CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

Neal Pollard

On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket.  It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris.  If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program.  Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.

When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement.  James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction.  The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.

To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church.  It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.

Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).  In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting.  It is no longer sin and self, but God.  What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”

“Redemption Is Tailor-Made For The Wretched”

Neal Pollard

If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it.  This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles.  Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison.  Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background.  It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.

The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online).  The New Testament uses the word twice.  Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25).  The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV).  The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption.  One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.

One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it.  Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption.  To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved.  To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background.  Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!

MILLENNIALS LEAVING THE ESTABLISHED FOR THE CONVENIENT?

Neal Pollard

I was more than a little amused to read one of the latest offerings at the offbeat online food site “Munchies” (munchies.vice.com).  While it seems to be having fun with the overkill-reporting of all movements millennial, they give hard data to support the idea that those in the age range of 18-34 are forsaking fast-food chains and sit-down restaurants in deference to convenience stores with their nachos, taquitos and slurpies.  This data is being interpreted as a reflection on their tendency to impulse buy or be lured in by novelty.

Having at least two children who would fit the broad definition of “millennials,” I am always trying to figure out how this demographic ticks.  It seems that every news story featuring them, as a generation, casts them as fickle, rebellious, self-serving, or disconnected from the rest of society.  While they have inherited some broken systems (educationally, economically, religiously, etc.) and, as such, may naturally feel some distrust and disdain for those responsible, stereotypes and broad brushes are usually faulty.

When I view Christian millennials, having spoken with a great many of them over the past few years, I see a group intent on doing great things for Christ.  They don’t want to hear plans for helping the poor and needy; they want to organize and supply manpower for doing it.  They want more than Bible classes and sermons on soul-winning; they want to see their “role models” doing it and involving them in it.  They don’t want to simply accept our word for it on why we do what we do in worship and doctrine; they want well-thought-out explanations and demonstrations of book, chapter, and verse.

Today’s millennials are on the frontline of a battlefield more daunting than any living generation before them.  The prince of this world has attempted to brainwash and indoctrinate them with his lies.  The institutions of our culture actively seek to redefine right and wrong for them.

So many of the Christian millennials I know are eager to serve as soldiers in the Lord’s Army.  They may disparage some of the “established” forms not founded upon the Rock, but the kind of faith they are developing and must grow will be anything but “convenient.”  They may have to pay a higher price for holding onto their faith than any of us did at their age.  May we have the wisdom and take the time to mentor, encourage, love, and assist them in influencing a world so rapidly changing.  They can do it, and we must help.  God certainly will (cf. Rom. 8:37-39)!

Whose Voice Should Be Heard? Another Look At 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Neal Pollard

Paul averred that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NIV). Its source is God. Its value is exhaustive.  Its result is practical.  That is how the all-wise God intended it.

In the first letter to Timothy, Paul gives his thesis statement that all he wrote in the epistle was to give the young preacher knowledge of how the church was to conduct itself in various matters (1 Tim. 3:15).  One of several matters addressed in the letter was what role Christian women were to take in “the household of God” (the church) in matters of teaching and leadership.  We read about that in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  Here is what we find:

  • The Christian woman must receive instruction with entire submissiveness (11).
  • The Christian woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man (12).
  • The Christian woman is to remain quiet (12).
  • There are biblical reasons for this, reasons that go all the way back to creation (13-14).
    • The order of creation (13)
    • The deception of the woman (14)
  • The Christian woman has an honored role to help the church thrive and grow (15).

What is remarkable is the lack of ambiguity regarding this teaching.  It is clear and straightforward.  No cultural issues or problems are stated to occasion these words.  One does not find contradictory instruction in another New Testament context to offset or clarify the words here. Perhaps it is the straightforwardness of the words that have chaffed many who appear desirous of bending truth to fit the culture.  Such bending is not limited to this issue, but as the culture regresses from truth more and more matters are getting reexamined in order to change truth to fit the culture.

We must understand that all such efforts, in effect, place human beings as the authority in place of God and Scripture.  It causes people to say, “You have read this, but I say unto you.”  The problem is that it is not our place to say that Scripture does not mean what it says.  That authority belongs to Christ, and He exerts that authority through the men who wrote down His will in the New Testament.  It is His voice and their voices that need to be heard.  Whoever they say should teach and lead is whose voices need to be heard.  Any other voice is speaking without the utterance of God (1 Pet. 4:11).

Selling What You Don’t Own

Neal Pollard

One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star.  For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one.  The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate.  I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.

When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars.  Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer.  They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing.  Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace.  Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin.  The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give.  Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

The same things occurs with worship.  People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God.  They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).  Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.

When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that.  Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18).  He makes the rules and determines right and wrong.  Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).

DON’T BE A “BORED AGAIN” CHRISTIAN!

