KEEP YOURSELF ON THE LEVEL

Neal Pollard

The word is maligned by some, especially by those to the right of biblical truth who believe any attempt at it is “soft.”  The word is misunderstood by others, especially by those who believe avoiding difficult, hard truths constitutes the concept.  Yet, in this age of extremism, the need for it has never been greater.  While balance takes in a great many things regarding both one’s life and teaching, many seem to have forgotten the importance of pursuing it in following Christ.

Balance is threatened when we equate our opinions, judgment, proclivities, and personal beliefs with divine truth.  This is especially of great concern when those with heightened influence among us press these matters to the point that they are portrayed as matters of faith and fellowship.  Several issues of late have emerged as such tests–that dating is sinful, that homeschooling is the only biblical means of educating our children, that having a special program or even Bible classes for youth in a congregation is wrong, and the list seems to keep growing.  Often, the old “anti” argument is made: “Where is your authority for that?”  Yet, like our non-cooperation brethren, there is a glaring lack of understanding about how God authorizes (especially as regards “generic” and “specific” authority).  Can we be opposed to dating, public schooling, homeschooling, and the like?  Certainly.  Can we be divisive or draw lines over them in the Lord’s body?  Never!  God is as condemning of law-making as law-breaking (Rev. 22:18-19; Mat. 23:2ff).

Balance is threatened through compromise with the world.  Balance is not blending in with the world, as a chameleon in its environment.  Balance is certainly not conformity (cf. Rom. 12:2).  Some preachers never touch hot-button-issues like modesty, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, instrumental music, the sinfulness of denominationalism, and more through a misguided sense that such avoidance is balance.  While one must avoid making any of these subject “hobby horses” that are ridden endlessly and exclusively, these are all biblical matters part of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).  Often, they are avoiding out of fear or favor.  Such is not balance!

Extremism, especially noised angrily and vociferously, looks more like the culture than the Christ.  Let those of us who teach, write, and otherwise publicly communicate beware of the higher standard to which the Lord holds us (Js. 3:1ff).  Let us stand firmly and courageously upon the foundation of Christ while being careful not to press what He has not taught or suppress what He has.

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NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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“Satan Wants You”

Neal Pollard

Mike Vestal was speaking to preachers at this year’s Polishing The Pulpit in Sevierville, Tennessee, on the subject of discouragement. One of his many poignant points was that Satan would dearly love to get to the preacher. He made the striking statement, “Satan wants you!”  This is true of more than the preacher. He is ever after every faithful Christian.  Do you remember that shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus warned an overconfident Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31)? It is sobering to contemplate his ravenous yearning for us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8)!

Consider that Satan wants your:

  • Soul
  • Influence
  • Effectiveness
  • Energy
  • Money
  • Stages of life (youth, prime, golden years)
  • Heart
  • Family (spouse, children, parents)
  • Passion
  • Time
  • Worship
  • Body
  • Speech
  • Confidence
  • Assurance
  • Attention

When we break down the totality of his voracious appetite for each of us individually, we can see just how viciously and actively he is pursuing us. He can work through the more obvious avenues like sexual immorality, unrighteous conduct, and overt worldliness. He is as content with more subtle channels like attitude, strife, grudge bearing, dishonesty, greed, and gossip. The Bible makes it clear that as long as he can make headway into the heart and life, he’ll take it.

The thrilling news is that he cannot make us or take us without our permission. Furthermore, Jesus empowers us to prevail through His sacrifice and resources. Hebrews 2:14 shows us that Jesus rendered him powerless against the children of God.

The greatest news of all is that God wants you! He has gone to the greatest lengths to prove it. If we will give our lives to Him, it does not matter what the Devil attempts. He will fail!  Resist him with the power of God (1 Pet. 5:9; Jas. 4:7-8) and he will flee from you! Just don’t let your guard down! Keep your faith up!

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What Would YOU Do?

Neal Pollard

On the one hand, Brunhilde Pomsel says she knew nothing but on the other says she saw the “ranting, rowdy man,” the “raging midget” that her boss, Joseph Goebbels, could become. Though usually sophisticated and elegant, if arrogant, he was the propaganda minister for Hitler’s Nazi regime, culpable in the murder of millions of Jews and other Nazi targets, and she was his secretary. She’s 105-years-old and is the star of a documentary film, A German Life, set to be released soon (The Guardian, Kate Connelly, 8/15/16, “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-Year-Old Secretary: No One Believes Me Now, But I Knew Nothing”). One of her most poignant comments was this:  ““Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.”

