THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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No Time For Worship!

Neal Pollard

According to Stephen Eckstein, Davy Crockett was among those who began a journey from north Alabama bound for the “promised land” of Texas in 1835. This group, who wanted to settle in that locale despite the drum beats of revolution and ongoing fighting with Mexico, was comprised mostly of members of the church of Christ. Crockett traveled with them as far as Memphis, Tennessee, but grew impatient of the delays. The group stopped to rest and worship each Sunday, and they became known as the “church on horseback and wheels.” So, on the other side of the Mississippi River, Crockett and 60 other volunteers rushed ahead of the group shouting “hurrah for Texas!” (History of the churches of Christ in Texas, 9). That group, sans Crockett and his cohorts, established the first Texas congregation of the Lord’s church on January, 17, 1836, at Ft. Clark, Texas, known today as Clarksville (ibid.).

48 days after the group’s arrival at Ft. Clark, Crockett was among 188 who died defending the Alamo in San Antonio, 412 miles south of Ft. Clark. While this is probably something lost to history, I wonder if Crockett’s personal history would have been different if he had stayed with the “church on horseback and wheels.” There is no indication that he was a part of the services or influenced by them or the members. Already a man of renown in politics and frontier settlement, he was also renowned for being full of himself. He and the rest of the Tennesseans who left the church members volunteered for six months of duty with the provisional government of Texas on January 14, 1836. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th (Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad, 117).

Crockett’s interests seemed mostly political and economic, which made him no different from most of his contemporaries. Yet, life might have been different for Crockett had he stayed with the group of Christians. He would not likely be the legend his death at the Alamo made him, but might His name have been in the Lamb’s book of life?

We find ourselves rushing headlong toward our life’s goals. In that rush, what time and place are we giving to our Lord and to His people? The world bestows no honor and glory on faithful service to Christ, but the Christ will bestow honor and glory beyond what the world can give or comprehend to all who take the time to honor Him. May our greatest desire be to win His recognition through lives of faithful obedience.

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Mansil Matthews, doctor, teacher and and preacher, who established the first church of Christ in Texas in 1836 at Ft. Clark, TX (with the group known as the “church on horseback and wheels.”

My Hope For Youth

Neal Pollard
This week has reaffirmed a fundamental view I have about youth. It has been affirmed by what I see in  our youth group, but it is bolstered by what I have seen in so many young people this week. Hearing youthful voices singing whenever they found an opportunity, I thought about how hopeful I felt for the church’s future as these beautiful voices blended in heartfelt song. Our world is growing more vile and wicked each day, but I have bathed in a spiritual oasis this week. It led me to think about how much hope we rest on the future of the church, but how much we should.
My hope for our youth is that they will develop their own faith. Some of those youth I speak of were converted, but many more are the product of Christian homes and heritages that go back for generations. Apathy and indifference can infect our youth who go through motions they have been taught but which have not been internalized. As one in that latter category myself, I found that a challenge I faced as a youth. I want our youth to grow a conviction and belief system founded upon the rock solid nature of God and His Word.
My hope for our youth is that they will maintain their purity. The aforementioned world is bombarding all of us with insidious messages. On every hand, the devil tempts us to let go of holiness. With so many ways to “get in,” I pray our youth will lock the door of their heart when evil is on the stoop.
My hope for our youth is that they will have proper examples in us. How heavily this point hits home! So much of what we hope for our youth begins, continues and ends with our impact upon them. They will be, in large part, the product of our training, what we emphasize, value and show to be important, and what our passions and priorities are. They will have great difficulty rising above what we model before them!
I certainly hope so much more for them, but in all of this my hope is that whatever peril or persecution they must face in the years to come they will be faithful even to the point of physical death. But I believe in them! They have showed me so much now, and faith is built before the storms of life come.

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2017 edition of the Denver Future Preachers Training Camp in a more serious moment

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)

Is There No Balm In Gilead?

Neal Pollard

Jeremiah asks that question rhetorically? It comes at the end of an oracle God gave this prophet to share with his people, Judah. He had asked if the people had turned to idolatry because God was not in Zion (Jer. 8:19). He then ends by saying, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?” (8:22). In context, the people were sin-sick, but the cure was available. It was not because God was unable to restore them that they were ailing, but because they refused to seek the cure.

Certainly, today’s society mirrors this attitude of Jeremiah’s contemporaries, but this, in context, was spoken to those who had been healed in the past. These were God’s people. Now, they were spiritually sick and not getting better. The logical question is the one Jeremiah asked—“Why not?” When we are sick with sinful habits, lifestyles, attitudes, and speech, why don’t we turn to God for the cure?

