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).

Stack Of Cash

Recognizing And Resolving Ineffective Problem-Solving

Neal Pollard

FIGHT…WOUND…WITHDRAW…REPENT…REPEAT.

That has never worked, but it’s the way many people approach problems in marriage. And, it’s not only newlyweds. Some people live out a lifetime of handling conflict this way. The sad and dangerous thing is that such a methods of dealing with disagreements can destroy a marriage.

The point of contention arises, whether financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical. The couple argues. One, then the other personalize the issue, attack one another, and exhibit sinful anger. This can escalate to the point that hurting words or actions occur. Finally, exhaustion, hurt or anger stops the fight. Each returns to his or her corner. Each treats his or her wounds or maybe even plots the next move. Soon or later, guilt or remorse overcomes each of them. For either peace or relief, they eventually hit the “kiss and make up” stage. Life then goes on.

Perhaps it is at this juncture that the greatest damage occurs. What did not happen? The cause of the conflict wasn’t resolved. So, what happens? The disagreement about whatever is still a problem. Eventually, it will resurface. Then, the cycle will continue. There will be more FIGHTING, WOUNDING, WITHDRAWING, and REPENTING.

If this system is so agonizingly painful and counterproductive, why is it so commonly practiced? Pride, unwillingness to compromise, selfishness, or inflexibility all may factor in. How can we break this vicious cycle? The answer is easy to come up with, but it requires great discipline and patience to achieve. Consider.

  • Do not let conflict “sneak up on you.” Fatigue, stress, and illness can effect demeanor, even when we’re not conscious of it. Resolve not to react without careful consideration of what you will say or do.
  • Practice the golden rule. Never say or do anything you wouldn’t be happy to hear or receive (Mat. 7:12).
  • Give your mate due courtesy. The Mills Brothers sang, “You always hurt the one you love.” That may be the tendency, but we need to do better than that. Should you speak more harshly and impatiently to your mate than to your boss, employees, neighbors, friends, or attractive stranger? Don’t let familiarity breed contempt.
  • Swallow your pride. Do you feel the need to always be right, to always win? That’s not healthy or conducive to a happy marriage. Pride has damaged innumerable relationships (Prov. 16:18).
  • Act like Jesus. While He wasn’t married, He did interact with many people. Not all of those were friendly. Many were prone to be antagonistic. Jesus preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mat. 5:9). He also urged conflict resolution as a high priority (Mat. 5:24). Jesus lived a perfect life (1 Pet. 2:22), a life of example for the rest of us (1 Pet. 2:21).

None of us will ever be sin-free and perfect! Disagreements will continually pop up between husbands and wives, simple because no two individuals see everything alike. But, the vicious cycle of fighting, wounding, withdrawing, repenting, and repeating is hurting more marriages than we want to admit. It’s time to get off the roller coaster. Let’s start today!

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