THE BOY WHO STAYED HOME

Neal Pollard

When we think of the parable in Luke 15, we inevitably think of the younger son who left home for the far country of sin. We appreciate God giving us the prodigal (reckless; wastefully extravagant) son in this parable to illustrate hope, love, and forgiveness, no matter what we may have done. Then we think of our favorite character in this story, the father. He represents God and reveals God’s eagerness to embrace and restore a sinner who repents. He gives the undeserved, unexpected, and unanticipated (cf. Eph. 2:4-8).

Then, there’s that other main character in the story. How does he strike you? After all, his brother has been reckless and irresponsible and his dad lets him off scot-free and even throws him a party. He robbed his father blind, and he isn’t even punished one bit. How do you see the brother who stayed home? Let at the text more closely and see how God sees him.

  • He was guilty of self-righteousness. He complains to the father about the reception his brother received (29). With self-righteousness, there’s an exaggerated view of our own goodness. There’s an exaggerated view of the other guy’s badness. There’s a comparison where we come out on top of the other guy. There are often judgmental assumptions made about the other guy. Let’s not forget that Jesus condemns self-righteousness (cf. Luke 18:10-14). If the Father walked up on some of our condescending conversations, He would spoil our fun since the spirit of self-righteousness is so far removed from the spirit of a loving Father who longs for His wayward children to come home.
  • He lacked self-control (28). He appears quick-tempered, not waiting for an explanation. We have the conversation between the younger son and the father, and the older son and the father. Where is the conversation between the two brothers. Didn’t he claim to be the good, righteous one? There was no self-control in the way he talked to his father or about his brother. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Js. 1:26).
  • He was selfish. Why did he wring his hands about the younger brother’s wasteful spending? The father, who knew this son, answered, “All that I have is yours.” There is no evidence that the older brother was concerned about his formerly depraved brother or his once-grieving father. He seems more interested in how these things impacted him. He appears faithful to his father, but for the wrong purpose. What difference would it have made if the older brother saw the prodigal as someone to serve rather than slam?
  • He had an unforgiving spirit. His brother has sinned against him, but he was unwilling to forgive him. One of the servants called him “your brother” (27), the father calls him “this brother of yours” (32), but the only time he directly refers to him he calls him “this son of yours” (30). Behind these parables, the Pharisees and scribes grumble at Jesus receiving sinners. In the first two parables, people sought the lost. In this last parable, the older brother made no effort to go after his brother. God implies as early as Cain and Abel that we are our brother’s keeper (cf. Gal. 6:2; Js. 5:19-20). Not only did he not search for his brother, but now he won’t forgive him.
  • He was jealous. He thought the father was better to his erring brother (29-30). You can almost hear him saying, “You love him more than you love me.” He couldn’t stand to see his brother honored. How contrary to the way God wants His children treating each other (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:31-32). The older brother was making accusations and he hadn’t even spoken to him. He thinks the worst of him and is utterly lacking in brotherly affection.
  • He was not humble, but rebellious against his father’s will.  He wanted to tell the father how to run his house. Do you notice the younger son respectfully addressing his father (21)? There’s little if any respect from the older son (29-30). The Bible condemns self-will. Peter condemned those despising authority and the self-willed (2 Pe. 2:10). Some people are loyal to the church as long as they can have their own way.

Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the prodigal. None of us will ever be in the position of the father. May we never find ourselves in the position of the boy who stayed home. If we do, we may lose our place in the father’s house!

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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).

CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

Neal Pollard

On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket.  It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris.  If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program.  Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.

When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement.  James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction.  The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.

To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church.  It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.

Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).  In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting.  It is no longer sin and self, but God.  What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”

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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!

Flight 370 And Falling Away

Neal Pollard

We are now several days into an unspeakable tragedy that is equally mysterious.  Despite sophisticated tracking methods and multi-national radar, a Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared without warning or a trace on Saturday, March 8, 2014. The disappearance of Flight 370 is an enigma because “there are only a handful of scenarios that could explain how a usually reliable wide-body jet could seemingly vanish from a clear sky with no distress call and no obvious debris field” (Tracy Connor, NBC News online).  At this point, all experts have are theories—mechanical malfunction, bomb or explosion, hijacking, pilot error or sabotage (ibid.).  None of the theories is entirely satisfactory, however, and friends and family from 14 nations find no consolation or closure from this heretofore unsolved mystery.

