The “Moral Compass” Of The Modern Culture

Neal Pollard

If a nation or people will move back toward the Bible, it must overcome three philosophical barriers.  I mentioned these in an earlier blog (http://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/why-ridgedale-church-of-christ-is-getting-slammed/).  Here are the three barriers:

  • The Cultural Sickness Of Subjectivity.  Subjectivism, in its final form, makes the individual “god” and their views supreme. Thoughts and feelings trump a rational look at an individual matter, and even searching for an objective viewpoint is disdained.
  • Society’s Warped View Of Tolerance.  Rather than “hate the sin, love the sinner,” the mantra is “there is no sin and no sinner.”  Though everyone has a line in the sand somewhere, no one wants anyone putting their behaviors on the other side of the line.
  • The Average Person’s Ignorance Of The Bible.  Of course, we are getting past the point where the average person believes the Bible or has a favorable view of it.  The fruit of the seeds of biblical illiteracy is more than immorality.  It includes prejudice against the Bible and contempt for those who seek to upheld it in most any forum.

Certainly, those professing to follow the Bible and its guidelines have hurt their own cause through ungodly attitudes, hypocrisy, isolation, and prejudices of their own.  Christians must be willing to make the first (and even second and third) steps (cf. Mat. 5:41).  We must model biblical teaching with righteous lives (Mat. 5:14-16; 1 Pet. 2:9).  We cannot expect the world to act Christlike, but we must expect that Christians will not be worldly.  We can effect the change we want to see, and, in time, align the culture’s moral compass with the Creator’s.

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Why Don’t YOU “Stop The Violence”?

Neal Pollard

To borrow the words of our own Mike Bennett, “Excuse me?”  An AP story published this morning is so thick with irony it is palpable!  Two people were arrested and put in jail on Tuesday in Washington, Pennsylvania.  They were two community organizers “with a local Stop the Violence group” and they “severely beat a former roommate with whom they had a property dispute” (via FoxNews.com).  They “allegedly jumped the man as he was walking down the street on Tuesday. Police say the defendants kicked the victim as he was unconscious…” causing injuries too gruesome for me to describe here.  The female defendant “was still wearing the same ‘Stop the Violence’ T-shirt that she had on the night before when she led a march in the city protesting two recent shootings” (ibid.).  “The victim remains in critical condition” (ibid.).

Could there be a clearer example of hypocrisy from the world?  We have seen or heard of the environmentalist driving the gas-guzzling SUV and the televangelist having an adulterous affair, but the peace protestor beating up somebody?  That’s very unattractive!

It is also a reminder to us as Christians about practicing “true religion…unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27).  Not only are we ineffective, we are counterproductive when we claim to wear the name of Christ and then defame it by our words and deeds.  What about mouths praising God in worship on Sunday profaning man at work on Monday?  What about hands shaking hands or embracing fellow Christians one day then typing in ungodly websites or texting someone not our spouse in sexually suggestive ways the next?  What about words of kindness to each other when we meet followed up by slandering speech about each other or those in the world when we are away from the assemblies?

The Bible warns against hypocrisy, saying “beware of it” (Luke 12:1), “let love be without it” (Rom. 12:9), “don’t be carried away by it” (Gal. 2:13), “eliminate it” (Jas. 3:17), and “put it aside” (1 Pet. 2:1).  It’s easy to see why.  Few things are more repelling and disgusting than to witness hypocrisy.  Let us consider that as we conduct our own lives before the watchful eyes of the world!

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“The People…In The Wilderness”

Neal Pollard

Shortly before Joab turns the tide of Absalom’s rebellion by killing him, David, the rebel’s father, had reached a low ebb in his reign.  David and his faithful followers had been on the run from Absalom for some time, hiding and trying to escape rout and death. Worry was a regular exercise for David during this time (2 Sam. 15:14), as was weeping (2 Sam. 15:30) and weariness (2 Sam. 16:14).  Just before the fateful day of his son’s death, David and his loyal followers fled for their lives and survived thanks to the crafty counsel of Hushai.  The state of the people, at this point, is described in 1 Samuel 17:29: “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”  They were at the end of their rope, worn and frazzled by their very real problems.

Have you wrestled with worry, weeping, and weariness lately?  Can you relate?  Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and overmatched by things going on in your life.  As we read this account, there are several reasons to hope.

