“Please Let My Mom Stop Smoking”


Neal Pollard

It was written on the back of a recent attendance card by one who seems to be pretty young–less than ten years old.  I did not recognize the child’s name, so I would guess it to be a visitor.  Yet, the plaintive cry pulls at my heartstrings.

Ironically, another visitor (a grown man) several weeks ago took great issue with the idea that smoking is sinful.  Apparently, I had talked about how harmful the use of tobacco is to the body and he did not appreciate it.  We discussed the matter, and using some other substances which the Bible does not specifically condemn as comparisons–methamphetamines, heroine, and cocaine–agreed that lacking a specific “thou shalt not” statement does not make the use of a substance okay. With the body of evidence regarding the carcinogenic properties of tobacco and the known associated health problems connected to its use, one would stand on thin ice and shaky ground to defend the use of tobacco.

But, where does the Bible say that smoking cigarettes is a sin?  How does one come to that conclusion?  What principles are there to consider?

  • What about stewardship?  1 in 13 people in the U.S. will develop lung cancer in their lifetime, but a 2006 European study revealed that 0.2% of men and 0.4% of women who never smoked will develop it. That same, latter study shows that 24.4% of men and 18.5% of women who smoke 5 or more cigarettes per day will develop it (for more info, see http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org and http://aje.oxfordjournals.org). That is an extremely elevated risk.  Additionally, few, if any, have argued that cigarettes or smokeless tobacco are essential (like, say, food) to the body.  Thus, to spend money–often money one does not have–on a substance that actually elevates the risk of harm to oneself is reckless, poor stewardship.
  • What about selfishness?  Given studies like the one above, and there are multiplied many more, a tobacco user does so selfishly.  To knowingly engage in something that could shorten or impair one’s life is to puts self above others.  It also often places others in harm’s way who have to endure “second-hand smoke.” Jesus’ “Golden Rule” seems apt consideration in this regard (Lk. 6:31; cf. Ph. 2:3-4).
  • What about sway? What Paul says about meat could equally apply to smoking (cf. 1 Co. 8:13). Why make my brother stumble? Especially when such stumbling brings ramifications to us, too (Mat. 18:7). Our lives should exemplify Christ, leading people to a better way of living on this earth.

Who knows exactly why this young child wanted us praying for mom to quit smoking? But this little one’s concern was palpable.  May we share concern over any habit, substance, or practice so potentially damaging to ourselves and those close to us.

GODLINESS IN 1 TIMOTHY

Neal Pollard

  • We are to be godly in relationship to the world (2:1-7)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to our roles in the church, men and then women (2:8-15)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to the church by leadership (3:1-13)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to Christ (3:13-16)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to doctrine (4:1-6)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to priorities (4:7-16)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to family matters (5:1-16)–specific here is widow care and her need to be godly
  • We are to be godly in relationship to leaders by members (5:17-26)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to financial matters (6:1-19)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to self (6:20-21)

“How Does The Spirit Indwell The Christian?” (Or, Some Guys Just Love Trouble)

One of my favorite preachers (taken during his younger days) (CAN YOU GUESS WHO THIS IS?)

Neal Pollard

The controversy preceded my birth.  Wendell Winkler was the first man I remember talking about the Open Forum, spirited debate between Gus Nichols and Guy N. Woods over how the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian.  In those days, despite the vigor with which each man presented his view, the matter was not seen as divisive or worthy of a breach in fellowship. So long as the Spirit’s Deity was not denied or so long as one did not believe that the Spirit miraculously or directly operated upon the heart of an individual to convert or exert His will upon that one, the “how” was not seen as crucial.  I remember that many of my role models, Wendell Winkler, Hugo McCord, William Woodson and Roy H. Lanier, Jr., on one side and Franklin Camp, V.E. Howard, and Winfred Clark on the other, loved each other and worked together despite their divergent view on how the Spirit dwells in us.

