Do You Want A Better Life?

Neal Pollard

Who would answer “no” to that question? Who wants a worse life or a life that never gets better? But the better question is, “How do you get a better life?” Advertisers have so many answers to that, involving their currency or investment tool, their pill, diet, or workout routine, their travel agency or vacation destination, or product for your home, transportation, business, and the like. So many put so much into these promising plans, but still find their life wanting.

In religious matters, there is no room for subjective thought when it comes to what it takes to have a better life. We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. They point to their numeric size, number of programs they have, or how socially active they are. Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, not boasting of our achievements or comparing ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Genesis 4:1-16 points us to the first recorded version where more than one kind of worship was offered to God and how God rated them. But this chapter also paints a picture of two ways of living life.

Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses writes about him in this chapter. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls his works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 John 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). It seems that Genesis four shows us the better ingredients for a better way of living today.

  • Better living isn’t determined by age (1-2). Cain was the firstborn, a place of honor and privilege especially throughout the Old Testament.  But under the New Covenent, there is no spiritual advantage because of birth order. It is not a matter of firstborn, but a matter of being born again (John 3:1-7). Growing older should mean growing wiser, but reaching a milestone on a calendar does not equate to better living.
  • Better living isn’t determined by occupation (2).  Growing up, we might be tempted to see our occupation as the gateway to happiness and satisfaction, financial freedom and security, independence, and privilege.  When we look at Cain and Abel, what they did for a living wasn’t the determiner of the quality of their lives. Some occupations can stand in the way of better living, whether the nature of the job or the quality of the people one works with. Some can let their jobs stand between them and their relationship with God and His church. But, one can do right in unfavorable work circumstances, staying faithful to God.
  • Better living is determined by worship (3-4). That statement may be offensive to our multicultural world that says there are no absolute rights or wrongs. Contrast our culture’s thinking on this matter with what we read in Genesis four. Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to the Lord. God responded to both offerings, but He accepted one while rejecting the other. While many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal, we learn here that not all worship is equal. God “had regard for” Abel’s, but not for Cain’s. It does not say if Cain was sincere. It doesn’t seem to matter. We learn here that the worshipper and the worship offered rise and fall together. God regarded Abel and his offering, but rejected Cain and his offering. Can one offer God vain worship, and have God reject it but accept him? Apparently not.
  • Better living is determined by attitude (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God. He was very angry. His insides burned! His countenance fell. He took on an ugly look. We’re not told how old he was, but it almost sounds like a temper tantrum. Whether home training, lack of discipline, poor stress management, pride, jealousy, or anything else leads us to lose our tempers, all of them are matters only we can control. When we don’t control them, we’re responsible! Ill-tempered people are not living the better life! A positive life doesn’t require prospering, education, or earthly success. But you can’t have a positive attitude without mastering self.
  • Better living is determined by action (8-16). The word “sin” is first used in Genesis 4:7, but God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain was going to do to his brother (cf. 1 John 3:11-15). Bible writers speak of his deeds, offering, and way. These are all action words. After his sin, he is rebuked and punished by God and separated from God. Sin will not deliver what it promises. All actions have consequences (Gal. 6:7-9).

Someone said, “The line of Cain gives us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers, and poetry, but not one who walked with God.  In fact, Cain’s legacy led to a repeat of his violent ways by a descendant (cf. 4:23). Abel leaves no physical lineage, but he leaves a great spiritual heritage (Heb. 11:4). We each get to choose what kind of life we’ll pursue. It matters which way we decide.

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Desire That Bubbles From The Heart And Falls From The Lips

“To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” This quotation was from a man who observed lethargy and unenthusiastic engagement in congregational singing. He decried a lack of apparent passion and zeal for God and spiritual things in this act of worship that is meant to be profound and transforming. The observer, as far as is known, was not a New Testament Christian, but he was responsible for giving us “Joy to the World,” “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross,” and over 500 more hymns. He complained about the lifeless hymns being sung in his day, and his father, who would be jailed for dissenting from the Church of England, challenged him to come up with a solution. All those hymns, which he started writing in adolescence, was his answer. Isaac Watts can be considered an expert on religious hymns, and he revolutionized congregational singing for especially English speakers. The fact that we still sing some of his hymns demonstrates that.

