Avoid Being Ironic

Neal Pollard

Friday night, Carl and I flew to Bismarck, North Dakota. Why? Well, of course, we wanted to attend the “Melita Banana Days” in Melita (pronounced Meh LIT Uh), Manitoba. That, and stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, that doubles as an ice cream shop. Saturday night, we were back in our own beds sleeping. While we were registering at the festival  on Saturday morning and talking with some of the organizers, we told them we had flown up from Colorado to check them out. From what we could tell, we were the only attendees from America. They were mildly intrigued by that fact, but basically brushed us off. Which was fine. We also wanted to check out Oak Lake beach about 60 miles north of there. But it was ironic to read on their website that this event is about promoting tourism. Perhaps our tepid reception was an exception to how they welcomed outsiders checking them out.

On a family vacation not too long ago, our family visited a small congregation on a Wednesday night. We drew a few stares from the local members as we took our seat right as Bible class began. Afterward, we were briefly greeted by one member who explained that their little group was going to have a meeting to discuss strategies for being more evangelistic. We were a family of strangers to them, and we might have been newcomers or non-Christians. They would not know. None of them tried to connect with us. We were essentially shown the door. We found this ironic.

It is ironic to sing, pray, preach, teach, and otherwise emphasize about the church’s mission and then to practically ignore it. Our assemblies are foremost about worshipping God and building up the body, but even first-century gatherings were attended by those other than the local Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25).  In our zeal to deepen and build our relationships with one another, we must not ignore or be cold toward those who “enter” our assemblies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to start conversations and create opportunities to open doors which lead them to Christ. Certainly, they should leave our assemblies aware of our intense interest in them. To do otherwise is to undermine our very purpose and mission. That would be the ultimate irony!

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THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Neal Pollard

I was asked by a preacher from Texas to go and provide emotional support to a family of brand new Christians he reached with the gospel. In a tragic circumstance, the matriarch of this family was in the hospital Sunday morning to have a gallstone removed and doctors accidentally severed the hepatic portal vein going into her liver. This led to multi-organ shutdown that ultimately ended her life. In this atmosphere of unanticipated emotional pain and suffering, family had gathered from all over the country to see her before doctors removed the lines keeping her alive. I was unable to communicate very much comfort or support because most of them spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. I sat in the waiting room with them throughout the afternoon, watching their anguish but having little more than smiles and sympathetic looks to offer. The matriarch’s granddaughter spoke good English, but it was hard to expect her to continually provide translation as she struggled with her own grief. Hopefully, they knew I cared and will allow the church to provide further encouragement. Thankfully, we have several members who do speak Spanish fluently who could help in ways I cannot.

As I was driving home and thinking about the best way to quickly learn Spanish, I had another humbling thought. How many opportunities do I pass up with people with whom my communication barrier is not language? There are some other, more sinister barriers that can keep us from speaking up for Christ in situations He is counting on us to take advantage of. There is fear—fear of rejection, opposition, or being ostracized. There is apathy—failure to consider or care about the eternal destination of the souls of those we encounter. There is selfishness—as we are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we do not open our hearts to the lost in our lives. There is sin—the presence of personal lifestyle issues for us that render us ineffective as sharers of the gospel message. These and other matters are much more frequently the roadblocks that keep us from reaching out to the people we encounter.

It will help us, I believe, to remind ourselves daily that this world is not our home and that every person is heading to an eternity that swiftly comes. We must have the courage to share with people how to prepare for that, to understand the great love God has for them and His desire to save them. We must keep the conviction strong that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that His applied blood is their only hope for such. We must care about people, enough to pray for boldness and wisdom, enough to walk through our open doors, and enough to share the good news with them. People are at the heart of our purpose as Christians. Let’s serve them by sharing the good news whenever, wherever, and however we can.

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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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We Need More Kevin Tortorellas!

Neal Pollard

Let me preface this by saying I did not get to meet Kevin Tortorella. I know next to nothing about him. Here is what I do know. He reached out and brought Cy Stafford to Christ. Ultimately, as we heard from Cy’s funeral on Saturday, there are 500 churches that have been planted throughout a quarter century of service by Cy and Stephanie in east Africa. There may be literally thousands of people in heaven connected to the work God did through the Staffords in their time in Tanzania. It began in North Carolina, when Kevin taught Cy the gospel. He is not a full-time gospel preacher. All I know is that his courage and care has made a gigantic impact on the Kingdom, whoever else he ever tells the story of Jesus to.

