Identifying The Source Of Trouble In The Congregation

Neal Pollard

One of my dad’s most memorable sermons, which he preached in more than one location, was actually a two-parter.  The first part was preached Sunday morning. Dad warned that he was going to identify the source of the problems in the congregation. He used a wipe board or chalkboard, and only put the first initial of each one up there as he preached. He said that everyone should come back that night and he would disclose the full names that went with the initials.  At one congregation, after the morning sermon, a large number of people came forward in response to the invitation.  Sure enough, that evening dad put the full names next to the initials:

  • Accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10)
  • Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24)
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
  • Devil (Heb. 2:14)
  • Enemy (Mat. 13:39)
  • Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Prince… (Eph. 2:2; John 12:31)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Satan (Mat. 4:10)
  • Spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
  • Tempter (Mat. 4:3)

Now, in no way am I discounting the free will choices people make. James 1:13-15 very clearly places the blame of sin on the individuals choosing to act on their lusts and desires. One is not possessed or overtaken by the devil to do his will any more than a person is overtaken by God and made to do what’s right. But Jesus calls the devil the “father” of sinful behavior (John 8:44). John tells us that the one who practices sin is “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Those who sin are doing his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan is at the heart of national, congregation, familial, and individual sin.  We’re told to resist him (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The hopeful fact is that, with God’s help, we can always successfully do so.  Let’s be aware that the devil does not want God’s children or His work to succeed. If he can thwart our efforts as a church to be united, faithful to God’s Word, evangelistic, and productive, he will do so. Knowing this, we should be more determined not to let him win!

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Tony Robbins And Proverbs Six

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you heard about the 30 “followers of motivational speaker Tony Robbins” who “were burned while walking on hot coals” in Dallas, Texas, over the weekend (nbcnews.com). Now, nearly 7,000 others were not injured, but when nearly three dozen were it became a national news story. The firewalk is “a symbolic experience that proves if you can make it through the fire, you can make it through anything” (ibid.).  But, there is a catch. Don’t run, have wet feet, or try to go across a firebed that is too long (the Guiness Book of World Records says the longest firewalk was just shy of 600 feet in Calgary in 2007).  No one seems to disagree that one cannot indefinitely walk on hot coals. God, who created fire and feet, moved Solomon to say, “Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov. 6:28).

This statement comes as part of Solomon’s warning about “the evil woman” and the “adulteress” (cf. 6:24).  He warns about her alluring beauty and ways (25), showing the consequences that one may miss when driven by lust rather than law: one is reduced (26), destroyed (32), wounded and disgraced (33), reproached (33), and repaid with revenge (34). One of Solomon’s two metaphors to depict adultery’s repercussions is feet being burned by walking on hot coals (the other is taking fire in his bosom and his clothes being burned).

Countless men and women have been deceived by the seemingly harmless effects of allowing attraction for someone other than their mate to grow in their hearts and minds. One may let admiration and attraction for this other person to take root in their hearts. Defenses are lowered and lines begin to be crossed. The thrill and excitement of the prospective relationship can come to eclipse rational thoughts, negative consequences, and the fallout in the lives of all the people affected. When David gazed at Bathsheba from his rooftop, he saw a beautiful, naked woman rather than murder, death, humiliation, dysfunction, loss of influence, and agonizing heartbreak. His unlawful desire for her prevented him from seeing past what he wanted in the moment.

God’s laws are immutable. One cannot flout them without the fruit that follows. So many who have crossed that line have desperately wished they could go back to the other side of that firebed and taken the righteous path. May each of us have the wisdom to see these kinds of things from God’s eyes, which are pure, right, and perfect. Realize that pursuing a person who is not your lawful mate is like playing with fire! Don’t get burned.

