I Don’t Want To Know!

Neal Pollard

Too often, it’s a great disappointment to learn about the personal lives of politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and other professional entertainers. Their public persona and abilities may attract, inspire, and move us, but the aforementioned details are all too sordid. What might look wholesome on closer examination has a very seedy side.  Perhaps this says as much about any of us who place them on a pedestal, but that doesn’t lessen the chagrin.

Hypocrisy is something that can occur among “normal” people like Christians, too. Sadly, we can appear to be one thing around those of “like, precious faith” but have a different side that we show away from them. This is a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, preachers, elders, deacons, and their families included. It can have such a devastating effect. To think that our poor example could cause a new, a weak, or any other Christian to stumble and fall should fill us with dread.  The precious influence we build by our talents and positions must never be squandered by defects of character or even bowing to pressures in specific circumstances.

Peter preached the first and second recorded gospel sermons. He was an apostle and one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. Yet, Paul recalls an occasion where Peter succumbed to his flesh and sinned in a way that hurt his influence. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul says,

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain
men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they
came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the
party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy,
with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the
gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel
the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was driven by fear and favoritism. His action was devastating, dragging even “the son of encouragement” to follow his discouraging behavior. Thankfully, Paul loved Peter (and the Lord) enough to challenge the hypocrisy.

Friends, none of us will ever be perfect. We’re continually susceptible to sinful words and deeds. But let us guard against secret, double, or insincere lives knowing that such can totally destroy the faith of those who look to us to show them what Christlikeness looks like. In other words, let us be what we tell others that we are and that they should be. Consistency and integrity are some of the Lord’s most potent tools in our lives to bring others to Him.  Take care of His tools!

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Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

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What Is Your Trajectory?

Neal Pollard

The New Oxford Online Dictionary defines trajectory as “the path followed by a projectile flying or an object moving under the action of given forces” (n/p). The term is used of everything from ammunition to astronomy, but in its figurative sense can be used to speak of the law of sowing and reaping or cause and effect.  There appears to be three elements to this definition: the path, the object, and the action of given forces. Apply this to a person’s life and the discussion becomes eternally serious.

  • The path: Jesus teaches that there are really only two paths to take, “the broad way” and “the narrow way” (Mat. 7:13-14).  Some have given no thought as to which road they are taking. Others convince themselves they are on the narrow way when an honest, objective look reveals it to be the other way. Some change roads, for good or bad. However, we cannot successfully argue that we are not on a path leading somewhere, whether the destination is “destruction” or “life.”
  • The object: Friend, the object (projectile) in this path of trajectory is the individual. It is you and me. We are moving closer to eternity every day and to some eternal destination. God created a never-dying soul within us (Mat. 25:46; Ec. 12:7). As it was with the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), we will lift up our eyes in either Abraham’s bosom or in torment. That soul was precious enough to God to pay the highest price to ransom it (John 3:16), but we may choose to give it away by allowing the trajectory of our life to miss the intended target (cf. Mat. 16:26).
  • The action of given forces: We are not helpless regarding this, but force implies pressure, resistance, and influence. The decisions we make, the people we allow to have prominence, our choices, what we prioritize, and what values we establish become the forces moving us to the destination. It’s not what we say is important, what we know is right, or what we intend to do. It is seen in our attitudes, words, and actions.

The earlier we figure this out, the sooner we will make it our aim to do everything we can to head in the only right direction. We can change paths, but the longer we are aimed the wrong target the harder we make it on ourselves to change course. This is true with finance, physical health, occupation, marriage and family, but nowhere are the stakes as high than as concerns our eternal destiny. Let’s give thought to the trajectory of our lives and be sure that where we are heading is where we really want to go.

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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).

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Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa Your Boat!

Neal Pollard

Unfortunately for folks in southwestern Colorado and several surrounding states, it’s more than a matter of staying out of the Los Animas River.  Due to a mishap by some federally-supervised workers in which there was a blowout in the Gold King Mine in the mountains above Silverton, millions of gallons of toxins that include mercury and arsenic are in downstream water supplies. It has contaminated domestic wells and endangered fish and livestock. It has negatively impacted tourist industries that rely on customers who raft, canoe, and fish in the river.  It has impacted irrigation and city water intake facilities.  All from a single incident in a mine hundreds of miles away from some of the affected areas.

