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).

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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!

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).

TIPPING IT IN FOR THE OTHER TEAM

Neal Pollard

This morning, Jacob Kurtz is getting a lot of press for the wrong reason.  He’s a basketball player for the University of Florida, and he inadvertently won the game for his team’s counterpart, hated rival Florida State. Kurtz is not a prolific scorer, averaging a little over four points per game, but this mental lapse or accidental tip will live in infamy.

That young man’s gaffe was almost certainly unintentional, but it still was damaging to his team.  What a graphic illustration of how costly it is to assist “the other side.”  It might be a careless or unguarded word that hurts the influence of Christ with a lost soul.  It could be a rash or foolish decision made under the duress of fatigue, emotional strain, or the like that dishonors God.  A momentary flutter of pride may cause someone to speak evil against a brother who just happens to overhear it and become discouraged.  The possibilities are endless and ever-present, but each such infraction is nonetheless damaging.

Whether it’s a mistake of the head (without evil motives) or a mistake of the heart (the fruit of secret sin within), “bonehead” moves on the spiritual battlefield can send the cause of Christ into a state of suffering. What can we do to prevent such losses?

  • Control your tongue (Jas. 3:2-12).
  • Constantly practice thoughtfulness (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • Curb your susceptibility to flattery, pride, and preeminence (cf. Prov. 6:17; 29:5).
  • Consider others better than yourself (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 5:21).
  • Clear your motives and ambitions of what is sinfully self-serving (cf. Phil. 1:17; Jas. 3:14-16).

Certainly there are other things we can do to prevent helping the other team. Paul says, generally, to exercise self-control in all things (1 Cor. 9:24-27) and compete according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).  It begins with being aware of the power of our words and conduct, using them to contribute to spiritual victory for the Lord’s side.

A VISIT TO A TEEN’S RELIGIOUS WORLD

Neal Pollard

I love the World War II generation and the enormous impact they have had on our nation!  Perhaps no generation has had a greater challenge since them than the one presently coming to maturity.  Last night, at Teens In The Word, we asked the teens to describe the religious philosophy of their peers as they interact with them at school, their jobs, and their extracurricular activities.  It was heartening to see and hear our teens’ conviction, knowledge, and heart, but disheartening to discuss the fruit of a couple of generations of our culture’s social experiment to reprogram the thinking of people, especially this burgeoning generation.

Our teens attend schools in Douglas, Jefferson, and Denver Counties, go to large High Schools, charter schools, private schools, and homeschools. Despite these diversities, what they encounter is remarkably similar.  It might surprise you that many of their peers believe in a Higher Power and would consider themselves spiritual. More than anywhere else, these peers attend community churches.  Whatever the church growth gurus and experts claim, the teens that go to these churches tell our teens something very different.  Their religious experience is heavily dependent upon entertainment, doing fun things with a party atmosphere, not motivated or influenced by much biblical teaching, segregated from adults, hard-rocking music, dancing, and overall a very tactile experience.  What impact does it have on “faith”?  If speaking in terms of growing closer to God and learning more about Him, not that much. The prevailing worldview of many of our teens’ friends is “what’s right for me may not be right for you,” that God and the devil, heaven and hell are mindsets more than realities (really just your conscience inside of you), and that essentially the only or worst sins, the “objective wrongs,” are offending others and judging others.  When our teens seek to assert objective truth from scripture, they sometimes encounter scorn or rejection. While our teens know a varying degree of peers whose faith and beliefs are more concrete and committed, perhaps the most frequently observed comment last night was that many of their peers “believe in God but not the Bible or Christ.”  They see the Bible as a book of myths or fairytales and not the revealer of truth or a standard of authority.

As we closed our class last night, I was left awestruck.  Our teens are among my most cherished heroes.  They are on the frontline of faith, battling in a world more opposed to truth than that of any generation now living which preceded them.  We were struck with more than admiration, though.  We felt determination, the need to redouble our efforts to establish and defend the trustworthiness and integrity of the Bible, the existence of God, and from that the authoritative nature of Scripture.  Not only will this bolster the faith of our teens, but it will help them in dialoging with those among their peers possessing good and honest hearts (cf. Lk. 8:15).

