“Freedom Is Not A Luxury. It Is A Necessity”

Neal Pollard

Earlier today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint-session of the United States Congress. It was an impassioned plea, from beginning to end, as he spoke in his broken English about the trials his people have endured for many months now.  He gave poignant examples of brave men who were killed for their courageous stand against ruthless enemies.  One of his imploring calls for help invoked our own past path as a nation and our pursuit of liberty.  It was about then that he exclaimed, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

Poroshenko was speaking not of the Ukrainians but of the Russian people, who he believed had been fed the idea that freedom is a luxury that they should not necessarily expect to enjoy.  He rebutted such a view.  We have such a hard time in our nation comprehending life in a land where freedom is such an elusive commodity. But, for those people, it is a daily battle!

In the spiritual sense, this stated idea is most true and important. Sin is a horrible dictator and master, brutalizing and bringing death to those who are under its power. Eternity is in the balance for us.  Will we leave this life as free men and women or as slaves?  What makes this so much more paramount is that it is harder to discern spiritual bondage than physical bondage.  We may think ourselves perfectly free all while toiling in the chains of darkness!

Paul made his own impassioned plea to the saints at Galatia.  He wrote them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1).  Can you imagine a nation or even an individual who had endured torture and seen loved ones murdered now enjoying the rights and privileges of freedom but volunteering to return to that former way of life?  It is unthinkable, unless we speak in the spiritual sense.  People continue to run toward and embrace the enslaver of souls.  To any one, we would implore, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

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Avoid Foolish And Ignorant Disputes!

Neal Pollard

A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ.  He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher.  The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful.  In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.

Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23.  One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.”  We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate!  Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn.  I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.”  Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?

And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler.  For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar.  The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not!  That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.

Remember what Paul tells the Romans.  “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19).  The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this.  Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words.  “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving.  You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!

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HOW DO WE TREAT ONE ANOTHER?

Neal Pollard

As we live in a culture of disrespect, Christians have an added responsibility to give thought to how we speak to one another.  Civility, courtesy, and manners were once staple subjects taught in every home, but those days are increasingly relegated to the yearbooks of nostalgia.  Yet, it shouldn’t be so with God’s people.  Especially if we, as we claim in our songs, sermons, and speech, love one another, that will be reflected in speaking kind words even when we feel impatience, disagreement, or aggravation toward another. This is difficult, but it is a mark of our bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

In the last several chapters of Romans, Paul reinforces this idea of loving, kind treatment of one another.  He urges the church to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10), “give preference to one another” (12:10), “be of the same mind toward one another” (12:16), “love one another” (13:8), “let us not judge one another” (14:13), “build up one another” (14:19), “be of the same mind with one another” (15:5), “accept one another” (15:7), “able to admonish one another” (15:14, but notice that this comes from those who are “full of goodness”), and “greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:16).

So how do we lift that off the page and put it into practice?  Think about any and every interaction we have with other members of the Lord’s body.  Give forethought to how you answer them and speak to them.  Apply this to our leaders, our peers, and those who are led by our example. Do your words and attitudes help create the kind of atmosphere Paul repeatedly calls for, or do they undermine it and make it difficult.  It is so easy to allow pride, selfishness, lack of self-discernment, or the like to erode the kindness from our demeanor.  But now more than ever, we need to bear this distinctive mark in a world who has seemingly lost sight of it.  When we treat each other the way Paul encourages, we will not only build each other up but we will draw the world to the Lord.  It is the mark of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).  In our busy, hectic, stressful lives, may we redouble our efforts to be ever be edifiers and never be nullifiers!

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The “Religious Condition Of The People”

Neal Pollard

After describing the “religion of the heart, not of the head,” scripture-less sermons of his contemporaries, a certain writer then focused on the consequent religious condition of the people.  He wrote,

The religious condition of the people very greatly corresponded to the teaching
of these preachers. The native common sense of some told them, that if God
gave a revelation to man, it certainly was one that man can understand.  That
it was unreasonable God should give a revelation of his will, and then need an
interpreter of it to the very men, for and to whom he gave it, so they studied it
for themselves, and learned many of its truths…

But the masses of the people did not study the Bible, made no effort to learn
what God had revealed in this Book to men, looked at it as a sealed Book to
them, made no effort to a religious life further than to live a respectable moral
life, obey the laws of the land, and maintain a reputable character among their
fellowmen…The religious life was one of impulse and feelings, days of sunshine
and cloud, moments of joy and hope, succeeded by long periods of doubt and
despair. They had no though of regular, faithful, self-denying obedience to God
bearing the fruit of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost.
(Lipscomb, David. Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell.
Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1891. p. 35-36).