 

Society as a whole has become more rancorous and divisive.  Turn on talk radio or cable news shows and you will see partisan bickering that approaches “media rage” levels.  At times, God’s people have adopted such tactics and attitudes.  While I was taught the representative view growing up, I have adopted the view that the Spirit non-miraculously, but personally, indwells God’s children.  Some of my dearest preaching friends maintain the representative view, but we love and work alongside each other.  Yet, there are some who seem to be utterly consumed with one extreme or another on this matter.  Right here, I am not referencing those who claim direct Spirit guidance apart from the Word, who seek the Spirit as proof or defense of their making decisions or moves that conflict with written revelation.  I mean those who are arguing for how the Spirit indwells.  These men have spent an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy and have troubled and even divided congregations of God’s people.

 

Every preacher’s personal life and work as a preacher will be audited by the perfect, Divine Auditor some day.  Will it be the case that some have been so issue-oriented that they left undone the weightier matters of the law–to include not just justice and mercy and faithfulness but also evangelism, edification, and enlistment?  That very thought should humble all of us to the core and give us pause as we reflect on what kind of stewards we are of our charge as gospel preachers.  The same principle applies to whatever hobby horses we chase and what kind of attitude we display while riding them.  We used to be warned in school that “you can be right and be wrong.” Let us be careful that, in trying to show the world or our brethren that our view is right, we do not find ourselves in the wrong!

A Global Adversary

Neal Pollard

In the wake of the recent siege on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, the Kenyan Government has mentioned the possible role played by American teen boys and a British woman–perhaps the infamous “White Widow” linked to the London Bombing in 2005–in the deadly attack led by Somali militants.  Since our nation went to war after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the government has frequently stated that this war is unique.  It is not against a particular nation per se or even a specific religion.  It is against particular people, bound together by a similar philosophy, mindset, and methodology.  Such a war is difficult to prosecute, since a front might pop up in Indonesia, Kenya, or no one knows where.

As formidable, frightening, and frustrating as such a foe is, Christians of every generation have been engaged in similar warfare.  It is not with people, but the devil (1 Pet. 5:8).  The warfare is most unique.  Paul writes, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).  The warfare, weapons, and tactics are unconventional and spiritual.  We do not conquer by subjugating or injuring–we lose if we do that.  In fact, we are not the conquerors in this sense.  The battle belongs to the Lord.  Victory occurs when those fighting for the enemy leave his camp and come over to the Lord’s side.

We personally wage that war here at home, but the battle rages across the planet.  We may wage it thousands of miles from home, but our fellow-spiritual soldiers all over the world are armed with the gospel and on the front lines. Unlike the war on terror, Christians know this battle must rage until Christ comes again.  May we never surrender!

Someone Is Always Listening

Neal Pollard

If you are a college football fan, you have likely heard your fill of coverage about Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini.  Two years ago, before giving a post-game interview following a victory over Ohio State, he had a very frank, foul discussion with the Nebraska play-by-play man.  Somehow, someone recorded the whole thing. In the candid, clandestine rant, laced with profanity, Pelini denounced Cornhusker fans who roundly criticized him for the team’s blowout loss the previous week.  A sport’s website released the raunchy rant earlier this week.  Words like “alienation,” “irreparable damage,” and “classless” easily come to mind, describing the coach’s mini-meltdown.

Yet, if it had not been recorded, nobody would have known, right?  Wrong!  The three other men in the room would have known, but that is not who I mean.  What we can often forget, as we lose our grip on self-control and sin with our tongues, is that there is One who is always listening.  “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat. 12:36-37).  Jesus does not specify the type words, except to call them “careless.”  He speaks in terms of totality (“every”), the ultimate test of our words (“they shall give an accounting…”), and the temper of those words–either justifying or condemning us.

We may seek to project something publicly about the type and temper of our words only to reveal something else when we think only one or a few can hear them.  The tongue is fiery (Js. 3:6) and tameless (Js. 3:8), whether the ignition and wreckage is public or private knowledge in this life.  Jesus warns that we cannot get away with a lifestyle of loose, lewd lips.  It will catch up with us.  It may not cost us a high profile job, as it probably will Pelini.  But, as Jesus says, it may cost us infinitely and eternally more!

