A BLIND SPOT TO MY BALD SPOT

Neal Pollard

Positively traumatic.  I don’t know another way to describe it.  Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.”  Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top.  I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting.  There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium.  OK. My bald spot.  I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.

That blind spot was more vain than dangerous.  There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious.  Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there.  But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.

It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action.  We marvel that they seem oblivious to them.  After all, we see it all so clearly.  Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly.  We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others.  Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them.  After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.

Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).  The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23).  As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better.  How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill!  This is about more than vanity.  This has more serious far-reaching implications.  May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.

There it is on the fella in the sweater in the far left seat of the front row.

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!

HOLY HILL DWELLERS

Neal Pollard

In Psalm 15, David shows us who is fit to be pleasing to God. I had a general physical and check up on my 30th and 40th birthdays.  I’ll have to say I was more pleased w/the results of the first one. Surprisingly, I found out that I should exercise more, eat less and weigh less.  While I didn’t like what I heard, I heard what I needed to hear. Though I’ve taken the exercise advise more seriously than the eating advice, I know that my physical health depends on my compliance.

Psalm 15 is a fitness test regarding our spiritual health. What does it take to please God in my morality and ethics?I find it interesting that what the Lord puts in His battery of tests is surprisingly difficult, and many good people, even basically good Christians, fail miserably at some of them. But if I don’t want to be shaken (5), I need to submit to this check up.

To dwell on the Lord’s holy hill, I need…

  • Properly working arms and legs (2-3).  The Lord sets forth an agility test for us.
  • We must walk with integrity (this refers to our character, a matter the entire book of Psalms begins with (1:1). We live so that the person we see in the mirror is one we can legitimately admire as wholesome, honest, and honorable).
  • We must work righteousness (this refers to our conduct, how we treat others and deal with them. Are we one people love or dread to see, and are we seen as a cutthroat, back-stabber, and ankle biter or as one who portrays the godly life of Matthew 5:16?).
  • A strong heart (2). No conditioning test is any good that doesn’t check the heart.  God requires truth in our innermost part (Ps. 51:6). A strong heart is a sincere one, one that makes us genuine and transparent. You won’t hear one thing in public but something contradictory in private, but you’ll get consistent truthfulness. One who tells you one thing but lacks sincerity and truth is not one who is going to pass the heart test.
  • A healthy mouth (3-4). Isn’t it amazing how much time God spends examining our mouths.  Even the heart test is connected to the mouth (2). An untamed tongue is an audacious, destructive, reckless, condemned thing (just read James 3:5-10).  Every one of us, to one degree or another, would be mortified if we could hear a recording of the things we’ve said—in anger, gossip, malice, slander, and dishonesty.  Particularly, the Psalmist says “slander” will keep one from the temple. This is an epidemic problem, made worse by the presumption we have that our speech is covered somehow by an exemption. Slander is sinful—it discourages good works because people get gun-shy of criticism, it kills morale as a backbiting atmosphere is unpleasant, and it hinders relationships because it destroys trust.  A tongue can lead a beautiful prayer, teach an amazing Bible class, preach a beautiful sermon and sing like the angels—only to be heard whispering backbiting words, running someone down, or criticizing someone.
  • Excellent eyesight (4). No routine exam is complete without looking at the eyes.  The righteous sees the wayward as God sees them. He doesn’t excuse or defend them as they willfully engage in sin. He sees the evil as God sees them.  That doesn’t mean the righteous won’t try to spiritually win them, but he doesn’t condone them as they live without contrition.

The Psalmist calls for an overall clean bill of health. The spiritually healthy keeps his word, doesn’t take advantage of the needy, and doesn’t betray the innocent. This is an exam we must pass.  How is your spiritual health in light of this heavenly health check?

KING’S CRITERIA WERE RIGHT ON THE MARK

Neal Pollard

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on a seasonable and rain-free day in August of 1963, but this speech, delivered to at least 250,000 people, is often remembered on the holiday in January named for him. This speech is one of the most important documents of our nation’s history and was a watershed moment in improving race relationships between black and white Americans.  Eloquently and poetically pointing out the injustices his race of people had endured and were enduring at the time, King looked forward to a new and improved day.  He hoped all people, whatever their race, would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He hoped to leave Washington, D.C., and return back to his home with a faith in the powers that ruled nationally and locally which would be translated into hope, brotherhood, and unity. His final call was to “let freedom ring” (via http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf).

Many people forget that Mr. King was a religious man, a preacher who often alluded to Bible characters and principles as well as directly quoting from it.  Inasmuch as he accurately referenced it, Mr. King was calling all people to God for guidance regarding right and wrong.  He said that character took priority over color.  He saw unity as right and division as wrong. He called for freedom rather than slavery, real or virtual.  While he was rightly championing these characteristics in the realm of racial equality, those principles doggedly stand regarding other matters.  Character, unity, and freedom matter in religious matters.

When we stand before Christ in the judgment, there is no indication that He will even take note of our race, ethnicity, or nationality.  He will look to see if His blood covers us.  Peter rightly says, “I most certainly understand that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34b-35). Corrupt behavior or disobedience will not be acceptable, no matter who we are.

Furthermore, anyone who fosters division is rejected by God. He hates “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19). He condemns it through Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.  In social or spiritual matters, I don’t want to be responsible for inhibiting a brotherhood God desires.  If I refuse to stand where He stands or if I stand where He doesn’t want me to stand, He will not accept it.

