Avoiding A Ride On An Ancient Cycle

Neal Pollard

It has been called “The Dark Ages Of The Old Testament.” During the period of the judges, there was moral, economic, social, political and religious decline. We often read that, during this time, the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.

History keeps repeating itself in the book of Judges. The people do evil, God allows and oppressor to persecute them, the people turn back to God and plead for deliverance, and God raises up a deliverer to defeat the oppressor and deliver Israel. Here, we speak of the “cycle” of Judges: sin, servitude, sorrow, supplication, and salvation.

Their enemy invaders came from the East (Mesopotamia), the Southeast (Moab), the North (Canaan), the East (Midian and Ammon), and the Southwest (Philistia). It is interesting that Israel overcame Canaan in the militarily brilliant strategy orchestrated by God (Central Canaan—Josh. 7-8, Southern Canaan—Josh. 9-10, and then Northern Canaan—Josh. 11-12). As a result of Israel’s failure to utterly destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, the six oppressions came from the central, south, and north—each places where God had given them victory. What a reminder that when we don’t defeat the enemy, he will return! The enemy was sin!

Here is my summary of the book of Judges, as seen in Judges 2:16-19:

  • The rulers—“Judges”
  • The role—“Delivered”
  • The rescued—“Them” (Israel)
  • The rivals—“Those” (God’s enemies)
  • The ruination—“Plundered them” (oppression)
  • The refusal—“They did not listen to their judges”
  • The reveling—“Played the harlot after other gods”
  • The retreat—“Turned said quickly”
  • The right road—“In which their fathers had walked”
  • The role models—“Father, obeying the commands of the Lord”
  • The resolution—“They did not so”
  • The raising—“The Lord raised them up judges”
  • The relationship—“The Lord was with the judges”
  • The restoration—“Delivered them from the hand of their enemies”
  • The repentance—“The Lord was moved to pity” (KJV—“It repented the Lord because of their groanings…”)
  • The return—“When their judge died, they would turn back”
  • The retrogression—“Acted more corruptly than their fathers”
  • The resilience—“Didn’t abandon their practice or stubborn ways”

The judge was the savior of the people. Time and time again, the people put themselves in a position to need some serious rescue, and our long-suffering God was willing to soften His heart to their cries. Eventually, His patience ran out and even in this time period there were severe consequences. How often do we need the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of the Father? Often, we need forgiveness for the same sins repeatedly. We wonder how Israel could fall into the same traps, but we do well to identify and avoid them in our own times. We have the benefit of both Old and New Testament Scripture, and they would have only had the writings of Moses and Joshua when they lived. May we learn from these ancient lessons (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11) and stay off that ancient cycle.

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Not Enough Room On A Short Pew

Neal Pollard

I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew.  The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews.  They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.

I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was!  This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.

It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.

What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it.  Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!

Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

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HOW TO MAKE GOD SICK

Neal Pollard

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.

AFTER 31 YEARS, MURDER VICTIM IS FOUND ALIVE

Neal Pollard

There was a disappearance and a murder confession.  So, the last thing police expected when they stopped at “Mrs. Schneider’s” apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, was to find the 1984 murder victim, Petra Pazsitka, talking to them.  Thus began the unraveling of an elaborate plot by Ms. Pazskitka to disappear and reemerge with a new identity.  She was successful for 31 years, living in several West German cities without a passport, driver’s license, and social security card. She supported herself by “living off illicit cash-in-hand work” (via uk.news.yahoo.com). Why did the college student who had just completed her thesis on computer languages leave the grid and go into hiding? So far, there has been no explanation given. Perhaps there will eventually be more details and insight into this bizarre situation, but for now a grief-stricken family can take some measure of comfort in knowing their loved one they thought was dead is alive.

Spiritually, we are surrounded by the living dead.  It is the result of choices they’ve made.  This is even true for some who have abandoned God’s family and reemerged in the world having cast off the privileges and position of that honorable name they took on when they were baptized into Christ.

Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). He tells Timothy, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). God diagnosed an entire church, Sardis, “having a reputation of being alive” as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Of course, nothing illustrates the point better than Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  The younger son was off in the “far country,” and through that lifestyle he reached the point of desperation and despair. He repented and came home, where his father declared “my son was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).

Sometimes, it makes no sense to us why a brother or sister leaves God’s family, abandoning spiritual life, hope, and heaven for spiritual death, hopelessness, and hell.  Yet, we must continue to search for them.  Let us pray that we can find those long since declared dead and encourage them so that we “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). Search for them. Appeal to them. Help them reclaim the blessed identity they had when they had “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

“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”

Why Has There Been A Decline In Public Responses?

