FAITH IN PEOPLE

Neal Pollard

There are some people with “trust issues.”  They are stuck in a negative frame of mind, believing the worst in others with little expectation that they will improve.  They may even castigate anyone who would encourage you to put faith in people.  Certainly, our greatest faith must always be in God.  He never fails, forsakes, or leaves us (Heb. 13:5-6), but people invariably do those things.  We cannot put more faith in people than God, listening to and following them when they contradict His will. That’s a false, wrong extreme, but so also is a cynicism that fundamentally, inherently distrusts people to do the right thing.  This does not mean that there are people in our lives who do not struggle with sin because we all do (Rom. 3:23).

Let me encourage you to have faith in God’s people. Why?

  • Jesus did.  He selected twelve men, salty fishermen, shady tax collectors, strident nationalists, and selfish materialists.  While the latter let Him down, the other eleven grew and accomplished much.  Jesus entrusted His mission to them (Mat. 28:18-20), having faith that they would accomplish it.  But, Jesus also had faith in others—the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, and so many others.  Some He put faith in failed Him and even left Him, but that did not ever stop Him from investing that faith in others.  Do you remember what He said to Peter after He had failed? “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32; emph. mine).  That was faith in Peter!
  • It empowers others.  When somebody expresses faith in your ability to accomplish something, how do you respond?  When you are given responsibility with the explicit or tacit understanding that the giver believes in you, don’t you give it your all to live up to that trust?  2 Timothy 2:2 seems to imply this reaction is a natural consequence of being entrusted with something.
  • People live up (or down) to our expectations.  Have you ever had someone in your life who handled you this way:  “You’re no good!”; “You’ll never amount to anything!”; “You’re hopeless!”?  Maybe they don’t say it, but they convey it.  Preachers and teachers communicate the word through such a pessimistic prism. Leaders convey it in ways both spoken and unspoken.  Love “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
  • It brightens life.  Would you like to maintain a PMA (possible mental attitude)?  Never lose the ability to believe in others!  A glass half full approach is necessary to retaining an optimistic, hopeful way of life. I’m not saying to be delusional, but you can improve your own quality of life with a fundamental belief that most people, when they know what’s right, want to do what’s right.
  • It is biblical.   Paul had confidence in Philemon’s obedience (Phile. 1:21). He had confidence that Corinth would do the right thing (2 Cor. 2:3). He had confidence in Galatia’s doctrinal resilience (Gal. 5:10). He had confidence in Thessalonica’s continued faithfulness (2 Th. 3:4).  What an example, and oh how we should imitate him in this!

Teresa of Calcutta is often associated with certain verses found on the wall of her children’s home, even credited for authoring it. Kent Keith is the likely author.  In the composition, “Do It Anyway” (aka “The Paradoxical Commandments”), he notes that people will criticize and be petty.  He encourages doing good, loving, and serving anyway.  You can choose how you will spend your life, expecting the best or worst of others. May I urge you to have the most faith in God, but leave room for faith in people—especially God’s people! You will not regret it.

Christ-less In Crisis

Neal Pollard

It is hard to describe the beauty of faith evidenced in Room 913 yesterday as all the elders and their wives, Wes and Teri Autrey, and Tiffanie and Bethany Vaught stood with Myrna and the rest of the Murphy family at University Hospital yesterday.  We sang songs and Dave Chamberlin prayed a touching, loving prayer.  Moments later, a godly, wonderful woman made her transition from this life to the better one. Despite the inevitable, natural flow of tears, the heartache of separation, and the final earthly stanza of a beautiful, 59-year-old love song played by Ray and Myrna.  Myrna was an obvious success as a mother, wife, grandmother, and friend, but central to everything she did and who she was was Christ.  She did not fear death nor the condition that brought it.  She was ready because of Christ.