THEY WERE NOT ALONE.  2 Samuel 17:22 notes that it was “David and all the people who were with him” who arose and crossed the Jordan to go to Mahanaim.  Each struggled, anxious and uncertain, but how comforting that they were able to go together.  The Christian should never have to go it alone.  There are those around us who to help bear our burdens (Gal. 6:2).  From the beginning of the church, this has been the case.  Acts 2:44 says, “All who had believed were together.”  While each of us may be struggling with individual problems, struggling is part of the human condition (Job 14:1).  In God’s wisdom, He has made the church a place where we can help and support each other (1 Th. 5:11).

THEY WERE BENEFICIARIES OF KINDNESS. What happens when they get to Mahanaim? Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai are waiting for them.  That had to be encouraging by itself.  But look what they had with them—“beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans, lentils, parched seeds, honey, curds, sheep, and cheese of the herd” (28-29a).  Those three men saw their brethren were suffering, hurting, and needy.  So what did they do?  I have seen this in the church more times than I can remember.  A brother or sister was in financial, emotional, or spiritual need, and their brethren showered them with kindness and love. So many of God’s people take to heart Paul’s exhortation, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted…” (Eph. 4:32a).  See 1 Corinthians 13:4, Colossians 3:12-15, and 1 Peter 3:8, and you see the heart of so many of our fellow-Christians.  How helpful when we are in the wilderness!

THEY WERE SOON VICTORIOUS.  David draws up a battle plan in 2 Samuel 18:1, and before long the threat was quelled. There were still plenty of challenges that lay directly ahead, but they had doubtless learned a valuable lesson in the wilderness. Their victory did not mean that they were exempt from further problems, but they had experienced God’s deliverance. What a powerful lesson for us!  Yes, we will continue to struggle so long as we are pilgrims on this earth (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11), but there is a victorious “day of visitation” on the horizon (1 Pet. 2:12).

Are you “in the wilderness”?  Hang in there!  Focus on the people God has put in your life, be attuned to their kindness and encouragement, and remember the great victory God has promised you.

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Why These Are Exciting Times

Neal Pollard

I am filled with a tremendous sense of optimism that is not generated by politics, current events, the media, the economy, or any other worldly thing.  Neither am I fueled by some Pollyanna spirit.  Yet, I cannot shake this swelling tide of hope that fills me on a daily basis.  It is a hope for what the church and its members can be in the face of the growing challenges we face in this culture and around the world.  Why are these such exciting times?

The darkness is allowing the light to shine brighter!  Sadly, moral, ethic, philosophical, and civil behavior is eroding.  The messages being sent by those in power and authority are increasing anti-biblical.  Those who have lived for any length of time have witnessed a pretty dramatic shift in thinking and behavior.  This is reflected in so many things from language on the job and on “the street” to what is allowed and promulgated in TV and movies to the blatant lifestyle choices of the rank and file.  What all this means is that as Christians we can, by leading “a quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti. 2:2; cf. 1 Th. 4:11), shine the light of Christ (cf. Mat. 5:14-16).  As we share Christ with those in our circle of influence, we can countermand the marching orders of the “world forces of this darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  That, brothers and sisters, is exciting!

People are earnestly searching! I read with interest the studies about exiting millennials, new world orders (not just conspiracy theories, but fundamental shifts in worldviews), spirituality over organized religion, and the like. For all of that, down where we live day by day on our jobs, at school, in our neighborhoods, and our community and civic activities, people are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives.  Yes, they can be confused and misguided.  Yes, they have broken and messed up lives.  Yes, this produces a great challenge to churches as we are intentional and outwardly focused.  But, we have not seen a day in any of our lifetimes where biblical ignorance and, thus, directionlessness has been greater.  Remember what Jeremiah said: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).  There are many who would say with the Ethiopian nobleman, “How can I (understand, NP), unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).

The church is ripe for revival! It seems that the tale most churches with whom I have contact tell boils down to larger numbers, greater involvement, and younger members occurred in the past! Thus, panic, pessimism, and perplexity lace the private conversations and public addresses of the pulpits, the pastors, and the pews. Perhaps it is time for congregations to consider moving from the defensive to the offensive. I don’t know that individual Christians have ever been more impressed with the dire urgency of evangelizing than right now. I believe the conviction and dedication of our Christian soldiers is palpable.  With bolder leadership, concerted efforts, and a faith-filled plan of action, I believe the church as a whole is poised for growth.  This will require a change of priority, focus, and commitment, but I believe that we are more than ready for it.  We are eager for it!