Here are four things you can do right now for our teens.  (1) Pray for them. (2) Live Christ without hypocrisy before them. (3) Actively encourage them. (4) Help equip them.  Look for heroes where you will.  I have found mine!

Our teens recently feeding the homeless (photo credit: Lexi Hoagland)

NOT WHAT HE MADE IT FOR

Neal Pollard

Karl Friedrich Benz invented the first true gasoline-powered automobile in Germany in 1885, a 3-wheeled, 4-cycle internal combustion engine (via lib.gov). The vehicle has come a long way since then.  To date, the fastest car on record (0-300 km) is the Hennessey Venom GT (13.63 seconds, guinnessworldrecords.com). The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport achieved the fastest recorded speed (267.857 mph) in 2010 (topgear.com).  Benz may not have foreseen how fast or sophisticated the automobile would become.  Given the speeds most cars can achieve, he may not have anticipated that people would get behind the wheel drunk or high, texting, severely sleep-deprived, or with car bombs.  We would not blame Benz, Ford, or the Dodge brothers for the way Timothy McVeigh misused that Ryder truck in 1995.  Who would dispute that the automobile, used properly, has made such a positive impact on the average person’s life for over a century?  But, when abused, it has contributed to profound heartache for millions of people.

Paul reveals the church as part of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  That means God had the church in mind from the eternity before creation!  He sent His Son to shed His life’s blood in order to purchase the church (Acts 20:28).  Paul affirms that Jesus loves the church and died for it (Eph. 5:25). We read of the beginning of that church in Acts 2. God intended for the church to be the means through which He receives glory and honor (Eph. 3:21). Untold numbers of people over 20 centuries of time have been blessed because they were introduced to and became members of His church.  Through faithful, righteous members of His church, people have come to believe in, follow and fall in love with God.

That there are so many claiming to be members of His church who contradict His teachings, who have subjugated His will to the whims of the culture, or who have lived unwholesome, unholy lives to the detriment of its influence cannot be successfully disputed.  That there are so many who are members of it whose attitude, hypocrisy, selfishness, prejudice, and exclusivity have repelled those who are not members of it can also be easily, if anecdotally, established.  In a larger sense, those who kill and harm others in the name of the God of the Bible no more reflect the nature and character of that God than one who takes anything man made for good and misuse it.

What we can never do is mistake the abuse of the name of God, the Bible, or His church as the fault of God.  He left clear instructions, a pattern for people to follow.  If they do not follow it, they are to blame.  The challenge for you and me, today and every day, is to be the best ambassadors for Christ we can be (2 Cor. 5:20).  Let’s show the world the wisdom of God by helping the church be what He intended it to be!

“As We Go Our Separate Ways…”

Neal Pollard

I’ve heard this prayed my whole life: “Be with us as we go our separate ways.”  I fully appreciate what is meant, but I lament a trend I’ve seen for many years.  Too often, we go our separate ways until the “next appointed time.”  We have no contact with one another. Instead, the bulk or totality of our contact is with worldly people with ungodly philosophies.  While we need to be among the world to exert salt and light, perhaps we have neglected something else that first century Christians took full advantage of.  Luke describes it this way, saying, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  As he had observed in verse 42, they were continually devoting themselves to fellowship.  This created a close knit community that could not only weather some huge storms of opposition, but it helped them produce an attractive environment that thousands of people wanted to be a part of. Perhaps we discount or even overlook what a vital part of church growth that fellowship and time together had on the early church.

Today, we have our civic activities, our kids’ full slate of responsibilities, our work and overtime, our personal entertainment regimen, and similar time-consuming matters that are not inherently wrong but that can help create a dramatic separation from our spiritual family during the week.  Where is the time allotment for getting together with other Christians during the week?  Have we relegated or resigned ourselves to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night?  Are we losing the art of hospitality, of having spiritual family over to deepen Christian relationships?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to speak of each other and say that our hearts have “been knit together in love” (Col. 2:2)?  In that same context of the church’s beginning mentioned earlier, Luke adds, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44).  What will happen to the local church that becomes very intentional about this, not just with an exclusive few but in a way that includes new Christians, potential Christians, the otherwise disconnected, and those of different as well as similar demographics? Certainly, it requires time, effort, and even some expense, but what will it yield?  A feeling of connection in the place of separation.