Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

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Poking The Bear

Neal Pollard

It’s not a Social Media phenomenon, but those platforms have proliferated this problem.  Begin by making a provocative statement about race, religion, politics, other social issue, matter of judgment, or the like, then step back and watch while the unrestrained and undisciplined scratch and claw at one another. Soon, the issue is obscured by hateful remarks as combatants escalate the rhetoric. The tactic is utterly worldly, yet too often it is brothers and sisters in Christ with the sinister stick in their hands jabbing at the hibernating grizzly! My consistent question is, “Why?”  What is the purpose? Certainly, we should all be more critical thinkers, but such tactics as these generate much more heat than light. Rather than logical, rational points and counterpoints, they usually produce ad hominem attacks, reductio ad absurdum, and other Latin diseases!

When you consider how the New Testament governs our speech and guides our conduct in dealing with each other, you have to ask where the above-mentioned ploys fit in.  Here is a sampling of admonitions and instructions the Holy Spirit gives us through Scripture:

  • “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).
  • “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).
  • “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
  • [God hates] “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19b).
  • “Pursue peace with all men…” (Heb. 12:14a).
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).
  • “Love does not act unbecomingly” (1 Cor. 13:5a).
  • “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
  • “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul…” (Acts 4:32).

Be careful. In an attempt to be clever, relevant, and cutting edge, could we instead be alienating, divisive, and polarizing? There’s a big difference. May we all pray for the wisdom to differentiate. Especially in a divided world that is watching how those who claim to be Christians speak, interact, and treat them and each other, may we “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mat. 10:16).  Be dove-imitators, not bear-pokers.

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Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

Negligence Can Lead To Fire

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.  As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people.  Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire.  Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization.  I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89).  The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:

The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).

Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion.  A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.).  This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.

Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15).  Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff).  Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18).  All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.

However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff).  Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16).  Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.

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.

THE ULTIMATE “HATE SPEECH”

Neal Pollard

A couple of days ago, many of the major conservative news outlets broke the story of former Navy SEAL and current chaplain Lt. Col. Wes Modder who was removed from duty and threatened with expulsion from the military.  An office assistant, a young lieutenant junior grade officer, showed up last December with two “Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain” (foxnews.com). The officer, who turns out to be homosexual, had constantly drilled Modder with questions about his views on the matter. The ensuing handling of the case appears very unfavorable for a person in a position of spiritual guidance trying to use the Bible as the guide in helping people with right and wrong on such matters as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Time will tell how this plays out, but we are living in different times.  It appears that one of the more unconscionable crimes against society is to promote an objective standard of right and wrong which dares to call specific behaviors and lifestyle choices “sinful.”  Readers of my blog have written me and told me they have seen posts of mine occasionally labeled as “hate speech” (I would invite the reader to peruse my archives in search of inflammatory, derogatory, or unkindly written articles).  I have seen writers who would profess to be Christian and/or religious who are caustic, obnoxious, and unnecessarily offensive in tone and manner.  Such hurt the cause of Christ and do not reflect His spirit.  Hateful speech is, by biblical standards, sinful speech.  Scripture speaks against it (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).  It also exalts godly speech: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21), “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6), “In speech…show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12), and be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Ti. 2:8).

But, when we let the world—without knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches—define “hate speech,” we will often get things turned upside down.  We will have evil called good and good called evil (Isa. 5:20).  We need to remain convicted in the belief that nothing could be more hateful toward a person than to have the opportunity to tell them the truth about anything God has revealed in Scripture and speak lies, whether to comfort, avoid offending, or to validate what God will not condone.  We must reach out to anyone who rebels against the will of God in love, but what could be more hateful than encouraging anyone along a path that leads away from Him?  Any word of false comfort and hope is the ultimate hate speech!

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.

Bad Breath Babbling

Neal Pollard

You want to do some appetizing research?  Go to the Mayo Clinic website and read about what causes bad breath. The harbingers of halitosis include food that gets stuck in your teeth, tobacco, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth (this occurs most frequently when sleeping at night, thus “morning breath”), oral infections, and many similar pleasant precipitators (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/basics/causes/CON-20014939).  Now isn’t that a joyful matter to ponder!

Well, have you considered the very graphic imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 4:29 to describe improper speech?  He says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…”  That word “unwholesome” is an interesting word (ESV—”corrupting”).  It is from a Greek word meaning “to cause to decay” (TDNT).  The footnote of my Bible says “literally, rotten.”  The Greeks used the word to describe what offends the sense of sight and smell, but it came to describe even offensive sounds as an ancient fragment from Theopompus Comicus used the word to describe the “unpleasant sounds of flutes” (CAF, I, 746). They used the word to describe bad vegetables and rotting fish (WSNTDICT).

Notice what the Holy Spirit through Paul does with the word.  In guiding the Ephesians in how not to walk, Paul gets graphic by warning against “smelly speech.”  Get the picture by considering the descriptive word.  When you talk, does what you say have the figurative effect of compost, fish carcasses, and the like?  Or, let us come at it by way of contrast, as Paul does.  Instead of uttering waste dump words, use “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Throw away trashy speech through uplifting, timely, graceful talk!  Is what you say helpful to others? Does it build them up? Does it bring them closer to Christ? Is it just the right word at the right time?  If so, it’s like moral mouthwash!

If not, then let God’s diagnosis hit home!  Clean up your conversations.  Make sure what you say to others is to them a breath of fresh air!

Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Neal Pollard

What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common?  Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word.  Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language?  Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?

You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy.  You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person.  How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.”  Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.”  The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom.  That’s pretty serious!  Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.

Our speech is powerful.  One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation.  As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”