What Are We Saying About The Church?

Neal Pollard

Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.

I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives. 

The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church? 

  • Remember who conceived of it, from nature to organization to purpose, etc. (Eph. 3:9-11).
  • Remember whose it is (Mat. 16:18-19; Eph. 5:33).
  • Remember our mission to bring others into it and that our home is our primary mission field (Mat. 28:19).
  • Remember how Jesus feels about the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).
  • Remember that the church is the location of the saved and we should do all we can to help our children make up that number (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Remember all that the Bible says God seeks to accomplish through the church: growth (Eph. 4:16), His glory (Eph. 3:20-21), and His grace (2 Cor. 8:1), among so many other things.

We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too. 

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Abraham Lincoln’s Memorandum Of August 23, 1864

Neal Pollard

Somehow, I was unaware of the existence of a document which Abraham Lincoln drafted and had endorsed by every member of his cabinet, though unseen by them, and which remained sealed until November 11, 1864. These were not only dark times for the nation, embroiled in civil war for over three years at that point, but gloomy for the war-weary north which could not end the conflict against the greatly outmanned but tactically superior south. Politicians and citizens were unhappy with the perceived lack of success and progress at such high cost—the death and disabling of so many of her sons in the prime of their lives.  Lincoln detected that popular sentiment was such that he would not be reelected. Thus, he drafted his memo, which read, 

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable the this
Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate
with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the
inauguration: as he will have secured his election on such ground that he
cannot possibly save it afterward (Coolidge 139). 

Lincoln seemed to think that the north had had enough of this war and would rather sue for peace and allow our sea to shining sea to be two nations rather than continue with such devastating effects a war they could see no end to. He appears dedicated to whatever he could do to preserve unity.

Of course, several things changed the course of Lincoln’s fate in his bid for reelection that swept him decidedly into office for a second term. There was the north’s victorious show in The Battle of Atlanta, Fremont’s withdrawal from candidacy, the Democrats internal division between the Copperheads—eager to end the war now—and the War Democrats, and the fact that no electoral votes were counted from the Confederate States of America.  But, Lincoln could not see the future. He was preparing for what he saw as the worst.

There is a well-worn battle taking place in our world. It is not technically between two factions. It might be framed as Christianity versus other world religions. It could be cast as New Testament Christianity versus so many individual denominations. Yet, internally, there are multiple stressors to the biblical unity Christ prayed and died for, too (John 17:20-21). 

Christians are soldiers (Eph. 6:10ff), but our battle is not with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).  Our war and weapons are not “of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3-4). All the same, many have grown weary of fighting the good fight and not a few feel as though we are fighting in a losing cause. The restoration ideal of doing Bible things in Bible ways seems archaic and impossible to growing numbers of saints. Some fight with equal vigor to preserve traditions not rooted in Scripture, and unnecessarily harm the great cause. 

As we strive at all costs to be true to the pattern of New Testament Christianity, let us do so going to whatever lengths we can to maintain unity wherever possible. Not for a moment does that mean sacrificing truth or compromising even one “thus says the Lord.” But it does mean embracing a spirit of love and protectiveness for the precious Bride of Christ, the church. That involves loving and working with those who are the members of it. 

Ultimately, the Lord’s cause will prevail. His victory is as assured as every other divine promise. We must be striving on His side to share in that. For now, we cannot give up the fight! Let’s cooperate wherever and however we can, standing unitedly on the foundation of Christ and His will. The rest (which is most of it), we will leave to our Great Commander In Chief!

Works Cited:
Coolidge, Louis A. American Statesman Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Chelsea House, 1983).

