Necessary, But Not Essential

Necessary, But Not Essential

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Has your job been deemed “essential” during our mitigation efforts against COVID-19? If not, you are likely either working from home or are facing a difficult financial situation as we await the reopening of our economy. Noting the choices made by certain people in positions of authority about essential and nonessential workers, however, makes this whole process of determination seem…capricious.

Mike Rowe, a man who made a name for himself doing the “dirty jobs” other people refused to do, stated his opinion was that there was no job that is nonessential. Appearing on a cable news program, he said, “Right now, there is this fascinating conversation going on on your network and all the networks, where we are making a distinction between essential workers and nonessential workers.” Rowe continued, “…there’s something tricky with the language going on here because, with regard to an economy, I don’t think there is any such thing as a nonessential worker.” 1

Rowe did admit that certain positions are greatly needed during a pandemic. Hence, we have greater need for a doctor now than a center fielder for a Major League Baseball team. “I just wanted to make the point that, when we talk about the economy, all work is essential,” Rowe stated. “Maybe it’s a distinction without too much of a difference, but in my mind, there is no such thing right now as a nonessential worker.” 2

Rowe makes a good point. For a healthy economy, every able-bodied person of age, must work. When person “A” earns a paycheck, he spends it in person “B’s” store. Person “B” can then provide for his own family. The property taxes person “B” pays allows person “C’s” child to go to school. In other words, the economy is something in which we all play a role, whether we appreciate our role within it or not. Yet, we see what happens when we purposely shut down a country to mitigate a virus. All the financial gains about which our country boasted for the last few years was wiped out in six weeks!

This isn’t a message about the economy or politics or Mike Rowe. It is rather about the harmful consequences we bring about by rashly judging what’s essential and nonessential without considering the bigger picture. When you have extra time, enter in the words, “baptism” along with “essential” and “necessary,” into your internet search engine of choice. I did. I found one page that proffered “101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved.”

Fortunately, we have the book of Acts, also known as the “book of conversions.” Acts has many examples of people who, having heard the proclamation of the Gospel, submitted to baptism. It is a troublesome book for the one seeking to discount the necessity of baptism’s role in salvation. For this reason, such practitioners of a perverted gospel must say, “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith.” In other words, all these people were baptized to show their salvation rather than receive it.

Even if we only had the example of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts, we would have enough reason to prove why baptism is not only necessary but essential. Paul was a man, made miserable by his newly acquired knowledge he was a sinner. He prayed fervently for three days. If one could “pray through” then Paul should have been able to have done so. And yet, when the preacher Ananias arrived, he saw the pathetic state that Paul was in and said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16). Did Paul not realize he was saved and needed only to perform a ritual to confirm his salvation? If true, Paul was the most miserable Christian about whom we read in the pages of the New Testament during those three days he prayed and fasted.

We might make a tough judgment call because of a virus and shut down certain sectors of our economy since we believe them less essential during a health crisis. Ultimately, though, we realize even those deemed “nonessential” do play an important part in our economy, as Rowe suggested. We need them if we are going to climb up out of this trillion-dollar deficit hole this crisis has made us fall into.

Likewise, people may capriciously proclaim baptism nonessential. However, one wanting total restoration to the innocence lost in Eden must also know a demon’s faith (James 2.19) is not only insufficient to save but fatal (Mark 16.16).

References

1  Shiver, Phil. “’Dirty Jobs’ Star Mike Rowe: There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Nonessential Worker’.” The Blaze, Blaze Media LLC, 2 Apr. 2020, www.theblaze.com/news/mike-rowe-non-essential-worker.
ibid.

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Elders Who Shepherd

Elders Who Shepherd

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

There was a problem with the shepherds of Ezekiel’s day. They tended to their own needs, but not the flock’s (34:2-3). There were tangible needs and problems, but these shepherds sinned by omission (34:4). The sheep were scattered and these shepherds did not work to get them back or save them from predators (34:5-6). Then, God through Ezekiel utters these harrowing words: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep” (34:10). 

In the New Testament, Paul tells the elders of the church at Ephesus to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Guard the flock, watch over the flock, and shepherd the flock. What a weighty work! To be on guard means “to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately” (Louw-Nida 332). An overseer has the responsibility of seeing to the spiritual safety and proper conduct first of themselves but also of those they watch over (Arndt 379). The idea of shepherding indicates care, concern, love, provision, relationship and intimacy, knowledge, and familiarity (see Kittel et al 902ff). These lexicographers who define what Bible words mean give insight into what elders are to be like as they do this crucial work. Isn’t it incredible and encouraging to see spiritual, albeit inevitably imperfect, men who “aspire to the office of overseer” (1 Tim. 3:1)?

