Laying Aside “Every Weight”

Neal Pollard

I try to write very seldom about my favorite hobby, running, which I picked up when our baby, who Pooh Duke has dubbed “Carlnormous,” was still in the womb (This is Carlnormous).  Running produces so many wonderful benefits, physically, psychologically, and mentally.  Yet, as I have heard said, exercise is only about 20% of weight management.  Therefore, until I have recently begun beefing up my “push back” exercises from the dinner table, I have been running at over 200 pounds for much of those 17 years.  I am 15 pounds lighter than I was this time last month, and Strava does not lie.  Today, I logged a 10K at a pace of 8:19/mile (Strava is cool), while listening to a mellow “Fleet Foxes And More” playlist from Amazon Music (Will Fleet Foxes reunite?)—not exactly heart-pumping exercise music.  This time last month, I was about a full minute slower per mile.  Since today I’m inevitably older than I’ve ever been, the difference has to be the fewer pounds I’m dragging around.  Hopefully, I’ll drop more weight, and if I do I anticipate that my pace may quicken and I’ll feel even better doing it.

New Testament writers use the running analogy on several occasions, but consider what 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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:1-3). The NASB says “encumbrance” (NKJV, “weight”), and the word means “that which serves to hinder or prevent someone from doing something—‘hindrance, impediment’ (Louw-Nida, 13.149). While the implication is “of an athlete stripping himself of clothing which would impede his performance” (Ellingworth, NIGTC, np), how much more does something like 15 pounds “impede”?

This passage encourages endurance with at least three ideas.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Meaningful. It helps one with endurance as it helps eliminate obstacles to a successful run.  It shows up in a better quality of life. It impacts more than just the run you are on that day.  The effects are enduring and they impact such vital areas as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.  So it is spiritually.  This is about defeating sin, staying faithful, endurance, and overcoming.  In line with the thrust of the whole letter of Hebrews, it is about not falling away and leaving Christ!  We do not want to hang on to anything that interferes with that eternal prospect.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Measurable. I can tell the difference in myself when I have or have not lost that extra weight.  Certainly, the same is true spiritually.  When something is weighing me down, distracting, depressing, deceiving, or drawing me away, I can tell.  I can see it in my devotional life, it shows up in my speech, my attitude, my ethics, and countless similar ways. Other people can see it, too.  I know that God sees every bit of it!

Laying Aside The Weight Is Motivational.  By laying aside the encumbrances and entanglements, I feel better and improve my physical quality of life. The Hebrews’ writer tells us about a transcendent motivation which follows lightening our spiritual loads of sin problems.  Removing the impediments, I am better able to fix my eyes on Jesus and His example while not growing weary or losing heart.

Past experience tells me that weight can be picked up even easier than it can be laid aside.  This is an ongoing discipline.  But it is so worthwhile!  Oh, that I can remember that as I run the course of earth toward eternity.

“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 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.

A Physician Not Afflicted With The Disease He’s Fighting

Neal Pollard

Buried in the headlines today is news that the doctor in charge of fighting an outbreak of Ebola in his country has contracted the disease himself.  The health minister of Sierre Leone said that Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan has a confirmed case of the deadly virus that has killed over 600 of his fellow-countrymen in 2014.  Three of the nurses working alongside Khan recently died trying to treat this disease for which there is no known cure or vaccine. Despite meticulous precautions, Khan could not evade contracting Ebola.

It is an unappealing prospect to consider having a job like Khan’s.  Exposing yourself to something utterly deadly (at times, Ebola has as high as a 90% mortality rate) to try and save your fellow-citizens is about as great a risk as a person can assume on this earth.  Not surprisingly, Khan has been hailed as a hero for using his expertise as a virologist to combat this frightful killer.  Now, his own life hangs in the balance (via news.yahoo.com).

The writer of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the Levitical priests under the Old Law.  They were “sick” with the very sin they were appointed to “treat” among the nation of Israel (Heb. 7:27).  The writer says that Jesus had no need to do this for Himself because He was “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners…” (Heb. 7:26).  In other words, though thoroughly exposed to the deadly malady of sin, Jesus never succumbed to it.  Earlier, the epistle says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:16).

Simply put, the One God sent to provide a cure for the deadliest condition ever known was fully exposed to it but did not fall prey to it.  He did, however, die because of it.  Incredibly, that was God’s intention from eternity. Yet, His ultimate sacrifice makes it possible for us to be cured of this otherwise hopeless and eternally fatal condition!  No wonder we praise Jesus as the “Great Physician.”

