What Are You Consuming?

Neal Pollard

A 17-year-old girl had a stomach ache so bad that she had to go to the hospital. She had lost her appetite, she could barely walk, and doctors for three years had simply given her pain medicine for her inexplicable abdominal issues. The girl’s family had paid over $7000 in medical tests to determine the root cause. The emergency visit, with two CT scans, finally revealed that the massive “tumor” inside her was actually hair—which had formed into a massive hairball. It was her own hair, which she had been compulsively eating for years. The next doctor visit will be for counseling to see if she suffers from trichotillomania (compulsively pulling out one’s own hair) and trichophagia (eating it) (via opposingviews.com).

Apparently, no one ever saw her doing this. It took time for the problem to grow and develop. Yet, there were symptoms that steadily worsened and became more apparent. It was a problem that required help to solve. It is a problem that will require continued efforts to overcome.

This young lady graphically illustrates a pervasive spiritual problem.  Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus illustrates this principle speaking of normal, digestible food (not hair) as not defiling a person but rather that which comes from within a person defiling that one. He says that such things as evil thoughts, sexual sins, sinful attitudes, and sins of the tongue “proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:23).

No one may see us engage in it. It may take time for the symptoms to show up in our lives, but they will eventually show up in such things as our attitudes, speech, dress, and conduct. It will not go away by itself without efforts on our part to get rid of it and to stay free from it. Whether we perceive the pain of the problem or not, it is doing damage to us and we must take steps to remove it from our lives.

What are you consuming? Is it consuming you? Get help. Get rid of it. Get over it. The Great Physician stands ready to help, if you will go to Him!

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Not All Peace Is The Same!

Neal Pollard

“Peace” is a geopolitical term associated with such terms as talks, treaties, accords, and the like. It’s the political antithesis of war. Of course, the term is co-opted by a wide variety of people in society, but so often peace is a misunderstood concept.  Or, people turn to the wrong source for peace.

The primary New Testament word for peace means “a set of favorable circumstances involving tranquility” or “to be without trouble, to have no worries, or to sit down in one’s heart” (Louw-Nida). BDAG defines it as harmony in relationships, a state of concord, and state of well-being. But, what is sometimes asserted as peace is not necessarily peace as God defines it.

There is false peace (1 Th. 5:3).  Paul addresses the words of those characterized as “in darkness” (4-6), lacking sobriety (7-9), as offerers of peace and safety in the face of destruction. These people are not after the right kind of peace and Paul implies they are “destined for wrath” and condemnation (9).  People who want peace on their own terms, living sinful lifestyles in rebellion against the will of God, advocate false peace. Whether or not they achieve some measure of that in this life, they are not destined to enjoy it eternally.

There is forged peace (1 Th. 5:13). Paul teaches that peace and harmony between people is something that must be worked toward. He tells the Christians to “live in peace with one another,” and then he proceeds to tell them how this is done. It includes submitting to the church’s leadership (12-13), and it calls for church leadership to give the church family whatever is needed from admonition to encouragement (14) and to lead the congregation to pursue peace and follow their example (cf. 15-22).  The kind of harmony and unity God wants is not accidental or incidental. It is the product of diligence and determination.

There is the Father’s peace (1 Th. 5:23).  Paul begins both epistles to the Thessalonians by tying together true peace and the Heavenly Father. Here he writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God’s peace is comprehensive, complete, and conquering. It strengthens one now and saves one at Christ’s second coming. Contrast this peace with the peace offers. Jesus does. He tells His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

Right now, people have a growing desire for peace. There are turning in many directions for it. Ultimately, it won’t be found in the White House, the military, on Wall Street, or from within our own resources apart from the Father. Let us strive to forge peace between ourselves as His people, and model and offer it to a lost world desperately desiring it.

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“It’s All About Me”

Neal Pollard

“It’s all about me.” I would see that saying on a car tag frame nearly every day. Is that really the message we need? Aren’t we self-centered enough, as it is? Truly, the man who lives only for himself runs a very small business. What a bankrupt business it is, at that.