But, his observation in later life about indifference, negligence, and thoughtlessness from  those presumably worshipping is a fair challenge to each of us. Especially when we are singing songs so familiar to us, which we know by heart, we must guard against lips that say one thing and hearts which do not necessarily reflect those words. Is it possible to sing about Jesus’ death on the cross or God’s great love or the amazing hope of heaven or an examination of my Christian life and commitment without reflecting and contemplating? Could I be thinking about something while singing something else? The gamut might run from empty religion to understandable distraction, but we must challenge ourselves to keep our hearts and minds on the words and meaning of those psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19).  Let us cultivate desire in the heart that bubbles from the lips as we praise God and encourage one another in our song service.

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Andy Baker leading a group in singing (photo credit: John Moore)

A Small Portion Does Not Mean Small Proportion

Neal Pollard

Those who address us prior to our giving often make a statement like this, that we are giving back but a small portion of what God has blessed us with. In other words, if you could owned and could contribute all the world’s wealth, week after week, how would that compare to the sacrificial gift of Christ (cf. Mat. 16:26)? In fact, how could it compare with the many additional blessings besides atonement—a body equipped with the ability to perform involuntary actions (breathing, blood flow, cell regeneration, etc.), an environment conducive to life (air to breathe, photosynthesis, etc.), a planet in harmony with sun and moon making life possible, and the list is endless. It is not only impossible to out-give God, it is impossible to come anywhere close.

The Bible does not dictate a percentage for the New Testament Christian giver. The inferior covenant (cf. Heb. 8:7-8) required a tenth of all (Heb. 7:5), a pretty good benchmark for those of us having access to the better covenant established upon better promises. It is impossible to know what anyone might be thinking who hears the well-intended, if well-worn, statement, “We have the opportunity to give back a small portion of the many blessings we have received…” It does not mean, “A small proportion.” Nowhere does the Bible sanction stingy, leftover-style giving. In fact, it condemns such (read Malachi). Instead, Paul writes, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7).

Giving involves a monetary, financial exercise, but it is a distinctly spiritual activity. It is an act of trust, a faith that the God who has provided will continue to provide and bless the one who bountifully shares what he has been given. When we, like the Macedonians, give beyond what we believe is beyond our ability (2 Cor. 8:1-5), we open up an exciting door in our walk with Christ.

If you are one who gives a small proportion of your income, may I challenge you to increase it? See what happens in your life. You are not giving to manipulate or coerce God, but you will experience a growth not possible on the “small proportion” side of generous giving. Trust Him! He has never broken a promise yet (read Mal. 3:10 and Luke 6:38).

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No Time For Worship!

Neal Pollard

According to Stephen Eckstein, Davy Crockett was among those who began a journey from north Alabama bound for the “promised land” of Texas in 1835. This group, who wanted to settle in that locale despite the drum beats of revolution and ongoing fighting with Mexico, was comprised mostly of members of the church of Christ. Crockett traveled with them as far as Memphis, Tennessee, but grew impatient of the delays. The group stopped to rest and worship each Sunday, and they became known as the “church on horseback and wheels.” So, on the other side of the Mississippi River, Crockett and 60 other volunteers rushed ahead of the group shouting “hurrah for Texas!” (History of the churches of Christ in Texas, 9). That group, sans Crockett and his cohorts, established the first Texas congregation of the Lord’s church on January, 17, 1836, at Ft. Clark, Texas, known today as Clarksville (ibid.).

48 days after the group’s arrival at Ft. Clark, Crockett was among 188 who died defending the Alamo in San Antonio, 412 miles south of Ft. Clark. While this is probably something lost to history, I wonder if Crockett’s personal history would have been different if he had stayed with the “church on horseback and wheels.” There is no indication that he was a part of the services or influenced by them or the members. Already a man of renown in politics and frontier settlement, he was also renowned for being full of himself. He and the rest of the Tennesseans who left the church members volunteered for six months of duty with the provisional government of Texas on January 14, 1836. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th (Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad, 117).

Crockett’s interests seemed mostly political and economic, which made him no different from most of his contemporaries. Yet, life might have been different for Crockett had he stayed with the group of Christians. He would not likely be the legend his death at the Alamo made him, but might His name have been in the Lamb’s book of life?

We find ourselves rushing headlong toward our life’s goals. In that rush, what time and place are we giving to our Lord and to His people? The world bestows no honor and glory on faithful service to Christ, but the Christ will bestow honor and glory beyond what the world can give or comprehend to all who take the time to honor Him. May our greatest desire be to win His recognition through lives of faithful obedience.

