What To Expect When You Build 

Neal Pollard

The old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” seems applicable to time, place, and action. Though the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day stretches back 2500 years and occurred in a totally different culture about 7000 miles from here, it is amazing how what they faced and how they faced it is similar to our world and work right now. What can we learn from the physical building of Nehemiah to help in our spiritual building in the church today? Let’s look at Nehemiah four for the answers.

  • There will be opposition. Then, the opposition was from unbelievers who are introduced to us as those who “mocked and despised” (2:19). They will be driven by emotion (4:1,7). They will actively work to undermine and upset the work (4:8). They will actively work through verbal assault (4:2-3). They will succeed in striking fear in the hearts of some of God’s workers (4:11ff). If we can settle it in our hearts that the devil will never be satisfied until he defeats every faithful work for God, we will expect opposition to exist. The key is not to put the focus on the opposition.
  • There must be devotion. Nehemiah, who narrates much of this Bible book, shows us how you defeat opposition. You depend on God through prayer (4:4-5,8). You trust that God is at work in answer to prayer (4:15,20). You keep the focus on His power (4:14). If we can remind ourselves that “our [great and awesome] God will fight for us,” we can keep going through the most frustrating failures along the way.
  • There must be direction. Someone has to lead people to focus on God rather than His enemies. Nehemiah exemplifies godly leadership. As noted, he led the people to rely on God when doing His work. Notice that he also communicated to the leaders and workers (4:14). He reminded them of their motivation (4:14) and gave them a tangible plan (4:19-20). He also led by example (4:21-23), rolling up his sleeves along with the rest of the people. Such servant-leaders inspire and encourage success.
  • There must be action. Though their success ultimately came about because of God’s power, this did not nullify their need to work. They built because “the people had a mind to work” (4:6). The late Wendell Winkler was known to say, “Programs don’t work. People do!” Walk through Nehemiah four and observe the action verbs. You see them “each one to his work” (15), “carrying on the work” (16, 21), and “doing the work” (17). So it is today.

These were ordinary folks. They faced fear, doubt, and discouragement. They had limitations. But they “built the wall” (4:6). In other words, they succeeded in the task God gave them to do. We are not inferior to them in any way unless it is in execution. We have opposition. We can defeat it with proper devotion, direction, and action. The work God has given us in His church today must be done, but it can be done! Let’s do more than believe that. Let’s embody it!

New Horizons humanitarian assistance in Haiti

Is The Church Broken?

Neal Pollard

You hear comments in Bible classes that amount to what’s wrong with the church, what we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing, and what it’s doing to us, our children, and the world. You read people’s minds through their social media rants, raves, and ramblings, and the bottom line message is that the church is inept, irrelevant, irresponsible, or, worse, insidious. To hear some tell it, the church is not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful.  I know that we can be prone to say things out of hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness, but the words themselves are no less potent even if influenced by such emotions.

Is the contention, as one Christian sister put it, that “the church is broken,” true? Another way to put that is, “Are elders, preachers, deacons, Bible class teachers, and every other Christian broken?” Perhaps we impersonalize it and overly-institutionalize it with a nameless, faceless designation of “church.” But the church is, as we were taught as children, “the people.” People who are prone to say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and, sadly, the wrong thing at the wrong time. We disappoint, we mishandle, we poorly execute, we unfairly judge and criticize, and we simply blow it. That is definitely not an excuse or a permission slip for bad behavior. Yet, it is not likely to ever change.

Because the church is made up of sinners saved by grace, the church is broken. We who are quick to condemn the church as broken need to face that we ourselves, as those placed by Christ into that church when we were saved, are broken, too. Show me the perfect person who never mishandles a situation, never sins with tongue, attitude, or deed, and I’ll show you someone who will stand before Christ at the Judgment saved on the basis of their own merit and goodness. That won’t happen.

Let’s be reminded of what the church is.  It is the precious, beloved bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-25; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). It is that institution purchased by His very life’s blood (Acts 20:28). It is that which was thought up by God from the eternity before time as is the expression of His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:9-11). It is the place where Christ is glorified (Eph. 3:21; 5:27). It is the present the Son will present to His Father when time is no more (1 Cor. 15:24). It is that and truly so much more.

