FAITH IN PEOPLE

Neal Pollard

There are some people with “trust issues.”  They are stuck in a negative frame of mind, believing the worst in others with little expectation that they will improve.  They may even castigate anyone who would encourage you to put faith in people.  Certainly, our greatest faith must always be in God.  He never fails, forsakes, or leaves us (Heb. 13:5-6), but people invariably do those things.  We cannot put more faith in people than God, listening to and following them when they contradict His will. That’s a false, wrong extreme, but so also is a cynicism that fundamentally, inherently distrusts people to do the right thing.  This does not mean that there are people in our lives who do not struggle with sin because we all do (Rom. 3:23).

Let me encourage you to have faith in God’s people. Why?

  • Jesus did.  He selected twelve men, salty fishermen, shady tax collectors, strident nationalists, and selfish materialists.  While the latter let Him down, the other eleven grew and accomplished much.  Jesus entrusted His mission to them (Mat. 28:18-20), having faith that they would accomplish it.  But, Jesus also had faith in others—the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, and so many others.  Some He put faith in failed Him and even left Him, but that did not ever stop Him from investing that faith in others.  Do you remember what He said to Peter after He had failed? “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32; emph. mine).  That was faith in Peter!
  • It empowers others.  When somebody expresses faith in your ability to accomplish something, how do you respond?  When you are given responsibility with the explicit or tacit understanding that the giver believes in you, don’t you give it your all to live up to that trust?  2 Timothy 2:2 seems to imply this reaction is a natural consequence of being entrusted with something.
  • People live up (or down) to our expectations.  Have you ever had someone in your life who handled you this way:  “You’re no good!”; “You’ll never amount to anything!”; “You’re hopeless!”?  Maybe they don’t say it, but they convey it.  Preachers and teachers communicate the word through such a pessimistic prism. Leaders convey it in ways both spoken and unspoken.  Love “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
  • It brightens life.  Would you like to maintain a PMA (possible mental attitude)?  Never lose the ability to believe in others!  A glass half full approach is necessary to retaining an optimistic, hopeful way of life. I’m not saying to be delusional, but you can improve your own quality of life with a fundamental belief that most people, when they know what’s right, want to do what’s right.
  • It is biblical.   Paul had confidence in Philemon’s obedience (Phile. 1:21). He had confidence that Corinth would do the right thing (2 Cor. 2:3). He had confidence in Galatia’s doctrinal resilience (Gal. 5:10). He had confidence in Thessalonica’s continued faithfulness (2 Th. 3:4).  What an example, and oh how we should imitate him in this!

Teresa of Calcutta is often associated with certain verses found on the wall of her children’s home, even credited for authoring it. Kent Keith is the likely author.  In the composition, “Do It Anyway” (aka “The Paradoxical Commandments”), he notes that people will criticize and be petty.  He encourages doing good, loving, and serving anyway.  You can choose how you will spend your life, expecting the best or worst of others. May I urge you to have the most faith in God, but leave room for faith in people—especially God’s people! You will not regret it.

Right Back Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water.  He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive.  Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.

Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham.  Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).

What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense.  Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution.  The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering.  We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return.  We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start.  Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before.  We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.

Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away.  He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).  Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.

May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

Coping With The Loss Of A Child

Neal Pollard

I have never lost a child and pray that I will precede them all in death.  Imagining the difficulty of that situation in no way equips me to feel the grief involved in such a loss.  Yet, the Bible is the answer book on this, as with any, situation.

In 2 Samuel 12:18-24, the Bible says, “And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?   But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.  Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.   Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.  And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?   But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. And David comforted Bathsheba his wife….”

The occasion of the death o a pre-born, newborn, infant, or young child must be a peculiarly difficult burden to bear.  It is untimely.  It is filled with the most painful of mysteries.  It is a most intense reminder of the ultimate end of all humanity (Hebrews 9:27).  Yet, it offers a ray of hope and comfort like no other funeral can.  Even as tears stain the cheek, there can be rejoicing in knowing the child is eternally safe.  It will never know the heartache, pain, disappointment, shame, guilt, fear or betrayl through which we routinely go simply by virtue of earthly life.

