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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Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Neal Pollard

While we must be concerned with doing what we do in worship according to Christ’s expressed will, we must also be sure to reflect His love to strangers, newcomers, outsiders, and otherwise unfamiliar faces. It offends my sensitivities anytime I hear anyone complain that a church I love so much seems cold and unfriendly to them. However, when I see so many focused on one another or on no one or hear accounts of our visitors complaining that we are neither warm nor welcoming, that love motivates me to say something.  Please consider the following principles:

  • We must stop expecting that others will represent us in friendliness. Maybe we look at those seven or eight members of the congregation that “go after” our visitors and conclude that they are covering the bases for the rest of us. In a congregation our size, that is woefully inadequate. They cannot reach everybody, but even if they can their friendliness does not let us off the hook. Dear reader, the chances are great that I am challenging you!
  • We must not use our introverted nature as an excuse. It would be hard to get an accurate estimate, but it is probably fair to say that more of our members are introverted than extroverted. Yet, the introverts may mistakenly conclude that extroverts are merely doing what comes easy and natural to them. As a representative of the extrovert clan, may I suggest that reaching out and connecting with strangers and visitors requires effort. Everyone must make an effort!
  • We must avoid the thinking that the visitor bears responsibility to be friendly. Some visitors may be extroverted and resilient to connect with us, but we’re the hosts and they’re the guests. Think about how hard it is to come into an unfamiliar place where you know no one and reach out to them. This is our “home turf,” and we must always take the initiative!
  • We must practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Again, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them how you’d want to be treated if in their place.
  • We must see ourselves as direct representatives of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls us just that. Treat visitors exactly like Jesus would. Seek them out and do everything within your power to let them know how glad you are they are here.
  • We must understand the eternal implications of being friendly to visitors. Wouldn’t it be awful if we contributed to seekers, new Christians, and the like being discouraged, even to the point of walking away from Christ and His truth? We cannot minimize the eternal impact, for good or ill, we make by how we do in this matter.
  • We must break out of our ruts and routines. What creatures of comfort we are! What I am talking about requires us getting uncomfortable and changing our current habits. Avoiding eye contact, walking past unfamiliar faces, withdrawing into ourselves, talking only to those who talk to us or those we feel comfortable with may be the niche we’ve carved for ourselves over a long period of time. Confront those well-established patterns and insist on breaking them.

I want our congregation to be known for preaching and teaching the truth, but I want far more for us. Another thing I want is for us to be the church that doesn’t just embrace and accept “our own,” but who is always making room for one more. I’d far rather risk creeping someone out by bombarding them with extreme warmth than to turn a cold shoulder to one who was trying to connect with God. Wouldn’t you?

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A Divided People

Neal Pollard

As David let flow from his divinely-inspired pen the peaceful refrain, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1), he knew something of the absence of unity.  Though God through Samuel had anointed him king, “there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David”  (cf. 2 Sam. 3-4). This internal strife spanned seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5). While he would reign over a united kingdom for the next 33 years, his grandson would cause a rift within Israel that would never be repaired (1 Kings 12). Division weakened them, dividing brother against brother, diminishing their influence and making them more vulnerable. Israel was unique among the nations of world history, being both a physical people and the spiritual people of God. Their division was not just a geo-political problem, but also a religious one.

Our nation has known the pain and injury of division. An entire war was fought that put states and communities at odds with one another.  Currently, we are being reminded of how sharp a difference exists in this nation along so many cultural, philosophical, social, and ethnic lines. It is openly displayed with words and even protests. How that will be resolved only time will tell.

For many centuries, there has been division between people who all profess belief in and allegiance to Christ. “Denominationalism” is a word that inheres division. Because men have inserted their own will and dogma, transposing it onto Scripture, there has been massive division that has been a stumbling block for unbelievers pointing to disunity among those who claim the same Jesus as Lord. Unbelievers have seen division, often shown in ugly and worldly ways.

Among those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity, seeking to be the church of the Bible and be non-denominational or pre-denominational, there has also been so much division. Some have foisted division upon the church by introducing doctrines not authorized by Scripture or in violation of Scripture. Those in such doctrines cease to be Christ’s church so long as they continue in them. Others have created doctrines beyond what Christ has authorized, making themselves the standard and arbitrator of right and wrong instead of recognizing Christ as such. Sadly, these, too, have caused division among God’s people. It is truly difficult to get self out of the way and to be governed only by the will of God.

