Going Places (GUEST BAKER: Trent Woolley)

Trent Woolley

The other day I stumbled upon this rather innocuous quote – “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before” (Life’s Little Instruction Book).  Obviously, this quote is talking about travel, but I would like us to think of it as challenging ourselves to do things that we may have never done before. So, let’s take a look at some things that might help us, as a church, go places that we may have never been before:

  •   Volunteer to teach a class, or help teach a class, or help teach others how to teach a class
  •   Offer to pick-up someone who needs a ride to church
  •   Spend a month at the greeting table getting to know our visitors
  •   Prepare and present a 90 Seconds of Power
  •   Pray with an elder
  •   Commit to visit all the shut-ins this year
  •   Write a note of encouragement to all our members whose last name begins with R,
  •    or M, or C…
  •   Host a devotional for: the teens, the young professionals, the young families, the
    tweeners, the seniors
  •   Teach the congregation a new song, or an old song we don’t know
  •   Stand at one of the doors and greet everyone who comes in

    This is just a short list of some places we might have never been before, I’m sure
    there are other places that we all would like to try and go to.

    And if we start to think “I can’t do that”, let me remind us of what God tells us in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded, you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

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The Best Thing To Do For The Body This Year

Neal Pollard

When it comes to caring for the physical body, I have a lot to learn. While I work out nearly day, my most developed muscle is the table one. I will be working to use that muscle far less this year. But judging from all the new faces in the gym this morning, there are a lot of people who are going to be exercising their bodies who haven’t been doing so—at least for the next few days or weeks.

When it comes to caring for the spiritual body of Christ, I have even more to learn. Helping the church grow, develop, and fulfill its purpose better is a challenge that grows more daunting with each new year as our culture changes, our own distractions mount, and our sight is so easily eclipsed by the influence of this world. With that in mind, there is something we can do for His body that will give it its best opportunity to please God.  It centers around what we do with the Bible, as a church.

We must have confidence that God’s Word will give us what we need to have to be what we need to be. Through such, we will be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It takes the Word to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Isn’t this what Paul is also saying to Colosse, when he urges them to hold fast to the head so that the body would grow “with a growth which is from God”? (Col. 2:19).  We cannot hope to strengthen and protect Christ’s spiritual body locally without consulting the training manual of the Great Physician.  Let’s make that specific and practical:

  • Preachers must lovingly preach even the difficult subjects (i.e., God’s law of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the distinct plan of salvation, the undenominational, singular nature of the New Testament church, God’s sexual ethics, the role of men and women, God’s pattern of worship, personal purity, etc.) and be a living example of the believer as their ethic is driven by that Word.
  • Elders must shepherd guided by the infallible Word and not with personal favoritism, deciding solely on popularity or what the majority favors, bending to political correctness, fear of offending influential members, and the like.
  • Deacons must function in a way that shows discipline, dedication, devotion, and discretion which is shaped and guided by the New Testament pattern for their works.
  • Members must follow with love, esteem, and cooperation when their leaders urge them to follow God’s truth, even if it’s distasteful to us or challenges our comfort and complacency.
  • Individual Christians must discipline their hearts and minds to be open and submissive to what they encounter in Scripture rather than be defensive and rebellious.
  • Families must dedicate themselves to studying and honoring the Word at home, in their daily lives, to grow and mature in the Words of truth.
  • Each of us must see the mandate to save souls, repeated throughout the New Testament, as a personal responsibility for which God holds us all accountable.

Isn’t it exciting to think about how much stronger the body of Christ where we are might be this time next year? If each of us will allow God’s inspired word to be the beacon and guide of our lives, His body is going to be powerful, noticeable, and desirable. We will draw men to Christ. We will be the picture of spiritual health. As you make your resolutions, won’t you determine to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you (Col. 3:16).

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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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What Would Our Slogan Be?

Neal Pollard

A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination.  The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!”  Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.

But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?”  If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be?  For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).

Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:

  • “We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
  • “We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
  • “We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
  • “We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
  • “We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
  • “We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
  • “We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
  • “We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • “We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).

The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.

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What Kind Of Church Do We Want To Be?