Who knows how this will ultimately be resolved, but a lot of people and money will be thrown at the matter until it is finally resolved.  A problem that started in a relatively small, remote area has finally become a national story.  As the river continues to flow, the troubles continue to compound.

Have you considered the power of your influence?  A single conversation, an impulsive act in a moment’s time, or a thought unchecked and fed all can lead to outcomes that spill into a lot of lives and potentially do damage that could not be anticipated.  David learned this (2 Sam. 11:1-2).  The young lads from Bethel learned this (2 Ki. 2:23-24).  Judas learned this (Mat. 26:15).  So many others in Scripture, from thoughts to words to deeds, learned of the destructive power of negative spiritual influence.  It can cause spiritual babes to stumble (Mat. 18:6), the offender to stumble (Mat. 18:8), the world to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14), and so much more.  No amount of remorse, regret, and retreat can undo the toxic damage it does.

If you find yourself in the “clean up” stage, realize that with time and effort you can work to counteract the impact of poor influence.  There may be lingering consequences, but you can mitigate that through genuine repentance.  It doesn’t have to end catastrophically, as it did for Judas.  It can end triumphantly, as it did for Peter.

Keep in mind, too, that positive influence works the same way (Mat. 13:33).  A kind, righteous thought, word, or deed can trigger a powerful effect that leads the lost to be saved and those on the broad way to turn onto the narrow way.  You may never know it in this life or see the end result of it in your lifetime.  May the great power of our influence drive us to our knees and fill our thoughts with how we may use our lives to bless and help the lives of others, knowing that, for good or bad, our lives touch way more lives than we think.

“Snodgrass’s Muff”

Neal Pollard

It happened on October 16, 1912, the eighth (*) and deciding game of the World Series. In the bottom of the 10th, with his New York Giants winning by a run, Clyde Engle sent a lazy pop fly to centerfield.  Fred Snodgrass, an average hitter and dependable fielder, settled under it and ultimately dropped it.  A lot of other things happened. Snodgrass made a spectacular catch on the next play.  Hall of Fame pitcher walked the next batter.  Tris Speaker, before driving in the winning run with a single, hit a pop foul that both Fred Merkle (aka “Bonehead Merkle,” but that’s a story for another day) and Chief Meyers failed to catch.  Snodgrass’ blunder was the scapegoat for the Giants’ series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Fred would go on to be successful in business as a banker, an appliance merchant, and a rancher, was elected mayor of Oxnard, California, and served on the City Council for three terms.  There was so much more to Fred Snodgrass than a single unfortunate moment in time, but even his obituary read: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” In a 1940 interview, Fred spoke of how that fated fly ball would come up as he met or spoke with people (info via sabr.org and history.com).

Isn’t it interesting how a mistake or sin committed in a moment can have such lasting implications, bringing infamy and an enormous challenge of trying to live it down?  But doesn’t Snodgrass also prove that we do not have to be defined by our failures? Maybe our blunder is not played out with such renown and infamy, but it can still stay with us and dog our continued steps.

Have you dropped the ball with something?  Maybe you let down somebody you loved or somebody that was really counting on you.  Maybe you hurt someone special to you.  It might have been a foolish or ungodly word or deed when someone was watching.  The bigger the blunder, the heavier that burden of guilt might be in your heart.  There’s no excusing it. But what will you do now?  Will you let it keep you down or will you refuse to be defined by it?  The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The focal point must be what’s before us, not what’s behind us.  So said Paul (Phil. 3:13).

Dust yourself off. Regroup. Get ready for what’s next! Focus on what’s next, not on what’s over and done.