The Bible says that other parents lost small children.  An unnamed woman lost a son to death at the age of three days old (1 Kings 3:16-27).  1 Kings 14 tells of the death of Abijah, son of Ahab and Jezebel.  All we can tell from the term “child” in that text is that he was anywhere between infancy and adolescence; thus, a small child.  In the New Testament, Jairus lost a “little daughter” (Mark 5).  From ancient Job to the New Testament widow of Nain to today, parents have endured the difficult, unnatural task of burying their children.  Yet, there are special lessons to be learned in the account of David and Bathsheba’s little boy.  Consider four things, from the above text, to be gained when dealing with the loss of a little child.

Do not forget your relationship with God (20).  When David hears news of the child’s death, what is the first thing he does?  He arises from the dust of dejection and goes to church!  He had been praying to God all the time the child was dying.  It is natural that David continued his relationship with God.

It must have been a test of David’s faith.  Read the Psalms and you find the man after God’s own heart (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14) often asking God “why?”.   In Psalm 10:1, he said, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  He later says, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.  O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2, NASU).   Remember that David cried seven days and nights over the child he lost.  Certainly, he knew that God was near, God cared, and God loved him, but he was hurting and things surely seemed unfair.

You may very well feel the same way when you lose a child.  Remember that this is natural, but do not forget your relationship to God.  Know that God is near, cares for you and loves you, too.  An oft-quoted but appropriate saying goes, “Where was God when my child died?”  “Exactly where He was when His Son died.”  Tragedy and suffering can always serve to build spiritual strength.  It can cause us to realize our dependence upon God.  It can help us sharpen our focus on heaven.  It can lead us to count our blessings and remember what we do have.

Remember that your lives must resume (20-22).  No, not today… or tomorrow.  In an unavoidable way, life could never be exactly the same.  Grief is natural and necessary, and it has no exact timetable.

Yet, look to David.  He got back to daily life.  When he received news of his baby’s death, he got up, went to worship, ate a meal, and resumed his work affairs.  As painful as such a loss has to be, one can be thankful and mindful of all that remains that is to be lived for and the many loved ones with whom one has left to live.  As hard as it is to imagine in the midst of grieving such a peculiar loss, you will laugh again and enjoy life again when the time is right.

Let a heavenly reunion motivate you (23).  To me, these are the most impressive words of the story.  David says, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”  We know where the baby was, so we know where David wanted to go.

Those who lose a little child have an extremely powerful motivation to go to heaven.  Not just that heaven is infinitely better than the awful alternative.  Not just the excitement of seeing God “face to face.”  There is a little child up there waiting for the arrival of his/her parents.  Imagine what a sweet reunion that will be, to see it there.  Each time such parents sing, “Won’t it be wonderful there…?,” they will have an extra measure of appreciation of those words.  Parents grieving this loss can live the remainder of their lives determined to “go to him.”

Find comfort in one another (24).  There is something in the text easy to overlook.  David goes and comforts his wife, Bathsheba.  Didn’t David need comforted, too?  Yes, but Bathsheba had a bond and relationship with the child that David did not.  Her emotional makeup and needs, in such loss, were different from his own.

There is a special need for a wife and mother at such a time as this.  As this tragedy can bring parents closer to God, it can also bring mutually aggrieved mates closer to one another.  It is a time when you can better appreciate Ecclessiastes 4:9, that “two are better than one….”  Thessalonica was going through tremendous heartache and even loss, and you will notice that at least seven different times Paul admonishes them to “comfort one another.”  God knew there would be times when we would need support.  There is special support available from one’s help-meet and companion.

When a little child dies, there is grief because of that tragedy.  There is also cause for rejoicing because of the assurance that can be had concerning the baby’s soul.  The sun will shine again through the clouds of sorrow.  The brightness of God’s love will break visibly before the dewy gaze once more.  Thank God for the comfort possible only in Christ.