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Mansil Matthews, doctor, teacher and and preacher, who established the first church of Christ in Texas in 1836 at Ft. Clark, TX (with the group known as the “church on horseback and wheels.”

Meeting The Needs Of Newcomers

Neal Pollard

It has been said that visitors make up their mind about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit. Before they’ll even discern the doctrine we teach or form an impression about the distinctiveness of our worship, they’ve already decided. If you will walk through the first ten minutes of each time you come to services, you can discern the needs visitors have when they “enter” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-24) our midst. Consider these needs.

  • Where to park. Designating visitor parking and having members park as far from the main entrance is thoughtfulness. Having a greeter or greeters in the parking lot who can make contact quickly and facilitate with friendliness makes a positive impression.
  • Where the restrooms are. Good hospitality ought to drive us to be thoughtful and even proactive (i.e., when greeting, point out the nearest facilities). Along with this is showing them where the nursery is. If they have infants, toddlers, or small children, they are likely to have needs during their time in attendance.
  • Where to sit. An obvious practical help here is not to crowd the seats at the rear of the auditorium. It’s less awkward to be seated without parading past rows and rows of people. If there’s a full crowd, have designated personnel, pleasant, friendly, and considerate, to help them find a seat. Never, ever, never have a designated pew! “Pew-itis” is a disease that should be eradicated from every congregation.
  • What to expect. This is something worship leaders can do, explaining periodically why we do what we do in a “user-friendly” (as opposed to browbeating) way. Door greeters and those at a welcome center can help, as can visitor packets that cogently explain things. Such packets can include not just activities we do, but a map of where we do them.
  • How to find out more. Have a “new member orientation class” or a “Church 101” class available for those who are “seeking.” It can include an annual church calendar of events, ministries, church leadership (complete with pictures and bios), ways to be involved, and the like to orient newcomers.

At first, it may seem hard to identify book, chapter, and verse for the foregoing suggestions. But consider these principles. There’s the Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12; Luke 6:31). There’s the principle of the Law of Moses, which says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Colossians 4:5 urges wisdom with outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Being Christians, we should be ever increasing in the mentality that puts others before self (Phil. 2:3-4). How do we best serve Jesus? By serving others, including our visitors and newcomers.

Singing Hymns in Church

NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THOSE WHO FAVOR INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

Neal Pollard

People who have rejected the teaching that singing in worship must be without the addition of mechanical instrumental music have appealed to culture, to the permission of silence, to aesthetics, to emotion, to tradition, to preference, and the like. As we examine Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, seeing the imperatives in each place (“let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—Col. 3:16; “be filled with the Spirit”—Eph. 5:18) and the participles that reveal how to obey the imperatives (Eph.: “speaking…singing…making melody…giving thanks”; Col.: “teaching…admonishing…singing”), we rightly say that God specifies what He wants and through such excludes what does not fall within these categories. No one will successfully build a case for Divine authorization or approval, and church history will have turned centuries of pages before it is even found introduced in Christian worship.

Having said that, we have at times failed to step back and look at some of our own attitudes toward the music portion of our worship that may reveal some deficiency in our musical offering to God. As a musical instrument may drown out, overshadow, or become the central feature of worship music, so may our own minds and attitudes. How?

  • Being distracted by the age of the song (it’s too old or too new)
  • Being distracted by the pitch of the song (it’s too high or too low)
  • Being distracted by the pace of the song (it’s too fast or too slow)
  • Being distracted by the notes of the song (the song leader is leading it wrong)
  • Being distracted by who the song leader is or his appearance
  • Being distracted by how many verses are sung (too many or too few)
  • Being distracted by the aesthetics of the song (thinking about how it sounds more than what it says)
  • Being distracted by our own ability (proud of how good we sound or so embarrassed at how we think we sound that we keep quiet or fail to speak, teach, etc.)
  • Being distracted by the person/people next to us (concerned about what they think of us rather than what the message of the song is)
  • Being distracted by our familiarity with a song (frustrated that we don’t know it or knowing it so well that we sing from memory without engaging the heart)
  • Being distracted by matters outside the song (people-watching, thinking of other things, etc.)

Though I’ve never heard it said, have we constructed a theology that believes the only sin in our worship in song is adding an instrument to it? If we refuse to sing, sing with improper attitude, sing without heart and mind engaged, and the like, do we believe we are OK since we did not add to what God authorized.