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“Immediately”

Neal Pollard

The astute reader of the book of Mark finds the word 40 times in 39 verses (the Greek word most often translated “immediately” in Mark is actually found 44 times). It is a key word found consistently throughout the gospel but especially in the first six chapters. Usually, the word is used to quantify the time between Jesus performing a miracle and it taking effect. The point seems to be to show the power and Divine nature of Jesus. It is also a thread that runs throughout the book to highlight key thoughts and main ideas in this second book of the New Testament. The word is used to highlight the Father’s affirmation of Christ following His baptism (1:10), Jesus’ journey into the wilderness to triumph over the Devil’s temptations (1:12), the disciples’ decision to leave their occupation to follow Jesus (1:18,20), Jesus’ entering the synagogue to show unparalleled authority and power (1:21), the news and fame that followed Christ’s teaching and healing (1:28), and the immediate response of the one healed by Jesus–the first of many uses of the word “immediately” to highlight such (1:29-30). The proof for Jesus’ identity was immediate. The effect of Jesus’ miracles was immediate. The impact of Jesus’ miracles and teachings on friend and foe was immediate. Mark’s use of this word seems to indicate how overwhelming and unmistakable the proof of Jesus was.

This is not to say that one should rashly decide about the Lord. The book of Mark is part of God’s way to convince man about who Jesus is. Take the time to read it and learn of Him. Like the other three gospels, Mark contains the miracles, teaching, claims, and events in Christ’s life at the end of which one must ultimately make a decision concerning who He is. Remember, though, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Weigh the evidence, and then decide. Follow the example of so many in the book of Mark and let the power and person of Jesus have an immediate impact on your life and your soul.

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The Gift That Jesus Gave

Neal Pollard

Often, during this time of year, there is an emphasis placed upon the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus—“gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat. 2:11).  They understood how Jesus was worthy of worship (2:2,11) and celebration (2:10).  Their giving flowed from that recognition.

The book of Hebrews turns the tables and reveals the Jesus who is the gift-giver. The same Greek word used to describe the wise men’s gifts to Jesus is used twice by the writer of the epistle to talk about Jesus’ gift. He does so in the context of Jesus’ work as a High Priest, as contrasted with the gifts offered by priests under the Law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:1, the writer talks about the qualifications necessary to serve in that role—taken from among men, working on behalf of men in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. Chapter five deals more with His qualification to serve and offer, but the writer does deal with the gift itself later on. Later on turns out to be chapter eight. The writer uses that same word for “gifts” in Hebrews 8:3-4 to talk about what Jesus offered. His gift is contrasted with those that cannot make the worshiper “perfect in conscience” (9:9). He gave His own blood (9:10) and with it obtained eternal redemption which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). The writer summarizes that gift, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), as the gift that sanctifies us to God.

But what do we give in return? We cannot repay His priceless gift. But God presupposes that we will be motivated to give. Jesus does, referring to worship in Matthew 5:23-24. He does again, referring to the monetary gifts of the wealthy and the sacrificial (Luke 21:1-4). The Hebrews writer will use Abel as an example of faith-fueled giving (11:4). But our most generous gifts to Christ, however moved by sincere love and unwavering commitment, is but a shadow and reflection of His gift. We give Him money, honor, time, energy, heart, and everything else we can, because He is the greatest giver of all. May we take the time, every day, to honor and give freely, to the Gift-Giver!

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A Wonderful Savior!

Neal Pollard

Since I was a boy, “A Wonderful Savior” has been one of my favorite hymns. A multitude of reasons are cited in this beautiful song, all of which builds my adoration for the Lamb of God! Let me suggest three reasons why I think Jesus is a wonderful Savior.

He has a wonderful nature. Jesus is Divine and eternal. He possesses all the traits of Deity without qualification or limitation (Col. 2:9). That means He has the power to save “to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). Not only does He, as God, have the power, but He has the love (1 John 4:8). He has not only the power and the will, but also the desire.

He demonstrated wonderful love. Again, what could drive the perfect God to die for woeful, sinful, and wicked man? There was nothing in us deserving of love, so this says everything about Him and nothing about us. He loves me because HE is wonderful (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; cf. Rev. 3:9).

He has opened wonderful doors of opportunity. Paul loved using this terminology. He told Corinth in two letters about the Lord opening such doors for him (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). He told the church at Colosse (4:3). He reported as much to the church at Antioch at the end of the first missionary journey (Acts 14:27). We cannot separate these opportunities from the Savior. Who do we seek to promote? What is our message? Who is the object of hope? He opens doors because of who He is. The Godhead, when we pray and seek His will, opens the doors through divine providence. How enriching and rewarding when we step through those wonderful doors!

