I Have Learned…

  • That some people are not happy unless they’re in a fight with someone.
  • That there are still lost people hungry for to know God’s will for their lives.
  • That it is so easy to make excuses and so hard to make the effort.
  • That I still have so much to learn, so far to go, and so little time to do it.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the right.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the left.
  • That some people get “preach the truth” but not “in love.”
  • That some people know how to be loving, but are unwilling to preach the truth.
  • That there are some who believe they are judge, jury, and executioner.
  • That some preachers decide what to preach based more on popular opinion and felt needs than honestly, courageously seeking to preach the whole counsel of God.
  • That some run roughshod over others while hypersensitive to their own rights.
  • That some can tell you what the preachers’, elders’, and deacons’ jobs are, but think their only job is to tell you that.
  • That many of God’s people are striving to live right every day, often at great personal sacrifice and despite great opposition.
  • That there are some who do good all the time, and would be mortified for others to know it.
  • That some make sure others know every good thing they do.
  • That everybody is extremely busy, but some are better time managers than others.
  • That with some people you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent, and you may still be guilty in their minds.
  • That no one can hand you success, prosperity, or discipline.  God gives you the tools, but neither He nor anyone else can make you develop and sustain them.
  • That elders and preachers who work together create a bond that holds the local church together.
  • That we have overemphasized specialization (evangelism training, youth workers, Bible class teachers) to the point that many feel unqualified and “opt out.”
  • That every one of us that gets to heaven will get there with much help from God and brethren.

—Neal Pollard

SKELETONS IN LAWN CHAIRS

Neal Pollard

A man who was snorkeling in the Colorado River may have been expecting to find plants, aquatic life, and even ruins, but he did not expect to find two skeletons sitting in lawn chairs 40 feet below the surface.  The man was frightened, undoubtedly convinced he’d stumbled across a relatively recent tragedy. There was a sign with the date August 16, 2014, alongside the “bodies.”  Dutifully, the man reported the find to the La Paz County sheriff’s office, which investigated the scene.  The whole thing turns out to have been a hoax, a set up which law enforcement believes to have been nothing more than an attempt to be funny (AP report, 5/7/15, via foxnews.com).

Perhaps you have heard the adage, “Only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  We do not want to go through life as cynical skeptics, but there is truth to the idea that looks can be deceiving.

Sometimes we can mistake someone’s bad day or scowled face as anger or a vendetta against us.  We can be guilty of judging a book by its cover.  We may overhear part of a conversation, drawing an unwarranted conclusion without the benefit of “the rest of the story.”  We may think we know the circumstances or character of someone’s life based on partial “evidence.”  So many times, it is just hard to know.  In the end, what we thought we saw, heard, and knew turns out to be different from the reality.

Jesus warned, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  The Old Law had a similar admonition: “Judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15). Proverbs 18:13 warns, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”  When it comes to our dealings with anyone, but especially our brethren, we should be sure we have the whole picture.  That preacher may not be the false teacher he is painted out to be.  That brother or sister may not be mad at you, but hurting for unrelated reasons.  That rumor or piece of gossip may be totally unfounded.  “Hastiness” can be hurtfulness (cf. Prov. 21:5; 29:20; Ecc. 5:2).  In a rush to get the scoop, let’s always be sure we’ve got the whole truth!

“Every Way Of A Man Is Right In His Own Eyes”

Neal Pollard

I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly.  I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator.  I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it.  I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear.  I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways.  In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.

Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).  In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2).  Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world.  At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse.  However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says.  Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.”  Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation.  Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence.  But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.

Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us!  If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like.  When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores.  Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2.  “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.”  He never gets it wrong!

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!

MIKEY, LIFE, AND POP ROCKS

Neal Pollard

Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s remember the infamous Life cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the finicky little boy who liked the taste of that cereal.  Somewhere along the way, the story got out that Mikey—whose real-life name is John Gilchrist—ate Pop-Rocks candy, washed it down with a Coca-Cola, and had the resulting chemistry experiment explode in his stomach, killing him.  How many mother’s absolutely forbad their children eat Pop-Rocks and drink Coke thanks to this story?  It turns out to have been a hoax, urban legend, or whatever you’d like to call the fabrication.  Today, Gilchrist, who appeared in a total of 250 commercials, is sales director at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Who knows how these silly rumors get started?  It has been said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (stated by banker David Hannum rather than P.T. Barnum, as is popularly thought, by the way; R.J. Brown, editor-in-chief, historybuff.com). The idea is that people are gullible and many are trusting to a fault.  Cynicism is its own problem, and gullibility can be amusing.

