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giving redemption Uncategorized worship

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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Christmas church church attendance Easter seekers Uncategorized

Googling Church

Neal Pollard

Despite Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s fall, 2015, pessimistic forecast in the “Sunday Review” column of the New York Times, where he perhaps wistfully reports Google searches for God down 15% in the first half of this decade and presents data showing Kim Kardashian as at least 10 times more popular than Jesus (if such is gauged by Google searches)(“Googling For God,” 9/15/15), a front-page “USA Snapshot” from last weekend’s USA Today’s front page reveals a different statistic. Google Trends, which has been tracking searches since 2004, says that Google queries for the word “church” peak at Easter and spiked last year at 68% (3/25-3/27, 1A). Looking at Google.com/trends, searches for church in the last seven days spiked in too many categories to list but included “church service” (110% rise), “mass-church” (100%), “churches near me” (90%), and “Catholic Church (near me)” (both 100%).  Good friends of mine who are devout Catholics have referred to such querists and Easter or Christmas-only attendees as “C&Es” (Christmas and Easter), “CEOs (Christmas-Easter Only),” “Chreasters” (Christmas and Easter Christians) and “Submarine Christians” (because they only surface a few times per year). I’m not picking on Catholics, but singling them out since they see the biggest attendance spike and put special emphasis on those holidays as “holy days” with heightened importance over other days of the year.  Protestant denominations experience something similar if on a smaller scale. Many congregations of churches of Christ can attest to a rise in visitors on certain days, whether Easter, Mother’s Day, or Christmas.

While I strongly disapprove of the unpalatable, but predictable, gigging and gauging of those provocateurs with “in your face,” polarizing statements and ensuing debates praising and condemning these religious holidays, I am hard pressed to ignore the hard and anecdotal data. More people come to church services, including our church services, on these days.  While I have preached on the resurrection at Easter and the birth of Christ when Christmas fell on a Sunday (and cannot see how such is wrong) and while I have also preached “educational” sermons about the origin of these holidays and how we celebrate these great truths each Sunday and each day (which I believe is also legitimate), there is a matter of greater importance we must consider.

Yesterday morning, Bear Valley had a big crowd that included several visitors. Mark Hanstein preached on the work of elders. Nothing was said to highlight or downplay the resurrection. There were no awkward speeches about the origin of the Easter holiday and no pageantry to pander to guests. The worship, from the singing to the supplications and the Supper to the sermon and the sacrificing of the salary, was uplifting and encouraging.  As usual.

Every time we assemble to praise God and encourage our fellow Christians, we need to be sensitive to the fact that we are blessed with visitors. If we want to impact and reach those who “come into all the building,” on “special” or “ordinary” days, we need to prove it by doing everything we can to connect with them and take the conversation further. As you warmly greet them and find out more about them, ask them what brought them to church, what questions they might have, what their lunch plans are, if they are members of the church of Christ, and what you might do to be of service to them. Be genuinely interested and prove it with your words, facial expressions, and body language.

Did you know that the top church related search trends include “the church” (up 100%), “Christ church” (up 30%) and “church of Christ” (up 20% and the seventh most popular church related search), according to Google.com/trends? Who knows exactly what that means? But I can tell you what it means when a non-Christian visitor comes to one of our services. They are searching for something bigger than themselves. The real question is, “Are we searching for them?”

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Categories
Christmas worship

WHITE CHRISTMASES AND SUNDAYS

Neal Pollard

Why is having a white Christmas such a big deal to me, you might ask.  Well, for a boy who spent the majority of his boyhood Christmases in south Georgia, the whole idea seemed like a fairytale.  Also, for a lifelong Bing Crosby fan, the movie was always one of Holiday favorites.  I always imagined the “magic” of abundant snowfall on such a special and exciting day.  With the prospect of 2014 in the Denver area giving us what we only get 14% of the time, a 1/10” or more of snow on December 25th, it’s like being a school boy in Cairo, Sylvester, or Hinesville once again.

There have been a few years when we’ve had white Christmases, and none of them disappointed!  The biggest was December 25, 1976, a magical, heavy snow when dad preached in Barrackville, West Virginia.  The next would not be until December 25, 1989, a historic, bizarre snowfall in Hinesville, Georgia, when I returned home during my Sophomore year in college. At one time, it was the deepest snow they’d ever gotten!  It took over a decade until I saw another one.  Though 22 inches fell a few days before our first Colorado Christmas in 2006, it was the next year we were fortunate enough to be here for Denver’s deepest snowfall on Christmas, about 8 inches in 2007.  Some flakes flew in 2012, but gave us only a dusting.  Perhaps it’s the rarity, maybe the nostalgia, but it’s special!

All my life, Sunday has had a similar impression on me.  There are six other days in the week, and wonderful things have happened in them, but none compare to what happens on Sunday. From waking up filled with the anticipation of seeing church family to hearing, since childhood, records, tapes, CDs, or streaming hymns and songs by our favorite quartets and choruses.  The way you get dressed and get ready has a different feel, knowing what you are readying to do.  But this is more than nostalgia.  It’s an attitude God has placed within man’s heart from the beginning.  It’s the sentiment expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 95:  “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation!” (1). “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker!” (6). Can’t you hear him seemingly hurrying everyone.  Today, we might say, “Come on honey! Hurry up kids! It’s time to go to worship! I can’t wait!”  It is important that we serve Him and live for Him every day we live, and a day of worship cannot make up for or offset bad living the other days.  But, how wonderful for us to be filled with anticipation and longing for His day—Sunday!  How unnatural to lack that desire or be so cavalier about it that we can take it or leave it—assemble or not assemble.

So, I’m almost like a rabid fan cheering on the meteorologist this week.  I still get filled with a special sense of exciting on Sunday, too.  Whatever your take on White Christmases, never lose your longing for the Lord’s Day!  Merry Christmas!