Fanny J. Crosby had in mind the event up on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments and the Lord descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there. It is a beautiful picture of a God who condescends to lowly man. That’s what Jesus did! He lowered Himself for us (Phil. 2:5ff). Thank God for such a Savior as we have!

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Appreciating The Blessings In A Key Text

Neal Pollard

Joshua 21:43-45 is the key text in that book because at this point that Joshua can say that God gave everything that had been promised. With the settling of the land, the land promise made to Abraham was now fulfilled. Israel was not fully a nation after becoming a people and having law, but now they are. Notice the facets of God’s promise to them.

“So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their Fathers” (43). God gave them physical blessings. They owned and called home the land God promised their ancestors.

“The Lord gave them rest on every side” (44). He gave them emotional blessings. This was a long time in coming for these battle-weary warriors. The anxiety of being the underdog, of facing frightening foes, all of that (at least for now) was behind them.

“No one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand” (44). He gave them spiritual blessings. These idolaters and heathen people could not stand before them and the Lord dispossessed them, giving them into the hands of His chosen people.

No wonder this summary statement is made: “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (45). This was the God of Joshua. It’s also the God of us.

This text shows us how comprehensively God blessed the lives of His children. These verses speak of a material inheritance. Even if it is the choicest spot on the globe, it cannot compare to what God will give to His faithful. Let’s rejoice in the hope Peter shares, regarding the promise of His coming (2 Pet. 3:4). He writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:10-14).

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The supposed “Garden of Gethsemane” (photo credit: Carla Moore)

Service With A Smile

Neal Pollard

Jesus showed the greatness of service by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:12-17). As they fought over who was the greatest, Jesus revealed that He came to serve and not to be served (Mat. 20:25-28). God refers to Him in the great prophesy about His suffering as “My Servant” (Isa. 52:13; 53:11). Why, then, are we more apt to jockey for prominence, position, power, and prestige? Is it not that, in such times, we’ve lost our focus and stopped “looking unto Jesus” (cf. Heb. 12:2)? What are some practical ways we can reflect Jesus through service? Consider the following as a pump-primer:

  • Write a note of encouragement
  • Pleasantly let a merging driver merge in front of you
  • Fervently pray for the good of someone who has been hurtful to you
  • Meet a widow(er) for lunch or coffee
  • Volunteer to babysit so a young couple can go on a date
  • Anonymously send a small amount of money or gift card to a college student, preacher student, or missionary
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Participate in a feeding the homeless event
  • Tell an elder you love and appreciate him
  • Pay for the meal of a young family who looks like they could use the help
  • Ask a neighbor if there is something you can be praying about on their behalf (and, if they’re willing, pray for that on the spot)
  • Text or email someone you know is in a stressful circumstance and express confidence in them
  • Take a small group to go sing for someone confined to a hospital or nursing home
  • Volunteer to work with small children to make a craft or baked good for the elderly
  • Police the bathrooms and pews at church and tidy up little messes you see
  • Make visitors to our assemblies feel welcome and help them find a class or a seat (with a pleasant smile)

There may be profound ways we can serve, but realize that any act of service may be far more profound than we think. We may not know in this life how a simple act opens a heart and opens a door of opportunity for Christ. Think like a servant and seek ways to serve! The greater others think you are, the greater your need to serve. But however much or little you think of yourself, think of others. Then, serve them!

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A Strategy The World Never Sees Coming (Poem)

Neal Pollard

How I treat you says much about me
My demeanor and my disposition
It’s my calling card but your memory
Of who I am and my primary mission.

For I treat you as I would treat Jesus
As if He were standing before me
That He came not for ease but to ease us
He was driven by the needs He would see.

If we all were an advocate for each other
More concerned with the good of our neighbor
Moved deeply by each sister and brother
A faithful worker in that needed labor

The world preaches, “Me, mine, and my!”
“For me you must give, serve, and do!”
The world is dead, but we must die
To self and the self-centered view.