But, time is short!  Paul is right.  “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).  If ever the mantra, carpe diem, has applied, it is right now!  May our anthem become, “Rise up, O men of God!”

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THE TALE OF CYNIC, CYRUS DIFFY

Neal Pollard
At the corner of Oak and Griffey
Lived an old man, Cyrus Diffy. (*)
A lifelong skeptic, centered on self
With Dawkins and Darwin on his shelf
He scoffed at those he thought “too much,”
Who leaned on religion as their crutch.
Whose faith was rested on their Bible
Were subject to his scorn and libel.
His own morality and ethics were iffy
He was his own rule, Cyrus Diffy
No one could tell him how to live
For others he had nothing to give
Scorn metastasized, and he grew bitter
Spewed his venom on Facebook, on Twitter
With chip on shoulder, he sought debate
Relished each moment “the faith” to hate
One morning in his chair in one quick jiffy
The last breath was breathed by Cyrus Diffy
He lifted up his eyes in a place most unpleasant
With him each skeptic and agnostic were present
Yet like him they no longer could fuel their doubt
Now in this painful place with no door to get out.
He’d tied his whole life to his naturalistic bent
But rejected the Savior the Father had sent.
Let’s sum up concisely, I’ll try to be pithy
Here’s what we can learn from old Cyrus Diffy
We all hitch our wagons to some conviction
Determine what’s truth and what is fiction
Design exists, it points to a designer.
We feel moral ought, know what’s coarse, what’s finer
We’re built to worship, we possess intellect.
When charting life’s course, every angle inspect.
View your worldview, consider its implications
Choose based on logic not potential complications
Christian, you might pass by a place like Oak and Griffey
Live Christ well before all folks like the late Cyrus Diffy.

(*) “Cyrus Diffy” is a random name I made up and is
not meant to refer to anyone real having that name.

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DON’T BE A “BORED AGAIN” CHRISTIAN!

Neal Pollard
Steve Martz recently wrote a book he entitled 77 Talks To Bored-Again Teens. Explaining the rationale for his book, Martz says, “With teenage attention spans decreasing as fast as new channels appear on satellite TV, it’s not just a case of presenting the gospel as it stands and hoping they ‘get it.’ In this post-modern age you have to hit them in bite-sized chunks to make an impact and make tentative steps into their world.” There is no doubt that our world is changing, and most of us change with it to a greater degree than we realize. This blog post, your congregation’s PowerPoint, your dish, your DSL, your i-stuff, and a thousand other gadgets are shrines paying homage to such change. These things may indeed challenge the perseverance of our attention span.

Yet, with all due respect to Martz’ attempt at accommodation, I think his premise misses the point. Without intending to, Martz is trying to improve on God’s means of communicating His message. If it is not still “the foolishness of preaching” whereby God seeks to reach and save mankind, what can man invent to better it (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21)? However, I am certain that there are “bored again” Christians of all ages scattered here and there. I agree that there should not be any, but let me suggest some other ideas for breaking out of these doctrinal doldrums.

Break out of the entertainment mindset. Each of us should remind ourselves every day, “It’s not about me.” Humor-filled, emotionally-tugging, and feel-good lessons may touch a more superficial part of us, but we should remember that listening to a sermon or singing a spiritual song is not the same as watching a good (?) movie or listening to our favorite musical performer. Read the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul. Vegetable-Soup For The Israelite Soul or Your Best Roman Life Now was not the foundation for their lessons. Andrew, Bartholomew, and Philip were not a traveling drama troupe or praise team. The Greeks and Romans had actors and actresses, stage and plays. The early church was not interesting in tickling a funny bone; they wanted to save the soul.

Renew your relationship with God. The Christian life can become more exhilarating and exciting the longer you live it. As your inward person is renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16-18), you will find God, His Word, His promises, His love, and heaven more real to you. Even as your body breaks down, people disappoint you, and others desert Him, you can find Him dearer and closer to you with each passing day. Even as living the Christian life brings tears, sacrifices, and persecution, it will not seem boring to you! Paul is pretty discouraged at times in 2 Timothy 4, but he never once sounds bored. My grandpa would say that boredom means you have too much time on your hands anyway!

