What’s So “Social” About It?

Neal Pollard

“Social” is an interesting word. It can be a noun, as in “church social,” referring to a gathering of people to socialize. Usually, it is an adjective–“social studies,” “social club,” “social butterfly,” or “social grace.” “Social” modifies another word to form a phrase normally found only in the restraints of religious discussion. The phrase is “social drinking.” Social drinking implies situations such as guests in the home, friends at a meal or bar, or business dinner or party where a typically smaller amount of alcohol is consumed than occasions where drunkenness is typical. Certainly, this is an emotional issue for some either adamantly for or against its practice. In the spirit of fools going where angels fear to tread, please allow me to consider with you a few questions about “social drinking.”

  • What constitutes the limit on social drinking? In other words, when does one cross the social line in social drinking? If one of the drinkers has two rather than one, is it still social drinking? Three rather than two? Four rather than three? When is it excessive? Who, of the other drinkers, is to be the judge of that? Often, there are those in the “social drinking” crowd who try not to miss a shot, glass, or refill. For all the sippers, there are guzzlers, too. What makes four wrong and one right?
  • What positive social messages does it send? Sophistication? Success? With social drinking, what is the Christian hoping to achieve? A soul-winning opportunity? A Christlike influence? A demonstration of the transformed life (cf. Rom. 12:1-2)? Or, is it simply a way of conforming, bowing to the social pressures of a worldly-minded culture? Is it ever simply a way to seek the acceptance, approval, and advancement of secular friends, co-workers, employees, and employers (Jas. 4:4)?
  • Are there negative social implications? What message does it send to non-Christians or new-Christians, to whom we would share scripture’s condemnation of drunkenness (Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Th. 5:7-8). Furthermore, the landscape is continually changing. Social drinking, to teenage and college party-goers, stretches all the way to bald-faced drunkenness. It is not uncommon to hear stories of “social drinkers” dead of alcohol poisoning on frat-house floors. Can we envision a preacher gesturing carefully during his sermon with his shot of whiskey? Or an elder pleading with a wayward Christian to come home, laying down his beer long enough to pray with them? Or the church fellowship, with a deacon in charge of bartending?

Let us be careful endorsing something so fraught with potentially negative side-effects, socially as well as physically. Certainly, you will ultimately decide which side of the ledger social drinking falls on. But, consider this a loving plea. Be careful with the precious commodities you possess as God’s child–your influence, your example, your holiness, and your righteousness. “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2).

a_wee_glass_of_wine

CHAMELEONS

Neal Pollard

Chameleons are truly one of God’s most fascinating creations.  Their tongue can be twice the length of their body! Their feet are climbing marvels. Their eyes can focus on two objects at once, and they have a 360-degree arc of vision. They can see both visible and ultraviolet light (information via Journal of Comparative Physiology, 2/98, PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 12, A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, et al). Despite all of this, what do we associate the chameleon with?  It changes colors to blend in with its environment.  From this alteration of appearance, we have come to use the word in a figurative sense. To be a chameleon has come to mean one who becomes like those around them in order to blend in with them.  Often, the term is not used in a complimentary way.

Paul tells us that he was able to relate to people of different circumstances, adapting himself to peoples of different backgrounds in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Context and other passages would not lend support to the idea of compromising biblical truth in order to fit in with anyone. He would not sacrifice doctrine for fellowship with those in error nor would he sacrifice moral truth to accommodate those of a worldly mindset. Motivated by a burning desire to convert the lost to Christ, Paul went among the Jews, those under the Law, those without the law, and the weak and used his knowledge, experience, and familiarity with people in those circumstances “for the sake of the gospel” (23). But he did all of that, being under the law of Christ, in a disciplined way (27).

We are tempted to alter our speech, compromise our convictions, hedge our beliefs, and place ourselves in ungodly situations in order to fit in with people whose acceptance we seek. We may feel we have to put our lights under a basket (cf. Mat. 5:15) to appease a client, coworkers, non-Christian family, or others whose association or friendship we’ve made. It can feel more comfortable to blend in, to conform to them (cf. Rom. 12:1).

