“What Have You Done For Me Lately?”

 

Neal Pollard

This is not just something Janet Jackson once wondered.  The late summer and early fall of each year, college football programs have alumni, boosters, and fans asking head coaches the same thing.  Companies ask the same of employees, and stockholders ask it of companies.  While it can be an unfair question, it cannot be unfair if God asks it.

God has a perfect view of our lives, knowing not only what we’ve done for Him in our past but what we are doing now.  As He looks into our lives, could He be wondering, “What have you done for Me lately?”

  • “Have you won a soul to Me lately?”
  • “Have you been in My Word lately?”
  • “Have you been to My throne room in prayer lately?”
  • “Have you and I been close lately?”
  • “Have you been involved in My Son’s work lately?”
  • “Have you been the spiritual leader of your family lately?”
  • “Have you watched your example and attitude lately?”
  • “Have you been the source of unity in My Son’s body lately?”
  • “Have you encouraged a hurting, lonely soul lately?”

These and other questions are ones He has already asked in principle, when He addresses our hearts (Mat. 15:8-9), teaches us our responsibilities (Mat. 7:21), talks about our relationship with Him (Mat. 22:37), and examines our lifestyles (Mat. 5:13-16).  We may have studied with several people in the past, taught a Bible class at some point for a long period of time, and been very close to and in love with God in days gone by.  But how is it now?  Is that really a thing of the past or does it describe the current state of things?  The wonderful news is that you can start right now, building a better relationship with Him and serving Him more effectively.  Today is as “lately” as it gets.  If your zeal is zapped and your fruit has shriveled, get busy right now restoring that.  Obviously, God will see it and He will bless you for it!

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BE GRATEFUL

Neal Pollard
Frank Crowninshield related a time when Clarence Darrow spoke to a woman’s club on the civilization of ancient Phoenicians. He finished his lecture, and the chairlady said, “Oh, how can we thank Mr. Darrow for the fascinating lecture he has given us tonight?” Darrow returned to the podium and made one final observation: “I entirely forgot to tell you that it was the Phoenicians who first invented money.”
Darrow wanted to be properly “appreciated.” To him, that meant money. Today, in a world where the thank you note is getting to be like an ancient manuscript, where “common courtesy” is scarce, and “manners” are to too many a mystery, there is a great opportunity for a revolution and a revival. Our society is primed for thorough thankfulness. It is due employers, teachers, law enforcement, neighbors, friends, family (both physical and spiritual), waitresses, cashiers, and even strangers. But, most of all, it is due Almighty God!
It should be so natural to join in with David and ask, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” (Ps. 116:12). He answers both in this Psalm (“I will call upon Him and pay my vows to Him”-13-14) and in Psalm 103:2 (“Bless the Lord” and “forget not”). This gratitude will show itself in our giving, but it will also show itself in our living. By developing a spirit inclined to find blessings and express gratitude, we will draw people to the Lord. We will also improve every conversation, activity, and relationship in which we find ourselves.
New Testament writers repeatedly urge thankfulness and show it themselves (cf. Rom. 7:25; 1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 9:15; Eph. 5:4; Col. 3:15; etc.). New Testament Christians ought to be characterized by it, too. Sure, there will always be plenty about which to be depressed and discouraged-taxes, health, betrayal, disappointments, sorrows and losses. But, even in these things blessings and benefit can be found. The old adage, “Have an attitude of gratitude,” is the need of the hour. If you are wanting to shine like a light in a world of darkness (cf. Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:9), a grateful spirit will do the trick.

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Overcoming Bitterness

Neal Pollard

“Where was God when my child was killed by a drunk driver?” “I’ll never forgive brother Jones for that time he… He’s a big hypocrite!” “It’s not fair what they did to me. I hope they get theirs!” Persons raising clenched fists or pointed fingers and growling through gritting teeth epitomize that common, though unattractive, display of bitterness. Sadly, bitterness is not a disease confined to the alien sinner. Christians in crisis, dejected elders and preachers, and offended brethren are not immune to that sourness of spirit.

What, exactly, is BITTERNESS? Eadie says,

It is a figurative term denoting that fretted and irritable state of mind that keeps a man in perpetual animosity — that inclines him to harsh and uncharitable opinions of men and things — that makes him sour, crabby and repulsive in his general demeanor — that brings a scowl over his face and infuses venom into the words of his tongue (Rienecker, 534).