According to the Bible, it’s hardly about the individual at all. In fact, the Lord makes a strong point of it to call our attention to others. Paul says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). “Selfish ambition” is condemned in Scripture (Phil. 1:17; Gal. 5:20). In fact, James says, “For where envying and strife (literally, “selfish ambition”) is, there is confusion and every evil work” (Js. 3:17).

That is both provable and measurable. Abortion is a horrid, evil practice–the most literal way one could shed innocent blood (cf. Prov. 6:17). What is at the heart of the commission of every such abomination–whether one pleads inconvenience or hardship or any other reason given? Self-interest is. Selfishness is putting self above others, in this case taking another human life to protect selfish interest.

Adultery is a contemptible crime, ripping families apart and giving what may be the most intimate heartbreak a human is capable of experiencing. What compels someone to lie to God and others (breaking vows and covering indiscretions)? What drives one to fill physical and emotional wants in ways that fly in the face of God’s written will? Selfishness does! For that matter, selfishness drives every sexual sin, every departure from God’s design and structure for sexual needs and fulfillment (cf. pornography, homosexuality, fornication, etc.).

Every New Testament writer roundly renounces false teaching (Matthew–7:15; Mark–13:22; Luke–Acts 13:6; Paul–Galatians 2:4; Peter–2 Peter 2:1; John–1 John 4:1; Jude–Jude 4ff; James–2:14ff). Untold millions of people will lose their souls because of false doctrine. Hell will be populated with followers of false teachers (cf. Mat. 7:21-23) and the teachers themselves (cf. Jas. 3:1). The New Testament gives insight into some common motivations that drive men and women to teach false doctrine. The motives are so often selfish. Jude says of them, “Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (11). Greediness propels fold to “practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:19). What is the problem? Often, it is unmixed, shameless selfishness.

I will never make it to heaven if my attitude is that “it’s all about me.” It is not all about me. It is all about Him. It is about Jesus–serving Him, obeying Him, and imitating Him. It is about the lost–loving them, teaching them, and winning them. It is about the church–helping it, strengthening it, and supporting it. Selfishness is unattractive, but common. Remember, the one who lives for self alone usually dies the same way.

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You Sure Do Have An Attitude!

Neal Pollard

Unavoidably, you do! And consider what hinges on what kind of attitude you have. Often, the difference in winning and losing is attitude. Happiness and sadness is a matter of attitude rather than circumstances. Failure and success is determined, many times, by what kind of attitude we have toward the task. Even one’s attractiveness and repulsiveness are, many times, gauged by his or her attitude in life.
You, the Christian, have an attitude! You can be a sour-faced, negative, paranoid, bitter, fearful, stressed out, unhappy, grouchy, withdrawn, depressed, whiny, angry, hypercritical, pessimistic, suspicious, and therefore poor specimen of a Christian. Or, you can be a hopeful, interested, enthusiastic, peace-filled, joyful, bright, forgiving, compassionate, holy, pure, winsome, righteous, smiling beacon of light in a world filled with tons of negative, disgruntled, and chronically unhappy people.
Since your sins are forgiven, your Lord and Master is unmatched, your life is blessed, and your future is exciting, isn’t it natural that you should have a good attitude? A good attitude can transform the people around you, positively impact your circumstances, win the hearts of rivals and enemies, transform your own inner trouble, and give pleasure to the God of heaven. You didn’t know you had that much influence, did you? But you do! Use it for good by wielding a good attitude.
Salvation to restore a sin-sick soul, forgiveness for a guilty heart, and acceptance from a loving God despite our unworthiness are often more unbelievable to folks than any physical feat to attain. If our attitude reflects the consequences of having received those things, we can appeal to untold others to achieve the same state of life by following our lead. So, how’s your attitude?
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OPTIMISM

Neal Pollard

Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.

They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….”  The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.

They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”

They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.

We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better.  He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.”  All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!

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FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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Fickleness

Neal Pollard

Here is my estimation of Peyton Manning’s few seasons in Denver so far: “Football fans frenetic for a famous flinger fawned over his fabulous finesse. A few festive, favorable football seasons fashioned full fondness for this fabled figure. Following his foot foibles and flawed, flat functioning, fickle followers flung their festering frustration field-ward, filling the field with foulness. Finally, this furtive footballer fell from fame, fun, and fondness from these fanatics. Forsooth, feelings fade, flag, and falter in fast fashion.”  That’s probably not completely fair, but it was a fun foray for me. Somebody stop me!