Neal Pollard

While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed.  As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service.  When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred.  Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”

One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers.  One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching.  One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present.  One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.

Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them.  Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations.  The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory.  Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)?  Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.

  • Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
  • On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality.  We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.).  Image replaces integrity.
  • Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships.  We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.

How might this impact public responses?  Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”?  Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”?  There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.

What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start.  We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic.  We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever!  The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37).  Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.

Have We Misunderstood Grace?

Neal Pollard

Perhaps the subject of grace has been neglected in some pulpits and congregations.  Undoubtedly, it has been misunderstood and improperly taught since the first century (cf. Rom. 6:1; Gal. 5:4).  It is vital to properly emphasize and explain such a huge concept within the gospel message.  Why? Because of what it is—the completely free and undeserved expression of God’s lovingkindness and favor toward mankind, because of what it does—brings salvation (Ti. 2:11; Eph. 2:5) and comfort and hope (2 Th. 2:16), and because of what it cost to make available (2 Co. 8:9; Heb. 2:9).  Perhaps some try to restrict God’s grace, making the requirements of Christ more stringent than Scripture teaches.  If we forbid what God permits, we are distorting grace.

However, our age tends toward the other extreme.  Far more try to make God’s grace extend further than Scripture teaches.  This is not novel to our times.  From the time of the early church, some apparently wanted to make God’s grace embrace things it simply does not cover.  Jude contended against some who attempted to have grace cover excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure (Jude 4). By leaving Christ’s grace for another gospel, teachers contradicting the gospel message distort not just the gospel but also grace (Gal. 1:6-9).  Paul also contradicts the idea that continuing in sin, without repentance, is abiding in God’s grace (Rom. 6:1).  Passages like these serve as a warning not to make God’s grace cover what it simply will not.

Grace will not cover willful disobedience, a refusal to repent, a lifestyle or habit, or relationship that violates the expressed will of God.  Some in adulterous marriages defend the relationship, trying to hide behind grace. Some feed addictions, sure that God’s grace will sweep away the guilt of it.  Some refuse to follow God’s plain plan of salvation, claiming that they will ultimately be saved by grace on the day of judgment.  Such ideas and claims are tragic misunderstandings and ignorance of revealed truth.  The source of grace is Divine.  So are the explanation and terms of it.  Paul’s teaching is definitive when he says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).  The life in Christ is a new life (Rom. 6:4), a life characterized by turning away from sin, lust, and unrighteousness (Rom. 6:12-13).

Let us never restrict God’s grace.  By the same token, let us never redefine it—especially to excuse or validate a lifestyle of sin.  How that disgraces and cheapens the act that brought grace, Jesus’ painful sacrifice.  May each of us grow in knowledge and appreciation of this great Bible doctrine!

The Vicious Cycle Of Pornography

Neal Pollard

Dr. Les Parrott III, in the book Helping the Struggling Adolescent, discusses the four-step cycle of pornography addiction. It is (1) preoccupation (with thoughts and a search for sexual material), (2) ritualization (the specific, immoral routine), (3) compulsive sexual behavior (the culminating act), and (4) despair (utter hopelessness or powerless about one’s behavior).  It is not just adolescents, but also teenagers, young adults, and the middle-aged who are caught in this vicious cycle.

Sin is described as a powerful, but deadly, attraction (Js. 1:13-15). It is described as an entanglement that can overcome one (2 Pet. 2:20).  Sin is destructive, though it promises life and pleasure (cf. Ecc. 9:18; 2 Pt. 2:19).  Pornography is one of the devil’s sharpest tools, slashing and cutting hearts, lives, marriages, families, and other relationships.  It destroys trust, can actually hurt natural, healthy desires, desensitizes the user, and alters how the user views other people.  Many experts say it leads some to act out on desires kindled by feeding the addiction.

The thing about Parrott’s observation is that the hunger so deeply felt by one addicted to pornography is ultimately followed by the acidic reflux of remorse.  However, the pain of remorse is forgotten the next time the hunger pangs are felt.  Each gluttonous indulgence in dark desires risks internal and external trouble like that already mentioned.

Like any other addiction, to food, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, etc., success comes in breaking the cycle.  That means changing habits, retraining thinking, removing temptation, and clinging more closely to one’s relationship with God.  He will help those who humbly and honestly come to Him for help.  Anyone who has struggled with an addiction knows that the low that follows quenching it is lower than the euphoria that precedes it or occurs during it.  Sin simply cannot fulfill.  It can deceive, but it hollows out and leaves a wake of harm and destruction.  True satisfaction is built only by channeling our hunger and thirst for that which is righteous (Mat. 5:6).  If you are struggling with this (or any) addiction, break the cycle!