Some Perspective, Please!

Some Perspective, Please!

Neal Pollard

–I have taught a Bible study in the hut of a woman in a jungle village of southeast Asia. She had no furniture and only a couple of cooking vessels and utensils. Her one-room house was thatched in a place that averages an inch or more of rain each week. Her lifestyle reflected that of nearly all of her neighbors. 

–I have stayed in the house of a faithful, fruitful gospel preacher in west Africa. One night, the temperature in the house was 91 degrees overnight. The interior walls were made of styrofoam, thin enough to hear the rats scurrying around and scratching behind them. They were actually better off than most in their village. 

–I have stayed not far from the Bay of Bengal in a crowded city across from a leper colony. Taking a bath/shower consisted of using a large cup from a single spigot in a “bathroom” where the water ran a light brown color. Within a hundred miles of there, at least 100,000 people were living under cardboard boxes and old tarps.

–I met a man at a church service in east Africa who made his living working in a gem mine. He and his wife had four children of their own. Their neighbors both died of AIDS, leaving their three children orphaned. This Christian and his wife adopted them. He made $2 per day and Sunday was his only day off. He supported a household of nine on less than $15 per week. 

In every one of the examples above, I was only there for a couple of weeks and returned home to hot water, running water, reliable shelter and automobiles, and a thousand other amenities. 

Many of the people in our world, before the current pandemic, struggled to survive through subsistence farming, poor nutrition, virtually non-existent healthcare, and little access to education. This sets up a cycle of poverty and disease that lowers life expectancy to middle-age at best. Sports, vacations, retirement plans, and insurance are, for many, a pipe dream if even a concept they have ever entertained. I once drove past a slum in a capitol city that was part of 2.5 million homeless people living in what was essentially a trash dump. 

The current crisis is real and impactful. It has required adjustments, changes, and sacrifices. Yet, from a medical, monetary, and material standpoint, we still find ourselves at the top of over 200 nations in just about every earthly way things can be measured. This is a time for us to pause and humbly thank God for His abundant blessings, to ask forgiveness for complaining in the face of such generosity, and to seek His guidance in how we can use this time to focus on others’ needs and helping those who are truly unfortunate. Matthew 25:31-46 is a convicting text, where the Lord tells us He watches how we respond to the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, and imprisoned among “the least” of the world. Perhaps what we are going through now is a door of opportunity, to sharpen our perspective on what is essential and what is extra. Let it begin with me!

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Are You A Bread Squeezer?

Are You A Bread Squeezer?

Neal Pollard

Samuel Feldman may hold the distinction as the most famous bread vandal in history.

He did $8,000 worth of damage to bread and cookies throughout the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, area. He was going around “poking, pinching, and squeezing” bags of bread and packages of cookies. Finally, one store, suspecting Feldman, put him under surveillance and caught him three times in the act. He is charged with two counts of criminal mischief. Two years of aggravation and loss, caused by an idle person with a mean streak (from Reuters News Story, 9/23/00).

There is always at least one bread-squeezer in any group. The church may even sometimes harbor a few bread-squeezers, too. These are the sore tails, nitpickers, storm clouds who live to rain on others’ parades, those who seem to enjoy causing friction and irritating others, those who hold petty grudges, and general pot-stirrers. They are the busybodies (2 Th. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13). Solomon calls one a worthless and wicked person “who spreads strife” (Pr. 6:14; cf. 19–“who spreads strife among brothers”). Paul laments lovers of controversy because they provoke “envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction” (1 Tim. 6:4-5).

These bread-squeezers flatten a congregation’s moral, squeeze the worst side out of others, and pick and poke at everyone from the church’s leaders to any other Christian whose name passes between their cross-hairs. They taint the productivity, good will, good deeds, attitude, and joy of a congregation. They brighten entire rooms just by making an exit.

Are you a bread-squeezer? How do you reply when asked, “How are you?” How well do you speak of other Christians? Are you moody? Do you lash out at others when you feel you have been wronged? Do you give the cold shoulder? Do you not speak to others, only to complain that others are unfriendly because they didn’t approach you first? Do you wear your feelings on your sleeves? Are you the type that prefers the role of critic, since there are plenty of others to be the “cheerleader”? If so, then you are a bread-squeezer!

A bread-squeezer is as needed in a congregation as Feldman was needed in Bucks County! He was entirely destructive and he caused others to pay for his bad behavior. Barnabas wasn’t a bread-squeezer (Acts 4:36). Neither was Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32). Certainly, Jesus wasn’t! The church is always in need of more encouraging, uplifting, positive, happy, and contented members. Don’t squeeze the bread!