God designed the church. Reckless criticism of it is reckless criticism of Him. All of us should be determined to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, to be for others what we need to be, to conquer faults and sins in our lives. We should also extend to others the grace we intensely desire to receive when we stand before the King at the last day! Yes, the church is broken, but not in the sense that it cannot help, serve, minister, love, and encourage. Let each of us strive to be the church we want the church to be. Model and exemplify it. Emit the fragrance of Christ. That way, the broken church can help mend the broken lives that make it up.

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Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Neal Pollard

Most of us have favorite songs and hymns. My favorite category of hymns is songs about the cross. I love the somber, dramatic feel of Beneath the Cross of Jesus, a hymn penned right after the close of the Civil War by Elizabeth C. Clephane and one set to the music we sing with it by Frederick Maker a dozen years later in 1881. The cross of Calvary is treated as a metaphor of protection for one in a wilderness. One might envision the wandering Israelites making their way to the Promised Land and apply that, figuratively, to our journey through this world of sin toward heaven. But the song will change scenes multiple times until, in the last verse, it is a most personal challenge to each of us to be faithful disciples of this crucified Lord.

The first verse introduces the foot of the cross as a shadow of a mighty rock where we find relief and a home to rest in from trials and difficulties while pilgrims in a weary land (the world). We might easily think of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Some songbooks have a notation to define “fain,” a word used in the first line. It means “gladly.” I am happy to shelter behind Christ’s cross in adversities.

The second verse builds upon the metaphor of the first verse, then subtly shifts to an event from the book of Genesis. The cross is, again, a shelter and refuge. But, then, he shifts to an allusion to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10ff). He has left his father’s house and his brother’s wrath and beds down near Haran. He lays down, using stones for a pillow, and falls asleep. Moses writes, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (12-13). This is where God reaffirms the promise He had made to Jacob’s grandfather and father to make of them a great nation. It symbolized hope, reward, and heavenly assistance. The song writer says the cross is just like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, except that I ascend to heaven by way of the cross. Again, Clephane uses a poetic, if obscure word, in this verse: “trysting.” The word means “meeting.” At the cross, God’s perfect love and justice meet. His love is shown and His justice satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice.

The third verse becomes a straightforward look at a literal remembrance of the graphic, horrific suffering of Jesus on the cross. She focuses on what our reaction should be–a smitten heart, tears, and a proper conclusion. How great is His love! How unworthy I am that He would demonstrate it to me (cf. Romans 5:8).

The last verse is the challenge to respond to that sacrifice. We are to live in the shadow of the cross, daily reflecting upon it and letting it affect how we live. We are to ignore all else to focus on Him. Clephane seems to allude to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:14, if ever so subtly. Too, there’s a challenge to not be ashamed of Jesus and the cross, but reserve our shame only for the sin in our life that made the cross necessary.

It is beautifully and intricately woven. Despite some unfamiliar, even archaic, poetic words, it is powerfully written. What a great song to prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper or to sing when our motives gets clouded and our priorities get muddled. May we take the time, when we sing it, to consider the truth it teaches and the challenge it contains.

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ARE YOU ON THE LIST?

Neal Pollard

I recently heard D.C. Brown, illustrating proper conduct, mention a list I’ve seen at times in my adult life. The list he mentioned was of people whose personal checks the cashier was not to take. The offenders apparently wrote “bad checks,” checks they did not have sufficient funds to cover. The names, as is typical, were bold and legible to the customer as well as the employee. Multiple purposes are achieved through such a list—warning, shaming, identifying, and the like. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that someone’s name might accidentally land on the list.

Throughout our lives, we may find ourselves looking to see if we are on this list or that. When I was in school, they would publish the honor roll list, depth charts in sports, casts for plays and who was chosen for what part, and those who were selected for the Beta Club or Honor Society. The advent of the internet has slowly replaced paper lists with electronic ones, but the concept is still intact.