That is the amazing thing about evangelism! God works through men, often even ordinary men, to do extraordinary things which change the world and grow the church. Whatever else we know about Andrew, he brought Peter to Christ and also left an indelible mark on church history. Paul tells us that all, in building on the foundation of Christ, who bring people to Jesus will bring those who will be tried with fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). While there will be those who do not pass the test of fire, some are said to be gold, silver, and precious stones. It would seem that these are converts who not only pass the test but prove themselves of such great value. Who would question that Cy was a “gold conversion”?

You and I encounter various people throughout life who we have the power to influence. We may fear or hesitate to speak to them about Jesus. We may think it will do no good to speak to them. We may think they are not interested. We might even fail to realize how much they, through our influence and the influence of others, could amount to. But if we will look at the Peters and Cys that have come along in the history of the church, we will be encouraged to take that first step and have that conversation. Don’t worry about what comes next. Just step up. Be a soul-winner. Be a Kevin Tortorella!

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Producers Versus Consumers

Doug McNary

Allow me to take you back to the early 1930’s, when the U.S. economy was in the throws of the Great Depression. It was a time of record setting negative economic growth. Many Americans lost their means to sustain basic life functions. Many Americans lost all Hope.

At the time, President Herbert Hoover believed in the importance of the role of individuals in society and the economy.

He said, “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Now, let us fast forward to the church today. We find the church in a time of record setting negative growth. And according to a 2014 Pew Research Study, less than 27% of Millennials (defined as ages 18 to 35) regularly attend religious services. Yet, 67% say they believe in a heaven and 84% think there is a God. So, what does the mean?  

I think deep down inside, millennials believe there is a God, but worldly distractions and alternate priorities keep them from contemplating what that really means. A lack of understanding or knowledge of the truth translates into a lack of action. Their ignorance may lead to eternal demise.

So, let’s rewrite Hoover’s insight:

“Church growth cannot be cured by the action or pronouncement of church leaders. Church wounds must be healed by the actions of the members of the church body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Church growth will not be achieved by elders, deacons or preachers alone. It must be cured by each of us also doing our part.

So I ask myself, “Am I a producer, or a consumer?”

In Matthew 5,  Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Honestly, I have been a consumer long enough. I sit in my pew every worship service, I do my daily bible reading, and dwell on God’s word… I have been a faithful Christian, with a proverbial basket over my head.

I want to be a producer…

–Sharing, Caring, and Acting to make a difference for the Lord’s church.

I want to be a producer…

–Proclaiming to others the Truth found in the Bible.

I want to be a producer…

–Openly Praising the Lord, each and every day, in my words and actions.

I want to be a producer…

–Participating in the building up of the body of our church by being involved in the work of the church.

I can no longer be just a consumer, I want to be a producer… Finding creative ways to prick the heart of a lost soul, for the sake of Christ!

Now here is the challenge:

I want to do these things… But, will I?… And how about you?

My brothers and sisters, I pray that each one of us can get up out of our “consumer” pew and DO Something Each Day to help our Lord’s church grow! I pray that we can all become “producers” for Christ.

I leave you with this thought…

In one of my favorite movies, Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart played the role of the father, Charlie Anderson. He sat at a campfire with his family as they were searching for his lost son. They were all about to give up hope when Charlie said: “If we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?”

Brothers and Sisters, if we truly love the Lord’s church, we must try, we must do!

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Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Neal Pollard