 

PLANES AND PLANS

Neal Pollard

I was in Harrisonburg, Virginia, holding a gospel meeting for the Central congregation.  In the mornings, I was putting finishing touches on lessons on the Conquest through Divided Kingdom which I would be teaching the next week in Coimbatore, India.  That was what I was doing on Tuesday morning while Kathy took our small sons, ages 7, 5, and 3, to a nearby park to play.  Just before 9 A.M., I had the door of our hotel room open when a tearful hotel maid in broken English told me to turn on the TV, that it was very bad news.  It was Matt and Katie on the Today Show, breaking the awful story of a plane crash.  Then, a second plane hit and it was immediately apparent that this was no accident.  While the word “surreal”—bizarre, like a dream—is overused, the events of 9-11 fit the definition.  Suddenly, things changed.

My mission trip to India would ultimately be cancelled, as we were scheduled to leave from Reagan International.  The mood during our gospel meeting changed. There was a change, an increase, in spirituality in the hours and day or two which followed as evidenced even in normally irreverent late night television.  The nation was on high alert, gripped by fear, as three of our landmarks were struck by terrorists and a fourth was spared only after heroic efforts of passengers on a plane over western Pennsylvania.

But more fundamentally, plans for 2,996 people were most permanently changed.  That many people who woke up alive on September 11, 2001, would die in the terrorist attacks.  This included people in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, four commercial airplanes, and emergency responders.  Only God knows how many of them were prepared for death, but no doubt only the hijackers knew that death was about to come for them.

Before and after 9/11, large numbers of people died in airplane crashes, building fires, and other sudden tragedies.  More than 150,000 people in the world have their plans permanently changed by the coming of death.  Matthew 7:13-14 would indicate that the vast majority of them are unprepared for death. Someday, death will change our plans.  Thanks to Jesus’ death, if we have obeyed Him and serve Him faithfully, our death will mean changing from temporal pain to eternal peace.  Do your plans include Jesus?

THE PROBLEMS WITH PRESUMPTION

Neal Pollard

Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of it.  Some call it “jumping to conclusions” (which, as it has been noted, can be a very painful exercise), others “reaching a verdict without a trial.”  This usually happens when we venture to guess another person’s motives or judge a person’s life without having all the facts.  The danger of this is that we can be certain of our conclusion, then find we have missed the truth by the proverbial mile.

PRESUMPTION CAUSES ONE TO KNOW BEFORE HAVING INFORMATION.  Solomon, by inspiration, says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).  That applies to poor listeners in a conversation, but also faulty perception about one’s circumstances.   It is a biblical principle to be certain of a situation before ever uttering a word about it.  Think of how foolish it is to pass judgment without a full hearing.

PRESUMPTION CAUSES ONE TO HAVE BOLDNESS WITHOUT FOUNDATION.  In 2 Peter 2:10, Peter references certain unrighteous ones, saying, “Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”  They fearlessly and recklessly speak against others, even those in authority, based on personal opinions they confuse with the truth (here is the idea of “self-willed” or “arrogant”).  They rant and rave about the object of their fury based on preconceived notions that they will not clutter up with the actual truth.

PRESUMPTION CAUSES ONE TO SIN WITHOUT RESTRICTION.  This is why David prayed, “Also keep back your servant from presumptuous sins” (Psa. 19:13a).  It is a prayer for self-control against willful sinning.  He speaks of this same, arrogant spirit, using a word elsewhere translated “proud.”  Willfully entering into sin hardens the heart, including saying something against somebody which we are certain we do not know with certainty is true.

Understand, presumptuous sin takes in much more than our subject, but includes it.  Its synonyms are ugly–audacity, impudence, and gall.  Yet, it is something against which all of us must daily fight!  It is so easy to convince ourselves that we know what is driving other people or what has landed them in their present circumstances.  It got Job’s friends into a big problem.  Let us remember this rule:  Substantiate before you propagate, and then only carefully and prayerfully!