Why Has There Been A Decline In Public Responses?

Neal Pollard

While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed.  As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service.  When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred.  Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”

One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers.  One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching.  One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present.  One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.

Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them.  Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations.  The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory.  Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)?  Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.

  • Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
  • On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality.  We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.).  Image replaces integrity.
  • Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships.  We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.

How might this impact public responses?  Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”?  Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”?  There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.

What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start.  We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic.  We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever!  The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37).  Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.

A GLOBAL EPIDEMIC

Neal Pollard

MERS is the latest pathogen to seize the world’s attention, and this middle-eastern sprung virus, having a 30% mortality rate, is cause for some concern.  Yet, it is the latest in a long line of alarming diseases that have struck fear in people—AIDs, Asian Flu, Spanish Flu, smallpox, bubonic plague, and leprosy, just to name a few.  Whether the horrific presentation, swift action, or painfulness of these conditions, just the names of these diseases raise the shudders of those informed about how deadly they are.  An ailment that commonly brings about mortality gets our attention.

Sin, however, often does its work on the individual without the dramatic presentation and many times in a way that feels painless to the “sufferer” until it is too late.  But, nothing is deadlier or more serious.  That is why God made it a prominent subject in the only book He ever wrote.  He identifies it in its every form, reveals the symptoms, warns of the potentially deadliness of it, and provides the cure.

The majority do not recognize it for what it is, they incorrectly identify it, offer the wrong cures for it, and a great many just ignore what it is doing to them.  They call it by other names, thinking that by doing that they are eradicating it from themselves.  While that may numb them through this life, it will not serve them well in eternity.

Variously, the Bible says “sin is exceedingly grave” (Gen. 18:20), “sin is unhealthy” (Psa. 38:3), “sin is a disgrace” (Prov. 14:34), “sin brings guilt” (Mark 3:29), “sin brings spiritual death” (Rom. 6:23; Jas. 1:15), “sin enslaves” (Rom. 7:14,23), “sin is deceitful” (Heb. 3:13), “sin entangles” (Heb. 12:1), “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), “sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and “sin is unrighteousness” (1 John 5:17).  Yet, despite this, we know “fools mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9).  A vicious disease is at work in them and, unresolved and untreated, it will lead them to eternal pain, but because it afflicts the unseen part of a person they cannot see the damage to their souls.  They often see its effects in their own lives and in others’.

That’s where Christians come in, Physician’s assistants for the Great Healer.  We are to get healing to as many as are willing to take the cure.  We may be treated hostilely by some of those eternally ill, but we must risk sharing it for their good.  We face a terrible epidemic but we have a cure that is 100% effective when properly applied!

The Shocking Truth Of The Alligator That Bit The Electric Eel

 

Neal Pollard

All puns aside, the event really happened in the Amazon back in 2010 and was captured on You Tube.  An unidentified Brazilian fisherman documents the rare, extraordinary event.  The electric eel can generate up to 600 volts of electricity.  A hungry caiman with a fatal appetite found this out too late to let go and live.  The best reports indicate that both creatures, intended predator and potential prey, lost their lives in the interaction (www.telegraph.co.uk).

While the fisherman had caught the eel and had gone to get a knife to cut the line, the caiman saw the eel thrashing and could not resist trying to make a meal of it.  Animals are instinctive creatures and thus such intellectual and emotional responses as lust, malice and forethought, or hostility did not drive its decision to dine.  Nevertheless, it was still a fatal food choice!

Think about the instances where we can get into even more serious, spiritual trouble than the aforementioned reptile.

  • The allure for a married person to have an affair or an unmarried person to have an illicit sexual encounter or relationship.
  • The decision to get drunk or high.
  • Provoked by the words or actions of another, unloading on the provoker with sinful anger expressed by ungodly words and/or actions.
  • Exacting revenge on someone, thinking it will be “sweet” and not “bitter.”
  • Sending that angry email without deliberating, praying, or consulting a trusted friend first.

Really, any impulsive reactionary word or act can create ramifications we cannot predict or anticipate.  So many, in a momentary heat of passion, have created longterm headaches and heartaches.  Before we give in to temptation, we need to give due thought to the consequences all the while appreciating that we cannot foresee them all or the extent of them.  Eve was the first to fail to do this (Gen. 3:6), but she was far from the last.  May we pray for and pursue the wisdom to mull before we munch!