Categories
Christmas scruples Uncategorized

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

Neal Pollard

To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10). 

When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.

According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong? 

According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers. 

According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.

According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.

When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.

This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.

nativitysilhouette1

Categories
Christmas church church attendance Easter seekers Uncategorized

Googling Church

Neal Pollard

Despite Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s fall, 2015, pessimistic forecast in the “Sunday Review” column of the New York Times, where he perhaps wistfully reports Google searches for God down 15% in the first half of this decade and presents data showing Kim Kardashian as at least 10 times more popular than Jesus (if such is gauged by Google searches)(“Googling For God,” 9/15/15), a front-page “USA Snapshot” from last weekend’s USA Today’s front page reveals a different statistic. Google Trends, which has been tracking searches since 2004, says that Google queries for the word “church” peak at Easter and spiked last year at 68% (3/25-3/27, 1A). Looking at Google.com/trends, searches for church in the last seven days spiked in too many categories to list but included “church service” (110% rise), “mass-church” (100%), “churches near me” (90%), and “Catholic Church (near me)” (both 100%).  Good friends of mine who are devout Catholics have referred to such querists and Easter or Christmas-only attendees as “C&Es” (Christmas and Easter), “CEOs (Christmas-Easter Only),” “Chreasters” (Christmas and Easter Christians) and “Submarine Christians” (because they only surface a few times per year). I’m not picking on Catholics, but singling them out since they see the biggest attendance spike and put special emphasis on those holidays as “holy days” with heightened importance over other days of the year.  Protestant denominations experience something similar if on a smaller scale. Many congregations of churches of Christ can attest to a rise in visitors on certain days, whether Easter, Mother’s Day, or Christmas.

While I strongly disapprove of the unpalatable, but predictable, gigging and gauging of those provocateurs with “in your face,” polarizing statements and ensuing debates praising and condemning these religious holidays, I am hard pressed to ignore the hard and anecdotal data. More people come to church services, including our church services, on these days.  While I have preached on the resurrection at Easter and the birth of Christ when Christmas fell on a Sunday (and cannot see how such is wrong) and while I have also preached “educational” sermons about the origin of these holidays and how we celebrate these great truths each Sunday and each day (which I believe is also legitimate), there is a matter of greater importance we must consider.

Yesterday morning, Bear Valley had a big crowd that included several visitors. Mark Hanstein preached on the work of elders. Nothing was said to highlight or downplay the resurrection. There were no awkward speeches about the origin of the Easter holiday and no pageantry to pander to guests. The worship, from the singing to the supplications and the Supper to the sermon and the sacrificing of the salary, was uplifting and encouraging.  As usual.

Every time we assemble to praise God and encourage our fellow Christians, we need to be sensitive to the fact that we are blessed with visitors. If we want to impact and reach those who “come into all the building,” on “special” or “ordinary” days, we need to prove it by doing everything we can to connect with them and take the conversation further. As you warmly greet them and find out more about them, ask them what brought them to church, what questions they might have, what their lunch plans are, if they are members of the church of Christ, and what you might do to be of service to them. Be genuinely interested and prove it with your words, facial expressions, and body language.

Did you know that the top church related search trends include “the church” (up 100%), “Christ church” (up 30%) and “church of Christ” (up 20% and the seventh most popular church related search), according to Google.com/trends? Who knows exactly what that means? But I can tell you what it means when a non-Christian visitor comes to one of our services. They are searching for something bigger than themselves. The real question is, “Are we searching for them?”

google search

Categories
Christmas worship

WHITE CHRISTMASES AND SUNDAYS

Neal Pollard

Why is having a white Christmas such a big deal to me, you might ask.  Well, for a boy who spent the majority of his boyhood Christmases in south Georgia, the whole idea seemed like a fairytale.  Also, for a lifelong Bing Crosby fan, the movie was always one of Holiday favorites.  I always imagined the “magic” of abundant snowfall on such a special and exciting day.  With the prospect of 2014 in the Denver area giving us what we only get 14% of the time, a 1/10” or more of snow on December 25th, it’s like being a school boy in Cairo, Sylvester, or Hinesville once again.

There have been a few years when we’ve had white Christmases, and none of them disappointed!  The biggest was December 25, 1976, a magical, heavy snow when dad preached in Barrackville, West Virginia.  The next would not be until December 25, 1989, a historic, bizarre snowfall in Hinesville, Georgia, when I returned home during my Sophomore year in college. At one time, it was the deepest snow they’d ever gotten!  It took over a decade until I saw another one.  Though 22 inches fell a few days before our first Colorado Christmas in 2006, it was the next year we were fortunate enough to be here for Denver’s deepest snowfall on Christmas, about 8 inches in 2007.  Some flakes flew in 2012, but gave us only a dusting.  Perhaps it’s the rarity, maybe the nostalgia, but it’s special!

All my life, Sunday has had a similar impression on me.  There are six other days in the week, and wonderful things have happened in them, but none compare to what happens on Sunday. From waking up filled with the anticipation of seeing church family to hearing, since childhood, records, tapes, CDs, or streaming hymns and songs by our favorite quartets and choruses.  The way you get dressed and get ready has a different feel, knowing what you are readying to do.  But this is more than nostalgia.  It’s an attitude God has placed within man’s heart from the beginning.  It’s the sentiment expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 95:  “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation!” (1). “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker!” (6). Can’t you hear him seemingly hurrying everyone.  Today, we might say, “Come on honey! Hurry up kids! It’s time to go to worship! I can’t wait!”  It is important that we serve Him and live for Him every day we live, and a day of worship cannot make up for or offset bad living the other days.  But, how wonderful for us to be filled with anticipation and longing for His day—Sunday!  How unnatural to lack that desire or be so cavalier about it that we can take it or leave it—assemble or not assemble.

So, I’m almost like a rabid fan cheering on the meteorologist this week.  I still get filled with a special sense of exciting on Sunday, too.  Whatever your take on White Christmases, never lose your longing for the Lord’s Day!  Merry Christmas!