Neal Pollard

V–ictorious? Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn. 5:4). No coach hopes to win without first planning and architecting. The blueprints have already been put in place (Rom. 6:17), but we must work the plans to be a success in God’s eyes!

I–nvolved? Do we want to merely keep house and meet together each week? That is not New Testament Christianity (cf. Acts 2:46). They took Christianity out of the church building’s doors. They were tangibly involved in doing God’s work. Will be be?

S–erving? This is a self-serving world. Many seem intent to climb over whoever is in their way to the top. Jesus’ religion runs contrary to that (John 13:12-17), and He calls us to follow His example. A serving church is a living, thriving, arriving, surviving church.

I–mpactful? Do our neighbors know who we are? What about the surrounding communities? What about the farthest reaches of our world? Don’t you want to be part of a church putting a Christ-sized impression on those around us?

O–bedient? We have one authority (Col. 3:16-17; John 14:1-6; Acts 4:12). There are potential masters, but only one will lead us to heaven. A church that steps outside His “lines” will become eternally out of bounds. Those intent on obeying Him will be saved (Heb. 5:9).

N–urturing? Don’t we want to be part of a people with an infinitely more profound purpose than that found by the patrons and workers portrayed in the old sitcom Cheers? We want everyone to know our name and be glad that we came, but we should also want a place where we can grow in every right, positive way. This must be a church that cares about all, whatever our age, background, interests, income, or education!

A–ble?  Do we want to focus on our liabilities or, through Christ, our limitless resources? We have so much to do, but we’ve been given so much to do it. Don’t we want to be part of a “can do” church, doing with our might what our hands find to do?

R–eaping? If we are a working church, we will see results. They will come through baptisms, programs of work, outreaches, visitation, stronger fellowship, missionary success, and much, much more. As my good friend, Cy Stafford, says, “What God controls, grows.” The law of sowing and reaping is positive, too (Gal. 6:8).

Y–earning? A church that is alive and growing is full of holy desire, enthusiasm, and a confidence that we can do all things through the Christ alive within us (Phil. 4:13). Our greatest desires will be to do spiritual things to the glory of God.

How does a church become a visionary church? We must be intentional! What do we intend to do?  With God’s help, that is up to us!

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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What It Takes To Grow The Church In Our Culture

Neal Pollard

It was such a treat to be among the hearty, faithful Christian men of central Wyoming and the Bighorn Basin. By Bible-belt comparison, they come from small congregations. But their passion and desire to grow the church is humongous. Near the end of their men’s retreat, they divided into groups to discuss the obstacles to growth and suggestions for growth. What they came up with was incredibly insightful, helpful to especially anyone living in the current, western culture.

Among the obstacles they listed were:

  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear
  • Political correctness
  • Biblical ignorance
  • Sin
  • Apathy/indifference
  • Misplaced priorities
  • Lack of adequate leadership

For those in Alabama, Oklahoma, and California who would say, “Those are our obstacles!”, isn’t it interesting how common our struggle is.  The same factors are holding back our growth all over the nation.

Yet, I love the suggestions they came up with. I think they are key to tapping into our growth potential throughout the country and, to a great extent, throughout the world. They suggested the following:

  • Increase fellowship—The key to growth is being in each others’ lives more
  • Emphasize and empower Bible study—There can be no spiritual or numerical growth without growing our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
  • Think outside the box—Staying faithful to truth, get out of method ruts and overcome fear of rejecting a different, scriptural method just because it is new
  • Challenge greater application of biblical truth—Every class and sermon must have a viable “so what”
  • Be intentional in our relationships—Realize that our jobs, community involvements, friendships, etc., are means to an end rather than an end of themselves. They all exist as opportunities to evangelize.

Our brethren in the deep south, the north, the Atlantic region, the upper midwest, the southwest, the far west, the northwest, and, in short, any recognizable region of the country share a desire to be relevant and meaningful in our communities. We want to honor Christ and grow His body. But it will take measurable steps. It won’t happen incidentally! We must act on our hopes and desires. We must personally engage ourselves in enacting these suggestions daily! In so doing, we’ll not only avoid being part of the problem but we’ll be part of the solution.

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We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)

How Could He Not Take That Shot?