The Bible talks about a “list.” It is a list every thinking and feeling person should yearn to have their name written on.  The setting is the great day of judgment, recorded by John in Revelation 20:11-15. Jesus is sitting in all His majesty on His throne. Everyone, great and small, stood before that throne. They were judged by God’s Word and what they did with it. In a sobering text, here is the climax: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was throne into the lake of fire” (15). Jesus preached on earth that the majority of all people will not be on that list (Mat. 7:13-14). They will have neglected or rejected the will revealed in the Bible (cf. John 12:48). If never before that moment, at that threshold of eternity they will have never wanted anything like they will want to have their name on that list. But, then it will be too late. Now is the time to submit ourselves and our lives to that divine will and, by grace through faith, have our name written there.

Some lists we would wish to avoid in this life. The list, in Revelation 20:12, is not one of them. What a joy it will be to hear our name “when the roll is called up yonder”!

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THE KIND OF LIFE WE SHOULD LIVE

Neal Pollard

Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!

We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).

We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.

We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:

  • Focus on the Father’s house (2). Long for heaven.
  • Focus on the Son’s coming (3). Anticipate His return. We know death is an appointment followed by the Judgment (Heb. 9:27).
  • Focus on God’s fellowship (4). Long to be where God is and to follow where He leads. Let that desire lead you to fellowship with Him and His saints publicly and privately in your personal devotional life.

We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.

We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.

Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.

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Goose Hunting

Scott Philliips

A few years back I started goose hunting and I found out something very interesting about myself. I like it a lot! They are exciting to hunt, easy to harvest the meat, and they are delicious when I smoke them into jerky. Many of you probably don’t understand the challenge and excitement involved since most of the time you could just grab one off the street and throw it into your car. But out in the open, where it’s legal to shoot them, it can be a real challenge.

In order to get flying geese to come in for a landing close enough to shoot them, there are two basic tactics. One is decoys. Geese want to join up with other geese, and if they see some on the ground it tells them that it is probably a good area to feed and that it’s safe. In order to fool them, your decoys need to look real, and mine look real. Anytime I leave my spot and return, I spend an embarrassing amount of time sneaking up on my own decoys. The second thing you need is to sound like a goose. Your call needs to be authentic. It needs to get their attention to draw them into the kill zone.

Many of you have already connected the dots in my story. It’s so simple really. It’s a do-it-yourself lesson.  We need to be on guard as Christians so as not to be fooled or deceived by teaching that is not authentic, not the real deal. Teaching that may look and sound good, but will cost us our souls, can fool us.

But that’s not the lesson. I challenge myself and all of us to consider an even more sobering question. Have I become the decoy? Has looking and sounding like a Christian become enough for me? My calls are spot on. I can speak their language. My decoys look fantastic. They dutifully show up for every hunting trip. But they are not real, and they don’t move.

A real goose moves.
A real goose flies.
A real goose feeds.
A real goose is active all the time.
A real goose is busy being a real goose, all the time.

Read Matthew 25:34-36.

So are you, am I the real deal? It depends on what we do between “hunting trips.”

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[Originally from Scott’s “90 Seconds of Power” devotional at Bear Valley]

Do Brotherhood

Neal Pollard

Hayden Holland, who obeyed the gospel less than three years ago, taught his first Bible class last night at Teens in the Word. It was an excellent, hour-plus long study of the parallels between serving in the military and living the Christian life. In this very practical study, Hayden mentioned the Army’s concept of brotherhood. The fraternity and bond built by basic training and the structural philosophy of the armed forces creates this sense of brotherhood among soldiers.  Without fellowship, he said, disputes will pull soldiers apart. Throughout his lesson, Hayden urged us to “do brotherhood.” Brotherhood is a noun, meaning “the feeling of kinship with and closeness to a group of people or all people” (Dictionary, version 2.2.1, 2016). Peter uses the word in 1 Peter 2:17, a word, according to BDAG, meaning, “A group of fellow-believers, a fellowship” (19; cf. 1 Pet. 5:9—“brethren”). Hayden’s exhortation to us was to do what it takes to create that feeling and fellowship.  Saying we are brethren, even acknowledging and teaching what God says is necessary to become part of that brotherhood, is insufficient of itself.  There is something to be done!