Peter writes to Christians faced with persecution, encouraging them to suffer in this world in order to gain unsurpassed joy and blessings in eternity. They were tempted to enjoy comfort and acceptance here only to forfeit God’s acceptance at the Judgment. It is so hard to see past what we’re facing right now, but we must ready to suffer with Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Our challenge is to relate to as many people as possible, understanding and loving them without participating with them in what’s not right or making them think that they are right in living contrary to the way of Christ. Politicians may “go along to get along,” but Christians have a higher calling. Make sure your Christian light shows up in the crowd!

bradypodion_pumilum_cape_chameleon_female_img_1767_cropped

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.

Negligence Can Lead To Fire

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.  As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people.  Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire.  Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization.  I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89).  The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:

The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).

Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion.  A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.).  This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.

Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15).  Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff).  Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18).  All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.

However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff).  Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16).  Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.

May I Help You?

Neal Pollard

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all the top 1o most common U.S. occupations are in the service industry—retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, office clerks, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives, just to name a few (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ocwage.pdf).  But one of the most common complaints you hear is about poor customer service, rude or unhelpful customer service staff, being overcharged or neglected, or a bad attitude.  There may be a great many reasons behind this, but one may well be that our culture is not conditioned to serve, but to be served.  Those in positions of service may just be reflecting the culture.

This is not a new problem.  Jesus addressed that mentality with His followers in Matthew 20:25-28.  In a world insistent upon being the chief and asserting their own rights, Jesus’ message does not play well today.  Yet, it did not play well even when He taught it on earth.  Jesus was very clearly the suffering servant (Isa. 53:11), and how did the masses ultimately react to Him? They shouted, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).

The concept of serving others turned out to be a struggle for the church at Philippi.  To that end, Paul urged them to adopt a better mindset, a proper attitude (Phil. 2:1-4).  Paul reminded these Christians that they were in the spiritual service industry.  It was their job to serve one another.  We can understand why this teaching is a bitter pill to swallow.  We all know those members of the spiritual family who are difficult to deal with, the ones who can be like fingernails on the chalkboard to us or who set our teeth on edge.  We might enjoy doing for the benign brother, the sweet sister, or the friendly family.  The real test comes in serving someone who does not make serving a pleasant, happy task.  A servant heart was lacking among some at Philippi (cf. 4:2), and an unwillingness to put others first will have a dangerous, negative impact on a church if such a spirit is allowed to grow unchecked.

Gordon MacDonald said, “You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one.”  Paul is urging a united, humble, and serving attitude on Philippi and on us.  Our task is not to gauge how others are growing in service, but to examine self.  May we live what we sometimes sing to God, “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You, for you are a servant, make me one, too!”

WHAT’S IN YOUR HIDDEN ROOM?

Neal Pollard

I had an interesting seat mate on my flight from Dallas to Denver yesterday.  Sue grew up the daughter of a TWA executive whose job was to ensure customer service around the world was up to par.  This meant she grew up in places like India, Egypt, and France. Her dad helped make Saudi Arabian Airlines an international carrier in the 1960s.  What was more interesting was what she told me about her husband, who she described as a longtime atheist.  His father was a “pastor” for a denomination which forbad watching TV, listening to the radio, and even considered playing marbles a form of gambling.  The children, including Sue’s husband, were raised in such a strict atmosphere.  One day, however, the boy found a room normally locked.  His father had always explained that this was the place where he studied for his sermons and did church work, but what the boy saw inside was a TV, radio, and so many of the things he had been told were sinful.  The man would eventually leave the boy’s mother for another woman.

When I heard that, I immediately thought about the powerful impact we have as parents but also as Christians.  There are those, especially those who know us best, who realize we claim to live by a higher, spiritual standard.  We make that claim when we attend church services, but we also do through the rules and convictions we hand down to our children.  We say certain things are important while other things are to be avoided.  This is essential, though it should be guided by a proper, thorough investigation of Scripture.  Yet, far more valuable than our explanations is our example.  Those we influence most profoundly should see a consistent pattern of righteousness in our attitude, speech, behavior, and apparent motivation.  We should be frightened at the thought of creating a “hidden room” which denies the very standards we set up for others in our lives to follow.  The discovery of such a place can devastate their faith.