Yesterday is a day I’ll never forget. We tagged along with three elders and their wives as they went around to 26 houses of members of our congregation. Exercising due caution under the current medical crisis, they nonetheless drove to see members young, old, and in-between. They visited with, sang to, and prayed for so many face to face, delivering Dana’s delicious baked goods. Seeing their enthusiasm to do this and watching the genuine joy on their faces as they served and ministered was a blessing that will stoke my spiritual fire for a long time to come. 

But, that’s just what I got to see. I’m not seeing the other times they’ve done this. I’m not there as they’re making so many phone calls to everyone. Over the weekend, they met together for several hours to strategize about a reopening and communication plan not just to get back to “normal” but to thrive and grow as we go into the future. Another of the elders has since spent hours piecing together that plan to provide clear communication to the church. 

All of them work full-time jobs and are hard workers. All of them have families to love and care for. All of them have hobbies and interests. But, all of them have Christ in the center of their hearts and lives. That last fact is what drives them to know about, care about, and reach out to the sheep. 

Thank God for the many churches who are being shepherded through unprecedented times like these by engaged, concerned, and involved shepherds. Church growth, doctrinal soundness, examples of Christ-centered living, and so much more depend on elders who shepherd. Will you take the names of your shepherds to the throne of God each day, imitate their faith, and assist them in their work? They are a vital part of God’s plan to touch and transform eternity! 

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Only ten in this group picture! 
“Wait Until Fall”

“Wait Until Fall”

Neal Pollard

It was a beautiful experience, talking with our newest brother in Christ last night. It was beautiful watching him be bombarded with love and attention from member after member. Listening to him tell his story built my confidence in the simplicity of the Bible when a person reads it without prejudice or agenda. What an affirmation that God has a will for us and He made sure it was understandable to the seeker. As Jesus put it, “Seek, and you shall find” (Mat. 7:7).

Roberto has been seeking. As he has been attending a large, area Community Church, he has also been studying his Bible. He’s been a diligent student. Along the way, he read the repeated emphasis upon baptism as a necessity for salvation. This prompted him to approach his church and ask if he could be baptized. He was told that they baptize in the fall, and he could be baptized then. His immediate concern? What if I am killed in a car wreck or my phone blows up when I charge it? There was no manipulative or badgering teacher filling his head with such scenarios. Instead, he could make the connection between a command from God and the consequences of disobeying it.

He started Googling the importance of baptism and eventually found World Bible School. This led him to connect with Terry Pace, a Christian in Flint, Michigan, who studied with him. Roberto wanted to know if he could be baptized. Terry went to work. Terry’s son, Sam, happens to preach at the Northwest congregation in Westminster. One of the Northwest members, Allan Javellana, met him to study with him on Monday and found out he had sufficient understanding to be baptized. Since he lives close to Bear Valley, Allan brought him to our building where Wayne Nelson let him in. Allan stressed with Roberto the importance of working and worshipping with a group that is trying to answer Bible questions with Bible answers.

On Pentecost, they asked “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They were told (Acts 2:38), and they acted that day (Acts 2:41).

On the road to Gaza, the eunuch asked Philip (who had preached Jesus to him, Acts 8:35), “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). They stopped the chariot right there and then, and he was baptized (Acts 8:38).

At Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, this Gentile asked Peter to come over from Joppa (Acts 10:23ff). Cornelius knew Peter would be speaking words by which he could be saved (Acts 11:14). When it was clear that God wanted Gentiles to be saved (Acts 10:44-47), Cornelius and his household were baptized on the spot (Acts 10:48).

In the prison in Philippi, the jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He’s told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), Who they proceed to teach him about (Acts 16:32). Armed with this knowledge of the Savior, this jailor “immediately…was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:33).

Nobody waited because God’s answer was “now.” What has changed from then to now? What would make a different answer acceptable today? Roberto is another, amazing example of what a receptive heart does when faced with God’s Word and will. Simply, humbly do what He says. Oh, that I will approach God’s Word the same way!

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On The Other Side Of Security

On The Other Side Of Security

Neal Pollard

Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability.  He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established.  He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together.  I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.

Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded.  Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way.  At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15).  Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.

There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design.  Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you.  Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was.  I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm.  However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me.  I’m anxious to see them!  They are my family, even if we’ve never met.

As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family!  The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!

Good Deeds

Good Deeds

Neal Pollard

Good deeds don’t make the nightly news.  When a person serves or is nice to others, it rarely goes beyond the circle of occurrence.  That’s OK, because Jesus urges us, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before me, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mat. 6:1).