So it is with every matter that divides us. Self, with all its ugly, blind, poor, and wretched tendencies, so often becomes a wedge making biblical unity difficult. Paul laments that it comes in the wake of lining up behind men and following them (1 Cor. 1:10-13). If ever the world has needed to find repose from rancor, ridicule, and roiling, it is the present hour. If they ever needed a safe haven where they found people who love one another (John 13:34-35), are patient, tolerant, compassionate and forgiving with each other (Col. 3:12-13), and who treat others with respect and kindness (cf. Luke 10:30-37), it is now. Each of us needs to examine our own work (Gal. 6:4). Are we helping our community, our congregation, our friends and our family see the good and pleasant unity found in making Jesus Lord–Lord of our lives, our tongues, our jobs, our classrooms, our social media accounts, our positions, etc.?   This is a stewardship that demands tender care. May we ever be about the diligent work of destroying division! Jesus died to do the same (John 17:20-21).

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The Brooks-Sumner Affair

Neal Pollard

In 1856, Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator, delivered an excoriating speech full of vicious name-calling and personal insults—especially against Senators Douglas and Butler—for their defense and advocation of slavery and especially the violence in Kansas in response to the actions of John Brown and his followers. The speech went on for two days, and shortly after its completion a man named Colonel Preston Brooks, a U.S. representative from South Carolina and distant relative of Andrew Butler, retaliated by beating Sumner with a cane. It was a serious enough beating that Sumner would take years to recover. Sumner would become an iconic hero to northerners and Brooks, who as punishment for the crime was fined $300, a darling of the south. Newspaper headlines of the time, in each region, painted their man a hero and the other man a demon (read a sample here: http://history.furman.edu/benson/docs/sumenu.htm). It is not the loathsome sin of slavery that I wish to highlight here, but the age-old tendency to blindly defend a person or position one feels inclined toward and the incredible efforts to vilify those on the other side of the issue—no matter what.

People are inclined to line up behind men rather than the Messiah. It is not just during political season or for certain social agenda items that this occurs, but more importantly in every season of the year when it comes to religious matters. Paul decried men’s tendency to be “of Paul…of Apollos…and…of Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12). In the religious world, division has occurred because men have lined up behind some man’s teaching. Often, this teaching is a misconstrued view of a passage (for example, John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Mark 16:17, etc.) or a teaching without benefit of a passage (for example, having an experience of grace, saying a sinner’s prayer, infant baptism, etc.). As with politics, people can become blind apologists for their leaders and champions who promote what they already believe. Often, no amount of reason and logic can overcome the predisposed bias of the adherents. Lost in the cacophony of religious debate can be clear, simple biblical truth. Religious division is not the product or prompting of God (1 Cor. 1:10; 14:33). It is entirely of human origin. While there are some matters where God has not legislated, there are also some clear “right” and “wrong” matters in Scripture. Where God has spoken, we must take His word and will over that of absolutely anyone else. Otherwise, we will find ourselves guilty of elevating one above the One we must all ultimately give an account to. That would be an injustice and violation to top even “The Brooks-Sumner Affair.” May we keep our allegiance to God free from the taint of personal prejudices, even in the matter of our religious convictions. Psalm 119:89.

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Who Is Behind This “Race War”?

Neal Pollard

I’m a child of the ‘80s, which, in south Georgia, seemed to be “post-racist.” Maybe it was the naivety of youth, but one of my closest friends, Greg Gwyn, was black. We were “Bird” and “Magic” (on the basketball court, at least in our minds). We were “Crockett” and “Tubbs.” We both rejected, out of hand, the notion of being “Wonder” and “McCartney” (too cheesy). While our High School had cliques, a timeless problem, they were determined more by interest than race. Sure, there was prejudice, as that is also timeless. But it was not the mainstream attitude.

I have preached full-time for three congregations, in Alabama, Virginia, and Colorado. All three are integrated, having not only “white-collar” (forgive the adage) professionals but also inner city representation among our African-American members. But, all three have wealthy and poor caucasians, too. Individuals in all three congregations probably struggled with making all kinds of arbitrary distinctions, including on the basis of race, but such attitudes have not been fostered. If uncovered, they are addressed with the power and authority of Scriptures like “God is not one to show partiality…” (Acts 10:34), “He made from one man every nation of mankind…” (Acts 17:26), “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), “Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1; and, if you do, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives,” vs. 4), etc. Our elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, and general leaders in these congregations, men like Kevin Turner, Ron Herman, Bill Burton, Jimmy Reynolds, Ron Thompkins, Joe Cook, King Taylor, and Ronnie Royster, would not be thought of in terms of their race if not for the point of this article.

So, as we see fiery debate, protests, wagon-encircling, hatred, and acerbic rhetoric, scratching our heads as to how all-consuming it has become, do we stop to ask who would be behind such division and strife? No, I don’t mean Republicans or Democrats, protest groups or activists, or hobby horse riders among brethren.  I think it is more sinister and serious. Who is ever behind separating not just mankind, but the Lord’s bride? Who benefits from people building walls to keep out others on any arbitrary basis? Who wins in the face of such crushing losses? Maybe we need to be asking that question and focusing on that issue more!

