The Ever-Fixed Mark

The Ever-Fixed Mark

Neal Pollard

This phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to describe love. While it is an apt, poetic description of love, it also is the perfect modifier of God’s Word. If there is a word to describe the current culture, it is “change.” Our world is enamored with it, constantly changing its mind, its values, its standards of right and wrong, its worldview, and its priorities. Swept up in all of this are societal attitudes about so many things.

What was once right is now wrong. What was wrong is now right. And while not every instance of this is wrong, so many of them are the product of mankind pushing the envelope of previous norms and standards of decency. Let me cite some specific examples:

  • The definition of marriage
  • The definition of gender
  • Sexual mores
  • The sanctity and humanity of the unborn
  • The view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • Male and female leadership roles
  • The move from monotheism to polytheism (one God to many Gods)
  • The existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ
  • The ethics of honesty, hard work, and service

Our list could be much longer, but these representative items have all fallen victim to the world’s push for what it sees as greater freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Those who rely on the Bible as their infallible guide already know how the story turns out for those who make themselves the standard. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). More solemnly, Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). In Paul’s day, suppressing, speculative, sensual, and subverting souls rejected God in deference to self-guidance with destructive results (Rom. 1:18ff). Thus it will always be when man builds upon the foundation of himself.

What happens with us, individually and collectively, when we build upon the rock of Scripture is survival in the severest tests (Mat. 7:24-25). When we see Scripture as something to change us rather than something subject to our changes, we have a sure standard by which to chart our lives. Antecedent societies have experienced the trauma of spiritual self-determination (cf. Prov. 14:34). In a world enamored with unrighteous change, may we determine to fix our gaze on the ever-fixed mark of Scripture!

harrows_bristle_board_bullseye

Let’s Not Mistake What Some Mean By “Tolerance”

Let’s Not Mistake What Some Mean By “Tolerance”

Neal Pollard

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian declared war on establishments which wished to decline services to those of the LGBT community. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes bakery, were driven out of business by a lawsuit in the wake of their refusal to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. According to Todd Starnes,

They faced boycotts and picket lines and other wedding vendors were threatened with similar action if they did business with Sweet Cakes. The family’s young children received death threats and the store’s  social networking platforms were overrun by militant LGBT activists posting obscene and profane messages (read here).

On top of that, they were ordered by the court to pay the couple $135,000 in emotional damages.

The Kleins refused on the grounds that it violated their “deeply-held religious beliefs” (ibid.). Anyone familiar with the Bible could understand the roots of their conviction, even if those ones don’t agree with the Bible (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Unfortunately for the Kleins, “tolerance” was not extended to them. Freedom of religion did not cover their attempt to freely practice their religion in their daily lives.

We have seen forces within our country, in politics, education, the media, and the like, pushing a moral agenda that is often cloaked under the guise of creating tolerance for absolutely everyone. But such is a logical impossibility. For those who see the Bible as their unalterable, unchanging guide, there are moral, ethical, and doctrinal absolutes. Nothing, be it culture, situations, or moral shifts, can alter and change God’s commands. In other words, killing the unborn does not become morally acceptable just because our nation passed a law. We do not want our money to fund what we deem sinful. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and any other sexual relationship the Bible identifies as sinful does not cease to be so just because the culture embraces it. We don’t want to be forced to accept what we believe, from Scripture, to be unacceptable to God. Yet, the very articulation of such conviction is increasingly rejected. That seat at the table of civil discourse has been removed and stuck in the corner (if not thrown into the yard).

For some, tolerance has come to mean acceptance of their world view and philosophy. It is not extended to those who disagree or who advocate a divergent point of view (isn’t that what tolerance means?). But, such is inevitable. There is no such thing as absolute tolerance. Immorality and morality, biblically defined, cannot peacefully coexist. Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:11-13). It is a struggle against powers and forces. It requires a firm stand and a resistance. Not a physical, literal fight (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). It’s a battle of the mind. It depends on the rank and file of people having properly trained, sharpened consciences, formed and spurred by God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.

Jesus says this is to be expected (John 15:19). Peter (1 Pet. 4:12) and John (1 Jn. 3:13) echo it.  Our task is to find the honest hearts and minds (Luke 8:15) who are seeking truth amid the cacophony of cultural noise. And, no matter what it costs us, hold onto truth and teach it to our children (cf. Deut. 6:1ff) which every way the cultural wind blows. Jesus did not call us to be tolerant (Rev. 2:2,20), but rather teachers of truth in love (Eph. 4:15). May we never lose sight of that.

acceptance-968458_640

When “Help” Is Actually “Harm”

When “Help” Is Actually “Harm”

Neal Pollard

Rob Heusevelet and his son came upon a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that was shivering in the cold. They were afraid for the health and survival of the animal, so they put it into their SUV and drove it to a ranger station in the park. A witness who took a picture of the calf in the car said, “They were demanding to speak with a ranger. They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying” (NPR). Ironically, their “intervention” ultimately cost the animal his life. His mother and the rest of the family rejected him because of the contact with people, and, isolated and alone, the baby bison had to be eventually euthanized. This act of ignorance was more than foolish; it was fatal!