Neal Pollard
Steve Martz recently wrote a book he entitled 77 Talks To Bored-Again Teens. Explaining the rationale for his book, Martz says, “With teenage attention spans decreasing as fast as new channels appear on satellite TV, it’s not just a case of presenting the gospel as it stands and hoping they ‘get it.’ In this post-modern age you have to hit them in bite-sized chunks to make an impact and make tentative steps into their world.” There is no doubt that our world is changing, and most of us change with it to a greater degree than we realize. This blog post, your congregation’s PowerPoint, your dish, your DSL, your i-stuff, and a thousand other gadgets are shrines paying homage to such change. These things may indeed challenge the perseverance of our attention span.

Yet, with all due respect to Martz’ attempt at accommodation, I think his premise misses the point. Without intending to, Martz is trying to improve on God’s means of communicating His message. If it is not still “the foolishness of preaching” whereby God seeks to reach and save mankind, what can man invent to better it (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21)? However, I am certain that there are “bored again” Christians of all ages scattered here and there. I agree that there should not be any, but let me suggest some other ideas for breaking out of these doctrinal doldrums.

Break out of the entertainment mindset. Each of us should remind ourselves every day, “It’s not about me.” Humor-filled, emotionally-tugging, and feel-good lessons may touch a more superficial part of us, but we should remember that listening to a sermon or singing a spiritual song is not the same as watching a good (?) movie or listening to our favorite musical performer. Read the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul. Vegetable-Soup For The Israelite Soul or Your Best Roman Life Now was not the foundation for their lessons. Andrew, Bartholomew, and Philip were not a traveling drama troupe or praise team. The Greeks and Romans had actors and actresses, stage and plays. The early church was not interesting in tickling a funny bone; they wanted to save the soul.

Renew your relationship with God. The Christian life can become more exhilarating and exciting the longer you live it. As your inward person is renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16-18), you will find God, His Word, His promises, His love, and heaven more real to you. Even as your body breaks down, people disappoint you, and others desert Him, you can find Him dearer and closer to you with each passing day. Even as living the Christian life brings tears, sacrifices, and persecution, it will not seem boring to you! Paul is pretty discouraged at times in 2 Timothy 4, but he never once sounds bored. My grandpa would say that boredom means you have too much time on your hands anyway!

Find somebody to serve. Boredom reflects the luxury of thinking about and tending to self. Stephanas and his house devoted themselves to service. The Bible does not say, but I cannot imagine them being bored (cf. 1 Cor. 16:16). Christians have been liberated to serve (Gal. 5:13). Through serving one another and in all serving the Lord, we will find great satisfaction and reward (cf. Eph. 6:6-7). I have seen few true servants that were unhappy, much less bored. This is a sure remedy for the “bored again” Christian.

Someone once asked a preacher, “What is worldliness?” A teenager in the class answered, “It’s letting the world set the standards.” That may be the best definition I have ever heard. Let us not let the world set the standard for spirituality, excitement, or enjoyment. Those trying to medicate themselves with entertainment are heart-sick folks! True excitement and joy comes in overcoming this world (cf. 1 John 5:4). Don’t be a “bored again” Christian!

CLIMATE CHANGE

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you were aware that New York is hosting the United Nations Climate Summit, a gathering of a staggering 162 nations to talk about the environment and such specific issues as global warming.  While you may find the attendance impressive but the “facts” not so much, this event shows how important the topic of climate change is to some important people—presidents, heads of state, prime ministers, and the like.  The Associated Press fact-checked our president’s speech about efforts he is making and found it wanting in some areas, but there is no questioning that this issue is a high priority to him (Joby Warwic, The Washington Post, 9/24/14).

The big question often swirling around this controversial topic is, “How do you effect climate change?”  What works and what does not? What can be impacted and what is inevitable?  What can one person (or even one nation) do?

Our earth is not the only entity or sphere with a “climate.”  Inasmuch as the word relates to not only the weather, meaning also “the prevailing attitudes, standards, or environmental conditions of a group, period, or place” (“climate.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 24 Sep. 2014. <Dictionary.com) and synonymous with “mood, atmosphere, spirit, tone, and temper” (ibid.), we should give attention to the other areas of life that involve a “climate.”  Our marriages, homes, and congregations each have a climate.  While we may enjoy certain things about each of these organizations, they also each inevitably stand in need of at least some changes.

What can we do to effect climate changes in those all-important areas?  The knee-jerk answer might be to tell the leaders what we think it takes to improve, to advise, criticize, and push.  That may seem like a good way to do things, but experience teaches that these are the least effective ways to promote change.  Do you know the best way?  Be the climate change you want to see!  Many of us find ourselves operating in all three arenas—spouses, parents or children, and church members.  That means each of us have at least one place to primarily concentrate, and that is on our individual role in those spheres.  Can you change your demeanor, attitude, level of effort and involvement, or assistance to the others in that group?

For all of us, it is easier to start with the other person(s) and size up what they need to do.  That’s worse than a hoax! That’s self-delusion.  Far better it is to apply this principle and “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5, emph. mine). There’s the way to meaningful “climate change”!

 

Climate Change