A Family, A Fraternity, And A Fellowship

Neal Pollard

A little over a week ago, my son Dale called me to tell me one of his elders gave him tickets for the Georgia-Missouri football game. He asked if I could swing coming. Thanks to a generous travel voucher from American Airlines, I was able to go on short notice on their nickel. The best part of this trip was getting to see one of my adult children for a couple of days. We made the most of those moments, and that game between the hedges was not a disappointment. Though Dale had watched games with me on TV, he was not the diehard fan I have been since 1979. We made the drive from Valdosta to Athens. Once on campus, he got his first glimpse into “Dawg Nation.” By the time we left the game, he was hooked. Georgia has another diehard fan. What did the trick? Perhaps the camaraderie between people who otherwise would not come into contact with each other. There was the shared lingo, shared knowledge, shared passion, and even shared clothing color schemes. There were traditions to partake in. People were excited for every play and intensely interested in the outcome. That was infectious! It was an unforgettable experience we plan to duplicate in the future.

As I look back on that great memory, I got to thinking about an infinitely stronger bond I have. Even regarding this game, I think about the part they played. I’m talking about the Lord’s church and the Christians who make it up. There was Doug Jones, the elder who gave us the tickets. There was Wes Hazel, who let Dale borrow his car so he didn’t have to pick me up from the airport or carry me around on the back of his motorcycle. There were Lance and Susan Leavens, who opened their home to allow Dale and me to take a nap before I caught a flight back to Denver yesterday morning and Dale drove back to Valdosta. While I was in Georgia, Kathy was in Texas doing a ladies day, and Carl was experiencing major trouble with his truck, an overwhelming, generous response from literally dozens of Christians helped make it possible for our youngest to resolve that heart-sinking trouble.

All too frequently, I see people who major in pointing out the perceived problems and seeming shortcomings of the saints. To listen to them, we do nothing right and even do those things from sinister motives. As a preacher’s kid who’s lived a life of a full-time preacher for more than a quarter century, I am far from naive. The church, without exception, is comprised of flawed, faulty, and finite folks. I have been extremely disappointed in the actions of church members, from the leadership to the membership. I have tearfully witnessed Christians abandon the church for the world, breaking many hearts in the process. But, the church is special. It is unique, from the doctrinal standpoint, dedicated to speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent and seeking to replicate New Testament Christianity.

In addition to that, there is the common bond we share. What a fellowship! What a family! What a fraternity! You read it when you open up the New Testament. As importantly, you experience it today when you open your heart and life to all the others who make up this special group. We’re incurably imperfect. We should strive to be more patient and gracious. But, God’s people are the greatest in the world! Thank God for that blessing today and every day.

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REDUCING RIOTOUS RACE RHETORIC

Neal Pollard

At various times when I was growing up, I called Hawkinsville, Rockmart, Cairo, Sylvester, Franklin, and Hinesville, Georgia, home. While my dad was once fired from a congregation for converting a black woman, race relations in those rural towns—at least among us children—were excellent. While High School was very cliquish (along a great many lines more significant than racial ones), many of us had close, great relationships across racial lines. Certainly, there were instances of prejudice—from every race toward every race—but it was not characteristic. Perhaps it was because we were not constantly obsessed with it. We just got along.

Are you getting sick of hearing politicians, the media, and even social media (including from some members of the church) fanning the flames of dissension on this topic? I am. From my imperfect observations, I see the following:

Less Productive:

  • Placing blame on any one side
  • Having our minds closed to discussion
  • Stereotyping and pigeon-holing
  • Guilt-tripping and manipulating
  • Living in the past rather than dealing with the present
  • Categorizing everyone on the basis of their skin color
  • Blaming or praising based on geographic or political boundaries
  • Cherry-picking historical incidents to validate one’s point of view or assertion
  • Thinking our personal experience is indicative of everyone else’s

More Productive:

  • Eradicating concepts like “predominantly white” or “predominantly black” congregations
  • Showing Christ-like love and acceptance to people who look and sound different from us
  • Showing hospitality and associating with people of every race and walk of life (publicly and privately)
  • Getting to the point where we don’t associate anyone with their race or ethnicity
  • Teaching our children to choose friends and spouses based on the content of their character rather than color of skin
  • Extending the “Golden Rule” to race relations like we should every other issue
  • Selecting preachers, deacons, elders, and other church leaders with no regard to anything so superficial as skin color