After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell…”

Her point, even if uttered in rationalization, is pretty poignant. It’s so easy to look back on horrific actions like those perpetrated by the Nazi machine and say we’d die fighting it. But, the rank and file of the German people in the 1930s and 1940s were “normal” people. I’m sure it would have been possible for someone like Brunhilde to keep herself in a bubble from the truth, but I’m not sure it exonerates her. I’ve read too many books about so many who secretly and openly defied the evil of that fascist government to protect the innocent, especially the Jewish people.

One of history’s hardest challenges has been to go against the flow of culture and society. Scripture reveals some of those struggles, like faced by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Imagine facing the “rage and anger” of a ruthless king who demanded you to sin, and saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). Then imagine seeing him “filled with wrath, and his facial expression” being “altered” toward you. While the event was transformational for the king, they still needed the courage to be distinct in their times.

It is frightening to think of how our country has changed in such a relatively brief period of time. As morality erodes and attitudes toward God and the Bible change for the worse, we have opportunities to stand. The ruling powers may not seem as evil as Nazism does in the rearview mirror, but their hostility toward Christianity is becoming clearer. While we remain the respective, obedient citizens Scripture commands us to be (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2), let us be willing to stand with the likes of Peter and John and always say, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

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COMING TOGETHER

Neal Pollard
For twelve years, I lived in the eye of Civil War History. Not only were many battles fought in almost every community neighboring Mechanicsville, Virginia (our home), but two were fought at Cold Harbor. While living there, I became an avid relic hunter–a type of amateur archaeologist digging for buttons, bullets, and buckles. Thanks to Dave Young, Sr., and Dave Young, Jr., who “pulled” me into this hobby, I got to see history up close and personally. It was fascinating, in one sense, to stand on the very ground where such history-shaping events occurred. In another way, the very activity was a sobering reminder of the tragedy that divided a nation. It even divided households, with brother fighting against brother.

It has often been reported that after that awful war, when Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy and Ulysses Grant of the Union died, their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other and became the closest of friends (Atlas Obscura). What a remarkable story of how two people, from opposite sides, came together! Their husbands were philosophically and militarily opposed to one another, but their spouses overcame those hindrances.

I never cease to be amazed at the differences that are overcome in Christ. On foreign mission trips, we may go to places where our governments are antagonistic to one another and find our common bond in Christ. Race, culture, education, and finance are all surmountable barriers in Christ. Ephesians 2:16 reveals how Jew and Gentile were reconciled by Christ’s cross in the church. God intended the church to be the place where people, despite their diversities, can all submit to Christ’s authority and be one. Yes, even yankees and southerners. Even easterners and westerners. Even college grads and grade school drop outs. Paul also wrote, “For by one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have ALL been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:13-14). In a world that tries to draw us apart and divide us, politically, ethnically, and regionally, Christ wants us coming together! Through the church, we can.

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Each One Will Bear His Own Load

Neal Pollard

Ulm Minster, a Lutheran church building in southern Germany, is the tallest church building in the world, has the tallest steeple in the world, and is the 4th tallest structure built before 1900. Construction began in the 1300s and was finished in 1890. The masonry building is thought to be the tallest load-bearing brick or masonry building in the world. That means that each brick supports its own weight (Wells, Matthew. Skyscrapers: Structure and Design, King: London, 2005. p. 8).

In Galatians 6, Paul urges Christians to reach out, gently and introspectively, to help a fallen brother (1). We do so because it is the fulfillment of Christ’s law to help each other (2). None of us is above this (3). But at the same time, we have personal accountability (4) and responsibility (5). The example, in context, is financial support of the Word rather than fleshly indulgence (6ff). But a fair application of this principle extends to the need we each have to pull our own weight. Just as I need to help others in need, I need to realize my need to stand on my own two feet. What are some areas where the individual Christian must bear his own load?

  • Involvement in the work of the church. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us every member plays a vital part to the overall function of the body. I cannot just be a pew-sitter. I must be at work. When I hear announcements about needs or opportunities, I should not console myself thinking that others will do it. Let them do their part. I must do mine.
  • Financial contribution to the church. Being in a generous, giving church is no substitute for my personal obligation. The command is to “each one of you” (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:6-7).
  • Personal relationship with God. A godly spouse, parent, or child is a wonderful asset in our lives, but none are a substitute for my own faith and intimacy in the relationship with God. No one can say my prayers, read my Bible reading, or walk my walk with the Lord.
  • Battling temptation.  Temptation is common to all men and escape is available to every man, but none can do the escaping for me (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). I can draw strength from others and receive prayers from others and confess to others, but it is ultimately a battle I must win, with God’s help, in the trenches of my own life.
  • Being an encouragement to those in need. The exhortation to “therefore encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th. 5:11) is very personal. The uplift I give is uniquely mine and no one can give this in the way that I can.
  • Visiting those who are sick, in prison, and the like. Matthew 25:31-46 puts the individual in the Judgment before Christ. That means I will answer for whether or not I did this, whether preachers, elders, deacons, or others did.
  • Meeting benevolent needs. The same passage challenges me in meeting the physical needs of those around me. Paul makes it personal, too, in Galatians 6:10.
  • Loving the brotherhood, with each individual brother and sister. This is to be the trademark trait of a disciple of Christ (John 13:34-35). And, it is individual (cf. 2 Th. 1:3). As I measure how I treat, talk about, and think about the spiritual family, am I bearing my load?

