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Satan Uncategorized

Satan’s Schemes

Neal Pollard

Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes). 

But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins. 

When might he seek to employ his schemes?

  • When new elders are appointed
  • During building programs
  • As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
  • When preachers come and go
  • In a flurry of exciting activities
  • In the heart of some church problem or struggle
  • At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
  • Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
  • When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church

Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.

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Picture from my last trip to Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania, 12/17.
Categories
Bear Valley church of Christ church church (nature) church function church growth church organization eldership leaders leadership Uncategorized

“I Praise, I Participate, I Proclaim”

Neal Pollard

Yesterday afternoon, the Bear Valley eldership stood before us one by one to talk about their priorities both for themselves and for us. They distilled them into five simple words that describe five profound concepts: (1) Worship, (2) Communication, (3) Fellowship, (4) Accountability, and (5) Leadership. They told us that as the religious world is growing more homogenous in their worship style (a la community church model; rock concert-ish), distinctive New Testament worship has a chance to stand out even more. Yet, we need to always be improving our efforts in leadership and participation. They emphasized that communicating news, ideas, and needs is a process that will always need work and priority. No church ever arrives in this regard. They spoke of the importance of building a closer church family, knowing each other through age-related opportunities and entire congregation opportunities. This happens when we’re all together, in the classroom, and away from the building. They stressed the importance of holding one another accountable, for faithfulness, commitment, and support. Otherwise, there is no way to move from ideas to action. They told us that all of us exert leadership in some area. There is formalized leadership positions, as outlined in the New Testament (elders, deacons, preachers, teachers). But, inasmuch as we all have a sphere of influence (cf. Mat. 5:14-16), God expects us to lead. Throughout their entire presentation, they were specific about strategies aimed at helping us be successful. I appreciated the great challenge this was for us to work and grow. There were so many quotable sayings from their collective lesson, but the one that struck me most was made near the end. As we have adopted three planks of emphasis as a church, based on Acts 2:42-47 (praise—worship, participation—fellowship, and proclamation—evangelism), we were challenged to think: “I praise,” “I participate,” and “I proclaim.” It can be so easy for us to approve the church’s need to grow and improve in these areas or to expect the elders to do these things. But, no matter who we are, we can and must ask, “What can I do?” The key to being a great church is the willingness of every member to make personal application. It’s not, “What are they doing?,” “what are you doing?,” or even “what are we doing?” No! It must always primarily be, “What am I doing?” I’m thankful that our elders spoke with confidence and clarity about the fact that there is plenty of opportunity to be involved in making Bear Valley a strong, relevant church, a city set on a hill shining a light in spiritual darkness. Thank God for strong leadership, which encourages me to say, “Here am I, send me!” (cf. Isa. 6:8).

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church church (nature) church attendance church growth church of Christ evangelism Uncategorized

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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Categories
change faith millennials

MILLENNIALS LEAVING THE ESTABLISHED FOR THE CONVENIENT?

Neal Pollard

I was more than a little amused to read one of the latest offerings at the offbeat online food site “Munchies” (munchies.vice.com).  While it seems to be having fun with the overkill-reporting of all movements millennial, they give hard data to support the idea that those in the age range of 18-34 are forsaking fast-food chains and sit-down restaurants in deference to convenience stores with their nachos, taquitos and slurpies.  This data is being interpreted as a reflection on their tendency to impulse buy or be lured in by novelty.

Having at least two children who would fit the broad definition of “millennials,” I am always trying to figure out how this demographic ticks.  It seems that every news story featuring them, as a generation, casts them as fickle, rebellious, self-serving, or disconnected from the rest of society.  While they have inherited some broken systems (educationally, economically, religiously, etc.) and, as such, may naturally feel some distrust and disdain for those responsible, stereotypes and broad brushes are usually faulty.

When I view Christian millennials, having spoken with a great many of them over the past few years, I see a group intent on doing great things for Christ.  They don’t want to hear plans for helping the poor and needy; they want to organize and supply manpower for doing it.  They want more than Bible classes and sermons on soul-winning; they want to see their “role models” doing it and involving them in it.  They don’t want to simply accept our word for it on why we do what we do in worship and doctrine; they want well-thought-out explanations and demonstrations of book, chapter, and verse.

Today’s millennials are on the frontline of a battlefield more daunting than any living generation before them.  The prince of this world has attempted to brainwash and indoctrinate them with his lies.  The institutions of our culture actively seek to redefine right and wrong for them.

So many of the Christian millennials I know are eager to serve as soldiers in the Lord’s Army.  They may disparage some of the “established” forms not founded upon the Rock, but the kind of faith they are developing and must grow will be anything but “convenient.”  They may have to pay a higher price for holding onto their faith than any of us did at their age.  May we have the wisdom and take the time to mentor, encourage, love, and assist them in influencing a world so rapidly changing.  They can do it, and we must help.  God certainly will (cf. Rom. 8:37-39)!