The Courage To Try

Neal Pollard

About nine months ago, a man walked into our building a day after being immersed into Christ. He had been searching diligently for the truth, a man whose hunger for the Bible caused him to study his Bible for hours every day (including on audio at his job as a metal fabricator). He continues those habits today.

A man whose life is as interesting as his name–Roberto Yrey–has been a blessing to us at Bear Valley.  One of the reasons I’ve grown to love him so much was on full display last night. Each Wednesday, a different man delivers a 90-second devotional talk. Last night, Roberto spoke. Don’t misunderstand. He writes devotions, short sermons, and articles all the time in order to articulate his understanding of a Bible chapter or topic he has been studying. He changed his mind multiple times before settling on the one he delivered last night. If you were there, you know that Roberto was nervous. He has told several of us how difficult public speaking is for him. His only previous public speaking opportunity was a Scripture reading during a devotional back during the holidays.

What he chose to speak about last night so aptly reveals a mindset that makes him so endearing. His message was that you don’t have to know everything to study with someone. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I don’t know.” It’s OK if you don’t know or understand everything. He encouraged us, “Say, I don’t know but let me ask someone who might know. Or let’s fellowship and find the answer.”  But his message was to not let the fear of not knowing keep you from talking to someone about the Bible.

I admire the fact that Roberto had the courage, as a babe in Christ, to speak to a room full of people some of whom have been preachers and teachers for decades, teachers in our Bible school for many years, and are mature, seasoned Christians. But I admire him even more for practicing what he was preaching. In our midst last night were two visitors–Estevan (there for the first time) and Sean (who’s become a regular attender with Roberto for several months). He had the courage to invite them. Today, we baptized Sean into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. A young Christian has already brought a friend to Jesus. All it took was the courage to try, to do what anyone can do who is moved by simple, trusting faith to just do what God has told us to do. I don’t know about you, but Roberto’s example helps me have the courage to try harder!

 

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(L) Sean being baptized today by Allen Javellana, who studied with him. (R) Roberto preaching at Bear Valley last night.

VISITORS—HANDLE WITH CARE!

Neal Pollard

I’m not sure where the phrase, “handle with care,” originated. It’s usually reserved for advice regarding that which is fragile or even volatile. It really is applicable to those who visit our assemblies because of their value and importance. They came through the doors of our church building intentionally and with a purpose. Initially, we cannot know why or how sincere their purpose. That process of discovery could not be more important. Consider some reasons why we should handle every visitor with care:

  • Each has an eternal soul (cf. Mat. 25:46). 
  • God could not love that visitor any more than He does (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6).
  • God loves that visitor as much as He loves you and me (Acts 10:34-35). 
  • That visitor is likely seeking spiritual guidance (cf. Mat. 7:7).
  • Each visitor is subjected to a first impression, being left by you and me.
  • That visitor is going to make judgments about the church, the Bible and Christ based on what he or she sees (or fails to see) from you and me.
  • The smallest gesture of kindness toward such a one could lead to the salvation of a soul.
  • We cannot know what anyone else is doing to make their first visit a good one.
  • Each one is being exposed to the Bible and to New Testament worship, and follow up can lead to further interest.
  • That soul is connected to many others, who might subsequently be reached (2 Tim. 2:2). 
  • You and I are official ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
  • The Golden Rule should prompt our warmth, helpfulness, and sensitivity (Luke 6:31).
  • We are each part of a team, trying to connect each of them with what only Christ can offer them (1 Cor. 12:18; John 14:6).
  • There is no guarantee that there will be a next time (Prov. 27:1).
  • Statistics tell us that most visitors find the churches they visit to be unfriendly toward “outsiders” (see, for example: Thom Rainer).
  • Loving others is commanded, and visitors are included in “others” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8; etc.).
  • Visitors constitute perhaps the easiest inroad to developing interest in a Bible study, as such have reached out to us by attending.
  • Our excuses (“I’m shy,” “That’s not my job,” “I’m not good at it,” “I’m busy”) ring hollow when carefully examined. 
  • We love the church and believe in its relevance and importance.
  • Each contact is a valuable way you and I can contribute service for our Servant-Savior (cf. John 13:12ff; Mat. 20:28).