The Bible says that God made every race (ethnos—nation, culture) from one man (Acts 17:26). The Bible says the whole earth was populated from Noah’s three sons (Gen. 9:19). The Bible speaks of the “human race” (Jas. 3:7), and doesn’t emphasize a red, yellow, black, or white race. The Bible says that heaven will be populated by people of “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9). Let us make sure, especially as Christians, that we are not fanning the flames of division, animosity, controversy, and hatred by treating this important subject in a way that takes people’s eyes off of Jesus or the church’s true mission! Surely this will reach more people of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.

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Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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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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Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

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Caesar’s Citizen Headline: “The Jerusalem Church Splits Over Politics!”

Neal Pollard

Barak monitored the results of the latest Imperial policies out of Rome. And he hashed it and rehashed it with his brethren at the fellowship meals, on his job at the fish market, and definitely, with vehemence, within his inner circle of friends and family.  Elchanan came from a long line of zealots, and, although he had become a Christian several years before, his leanings and passion about the matter were well-known to anyone who spent any time with him. Michael, Zechariah, and Esther voiced their empathy for Elchanan’s position, while Gaius, Claudia, Junius, and Manius, ever loyal to the politics of their native homeland, aligned themselves with Barak. Unfortunately, they all also were Christians who worshipped together or in neighboring congregations around Jerusalem. They got so caught up in it that they marched, they protested, they pledged allegiance with oaths, they argued, and they held one another in contempt and suspicion. Meanwhile, Jews and Gentiles all around them lived and died without hearing the message of Jesus and the purpose He died to make available to them. They did not associate those early Christians with love. They had no clue about the heart of the gospel message, the good news they needed in the unstable times in which they lived. They failed to see distinctiveness and kindness. They saw a mirrored reflection of their unregenerate selves. Mired in the smallness of contemporary concern, the church at Jerusalem, distracted from their mission, never taught lost souls, devoted themselves to service, or lived lives that showed utmost trust in Jesus and His power to save and transform. Predictably, these small bands of disciples circled their chariots around themselves and hid their lights under their baskets.

That’s not quite the way Luke records it. Politics was a constant, headline news matter in the first century. There was volatility and polarization. With the theatre and stadiums, there were no shortages of entertainment diversions, too. But, reading the book of Acts, you find a quickly growing band of disciples reaching the thousands in number precisely because they stayed above the sensual fray of politics or any other ephemeral concerns. They understand what lasted and what wouldn’t. From the first verse that records their collective activity, they were “devoted” (Acts 2:42). Their devotion was powerfully, primarily, and passionately Jesus and His will.

It doesn’t matter that we’re 2000 years removed from that, or that our situation isn’t exactly parallel. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our primary focus must be the same as theirs. Ever wonder who benefits the most from our getting mired in the mud of these carnal things? It isn’t Jesus!

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Going Places (GUEST BAKER: Trent Woolley)

Trent Woolley

The other day I stumbled upon this rather innocuous quote – “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before” (Life’s Little Instruction Book).  Obviously, this quote is talking about travel, but I would like us to think of it as challenging ourselves to do things that we may have never done before. So, let’s take a look at some things that might help us, as a church, go places that we may have never been before:

  •   Volunteer to teach a class, or help teach a class, or help teach others how to teach a class
  •   Offer to pick-up someone who needs a ride to church
  •   Spend a month at the greeting table getting to know our visitors
  •   Prepare and present a 90 Seconds of Power
  •   Pray with an elder
  •   Commit to visit all the shut-ins this year
  •   Write a note of encouragement to all our members whose last name begins with R,
  •    or M, or C…
  •   Host a devotional for: the teens, the young professionals, the young families, the
    tweeners, the seniors
  •   Teach the congregation a new song, or an old song we don’t know
  •   Stand at one of the doors and greet everyone who comes in

    This is just a short list of some places we might have never been before, I’m sure
    there are other places that we all would like to try and go to.