In Romans 2, Paul is rebuking the Jews who condemned the Gentiles for their sins while committing the same things.  “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” (21-23).  Paul’s point there is that Jews, like Gentiles, are sinners in need of God’s favor.  However, the net effect of such hypocrisy is that it caused “the name of God” to be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” (24).

padlock-172770_640

May we ever be in truth what we claim to be and tell others they should be.  Do you have a hidden room of spiritual horrors?  Dismantle it!

DSCF5428

Good Deeds

Neal Pollard

Good deeds don’t make the nightly news.  When a person serves or is nice to others, it rarely goes beyond the circle of occurrence.  That’s OK, because Jesus urges us, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before me, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mat. 6:1).

That probably wasn’t a problem for Titus, since the Cretans weren’t renowned for doing good deeds. In fact, a Cretan prophet said of his fellow-citizens, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti. 1:12). How would you like to live in a neighborhood or work on your job with such charming people as that? Paul calls them lying, wild, evil animals and slaves to their stomachs.

So, Paul spends some significant time in his letter talking about good deeds. There were some on Crete, particularly Jews, who by their deeds denied God and were “worthless for any good deed” (1:16). Thus, he urges Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds (2:7). These deeds were not to earn salvation (3:5), but instead to please God. Notice how Paul emphasizes deeds in this letter.

  • Good Deeds Show The Right Example (2:7). I heard about a pair of identical twins.  One was a preacher and the other was a doctor. It was impossible to tell the two apart. A woman approached one of them and asked, “Are you the one that preaches?” He said, “No, ma’am. I’m the one who practices.” Paul tells Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds in three areas: (1) Through sound teaching, (2) Through a serious life, and (3) Through his speech.
  • Good Deeds Show Where Our Passions Lie (2:14). Christ wants us zealous for good deeds. Wrongly directed zeal is destructive.  The Jewish zealots of the first-century helped bring about the demise of Jerusalem. But, a zealot with the right cause and conduct is powerful!  If we appreciate that we’ve been redeemed from every lawless deed (13), we’ll be zealous for good deeds. It should be natural for us, when saved from our sins, to be passionate about it to the point that our lives boil over with gratitude! That shows up in good deeds.
  • Good Deeds Show Our Faith In God (3:8). Paul urges Titus to share with all believers the need to be ready for every good deed (3:1). What will motivate us to do these good deeds? God’s mercy (3:5)! What will this motivate us to do? Share the good news (3:7-8). The world walks by sight and not by faith. Our challenge is to rise above that disbelief and show by our deeds our faith in the God who saved us from our sins! Our challenge is also to rise above the strife and division of those who profess to believe but whose lives yield evil deeds (3:9-11).  Doing good is broad and takes in the whole will of God for us, being all He wants us to be in marriage, parenting, the church, our neighborhood, the workplace, the nation, and in our relationships (cf. Titus 2). What will our good behavior in all these relationships tell others? Simply, that God is the guide of our lives and we put our trust in Him.
  • Good Deeds Meet Pressing Needs (3:14). Paul ends the letter by mentioning four Christians by name. The last two, Zenas and Apollos, would need financial help. Paul’s encouragement in Titus 3:14 seems directly related to this need. Whether it’s supporting missionaries or weekly giving, we are God’s hands on earth to help the needy when we give.

The old adage is true.  “Actions speak louder than words.” Paul writes of some who profess to know God, but in works deny Him. What a reminder that the Lord will not say, “Well said,” but “well done!”  Dorcas was a woman “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). The woman with the Alabaster box did what she could (Mark 14:8).  What about us? What will be said about our deeds?

DSCN8716

IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT, YOUR FACE WILL SURELY SHOW IT!

Neal Pollard

Oh the stories that song leaders and preachers could tell!  Often, when we sing such standbys as “I Love To Tell The Story,” “Rejoice In The Lord,” or “When We All Get To Heaven,” we do so with little visible enthusiasm or apparent joy.  If we sing devotional songs like “Thank You, Lord,” “Shout To The Lord,” or “I’m Happy Today,” are we conveying what we are saying?  Occasionally, in our humanity, we come into the assemblies burdened down with cares and problems.  There may be a powerful distraction nearby that makes concentrating on what we’re doing in worship more difficult.  No one knows more than me how misleading facial expressions can be as a reflection of what is in the heart.  Yet, I’ve seen some serial sourpusses and perpetual pouters who claim to be Christians.  As James was known to say, “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”

It’s certainly not confined to when we’re engaged in worshipping in song or listening to the sermon.  It’s discovered in conversation.  Too many times, I’ve encountered Christians who are always disclosing the latest downer in their lives, the problems that pervade them, and the sadness surely saturates them!