Imagine a world where everyone tried
To defer to the people around them
Just walk in love, by the Savior’s side
When they look at you, they will see Him!

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Do You Believe In Goats?

Neal Pollard

With the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908, which year was near the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s second presidential term when there were only 46 United States and the first that Mother’s Day was celebrated in America, diehard fans believe a World War II-era “curse” has been lifted. Chicago tavern owner, Billy Sianis, “put” the curse on the Cubs when he and his goat were asked to leave game four of the 1945 World Series against the Tigers (imagine a goat even getting into a Major League park today). Fans point to strange, “inexplicable” events through time—most famously Steve Bartman in 2003—to support the “fact” of that curse (see more here: http://www.billygoattavern.com/legend/curse/).

For most of us, this is a fun and playful distraction that makes sports, particularly baseball, that much more fun. Superstition is a nuance that shows up in so many places: pitchers stepping over the foul line going back to the dugout, players not washing and re-wearing underclothes and uniforms, pre-game and post-game meals, etc. I would guess precious few actually believe there is real power in these rituals (on a personal note, my continuous practice of having to wake up wearing UGA apparel on football game days—begun in 1980—was once and for all broken in the midst of a bad 2016 season).

All joking aside, goats get negative attention in a place much more important than Wrigley Field. In Scripture, Jesus, in the last of five parables of preparation in Matthew 24-25, likens the lost to goats (Mat. 25:32-33). Commentators tell us that “their normal dirty state, it might even have been considered wise to leave it to the skilled shepherd to distinguish with confidence the sheep from the goats” (Nolland, NIGTC, np). In fact, throughout the Old Testament, sheep and goats were mostly interchangeable for milk, meat, sacrifice, and general use (ibid.). But, for the purpose of Judgment, Jesus is skillful and discerning enough to know with perfect discernment whether every individual is “goat” or “sheep.” No one is inadvertently mislabeled or misplaced. He will perfectly divide the saved from the lost.  Placement at Judgment will not be influenced by looks, wealth, popularity, education, or any other criteria the world embraces as success. Jesus tells us who both the goat and sheep are (Mat. 25:31-46).

Billy’s goat was not responsible for a “Cubs curse.” Yet, we should understand in a day when the world and even the religious are less inclined to label any activity goat-like, i.e., soul-condemning, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus has not lost any such ability to discern. In fact, He tells us most will be placed in the goat column (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). Let us love and respect God’s Word enough to avoid the curse He came to undo (Gal. 3:13; Rev. 22:3).

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He Can Carry What’s Too Heavy For You

Poem inspired by this beautiful new song by Jeff Wiant, member at Bear Valley.  Click on the link below to hear it:

CLICK HERE: Jeff Wiant’s “Won’t You Come”

Neal Pollard

We struggle and strain to carry our load
We buckle as it gets heavier on our backs
We fall and hurt on this rough, rocky road
The weight makes us stop in our tracks

Looking around with a face full of pleading
We wonder who is observing our pain
We’re wounded, weary, broken and bleeding
Set to surrender from the stress and strain

Tears flow freely, we have been here before
We know how the journey seems endless
Certain we can’t make it alone to the door
We feel solitude, helpless and friendless

It’s bigger than us, crushing and enormous
And the contents shameful and unsightly
We’ve borne it so long it’s begun to conform us
To a stooped struggler holding on tightly

A voice calling gently, “Bring it over to Me,
I can help you and give you My best,
Your burden is heavy, I know you are weary,
Come to Me and I will give you rest.”

Could you double down, wincing and worn,
Grit your teeth and ignore His free aid?
Eventually, it will bury you after making you mourn
You know an exorbitant price must be paid.

He is able and willing, but waiting for you
To seek what He offers you without reservation
Let Him do for you what only He can do
Give your burdens to Christ with no hesitation.

Think of the journey, partnered with One
Without limits in power, purity and pity
Who’ll stay with you until your journey is done
As together you arrive at His heavenly city.

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