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PREVENTING A POST-ANTIBIOTIC APOCALYPSE

Neal Pollard

Economist Jim O’Neill had readied a report about drug-resistant infections, “bacteria and other microbes that have become impervious to antibiotics” (The Atlantic, Ed Yong, 5/19/16). O’Neill’s prognostication is grim and macabre. On our current trajectory, 10 million will die every year by the year 2050 and that doesn’t include those undergoing procedures only safe because of antibiotics (surgeries, transplants, and chemotherapy, for example). No doubt, this report is no fodder for a bedtime story, but it is not without suggestions of what can be done to prevent such an ominous occurrence. O’Neill gives a nice, round ten suggestions to avert this potential “plague” on humanity.  They include: improve sanitation, a global surveillance network, a public-awareness campaign, better diagnostic tools, avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture, promote effective alternatives, improve incentives for workers, rewards those working on the problem, adequately fund those working, and build a global coalition (ibid.). All in all, this seems like a practical, workable solution.

I read this in light of the global epidemic you and I are engaged in to fight together. It is the most dangerous threat any of us will face and it will be with us, if the world continues, in 2050 and beyond. What I find interesting is that many of O’Neill’s suggestions for fighting these microbes are the marching orders God has given us to fight our plaguing antagonist—sin.  Holiness, unity, improved evangelism, Bible study, avoid unnecessary fights, example, focusing more on eternity, better giving, and increased mission efforts all factor in saving more souls! It’s a system that will work locally, nationally, and globally.

Frankly, we don’t know that O’Neill’s prediction will come to pass. But, the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and then the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The majority will be lost (cf. Mat. 7:13-14)! God is counting on us, Christians, stemming that tide as much as possible (Mark 16:15-16).  Every individual you and I reach with the gospel is one less who will succumb to this eternally fatal threat!

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Can You Imagine Being $53 Million In Personal Debt?

Neal Pollard

USA Today’s Maria Puente is reporting music star Kanye West’s tweet where he writes, “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt…Please pray we overcome…This is my true heart….” (USAToday.com).  Hearing that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla were going to give away some of their billions to philanthropic causes, West tweeted that he wanted to be a recipient of some of that charity.  Since most of us will probably not make a total of $53 million in our lifetimes, we have a hard time imagining how someone could accrue that amount in personal debt! Perhaps horrible investing, profligate lifestyle decisions, and the like might explain it, but the lack of restraint and wisdom seems appalling. How could one person be so foolish and wasteful? We wring our hands and shake our heads, maybe condescendingly.
Until we consider something.

In a spiritual sense, we all faced a debt infinitely greater. Jesus illustrates this in a parable regarding a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents (Mat. 18:23ff). Biola University business professor Philip Massey did some modern-day math equivalency with that figure and estimates in 21st Century dollars that debt would be $7.04 billion dollars, and according to the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires would need to be at least the 102nd most wealthy person on the entire planet just to be able to pay such a debt (chimes.biola.edu).  Jesus’ point in the parable is to show how utterly audacious it is not to forgive the relatively minuscule transgressions others commit against us in light of how great our spiritual debt is to God.  All the combined wealth of the world is not enough to pay for one sin (cf. Mic. 6:6-8; Mat. 16:26). Colossians 2:14 uses the term “debt” to describe our sin problem, but the same verse tells us that we had someone more powerful and capable than any earthly magnate or mogul to help us pay off our debt.  In fact, “having nailed it [the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us] to the cross,” He provided payment sufficient for the sin debt of every single person in this world.

Can you imagine anyone refusing help who faced such an insurmountable obligation? Yet, the majority of this world has done and will continue to do so. By refusing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, they continue to pile up their debt. When the Day of Accounting comes, they’ll stand bankrupt and unable to pay. The consequences will be eternal!

Without Christ, we all face a debt that cannot be sufficiently estimated.  We need His blood applied to our sins or our situations are hopeless! How Zuckerberg will respond is unclear. How Jesus will respond is ironclad! Reach out to Him.

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CHECK THOSE LOTTERY NUMBERS CLOSELY!

Neal Pollard

Today, we are finding out that three winning lottery tickets were sold in the record-setting Powerball jackpot, one in California, one in Florida, and one in Tennessee. Each ticket is worth $528.8 million dollars. That’s an attention-getting number.  Here are a few more.  $70.1 billion dollars, the amount Americans spend on lottery tickets every year (more than Americans spend on sports tickets, books, video games, movies, and music combined). $755. That’s the average per-capita spend on lottery tickets in South Dakota. $800. That’s the per-capita spend in Rhode Island, who holds the ignominious distinction of leading the nation in this category. $230. That’s the per-capita average spend of every man, woman, and child in the 43 states where the lottery is played. One-third and one-half.  The poorest third of households buy half of all lottery tickets (statistics via theatlantic.com, Derek Thompson, “Lotteries: America’s $70 Billion Shame”).

