NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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What Would YOU Do?

Neal Pollard

On the one hand, Brunhilde Pomsel says she knew nothing but on the other says she saw the “ranting, rowdy man,” the “raging midget” that her boss, Joseph Goebbels, could become. Though usually sophisticated and elegant, if arrogant, he was the propaganda minister for Hitler’s Nazi regime, culpable in the murder of millions of Jews and other Nazi targets, and she was his secretary. She’s 105-years-old and is the star of a documentary film, A German Life, set to be released soon (The Guardian, Kate Connelly, 8/15/16, “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-Year-Old Secretary: No One Believes Me Now, But I Knew Nothing”). One of her most poignant comments was this:  ““Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.”

After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell…”

Her point, even if uttered in rationalization, is pretty poignant. It’s so easy to look back on horrific actions like those perpetrated by the Nazi machine and say we’d die fighting it. But, the rank and file of the German people in the 1930s and 1940s were “normal” people. I’m sure it would have been possible for someone like Brunhilde to keep herself in a bubble from the truth, but I’m not sure it exonerates her. I’ve read too many books about so many who secretly and openly defied the evil of that fascist government to protect the innocent, especially the Jewish people.

One of history’s hardest challenges has been to go against the flow of culture and society. Scripture reveals some of those struggles, like faced by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Imagine facing the “rage and anger” of a ruthless king who demanded you to sin, and saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). Then imagine seeing him “filled with wrath, and his facial expression” being “altered” toward you. While the event was transformational for the king, they still needed the courage to be distinct in their times.

It is frightening to think of how our country has changed in such a relatively brief period of time. As morality erodes and attitudes toward God and the Bible change for the worse, we have opportunities to stand. The ruling powers may not seem as evil as Nazism does in the rearview mirror, but their hostility toward Christianity is becoming clearer. While we remain the respective, obedient citizens Scripture commands us to be (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2), let us be willing to stand with the likes of Peter and John and always say, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

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Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Neal Pollard

In the annals of American history there is a remarkable story you may not know.  Daniel Bakeman was born on October 9, 1759.  He married Susan Brewer on August 29, 1772, though not yet a teenager.  Soon thereafter, he joined the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Not only did he survive the war, he lived almost another 100 years.  When he died on April 5, 1869, he was most likely the last surviving veteran of the war that made us a country.  He lived about four years after the end of the Civil War.  As remarkable as that distinction is, he also was part of another world record that still stands to this day.  His marriage to Susan lasted until September 10, 1863, when she passed away.  That means the Bakemans were married for 91 years and 12 days!

I cannot find anything about the details of that marriage, though they left many descendants who carry, through various spellings of the family name, the names Bachman, Beckman, Bakeman, Bateman, and even Baker (genealogytrails.com).  Various archives indicate that Mr. Bakeman was spry and humorous to the end and that Mrs. Bakeman exhibited needlework she had done without the aid of glasses when she was 102.  They lived and died in a town called Freedom, and Mr. Wakeman holds the distinction of having voted in every election from Washington to Grant!

As remarkable as his military distinction is, his marriage distinction deserves higher honor.  He fought in and survived a war that lasted less than ten years.  He endured hardships, who knows how many ups and downs, and undoubtedly some trying marital moments en route to almost a century of marital bliss.  They were together to the end, an exaggerated example of commitment and highest love.

You will almost certainly fail to break the Bakemans’ record for length of marriage, but you might exceed what they enjoyed for depth and breadth.  What are you doing to build upon the highest love for your spouse?  What daily investments are you making?  Your marriage will be remembered by those who know you.  How it will be remembered is something over which you exert full control.  Make it a legacy of lasting love!

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Unmistaken Identity

Neal Pollard

They both had a mole next to one eye and a scar on the left wrist. They lived 54 miles apart, one in Brookville and the other in Mooresville, Indiana. It was said they were practically identical twins. For notorious bank robber John Dillinger, that was no problem. But, for upstanding Ralph Alsman, it was a nightmare. Alsman was arrested 17 times and shot 11 times. When arrested, though he was always released, he had to undergo stressful interrogations in which he had to prove he wasn’t Dillinger. Only when the real Dillinger was gunned down in 1934 did the unbelievable saga end for the hapless Alsman (information taken from The Pittsburgh Press, 6/18/34, p. 11). Can you imagine having to look over your shoulder everywhere you went just because you looked like someone else—a really bad someone else?