He directed us to the seven values touted by the army—“loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity, courage, and selfless service”—as examples of how we can “do brotherhood” in the Lord’s Army (cf. Eph. 6:10ff). Doing brotherhood means taking time to listen to and help our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are struggling. It means spending time together, engaging in each others’ lives. It means being faithful to live out what we say we believe daily, in the world and in the absence of our church family, because we love them and don’t want to let them down. It means talking out our problems and disagreements. As we work to see ourselves as a part of something bigger than just ourselves, the effect is revolutionary. Non-Christians see the bond we have with our brethren and it draws them. Jesus told His disciples that this brotherly love would be their identifying mark to a searching world (John 13:34-35).

How often it has been observed that Christianity is more than a state of being; it requires a life of doing. The brotherhood consists of all those within the body of Christ. But, that “group” has to be maintained, sustained, and retained. Such requires action! My action and your action. Let’s be sure we are “doing” brotherhood!

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“I Don’t Feel Good Enough”

Neal Pollard

How many times have you said that? You may project an air of confidence that would make it hard for anyone to think you felt that way or you may wear it on your sleeves. But, if honesty prevails, we’d all confess to wrestling with that thought. Daily! With Paul, facing the scope of our challenge, we exclaim, “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). BDAG informs us that “adequate” means “sufficient in degree…large enough; pertaining to meeting a standard, fit…competent, qualified, able” (472). As Paul’s words are in the context of ministry, conscientious preachers who read that statement really get it. We’re fragile pottery entrusted with a perfect, eternal, and divine message (2 Cor. 4:7).  Oh, how we feel our own humanity as we preach the mind of God to others struggling with their humanity. We know our every weakness better than anyone else does.

Yet, the struggle I mention is not just the preacher’s burden. The best Christians I know live each day fully aware of their inadequacies and insecurities. No matter how many good works they do, how faithful in attendance and duty they are, or how actively they seek opportunities to serve God, they struggle at times. May I suggest that this is one of the biggest blessings of living the Christian life. No, we don’t want to live in a shroud of guilt. Not at all! But, consider what happens when we acknowledge our glaring insufficiencies.  We can see our utter dependency on God that much better.

Could Moses have really led the Israelites for 40 years on his own ingenuity and oratory? Could Jeremiah have really faced his audience on his own temerity? Could a renewed Peter have really preached that Pentecost sermon to Jesus’ killers on the merits of his own homiletic greatness? Could Paul have really transformed the first-century world on the foundation of his cosmopolitan experience and top-notch education from Gamaliel University?

Repeatedly, throughout His ministry, Jesus decries the Pharisaical tendency of trusting in self (Luke 16:5; 18:9). Ultimately, it’s a farce anyway. I may struggle with different weaknesses than you, but I still struggle. While that is never an excuse to give up and indulge in sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-2), it is a great, daily starting place to appreciate our need of God’s favor and friendship. We are not going to make it through this world on our own merits. As the beautiful old song suggests, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee….”

Here’s the beautiful thing that happens when we recognize our shortcomings and inabilities. We become an empty vessel that God can fill to accomplish His work. God will open doors of opportunity for us to do, by His might, what we could never have hoped to do without Him. Whether doors of service (teacher, elder, preacher, deacon, etc.), lives of holiness, or works of obedience, we will live in amazement of His power. Or, as Paul put it, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20-21). Take heart, Christian! You’re not doing this alone. You can’t! But, what can God not do? That thought is exciting and thrilling. With that in mind, no mountain is too formidable. He’s got this!

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Thick Skin And A Tender Heart

Neal Pollard

We live in the age of hypersensitivity, fragile feelings, and the easily offended. I’m convinced that this is often a worldly, self-centered response our forefathers would have hardly believed could be the serious behavior of adults.  Sadly, it can be found within the body of Christ and even from preachers. I’ve seen articles meant to remind our brothers and sisters that preachers are people, too, and it’s not nice to hurt our feelings. As a lifelong preacher’s kid, a preacher all of my adult life, and now the father of three preachers, I am acquainted with the daily, personal life of a preacher. Yes, we do live in a glass house. Yes, we will occasionally be criticized unfairly. Yes, we will be exposed to brethren who act like the world in their treatment of us. Yes, we will encounter and must endure a variety of hardships.