In motion, bitterness is a deadly snake. In result, it stings both predator and prey. In fruit, it is destructive. In category, it is sin! Ephesians 4:31, in part, reads, “Let all bitterness … be put away from you…” One source says of bitterness in this verse, “Bitterness is the opposite not only of sweetness but of kindness. It is the spite that harbors resentment and keeps a score of wrongs. Aristotle defined those who display it as ‘hard to be reconciled'” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 11:65).

Paul says such an attitude must be destroyed. It is to be replaced by the sweet, savory, Christian characteristics like kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness (Eph. 4:32). If ever one had cause to be bitter, surely the crucified Lord did. But he offered a prayer asking for the Father to forgive the spike-driving and ridicule-hurling sinners who placed him in such an agonizing position (Luke 23:34).

How can we overcome bitterness? First, by obeying God’s Word. Explicitly, New Testament writers warn Christians against bitter thoughts and behavior (Col. 3:19; Heb. 12:15; Rom. 3:14). Second, by imitating the forgiving attitude of Jesus (Eph. 1:7). Third, by crowding out angry and festering thoughts, replacing them with praiseworthy and virtuous thoughts (cf. Phi. 4:8). Fourth, by praying for those against whom you feel bitter (cf. Mat. 5:44).

Christians must not willfully harbor feelings of anger and resentment. Such produces hearts easily offended and easily provoked (cf. 1 Cor. 13:5). Bitterness is defeated by a perpetually cheerful and thankful heart. Everyone has problems. Yet, as John Henry Miller once said, “Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.” As Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness be put away from you.”

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Profiting From A Penny

Neal Pollard

While walking down the hallway, I felt something lumpy in my left shoe. I pull off the shoe and, when I revived, I found that a penny was the aforementioned lump. The first thing I do when I find a penny is look at the date. This penny carried the date of 1964. It had that characteristic dark appearance of a well-loved penny, the shiny copper color long since faded. It had some scratches and had endured a bit of erosion.

Several things of a spiritual nature occurred to me about that 1964 penny.

It has been in service for a long time. Fifty years doing the same thing is amazing. George Blanda was still kicking a football at 48, and for that he is legendary. Others like Jerry Rice, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, and Earl Morrall hung around into their 40s. Some of pro basketball’s greats played past the age of 40, including Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, Kareem, Bob Cousy, and Karl Malone. In Major League baseball, pitchers Satchel Paige and Jack Quinn played into their 50s.  A number of renowned pitchers made it to their late-40s. Four position players made it to their 50s, and the last guy most of us would remember to play so late in life was Julio Franco (49). It is not just sports. I regularly meet people who continue to have the opportunity and energy to bolster the U.S. workforce in their golden years.  We are living longer and healthier lives than our ancestors!

That penny continues to be spent and passed along the economic chain, having survived 13 presidential elections, an impeachment and a resignation. It was “born” in the days of mainframe computers and in the pre-moon space program era. It may have ridden in Martin Luther King’s pocket during the Civl Rights era. Still it spends. 

How i thank God for the longevity of service typified by our elders and many of our senior saints, who have worshipped and serviced God for so long. These golden, godly girls and gents were teaching Bible classes and Bible studies before many of us were born.

It has likely been used for its intended purpose wherever it has gone.  A penny cannot be substituted for a dollar or even a dime. It cannot be eaten without painful consequences. It will not text or play music. It will not work as a monocle or a magic marker. It is a penny. No doubt, it has been spent and “re-spent” for decades, with other money, for a variety of purchases. A penny is a denomination of money. That’s the value of a penny.

As I think of you and me, God has an intended purpose for us, too. As priests of God, we are to shine the light in darkness (1 Pe. 2:9). As disciples, were are to go into all the world with the gospel (Mark 16:15). Wherever we go, that’s why we’re here. We can work a job, have hobbies, play games, and be entertained, but that’s not the purpose of our sojourn here (cf. 1 Pe. 1:15-17). As Christians, we have been given a purpose as part of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11). Thus, like Christ, we must be about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49).

It continues to circulate, though it can do relatively little. A penny is virtually worthless in our modern economy, but I am far from alone in picking up every penny I find (even those in my shoe!). Put a lot of pennies together and the value of what you have dramatically increases. 

You may think you have very little to contribute to the kingdom. Yet, when you join with others our collective value soars! God uses the little things from “average” Christians to do great things.

They say a penny saved is a penny earned. The penny I found may never be spent, but it has demonstrated its value to me.  Take heart!  Don’t be weary doing well.  Do what God has you here to do. Do your best whatever you can do!