Find somebody to serve. Boredom reflects the luxury of thinking about and tending to self. Stephanas and his house devoted themselves to service. The Bible does not say, but I cannot imagine them being bored (cf. 1 Cor. 16:16). Christians have been liberated to serve (Gal. 5:13). Through serving one another and in all serving the Lord, we will find great satisfaction and reward (cf. Eph. 6:6-7). I have seen few true servants that were unhappy, much less bored. This is a sure remedy for the “bored again” Christian.

Someone once asked a preacher, “What is worldliness?” A teenager in the class answered, “It’s letting the world set the standards.” That may be the best definition I have ever heard. Let us not let the world set the standard for spirituality, excitement, or enjoyment. Those trying to medicate themselves with entertainment are heart-sick folks! True excitement and joy comes in overcoming this world (cf. 1 John 5:4). Don’t be a “bored again” Christian!

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What If There WAS An Ebola Outbreak In Your Town?

Neal Pollard

Kathy avoids any of the depressing news stories centered on the Ebola virus. She believes they heighten stress and fear. I admit to moderate fascination and monitoring of the latest developments. There’s no denying that there has been a growing hysteria in our nation since a Liberian man died and two of his nurses contracted it while treating him. Their travel plans and interactions have been chronicled in minute detail. Quarantines have occurred in multiple states, schools have been closed, and fear has escalated. The concern seems connected to what has been reported in villages throughout the west African nations where the outbreak began in the Spring.  The disease is horrific and deadly. It seems easily spread to others. Entire families have been wiped out by it. Yet, calm voices have tried to convince us no epidemic is occurring in our country.

But what if there was an outbreak where you and I live? Beyond the obvious fear, how would that change your life? Would you look differently at your spiritual life and eternal preparedness? How urgently would you reach out to repair broken relationships? Would you be more bold in trying to make disciples? Would you be more focused on leading and influencing your family to serve Christ?

Ebola is tangible and physical. We can see its effects. The damage it inflicts is completely visible. Sin does not present in the same, dramatic way, but its seriousness is infinitely greater. It is a global, daily threat and it’s already here in our communities. Somebody very close to each of us is almost certainly in the process of succumbing to it! May God give us eyes which see and hearts which feel, appreciating the dangers of sin and trusting the Great Physician to protect us.

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“MY BROTHER SHOT ME!”

Neal Pollard

My sons have had some notable incidents involving guns, particularly the air-soft variety.  While these all are thankfully memories from the past, they continued a less than proud tradition from their father.  I have stories involving my BB gun, easter eggs set on a fence, and a custom van parked in the next yard, “old west shootouts” involving BB guns and all our neighborhood buddies (including the loss of at least one permanent tooth), and one other BB gun story that stands out in my mind more than any other.  It was shortly after the easter eggs incident, and my brother and I were playing cowboys and Indians on a warm Spring Sunday afternoon.  It had been a tough week for Brent, not yet school-aged. Just a few days before he was climbing on a stair rail, lost his grip, and fell head first onto the concrete.  He had recuperated enough from that to be outside with me.

Our shoutout rules were typical.  If you got shot, you had to fall down and play dead for 10 seconds. Then, you got back up and resumed action. Brent had a cool toy flintlock pistol. I had my trusty BB gun in hand. As I recall, Brent came running around the house right into my ambush.  I cried out, “Bang, bang, bang!” He fell to the ground and got up crying.  He was bleeding under his eye and had a frightening gash.  We both had great imaginations, but not that great!

Our parents heard the commotion and Brent told them, “Neal shot me!”  That was sufficient investigation, given that the concussion and the easter egg incident were both fresh on their minds.  Dad took my Daisy and in an incredible show of strength ended its functional use with a single application to his knee.  A spanking quickly followed.  Meanwhile, Mom had done triage on Brent enough to ascertain one additional fact.  I had only pretended to shoot him (the Daisy was not loaded) and Brent fell on the sight of that pistol and produced that gash.  Dad felt terrible and apologized to me before taking Brent to get stitches.  Of course, with my checkered past with my low-powered air gun, I was not very incensed.

Since I have “grown up,” I have drawn my own conclusions without having all the facts.  I have done this with my sons, and I have done it with my wife.  I have done this at times with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I was sure I had all the facts and I reacted.  More than once, I’ve felt the regret of being hasty and premature.