That probably wasn’t a problem for Titus, since the Cretans weren’t renowned for doing good deeds. In fact, a Cretan prophet said of his fellow-citizens, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti. 1:12). How would you like to live in a neighborhood or work on your job with such charming people as that? Paul calls them lying, wild, evil animals and slaves to their stomachs.

So, Paul spends some significant time in his letter talking about good deeds. There were some on Crete, particularly Jews, who by their deeds denied God and were “worthless for any good deed” (1:16). Thus, he urges Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds (2:7). These deeds were not to earn salvation (3:5), but instead to please God. Notice how Paul emphasizes deeds in this letter.

  • Good Deeds Show The Right Example (2:7). I heard about a pair of identical twins.  One was a preacher and the other was a doctor. It was impossible to tell the two apart. A woman approached one of them and asked, “Are you the one that preaches?” He said, “No, ma’am. I’m the one who practices.” Paul tells Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds in three areas: (1) Through sound teaching, (2) Through a serious life, and (3) Through his speech.
  • Good Deeds Show Where Our Passions Lie (2:14). Christ wants us zealous for good deeds. Wrongly directed zeal is destructive.  The Jewish zealots of the first-century helped bring about the demise of Jerusalem. But, a zealot with the right cause and conduct is powerful!  If we appreciate that we’ve been redeemed from every lawless deed (13), we’ll be zealous for good deeds. It should be natural for us, when saved from our sins, to be passionate about it to the point that our lives boil over with gratitude! That shows up in good deeds.
  • Good Deeds Show Our Faith In God (3:8). Paul urges Titus to share with all believers the need to be ready for every good deed (3:1). What will motivate us to do these good deeds? God’s mercy (3:5)! What will this motivate us to do? Share the good news (3:7-8). The world walks by sight and not by faith. Our challenge is to rise above that disbelief and show by our deeds our faith in the God who saved us from our sins! Our challenge is also to rise above the strife and division of those who profess to believe but whose lives yield evil deeds (3:9-11).  Doing good is broad and takes in the whole will of God for us, being all He wants us to be in marriage, parenting, the church, our neighborhood, the workplace, the nation, and in our relationships (cf. Titus 2). What will our good behavior in all these relationships tell others? Simply, that God is the guide of our lives and we put our trust in Him.
  • Good Deeds Meet Pressing Needs (3:14). Paul ends the letter by mentioning four Christians by name. The last two, Zenas and Apollos, would need financial help. Paul’s encouragement in Titus 3:14 seems directly related to this need. Whether it’s supporting missionaries or weekly giving, we are God’s hands on earth to help the needy when we give.

The old adage is true.  “Actions speak louder than words.” Paul writes of some who profess to know God, but in works deny Him. What a reminder that the Lord will not say, “Well said,” but “well done!”  Dorcas was a woman “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). The woman with the Alabaster box did what she could (Mark 14:8).  What about us? What will be said about our deeds?

PREACHERS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM

PREACHERS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Neal Pollard

Being patriotic and having a political heritage like we do in this country, we may have strong, personal convictions in the realm of politics. Engaging in the political process, from volunteering to voting to political meetings, can help us not only be a positive agent of change but also salt and light before the world. But nothing can have a quicker negative impact on ministry than a “stumping sermonizer” or “campaigning church man.” I’ve known preachers who seem CONSUMED with politics and can hardly speak without ranting about it.  It just comes out! Beware that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of what’s in the heart (Mat. 12:34). Some preachers betray that they’re dwelling more on things below than things above (Col. 3:1-2).

The church began in the midst of political rottenness and corruption. Tacitus wrote of Augustus Caesar that he “seduced the army with bonuses, and his cheap food policy was successful bait for civilians. Indeed, he attracted everybody’s goodwill by the enjoyable gift of peace. Then he gradually pushed ahead and absorbed the functions of the senate, the officials, and even the law. Opposition did not exist. War or judicial murder had disposed of all men of spirit. Upper-class survivors found that slavish obedience was the way to succeed, both politically and financially” (https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~wstevens/history331texts/augtotib.html). Of course, certain Jews did consume themselves with political interest and revolted against Rome—A venture that ended badly at Jerusalem and Masada. Read Tamarin’s classic book, Revolt In Judea, if you want the horrible details.  Politicians of the first century were guilty of wanton sexual immorality, including homosexuality and adultery; They practiced infanticide and whet their appetites for death and violence in their stadiums and arenas.  Where is Peter’s or Paul’s diatribe in scripture against vices and corruptions that sound a lot like our day? Where are the early Christians with their pickets and protests against the government?  Instead, “They went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4)!

