
And not our limit to unduly tax

We’re not useful up on the shelf
We must work hard, extend ourself
But taken too far, we risk too much
We can hurt ourselves by doing such

Let’s prayerfully consider each opportunity
And realize none has complete immunity
From burnout, fallout, stress and strain—
Then we’ll be useful, happy, strong and sane!

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Grappling Over Grass?

Grappling Over Grass?

Neal Pollard

I heard about the guy last week who tried to choke his neighbor’s lawn service worker for failing to weed the neighbor’s flower bed.  The worker explained he had been hired to cut and trim the grass, but not the beds.  This apparently unsatisfactory answer led to the “choker” leaving visible marks on his victim and ultimately being charged with a count of felony battery.  The irate neighbor was convinced that the lack of weeding was causing him to now be fighting weeds in his own lawn.  The attacking neighbor tried to pull the victim off his riding mower and grabbed him by the neck.

If these are all the facts, what an extreme case of mixed up priorities.  Hurting another person over how unkempt or manicured his or their lawn is?  It seems unthinkable. But many of us know “that” neighbor.  Some of us may wrestle with being “that” neighbor.  If we could step back, we might see how silly excessive obsession with such things is.

In speaking about worry, Jesus reminds us that the grass of the field is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace (Mat. 6:30). Peter adds that the grass withers (1 Pe. 1:24). James similarly speaks of withering, fading, and expiring grass (1:10ff).  These men said this to make a spiritual point about worrying, the Word, and wisdom, but the fact remains that grass is numbered among those things that will be burned up at the end of the world (2 Pe. 3:10).  Yet, the souls of men will continue somewhere everlastingly (cf. Mat. 25:46).

Are we spending too much time grappling over grass, fretting over finances, or wrapped up in the world?  Are we giving the best part of ourselves for that which in the end matters least?  Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27).  Maybe it’s not food or grass for you.  Whatever earthly thing it may be, put it in its proper place.  And put Him in His proper place (cf. Mat. 6:33).