When that brother or sister seems cold, distant, or unfriendly, they may simply be having a terrible day or dealing with an incredibly heavy burden.  When it seems that son or daughter has misbehaved, take the time to ascertain all the facts before reacting.  When  in a spousal spat, stave off assumptions, perceptions, and prejudices that may lead you to a hasty, false conclusion.

How many have fallen prey to “friendly fire” from loved ones? Be careful not to accidentally shoot first and ask questions later.  If you do, have the humility to admit your mistake and make it right!  If we can, we should avoid a “shoot out.” If we must, then we must fight fair!

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THE MOANING OF A DOVE, THE GROWLING OF A LION

Neal Pollard

One of the more interesting Hebrew words in the Old Testament is the word translated “meditate” in passages such as Psalm 1:2.   הָגָה (“Haga”), most often found among the poets and prophets, has a wide range of meaning depending on derivation of the root word.  Elihu uses the word to speak of the “rumbling” of God’s voice (Job 37:2). Moses uses the word to speak of a “sigh” (Ps. 90:9). Isaiah uses the word to speak of the “moaning” of a dove (38:14) and “growling” of a lion (31:4). The occult mediums “whispered” and “muttered” their incantations (8:19) (Harris, et al, TWOT, 1999, n/p).  Yet, the word is often used to speak of a low voice within, pondering and rehearsing what God’s Word has to say and what it means.  This is how David and Joshua use the term in speaking of meditating day and night on God’s Word (cf. Jos. 1:8).  It is possible that in carefully considering God’s Word, the student would rehearse or mouth the words of God as they contemplated and looked into it.  One lexicography renders it “to read in an undertone” (Koehler, et al, HAL, 1999, n/p).

How one studies the Bible is very personal, but for it to have value and assist us in living the way God wants us to, there has to be a process in place that takes us beyond mere reading to comprehension and then on to application.  Meditation upon the Bible seems a vital part of this.  When is the last time in your personal Bible reading that you memorized, rehearsed, and meditated upon what you read that day?  Do you revisit in your mind what you read earlier, pondering meaning and relevance in your attempt to live as God wants you to live?  Have you found yourself returning to its truths again and again, convicting yourself of needed changes and improvements in your Christian walk?

Meditating upon God’s Word will build your reverence of it, your conviction that it as modern and relevant as today’s sunrise, and your view of it as the inspired, authoritative Word of God.  It will bind your mind and heart to the mind and heart of God.  It will help you elevate your thoughts and consider the bigger picture of eternity and not just the mundanity of earth.  It will have you singing with David, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).

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PRAISE IDEAS FOR PRAYER

Neal Pollard

Prayer is a very personal exercise, a life built between an individual and God. Thus, these suggestions may of themselves feel intrusive or foreign to some.  However, through the years, I have heard many express some difficulty in knowing how to praise God or what to say in praise to Him when in prayer.  Leah, in naming Judah, was the first to articulate the idea (through his name), “I will praise” (Gen. 29:35).  Moses resolved the same at the head of his song in Exodus 15:2.  The remaining six times the phrase appears, the psalmist pens the words (Ps. 22:22; 35:18; 69:30; 109:30; 145:2; 146:2).  Twice in the Psalms we learn that “praise is becoming” (33:1; 147:1). In fact, it makes little sense to make the case for the importance of praise to anyone who professes a belief in God and has seen His blessings and assistance in his or her life.

Having said all of that, what are some specific things one can praise God for in the exercise of prayer?

  • Praise Him for His attributes (eternality, limitlessness, superlativeness).
  • Praise Him for the wonders of creation (try praying under a starry sky, as the sun is rising, or out in the midst of nature’s beauty—words of praise will flow like water).
  • Praise Him for His blessings.
  • Praise Him for His sovereignty and superiority.
  • Praise Him for His promises.
  • Praise Him for His desire to have relationship with you.
  • Praise Him for His providence.
  • Praise Him for His plan of salvation, giving thought to its component parts.
  • Praise Him for the glorious future He has prepared for you.
  • Praise Him for the victorious work of Christ and the spiritual benefits that brings you.

Obviously, this is just a primer list of ideas.  Contemplate God, His nature, His work, His personality, and you will have an ever-growing, ever-changing, and ever-deepening “praise component” to your prayer life.  It is good to thank Him and petition Him, but take sufficient time to exalt Him by infusing your supplications with praise to Him!  As David urged Asaph and his relatives to proclaim, “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (1 Chr. 16:25a). Amen!

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