Though it fails to make the news or be as dramatic, there are mysterious disappearances continuously occurring.  It is usually possible to physically find the missing, but it can be just as hard to understand exactly why they came to be “missing” all the same.  There are multiple causes, but that does little to bring consolation or satisfaction.  I am referring to Christians who fall away from faithfulness.

Some fall away because of structural problems, a failure on the part of the congregation or some negative influence within it (cf. Mat. 18:6).  Bad example, being a stumbling block, and thoughtless speech are ways we can contribute to a Christian falling.  Some fall away because of something that “explodes” or “blows up” in their lives—financially, relationally, emotionally, or the like (Luke 8:13).  Some fall away because their faith is hijacked, maybe by a false teacher or even a well-meaning family member who is bothered by their “changing religions” (cf. Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1).  Some simply fall away because of “pilot error”—their own failure to successfully navigate the difficulties of living the Christian life (Luke 8:14; Heb. 6:4-6).  No matter how it happens, it should be a source of sadness and concern to those of us still striving to walk in the light. More than that, we must become part of the search and rescue team.  Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:19-20 are just two of the passages that should convict and challenge us in this work.  Not even the loss of a single person should be considered acceptable loss.  Not with so much at stake and not given the high price Jesus paid for each and every soul!

SOLA SCRIPTURA?

Neal Pollard

Pythagoras is said to have been the earliest outside of Scripture (Isa. 40:22) to contend that the earth is round. He did not make the earth round with his assertions, but identified what already was.  Sir Isaac Newton certainly did not create gravity, but he is credited for our modern understanding of it.  Likewise, the term “sola scriptura” is not found in scripture (similar to terms like “trinity” and “omniscience”), but it was coined during the “Reformation Movement” as part of Martin Luther’s protests against perceived corruptions of the Catholic Church.  It was a “Latin phrase (literally ‘by Scripture alone’) describing the Protestant theological principle that Scripture is the final norm in all judgments of faith and practice. Church traditions and customs, pronouncements of church officials, civil law or any other purely human source, including human reason, must yield to clear scriptural pronouncements” (Reid, Daniel G., et al.  Dictionary of Christianity in America, 1990: n.p.).  Did the Protestant Reformers, who, incidentally, got unfortunately got so many things wrong, originate that idea?  Because they were wrong on many doctrinal conclusions, does that automatically make the idea of “sola Scriptura” incorrect? It seems to me that at least three questions are in order regarding this subject.

What does “by Scripture alone” mean?

It means that the Bible does not share authority with anyone or anything else.  One author says it meant “’the freedom of Scripture to rule as God’s word in the church, disentangled from papal and ecclesiastical magisterium and tradition.’ It viewed the Word as supreme over tradition and the sacraments” (McArthur, John. Expository Preaching, 1992. Dallas: Word Pub., 47). A creed book, discipline, or annual church conference may vote and decide about what a religious group’s view on a matter should be.  They may even change their view from a previously held, correct view.  Or, a religious group may claim to have received latter day revelation and may produce a book they claim to be co-authoritative with the Bible.  Or, they may say “the church” and “church tradition” is co-authoritative.  The idea of “by Scripture alone” rejects competing or co-authoritative standards.

It does not eliminate the need to “handle aright” or involve hermeneutics (the science of interpretation).  That is a cognitive necessity.  You cannot read even the simplest of instructions or follow the most basic of tasks without employing logic, reason, and deduction.  That is not the same thing as a person, group, or book that claims to rival or co-authorize with Scripture.

What is the alternative?

That question has really already been answered.  The alternative is to suggest that Scripture alone is insufficient or inadequate, that is not the sole authority on matters of truth and right.  Some would even call the idea of following only Scripture as destructive heresy. Yet, the alternative to Scripture alone is Scripture along with something else, whether a man, group, council, church, or governing body.

Why is it so important?

This is the crux of the matter.  Scripture is God-breathed, making one spiritually complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  If Scripture is sufficient, what need is there for anything beyond it?  On what basis would we accept anything more or less than or different from the Bible?  How could fallible man be equal to or co-authorize with the perfect law of the Lord?  Let us accept no substitute or rival to the Bible!