  • Sometimes, we are oblivious to our symptoms.  Paul speaks of some who are “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). We can become callous to our condition and rationalize it. As long as we persist in that state, it is as if there is no balm.
  • Sometimes, we look elsewhere for the cure. Judah had her idols, and so can we. People struggling with life turn to so many poor substitutes to numb, deaden, and try to eliminate the pain. Nothing can substitute for the Balm of Gilead (cf. Jer. 3:23).
  • Sometimes, we feel ourselves to be a hopeless case. As we struggle with our temptations and sins, we can get to the point where we feel we’ve gone too far or been too often to reverse the problem. This is not God’s message. He provides hope to every one who will come to Him for help (Heb. 6:9-12).
  • Sometimes, we underestimate God’s power. Jeremiah’s predecessor, Isaiah, shares God’s message regarding this, saying, “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (59:1). Jeremiah would echo this idea, writing, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (32:17; keep reading in context for more beautiful truth along this line). Though we should know better, sometimes we forget God’s power to save.
  • Sometimes, we neglect our support system. God gave the church as a hospital where all of us, sick with sin, can not only receive healing from Him but help each other. In a sense, we’re a leper colony that has found the One who will keep us from dying. But we need each other for help to survive this spiritual sickness (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Sometimes, we don’t avail ourselves of God’s medicine. How tragic to die from spiritual disease when God has the means to heal us. We have His Word as a divine prescription. We have prayer. We have the confidence of faith. We have the trust in His providence. He has armed us sufficiently with the cure, if we accept it (cf. Luke 5:31).

While they await the cure for cancer, cystic fibrosis, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and the like, our greatest illness has already been remedied. This illness carries with it the greatest repercussions. We cannot neglect the cure. But if we spiritually die, it will not be because there is no balm and no Physician. It will be because we would not come to Him for healing. May we not let this be the reason.

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In Their Steps (Poem)

Neal Pollard

They fought a fight of sacrifice
On land, by air, and sea
Privation, starvation, an awful price
To guard our liberty

Some were cut down in prime of life
Others came home with scars
They faced great fears and perilous strife
For country, for stars and bars

We owe a debt of gratitude
We never could repay
May we have a humble attitude
This aptly named Memorial Day

And looking backward to a different nation
One more ancient, but still existent
We are humbled by their proclamation
Of their allegiance most persistent

They gave their lives in spiritual war
Fighting the wily adversary
Faithful unto death, this sanctified score
Wore their armor, though the battle was scary

We walk behind these noble groups
One in nation, the other in doctrine
Our lives should be changed by these gallant troops
We should be better because of this squadron

Each reminds us that freedom is not cheap
Each shows us the greatness of service
If fidelity is sown, then great honor we reap
Cowardice would do them both disservice

May we step forward, the church of our Lord
While these freedoms remain to us all
And share Christ boldly, with vigor restored
And answer our Chief Commander’s call!

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“Act Like You Like One Another”

Neal Pollard

Someone tasked with taking a picture of a couple or small group will coach them to stand closer together, maybe adding, “Act like you like one another.” They will typically chuckle and comply. How many moms have exhorted their squabbling children with a similar phrase?

A quick perusal of social media, with its all-too-often divisive rhetoric and pejorative comments, must frequently draw the same desire from the God of heaven. Whenever He sees His children at each other’s throats, complete with nasty put-downs, sarcasm, and venomous invectives, can we envision Him pleased? Regardless of whether one is motivated by defending the faith or some dearly-cherished viewpoint, he or she does not have to drown responses in hateful, provocative words. But, it happens many times over on a daily basis. For those of us who have non-Christian or new-Christian friends with privy to such comments from professed, mature Christians, we have to wonder if, contemptuously, they chide, “Act like you like one another.” More than that, Scripture convicts us on such a count.

  • “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22; cf. 4:8).
  •  “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).
  • “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:12-14).
  • “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).
  • “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (Jas. 3:8-10).
  • “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

The noble pursuit of defending the faith and protecting the purity of doctrine can get lost or totally nullified when the most casual observer of our words cannot find the love or detect the genuine concern in the midst of the biting, devouring, caustic quips and one-liners. How we need to pause and be introspective. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2a; cf. 16:2). I can easily rationalize and convince myself of my own unrighteousness, as easily as the adulterer, the one in religious error, the drunkard, and the like can do with their iniquity. Why not, as we sift through the complicated maze of “interpersonal dynamics,” deal with each other patiently, giving the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, letting lovingkindness lead the way? We are not compromising divine truth, relinquishing a scriptural position, or shying away from sharing God’s Word when we make the effort to act like we like one another. We are submitting to the ethical blueprint commanded in Scripture (see above). “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:4).