  • Pray, specifically, about having opportunities to share your faith. Think about the people in the various places you spend your time and ask God for inroads with these individuals specifically. Pray for courage, wisdom, and your words (cf. Col. 4:2-6). Pray for their hearts. Pray to pick opportune times to approach them.
  • Cultivate your fields. Spend time thinking about who you have or can build a relationship with. That will be your area of greatest success. Be involved in their lives (see below). Work at growing the number of people you could share Christ with.
  • Develop genuine interest in the lives of the people in your life. Learn spouse’s and children’s names, occupation, interests, hobbies, and passions in their lives. Ask about those things. File away and remember those facts, as your specific recall with them will impress them with your sincerity and concern. How is trust won? Time and transparency.
  • Be able to speak openly and wisely about religion with them. That means picking your battles wisely. You will hear people spout misinformation and false ideas when religion is being discussed. Always maintain control and calm, being gentle in discussing religious matters (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). If asked (and you eventually will be) about some specific, like salvation or church organization or what “denomination” you are a member of, be winsome and kind but courageous enough to give a biblical answer.
  • Work at working in your faith and the church into your conversations naturally. This may require prayer and thought, but practice turning your conversations with people toward the spiritual. Like anything, if you’ve not had practice, it may seem clunky and awkward initially but not ultimately. If something is going on at church that relates some way to what your friend is saying, bring it up matter of factly. If their issue or struggle concerns something you have come across in your recent Bible study, share the verse with them.
  • Be prepared to serve and help. So many of our co-workers, associates, neighbors, and other friends have messy lives. They are struggling and, without Christ, have no bearings on how to address their problems. As human beings, they inevitably struggle with the same things all people struggle with—relationships, family, finance, uncertainty, health, fear, etc.  Remind yourself that you are here, on earth, to serve (cf. Mat. 20:28; Gal. 5:13).
  • Watch yourself. Your example, especially under the pressures and fires of life, can make or break your evangelistic opportunities. Your temperament, reaction, attitude, and the like are a display case for the Lord or the world. Regularly remind yourself of this (Ti. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Remember the mantra, “It’s not a matter of ‘who’ is right, but ‘what’ is right.” I received this counsel decades ago, as a young preacher, from David Sain. I have used it countless times in soul-winning circumstances. Truly, ultimately, all religious questions must be settled upon the foundation of Scripture. Feelings, opinions, what churches teach and practice, what religious leaders say, and such must be subjugated to what the Bible says. Those other standards may fail us. Scripture won’t!

Evangelism will always be intimidating because it ultimately calls for courage and conviction. Not every specific situation will be a success story, but if we can remind ourselves of our purpose on this earth and how much people need what we have learned we will act! And there will be success!

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Hazards of Firefighting

Neal Pollard

343 on 9/11/2001 in New York City. 86 in 1910 across Washington, Idaho and Montana. 29 in 1933 in Los Angeles. 27 in April, 1947, in Texas City, Texas. 21 on December 22, 1910, in Chicago. 19 on June 30, 2013, near Yarnell, Arizona (Firefighter Tragedies).  Those are the deadliest incidents for firefighters in American history, in number of fatalities. Firefighting is deadly, if heroic, business. Those answering the call know that each response, however simple or innocuous it may seem, masks many dangers. Firefighting is hazardous business.

The same is certainly true in the firefighting business Jesus calls us to perform. The Bible clearly indicates that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels will be eternally shared by those who know not God and do not obey His gospel (Mat. 25:41ff; 2 Th. 1:8-9). As Christians, then, we are God’s firefighters (Jude 23). We should do this job out of a sincere concern and love for souls and a desire to be working for and serving the One who rescued us from so great a death (2 Co. 1:10). But, by stepping into that arena, we should realize the risks and dangers involved.

  • We can be ill-equipped.  Firefighters can’t hope to do their work with old, shoddy, or faulty equipment. The best equipment available is ineffective when not put into use. In our spiritual battle, we know that our “equipment” (2 Tim. 3:17) is perfect for every situation. But, we have to know it (2 Ti. 2:15). We also need to know how to use it. We need to make sure our approach to people is not shoddy or faulty (cf. Gal. 6:1). To be boisterous or bullying with God’s Word not only further harms the one in danger, but also endangers us!
  • We can get too close to the fire. Firefighters can be the victim of their proximity to the conflagration. It’s often difficult to judge how close is too close, but it is an ever-present hazard. In our spiritual firefighting, we can get too close to the fire through compromising God’s Word, conforming to the world, committing sins of attitude, morality, ethics, or the like in our outreach. We must avoid behaving in a worldly way when trying to help save those out in the world. In trying to help a struggling soul, we can sin with our tongues or gossip about the one whose troubles we’ve been made aware of.
  • We can ignore the dangers. It’s true in firefighting as in all professions that one may occasionally choose not to practice what he has been trained to know, see and think. In the heat of the moment, one may not focus on certain warning signs. Buildings collapse, air runs out, black draft areas are entered and serious results follow. Spiritually, we must be careful in how we go about this “business.” Going alone when we need another with us, trying to help someone when we are too emotionally invested, or responding out of hurt and anger instead of “cooling off” are all ways we can ignore the dangers we might face.

Let us be aware of the risks we take in reaching out to those who are in spiritual danger, but let us be eager to respond to the need. Despite the ever-present risks firefighters take, they still are faithful and dedicated to the job. God needs us on the front line, too. May we simply factor in the perils of firefighting, then do it!