The list is far from exhaustive. I am convinced that none of us neglects a visitor out of contempt or even indifference. Yet, it is good for you and I to encourage each other, to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” especially as it pertains to assembly-related matters (Heb. 10:24-25). Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the friendliest church around, especially if our message and practice is faithful to God’s Word? What a powerful combination! Let’s help each other earn such a reputation, for reasons such as the above. 

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Paul’s Portrait Of God For Timothy

Neal Pollard

Devoting himself to a theme of godliness in writing his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul writes to encourage him to teach godliness to people who enjoy financial prosperity (1 Tim. 6:3-10, 17-19). Part of his instruction is to point rich Christians (the case can easily be made that American Christians qualify as this in nearly all instances and many preachers in foreign lands on U.S. support do, too, among their fellow natives) to where the truest treasures lay. Along with encouraging righteous behavior, Paul points to God. He gives life to all things (13). Paul also points to Christ Jesus, who is faithful (14) and who is coming again (14) to give “life indeed” in “the future” (19). Certainly, as Christ is divine, this picture describes Him, though it is obvious this is a portrait of God. He depicts God as:

  • Privileged—“Blessed” (15)
  • Particular—“Only” (15); “Alone” (16)
  • Predominant—“Sovereign” (15)
  • Preeminent—“King of kings and Lord of lords” (15); “Whom no man has seen or can see” (16)
  • Possessor—“Possesses immortality” (16)
  • Phenomenal—“Dwells in unapproachable light” (16)
  • Praiseworthy—“To Him be honor and eternal dominion!” (16)

Why would Paul remind a preacher (or have a preacher remind Christians) about who God is? As we see in the second letter to this young man, motivation is vital! What keeps me serving God when life is difficult? When the world around me ignores Him, mocks Him, rebels against Him, blasphemes Him, and dismisses Him, I need to serve and glorify Him. What will help me do that? I need to see Him for what He truly is! So Paul pulls out a series of superlatives to drive home the point, “How great is our God!” 

In a world full of ungodliness, of “worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’” (20), we must be on “guard.” Nothing clarifies the task better than intently focusing on the nature of God. He provides (1:4), He is (1:17), He saves (2:4; 4:10), He is one (2:5), He lives and rules (3:15;4:10), He created (4:3-4), and He sees (5:21). What motivation!

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Still Restoring

Neal Pollard

The idea of restoring New Testament Christianity is “that God set forth His standard of acceptance in salvation, worship, church organization and daily living” and “to follow the teachings of God, revealed in the New Testament, to direct our lives in the same way as He did first century Christians” (therestorationmovement.com/about.htm). We can open our Bibles and find a pattern for what the New Testament church is to look like, not in customs and culture, but in commands and cause. Yet, a tendency we must guard against is a haughty spirit that portrays the idea that we have already arrived. Consider four areas where we need to keep at the restoration plea and overcome neglect.

  • CHURCH DISCIPLINE. For years, I have seen this referred to as “the forgotten commandment.” At times, people will say of it things like “it doesn’t work,” “it’s harmful,” “it runs people away,” etc. Were we to substitute that argumentation for subjects like women’s role, worship, or baptism, wouldn’t we cry heresy or apostasy? However, in far too many instances, we have simply ignored and failed to practice this plain, New Testament teaching (Mat. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thes. 3; Ti. 3:10-11).
  • EVANGELISM. It is so much easier to focus upon ourselves, to devote all our resources to internal issues.  Is there a spirit of evangelistic zeal running rampant among us? Is this an area to restore, to be like the early church? Perhaps we may be intimidated by the culture of political correctness. It could be the risk of ruining relationships or even rejection that causes us to avoid efforts at soul-winning. It could even be that we need to build our conviction for or commitment to this imperative given by the resurrected Savior Himself (Mat. 28:18-20;Mark 16:15-16;  Luke 24:44-47).
  • CHURCH ORGANIZATION. It is very likely that the number of churches of Christ which have elders are in the minority. At times, the reality of a shortage of qualified men is to blame. At other times, preachers or others prefer not to have elders. But, even where churches are “scripturally organized” (i.e., having elders and deacons), there is room for restoration— Preachers preaching and evangelizing, elders leading and shepherding (pastoring), and deacons actively carrying out  and administrating the ministries and works of the local church.  At times, there is a need to restore the roles of each of these works so that the proper, appointed men are doing the work Scripture outlines for them.
  • BROTHERLY LOVE. This is difficult, in a world increasingly characterized by hate, discord, and general worldliness. In our culture, where it’s easy to become disconnected with others—even our Christian family—we must strive to restore the beacon and central identification mark Jesus urged when He said, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Isn’t there room for more concentration upon this command, which will be reflected in how we treat each other locally and in the brotherhood as a whole (1 Pet. 2:17)?

