Selling What You Don’t Own

Neal Pollard

One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star.  For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one.  The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate.  I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.

When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars.  Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer.  They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing.  Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace.  Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin.  The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give.  Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

The same things occurs with worship.  People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God.  They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).  Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.

When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that.  Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18).  He makes the rules and determines right and wrong.  Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).

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THE BEAUTIFUL QUALITY OF THANKFULNESS

Neal Pollard

Her name was Mrs. Broadhead. She was a resident in a west Alabama nursing home. She was known for saying one thing with great frequency: “We have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we?” Emaciated, confined to a wheel chair, with a speech impediment due to a stroke, and filled with aches and pains, that phrase was still her life’s motto.

Wedding and baby showers, small gifts or tokens of appreciation, compliments, words of encouragement, acknowledgements, visits, deeds of kindness, and the like are golden opportunities to express it. yet, far too many have failed to learn the beautiful grace of gratitude. It is wondered if Jesus used the parable of ten lepers to illustrate not just the importance of thankfulness but to give an approximate percentage of those who fail to show it. Remember that when the lone man returned to give thanks to Jesus, He obersved, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17).

While showing gratitude to God and to fellow men is growing more rare, it is certainly a Christian characteristic! Paul says, “Be thankful” (Col. 3:15). In prior generations, great emphasis was placed on instilling manners and courtesy within our children. One show of etiquette was to never let a gift or kindness go without a card, call, or word of thanks. It is extreme self-absorption to fail to acknowledge the sentiment of others! Failing to show gratitude is like telling others we’re spoiled or feel entitled.

Christians, above all others, have so much to be thankful for. The remarkable command from Paul is “in everything give thanks” (1 Th. 5:18). Thankfulness for toothaches, flat tires, bills, taxes, and death? Perhaps Pollyanna was a good teacher. She played “the glad game.” Whenever she had to endure bad, she chose to find something to be glad about. Can’t we do that? Christians are to be found “overflowing with gratitude” (Col. 2:7).

God rejects those who aren’t thankful (Rom. 1:21). It is an ugly trait to be ungrateful. It’s synonymous with inconsideration. Paul says esteem others better than self (Phil. 2:4).  Never fail to return a favor, gift, or thoughtful act with a simple “Thank you.” It is your obligation. It will become your joy!

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PREACHERS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Neal Pollard

Being patriotic and having a political heritage like we do in this country, we may have strong, personal convictions in the realm of politics. Engaging in the political process, from volunteering to voting to political meetings, can help us not only be a positive agent of change but also salt and light before the world. But nothing can have a quicker negative impact on ministry than a “stumping sermonizer” or “campaigning church man.” I’ve known preachers who seem CONSUMED with politics and can hardly speak without ranting about it.  It just comes out! Beware that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of what’s in the heart (Mat. 12:34). Some preachers betray that they’re dwelling more on things below than things above (Col. 3:1-2).

The church began in the midst of political rottenness and corruption. Tacitus wrote of Augustus Caesar that he “seduced the army with bonuses, and his cheap food policy was successful bait for civilians. Indeed, he attracted everybody’s goodwill by the enjoyable gift of peace. Then he gradually pushed ahead and absorbed the functions of the senate, the officials, and even the law. Opposition did not exist. War or judicial murder had disposed of all men of spirit. Upper-class survivors found that slavish obedience was the way to succeed, both politically and financially” (https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~wstevens/history331texts/augtotib.html). Of course, certain Jews did consume themselves with political interest and revolted against Rome—A venture that ended badly at Jerusalem and Masada. Read Tamarin’s classic book, Revolt In Judea, if you want the horrible details.  Politicians of the first century were guilty of wanton sexual immorality, including homosexuality and adultery; They practiced infanticide and whet their appetites for death and violence in their stadiums and arenas.  Where is Peter’s or Paul’s diatribe in scripture against vices and corruptions that sound a lot like our day? Where are the early Christians with their pickets and protests against the government?  Instead, “They went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4)!

Political activism will hurt our efforts to effectively evangelize. How tragic to lose a soul trying to win a political argument!  Political activism, in preachers, can negatively impact what the church has paid them to do. They certainly didn’t pay him to spend all day on social media trolling stories or writing quips. They didn’t hire him to go to political rallies, being more wrapped up in affairs of state than affairs of heaven.

Paul was actually able to have an audience with the most prominent politicians of his day. Was he interested in discussing national or imperial policy with them?  Before Felix and Agrippa, he preached righteousness, temperance and judgment to come.  In Acts 27, he says God appointed him to speak before Caesar.  What could happen among us if more were devoted to spiritual revival than political reform?

