Bad Breath Babbling

Neal Pollard

You want to do some appetizing research?  Go to the Mayo Clinic website and read about what causes bad breath. The harbingers of halitosis include food that gets stuck in your teeth, tobacco, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth (this occurs most frequently when sleeping at night, thus “morning breath”), oral infections, and many similar pleasant precipitators (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/basics/causes/CON-20014939).  Now isn’t that a joyful matter to ponder!

Well, have you considered the very graphic imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 4:29 to describe improper speech?  He says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…”  That word “unwholesome” is an interesting word (ESV—”corrupting”).  It is from a Greek word meaning “to cause to decay” (TDNT).  The footnote of my Bible says “literally, rotten.”  The Greeks used the word to describe what offends the sense of sight and smell, but it came to describe even offensive sounds as an ancient fragment from Theopompus Comicus used the word to describe the “unpleasant sounds of flutes” (CAF, I, 746). They used the word to describe bad vegetables and rotting fish (WSNTDICT).

Notice what the Holy Spirit through Paul does with the word.  In guiding the Ephesians in how not to walk, Paul gets graphic by warning against “smelly speech.”  Get the picture by considering the descriptive word.  When you talk, does what you say have the figurative effect of compost, fish carcasses, and the like?  Or, let us come at it by way of contrast, as Paul does.  Instead of uttering waste dump words, use “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Throw away trashy speech through uplifting, timely, graceful talk!  Is what you say helpful to others? Does it build them up? Does it bring them closer to Christ? Is it just the right word at the right time?  If so, it’s like moral mouthwash!

If not, then let God’s diagnosis hit home!  Clean up your conversations.  Make sure what you say to others is to them a breath of fresh air!

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SUCH AN EASY, DANGEROUS THING TO DO

Neal Pollard

There’s an old joke out there that goes, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  If you say “yes,” you imply that you used to do it.  If you say “no,” you suggest that you are still doing it.  Obviously, the question may be where the problem lies.  If you do not beat your wife, the question would not be relevant and certainly not fair.

“I hear Brother So N So holds this position,” that “School X teaches error on such and such,” and that “Congregation A is ‘off’ on that.”  Too often, maybe based on a feeling that the source is credible, a person gullibly accepts the accusation at face value and even passes it along to others.  Of course, some are very blatant and public in teaching things that are contrary to the Word of God. They loudly proclaim and proudly publish their false views, but the aforementioned innuendoes and intimations are an altogether different matter. Why these rumors and accusations get started is sometimes hard to pinpoint.  Is it jealousy, misunderstanding coupled with indiscretion, meanness, or possibly something more benign?  Writing about presumption last year, I urged the presumptuous to “substantiate before you propagate, and then only carefully and prayerfully” (http://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-problems-with-presumption/).

Solomon wrote that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Prov. 22:1) and that “A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecc. 7:1).  While we are the primary stewards of our “good names,” others can tarnish it unfairly.

It is good to ask, “Do I know this rumor to be true?” Or, “Is it a matter of judgment and opinon with which I disagree, or is it truly a matter of doctrine and eternal truth?” Or, “Does the ‘reporter’ have an agenda that needs to be considered?” Or, “Why do I want to pass this along?”

“Slander” is a verbal offense that should not be in the Christian’s repertoire (Psa. 15:3; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1).  That is “old man” activity!  It is easy to besmirch someone’s character and reputation, but what a dangerous thing to do.  May we bridle our tongues lest we set fires (Js. 3:3,6).

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Conquered The World And Left It With Empty Hand

Neal Pollard

Somehow, it has come down through the ages that Alexander the Great made this dying request, that he should be buried with his hands outside his coffin so that all his subjects could see that despite all the riches he had accumulated in life that he left the world empty-handed.  Artists through time have famously depicted this posture. It has been retold repeatedly.  Whether or not Alexander requested it, the sentiment reflects divine truth.  Paul told Timothy, “For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim. 6:7).  Similarly, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon similarly states of the wealthy, “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecc. 5:15).

While even world conquerors cannot transport their treasures from time to eternity as they make the transition, everyone will exit the world having left so many things behind us.  We leave behind so much more than our financial assets.  We leave behind memories of ourselves, encouragements either given or withheld, speech either edifying or destructive, deeds which brought others closer to or further from Christ, family members influenced either to follow Christ or abandon Him, and similarly impactful matters.  When we leave earth, our hands are empty.  We have bequeathed all that we are and have for those whose lives we touched and influenced.  They pick up our habits, worldview, pleasures, interests, and priorities.  Some day, they will die and leave empty-handed, too, passing along what in some way we gave them to give.