Lipscomb wrote concerning those in mid-19th Century Tennessee, but it was probably true of mainstream America at the time.  They experienced different religious influences, particularly the ideas of hardline Calvinism.  Yet, how similar it sounds to even our own day.  Some are willing to hold themselves personally accountable for knowing the Bible, God’s written revelation.  They know they need to study and follow it, and they are open to do that.  Yet, the masses still try to live a self-guided, vaguely “moral” life of doing good things without learning for themselves what God’s instruction book says.  As the result, they meander through life in a sort of rudderless fashion.  That is, they have no concrete guide and show no serious interest in what God wants them to do.  At least, their interest is not great enough to drive them to read, study, and try to understand the Bible.

We have an obligation to seek searchers and point them to “the Book.” We also have a responsibility to ourselves, to faithfully delve into the Sacred pages, discern God’s will and then be changed by it.  The masses will likely always be as they were in Lipscomb’s and our day.  Our task is to go deeper and help others do the same.

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MERCY FOR THE MEADOW JUMPING MOUSE?

Neal Pollard

The meadow jumping mouse has made it to the status of “endangered” and is now protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act.  That means that cattle have more limited water and grazing access so that the mice’s habitat can be protected. Ranchers and cattlemen have taken the fight to U.S. District court in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The habitat area covers portions of New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado (The Denver Post, 9/10/14, A-2, “Colorado Roundup,” denverpost.com).  Meanwhile, a local politician is excoriated for his stand against abortion.  The web site “ontheissues.org” examines his record, where it is proven that he supported protecting life at all stages in 2010, voted to ban federal health coverage that included abortion, considers himself “pro-life,” prohibited federal funding for groups like Planned Parenthood, and the like. He is cast in commercials as an “anti-abortion radical” as well as one known for “his steadfast efforts to restrict women’s control over their lives” due to his “anti-abortion agenda.”

I sometimes wonder what would happen if time travel were possible and we could take such headlines back to our national forebears 100 years ago.  What would they think of federal mandates to protect rodents all while trumpeting protests in the loudest decibels possible against one in the place of government trying to take steps to afford protection for eternal beings made in the image of God.  Of course, if we could travel back further in time and cross the ocean until we reached the ancient middle east and showed these headlines to a prophet, apostle, or the Lord Himself, what would their reaction be?  Might they respond, “I was known by God from my mother’s womb, sanctified and ordained by Him for a specific job.” Or say of himself, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.” Or describe pregnant women as being with “child” (rather than “fetus” or “tissue”)? Or speak of Jesus’ mother as having Him within her, a child, a person?

Everyone has a moral compass.  It is incredible to see how improperly calibrated many such compasses are.  In Resolute Bay, up in the Nunavut territory of Canada, a pilot attempting to land amid clouds crashed his plane, killing himself, his co-pilot, and ten passengers, in part due to a malfunctioning compass.  He could not believe it was true until ground sensors warned him of imminent contact with land.  His co-pilot seemed to have known better and pleaded with him to “go around,” to climb to safer altitude before retrying the landing.  The last words on record belonged to the pilot, who said, “Go-around thrust!” a split second before the crash (www.edmontonsun.com, Daniel Proussalidis, 3/25/14).  He hardly had time to think that he was misguided before his life ended.

Many will find out only too late their moral compass misguided their course in life!  Our work is to gently help them see the direction God tells them to go.  Only when their hearts, consciences, and affections are aligned with THE moral compass of the Bible will they be able to look at matters, big and small, and make rational, common sense decisions.  May God continue His forbearance with us as we try to repair the compass.

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Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Neal Pollard

What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common?  Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word.  Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language?  Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?

You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy.  You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person.  How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.”  Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.”  The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom.  That’s pretty serious!  Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.

Our speech is powerful.  One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation.  As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”

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How Often To Take “The Feast Of Love”?