I love to spend as much time as possible talking about what the church is doing right. It is doing so much right. By following the New Testament pattern regarding salvation, worship, the church’s purpose, and the like, we stand out in a religious world that has lost its way. Meanwhile, however, let us stay at the business of restoring the church to the pattern revealed in Scripture, even in areas that are more difficult and demanding though just as necessary.

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A GREAT FISHERMAN

By: A blessed fish

Let me tell you about the greatest fisherman I have ever known.

He has always found success at his favorite fishing hole. A special place where the inlet was fruitful, and many fish loved to be caught. His technique is simple. A welcoming lure. A handshake, a hug and a smile. Just to let you know you’re wanted.

He will always catch-n-release and the fish always feel better for the experience. Many wide eyed and spiritually young fish will enter the inlet, hoping that someone would catch them and show them the kind of love this great fisherman offers. He never judges a fish – their size, beauty, wealth or position. He only lets them know how glad he is to see them at the inlet.

His success is solely based on persistence, perseverance and patience. Three times a week you can always count on him being right there at the inlet. Waiting for the opportunity to hook’em and hold’em. He always makes every fish feel welcome and wanted.

He knows every fish by name. If he thinks a fish has drifted off down steam, he will go in search, armed with a tackle box full of Christian love and do his best to bring them back to the inlet. Not for him, but for their sake and for God’s sake.

He hooked this fish over 11 years ago. My wife led me to the inlet. But, he hooked me and let me know that I was welcome here. He helped save this soul for eternity.

I think he is getting tired now, but few may notice.  So many years of fishing, but he is still there almost every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I think he wants to share his favorite inlet with others who share his passion. Man, woman, or child, he wants us to join him. We don’t have to wait. We don’t have to be assigned the duty. We just need to step into the water and follow his lead. There is plenty of room at the inlet. Let’s all join this fisherman at the Bear Valley inlet and make sure every fish that enters knows they are wanted and welcome.

The great fisherman’s name is Clint and this fish will always love him.

Mathew 4:19-20

And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

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 NEAL’S NOTE: This was submitted to me by someone who wants to remain anonymous. Truer, more fitting words could not be spoken about one of the most special people any of us have ever known. We’re very blessed to have Clint Stephens as a member at Bear Valley, one of the men who was at the time a shepherd when I was hired. Enjoy!

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Clint “fishing” on a mission trip in Cambodia a few years ago. 

Misusing The Bible

Neal Pollard

Ashley Despain now holds a dubious, ignominious distinction. Visiting an inmate in a Nevada, Missouri, jail, Ashley tried to sneak him marijuana and methamphetamines by sticking them into the binding of the Bible. Officials say they have seen many ways used to smuggle drugs to prisoners, but it’s the first time the Bible was the means chosen (via http://fox2now.com/2018/03/29/).

File that under “truth is stranger than fiction.” As incredible (and audacious) as that sounds, Ashley was not the first to misuse the Bible. How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of enriching themselves? Peter speaks of false teachers who exploit listeners with false words because of the teachers’ greed (“make merchandise of,” KJV, 2 Pet. 2:3). How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of defending personal sin or a sinful lifestyle? How many have tried to use the Bible as a billy club to pound their own hobbies, convictions, and opinions over the heads of others? How many have tried to use the Bible to peddle some false doctrine? Peter experienced that, too (2 Pet. 3:16). How many have tried to use the Bible to manipulate others into doing things they themselves aren’t doing? Jesus warned against that very thing (Mat. 23:4). How many have tried to use the Bible to tempt others into disobeying God? That’s literally a Satanic trick (cf. Mat. 4:6).

James warns potential teachers to be careful, examining themselves in light of the judgment (3:1). This is not meant to scare potential Bible teachers away, but instead should help us consider carefully how we use the Bible. Paul mentions some that misused the Bible, even if what they said was true. From prison, he writes, “ Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15-17).

Like Paul, we have a stewardship (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3:1-2). Let’s be faithful stewards! None of us will probably try to smuggle drugs with a Bible. But, in every sense, let’s be sure to be “accurately handling” it (2 Tim. 2:15)!