BEAUTIFUL FAITH

Neal Pollard

Every day Johnson Kell visits is a good day.  Today was a good day.  Though we were initially talking about some sad and depressing matters happening currently within churches of Christ and particularly a west coast university traditionally affiliated with the church, Johnson cannot help but talk about good and wonderful things he’s seen and experienced within God’s family.  He told the true story of how one positive experience has made such a ripple effect within our wonderful brotherhood.  It centers around a young man steeped in a denomination but dissatisfied with their teaching.  He had a friend, a love interest, who was from Wyoming. She attended a funeral in Casper and was so impressed by what was said and done by the local church of Christ there that she was converted.  She told this young man, who had moved to work on a golf course in Ventura, California, where Johnson and Dorothy was attending at the time, about the church.  He visited. The Ventura preacher, Floyd Davis, studied with Ken, who obeyed the gospel.  Ken went on to marry, not the Wyoming girl, but another young woman attending with him at Harding University.  He went on to get his doctorate degree in Texas and has built a fine Christian home.

That story by itself shows the power of the gospel upon an honest and open heart. When someone is searching for truth, he or she will find it!  If one has no interest in God’s truth, no amount of persuasion or argumentation may be enough.  The gospel still works, however dark our world seems to be getting.

Yet, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen is a heart seasoned by decades of trial and triumph.  As Johnson relayed this story to me, he choked up several times in his elation over the conversion of the young woman and the young man.  Never have I known one as touched by the gospel and its positive effects on others as Johnson is.  Get him to talk about the cross of Calvary, heaven’s plan of salvation, the joy of Christian fellowship, or any such similar subject and tender emotion will follow.  Listen to him pray.  Tap into his vast reservoir of memories of the church and you get a transparent view of beautiful faith.  Spend any length of time with Johnson and you know he’s spent lengthy time with Jesus.  Every time we part company, I pray, “Lord, let my faith shine like Johnson’s.”  Hebrews 13:7 seems to be speaking of elders, but the principle applies to this former elder: “Considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (7b).  When it comes to Johnson’s life (and all those like him), that’s my advice!

Taken almost 8 years old, when Johnson (then 88) was teaching our boys to play tennis at the courts on Dartmouth.
Neal's Phone_20140906_003

WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

“THE UNIVERSE IS ETERNAL”

Neal Pollard

Articles across the scientific community of late have been postulating a similar idea. Astrophysicist Brian Koberlein suggests that there was no single point in space and time when matter was infinitely dense, saying, “The catch is that by eliminating the singularity, the model predicts that the universe had no beginning. It existed forever as a kind of quantum potential before ‘collapsing’ into the hot dense state we call the Big Bang. Unfortunately many articles confuse ‘no singularity’ with ‘no big bang’” (briankoberlein.com). One of the most recent darlings of this explanations are Ahmed Farag Alia and Saurya Das, whose paper “Cosmology from quantum potential” is being cited by quantum physicists and astrophysicists.  As this gets traction, there should be a trickle down effect until the broader scientific community embraces this idea.

Let’s hope so!

It could be a pivotal moment in the creation versus evolution debate.  Why?  When you wade through the technical, obtuse jargon, this theory concludes that the universe is eternal.  We all know that something has always had to exist.  Our options are “intelligent, moral, animate mind” or “mindless, amoral, inanimate matter.”  The faith factor has just multiplied by a centillion for those wanting a God-less explanation.  The same argument they have tried to level against those believing in intelligent design and creation applies to them.  How did that eternal matter get here?

Here’s the difference between the two arguments.  Matter not only had to “create” itself, it also had to develop (evolve?) intelligence, morality, purpose, etc.  The Bible reveals an intelligent designer (Creator) with inherent morality, purpose, and sufficient power and energy to make it all.  “It’s too simplistic,” they say.  “How quaint!”  But to a person who is truly trying to approach these two explanations with open-minded fairness, which of these two ideas will seem more plausible?  It won’t even be a fair contest!

Let’s hope this latest attempt to explain our origin finds favor among those who “say there is no God” (Ps. 14:1) and who “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18ff).  Maybe it will help more honest searchers “find” God (Acts 17:27). I think it will!

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)!