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Meeting The Needs Of Newcomers

Neal Pollard

It has been said that visitors make up their mind about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit. Before they’ll even discern the doctrine we teach or form an impression about the distinctiveness of our worship, they’ve already decided. If you will walk through the first ten minutes of each time you come to services, you can discern the needs visitors have when they “enter” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-24) our midst. Consider these needs.

  • Where to park. Designating visitor parking and having members park as far from the main entrance is thoughtfulness. Having a greeter or greeters in the parking lot who can make contact quickly and facilitate with friendliness makes a positive impression.
  • Where the restrooms are. Good hospitality ought to drive us to be thoughtful and even proactive (i.e., when greeting, point out the nearest facilities). Along with this is showing them where the nursery is. If they have infants, toddlers, or small children, they are likely to have needs during their time in attendance.
  • Where to sit. An obvious practical help here is not to crowd the seats at the rear of the auditorium. It’s less awkward to be seated without parading past rows and rows of people. If there’s a full crowd, have designated personnel, pleasant, friendly, and considerate, to help them find a seat. Never, ever, never have a designated pew! “Pew-itis” is a disease that should be eradicated from every congregation.
  • What to expect. This is something worship leaders can do, explaining periodically why we do what we do in a “user-friendly” (as opposed to browbeating) way. Door greeters and those at a welcome center can help, as can visitor packets that cogently explain things. Such packets can include not just activities we do, but a map of where we do them.
  • How to find out more. Have a “new member orientation class” or a “Church 101” class available for those who are “seeking.” It can include an annual church calendar of events, ministries, church leadership (complete with pictures and bios), ways to be involved, and the like to orient newcomers.

At first, it may seem hard to identify book, chapter, and verse for the foregoing suggestions. But consider these principles. There’s the Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12; Luke 6:31). There’s the principle of the Law of Moses, which says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Colossians 4:5 urges wisdom with outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Being Christians, we should be ever increasing in the mentality that puts others before self (Phil. 2:3-4). How do we best serve Jesus? By serving others, including our visitors and newcomers.

Singing Hymns in Church

Is The Church Broken?

Neal Pollard

You hear comments in Bible classes that amount to what’s wrong with the church, what we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing, and what it’s doing to us, our children, and the world. You read people’s minds through their social media rants, raves, and ramblings, and the bottom line message is that the church is inept, irrelevant, irresponsible, or, worse, insidious. To hear some tell it, the church is not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful.  I know that we can be prone to say things out of hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness, but the words themselves are no less potent even if influenced by such emotions.

Is the contention, as one Christian sister put it, that “the church is broken,” true? Another way to put that is, “Are elders, preachers, deacons, Bible class teachers, and every other Christian broken?” Perhaps we impersonalize it and overly-institutionalize it with a nameless, faceless designation of “church.” But the church is, as we were taught as children, “the people.” People who are prone to say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and, sadly, the wrong thing at the wrong time. We disappoint, we mishandle, we poorly execute, we unfairly judge and criticize, and we simply blow it. That is definitely not an excuse or a permission slip for bad behavior. Yet, it is not likely to ever change.

Because the church is made up of sinners saved by grace, the church is broken. We who are quick to condemn the church as broken need to face that we ourselves, as those placed by Christ into that church when we were saved, are broken, too. Show me the perfect person who never mishandles a situation, never sins with tongue, attitude, or deed, and I’ll show you someone who will stand before Christ at the Judgment saved on the basis of their own merit and goodness. That won’t happen.

Let’s be reminded of what the church is.  It is the precious, beloved bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-25; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). It is that institution purchased by His very life’s blood (Acts 20:28). It is that which was thought up by God from the eternity before time as is the expression of His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:9-11). It is the place where Christ is glorified (Eph. 3:21; 5:27). It is the present the Son will present to His Father when time is no more (1 Cor. 15:24). It is that and truly so much more.

God designed the church. Reckless criticism of it is reckless criticism of Him. All of us should be determined to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, to be for others what we need to be, to conquer faults and sins in our lives. We should also extend to others the grace we intensely desire to receive when we stand before the King at the last day! Yes, the church is broken, but not in the sense that it cannot help, serve, minister, love, and encourage. Let each of us strive to be the church we want the church to be. Model and exemplify it. Emit the fragrance of Christ. That way, the broken church can help mend the broken lives that make it up.

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Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

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