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Romans 16:17

Neal Pollard

Why did Paul have to say this? After all those words of commendation to the wonderful Christians at Rome, culminating with, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you” (16), he follows with, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (17-18). Apparently, it was because dissension and division are always possible.  The same is true today. A loving, caring church can have one or more who are intent on causing trouble. Look at Paul’s words more closely.

The problem: “Dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned….” Specifically, what does Paul mean. Comb through the whole letter. There are doctrinal truths about salvation, Jesus, and discipleship especially in chapters 1 through 11. Then, there are moral and social truths about how we are to treat each other in chapters 12 though 15. Anyone who violated any of the teaching here was the object of Paul’s warning.

The prescription: “Keep your eye on [them]…and turn away from them.” Paul is saying, “Keep your eyes peeled.” Who are we looking for Paul? Anyone causing dissension (“a division into opposing groups…‘to cause people to be angry at one another’ or ‘to cause people not to like one another’ or ‘to cause people to think of one another as enemies.’” (Louw-Nida 493) or hindrances (the Greek word here is the one from which we get our word “scandal”; cause for stumbling; that which causes offense or arouses opposition, ibid.).  Watch out for people who stir up trouble, cause a scene, or instigate problems through a sinful attitude, sinful speech, or sinful conduct. Then, “turn away from them.” In passages dealing with church discipline, God says, “keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life” (2 Th. 3:6), “do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame” (2 Th. 3:14), “reject a factious man after a first and second warning” (Ti. 3:10), and “do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting” (2 John 10).

The perpetrator: Paul gives multiple descriptions of the dissension-maker. They are slaves of their own appetites. They sin with their speech.  They deceive the unsuspecting. In other words, they may appear to be one thing, but they are actually something else. They may seem like a victim, when they are the aggressor. They may claim innocence, when they are guilty. They present one side of the story, but there is way more to the story.

The Lord wants His church to grow, building on the foundation of the truth of Scripture. Satan wants the Lord’s church to suffer, divide, and be distracted. We decide whose side we are fighting on. We must always act to protect the precious bride of Christ from any and every attack, from without or within. God help us do so with love and courage!

HOW IS TRUTH DETERMINED?

Neal Pollard

Recently, I received some feedback on a recent article (Truth Is Truth, No Matter Who Disagrees With It). Negative feedback is not rare, but expected when we put ideas down on paper (or on electronic media like blogs). This feedback was not personal, nor unkind. Yet, it reflects the thinking of so many who shun the idea of absolute, objective truth. Consider the major arguments made by the one who wrote:

—No matter what you believe, the majority disagrees with you.
—You are no smarter or more sincere than those who disagree with you.
—Everyone is certain their religion is right, but this is a function of the brain and proof of nothing
—Conflicting views within the “Restoration Movement” shows the fallacy of being certain about truth
—Certainty is dangerous because it does not allow for change

The last three arguments seem more of a confrontation of certainty than arguments against truth, but consider each of these individually.

Does the inevitability of disagreement nullify the idea of absolute truth? If someone argues our answer that two plus two equals four, and were able to get a majority to side with them that the answer is five, does that nullify the truth of what two plus two equals?

If a person with demonstrable intellectual capacity and apparent sincerity nonetheless avers that two plus two equals five, do we rewrite the laws of addition and reprint the textbooks? If not, why not? Is it not because we can take two of something, add it to two more of the same something, like integers or apples or books, and find the inescapable, universal truth that now there are four?

Can any religion be certain that they are right, but be wrong? Universalists believe everyone will ultimately be saved. Those who believe that murdering those they deem “infidels” pleases their God and they teach others that this is truth. Cults often dub their leaders the Messiah. On what basis would we object or oppose any religious tenet, like these, without an objective standard of truth?

Does the imperfection of people in applying revealed truth impugn the reality of absolute truth? It will never be suggested that anyone is perfectly interpreting or applying the perfect standard of truth, including those trying to restore New Testament Christianity (which, incidentally, implies belief in a perfect, objective standard of truth). But, does that mean restoration can or should be rejected for ideas which clearly contradict what the New Testament says (i.e., “sinner’s prayer’ versus how the New Testament teaches people were saved)?