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The Danger Of Being Swept Away

Neal Pollard

You may have heard that I was caught in a rip tide during Carl’s senior trip. We were at St. Pete’s Beach in the Tampa-area, swimming and playing in the water not far from a fishing pier. Somehow, I was pulled into a riptide and quickly pulled out toward the Gulf. The shore quickly grew distant and my subpar swimming abilities were tellingly useless. A couple of fishermen told me I was caught in it and my best hope was to try and move parallel to the waves and angle for a point about a half-mile up from where I was. That was a painfully slow process, and the water kept taking me where it wished.  I was on the other side of the pier, moving generally toward that point but still in the grips of the tide, when Dale swam out and helped pull me out of the current until I could finally get to shallower water and make my way back onto the beach. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe Dale saved my life.

Only after this did I learn that, according to the CDC, there was an annual average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States from 2005 to 2014. That’s about ten deaths per day. Nearly 80% of all people who die from drowning are male. A lack of swimming ability is the greatest risk factor in drowning, and 57% of all people, age 15 and over, who drown do so in “natural water settings” (like the ocean)(cdc.gov).  I also was reminded, from the Pandora playlist Dale piped through our van’s sound system, that he has an interesting sense of humor—playing “Under the Sea,” “The Ocean,” “High Tide, Low Tide,” “In Too Deep,” “Riptide,” “Drowing,” and “How To Save A Life” (plus a bunch more).

But I also have a different perspective toward some of the songs in our songbook:

  • “Soul you are drifting along on the tide, out on life’s ocean so boundless and wide…”
  • “Some poor fainting, struggle seaman, you may rescue, you may save…”
  • “Throw out the lifeline, someone is drifting away…”
  • “While on the sea hear the terrible roaring…”

As I look back, the currents were strong but the force was subtle. It did not take long for me to be moved away from the shore and taken away. Making the right efforts played a part in my staying afloat. Ultimately, however, I needed outside help to come back to shore.

The writer of Hebrews says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). A.T. Robertson says of the word “drift”: “Here the metaphor is that ‘of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach’ (Westcott), a vivid picture of peril for all” (342). BDAG says it is an imagery of flowing water and means “be washed away” or “drift away” (770). The Greek Old Testament uses the word in Proverbs 3:21, where Solomon urges his son to not let wisdom “vanish from [his] sight.” The epistle’s nautical metaphor pictures vividly what can happen in our spiritual lives. We can  lose sight of where we are, and we may begin to struggle and start to succumb to the pull of the current. We must continue to make the effort to pull away and we should accept the attempts of those who seek to rescue us.

Spiritually, none of us want to become a casualty. We do not want to perish. May we realize that falling away from God is not usually sudden or dramatic. It is often subtle and gradual. Let’s pay much closer attention to what we have heard! It’s our lifeline.

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PREVENTING A POST-ANTIBIOTIC APOCALYPSE

Neal Pollard

Economist Jim O’Neill had readied a report about drug-resistant infections, “bacteria and other microbes that have become impervious to antibiotics” (The Atlantic, Ed Yong, 5/19/16). O’Neill’s prognostication is grim and macabre. On our current trajectory, 10 million will die every year by the year 2050 and that doesn’t include those undergoing procedures only safe because of antibiotics (surgeries, transplants, and chemotherapy, for example). No doubt, this report is no fodder for a bedtime story, but it is not without suggestions of what can be done to prevent such an ominous occurrence. O’Neill gives a nice, round ten suggestions to avert this potential “plague” on humanity.  They include: improve sanitation, a global surveillance network, a public-awareness campaign, better diagnostic tools, avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture, promote effective alternatives, improve incentives for workers, rewards those working on the problem, adequately fund those working, and build a global coalition (ibid.). All in all, this seems like a practical, workable solution.

I read this in light of the global epidemic you and I are engaged in to fight together. It is the most dangerous threat any of us will face and it will be with us, if the world continues, in 2050 and beyond. What I find interesting is that many of O’Neill’s suggestions for fighting these microbes are the marching orders God has given us to fight our plaguing antagonist—sin.  Holiness, unity, improved evangelism, Bible study, avoid unnecessary fights, example, focusing more on eternity, better giving, and increased mission efforts all factor in saving more souls! It’s a system that will work locally, nationally, and globally.

Frankly, we don’t know that O’Neill’s prediction will come to pass. But, the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and then the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The majority will be lost (cf. Mat. 7:13-14)! God is counting on us, Christians, stemming that tide as much as possible (Mark 16:15-16).  Every individual you and I reach with the gospel is one less who will succumb to this eternally fatal threat!

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