In Matthew 15:9, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for worshipping God in vain due to their “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Context reveals the specifics of their wrongdoing. But that word vain means “pertaining to being without any result; to no avail” (Louw-Nida; “to no end,” BDAG). Review the examples of distraction above. Can those render worship in song with no result, avail, or end? Absolutely! Perhaps we need to emphasize within our own assemblies how equally necessary it is to be worshipping God “in spirit” as it is “in truth” (cf. John 4:24). The bottom line of this whole matter of church music is striving to please God in our worship. That is not limited to a single issue or somebody else’s issue. It is as individual and personal as each of our own relationship with God.

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Some Hurdles I Just Cannot Jump Regarding Instrumental Music In Worship

Neal Pollard

How often the matter gets discussed among preachers in churches of Christ, I cannot say. But, I know that it does. More members of the church than we might care to think do not have this matter settled in their minds, especially as it has to do with the state of those who have been immersed for the forgiveness of sins, submit to the authority of Christ in other areas of their lives, but who use the instrument in worship. Some have said they think its use is wrong and we have been right to argue against its use but do not think they can say it is a salvation or fellowship issue. It should be stated that many of these are sincere brethren who love the Lord and people nor are they change agents intent on trying to destroy the Lord’s body. Too often, we have lacked an environment where we could have healthy, constructive dialogue free of name-calling, suspicion, and visceral discussion. But failing to discuss and work through matters like these does not make them disappear.

Having said that, here are some hurdles I just cannot jump regarding this matter:

  • The presence of singing and absence of instruments in New Testament passages. The fact that every instance of singing in the context of the Christians’ activity together reveals singing (Greek is a precise language; ado means to utter words in a melodic pattern [Louw-Nida] and ). Psallo, according to Lexicographers, encompassed playing musical instruments at an earlier time in its linguistic history, but did not mean that in New Testament times (e.g., BDAG, 1094; TDNT, 8:494). Interestingly, the translators of English translations, beginning with the King James Version, were unanimously members of religious groups that used mechanical instruments in music. Despite their obvious bias in worship practice, they translate the Greek “singing and making melody in your hearts.”
  • The absence of instrumental music in worship in early church history. Though a member of the church of Christ, Everett Ferguson has the utmost respect from scholarship across the religious spectrum. In multiple volumes, Ferguson meticulously sets forth the case that instrumental music was absent in the church from its establishment until many centuries later. His studied conclusion is that this was neither incidental nor coincidental. He writes, “The historical argument is quite strong against early Christian use of instrumental music in church” (The Instrumental Music Issue, 98; the whole chapter is a worthwhile read). In another work, he states, “The testimony of early Christian literature is expressly to the absence of instruments from the church for approximately the first thousand years of Christian history” (The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, 272). John L. Girardeau, a Presbyterian scholar, devotes an entire, well-documented chapter to the historical case of only vocal music in Christian worship for many centuries and upon doctrinal grounds (see Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, 86-100).
  • The examples of how God dealt with unauthorized worship throughout history. What do we make of what God does with Cain’s worship in Genesis 4, Nadab and Abihu’s worship in Leviticus 10, and Jeroboam’s worship in 1 Kings 12? Why would God care in the Patriarchal and Mosaic Dispensations that His commands for worship be followed per His instructions, but lose that desire under His Son’s covenant?
  • The fact that God draws definitive, doctrinal conclusions through the use of silence. The writer of Hebrews says, “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (7:14). The argument shows that Jesus could become a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, but not under the Old Testament rule and covenant. Why? God specified Levi as the tribe for the high priest under the old law. It did not explicitly say that a high priest could not come from any other tribe, but it did not have to. What it specified was sufficient, an argument made in the New Testament.
  • The fact that authority can and must be tangibly determined.  Why is it that we sing in worship at all? Is worship merely a matter of what we come up with and wish to offer? Few would argue such. The basis for worship arises from what the New Testament teaches. Nearly everyone, then, would say there are definitive, delineated boundaries. If there is and must be divine authority for worship, and thus “rules” that are objectively determined, there must be activity that falls out of those bounds. Where will we find the boundary markers if not in Scripture?