However, what a small price to pay for the greatest work in the world. Moreover, we would inevitably face pressure, opposition, and unfairness whatever profession we chose as we live in a fallen world filled with imperfect people (even among the redeemed). Further, whatever we face today would seem to pale to the travails and tribulations our preaching ancestors, Old Testament and New Testament, endured for sharing the good news.  Throughout time, in response to that, some have caved, others have callused, and still others have maintained cheer, courage, and compassion.

Especially with the resurgence of emphasis on such a mentality as “the art of manliness,” here is an area where God needs His proclaimers to act like men. What that will mean, in ministry, is maintaining thick skin. Don’t take everything personally. Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeves. Don’t always internalize, when someone who is hurting or struggling lashes out and you happen to walk into the crosshairs. Don’t be ready to cave and cry at every conflict and interpersonal “crisis.” Don’t fail to do self-analysis when these things happen.

Meanwhile, this toughness in the face of “job hazards” must be balanced with a tender heart. Such a heart will help you keep a sunny disposition, see people, their lives and souls, compassionately, maintain a desire to serve God and people, stay devoted to God as you minister, and keep your dependency upon Him strong. This is vital to our own spiritual preservation and growth.

I’m certainly not blind and naive. I could recount sufficient tales of travails suffered within my own family’s collective experience (I have several other family members who have been or are preachers, too). It’s how we view, share, and build on these that can make all the difference. Keep in mind that the great majority of our brothers and sisters will treat us well, often better than we deserve. If we are unjustly treated, our righteous reaction can serve to motivate others to imitate us in their mistreatment (see 1 Peter).  Preachers should be men who maintain hearts tenderized by the awesome power of God and precious promises of His Word.

 

Watching Godly Elders

Neal Pollard

We are blessed with seven wonderful elders here! They span in age from 48 to 81, are of varying backgrounds, personalities, and skillsets, but collectively they reflect God’s wisdom for a plurality of godly men shepherding the flock. With the magnitude of the work and workload here, I cannot help but stand in awe of the great job they are doing. To watch men like these, I’m reminded of the powerful good done by apt, able elders. Far from an exhaustive list, they:

  • Show Hospitality—They open their homes freely and frequently, getting to know the sheep.
  • Keep Track—They make it their business to account for the sheep, knowing they will give an account for each of them ultimately.
  • Cast Vision—They do not lead from the rear; they thoughtfully, decisively get out front and show the way.
  • Greet Visitors—They care about our members, but they are constantly focused of who’s new around here.
  • Contemplate Problems—In the spirit of Solomon, they are presented with and must decide often complex, hairy matters…in real time.
  • Faithfully Pray—Listen to men pray and you get a pretty good idea how practiced they are. These men are devoted to it.
  • Show Heart—They aren’t afraid to demonstrate their care, concern, and love. We see it in their passion, their tears, and their involvement.
  • Manage People—Sheep are also of differing temperaments, needs, problems, and levels of maturity. They deal with “all kinds.”
  • Consult God—How exciting to see overseers humbly searching for and submitting to a “Thus saith the Lord.”
  • Balance Time—They do all of this while being competent employees, conscientious family men, and character-filled Christians.
  • Set Direction—They are tone setters in a basic way; What they emphasis, we will make important. We hear their voice, in the assemblies, meetings, and private conversations.
  • Make Mistakes—Despite sometimes unreasonable expectations from some, they are terminally human and inevitably subject to imperfection.
  • Follow Jesus—They are good shepherds walking behind the Good Shepherd. They want to serve, please, and imitate Him. Ours do a fantastic job of that.

Have you seen what a great job these men are doing? Have you taken the time to stop and let them know? Many churches veer from the straight and narrow path because of ungodly elderships. Thank God for the shepherds at Bear Valley!

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