Neal Pollard

I recently read a fascinating article by John H. Armstrong in the September, 2014, issue of “Christianity Today.” Armstrong starts out reminiscing on early childhood worship experiences in the denomination he attended. He writes that his church celebrated the Lord’s Supper “four times a year. I remember asking why we celebrated it so infrequently. The answer I got never satisfied, and it still doesn’t: ‘If we do this very often, it will lose its meaning'” (51). He goes on to say, “As I grew older, I discovered some churches took the meal weekly. I was then even more dissatisfied with the answer I had received” (ibid.).  He goes on to write a mostly historical examination of the Lord’s Supper, looking at the debates and developments of church history.  At the end, he summarizes by saying, “…[younger Christians] desire to receive the meal more often. And some of them—as I did when I was younger—have started attending congregations that take Communion ever week” (53).  The reasons given are that each observance gives us the opportunity to focus on Jesus’ crucifixion, expresses the unity of the body, and reflects our personal identity in Christ (ibid.). In other words, it offers commemoration, examination, and expectation.  We need that on an ongoing basis, and the Lord knew we would.  That is why He pointed ahead to a certain frequency when He established it, saying He would do it again when He established His Kingdom (Mark 14:25).  Paul says it was to be done with a certain frequency (1 Cor. 11:25—”as often as”).  Thankfully, Luke shows us how frequently it was taken (Acts 20:7—”on the first day of the week”).  It is good to understand that the Bible establishes the frequency of our observation of the Lord’s Supper, but it is also important to know why we take it each week.  We look up, look back, look within, look around, and look ahead.  Our all-wise God knew we would need this every time we assembled with our spiritual family.  Though so many have lost sight of its frequency, may we never lose sight of its significance!

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MR. OBAMA’S EXAMPLE OF LEADERSHIP

Neal Pollard

As one who grows less political each day, I have hesitated to write anything that would look partisan or otherwise politically divisive.  The answer to man’s biggest problems starts with neither “R” nor “D” but rather “J” and “C.”  However, as one who loves our country, I am concerned at our president’s seeming and increasing aloofness, inattention, disengagement, and unconcern with international and domestic crises. The latest Rasmussen poll reveals that 45% of likely voters consider the president a poor leader (www.rasmussenreports.com). Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that more Americans (53%) than not (41%) believe our president is not respected “on the world stage” (www.gallup.com). This may stem from the fact that he lacks, as Doug Mataconis suggests, “executive experience…” (Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/14). Even prominent people within the president’s party, like former AOL Time Warner CEO, describe themselves as “beyond disillusioned” at the chief executive’s “hugging and hobnobbing” rather than appearing more engaged in the various, volatile current situations.  Taken together, the growing disapproval of Barak Obama’s leadership stems from such things as apparent disinterest, failure to listen, inexperience, and blind adherence to an ideology without examining the specifics of a situation.

In every context, leadership is seen as an essential cog in the proper function of any organization.  If a church, a home, a company, a school, or a nation seem to be failing and floundering, look at leadership.  In a church, that includes especially elders but also preachers and deacons.  In a home, it is the father and husband. In a company, it’s the president or CEO.  In a school, it’s the principal, president, or director. Whatever the organization, it is fair to look at the example of the leadership.  Typically, everyone else in the organization has to live with the decisions and is effected by the direction of the leadership.

The church’s leaders will give an account (Heb. 13:17). The man of the home is likewise accountable (Eph. 5:22-6:4).  This holds true for leaders all the way up to the leaders of nations (Psa. 82:1; 110:5).  We all find ourselves in positions of responsibility and most of us serve in some leadership capacity.  Let us take seriously the accountability that we have to lead, be it children, the lost, neighbors, friends, or entire groups of people.

 

 

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“He Has Put A New Song In My Mouth”

Neal Pollard

Pollards love singing and music. A few (and they usually are those who marry into the family) actually know a few things about either or both. We are thankful that “joyful noise” does not mean “pleasant melody.”

David was probably quote the songster. The “sweet psalmist” wrote the Jewish hymn book, songs used by God’s people over the course of two covenants and hundreds and hundreds of years. We still sing songs inspired by his inspired psalms, and some songs are derived, verbatim, from the sacred text. In Psalm 40:3, David declares, “He has put a new song in my mouth.”

Isn’t that true? Maybe, you used to sing “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” or “Am I Blue?” Now, we sing, “I’m Happy Today” and “I’m Redeemed.” Our favorite song might have been “Let’s Talk About Me.” Now, our anthem is, “Make Me A Servant” and “In The Service Of My King.” It used to be that our theme song was “We Are Living In A Material World” but now it’s “This World Is Not My Home.” Maybe, we used to sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” but now we can sing “God’s Family.”

The difference Jesus makes to us hits every facet of our lives. It impacts the very songs in our hearts. Not only will we sing the new song in heaven some day, we have a new song now.

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“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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