This list is not meant to be exhaustive and it cannot, in one brief article, be exhaustive. It is included here to show us the great pause that should exist in changing our minds or our teaching on a matter where God has been vocal and specific. The weight of that is not insignificant or inconsequential. May we lovingly and wisely approach this matter and take great care before we relegate a matter of divine importance to a mere matter of human preference.

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Better Living 

Neal Pollard

We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. Several years ago, our boys played basketball in a league hosted by a huge community church in the Denver area.  Their church’s campus includes a K-12 school, two restaurants, a gymnasium half the size of our church building, a coffee shop, and a hundred social program. Other groups would make their claim as “better” or “best” based on their numeric size, the number of programs they have, or how socially active they are.

Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, which does not boast of our achievements or compare ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12).  Genesis 4 is not just about two kinds of worship, but also about two ways of living life. Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses introduces him in Genesis. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls Cain’s works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 Jo. 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). Let’s make a few brief observations from Genesis four and see if we can find the elements which make for a better way of living today.

  • BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY AGE (1-2).  By birth order, Cain came first. He was the first person to be born in the natural order of childbirth. He was the very first newborn to be held in his mama’s arms. She didn’t realize that her cooing, sweet infant was a future murdering, and she was proud of him. She called him “a man child with the help of the Lord.” This depicts such a bright, optimistic future, and by contrast Scripture says, “Again, she gave birth to his brother, Abel” (2). Abel began in his brother’s shadow, first known to us as “his (Cain’s) brother.”
  • BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY OCCUPATION (2). When we look at these brothers, what they did for a living was not the determiner of the quality of their lives. While what they did had an indirect bearing on the events of this account, the fact of their occupation was spiritually neutral—Cain farmed and Abel tended sheep. One can reap blessings from tilling the ground (Heb. 6:7), but they may have to fight thorns, thistles, and weeds doing it (Gen. 3:18-19). Tending sheep may be done by slaves (Luke 17:17), kings (1 Sam. 17:34), or apostles (John 21:17). God’s pleasure or displeasure was not connected to either’s occupation.
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY WORSHIP (3-4). Moses says both brought an offering to the Lord. He also says God responded to bother offerings, accepting one and rejecting the other. That very notion is foreign to many people in our society today, even those in religion. Many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal inclination. But, Moses shows us (1) Not all worship is equal: God had regard for Abel’s, but not Cain’s. The words “had respect to” signify in Hebrew to look at something with a very serious glance. God tells us how He wants worship done, in attitude and action; (2) The worshipper and the worship rise and fall together: God had regard for Abel AND his offering and did not for Cain AND his offering. That’s a sober reminder for me that my personal relationship with God is hindered or helped based on the way I worship God. Can I offer God vain and ignorant worship, and have God reject it but accept me? We are not earning God’s favor by getting worship right. At the same time, are we tempting God and hoping we stay in His favor while disobeying His commands for worship? People have tried to make this an “either-or” proposition, that Cain and Abel’s offering was either about getting the worship right or was about the nature of the person offering the worship. In other words, is it sincerity or obedience, our both sincerity and obedience? To thoughtfully ask the question is to answer it!
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ATTITUDE (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God by burning with anger and his face taking on an ugly look. He sounds like a small child in the throes of a tantrum or a teenager huffing and sulking in anger. God warns Cain of the recipe for disaster he was making through his attitude. He told Cain that his tempestuous attitude was an invitation for sin to pounce on him, but He told him he could master it! You can have a positive attitude without prosperity, education, or earthly success, but you cannot have a positive attitude without mastering self.
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ACTION (8-16). Improper worship and attitude preceded and precipitated improper action. The first time “sin” is used (Gen. 4:7), God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain would do to his brother. He does the unthinkable, killing his own brother (cf. 1 Jo. 3:11-15). His deeds and ways were a recipe for disaster: He is rebuked by God, punished by God, and separated from God. Sin promises a good time and fulfillment, but it’s not true.

It’s been said that the lineage of Cain gave us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers and poetry, but not one who walked with God! Thanks to his legacy, a descendant repeats his violent ways (Gen. 4:23). Abel seems to leave no physical lineage, but he still speaks after death. His was a life of faith, generosity, good works, righteousness, and obedience. We get to choose the kind of life we want to pursue. If we choose well, we will be satisfied, others will be blessed, and God will be pleased.