Too many, however, have bought into ideas that could not be more destructive.  Consider the following sentiments:

  • “One church is as good as another”
  • “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere”
  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “Anything’s permissible between two consenting adults”
  • “Truth is whatever you think it is”
  • “If it feels good, do it”

Obviously, the list is rather long but these are illustrative of the point. How remarkable it is that such lies are nearly as old as the world itself.  The serpent lied to Eve, selling her on the belief that she would surely not die if she ate fruit forbidden by God (Gen. 3:4).  Jesus taught a group notorious for changing God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Who are we listening to? Are they telling us the truth?  “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

BEAUTIFUL FAITH

Neal Pollard

Every day Johnson Kell visits is a good day.  Today was a good day.  Though we were initially talking about some sad and depressing matters happening currently within churches of Christ and particularly a west coast university traditionally affiliated with the church, Johnson cannot help but talk about good and wonderful things he’s seen and experienced within God’s family.  He told the true story of how one positive experience has made such a ripple effect within our wonderful brotherhood.  It centers around a young man steeped in a denomination but dissatisfied with their teaching.  He had a friend, a love interest, who was from Wyoming. She attended a funeral in Casper and was so impressed by what was said and done by the local church of Christ there that she was converted.  She told this young man, who had moved to work on a golf course in Ventura, California, where Johnson and Dorothy was attending at the time, about the church.  He visited. The Ventura preacher, Floyd Davis, studied with Ken, who obeyed the gospel.  Ken went on to marry, not the Wyoming girl, but another young woman attending with him at Harding University.  He went on to get his doctorate degree in Texas and has built a fine Christian home.

That story by itself shows the power of the gospel upon an honest and open heart. When someone is searching for truth, he or she will find it!  If one has no interest in God’s truth, no amount of persuasion or argumentation may be enough.  The gospel still works, however dark our world seems to be getting.

Yet, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen is a heart seasoned by decades of trial and triumph.  As Johnson relayed this story to me, he choked up several times in his elation over the conversion of the young woman and the young man.  Never have I known one as touched by the gospel and its positive effects on others as Johnson is.  Get him to talk about the cross of Calvary, heaven’s plan of salvation, the joy of Christian fellowship, or any such similar subject and tender emotion will follow.  Listen to him pray.  Tap into his vast reservoir of memories of the church and you get a transparent view of beautiful faith.  Spend any length of time with Johnson and you know he’s spent lengthy time with Jesus.  Every time we part company, I pray, “Lord, let my faith shine like Johnson’s.”  Hebrews 13:7 seems to be speaking of elders, but the principle applies to this former elder: “Considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (7b).  When it comes to Johnson’s life (and all those like him), that’s my advice!

Taken almost 8 years old, when Johnson (then 88) was teaching our boys to play tennis at the courts on Dartmouth.

WHAT’S IN YOUR HIDDEN ROOM?

Neal Pollard

I had an interesting seat mate on my flight from Dallas to Denver yesterday.  Sue grew up the daughter of a TWA executive whose job was to ensure customer service around the world was up to par.  This meant she grew up in places like India, Egypt, and France. Her dad helped make Saudi Arabian Airlines an international carrier in the 1960s.  What was more interesting was what she told me about her husband, who she described as a longtime atheist.  His father was a “pastor” for a denomination which forbad watching TV, listening to the radio, and even considered playing marbles a form of gambling.  The children, including Sue’s husband, were raised in such a strict atmosphere.  One day, however, the boy found a room normally locked.  His father had always explained that this was the place where he studied for his sermons and did church work, but what the boy saw inside was a TV, radio, and so many of the things he had been told were sinful.  The man would eventually leave the boy’s mother for another woman.

When I heard that, I immediately thought about the powerful impact we have as parents but also as Christians.  There are those, especially those who know us best, who realize we claim to live by a higher, spiritual standard.  We make that claim when we attend church services, but we also do through the rules and convictions we hand down to our children.  We say certain things are important while other things are to be avoided.  This is essential, though it should be guided by a proper, thorough investigation of Scripture.  Yet, far more valuable than our explanations is our example.  Those we influence most profoundly should see a consistent pattern of righteousness in our attitude, speech, behavior, and apparent motivation.  We should be frightened at the thought of creating a “hidden room” which denies the very standards we set up for others in our lives to follow.  The discovery of such a place can devastate their faith.

In Romans 2, Paul is rebuking the Jews who condemned the Gentiles for their sins while committing the same things.  “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” (21-23).  Paul’s point there is that Jews, like Gentiles, are sinners in need of God’s favor.  However, the net effect of such hypocrisy is that it caused “the name of God” to be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” (24).

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May we ever be in truth what we claim to be and tell others they should be.  Do you have a hidden room of spiritual horrors?  Dismantle it!