Newscasters often report on these jackpots and encourage viewers to “check the numbers.” Lottery commercials often vie with beer commercials as some of the more humorous, clever ones to be seen. In the media and public venues, lottery ticket purchasing is usually portrayed as a harmless, even exciting, diversion. Perhaps many have failed to look more closely at what these other numbers mean for a person’s ethics and morality.

John A. Hobson, in the January 1905 edition of International Journal of Ethics, examined “The Ethics Of Gambling.” In an examination of gambling, including lottery contests, Hobson observes:

Gambling involves the denial of all system in the appointment
of property: it plunges the mind in a world of anarchy where
things come upon one, and pass from one miraculously. It does
not so manifestly sin against the canons of justice as do other
bad modes of transfer, theft, fraud, sweating (sic.), for every one
is said to have an equal chance; but it inflicts a graver damage
on the intellect. Based as it is on an organised rejection of all
reason as a factor, it removes its devotees into a positive atmosphere
of miracles, and generates an emotional excitement that inhibits
those checks which reason more or less contrives to place upon
emotional extravagances. The essence of gambling consists in
an abandonment of reason, an inhibition of the factors of human
control (Vol. 15, No. 2, 138).

Hobson was looking at the underlying psyche of those so eager to gain as much as possible while exerting as little effort as possible. But he decries more than laziness. He puts his finger on the most dangerous aspect of things like playing the lottery—the Bible calls it “covetousness.” It is an irrational, often compulsive, attempt to obtain wealth.

The BDAG lexicon defines the covetous person as “one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person, whose ways are judged to be extremely sinful by Christians and many others. In Hellenic society this was a violation of the basic principle of proportion and contrary to the idea of beneficent concern for the citizenry” (Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : n. pag. Print.). Greed is not confined to practices like playing the lottery, but it is legitimate for one to ask what motivates their play?

What is clear is what Scripture says about covetousness: it prevents one’s inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10), it is idolatry which again prevents inheriting this kingdom (Eph. 5:5), it is a failure to love one’s neighbor (Rom. 13:9), and it is a defilement of the heart (Mark 7:22). Let’s make sure that greed and covetousness do not “have our number.”

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THE PATTERN FOR MARRIAGE

Neal Pollard

Matthew 19:1-12 records an incident where, because the Pharisees are trying to test Jesus (vs. 3), He has occasion to reveal His will about marriage.  As we analyze this text, we find several notable facts about marriage. These verses show us the mind and will of God on an institution that is increasingly under assault. Consider four facts about this great passage of Scripture.

This is from the Christ. One of the more common arguments made even by supposed biblical scholars is that Jesus never condemns homosexuality. But what does He do? He defines marriage (4-5). The law of exclusion says that what God doesn’t authorize in His Word is forbidden in doctrine and practice. The Lord has authorized marriage as an institution between man and woman. He did not have to say, “…but not between a man and two or more women” and “not between a man and an animal” and “not between two people of the same gender.” He makes clear what He sees marriage as being.

This is from the creation. Other passages tell us Christ is actually the Creator (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2). So not only does He, as Deity, designate what marriage is—He designed it in the first place. Jesus reaches behind changes made to God’s marriage law under the Law of Moses and cites how God designed it “from the beginning” (4). Anything that does not conform to His pattern in this text runs counter to God’s original intent. You may not that this excludes more than same-sex marriage. It excludes adulterous marriage (vs. 9) as well as sex outside of marriage (this is implied here: “joined to his wife,” not “girlfriend”; of course, “fornication” or “sexual immorality” is dealt with explicitly in many other New Testament passages). Jesus goes back to the creation to state the pattern for marriage as being one man and one woman for life.