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Some Things I Love About Assembling On The Lord’s Day

Neal Pollard

  • Watching young parents gather their kids and lead them into the building
  • The happy, excited chatter of people who act like they’re attending their favorite reunion ever
  • The many brief, but meaningful, conversations
  • Seeing the new faces that are inevitably there and being thrilled at the prospect
  • Noticing members greeting and welcoming people who are visiting
  • Feeling the anticipation of class and worship
  • The steady faithfulness of widows and widowers who, despite the loss of their partner, are still in love with the Lord
  • New Christians leading and enthusiastically participating in the worship service
  • Witnessing worshippers who appear to be very engaged and enjoying themselves
  • The sound of Bible pages rustling (or being close enough to see mobile devices going to the Scriptures cited)
  • Elders making spiritual encouragement and admonition
  • Little boys picking up the attendance cards
  • Young parents persevering in training their learning lads and lasses (even when that means occasioning the “training room”)
  • Even the tone-deaf lifting up their voices to make a “joyful noise” to the Lord
  • Husbands and wives united in their desire to be present before the Great I Am (and appear to be enjoying doing so together)
  • The display of emotion and heartfelt engagement by those leading us in worship
  • The very elderly or infirm, sometimes on walkers or in wheelchairs, who with great effort make the appointment they disdain missing
  • The many ways being in Christ brings interesting combinations of people together (educated with uneducated, rich with poor, the very old with the very young, those of different races, etc.)
  • Hearing the Bible conversations that start and continue after “the last amen”
  • Watching Christians rally around and embrace those who respond to the invitation
  • Knowing Christ is present and participating in the assembly (Heb. 2:12)
  • The intimate connection with God that results from His pattern and design for worship, perhaps especially in the weekly observance of the Supper
  • The piercing conviction to live better and serve Him for actively that results from assembling
  • Realizing how many things that are to love about assembling on the Lord’s Day

What would you add?

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Do We Need Permission?

Neal Pollard

For several years while in Virginia, I enjoyed going out with a couple of dear Christian brothers to hunt for Civil War relics.  Of course, hunting on federal property was a serious crime and was unthinkable. However, so many of the personal properties owned by residents in the Richmond area were treasure troves of those artifacts. Their woods and fields held bullets, shells, buckles, buttons, and the like. Dave Young, Jr., always followed the same procedure before our hunts. He would go see the homeowners where we wanted to hunt, people he had known, built friendships and done business with for years. If we got their permission—sometimes the thoughtless or unethical practices of other hunters made them inclined to refuse us—then we would go on their property and hunt for relics. It was their land and their right to permit or deny. If we had ever chosen to hunt one of those places without permission and got caught, it would have been a silly argument to say, “They did not tell us we couldn’t hunt here.”

This example is crude and imperfect, but I think it illustrates a principle most can understand. It is not natural to construe someone’s silence as permission. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith and practice in religion, we attempt that very approach.

When it comes to how we live and serve in this life, we have to have God’s approval for whatever we do (Col. 3:17). When He tells us what His will is on any matter, our response to that should be thoughtful, careful, and submissive.  To be otherwise would be thoughtless, careless, and rebellious—with God’s stated desires.  To think that God would give us physical life, generous physical blessings, incredible spiritual blessings, spiritual life, and powerful promises on a continuous basis and we could ever be callous or cavalier about what He wants reveals an unfathomable audacity. Frank Chesser once depicted such an attitude this way, saying, “It has no respect for either the sound or the silence of God’s voice. It only does what the Bible says in a given area because it happens to agree with the Bible on that point. At the first sign of conflict, it will have its own way ever time” (The Spirit of Liberalism 18).

Church music in worship often gets isolated from the larger principle.  How we worship God in song, whether with or without mechanical instruments, is just one specific of a much broader principle. God has told us what He wants for church music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Whatever we do must meet His expressed will. Projecting songs, using songbooks or shape notes, having a song leader, or singing in parts or four-part harmony still falls within the category of His command that we sing. But this same principle covers everything we do in worship as well as the specific commands He has for us regarding our work as a church, our response to His grace in order to have His salvation, and the like.

Our culture teaches us to ask, “Why can’t I?” It encourages us to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t.” But, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The humble spirit of a grateful, grace-receiving child of God, when viewing the will of God, should always be, “Do I have permission for that?”  Such is neither cowering fear or abject slavery.  It is adoration and reverence for a Lord who gave everything that we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

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Some of my relics from back in the day