    And if we start to think “I can’t do that”, let me remind us of what God tells us in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded, you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

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The Best Thing To Do For The Body This Year

Neal Pollard

When it comes to caring for the physical body, I have a lot to learn. While I work out nearly day, my most developed muscle is the table one. I will be working to use that muscle far less this year. But judging from all the new faces in the gym this morning, there are a lot of people who are going to be exercising their bodies who haven’t been doing so—at least for the next few days or weeks.

When it comes to caring for the spiritual body of Christ, I have even more to learn. Helping the church grow, develop, and fulfill its purpose better is a challenge that grows more daunting with each new year as our culture changes, our own distractions mount, and our sight is so easily eclipsed by the influence of this world. With that in mind, there is something we can do for His body that will give it its best opportunity to please God.  It centers around what we do with the Bible, as a church.

We must have confidence that God’s Word will give us what we need to have to be what we need to be. Through such, we will be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It takes the Word to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Isn’t this what Paul is also saying to Colosse, when he urges them to hold fast to the head so that the body would grow “with a growth which is from God”? (Col. 2:19).  We cannot hope to strengthen and protect Christ’s spiritual body locally without consulting the training manual of the Great Physician.  Let’s make that specific and practical:

  • Preachers must lovingly preach even the difficult subjects (i.e., God’s law of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the distinct plan of salvation, the undenominational, singular nature of the New Testament church, God’s sexual ethics, the role of men and women, God’s pattern of worship, personal purity, etc.) and be a living example of the believer as their ethic is driven by that Word.
  • Elders must shepherd guided by the infallible Word and not with personal favoritism, deciding solely on popularity or what the majority favors, bending to political correctness, fear of offending influential members, and the like.
  • Deacons must function in a way that shows discipline, dedication, devotion, and discretion which is shaped and guided by the New Testament pattern for their works.
  • Members must follow with love, esteem, and cooperation when their leaders urge them to follow God’s truth, even if it’s distasteful to us or challenges our comfort and complacency.
  • Individual Christians must discipline their hearts and minds to be open and submissive to what they encounter in Scripture rather than be defensive and rebellious.
  • Families must dedicate themselves to studying and honoring the Word at home, in their daily lives, to grow and mature in the Words of truth.
  • Each of us must see the mandate to save souls, repeated throughout the New Testament, as a personal responsibility for which God holds us all accountable.

Isn’t it exciting to think about how much stronger the body of Christ where we are might be this time next year? If each of us will allow God’s inspired word to be the beacon and guide of our lives, His body is going to be powerful, noticeable, and desirable. We will draw men to Christ. We will be the picture of spiritual health. As you make your resolutions, won’t you determine to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you (Col. 3:16).

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Dying Villages (And Dying Churches)

Neal Pollard

Liza Zhakova and Dima Zharov have written an extensive expose of a phenomenon I was totally unaware of—the depopulation of villages throughout the Kostroma region northeast of Moscow, Russia. 200 villages have been abandoned and 20,000 villages have faded away, a remarkable, mystifying fact for a vast region—it counts merely “660,000 residents for its 23,000 square miles” (source). Factors contributing to this include “low living standards, high unemployment, and a lack of housing and public services” (ibid.).  The ones who have remained are an odd assortment who either prefer isolation or cannot see another way.

Appreciation for salvation, the power of the gospel and the beautiful simplicity of the restoration plea, the exalted mission of the church, and much more should cause the church to spread and grow across the nation and throughout the world despite the opposition of the darkest forces against it. But, especially in America, the statistics show a decline in total number of members even as the nation’s population rises. Last Spring, Christian Chronicle reported that over 100,000 fewer souls were members of the church in 2015 than in 1990 (source). The United States’ net population increase over that period was 70 million (source). My experience in visiting churches in various parts of the country and in visiting with brethren from all over is that most churches are not experiencing growth. Some have seen an increase in attendance, almost always as the result of transfer from other congregations (over doctrinal issues, lack of resources and activities, or even churches that have to close their doors). But instances of churches that are taking the gospel into their communities and winning souls should, per the factors cited above, have us growing like wildfire.  In especially “mission fields” and rural areas, the church is often fighting for survival. My parents and brother, for example, work in a ministry called Carolina Outreach. Through their exposure to churches in the Carolinas, they witness and work with tiny congregations fighting to keep their doors open. They lack funds and workers to get the gospel to the souls in need of the truth in that part of this nation. I have spent over 20 years as a local preacher in states that are typically considered a mission field, outside of the traditional “Bible Belt” (i.e., Virginia and Colorado). In these and surrounding states, I have been saddened to hear about churches closing their doors or simply fighting just to “keep their doors open.”