This is a command. It is not a command that you have to be married, but if you do get married you must conform to Christ’s will concerning it. We see this in the force of Jesus’ “but I say unto you.” He is exerting His right of authority, even showing His law trumps the Law of Moses. A person who is looking to be married must make sure their relationship conforms to His command.

This is controversial.  It is not just the homosexual community who balk at Jesus’ words here. I have close family members (and so do you, probably) whose marriages are at odds with what Jesus commands in this context. Jesus Himself forewarns that this is a difficult and narrow teaching (10), a rejected teaching (11), and a teaching that calls for extreme sacrifice (12). I dare say there is as much blowback from the heterosexual community as the homosexual community where this passage is clearly taught. In either case, it comes down to whether we will follow the command of the Christ, the Creator. Our submission or rebellion cannot change the immutable (i.e., unchangeable) nature of Divine truth.

Marriage is a beautiful gift given by a loving God. Though society may corrupt it and seek to redefine it, but the will of God stands forever. May we have the courage, humility, and strength to take Him at His word and conform our lives to it—on this and every subject.

WHEN YOU FEEL WEIGHED DOWN

Neal Pollard

Mark and Derek Noel have an incredible story.  Mark, the dad, thinks he weighed 460 pounds at his heaviest, though he couldn’t find scales that could weigh him. He talks about the depression, the shame, even the claustrophobia of being that size. He learned that he had a food addiction.  Today, he weighs 220 pounds and his son has also lost an incredible amount of weight. There’s still a mental struggle there, but through food journaling, exercise, and, above all, a desire to live, Mark is winning that battle (Megan Messerly, Las Vegas Sun, 10/19/15).

There are a great many people who can relate to the struggle and some who know the success of a story like theirs. A lot of people have eaten themselves into such a state of being, and most people struggle with self-control and wise decisions concerning food especially where it is abundant and easily accessible. I imagine few of those who get themselves into such a state are happy with the results.

There is something weighing on people in a far greater way than this, though.  It can happen in the midst of drought and famine. It is not exclusively a “first-world problem.”  Sin is a universal burden (Rom. 3:23).  The writer of Hebrews even describes it this way. He says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Heb. 12:1). David wrote, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psa. 38:4).

Sometimes, when people are discussing the sin struggles they are coping with, they say, “I just feel weighed down.”  They are describing the effects of guilt and unhappiness, a disappointment and self-loathing produced by a conscience all too aware of the persistent reality of sin.  But, instead of addressing the problem, too many try to work it out on their own and never leave the vicious cycle of serving sin. Paul says the ultimate outcome of this approach is death (Rom. 6:23; cf. Jas. 1:15). What can you do when you feel weighed down?

  • Be Determined. One older song begins, “I am resolved no longer to linger.” The Prodigal Son said, “I will arise and go to my father and will say” (Luke 15:18). The journey home begins with making up your mind that you need to go.
  • Be Dependent. The Prodigal Son looked at the conditions at home and saw his need of the father. He says “my father’s” (Luke 15:17), “my father” (18), “Father” (18), “his father” (20), “Father” (21). The father was able to solve the problem and lift the burden.  The son simply had to swallow his pride and go to his father.
  • Be Decisive. The boy took action.  His resolve led to his return. He went from wanting to walking. As the rest of the parable reveals, the boy didn’t regret his decision.  There was celebration and reward in coming home.  Contrast that with the burden of staying in sin.

It’s very possible that you find yourself weighed down.  What good reason can you give for staying in that condition? Wouldn’t you rather lose the weight? I know you’ll feel better if you do!