If there is a conflict between the certainty of New Testament teaching and the desire for change, which is to be preferred and chosen? The religious world has changed a myriad of things that the New Testament explicitly teaches must be done or taught a certain way. Isn’t it a faulty premise to choose change proposed by men, when it assaults a certainty revealed by God?

That there is religious confusion and division is indisputable. It is disheartening. The Bible warns that articulate, polished religious leaders would teach things contrary to the revealed truth of the New Testament (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19). Let us never put confidence in man, but let us ever put confidence in the truth of Scripture.

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“I Praise, I Participate, I Proclaim”

Neal Pollard

Yesterday afternoon, the Bear Valley eldership stood before us one by one to talk about their priorities both for themselves and for us. They distilled them into five simple words that describe five profound concepts: (1) Worship, (2) Communication, (3) Fellowship, (4) Accountability, and (5) Leadership. They told us that as the religious world is growing more homogenous in their worship style (a la community church model; rock concert-ish), distinctive New Testament worship has a chance to stand out even more. Yet, we need to always be improving our efforts in leadership and participation. They emphasized that communicating news, ideas, and needs is a process that will always need work and priority. No church ever arrives in this regard. They spoke of the importance of building a closer church family, knowing each other through age-related opportunities and entire congregation opportunities. This happens when we’re all together, in the classroom, and away from the building. They stressed the importance of holding one another accountable, for faithfulness, commitment, and support. Otherwise, there is no way to move from ideas to action. They told us that all of us exert leadership in some area. There is formalized leadership positions, as outlined in the New Testament (elders, deacons, preachers, teachers). But, inasmuch as we all have a sphere of influence (cf. Mat. 5:14-16), God expects us to lead. Throughout their entire presentation, they were specific about strategies aimed at helping us be successful. I appreciated the great challenge this was for us to work and grow. There were so many quotable sayings from their collective lesson, but the one that struck me most was made near the end. As we have adopted three planks of emphasis as a church, based on Acts 2:42-47 (praise—worship, participation—fellowship, and proclamation—evangelism), we were challenged to think: “I praise,” “I participate,” and “I proclaim.” It can be so easy for us to approve the church’s need to grow and improve in these areas or to expect the elders to do these things. But, no matter who we are, we can and must ask, “What can I do?” The key to being a great church is the willingness of every member to make personal application. It’s not, “What are they doing?,” “what are you doing?,” or even “what are we doing?” No! It must always primarily be, “What am I doing?” I’m thankful that our elders spoke with confidence and clarity about the fact that there is plenty of opportunity to be involved in making Bear Valley a strong, relevant church, a city set on a hill shining a light in spiritual darkness. Thank God for strong leadership, which encourages me to say, “Here am I, send me!” (cf. Isa. 6:8).

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Selling Children

Neal Pollard

In March of 2007, in Owensboro, Kentucky, a couple tried to sell the woman’s 15-month-old daughter for $3000 and an SUV. The noble purpose behind this attempted transaction was “money to pay off [the boyfriend’s] fines for previous criminal charges.” Surprisingly, they denied the allegations and maintained their innocence, an effort that would eventually be unsuccessful.

How heartbreaking that anyone could act so heinously. Truly, “Children are a gift of the Lord…a reward” (Psa. 127:3). Yet, while they are a gift from the Lord to us, in another sense they still belong to Him (cf. Ezek. 18:4). We cannot sell what ultimately does not belong to us.

What Charles Hope, Jr., and Amber Revlett did in Kentucky was certainly criminal, but they are far from salon among those trying to “sell” their children for one reason or another. In order to give their children popularity, gratification, or material success, some parents are encouraging their children to live a life of sin, worldliness, and selfishness. Secular courts would never convict them, but what they are doing is even more heinous than that attempted by those lowbrow schemers from the Bluegrass State. As Christian parents, we have an obligation to recognize this tendency and not “sell our children” out to anything that could replace their undivided loyalty to serve Christ. We want their hearts centered around Christ and His will (Mat. 6:33).

Let us both teach our children and realize ourselves their intrinsic value as ones made in the very image of God (Gen. 1:27). Within each of our children is a soul, every one of which is more valuable and important than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). May we never do anything that would lead them to exchange their souls. Whatever they gain, they will lose everything! To the extent we, as parents, can influence this, let us do with diligence. God has placed their training and spiritual wellbeing into our hands (cf. Deu. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:1-4).

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