As the Lord looks down at these shrinking parts of His glorious body, His heart must be breaking. Yet, He gave us the blueprint to address this problem and to reverse this trend when He gave us the New Testament. It is not more vibrant youth programs. These are wonderful and beneficial, but many of us faithful to Christ today grew up in small churches with virtually non-existent youth programs (including Kathy and me). It is not big, beautiful buildings. These can at times cause more problems than not. It is not extremism, whether to the right or the left. Building on the foundation of man is sand (Mat. 7:24-27). It is a resource available to everyone, in rural and urban areas, in depressed or booming economies, in north, south, east or west. In a word, it is “commitment.” The first commentary on the first church begins, “They were continually devoting themselves…” (Acts 2:42). Christianity meant everything to them in their daily lives. They were dedicated to seeking the lost, dedicated to helping each other, dedicated to following their Lord and Savior. They were dedicated in prosperous and perilous times. Their living hope was so strong (1 Pet. 1:3), they persisted even in dire persecution (see the rest of 1 Peter).

What a challenge this is to me. My dedication and commitment has room to grow. My complacency and apathy must decrease and His importance in my life must increase. If the church all over catches hold of this, the familiar phenomenon of “dying churches” will be a bad memory. May God grant us the strength and courage to reverse this tragic trend. May it begin with me!

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What Kind Of Church Do We Want To Be?

Neal Pollard

V–ictorious? Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn. 5:4). No coach hopes to win without first planning and architecting. The blueprints have already been put in place (Rom. 6:17), but we must work the plans to be a success in God’s eyes!

I–nvolved? Do we want to merely keep house and meet together each week? That is not New Testament Christianity (cf. Acts 2:46). They took Christianity out of the church building’s doors. They were tangibly involved in doing God’s work. Will be be?

S–erving? This is a self-serving world. Many seem intent to climb over whoever is in their way to the top. Jesus’ religion runs contrary to that (John 13:12-17), and He calls us to follow His example. A serving church is a living, thriving, arriving, surviving church.

I–mpactful? Do our neighbors know who we are? What about the surrounding communities? What about the farthest reaches of our world? Don’t you want to be part of a church putting a Christ-sized impression on those around us?

O–bedient? We have one authority (Col. 3:16-17; John 14:1-6; Acts 4:12). There are potential masters, but only one will lead us to heaven. A church that steps outside His “lines” will become eternally out of bounds. Those intent on obeying Him will be saved (Heb. 5:9).

N–urturing? Don’t we want to be part of a people with an infinitely more profound purpose than that found by the patrons and workers portrayed in the old sitcom Cheers? We want everyone to know our name and be glad that we came, but we should also want a place where we can grow in every right, positive way. This must be a church that cares about all, whatever our age, background, interests, income, or education!

A–ble?  Do we want to focus on our liabilities or, through Christ, our limitless resources? We have so much to do, but we’ve been given so much to do it. Don’t we want to be part of a “can do” church, doing with our might what our hands find to do?

R–eaping? If we are a working church, we will see results. They will come through baptisms, programs of work, outreaches, visitation, stronger fellowship, missionary success, and much, much more. As my good friend, Cy Stafford, says, “What God controls, grows.” The law of sowing and reaping is positive, too (Gal. 6:8).

Y–earning? A church that is alive and growing is full of holy desire, enthusiasm, and a confidence that we can do all things through the Christ alive within us (Phil. 4:13). Our greatest desires will be to do spiritual things to the glory of God.

How does a church become a visionary church? We must be intentional! What do we intend to do?  With God’s help, that is up to us!

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