Finally, there is a freedom even more important than the noble cause King and his followers pursued. They wanted loosed from the manacles of a bondage imposed by others.  All of us, outside of Christ, are subject to a bondage we cause for ourselves.  Paul refers to this as being “slaves of sin” and “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness” (Rom. 6:17,19).  But, thank God, we can be “freed from sin” (Rom. 6:18). Then, we become slaves to righteousness.

Christians must care about racial equality, never treating someone different because of the color of their skin.  The way to right content of character, unity, and freedom is found in the book so often quoted by Mr. King.  No matter where or when we live, it will guide us toward an eternal home in heaven.

“How’s Your Day Going?”

Neal Pollard

As we go about our day, we often hear that question.  It is an exercise in pleasant politeness, and at times it is asked with genuine, heartfelt concern.  It can also be not only asked mindlessly, but answered in the same manner.  Some are conditioned to say “fine” without stopping to assess.  Others are more curmudgeonly bent and can spout off a litany of complaints without breathing hard, if asked for an assessment of how their day is going.

As we reach the anniversary of certain events in Boston and West, Texas, or as we think back to recent tragedies in South Korea, Malaysia, or Washington state, both those who survived unscathed, who bear permanent scars, or who even perished had no doubt been asked the equivalent of that question.  Probably, some were cheerful and positive and maybe some were more negatively inclined.  Yet, especially for survivors, their view of each day was understandably and permanently altered.

Here in the land of freedom and opportunity, we can easily take for granted how well, materially and physically, things are for each of us.  Catastrophes and tragedies often alter that.  Pain and loss rearrange our priorities and refine our perspective.  Those hard events can help us see that happiness and fulfillment do not depend on external forces applied to us but radiate from within us.

I cannot help but think of the undoubtedly grimy, malnourished, and mistreated preacher scratching out those inspired words from his likely poorly lit and intemperate climes.  Body worn and disfigured from beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, endless road and boat trips, eyesight failing, and heart burdened with concern for churches and individuals, Paul could still say, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).  How could one improve on that general approach to life and each day?  May God help us to appreciate the blessings and opportunities we are given today, and use them as advantageously as possible to achieve the glorification of God! Make today a great day.

What Is Your Name Associated With?

Neal Pollard

Some names ring not just with familiarity, but downright notoriety.  Walenda is a name synonymous with daring, high wire acts.  Falcone is associated with mobsters and organized crime.  The Hearst family has long been connected with newspaper publication, Forbes with finance and fortune, Morgan with banking, and Bronte with literature.  Hilton and Kardashian? Well… Certainly, we could make a long list of surnames synonymous with particular endeavors bringing either fame or infamy.  In the Lord’s church, the name Nichols, Jenkins, Winkler, and others evoke an even more positive image of souls reached through a shared legacy of full-time service to the Lord.

Each of us has been endowed with a precious commodity, the name bequeathed to us by our forbearers.  Often, they have worked hard to polish and protect that name, to honor it and leave it as a legacy of character rather than shame.  It does not take much for us to tarnish that name and leave behind a name our descendants must live down.  All it takes is one person to leave a notability which embarrasses.  Just ask the Hitlers, O’Hares, Ingersolls, Bordens, Stalins, and Kevorkians.

Of course, the most important thing about our name is spiritual.  Do I wear the name of Christ?  If I claim to wear His name, what do I do to honor, glorify, and spread the good influence of His name?  When people see my name, do they associate it with Christ and all good attributes that should go along with that?  We want to live so that when we stand before Christ, we will hear our names called with those who spend eternity with Him in heaven!  How you are doing with your name? How are you doing with His name?

Handling Offenses: Talking It Out

Neal Pollard

Would you believe that not everyone always agrees with what I teach and preach?  Of course, I may not always know—at least directly—that someone disagrees with my message.  Yet, my greatest respect is for that brother or sister who has a problem with me and tells me so!  When they address that to me in kindness and love, I am left with much greater admiration for them.  The same respect is reserved for those who handle those occasions when my words or behavior might come across hurtful with gentle directness. Perhaps it is because subtleties like pouting, passive aggression, silence, and withdrawal are easily missed by one so slow of wit as myself.  Perhaps it is because of the great disdain I, and most others, feel for sharp-tongued tactics like gossip and slander.  “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed” (Pr. 27:5). This challenges me to follow such good examples and pursue active peace than passive aggression.

Talking out our problems is a sign of the church understanding the family aspect of its nature.  Happy is the physical family who finds functional ways to work through its problems, knowing that each member is imperfect and prone to do what offends.  The church is no different, though the blood that binds us does not course through our veins but poured forth from the cross of our Savior. Together, we comprise the “house of God” (1 Ti. 3:15).  What a precious relationship, meant to be treasured!

Talking out our problems is the best way to clear up misunderstandings and misperceptions.  It is possible to misjudge the heart, motives, words, and actions of others. Avoiding the problems or persons may work to avoid unpleasant conflict, but it leaves the problem to fester and grow worse.

Talking out our problems is the biblical pattern.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus lays out the way to resolve “internal problems” within His body.  To choose a different route is to deviate from the way He has chosen.

Another great proverb says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Pr. 28:23).  May God help me to embrace that truth and pursue it, all while we “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). That does not mean avoiding the unpleasant or saying the difficult.  Some times tackling the unpleasant and difficult is our surest way to “make for peace…”