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JAMES 1:17

Neal Pollard

Life, love, happiness, and health,
Water, worth, worship and wealth
Food, faith, dogs and dreams
Smiles, sunshine, singing and streams
Marriage, mothers, prayer and play
Friendship, flowers, tomorrow, today
Calvary, Christ, heaven and hope
Rain, resurrection, snow and soap
Family, frost, babies and birth
Books, baking, monkeys and mirth
Mountains, moonbeams, coffee and cake
Jokes, justification, serenades and steak
Aromas, affirmation, the dawn and the deep
Holidays, hiking, snuggling and sleep
Forgiveness, freedom, umbrellas and unity
Sports, service, internet and immunity
Jesus, joy, earth and eternity
Scripture, speech, fishing and fraternity
Prayer, pillows, picnics and Pickups,
Memory, mornings, happiness and hiccups
Whether obvious or subtle, earthly or spiritual
Why not create this euphoric, emphatic ritual
Count blessings and name them, you’ll never run out
In the process you’ll challenge your most serious doubt
God doesn’t have to, but He gives a continuous lift
When did you last thank Him for His every good gift?
The more that you dwell on them, the longer the list,
Engage in this enjoyable exercise and you’ll insist,
There’s no God like Jehovah, never was, never will be,
Add up your assets and this you’ll undoubtedly see.

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Recruiting Children

Neal Pollard

It was Adolf Hitler who famously said, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community’” (Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich).  Recently, an AP article by Zeina Karam and Vivian Salama reports of ISIS militants luring children from Iraq and Syria to fight in the battles they are waging across the middle east.  One photo shows two children posing with automatic weapons as an Islamic militant fighter has his hand affectionately on one of their shoulders (The Denver Post, 11/24/14, 13A).  Lest our culture get too sanctimonious, ideologues in our educational, political, and media realms have long been indoctrinating our youth on matters like radical feminism, abortion, homosexuality, climate change, evolution, and the continuing list is lengthy.  The world has long known that the way to effect and control philosophical change is by reaching the hearts of children.

Once, in the context of teaching about possessions and stewardship, Jesus made the observation that “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8b).  Have we, in the body of Christ, ever conceded to the spiritual enemy regarding our children?  Do we let the world set the standard of right and wrong? Arrange their priorities? Set their moral compass and define their worldview?

At no time is the human heart more impressionable and moldable than in the days of youth.  What can we do to reach the hearts of our children? Consider these areas:

  • Worship.  To me, a most practical disadvantage of programs like “Children’s Church” is that it deprives children of the culture and environment of worship, where they not only practice engagement but also group participation.  Since children are such quick and able learners, we can teach them so much about praise and adoration to God with each other in worship (cf. Psa. 95:6).
  • Acts of service.  Rather than creating an atmosphere that caters to children’s desires, why not create opportunities that teach them the value and importance of service, unselfishness, and giving. By helping them serve, we open their eyes to the joy and fullness of heart that follows doing for others (cf. Acts 20:35).
  • Fellowship.  Why not do more as a church and as individual families to emphasize the beauty and joy of Christians being together? Involve children in preparing for these times and making them an active part in times spent together with others—teaching them requisites like good manners, courtesy, thoughtfulness, and respect for adults.  It will live and grow in them as they pass from childhood to adulthood (cf. 1 Th. 5:11).

Give thought to other areas where we can reach the hearts of our children, helping them  to remember their Creator at their tender age (Ecc. 12:1).  They are such a vital resource to the heart of God, so much that He calls them “a gift” (Psa. 127:1).  May we not, by neglect, default, or shortsightedness, let the world shape and influence them. Through both the church and Christian homes, may we “recruit” our children to love and follow God with all they are (cf. Mat. 22:37).

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NOT WHAT HE MADE IT FOR

Neal Pollard

Karl Friedrich Benz invented the first true gasoline-powered automobile in Germany in 1885, a 3-wheeled, 4-cycle internal combustion engine (via lib.gov). The vehicle has come a long way since then.  To date, the fastest car on record (0-300 km) is the Hennessey Venom GT (13.63 seconds, guinnessworldrecords.com). The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport achieved the fastest recorded speed (267.857 mph) in 2010 (topgear.com).  Benz may not have foreseen how fast or sophisticated the automobile would become.  Given the speeds most cars can achieve, he may not have anticipated that people would get behind the wheel drunk or high, texting, severely sleep-deprived, or with car bombs.  We would not blame Benz, Ford, or the Dodge brothers for the way Timothy McVeigh misused that Ryder truck in 1995.  Who would dispute that the automobile, used properly, has made such a positive impact on the average person’s life for over a century?  But, when abused, it has contributed to profound heartache for millions of people.

