Burying Your Resentment

Neal Pollard

Linda Sides, wife of one of the preachers at Sixth Avenue church of Christ in Jasper, Alabama, shared a startling picture with me that she took in a West Virginia cemetery.  The backstory, as much as is known, is interesting.  Apparently, a mother did not want to be cremated but her two daughters went against her wishes.  Another child, a son, had a gravestone made with this epitaph:  “IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER IVA PRITT WHO PASSED AWAY JANUARY 1, 1978, AND TO HER TWO DAUGHTERS WHO WENT AGAINST HER WISHES. MAY THEY BURN IN HELL. ALWAYS THINKING OF YOU. D.”  We don’t know what kind of relationship the siblings had with each other or with their mother prior to the matriarch’s death.  What we know is that the grudge held by the son has been memorialized for at least 37 years through the engraving on that marker.  By this time, perhaps all the children have died, too.  Where they went for eternity is unknown, but it’s quite possible this man went to his own grave carrying the burden of bitterness and resentment.

Perhaps few have carried their vendettas with such graphic vehemence as Iva’s son, but I have known quite a few whose verbal clues reveal as virulent a strain of visceral irritation.  In the Bible, Herodias was said to have “had a grudge against him (John) and wanted to put him to death…” (Mark 6:19).  She was living in sin and righteous John preached against it. Her response was to feel resentment for what he had done.  Sometimes, an accurate message is received with absolute acrimony. A different Greek word is used in James 3:14 “pertaining to feeling resentful” (Louw and Nida, 1996, n/p).  In reading James, this is a feeling that they may have had toward the world but more likely against their own brethren.  How many churches have had works stalled and stopped, have experienced an atmosphere of severe tension, or have even been split because of unresolved bitterness and resentment?

With resentment being so harmful to ourselves and others, how can we bury it?  First, let it go.  This is an intentional exercise and will not occur without conscious mental effort and energy. Read Ephesians 4:31-32.  Second, give it to God. Stop carrying it and hand it to Him.  All cares can be safely transferred to His capable hands (1 Pet. 5:7).  Finally, mend fences.  Remember Paul’s encouragement that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).  You are not accountable for the peace-breaking disposition of others, but you are “so far as it depends on you.”

Do you have any “headstones” to destroy?  Do you have hatchets to bury—including the handles?  Don’t waste any more time. Let it die and bury it!

Don’t Stop Running!

Neal Pollard

Did you hear what happened over the weekend at a college invitational race in the northwest? Oregon runner Tanguy Pepiot had a commanding lead down the final stretch of the 3,000 meter steeplechase.  Obviously, he felt it was insurmountable so he began to wave in appreciative response to what he thought were the cheers of the home crowd.  Instead, they were screaming out warnings to him.  Then second place runner, Washington’s Meron Simon, figured out Pepiot did not know he was surging.  Consequently, Simon overtook Pepiot in the last step of the race to win by a tenth of a second! There are so many life’s lessons to learn from this.  It’s never over until it’s over.  Don’t celebrate too early.  Pride goes before a fall.  To me, nothing is more significant than the importance of never quitting.  Simon was counted out, at least by Pepiot, but he simply would not quit.  As a result, he won the race!

The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24).  Similarly, the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).  Paul exemplifies the principle, telling Timothy he finished the course (2 Tim. 4:7).  This repeated imagery of Christian living as a race holds within it the same dramatic idea as that illustrated by the Washington runner.  He ran to win while his opponent lost because he prematurely celebrated.  The ultimate winner ran with endurance and he finished the course.

It is wonderful and helpful to get a strong start in the Christian race.  Pushing hard and accomplishing good for Jesus helps the “runner” and those who may “watch” him run. But, among the saddest experiences of my life has been witnessing many who quit too soon.  They were overtaken by improper relationships, discouragement, stumbling blocks, distractions, doubt, or any number of other factors.  Overshadowing the cause is the tragedy of the result.  Those who fail to finish the race suffer far worse than humiliation and an earthly prize.  These sacrifice eternal life and a heavenly home.