The thought occurs to me as I read that harrowing account, based on my attitude, speech, and actions, “Who or what would people mistake me for?” As I live out my life before the world, waiting in lines or in traffic, when under pressure at work, as people mistreat or frustrate me, judging from my relationships, my ethics, and my morality, would people say that I strongly resemble Jesus? He is supposed to be living in me (Gal. 2:20). It has been the case that bystanders have recognized people as having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Of course, Scripture does not at all emphasize the physical appearance of Jesus (Isaiah 53:2), but Paul speaks of bearing the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17). While his “marks” were literal stripes from a tormentor’s whip, there are unmistakeable traits of Jesus that we, too, can and must bear.

I have so much need and room for improvement in my spiritual life.  Every day, I want to look more like Jesus. I want people to see Him when they look at me. If they do, He will be pleased and they just might be saved. Let’s work on our appearance! It may mean eternal life for somebody in our life.

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Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

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Devon Allen’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

I will preface this by saying I cannot determine anything specific about the religion of Devon Allen, a remarkable college student-athlete at the University of Oregon. He is in the headlines now as a starting football player who qualified for the Olympics in track and field.  It was during his training and competition for the latter that he decided the time was right to be baptized. So he was, in the Willamette River in Eugene last Friday before the watchful gaze of family and teammates from his track and football teams. No less than ESPN reported on his religious quest alongside his impressive athletic achievements. The article ended with the proper sentiment, particularly if Allen was baptized in the right way for the right reason. It reads, “It was the right starting line for two different races” (Chantel Jennings, espn.com).

I am encouraged that Jennings found this newsworthy. I am encouraged that Allen thought baptism to be so important. I am encouraged that his friends and family showed up in impressive numbers to witness this act.

When even so many in Christendom go the extra mile in denying the importance and significance of baptism, Devon troubled himself to do it. We do not know, but he might have said what the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). As he studied with Oregon football team chaplain, could he have been taught the New Testament truth that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), baptism reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptism buries one with Christ (Colossians 2:12), and baptism saves one (1 Peter 3:21)? If he was taught baptism from the New Testament, these are the kinds of things he would have heard.

Regardless of Allen’s understanding about baptism’s function in God’s plan to save us, one who is taught in accordance with the several passages above and who has a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15) will want to be baptized without delay (cf. Acts 22:16). Like the jailor at Philippi, they will submit to baptism even if it is the middle of the night (Acts 16:33). Like the 3,000 on Pentecost, they will demonstrate gladly receiving the word by being baptized (Acts 2:41). Thus, they will be saved.

My prayer is that Devon Allen understand these Bible facts and responded the way he did because he humbly accepted their truth. More than that, my prayer is that those who need to make the decision to be baptized will not let anything hinder them from doing what Jesus died to make possible for us all. May we ignore all rationalization that leads us to resist the act which, from a believing, penitent heart, washes our sins away.

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The Eye Test

Neal Pollard

We covet those parking spaces close to the store, whether because we think we will save a little time or several steps by nabbing them.  Yet, we are in “competition” with others who are seeking the same spaces. No one rushes to the back of the parking lot to grab up those spots. But at a Costco in Canada recently, this vying turned violent as two middle-aged couples literally fought over a parking space. As in, it came to fisticuffs. As of this writing, police are still investigating and there may be fine details to be added to the story. Basically, however, as a YouTube video shot by a local realtor shows, anger over who should put their automobile in that space escalated to foul language, pushing, shoving, name-calling, and thrown punches. Four people who might otherwise be respectable, dignified contributors to society now share an infamy that may dog them for a long time. All because of a failure to conduct themselves properly in a public place.