The reader is encouraged to consider some excellent thoughts on this subject from here: https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/557-what-is-sola-scriptura

 

My Study With Armando

Neal Pollard

This morning, I had the opportunity to have an impromptu Bible study with a man who introduced himself as Pastor Dr. Armando.  He wanted to find a congregation who would allow his ministry and followers a place to work and worship.  Prayerfully, I listened to him and looked for my opportunity to turn the conversation from his program to the Bible.  After hearing him out, he asked if we would be interested.  I told him that he saw some great needs and had some intriguing methods of providing benevolence to our community, but the problem would come regarding what they taught and how they worshipped.  As gently as I could, I tried to show him what Scripture said about both–since both were matters he brought up in our discussion.  Judging from his facial expressions, he had never heard of a preacher or church approaching the plan of salvation or how to worship or anything else using nothing but the Bible. I told him we had no creed, council, synod, or earthly head who governed or gave us religious traditions to follow.  While he seemed very interested in the concept, his “pragmatic” side did not allow him to see how that would work with the group with which he already worked.  There were nearly 100 people, black, Hispanic, and white, who he said worshipped with him.  They believed how or when one is baptized was not important, and they were very drawn to their drums, guitars, and other instruments in worship.  Yet, as strident as he was about their beliefs, this idea of non-denominational, simple New Testament Christianity intrigued him.  We ended our hour-long discussion by agreeing to meet to talk further about these things in a more systematic way.  I’m optimistic and hopeful!

Perhaps we have bought into the idea that the “restoration plea” has been tried and has failed to find a following.  If Dr. Rangel is in any way representative of the religious world, and I have reason to believe he is, there are a great many who are totally unaware of that plea.  Could there be a whole world of religious people out there, disenchanted with mainline evangelical denominationalism, who would be open to New Testament Christianity?  Let’s pray for opportunities to share it and see what happens!

Was It “A Sobering Judgment On Human Endeavors”?

Neal Pollard

I am currently enjoying the book, “What Hath God Wrought?”–a book that covers a period in America commonly called “manifest destiny” or Jacksonian America, when America’s borders, resources, and prominence expanded in unprecedented fashion.  Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Walker Howe does an excellent job covering every facet of life in the United States from 1815-1848.  One facet to which he devotes a surprising amount of time is the first and second religious “awakening” movements on the frontier.  I was very surprised that he devoted nearly an entire page to the Restoration Movement led by men he notes such as Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell.  He accurately writes, “These leaders reached the conclusion that all theological and creedal formulations must be wrong.  Christians should confine themselves to the language of the New Testament and affirm or deny no religious doctrines beyond that” (181-182).   As Howe astutely observes, this movement was about the “rebirth of the primitive church” with ‘no creed but the Bible’ (182).  However, Howe found the restoration process itself flawed, writing, “The eventual outcome of the movement, however, renders a sobering judgment on human endeavors. The scriptures require interpretation, and restricting religious assertions to those of scripture proved no solution to the scandal of disagreement and division.  In the end, the antidenominational Christian movement added to the number of denominations” (ibid.).

What Howe sees is the ultimate division, but his purpose is not to look more deeply into the “why.”  Consider the premise of the movement, which he rightly portrays as rejecting creeds and following only what is found in Scripture.  While humans choose to engage in that endeavor, it is an endeavor to honor and follow what God desires and commands.  On what grounds would a professed believer in God and the Bible have for choosing something more, less, or different than the Word of God?

 Where did this movement encounter difficulties?  Howe would not reject the imperative of interpretation.  Interpretation is necessary in any field of human existence. Was it restricting religious assertions to those of scripture that was the problem and flaw? Or was it the imposition of man’s will and desires as on a par with and, more accurately, set above Scripture?  

Was it attempting to restrict religious assertions to those of scripture that led Addison Clark to say to the organist, Mrs. Mason, “Play on, Miss Bertha,” or was it not rather a compromise made to clamoring students at Add-Ran college (cf. Roy Deaver, Firm Foundation, 10/9/73)?  Was it a desire to follow scripture that led L.L. Pinkerton to add the melodeon to the worship of the church in Midway, Kentucky, or not instead his estimation that the singing there was so bad that it would “scare even the rats from worship?” (Earl West, Search For The Ancient Order, I, 311).

Because the church will ever be filled with human beings, it will ever be subject to the carnal practice of division (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-13).  That in no way undermines the rightness of our desire to follow only scripture, adding or subtracting nothing.  It further proves how valiantly we must subject our will to His will, and focus solely on what pleases Him!