I will say this about human tendency—we are quick to crown our heroes and often quicker to dethrone them.  Janet Jackson captured the collective psyche of humanity with her song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” No one is safe or immune from the clutches of people’s capricious whims.

No one has ever been treated in greater fair-weathered fashion than Jesus Christ. On Sunday, He entered the city of Jerusalem to a welcome from a multitude of people crying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mat. 21:9). The whole city was “moved” by Him (Mat. 21:10). By Friday, the multitudes were crying and crying louder, “Let Him be crucified!” (Mat. 27:22,24). Same Man. Same city. Certainly some of the same people. Polar opposite sentiment in just five days time. Their excited plea changed from crown Him to kill Him. Adoration was overrun by anger. How baffling!

Looking back, we can be filled with such indignation. Yet, when we look at our own lives, does our estimation of Jesus change with the events we endure in life? How do we feel toward Him in good times? Desperate times? When we struggle? When we are afraid? When we’re disappointed or betrayed? When we fail? When we’re lonely or loved?  Some live life on a spiritual roller coaster, vacillating between devotion and denial. The slightest trigger can change our tune from “How I love You!” to “How could You?!”

Faithful endurance must be our rudder. We can develop the mindset of the beleaguered Job, who cried, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).  How it must please God to see steady, unwavering devotion from His saints, determined to stick with Him through thick and thin. Let’s be grateful that He does that for us! “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

Enemies Of Contentment

Neal Pollard

Contentment is a learned trait (Ph. 4:11). It is a disciplined trait (1 Ti. 6:8). It is a commanded trait (He. 13:5).  Yet, it is such a rare trait! Some, like Dr. Rick Hanson, have written elaborate explanations for how contentment is a science, a matter of utilizing the neural capacity of the brain to hardwire positive experience into “contentment, calm, and confidence” (Hardwiring Happiness, New York: Harmony, 2013).  What he relegates to science, which we would attribute Christ as the creator of (Col. 1:16-17), is something even more and higher. It is something we learn from living life as His disciple. It is a spiritual discipline, gained from imitating Christ and His blueprint for living in this world. That said, we must watch out for the landmines to living the happy, satisfied, and fulfilled life God intended for us whatever circumstances we face in life (cf. 2 Co. 12:10).

  • Envy. Envy is “a state of ill will toward someone because of some real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T., 1996, p. 759). It is hard to be content with my circumstances when I am focused on how much better I think someone else has it. In fact, I will be full of resentment rather than contentment. Ironically, feeding this mindset makes joy and satisfaction impossible!
  • Ungratefulness. Paul marked being ungrateful as a sign of “difficult times” (2 Tim. 3:1,3). Have you noticed how some people, however hard life beats them up, remain upbeat? Maybe you conclude that they are just naturally inclined to be positive. But what about people who seem miserable and dissatisfied despite countless advantages and blessings? Gratitude, like contentment, is a learned discipline. When we don’t learn it, we darken our hearts with the evil of ungratefulness. Not being thankful is a link on a deadly chain that leads one to a lost state. Paul said some knew God, but “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
  • Greed. You will notice that some of heaven’s harshest words are reserved for the greedy (Lk. 12:15; Rom. 1:29; Ep. 5:3; Co. 3:5; 1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pt. 2:3,14). It is lumped in with the most despicable of behaviors. What is it?  It is a desire to want more than others whether we need it or not. We think in terms of material possessions, and while that is a significant aspect of greed it can extend to the relationships, perceived happiness or popularity we witness others having. Our society tells us to pursue “top dog” position, letting no one have more or be more than you. That mentality kills contentment.

Whatever science is involved in contentment, there certainly is also an art. Better said, it is a spiritual discipline. You incorporate it only through diligence and persistence. Be aware of the enemies of contentment and root them out! You will be the beneficiary, and so will everyone who knows you.