When I think of the red-letter days that have occurred in our nation and world during my lifetime, whether the bombing of the Murrah Building, the horrors of 9/11, the unbelievable natural disaster of the December 26, 2004, tsumami (“Boxer Day Tsumami”), the disappearance of the Malaysia Airliner, and the like, I am made to think how many stood in the wake of such tragedy without the hope and promise made possible through Christ.  Yet, every ordinary day where death looms through the natural course of life, people come to those final moments either ignorant or bereft of the bright prospect of what happens beyond death.  Certainly, some think they have hope, but it is not hope rested in what they can find in Scripture but rather what they think, feel, or have been told is real and true.  In some ways, those situations are the most tragic of all. Others are convinced that we are the result of chance and will cease to be when we draw our last breath, yet they continue to try and live with purpose and even act in the interest of others without bothering to ask why they behave civilized with such an animalistic point of view.

But for the one whose hope is built on the truth of what God’s Word says, there is no tidal wave of heart or explosion of life powerful enough to wrench us free from that hope. Paul exalts that we are saved by unseen hope (Rom. 8:24-25). In the rest of the chapter, he proclaims the unfailing love and promise of God for the redeemed who place their trust in Him.  Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to face death, sorrowing like a world without hope (1 Thess. 4:13).  Without Christ’s resurrection, there is no hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:19-20).  However, because He lives, we can face tomorrow, all fear is gone, we know who holds the future, and life is worth living (Bill Gaither lyrics from “Because He Lives”).

The Murphys will have sorrow and grief to bear.  This is a testimony to their humanity.  But they look at tomorrow with an even brighter anticipation.  This is a testimony to the Christ who lives in them.  It is available for us all!

A dear sister in Christ, Myrna Murphy

“Is It Possible To Be Born With The Wrong Skin?”

Neal Pollard

Freedom of speech may be a constitutional right, but do you ever wish people did not feel so free to exercise that right?  It’s hard not to bemoan the cultural lunacy that appears to be another step down the slippery slope from rational to irrational thought.  Bruce Jenner claims to identify as a woman despite the biology of his birth.  Now, Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who is born to two white parents, identifies herself as African-American.  Her story has ignited yet another “identity crisis” conversation, complete with its own Twitter Hashtag (#WrongSkin).  Some who have posted there are engaging in some intelligent tongue in cheek and sarcasm, but many more seem to be seriously conflicted about their racial identity.  Our ancestors would be in utter disbelief of the lack of critical thought they would hear in such discussions.

But let’s carry this line of “thought” further:

  • I was born to middle class parents, but I identify as the son and heir of Bill Gates.
  • I barely passed High School, but I identify as a Rhodes Scholar.
  • I am a lazy couch potato, but I identify as an elite triathlete.
  • I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, but I identity as a musical virtuoso.
  • I scorch water and ruin Ramen noodles, but I identify as a world-class chef.

You know, you can claim anything, but that does not make it so.  Sometimes, the best way to expose an absurdity is to escort them further down that slope.  Then, they can get a better look at themselves.

Claiming to be a woman when you are a man or to be one race when you are another is head-scratching, but did you know that there are people making a much more serious claim whose incorrect conclusion is infinitely more grave?  A great many people, asked if they are a Christian, say “yes.”  However, though they identify as a Christian, they have not followed the plan God put in place whereby one becomes a Christian.  Jesus says that claiming does not equate to being (cf. Mat. 7:21-23).  He also says there is but one way (John 14:6).  We can strongly identify ourselves as a Christian, but have we actually been “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16).  Peter said, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  Ananias said, “Get up and be baptized, and washing away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Paul wrote, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). He also said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Peter wrote, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Now, Scripture sets other conditions in place one must meet in order to receive God’s grace and salvation, but the overwhelming majority do not reject faith and repentance.  They do, however, dismiss the role of baptism as a divine condition for salvation. In light of the above Scriptures (and there are others, too), how can one refuse to obey this and yet still claim to belong to Christ (cf. Luke 6:46)?

“Moral Leadership?”