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Jehoshaphat’s People

Neal Pollard

One of the last great periods of spiritual revival in Judah’s history before Babylonian Captivity occurred during the reign of Jehoshaphat.  This king is praised for seeking God, following His commandments, and not acting like Israel (2 Ch. 17:3-4). Jehoshaphat was greatly blessed by these decisions, he took pride in the Lord’s ways and sought to eradicate idolatry (5-6).  In the third year of his reign, Jehoshaphat sent his officials, the priests, and the Levites throughout Judah.  What we read in 2 Chronicles 17:9 is exemplary for us today.

  • They “taught.”  Men of varying backgrounds, abilities, personalities, and occupations united in the valuable enterprise of teaching. In all, 16 men are named as those who were tasked with this important job. Whatever we don’t know about them, we do know they were teachers.  Their work was so important that God saw fit to include them by name in His Book!  Certainly He still holds knowledgeable, diligent teachers in high regard today.  What a thrill it must be for Him to see His children willing and able to teach (cf. 1 Pe. 3:14-15). 
  • They taught “in Judah…among the people.” What was Judah? It was the place where God’s people resided. Strong churches have good teachers teaching them.  There is a resounding benefit when people get together and are subjected to healthy, beneficial teaching.  As it was then, so it is now.
  • They taught in Judah “having the book of the law of the Lord with them.” Jehoshaphat wanted to ensure the spiritual literacy of his subjects, knowing God wanted that, too. God still longs for His people to know, show, and grow (2 Pe. 3:18). Too often, our teaching can lack a biblical focus.  We do not need more “what I thinks” and “what happened to me’s.” We need more rich teaching from “the book of the law of the Lord.”

Despite some later foolish and even sinful choices, Jehoshaphat was on target to send teachers for Judah’s benefit.  In the end, he instituted needed, helpful reforms, and relied on God in prayer.  He fell short, but perhaps it was his anchor in the law of God that kept him from drifting away from Him.  Our hope and future is tied to how faithfully we follow God, but we must know what God wants to do that.  And we can only know what God wants by knowing His Word. God bless the teachers that help us to do just that!

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Our Brethren Are Suffering

Neal Pollard

The United Nations’ very conservative estimate is that well over 2,000 people have died in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine in fighting between that nation’s government have clashed with separatists.  So many of the towns and cities in the region have congregations of God’s people, many of their preachers trained in our foreign extension school that for years was in Kramatorsk and of late has been in Gorlovka. One of our graduates reports that two gospel preachers have been kidnapped this month, though one of them has since been released.  Our brethren in Ukraine have been facing the terror of daily bombing and shooting as well as fear for their safety when they assemble.

The ebola outbreak is an ongoing health concern and it is not yet contained.  Nations affected include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even Nigeria.  One of two Americans on medical missions in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly, is a member of the church.  While its not clear whether any of our native brethren in these African nations have gotten sick or died, they certainly feel the threat and concern of a disease that claims between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it. 

Around the world at any given time, we have brothers and sisters who face health scares, hunger, harm, and hatred.  Persecution, natural disaster, famine, and war are no respecter of persons, and “our people” are often affected.  How they need our constant prayers as well as whatever assistance we can prudently provide.

On our pews in the local church, though without the drama and press coverage, there are always those who are struggling with hurts, heartaches, health, home, and hardship.  They may not trumpet their complaints or even publicly ask for encouragement, silently suffering.  As we interact with each other, let us keep in mind the potential hidden concerns and burdens being borne.  

Paul encourages us, in the spirit of unity, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Co. 12:25). He tells Colosse, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). He tells Philippi to to look out “for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:4).  Are we busy and bothered by our own concerns? Certainly! But may we ever cultivate greater sensitivity toward the silent suffering of our spiritual family, both near and far.

Members of the Slavyansk church of Christ (including a BVBIU graduate from our first class) holding bomb shrapnel that exploded near the church building. Photo Credit: Jeff Abrams.

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Willing To Use Firefighters

Neal Pollard

Patrick Daly, fellow Faulkner alumni and friend, sent me a heartwarming news story from CBS in Huntsville, Alabama.  A terminally ill patient came to a knowledge of the truth and wanted to be baptized.  She contacted the Oliver church of Christ in Rogersville, and the local preacher, David O’Connell, contacted the local fire department seeking assistance to get her to the church building so she could be immersed.  They happily agreed and aided David in getting her to the building and into a member’s pool for baptism.  Doris Chandler, a 74-year-old with stage four pancreatic cancer, was met by 10 firemen and 15 members, who witnessed her burial with Christ.  She knew she faced death and she was willing to go to any lengths necessary to be prepared for eternity (Story Here).