(*) Game 2 was called on account of “impending darkness”

The Word Is “Relationship”

Neal Pollard

Soon, we’ll have lived in our current home for two years.  We are enjoying the house, the location, the neighborhood, and most of the neighbors. However, one that lives pretty nearby has proven less than pleasant.  His wife is an officer in our neighborhood HOA, and each month’s newsletter is a new posting of the hierarchy’s “95 theses.”  Hardly anyone can keep from committing at least one infraction—certainly not us.  They’ve had very little communication with us except when the husband complained that our compost pile was too close to the fence (on the other side of which were his garbage cans).  Recently, while seeking our permission to re-paint their house, he took the opportunity to inspect the state of cleanliness of our garage.  I share his desire that we keep our homes and yards in good shape, as property values are riding on our collective interest in such.  The problem for them is that they have spurned our efforts at a relationship and they have done nothing to create one themselves.  Thus, we tolerate and peacefully co-exist.  But, there is no relationship.

Have you thought about how vital relationships are to our lives?  Think about how ineffective we are with people without them.  At best, we are mere associates. At worst, we become antagonists.  Think of how vital the entity of relationship is to:

  • Marriage (1 Pet. 3:7).
  • Parenting (Deu. 6:1ff).
  • A congregation (1 Th. 5:11).
  • Shepherding (John 10:4-5).
  • Church discipline (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
  • Restoring the erring (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Preaching (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2).
  • Church works (Eph. 4:16).
  • Deacons’ work (Acts 6:7).
  • Soul-winning (Col. 4:2-6).
  • Friendship (Prov. 18:24b).

Taking the time to build rapport may be mentally and emotionally exhausting at times.  The best of relationships will have their downs as well as their ups.  But God created us social beings not meant for isolation (Gen. 2:18).  Joel O’Steen is shallow and superficial in his “preaching,” but tens of thousands of people are drawn to him because they find him relatable. His message is deadly, but his method is engaging.  Some who consider themselves the staunchest “defenders of the faith” are virtual porcupines with their quills primed to stick those in their proximity.  Surely those of us striving to follow New Testament Christianity can strive to build relationships while we steadfastly teach and follow the truth.  How much more effective will we be as we conquer this principle every day?

The Lightning March

Neal Pollard

It was unusual for foot soldiers to play a major role in the Middle Ages. Harold II of England’s 7000 infantrymen were an exception. He marched them from London to York, about 216 miles, in a week. The rate of the march was 30 miles per day for an entire week!  “A sustained rate of thirty miles per day for seven days was in most circumstances unheard of. A sustained twenty miles per day would have been considered extraordinary.”  The army moved faster than news of its approach. This helped turn the Battle of Stamford Bride in 1066, known as “Harold’s Lightning March”  (Hackett, Jeremiah.  World Eras, Vol. 4: Medieval Europe, 814-1350, p. 128). What seems lost to history is how Harold motivated such rapid movement.  To build such resolve and determination in so many people, in unified purpose, must speak to Harold’s leadership ability.

All of us are marching with rapid pace toward the end of life and eternity.  Hasn’t it been going by so quickly?  It truly is a “lightning march.”  At the end of the march, will we have won the battle?  The church of every generation, and not just individuals, are making this march.  What impression are we leaving on the world around us, what battles of significance will have been won?  Think of the first-century church.  They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  They “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23).  They permeated their immediate communities, surrounding communities, and the remotest communities (cf. Acts 1:8-11).  Think of those brave, sacrificial Christians during the 19th Century who rallied together around the principle of restoring New Testament Christianity.  With a great reverence for the pattern of Scripture, they sought to imitate the faith and practice of that first-century church.  In their wake was growth and influence.

In both cases, profound as their influence was, they rapidly left the scenes of time.  Their influence remained, but succeeding generations of the Lord’s Army—for whatever reasons—slowed their pace considerably.  We may glorify the church of the 1950s, at one time known as the fastest growing religious group in our country.  But most of them have gone and those who remain have grown slower in their pace. What about the church of the early 21st Century?  How will we be remembered?  Never forget that, in part, this is influenced by what you and I are doing as soldiers under the Lord’s direction.  We could not want for better guidance and a better Commander.  We should have ample motivation.  It is high time we pick up the pace!  Victory awaits (1 Cor. 15:54-58).

THE MASTER’S MATERIAL

Neal Pollard

A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.

JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.

JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).  Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!

JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.

Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!