Today, you may be wrestling with whether or not to stay in the race for whatever reason.  May I plead with you to let the cheer of the “witnesses” (cf. Heb. 11) give you second wind.  But, please don’t stop running!

CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

Neal Pollard

On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket.  It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris.  If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program.  Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.

When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement.  James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction.  The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.

To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church.  It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.

Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).  In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting.  It is no longer sin and self, but God.  What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”

Diversions, Distractions, Or Deviations?

Neal Pollard

All the following are legitimate outlets, kept in proper perspective:

  • Social causes and needs.
  • Politics.
  • Sports, recreation, leisure and fitness.
  • Wholesome forms of entertainment.
  • Family events.
  • Social media.
  • Socializing and fellowship with fellow Christians.
  • Church buildings.
  • Addressing controversial issues and false teaching.
  • Material possessions.
  • Hobbies.

But our common struggle is allowing these to eclipse our purpose on this earth as Christians.  Interestingly, they all can be utilized as part of our mission, but none were ever meant to replace it.  These activities can easily hinder our faithfulness and usefulness to the cause.  Will you pray for me to keep seeking and saving the lost at the top of my “to do” list of life?  I will do the same for you, if you let me know.  Let’s pray for courage, focus, discernment, resolve, and encouragement to take the gospel as we go about each day.  This is what energized the church in its infancy (cf. Acts 8:4).  They had access to the same distractions and diversions we do, but they could not be diverted from the prime objective. Consequently, we read throughout Acts of their exponential, if unlikely, growth.  May we help each other imitate their spirit and service!

“Every Way Of A Man Is Right In His Own Eyes”

Neal Pollard

I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly.  I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator.  I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it.  I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear.  I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways.  In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.

Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).  In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2).  Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world.  At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse.  However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says.  Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.”  Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation.  Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence.  But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.

Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us!  If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like.  When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores.  Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2.  “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.”  He never gets it wrong!

What Is “Selfism”?

Neal Pollard

I came across the term “selfism” in Dick Meyer’s 2008 book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.  He defines it as “American individualism redefined by the age of marketing, self-help, moral relativism, and the belief that the “self” is something that can be deliberately found or made” (36).  He warns that “it is different than the older, can-do, self-made-man American spirit because it substitutes feeling for doing” (37). Later in the chapter, Meyer ties this hyper-emphasis on self  to a growing belligerence in society.  He writes, “On the Internet, belligerence can be anonymous, faceless, and hence risk-free. In schools and offices, for example, the Web is a problem, because parents and workers say nasty things in e-mail that they would never say in person. Chat rooms, blogs, and online comments are clogged with vitriol and hate-mongering…the need to make others wrong has turned into an addiction” (44).  One of his points in the chapter is that the elevation of self is not just a problem of narcissism, but it has become commonplace to vaunt self by stepping on, insulting, and ridiculing others to do it.  We are witnessing an ever-growing game of “King of the Mountain,” where in a rush to get noticed we are shoving off anyone who might eclipse or overshadow us.

Selfism is Satanic rather than sanctified behavior, but each of us must wrestle with it.  The temptation to join them rather than “beat” them through Christlike humility is ever-present.  What is “one-upmanship” if not an effort to present self as above another? In certain circles, the ability to respectfully and civilly discuss differences has been assassinated by hired killers like vanity, self-importance, animosity, and contempt.

Do we have a more difficult task than obeying Jesus’ command to deny self (cf. Mat. 16:24)?  When Paul urges Philippi to eliminate selfish ambition and conceit while esteeming others as better than self (Phi. 2:3), do we appreciate the polar opposite this is to the cultural arch-hero of selfism?  Jesus came into this world to show us the selfless life.  It is scary to live that way, especially in a world full of adherents to the cult of self.  We fear that being selfless with selfish people will lead to being walked over, preempted, or mistreated.  What will help is developing the faith to trust that living the way God commands leads us to the best life possible.  The best life possible is one where self is suppressed in deference to Christ and others.  Such a life will be noticed as a beacon in our choppy seas of selfism!

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!