Political activism will hurt our efforts to effectively evangelize. How tragic to lose a soul trying to win a political argument!  Political activism, in preachers, can negatively impact what the church has paid them to do. They certainly didn’t pay him to spend all day on social media trolling stories or writing quips. They didn’t hire him to go to political rallies, being more wrapped up in affairs of state than affairs of heaven.

Paul was actually able to have an audience with the most prominent politicians of his day. Was he interested in discussing national or imperial policy with them?  Before Felix and Agrippa, he preached righteousness, temperance and judgment to come.  In Acts 27, he says God appointed him to speak before Caesar.  What could happen among us if more were devoted to spiritual revival than political reform?

How Often To Take “The Feast Of Love”?

How Often To Take “The Feast Of Love”?

Neal Pollard

I recently read a fascinating article by John H. Armstrong in the September, 2014, issue of “Christianity Today.” Armstrong starts out reminiscing on early childhood worship experiences in the denomination he attended. He writes that his church celebrated the Lord’s Supper “four times a year. I remember asking why we celebrated it so infrequently. The answer I got never satisfied, and it still doesn’t: ‘If we do this very often, it will lose its meaning'” (51). He goes on to say, “As I grew older, I discovered some churches took the meal weekly. I was then even more dissatisfied with the answer I had received” (ibid.).  He goes on to write a mostly historical examination of the Lord’s Supper, looking at the debates and developments of church history.  At the end, he summarizes by saying, “…[younger Christians] desire to receive the meal more often. And some of them—as I did when I was younger—have started attending congregations that take Communion ever week” (53).  The reasons given are that each observance gives us the opportunity to focus on Jesus’ crucifixion, expresses the unity of the body, and reflects our personal identity in Christ (ibid.). In other words, it offers commemoration, examination, and expectation.  We need that on an ongoing basis, and the Lord knew we would.  That is why He pointed ahead to a certain frequency when He established it, saying He would do it again when He established His Kingdom (Mark 14:25).  Paul says it was to be done with a certain frequency (1 Cor. 11:25—”as often as”).  Thankfully, Luke shows us how frequently it was taken (Acts 20:7—”on the first day of the week”).  It is good to understand that the Bible establishes the frequency of our observation of the Lord’s Supper, but it is also important to know why we take it each week.  We look up, look back, look within, look around, and look ahead.  Our all-wise God knew we would need this every time we assembled with our spiritual family.  Though so many have lost sight of its frequency, may we never lose sight of its significance!

God Is “Number Conscious”

God Is “Number Conscious”

Neal Pollard

Occasionally, the accusation, “You are just number conscious,” flies. If we speak in terms of attendance and emphasize its importance, we may justify mentioning it by saying that numbers represent souls. That is true, but there is no need to be ashamed of “number consciousness.”  After all, the Holy Spirit must have been.

Did you know that He moved men to use the noun arithmos (from where we get “arithmetic”) 18 times in the New Testament, including five times in Acts. Each time the word is used, God has been counting. In Acts, God is keeping track of the numbers being converted and the numbers making up the church.  Arithmos, in the literal sense, means “to count,” “to reckon,” and “number” (TDNT 1:461). In these passages in Acts, arithmos is used literally and specifically–“the number of the men came to be about 5,000” (4:4), “a number of men, about 400, joined themselves [to Theudas]” (5:36), “the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly” (6:7), “a large number believed” (11:21), “the churches were increasing in number daily” (16:5). Except for Gamaliel’s Acts 5 speech, the Acts passages report numerical growth in the early church.

Gearing our programs and preaching at all costs and compromise to optimize attendance figures is not the idea.  Truth offends and turns away many. The early church had a large share of enemies and detractors. While many submitted to immersion, some resorted to throwing stones (7:58; 14:19). The early Christians were tarred, run over, beaten, imprisoned, burned alive, fed to lions, exiled, and otherwise mistreated. Though this was sporadic, it could be intense. They had a number of enemies, but, through their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they worked at their mission and God gave the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).  All the while, Heaven kept count.

Long before the cross, God said, “All souls are Mine” (Ezek. 18:14). He’s been in every delivery room.  He’s heard every baby’s cry, watched every skinned knee, been privy to every child’s fear, and seen every sinful thought, word, and action develop. He was there at the moment every individual crossed the line from “safe” to “separated” (cf. Isa. 59:2). As Redeemer, God marks down each instance where one goes from “separated” to “saved.”

Let’s think like God on this.  Pursue evangelistic opportunities, teach the truth, and the numbers will increase. Be “number conscious”!