Neal Pollard

His coach, Jay Wright, and teammates expected and wanted him to take the last shot in the 2016 NCAA basketball championship game. The senior point guard had intentions of doing so, too, but at almost the literal last second he turned and delivered a short pass to Junior Kris Jenkins who sank a three-pointer just before the final buzzer. It was the game-winning shot, lifting Villanova over North Carolina for the Pennsylvania school’s first championship since their legendary victory in 1985. Ryan Arcidiacono, who grew up 20 miles from campus and constantly dreamed of hitting a game-winning shot for the championship, will be remembered, as much as Jenkins, for delivering one of the most exciting games in college basketball history—Jenkins for his beautiful shot and Arcidiacono for his unselfish pass.

For those who know coach Wright’s philosophy, this turn of events is absolutely no surprise. Google “Jay Wright unselfish” and a multitude of articles come up talking about how the coach drills the idea of putting everybody else above yourself from the time kids enter his program. Players earn his trust and confidence by proving themselves converts to his selfless style of play. It is heartwarming to see such values being instilled in impressionable young people.

The local church must adopt the philosophy of its leader, Christ. He modeled it (Ph. 2:5-11) and mandated His followers do the same (Ph. 2:3-4). An atmosphere of unselfishness cultivates spiritual and numerical growth, just as selfishness inhibits such growth. Selfless service is most often bypassed by the world, though most deeply appreciate seeing demonstrations of it. Deference to others is a mark of distinctiveness that must be found in disciples. The better we do this, the brighter the light of Christ can shine through us!

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What “We” Do To Achieve Spiritual Success

Neal Pollard

It is an unmistakable emphasis in the book of Nehemiah. The word “we” appears 38 times in 30 of the book’s 406 verses! Working together was the continuous mindset of Judah. They knew such a mentality would ensure success (2:20).

Teamwork accomplishes much more than individual performance! If a ball team has only one “star player,” the defense wins by shutting down the one performer. If the work of the church is carried on by only one or a select few, the devil has a better chance of shutting it down. Everyone must get invested! Success hinges on it. Notice where cooperation in the local church brings spiritual success.

When we build (4:6). Not church buildings, but relationships, knowledge, and commitment. A church has never grown on the back of massive, modern facilities. But, God wants us to build up His church (1 Th. 5:11). The more visits and calls each member makes, the better we build. The more encouragement and assistance we provide, the better we build. More Christians doing more for the Lord produce spiritual success in the church.

When we pray (4:9). Facing trouble and uncertainty, God’s people came together to pray. This is reminiscent of the prayer meeting in the home of John Mark’s mother, “where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). What a success that was! At least 3000 or so were devoting themselves to prayer at the Jerusalem church (Acts 2:42). Preachers, teachers, and missionaries are made bold, the sick and hurting are made hopeful, those in danger, travelers, and those confused are made calm by the prayer of the saints. That is vital to spiritual success!

When we carry on (4:21). Churches encounter setbacks and suffer defeats. Willful sinners going out from among us (1 Jn. 2:19), plans or programs that fizzle or die, disorderly members (2 Th. 3:6), false teachers (1 Pe. 2:1), apathetic members (John 15:5-6), the death or loss of a church leader, or general discouragement can tempt us to give up in our labors (cf. Gal. 6:9). We need each other to spur ourselves on in completing the important works that will glorify God. It is not how many defeats a church suffers, but how well a church, no matter how many “losses,” overcomes them.

When we give (5:12; 10:37). Two interesting instances of giving are recorded in the book of Nehemiah: (1) Giving to restore what was rightfully God’s (5:12), and (2) giving the manner that God rightfully expects (10:37). Church members who will spend generously on dinner and a movie but who give the Savior of their souls comparative pocket change, like Zaccheus, need to repent by restoring what rightfully belongs to God (Luke 19:8). Churches that give by faith and sacrifice are always stronger for it, if their living matches their giving. God wants to be “first” (10:37; Mat. 6:33), and that applies to our giving.

Certainly, many other elements are needed to help a church achieve spiritual success for God. But, Nehemiah and his brethren found success by working together. That spirit of unity will help us, as a church, to go forward and do things necessary for us to continue to be a great church! Let’s grow together!

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