A BLIND SPOT TO MY BALD SPOT

Neal Pollard

Positively traumatic.  I don’t know another way to describe it.  Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.”  Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top.  I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting.  There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium.  OK. My bald spot.  I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.

That blind spot was more vain than dangerous.  There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious.  Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there.  But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.

It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action.  We marvel that they seem oblivious to them.  After all, we see it all so clearly.  Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly.  We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others.  Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them.  After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.

Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).  The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23).  As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better.  How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill!  This is about more than vanity.  This has more serious far-reaching implications.  May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.

There it is on the fella in the sweater in the far left seat of the front row.

420

Neal Pollard

Missouri has “The Arches,” California, “The Golden Gate Bridge,” New York, “The Statue Of Liberty,” Georgia, “Stone Mountain,” and Minnesota, “The Mall of America.” For years, Colorado was most renowned for our glorious views of the Rocky Mountains.  More and more, our nation’s fellow citizens associate us as “the state that legalized marijuana.”  Although Washington legalized pot the same day Colorado did, somehow the fame (infamy?) of this move is more associated with our great state.

Today, April 20th, is known by many as the marijuana holiday.  Many theories abound as to the origin of this number being associated as a code word for smoking weed—the most educated guess being a group of High School pot smokers from the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, known as “The Waldos”—but the mainstream public is now quickly catching on to the implications of its use.  Say “420” and a growing number of non-users will think “marijuana.”

Association is a powerful thing.  Whatever we think, people associate us, as a church and as individual Christians, with something.  Think about it.  Did you know people will speak of our congregation and say, “That church is _____________”?  Chilling, isn’t it?  What goes in the blank?  Evangelistic? Friendly? Active? Dead? Cold? Out-Of-Touch?  The same thing happens with us.  They say, “He (she) is so ___________.”  How sobering!

If I could choose, I’d want to be associated with a number like one of these:  (Philippians) 2:1-4, (John) 13:34-35, (Hebrews) 13:1, (Mark) 16:15, (Matthew) 16:24, (John) 15:14.  But, try as I might to manufacture a reputation, that’s ultimately not my call.  I earn that by what I practice, avoid, value, and prioritize.  We take a lifetime to build it, one conversation, one deed at a time.  It will be our memorial, standing well after we are gone.  What’s your number? What do people associate you with? If, by chance, you don’t like the answer, get busy repairing or rebuilding. It’s never too late to start.

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)