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COMING TOGETHER

Neal Pollard
For twelve years, I lived in the eye of Civil War History. Not only were many battles fought in almost every community neighboring Mechanicsville, Virginia (our home), but two were fought at Cold Harbor. While living there, I became an avid relic hunter–a type of amateur archaeologist digging for buttons, bullets, and buckles. Thanks to Dave Young, Sr., and Dave Young, Jr., who “pulled” me into this hobby, I got to see history up close and personally. It was fascinating, in one sense, to stand on the very ground where such history-shaping events occurred. In another way, the very activity was a sobering reminder of the tragedy that divided a nation. It even divided households, with brother fighting against brother.

It has often been reported that after that awful war, when Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy and Ulysses Grant of the Union died, their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other and became the closest of friends (Atlas Obscura). What a remarkable story of how two people, from opposite sides, came together! Their husbands were philosophically and militarily opposed to one another, but their spouses overcame those hindrances.

I never cease to be amazed at the differences that are overcome in Christ. On foreign mission trips, we may go to places where our governments are antagonistic to one another and find our common bond in Christ. Race, culture, education, and finance are all surmountable barriers in Christ. Ephesians 2:16 reveals how Jew and Gentile were reconciled by Christ’s cross in the church. God intended the church to be the place where people, despite their diversities, can all submit to Christ’s authority and be one. Yes, even yankees and southerners. Even easterners and westerners. Even college grads and grade school drop outs. Paul also wrote, “For by one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have ALL been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:13-14). In a world that tries to draw us apart and divide us, politically, ethnically, and regionally, Christ wants us coming together! Through the church, we can.

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GoFindMe

Neal Pollard

San Diego entrepreneurs Brad Damphousse and Andy Ballester started GoFundMe “as a way to help individuals and small charities raise money for good causes” (WSJ). Most people have heard of this “crowdfunding site” and have even contributed. MacMillan and Tan report, “Its members now raise about $100 million in donations per month.” But, Forbes Magazine revealed how some have used such sites for the ridiculous, including Zach Brown who raised $55,492 from 6,911 backers to make potato salad (Forbes). I have seen some pretty audacious, if not questionable, uses of such sites to fund events and circumstances.

But I’d like to alert you to an infinitely greater need that people all around you every day have. They have surmounted a debt they cannot possibly repay. Their circumstances are desperate, far beyond eviction, lawsuits, or bankruptcy.  A billion people giving all their material resources could not satisfy that debt. Despite this, I have never seen even one of them advertise, beg, or solicit help to resolve their circumstance. In an incredible turn of events, it is incumbent upon you and me to find them and offer them aid. They usually cannot identify the need, much less articulate it. But you and I know their need, and the expectation falls squarely upon our shoulders to meet it.

If they were to put it into words, they would say, “Go find me!” How could we turn a callous heart away from such a desperate need? May we muster the courage and heart to, in the words of the old quartet hymn, “go out and win, rescue from sin, day’s almost done, low sinks the sun. Souls are crying, men are dying, win the lost at any cost.”

Consider these passages, too:

Micah 6:6-8
1 Peter 1:18-19
Luke 15
Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49

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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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Identifying The Source Of Trouble In The Congregation

Neal Pollard

One of my dad’s most memorable sermons, which he preached in more than one location, was actually a two-parter.  The first part was preached Sunday morning. Dad warned that he was going to identify the source of the problems in the congregation. He used a wipe board or chalkboard, and only put the first initial of each one up there as he preached. He said that everyone should come back that night and he would disclose the full names that went with the initials.  At one congregation, after the morning sermon, a large number of people came forward in response to the invitation.  Sure enough, that evening dad put the full names next to the initials:

  • Accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10)
  • Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24)
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
  • Devil (Heb. 2:14)
  • Enemy (Mat. 13:39)
  • Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Prince… (Eph. 2:2; John 12:31)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Satan (Mat. 4:10)
  • Spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
  • Tempter (Mat. 4:3)

Now, in no way am I discounting the free will choices people make. James 1:13-15 very clearly places the blame of sin on the individuals choosing to act on their lusts and desires. One is not possessed or overtaken by the devil to do his will any more than a person is overtaken by God and made to do what’s right. But Jesus calls the devil the “father” of sinful behavior (John 8:44). John tells us that the one who practices sin is “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Those who sin are doing his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan is at the heart of national, congregation, familial, and individual sin.  We’re told to resist him (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The hopeful fact is that, with God’s help, we can always successfully do so.  Let’s be aware that the devil does not want God’s children or His work to succeed. If he can thwart our efforts as a church to be united, faithful to God’s Word, evangelistic, and productive, he will do so. Knowing this, we should be more determined not to let him win!

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