You may never be a world conqueror, but here is how you conquer the world.  It takes faith and spiritual rebirth (1 Jn. 5:4).  But do not simply possess it.  Be sure to pass it along.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you were aware that New York is hosting the United Nations Climate Summit, a gathering of a staggering 162 nations to talk about the environment and such specific issues as global warming.  While you may find the attendance impressive but the “facts” not so much, this event shows how important the topic of climate change is to some important people—presidents, heads of state, prime ministers, and the like.  The Associated Press fact-checked our president’s speech about efforts he is making and found it wanting in some areas, but there is no questioning that this issue is a high priority to him (Joby Warwic, The Washington Post, 9/24/14).

The big question often swirling around this controversial topic is, “How do you effect climate change?”  What works and what does not? What can be impacted and what is inevitable?  What can one person (or even one nation) do?

Our earth is not the only entity or sphere with a “climate.”  Inasmuch as the word relates to not only the weather, meaning also “the prevailing attitudes, standards, or environmental conditions of a group, period, or place” (“climate.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 24 Sep. 2014. <Dictionary.com) and synonymous with “mood, atmosphere, spirit, tone, and temper” (ibid.), we should give attention to the other areas of life that involve a “climate.”  Our marriages, homes, and congregations each have a climate.  While we may enjoy certain things about each of these organizations, they also each inevitably stand in need of at least some changes.

What can we do to effect climate changes in those all-important areas?  The knee-jerk answer might be to tell the leaders what we think it takes to improve, to advise, criticize, and push.  That may seem like a good way to do things, but experience teaches that these are the least effective ways to promote change.  Do you know the best way?  Be the climate change you want to see!  Many of us find ourselves operating in all three arenas—spouses, parents or children, and church members.  That means each of us have at least one place to primarily concentrate, and that is on our individual role in those spheres.  Can you change your demeanor, attitude, level of effort and involvement, or assistance to the others in that group?

For all of us, it is easier to start with the other person(s) and size up what they need to do.  That’s worse than a hoax! That’s self-delusion.  Far better it is to apply this principle and “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5, emph. mine). There’s the way to meaningful “climate change”!

 

Climate Change

 

 

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The Church Is Perfect, But It Isn’t

Neal Pollard

After a weekend full of lessons which built our appreciation for Christ’s church, I have a renewed appreciation for the incredible institution God premeditated from eternity.  The Ephesian epistle paints the picture of the church as Jesus’ bride, army, body, inheritance, and family.  This exalted picture is at odds with many, from a surprising variety of sources, who have such a low view of the church and her members.  Because the church belongs to and is so intimately associated with Christ, we should be most circumspect about the various criticisms we lob at her.  When we evaluate specifics regarding the church, we must remember that the church is perfect.  Yet, the church is also most imperfect.  The “Divine Side” could not be improved.  The “Human Side” always could be.

  • The Church’s Organization Is Perfect, But Her Overseers Aren’t.
  • The Work Of The Evangelist Is Perfect, But Those Who Do That Work Aren’t.
  • The Purpose And Mission Of The Church Is Perfect, But The People Tasked With It Aren’t.
  • The Plan To Reach The Lost Is Perfect, But Soul-Winners Aren’t.
  • The Pattern Of Worship Is Perfect, But The Worshippers Aren’t.
  • The Call To Love One Another Is Perfect, But We, The Called, Aren’t.
  • The Commands For Christian Living Are Perfect, But We Are Imperfect.

It is easy to forget this as we set expectations for others.  We may even set a higher standard for others than that by which we would wish ourselves judged.  As we level our various criticisms at the church, we must evaluate our motives and intentions while being careful not assign to others’ motives and intentions what may simply be their inevitable if unpalatable imperfection.  We should always strive for perfection—maturity and completeness—but keep in mind that only God’s design, desire, and direction for the church is perfect. We must put away sin, jealously guard our candlestick, and root out sin in the camp. Yet, we are also directed to bear with one another in love, being kind, not behaving rudely, being courteous, sympathetic, and gentle. These biblical mandates will temper our tantrums and cushion our criticisms.  We will be able to look at the church not only as it is, but as something we, imperfect as we ourselves are, can encourage to be better.  Since none of us are, thank God His Son is perfect.

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“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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