Some of the most joyous Christians I’ve known have been more besieged by difficulties than anyone else.  They are even graceful enough to be able to talk about them—and, thus, not concealing their troubles—but with a perspective and positivity that reflects their abiding trust in the Great I Am.  Three times, Peter speaks to Christians who are distressed by various trials, enduring by faith, and sharing the sufferings of Christ and remarks on their remarkable rejoicing (1 Pet. 1:6,8; 4:13). Perhaps it was their “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3).

Maybe our long faces are not due to any particular problems, and of all people on earth we, especially in America, are spared many of the trials and difficulties of those in poorer countries. It could be that we have disconnected ourselves from the source of joy.  Or, it could be that we have forgotten to practice gratitude and count our blessings.  Perhaps, we’ve gotten spoiled or concluded that being happy is the goal of life, and when this occurs we live with an expectation that others and circumstances should be oriented to make us feel good, content, or satisfied.

Let’s challenge each other to wear a smile, to work more at expressing our joy, and to win the battles in the heart that keep us from being characterized by winsomeness and positivity.  By this, we’ll be a billboard for Christ and a blessing to everyone else.

unhappy

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?

SARCASTIC, STORMY SQUABBLES AMONG THE SAINTS

Neal Pollard

(Imagine The Following 1st-Century Social Media Thread)

“Apostles And Disciples On Facebook”

James of Jerusalem: I believe the gospel should only go to the Jews. Or at least we should circumcise Gentiles who want to become Christians.
Simon Peter: Poor James.  I used to think that way, too.  But I know better.  You should check with Cornelius and his people.
James of Jerusalem: Where did you get your education?  The Samaritans?! LOL
Paul, the Tarsus Teacher: James, James, James.  I used to be right where you were.  I even had to set ole Petey straight because of you troublemakers.  You just keep turning up like a bad denarii.
Apollos: Apparently, the pedagogical philosophy of the Jerusalem saints is as circumscribed as the Strait of Sicily.  My buddy Paul always cuts straight to the point.  What do you have to say for yourself, J.J.?
Barnabas: Guys, let’s not make this personal.  Let’s deal with the issue. OK?
Simon Peter: Barnabas, did somebody steal your man card? Ha ha!  Jimmy, are you going to answer Paul’s powerful point?  Or will you crawl back into your cave?
Apollos: Well… James?
Simon Peter: Apollos and Paul, that’s just the way “brother” James is.  Hit and run. SMH!

OK. So, the apostles and disciples did not have social media in the first-century.  But if they did, is the sample above how we would imagine them discussing the issues between them?  Church leaders did meet to discuss a matter similar to the imaginary scenario just depicted.  It is recorded in Acts 15. There was sharp dispute and debate with them (3). There was much discussion (7).  Imagine what you’d like about what was said and how it was said, but look at what the Holy Spirit preserved. There was lots of Scripture quoted.  Love and civility carried the day.  Even in Galatians two, when there were issues of actual prejudice, they handled the matter head on.  But there was no vilifying, name-calling, or slanderous libeling of brethren.

How is it that some among us have lost the ability to discuss passionately without attacking personally?  Especially if our intent is to be a part of restoring first-century Christianity, why would we think we could exempt ourselves from the spirit and attitude faithful brethren exhibited as they sought to work together for the cause of Christ? This is baffling!

Certainly, we live in tumultuous times. Truth has been redefined and the church is being pressed by some enormous, identity-changing issues (i.e., same-sex marriage, an expanded women’s role in teaching and church leadership, the contention that the idea of non-denominational Christianity or the singular nature of the church is arrogant and false, etc.).  There are a great many other matters that merit discussion, but no matter what we are addressing we cannot—especially before the eyes of the world—fail to exhibit the love Jesus commanded His disciples show.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).