THE FOLLY OF CHRONICALLY PLAYING THE WORSHIP CRITIC

Neal Pollard

I’ve known individuals whose sole purpose in the assemblies has seemed to be to critique those who lead the worship or show up to engage in it, from their appearance to their aptitude.  While we certainly need to avoid having someone blatantly engaging in sin and error (that’s an article for a different occasion), if that is one extreme then hypercriticism of the worship and worshipper can be another.  If you or someone you love is tempted to play this deflating part, consider the following.

  • It’s unwarranted.  Who earns the right to be the official analyst of the worship?  How does one properly and fruitfully engage himself and herself in John 4:24 worship while assuming this presumptuous activity?  The Bible nowhere portrays such a one in a positive light.  One critic of another’s worship we do read about is unflatteringly presented and unfavorably analyzed by God in Luke 18:9-14. We should ask why we feel it necessary that we grade and rate others present with us before the Great I Am.
  • It’s unscriptural. This can be the case in many possible ways.  First, if we gossip or speak about someone rather than addressing it with them, that’s wrong (1 Pet. 2:1; Mat. 18:15). Second, if our tone is biting, sarcastic, and unloving, that’s wrong (2 Tim. 2:24; Eph. 4:15).  Third, if in being critical we ourselves are not properly engaged in worship, that’s wrong (John 4:24).
  • It’s unwise. It is so easy to undermine and squander one’s own influence who reduces himself or herself to nitpicking others in the assemblies.  It can cause others to lose respect for us and even seek to avoid us.  This is especially important to remember if, in a close and final analysis, what we criticize does not rise to the level of meriting such criticism.
  • It’s untenable.  The critic is exposed as doing what he or she is condemning others for—i.e., not offering acceptable worship.  It’s somewhat like the child who sees a sibling with eyes open during the prayer and who tattles to mom and dad, who promptly ask, “How do you know?”
  • It’s unwelcome. The chronic complainer, sooner or later, develops a reputation for such.  It causes others to avoid them for fear of the carnage it could create.  The Corinthians were urged to be edifiers in their assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12,26). The worship critic works against that ever-present need.
  • It’s unbelievable.  How incredible that one would misuse the assemblies to nitpick minutia when the Creator, the Savior, and the Revealer are present and expecting worship from all present!  What a gross misunderstanding of our role as Christians to abuse the time in such a way. In fact, it is utter audacity.

There may be a bit of the critic in all of us.  Certainly, we should be striving to make worship better in every practical way we can. That involves teaching and training. It involves singing songs with words we actually use and understand. It involves probably 1,000 other things, but let’s not get so lost in the pursuit of “improving” that we forget to do what we assembled to do:  worship God!

THE GIRL ON THE WINDOW OR THE AISLE?

Neal Pollard
Two women sitting on a plane
They didn’t seem acquainted
The “aisle one” seemed in anger and pain
The other by cares seemed untainted
“Window woman” smiled with a beam
As past their row I filed
The other was cursing at a full steam
She was ruffled, rankled and riled
After the flight, we all stood to go
I watched as the ladies departed
The grouser was healthy, with youthful glow
But from her my eyes quickly darted
To watch the other one get to the aisle
I marveled at what I could see
Her left arm was mangled from something vile
She was amputated above that same knee.
I heard her, soft-spoken, tell of her surviving
A car fire that happened last June
But she lost her dear husband, who was driving.
They were so in love. Yes, she lost him too soon.
But the twinkle reappeared as thought about him
And anticipated their ultimate reunion
She still had much to live for, she wasn’t a bit grim
For with Christ she said she had sweet communion.
Soberly, I left still thinking about this
As the jet bridge I left for the concourse
There was “aisle girl” causing a scene hard to miss
Yelling until she was almost hoarse.
Apparently the airline had failed to upgrade
Her from lowly coach up to first class
She was special, important, so went her tirade
But her language was lowbrow and crass.
I thought about me in that moment
All healthy, without big losses or trouble
How I handle my blessings or treat my opponent
When I’m tried, am I gold or am I stubble?
Some people’s problems eclipse ours, it’s true
But we all have our crosses to bear
Yet, when you’re under pressure, they see what’s in you
Will they want what you’ll inevitably share?
I went on my way after what I witnessed that day
Resolved to live in true, Christlike style
Every thought, feeling, deed, and think that I say
Is like that girl on the window or the aisle.