Pink Floyd was pessimistic when they said, “All we are is just another brick in the wall.” But, there is such an exciting prospect when we consider that we make up that holy temple to the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22). When all of us, as individuals, bear our part of the load, more and more growth and expansion is possible! Help each other, but do your own part. It’s the way Christ wants it.

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Hazards of Firefighting

Neal Pollard

343 on 9/11/2001 in New York City. 86 in 1910 across Washington, Idaho and Montana. 29 in 1933 in Los Angeles. 27 in April, 1947, in Texas City, Texas. 21 on December 22, 1910, in Chicago. 19 on June 30, 2013, near Yarnell, Arizona (Firefighter Tragedies).  Those are the deadliest incidents for firefighters in American history, in number of fatalities. Firefighting is deadly, if heroic, business. Those answering the call know that each response, however simple or innocuous it may seem, masks many dangers. Firefighting is hazardous business.

The same is certainly true in the firefighting business Jesus calls us to perform. The Bible clearly indicates that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels will be eternally shared by those who know not God and do not obey His gospel (Mat. 25:41ff; 2 Th. 1:8-9). As Christians, then, we are God’s firefighters (Jude 23). We should do this job out of a sincere concern and love for souls and a desire to be working for and serving the One who rescued us from so great a death (2 Co. 1:10). But, by stepping into that arena, we should realize the risks and dangers involved.

  • We can be ill-equipped.  Firefighters can’t hope to do their work with old, shoddy, or faulty equipment. The best equipment available is ineffective when not put into use. In our spiritual battle, we know that our “equipment” (2 Tim. 3:17) is perfect for every situation. But, we have to know it (2 Ti. 2:15). We also need to know how to use it. We need to make sure our approach to people is not shoddy or faulty (cf. Gal. 6:1). To be boisterous or bullying with God’s Word not only further harms the one in danger, but also endangers us!
  • We can get too close to the fire. Firefighters can be the victim of their proximity to the conflagration. It’s often difficult to judge how close is too close, but it is an ever-present hazard. In our spiritual firefighting, we can get too close to the fire through compromising God’s Word, conforming to the world, committing sins of attitude, morality, ethics, or the like in our outreach. We must avoid behaving in a worldly way when trying to help save those out in the world. In trying to help a struggling soul, we can sin with our tongues or gossip about the one whose troubles we’ve been made aware of.
  • We can ignore the dangers. It’s true in firefighting as in all professions that one may occasionally choose not to practice what he has been trained to know, see and think. In the heat of the moment, one may not focus on certain warning signs. Buildings collapse, air runs out, black draft areas are entered and serious results follow. Spiritually, we must be careful in how we go about this “business.” Going alone when we need another with us, trying to help someone when we are too emotionally invested, or responding out of hurt and anger instead of “cooling off” are all ways we can ignore the dangers we might face.

Let us be aware of the risks we take in reaching out to those who are in spiritual danger, but let us be eager to respond to the need. Despite the ever-present risks firefighters take, they still are faithful and dedicated to the job. God needs us on the front line, too. May we simply factor in the perils of firefighting, then do it!

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CONSECRATING THE PRIESTS

Neal Pollard

An interesting ceremony occurs in Leviticus 8:4-11. Moses summons Aaron and his sons into the doorway of the tabernacle and consecrated them. This action consisted of four distinct things.

  • A command (4-5)—“This is the thing which the Lord has commanded to do”
  • A washing (6)—“Moses…washed them with water”
  • Specific clothing (7-9)—tunic, sash, robe, ephod, breastpiece, turban, and the golden plate
  • Anointing and sprinkling (10-11)—anointing the tabernacle with oil and sprinkled the oil on the altar and all its contents

For those of us in 21st Century America who are millennia removed from this ancient ceremony of the Jewish people, those actions are about as foreign as any that we might consider.  But, they all worked together as part of a process of “consecration.” Yet, the idea is timeless, that of being regarded as holy because of having been devoted to the Lord.

The New Testament tells Christians that we are “priests” (1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). Aaron and his family engaged in religious ritual and ceremony as well as representing people to God. While our function includes the latter, “proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9), we have also been set apart to engage in religious actions for God (1 Pet. 2:5). Romans 12:1 tells us we offer up our bodies as living and holy sacrifices. Our lives are to be dedicated to Him, set apart for His use.