We shake our heads at this animalistic behavior, but in our self-righteous sense of superiority we might do well to examine how exquisitely we execute our example before the eyes of the world. Consider some places where Christians can be oblivious to the watchful eyes of others:

  • Social media brawls, whether over matters clearly addressed in Scripture or matters of judgment and opinion.
  • Bible class discussions, where visitors, new Christians, and weak Christians might see the redeemed’s  inhumanity to the redeemed.
  • Public arenas, from the retailers to the restaurants and from the grocery store to the department store, where subpar (or even adequate) customer service evokes an unChristlike response from a disciple of Christ.
  • Arguments between spouses or parents and children, members of a “Christian home,” who resort to the tactics of their worldly counterparts as they wage war before such witnesses.
  • At ball fields, concerts, movie theaters, and the like, where something displeasing to us provokes an impatient, harsh, and retaliatory response that eclipses any view of Christ.

Certainly, these are just a few ways and places where we might forget ourselves and squash our precious influence by allowing the flesh to dominate our presumed spirituality. It is good for us to consider that those things cannot come out of us unless we are allowing improper things come into us. We must guard against the things that might creep in—“immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5), “…enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions…” (Gal. 5:20, which are a bulk of the works of the flesh specifically identified by Paul), and more (cf. Mark 7:22-23, etc.).  We must work to control what comes out, harnessing the tongue (Jas. 3:2ff) and controlling the temper (cf. Eph. 4:26). We must strive to cultivate thoughts and feelings that, when expressed, build up and draw others to Christ (Col. 3:12-13; 1 Pet. 3:8-11; Gal. 5:22-23; etc.).

Like it or not, we’re hilltop cities and lighthouses (Mat. 5:14-16). Let us keep our behavior excellent among the “Gentiles,” as they observe our deeds, so that they will see Jesus at work in us (cf. 1 Pet. 2:12). Our attitudes, speech, and actions may not become a viral video, but we are still being watched. Let’s take care to display ourselves in a way that would not embarrass (or condemn) us were we to see it again, played by the Lord, at the Judgment Day.

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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Facts Deduced About Baptism From The Eunuch

Neal Pollard

The book of Acts is wonderful for teaching the history of the church as well as providing examples of how people became Christians. From the first gospel sermon (Acts 2), baptism is central and essential to God’s plan of salvation. The emphasis is even found through facts implied from these statements and examples. Consider some facts deduced about baptism from the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.

  • First, baptism is part of preaching Jesus. In Acts 8:35, Philip began with the eunuch from the passage the eunuch had been reading (Isaiah 53), and “he preached Jesus to him.” Consequently, the eunuch, when they came past a body of water, said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Why would this man ask such a question unless preaching Jesus included preaching the necessity of baptism?
  • Second, baptism is part of believing (Acts 8:37). Philip ties his request for baptism to the essentiality of faith preceding baptism. The eunuch confesses belief “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Jesus had sent His disciples with this understanding, that “he who has believed and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).
  • Third, baptism involves urgency (Acts 8:38). The eunuch ordered the chariot to stop. Why? Why not wait until he was back in Africa? Why not wait until Philip collected several others and then have a baptismal service for them all at once? When the Eunuch saw water, for some reason he wanted to submit to baptism right then and there.
  • Fourth, baptism involves immersion (Acts 8:39). We primarily know this because the word “baptism” means “strictly dip, immerse in water (Friberg & Miller, 87). However, the fact that Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water indicates that baptism must involve more than sprinkling or even pouring. This man  (and Philip) went to the trouble of getting wet by going down into the water.
  • Fifth, baptism produces rejoicing (Acts 8:39). The first evidence of joy comes after the eunuch comes up out of the water, not when Philip preached Jesus or when the eunuch confessed belief in Jesus. There was something important and necessary about the act of baptism.

Despite a religious world filled with groups who resist, argue against, and deny the importance of baptism, that one example (and there are several others–Acts 2:36-47; 8:12-13; 9:18+22:16; 16:15; 16:30-33; etc.) leaves no doubt about the indispensable part baptism plays in God’s plan to redeem humanity. Thank God for this conversion example in Acts 8. May our hearts be open to accept what the Word says to us (Luke 8:15).

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Megan Meeks was baptized this past Thursday, 4/21/16, in Denver, CO. The plan has not changed since Acts 8.