19 WAYS TO TANGIBLY IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TODAY

Neal Pollard

  • Try to spend 5 minutes of prayer in which you do nothing but praise Him.
  • Do something for Him that requires you to step out of your comfort zone—initiate a conversation with a stranger, give a tract to a co-worker you’ve been talking with, etc.
  • Have a devotional with your family.
  • Call a shut-in or stop by and visit a widow(er).
  • Write a missionary, expressing appreciation and giving encouragement.
  • Anonymously give a sacrificial amount of money for a family in need or someone dependent upon support (school of preaching student or teacher, missionary, etc.).
  • Contact an elder, asking him something you could do to help them in their work.
  • Make a list of at least 20 blessings God has given specifically to you.
  • Speak to someone at church services you have never spoken to before.
  • Invite a family from church you don’t know well over for dinner.
  • Put a packet with bottled water and granola bar, along with a tract, into a Ziplock bag to give to the person at the intersection asking for assistance.
  • Pick out a Bible book you are unfamiliar with and start breaking it down, looking for key words, purpose statement, and other clues to better understanding it. Take copious notes.
  • Pray for someone you are having problems with, an enemy, critic, or one who has offended you.
  • Alone or with your spouse and/or children, sing several songs of praise and admonition.
  • Carry a meal to a young mother who has had a difficult day.
  • Give a big smile and warm greeting to a fellow shopper or employee at a store or restaurant.
  • Ask the secretary for a list of last Sunday’s visitors and send them each a warm, brief note.
  • Think of an area for spiritual improvement in your life and ask God to help you focus on it, being transparent and sincere as you petition Him.
  • Ask the person closest to you (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) something they need for you to pray for on their behalf.

Can you think of additional ways?

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).

WHO KILLED CUSTER?

Neal Pollard

There’s quite the controversy over who killed General George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana on June 25, 1876. There is even a book by the title, “Who Killed Custer?,” authored by Bruce Brown. There are so many mysterious and hard-to-document events that made up this notorious battle that symbolizes the “Indian Wars” of the late 1800s.  Brown, analyzing eye witness accounts, gives an interesting top three suspect list:  (1) an Oglala Sioux warrior named White Cow bull, shooting him near the beginning of the battle, (2) Custer himself, committing suicide as he dashed away from the battlefield near the battle’s end on his horse Victory, and (3) Brave Bear, a Southern Cheyenne warrior, given the honorary title of “Custer’s Killer” at an Indian council in 1909 (www.astonisher.com/archives).  About ten years ago, the Helena Independent Record revealed the long-circulated, but secret oral history of the Northern Cheyenne Indian storytellers, crediting a woman, Buffalo Calf Trail Woman, for striking the fatal blow (helenair.com).

It is fitting that a man surrounded by so much controversy and whose reputation and achievements are incredibly enigmatic would have such a mysterious cloud hanging over his death. His killer is upheld by many as a tangible standard-bearer of justice and righteous revenge. For others, it is simply a matter of historical fascination.  There are even those who lamented his death, as the brash and rash Custer was widely viewed as a “war hero” by his U.S. contemporaries in the years immediately following his death. Yet, one thing we know for sure.  Custer was killed.  Two fatal bullet wounds loudly testify.

There is another mystery, one with far weightier and eternal implications.  Who killed Jesus?  He is the most enigmatic figure in human history.  He was viewed contemptuously as a blasphemer and traitor by the religious leaders of His day. He was viewed with depraved indifference by the masses who switched from adoration to execration in a matter of days.  He is viewed even more diversely today, 2000 years after He died on the cross.  The power and proof of the resurrection is a matter to write about another day (see, for example, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/644-resurrection-literal-or-merely-symbolic).

But, there is another vital question surrounding the death of Jesus.  Who was really responsible?

  • Was it the devil? Yes!
  • Was it the Jewish leaders? Yes!
  • Was it the onlookers that day? Yes!
  • Was it Pilate? Yes!
  • Was it the Roman soldiers? Yes!
  • Was it God? Yes!
  • Was it you and me? Yes!

How could all of these be mutually responsible for the death of Christ? There is no controversy.  The devil desired Jesus’ death, through which he longed to defeat the Lord’s purpose (cf. Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:4ff). In this, he failed (Heb. 2:14). The people that day were instruments in the hands of God, who accomplished His eternal plan of salvation through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:23; 3:18; etc.). We are responsible because we sin (Rom. 4:25) and He had to be made sin for us (2 Co. 5:21). The good news is that the death of Jesus was not the defeat of God’s plan. It accomplished the plan.  However, for the plan to be effective, we must properly respond to it.  The fact of His death does nothing for us, if we do not respond to it the way Scripture tells us to.  Thus, there is a much more important question than, “Who killed Jesus?” It is, “Who will follow Jesus?”