So many meet death with less preparation or warning than our new sister had.  Death may come suddenly, the mind may precede the body, or the figurative heart may be too hardened before physical death comes.  Many others are delaying, putting off the decision they know the Bible says they must make.  They may have excuses or obstacles they deem insurmountable.  

However, the good heart is willing to obey no matter what extremes are necessary.  The eunuch stopped the chariot.  The jailor went at midnight. Saul was blind. The people on Pentecost and many of those after them were in a different religion.  They heard God’s plan of salvation and what did they do?  They “became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which” they were committed (Rom. 6:17).  

Jesus left heaven for earth. God gave His only begotten Son.  First-century believers at times paid with their lives.  What are you willing to do to be prepared?

firefighters baptism 

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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).

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Tipping The Train Off Of A Trapped Man

 

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, a man slipped trying to board a subway train in Perth, Australia.  Closed-circuit footage shows him wedged up to his thigh as the train was filling with commuters.  First, a fellow-commuter beckons to the Transit Authority workers to stop the train from leaving.  Then, incredibly, dozens of commuters come together and tip the train over enough for the man to be freed.  The unnamed man was apparently unharmed and able to catch the next train, undoubtedly more cautious about where and how he stepped (AP story via USA Today, 8/6/14).

The story has rightly been called “heartwarming.”  It shows the compassion and empathy people can naturally and easily demonstrate. It also shows the power of people united for a common cause.  Doesn’t it also show the importance of each individual, doing his or her part, to effectively help?

The church is certainly made up of people with varying degrees and kinds of talents.  Some may be more visible and audible than others, but no one is unimportant.  My experience is that God’s people have an inclination to help and serve and often are just looking for a way to be involved.  Together, we can accomplish great good for the growth and strength of the kingdom.  Not one person is unimportant.

How many people are needed to reach a soul?  Paul writes that he planted and Apollos watered (1 Co. 3:6).  Think about it.  If a person visits our assemblies, one may greet them in the parking lot and another at the door.  One may help them find a seat and several more may greet them and converse with them.  Another may invite them to lunch.  Yet another may eventually ask them to study the Bible.  Another may conduct the study and still another baptize them.  Others may invite them into their home and conduct follow up studies.  There may be those who find where they can be involved and put them to work.  Eventually, that one dies in a saved condition.  Who was responsible for that?

How beautiful to think that God sees each of us as a vital cog in His eternal plan of salvation!  He had the church in His mind as part of His eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  No one can do everything, but each of us can do something.  Let us find out where we fit in and then start “pushing”!

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THRILLED? OR CHILLED?

 

Neal Pollard

It is said that when Dorothy opened the door to Oz and the movie’s colors went from sepia to Technicolor the audience gasped and that many stood up and applauded.  Moviegoers had never seen a movie in color before.  We take color movies for granted, but 75 years ago it was new.

Can you remember how excited you were to be able to surf the internet in the early 1990s.  A page would load in mere minutes.  Dial-up was such an innovation.  Smartphone, tablet, and laptop users scoff, nay cringe, at the thought of such primitivity today.  We are creatures cultivated by conditioning.  What was once fresh and new can all too quickly become stale and old.

Did you grow up in the church or did you come to Christ through your own investigation or someone’s love and concern?  Perhaps you can boast of being a third, fourth, fifth, or more generation Christian.  You were raised knowing God’s plan of salvation, will for worship, and pattern for daily living.  Perhaps it can at times seem like “old hat” and cause us to take the great blessing of salvation for granted.

One who came to Christ as a teenager or an adult may often have a special, intense appreciation for their “new” discovery.  Over the course of time (and even generations), we may have to fight apathy and complacency. We can forget the joy and excitement of forgiveness or the feelings of peace and hope.  If we “inherited” our faith, we may have to work harder at understanding just what a blessing we had handed to us by our parents and strive to appreciate what we may be taking for granted.

Understand that the blessing of salvation is more wonderful than anything we can imagine.  Nothing new or better can follow that.  The challenge is always for us to maintain appropriate appreciation for such atonement!  Is it still new or do you maybe need to renew?

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