Paul reveals the church as part of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  That means God had the church in mind from the eternity before creation!  He sent His Son to shed His life’s blood in order to purchase the church (Acts 20:28).  Paul affirms that Jesus loves the church and died for it (Eph. 5:25). We read of the beginning of that church in Acts 2. God intended for the church to be the means through which He receives glory and honor (Eph. 3:21). Untold numbers of people over 20 centuries of time have been blessed because they were introduced to and became members of His church.  Through faithful, righteous members of His church, people have come to believe in, follow and fall in love with God.

That there are so many claiming to be members of His church who contradict His teachings, who have subjugated His will to the whims of the culture, or who have lived unwholesome, unholy lives to the detriment of its influence cannot be successfully disputed.  That there are so many who are members of it whose attitude, hypocrisy, selfishness, prejudice, and exclusivity have repelled those who are not members of it can also be easily, if anecdotally, established.  In a larger sense, those who kill and harm others in the name of the God of the Bible no more reflect the nature and character of that God than one who takes anything man made for good and misuse it.

What we can never do is mistake the abuse of the name of God, the Bible, or His church as the fault of God.  He left clear instructions, a pattern for people to follow.  If they do not follow it, they are to blame.  The challenge for you and me, today and every day, is to be the best ambassadors for Christ we can be (2 Cor. 5:20).  Let’s show the world the wisdom of God by helping the church be what He intended it to be!

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Spanking

Neal Pollard

With the high profile case of an NFL star putting the idea of spanking in the spotlight, it is proper to examine this practice more closely.  A sweet young mother asks a couple of questions about the practice of spanking in light of Proverbs 13:24.  First, “Is Proverbs 13:24 literal, meaning we are to physically discipline our children, or is it figurative meaning we are to discipline in general?” Second, “If it is literal, does it literally mean to use an implement such as a rod, belt, etc rather than our hands to inflict the physical discipline?”  These are vital questions young parents like her have to grapple with in light of a desire to properly train and mold the heritage given them by God, but do so in a world less accepting of biblical truth in general and passages like Proverbs 13:24 specifically.  To address this, let’s break the matter into three component parts.

Spanking and society.  Due to the prevalence of physical child abuse, society has reacted to any type of corporal punishment (i.e., punishment of or relating to the physical body; spanking).  While the principle of spanking is more widely approved than we may be led to believe (a recent ABCNEWS poll found 65% of all parents approve of it, abcnews.com, and a 2013 Harris Interactive poll with a sample size twice as large found that 81% consider spanking their children sometimes appropriate, harrisinteractive.com), the politically correct wing of society so often in charge of media and education most often rail against it in any form.   There are three revised statutes in Colorado, one civil and two criminal, that address spanking in Colorado (kidjacked.com includes the laws of all 50 states).  While the statutes are eerily vague, here is what they permit:  “Parent/guardian/ person with care and supervision of minor can use reasonable and appropriate physical force, if it is reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain or promote welfare of child” (Colorado Code Section 18-1-703).  The greater concern would be judicial interpretation or further revisions in the law that forbad corporal punishment altogether.

Spanking and scripture.  With our youngest now 16 years old, we are beyond the timeframe where spanking holds sway as a primary means of discipline.  When our boys were of that age (from toddlerhood up to the beginning of the teen years), we would resort to spanking (usually with the hand or a paddle).  This was undoubtedly the result of practices learned from our own parents’ regimen of discipline, but also our conviction (as it was our parents’) that scripture taught the necessity of this under circumstances where mere words did not remedy misbehavior.  The Bible clearly teaches it as an integral part of disciplining—Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15.  Hopefully, we will never find ourselves in a place where our civil government absolutely forbids corporal punishment of our children, but if it does we would be compelled to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Spanking and sensibility.  Let us get to common sense issues, though.  This is especially the “how” but also the “where” and “when.”  Consider these suggestions for effective discipline—

  1. Do not spank in anger or in an out of control manner (this reflects your own lack of self-discipline and is not likely an attempt to assert behavior modification).
  2. Exercise restraint in how hard you administer physical punishment.  The idea is to impress upon the child that their words, behavior, etc., is unacceptable.
  3. Follow up the punishment with an explanation and teaching.
  4. Avoid administering discipline in public places.  Find a private room or wait until you get home to mete out the punishment.
  5. If restraint is used, it will not matter whether the hand or another implement is used.  Overall parental demeanor will determine whether the child is “scarred” or “shaped” by it.

Obviously, personal judgment and discretion are essential.  Yet, inasmuch as the concept originates in scripture, our good sense as citizen of the society will govern us as we prayerfully attempt to raise children that please and follow God.