Neal Pollard
This is how Seth Fiegerman at Mashable summarized new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent moves, an array of social activist “statements” that includes an Apple gay pride parade and declaring himself homosexual, calling to attention to perceived environment and climate change, and associated causes. Fiegerman also synonymously dubbed his activism as “moral authority” and “staking out moral ground.”   The evocative title of the article is “Apple’s new moral era begins” (6/8/15). As a happy “Macster” with an iPad and iPhone, I am not a frustrated PC user looking for an opportunity to rage against the Apple machine.  It is what it is.
Whether or not you agree with Cook, he is most certainly assuming definite moral leadership.  Indeed, it is not overstating things to say he is “moralizing,” as vehemently as any preacher, professor, or reformer could.  In his powerful position at one of the most influential companies in the world, Cook is spending his leadership capital in a profound, definite, and specific way.  However, it is not as if he invented moral leadership.  Anyone with any influence in any point in history is wielding moral leadership, staking out moral ground with at least some degree of moral authority.  The defining question is, “Whose morality?”
The Bible defines morality.  As the product of a transcendent, all-powerful authority, the Bible is the only legitimate standard of morality.  It outlines a specific way of living, using words like godliness (see especially 1 Tim. and 2 Pet.), moral excellence (2 Pet. 1:5), detailing a moral lifestyle (cf. Gal. 5:22-23), and the like. It also forbids a specific way of living, using terminology like immoral and immorality.  Its standard is specific.  Consider a few examples:
  • If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality (Lev. 20:14).
  • Divorcing your wife and marrying another woman is adultery, unless your wife is guilty of sexual immorality (Mat. 19:9).
  • A man who had his father’s wife was guilty of immorality (1 Cor. 5:1).
  • Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of gross immorality and going after strange flesh (Jude 7).
  • Along with a covetous, idolatrous, drunk, or swindling person, God says to avoid the immoral (1 Cor. 5:11).
  • Immoral men are placed alongside homosexuals, kidnappers, liars and perjurers as contrary to sound teaching (1 Tim. 1:10).
  • Esau selling his birthright is called immoral (Heb. 12:16).
There are many other examples of Scripture defining morality, often by pointing out its opposite.  People who use their influence to lead people to do the immoral are certainly exerting moral leadership, but it is leadership contrary to the heart and will of God.  There is a vital need for you and me, as those who love and trust God’s Word, to exert true, moral leadership, to exalt His morality.  A saying attributed variously to Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Aked, is very familiar to most: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”  May we step forward and exert moral leadership that honors God.

A LINK TO HISTORY

Neal Pollard

He was named after a World War I general, born in Los Angeles in 1918 just after the American doughboys went “over there.”  There are four men who played Major League Baseball older than Robert Pershing (“Bobby”) Doerr (Mike Sandlock in 99, Eddie Carnett and Alex Monchak are 98, and Carl Miles in 16 days older than Bobby), but his Major League debut was the earliest.  Unlike anybody else among the top 15 oldest living baseball players, Doerr was an everyday player who achieved some notoriety. He’s the oldest living player who is in the Hall of Fame.  But, making his debut in 1937, Doerr is a part of these interesting facts.  He played against Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mel Ott, Hank Greenburg, Schoolboy Rowe, Lloyd and Paul Waner, and Pie Traynor, as well as many other all-time greats.  Jimmy Foxx and Lefty Grove were teammates. Lefty pitched to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker. In 1925, his rookie season, Grove sat across the dugout from Jimmy Austin (age 46), Oscar Stanage (age 42) and Chief Bender (age 41). Sitting in his dugout, though, was Jack Quinn (age 42), who was a teammate of Austin’s on the 1909 New York Highlanders, a team that also included Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro. We could keep going, but we’ll stop there. Doerr, a man still in his right mind, could tell you all about Lefty Grove and heard who knows how many stories Grove told about players who played in the 1800s, connections to the earliest days of baseball.  Doerr is a link to history (info via baseball-reference.com).