But the process of becoming a priest is just like the process mentioned there in Leviticus 8, if only in a spiritual sense. We are commanded to become priests (cf. 1 Pet. 1:22ff; 3:21). Our induction into this job requires a washing (Rev. 1:6; cf. Acts 22:16). We are given “special clothing” (1 Pet. 3:3; 5:5; cf. Gal. 3:27). The New Testament speaks of this in terms of “anointing” and “sprinkling” (1 Pet. 1:12). When we came into Christ, we entered a life of significance and importance. We were accepting a grand, sobering job. We have been made holy by the blood of Christ, special and dear to God. At the same time, we are set apart for God’s use. One is an undeserved blessing. The other is an unsurpassed responsibility. Let us be grateful for Jesus’ gift that made this priesthood available to us, then let us embrace the monumental task of representing Him to the world and showing the world about Him through our very lives!

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Christian, Who Are You?

Neal Pollard

  • You Are An Insurance Agent—Life (Philippians 2:16), Health (cf. 1 Peter 2:24), and Fire (2 Peter 3:9-10).
  • You Are A Tour Guide (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 8:31).
  • You Are A Soldier (Ephesians 6:10ff; 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • You Are A Slave (Romans 6:17).
  • You Are A Firefighter (Jude 23).
  • You Are An Ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • You Are A Priest (Revelation 1:6).
  • You Are A Conductor (2 Corinthians 2:14; 9:11).
  • You Are A Day Laborer (John 9:4; cf. Matthew 20:1ff).
  • You Are A Farmer (2 Timothy 2:6; Luke 8:5).
  • You Are A Fisherman (Matthew 4:19).
  • You Are A Gem Distributor (Colossians 1:27).
  • You Are A Taste Tester (Colossians 4:6; Hebrews 5:14).
  • You Are Royalty (Revelation 1:5-6).
  • You Are A Student (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • You Are A Body-Builder (Ephesians 4:16).
  • You Are A Restorer (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1).
  • You Are A Physician’s Assistant (Hebrews 12:12-13; cf. Mark 2:17).
  • You Are A Standard-Bearer (Philippians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:13).
  • You Are A Builder (1 Corinthians 3:10).
  • You Are A Judge (John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 6:2).
  • You Are A Nutritionist (1 Timothy 4:6).
  • You Are A Maintenance Worker (Phlippians 2:2; Titus 3:8,14, KJV).
  • You Are A Cleaner (2 Timothy 2:21; James 4:8).
  • You Are A Runner (1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2; 5:7; etc.).
  • You Are A Boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26).

I’d be amazed if I did not leave out several of our job titles and descriptions. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of work for all of us to do. The next time we find ourselves figuratively twiddling our spiritual thumbs, wondering how we can be involved, let’s draw from the exhaustive inventory of tasks the Lord has left us!  Remember, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23).

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Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Neal Pollard

In the annals of American history there is a remarkable story you may not know.  Daniel Bakeman was born on October 9, 1759.  He married Susan Brewer on August 29, 1772, though not yet a teenager.  Soon thereafter, he joined the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Not only did he survive the war, he lived almost another 100 years.  When he died on April 5, 1869, he was most likely the last surviving veteran of the war that made us a country.  He lived about four years after the end of the Civil War.  As remarkable as that distinction is, he also was part of another world record that still stands to this day.  His marriage to Susan lasted until September 10, 1863, when she passed away.  That means the Bakemans were married for 91 years and 12 days!

I cannot find anything about the details of that marriage, though they left many descendants who carry, through various spellings of the family name, the names Bachman, Beckman, Bakeman, Bateman, and even Baker (genealogytrails.com).  Various archives indicate that Mr. Bakeman was spry and humorous to the end and that Mrs. Bakeman exhibited needlework she had done without the aid of glasses when she was 102.  They lived and died in a town called Freedom, and Mr. Wakeman holds the distinction of having voted in every election from Washington to Grant!

As remarkable as his military distinction is, his marriage distinction deserves higher honor.  He fought in and survived a war that lasted less than ten years.  He endured hardships, who knows how many ups and downs, and undoubtedly some trying marital moments en route to almost a century of marital bliss.  They were together to the end, an exaggerated example of commitment and highest love.

You will almost certainly fail to break the Bakemans’ record for length of marriage, but you might exceed what they enjoyed for depth and breadth.  What are you doing to build upon the highest love for your spouse?  What daily investments are you making?  Your marriage will be remembered by those who know you.  How it will be remembered is something over which you exert full control.  Make it a legacy of lasting love!

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