Good intentions are fine enough, as long as they are built on the right foundation. A 12th-century French mystic and Catholic monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, is often credited with a saying antecedent to our modern aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” (Ammer, The American Heritage of Idioms, np).  We appreciate the meaning of the proverb. No matter how well-meaning our motivation, how we act from it have consequences and they matter.  The Bible shows us those whose motivation was unimpeachable, but whose resulting actions were tragic. There was Jephthah’s rash vow (Judges 11:30ff). There were so many examples provided by Peter’s impetuousness. There was Paul’s persecution of the church, motivated by religious fervor (Acts 26:9). These are examples enough to show that simply intending to do right is not enough.

Today, we can do much harm in trying to help. Consider three specific ways that are common, though critical.

  • Making the gospel plan of salvation or gospel requirements broader, easier, or different than what Scripture teaches. We do not want to offend or hurt feelings. We do not want to face rejection. We do not want to seem arrogant. Paul calls such “scratching itching ears” (Acts 4:3-4). There is only one way (John 14:6; Gal. 1:6-9).
  • Offering false hope or peace. This is often done at funerals for the non-Christian or unfaithful Christian. We should always be comforting and gentle, but we cannot swing to the other extreme and tell anyone living (or on behalf of the dead) that they are “right” when they are not. We do them no service, and we do disservice to our own souls.
  • Pretending like nothing is wrong when a loved one (relative, friend, Christian family member) is living in sin. Sometimes, we act as though time equals repentance. We gradually accept and embrace one whose deeds are in rebellion to God. We may even never have the nerve to imitate the great spirit of Nathan and tell the guilty, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). But such pretense cannot change divine facts!

Paul preaches the imperative of proper motivation (cf. Phil. 1:15-17). Jesus stresses the value of a good heart (Luke 8:15). Neither of these is a substitute for the grave duty we face as Christians to not do harm as we seek to do good. It is not an either-or proposition. It is both-and.

cikpk3rwuaab97a
Photo Credit: Karen Olsen Richardson
Five Facts About A Faithless People

Five Facts About A Faithless People

Neal Pollard

The percentage of Americans who identify as atheists doubled from 2007 to 2014 (Michael Lipka, Pew Research Center). But that hardly tells the whole story. Our culture is drowning in a political correctness that stigmatizes Christian Values and that makes nearly any public stand or statement regarding what Scripture says about such things as homosexuality, objective truth, the sanctity of life, and creation a point of fierce contention and object of greatest scorn. A moral erosion and slippery slope has been in motion for several generations that has brought us to our current position. The Bible foresaw such decline as comes when a people turn their backs on God (cf. Prov. 14:34). In discussing the universal problem of sin, Paul points out five facts about a faithless people (Rom. 1:18-32):

  • Faithlessness ignites God’s fury (18). Wrathfulness is as much a part of God’s nature as graciousness. In fact, we appreciate grace so much because God gives it when we deserve His wrath. Paul says the object of His wrath is all ungodliness and unrighteousness. The unrighteous behavior Paul specifies is “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They don’t live the truth and they don’t want the truth to be told. Paul ends the section by pointing these out as those who practice ungodliness and heartily approve of those who do the same (32). It is clear that those who remain faithless are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
  • Faithlessness ignores the facts (19-20). Paul says that faithlessness is not due to an absence of facts, but a willful ignorance of them. He says that even the faithless can see God as they look inside themselves and outside themselves at the creation. It takes a deliberate effort to arrive at a position of unbelief. So much has to be continuously ignored.
  • Faithlessness includes futility (21). Faithlessness is built upon a flimsy foundation. It’s the slab of speculation. The faithless spend their lives running from the facts in favor of a worldview that makes no sense, gives no purpose, and instills no hope.
  • Faithlessness involves folly (22-23). It’s not just empty, it’s foolish. Paul’s words here are akin to David’s words in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, that “the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Paul describes intelligent people who have made the most fundamentally foolish decision of all. They exchange faith in an infallible God for faith in fallible man.
  • Faithlessness instigates a fall (24-32). Paul pictures how a person arrives at wholesale immorality. One must first turn from God and run the other way. Then, God lets them go to find out what lies at the end of that broad way. He gives them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (24), He gives them over to degrading passions (26), and He gives them over to a depraved mind (28). The lusts led to the wrong object of worship and submission. The passions led to unnatural desires. The depraved minds led to every imaginable behavior, a long list of actions that have in common the fact that they lead to spiritual death. It encompasses both the perpetrators and those who validate them and tell them it’s OK to do them.

Why does Paul mention these faithless ones? It is proof of divine inspiration, because although this was written 2000 years ago it perfectly describes the current culture. But, there is a more important reason for Paul to write this. This horrible condition has a remedy. The theme of Romans is contained in the four verses prior to this section. The gospel has the power to save us from this. The solution is faith. Faith saves (1:16) and it gives life (1:17). The world is being swallowed by spiritual darkness, but God’s light is brighter. We who have faith have the light. We must share it. When we do, we help people have the most important possible commodity: faith!

birth_of_all_hope_by_mr_morph-d62i5un

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!