How many have pointed out the interesting facts from the Genesis genealogies, where it is possible that Noah’s grandfather, Methusaleh, may have known Adam?  They were most certainly contemporaries, and that covers a span of 1656 years (https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/timeline-for-the-flood/).  Noah and Seth, Adam’s third son, would have been alive together for 34 years before Seth’s death. To appreciate how incredible that is, consider that 1656 years ago was the year 359 A.D., 4 years before Constantine’s grandson, Julian the Apostate, becomes Roman emperor (http://www.fsmitha.com/time/ce04.htm).

It would not take a lot of digging around in our congregations to find individuals who provide us a link to church history.  Consider Bear Valley for a moment. Johnson Kell had Hugo McCord stay in his home one summer several decades ago, the two even going on a long run together.  Converted as a soldier during World War II, Johnson would have been in the church when great preachers like Marshall Keeble, N.B. Hardeman, and others were helping the church grow so much.  Harry Denewiler grew up in the church, and at nearly 90, could have been in the assemblies when great preachers of the 1920s were filling the pulpits of the midwest.  Two of our members, Jean Wilmington and Maurya Fulkerson, were baptized by Rue Porter when they were school-age girls. No doubt others have recollections of the church that reach back to the 1920s and 1930s, like Neva Morgan, Carolyn Barber, the Brennans, and others. Many conversations I had some years ago with Rooksby and Bea Stigers centered around their recollections of those who spoke of the establishment of the church in the Denver area.

As a lover of history, I am thrilled in my soul to think that we are linked to great men and women of God who helped start and build up the Lord’s church.  When I was seven years old, my family and I visited in the home of Zana Michael, a then 100-year-old sister in Christ who was a member where dad was preaching in Barrackville, West Virginia.  She was four years old when the church there was established. Some of the great preachers of the 19th Century traversed the bergs and valleys around Barrackville and sister Michael heard several of them. We got to hear her, regaled by her clear recollections, and linked through her to such wonderful history.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 9.53.39 AM
Zana Michael is the lady in the middle

Isn’t it thrilling to think of ourselves as being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), sometimes getting to hear from those who heard from those who take us further back in time toward the beginning of the church?  This afternoon, as Carl and I sit and watch the Rockies and Cardinals lock horns on the baseball diamond, we’ll get another chance to join the historical continuum of a grand old game. Every Lord’s Day, as we engage together in worship to God, we join in the grandest historical continuum of all, linked ultimately to Peter, Paul, John, and the rest. Until we exult in heaven some day, what could exceed that thrill?

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.

What Do We Do At The End Of The Sermon?

Neal Pollard
People who attend our services may be perplexed by the way we end each sermon. I, or whoever is in the pulpit, invite those present to respond to the lesson if they need to become a Christian or if they need to share a need for prayers or even forgiveness for living sinfully. This is a perfectly acceptable, logical thing to do, since the message will often be persuasive and call for a change of heart and action. We never find an example of “offering the invitation” in scripture or a command to do it after the preaching, but it is an suitable, convenient, and advantageous thing to do. The power of God’s Word, when preached, has frequently touched and convicted hearts (Acts 2:37; 7:54). Many have come face to face with the reality of who God is and wanted to know what to do to be saved (cf. Acts 16:31). Our preaching answers that question, after most every sermon. One can respond to Christ’s invitation (cf. Rev. 22:17) any time of day or night, in a public assembly or privately. Many times, the sermon will simply build our desire to live more like Jesus . We may not come to the front row, but we have that resolve within ourselves.
But, let me make this confident pledge to you. If you feel like you need to publicly respond after the sermon, you will not be judged, criticized, looked down upon, or rejected by any godly, faithful Christian. The overwhelming majority of those present will simply hug your neck and a great many will add you to their daily prayers. You will feel the love and support of a loving and supportive church. You will understand that we are all dealing with the same struggles and temptations, all of us trying to make it to heaven! We often build up fear and anxiety about how traumatic “responding to the invitation” will be, but that is almost always a figment of our imagination. God gave us the blessing of the church so that we would have a spiritual family to aid us on our spiritual journey. Never fear taking that step “down the aisle,” if it is necessary. Your example may be the catalyst for someone else to consider their need to come forward, too!