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“As We Go Our Separate Ways…”

Neal Pollard

I’ve heard this prayed my whole life: “Be with us as we go our separate ways.”  I fully appreciate what is meant, but I lament a trend I’ve seen for many years.  Too often, we go our separate ways until the “next appointed time.”  We have no contact with one another. Instead, the bulk or totality of our contact is with worldly people with ungodly philosophies.  While we need to be among the world to exert salt and light, perhaps we have neglected something else that first century Christians took full advantage of.  Luke describes it this way, saying, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  As he had observed in verse 42, they were continually devoting themselves to fellowship.  This created a close knit community that could not only weather some huge storms of opposition, but it helped them produce an attractive environment that thousands of people wanted to be a part of. Perhaps we discount or even overlook what a vital part of church growth that fellowship and time together had on the early church.

Today, we have our civic activities, our kids’ full slate of responsibilities, our work and overtime, our personal entertainment regimen, and similar time-consuming matters that are not inherently wrong but that can help create a dramatic separation from our spiritual family during the week.  Where is the time allotment for getting together with other Christians during the week?  Have we relegated or resigned ourselves to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night?  Are we losing the art of hospitality, of having spiritual family over to deepen Christian relationships?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to speak of each other and say that our hearts have “been knit together in love” (Col. 2:2)?  In that same context of the church’s beginning mentioned earlier, Luke adds, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44).  What will happen to the local church that becomes very intentional about this, not just with an exclusive few but in a way that includes new Christians, potential Christians, the otherwise disconnected, and those of different as well as similar demographics? Certainly, it requires time, effort, and even some expense, but what will it yield?  A feeling of connection in the place of separation.

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BEGGAR IN A BENZ

Neal Pollard

Melissa Smith contacted KGTV in San Diego, California, to make an interesting report.  She had watched a pregnant woman and her little boy beg for money at a local shopping center.  Many people gave the woman money.  Melissa happened to watch the woman, who held a sign reading “Please Help,” get into a car with a man driving a Mercedes Benz. A follow up story, a few months later, found what appears to have been the same couple driving a brand new Mini-Van that still had dealer plates.  The address for the Benz owner was an upscale apartment that rented for $2500 per month (10news.com). There are many people in legitimate need of financial help, and there are many more legitimate ways to contribute to their assistance than handing money out of a car window.

Yet, there’s an application I want to draw from this extreme case.  As incongruous as it is for a Benz owner in a fancy apartment to stand on a corner and beg, there is something more out of place.  In Colossians, Paul describes Christians as those qualified to share in an inheritance (1:12), attaining to all the wealth attached to that (2:2), partaker of all treasures (2:3), and owners of an unparalleled prize (2:18).  Do we ever live like spiritual paupers?  We do when we allow worry, doubt, immorality, fear, guilt, or any similar thing to cause us to live like and act like the impoverished world who has no access to these wonderful spiritual blessings.  We have a place in glory reserved with Christ (3:4).  We have no need to beg for the scraps the world can offer.  Let us live like the rich children of God that we are!

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BENAIAH’S BRAVADO

Neal Pollard

In December, 2003, Dave Young, Sr., Jim Dalton, Keith and Kim Kasarjian, Cy Stafford, Kathy and I all stopped for lunch at a picnic area in Tarangire National Park south of Arusha, Tanzania. We stood a short distance from our vehicles, and I prayed for the food.  About midway through the prayer, a lion roared.  The sound felt as if it went straight through us, and every eye popped open to see exactly where the big cat was.  Afterward, Cy told us it could have been a mile away.  The roar was so powerful, it felt like he was spitting (eating?) distance away from us.

Since then, every time I read about a particular conquest of Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men, I think back to that hot African day.

2 Samuel 23:20 so nonchalantly reports, “…He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.”  Notice three things about this exploit.  First, the foe was ferocious. It was a lion, one of nature’s fiercest predators.  It is likely to be an aggressor when confronted by a man.  Second, the field of battle was foreboding.  Try to put yourself in Benaiah’s position.  You are down in a pit facing the king of the jungle.  It is very unlikely one can outrun a lion on flat ground in ideal circumstances, but where do you run down in a pit? Finally, the forecast was definitely a factor!  What was the traction and footing like for David’s mighty man in this battle? Yet, the outcome, incredibly, was that Benaiah faced this foe and won!

Have you ever found yourself in a seemingly impossible circumstance?  Maybe a powerful temptation, a chronic illness, a perpetual enemy, a prolonged financial crisis, a wayward loved one, or other thorn in the flesh or spirit?  Maybe you felt like giving up.  Maybe you have given up.  I urge you to be a Benaiah, fighting valiantly adorned with the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10ff).  Realize that you do not fight alone, that God will aid you (1 Cor. 10:13) and lead you to victory every time (1 Jo. 5:4).  Your lion, pit, or snowy day may be figurative, but that makes God’s aid no less likely.  You keep fighting, and He will give you victory!

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