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Is The Church Broken?

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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What God Does Not Expect Of Elders

What God Does Not Expect Of Elders

Neal Pollard

Sermons preached on the qualifications of elders often, rightly, emphasize the importance of selecting men who qualify to serve. In the Lord’s church,  covetous, inhospitable, intemperate, cold, imprudent, biblically ignorant, pugnacious, and newly-converted men (among others) have been appointed to that important work who should not have been. That hurts the local church! Many times it has been said that “bad elders” are worse than “no elders.”

Harboring unfair expectations of men who would serve as elders is another hurtful trend that occasionally surfaces. A hypercritical spirit is a quality of human nature, though a quality the spiritually-minded ought to fight to personally eliminate. Let us briefly consider what God does not expect of elders.

  • More Than The Qualifications Specify. Gut feelings, intuitions, and hunches might work well when hunting, fishing, or making March Madness picks, but there is no call for them in selecting men to serve as elders. God does not need our help, tacking on additional requirements for an elder than He felt the need to supply for us. Adding to the Word of God carries a stiff penalty (cf. Rev. 22:18); therefore, our scrutiny of a man’s fitness to serve needs to stop where the Bible’s does.
  • Sinless Perfection. He expects maturity (1 Tim. 3:6), ability (Ti. 1:9), and stability (1 Ti. 3:4-5), but not impeccability (the Latin origin of this word means “not to sin”)! If so, no man could ever conceivably qualify to serve. Gnat-straining can keep a qualified man from serving as surely as camel-swallowing can allow an unqualified man to sit as watchman. With a 1000-tooth-comb, some would inspect the minutia of his life and his family’s. Those searching for flaws, who look hard enough, will always find things. Yet, such findings do not necessarily prove anything except his humanity and fallibility (cf. Rom. 3:10,23).
  • To Neglect Their Own Families. It is unfair to expect a man, as elder, to always place the needs of the congregation over those of his own family. Too many wives and children have been deprived of husbands and fathers due to disproportionate expectations of time, resources, and attention placed upon elders by members. Elders need the full cooperation and understanding of their families, while elders are obligated by God to supply the needs of their families (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5,7). Elders (and their families) are entitled to vacations and nights at home together. Elders will answer for not only their service as elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pe. 5:4) but also their influence and leadership in the home (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 1 Co. 11:3; Eph. 6:1-4).
  • To Be The “Complaint-Receiving Committee.” It is impossible but that complaints will come, but woe unto him (or her) through whom they constantly come. Murmuring and complaining got Israel into trouble (cf. 1 Co. 10:10), and members who find it impossible to speak to elders without doing such may find themselves in the same predicament. How many times has an elder heard you say something positive about another member, a successful program, or their efforts on your behalf? How many of your complaints have they fielded? Elders will answer for our souls. Let us find ways and opportunities to encourage, praise, and support them. Complain whenever you must, but compliment whenever you can.

Did you realize members have qualifications to meet with regard to the elders?

  • Love and appreciate them (1 Th. 5:12-13)
  • Honor them (1 Ti. 5:17)
  • Do not recklessly accuse them (1 Ti. 5:19)
  • Obey and submit to them (He. 13:17)

As we examine who would serve as elders, let us not forget to examine ourselves (2 Co. 13:5). How spiritually fit are we? Jesus’ words about beams and specks apply to our relationship with elders, too (cf. Mt. 7:3-5). Let us have high expectations of elders, but let us have only those expectations God has!

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“Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now”

“Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now”

Neal Pollard

When did I first know I wanted to be a preacher? I’m not sure, but I remember the day I addressed the city council in Cairo, Georgia.  I was only nine.  We were walking home from school.  Every day, we’d make the trek from 10th Avenue across Broad Street to our house on 12th Avenue.  It was a straight shot, but there was a penny candy store if you went south.  A couple of blocks south, between us and the store, was the court house. Of course, every self-respecting boy looks for shortcuts. Mine was through the court house that day.  It appeared empty to me, so I was singing the far out, new McFadden and Whitehead hit, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”  Just one more set of doors between me and the back door, I thought. So I burst through them bellowing, “…We’re on the move.”  With that, I brought the city council meeting to a stop and in the instant before my beet-red face welled up with tears of embarrassment, I think I saw looks of irritation as well as amusement.  For some reason, I was feeling really good that day…until that moment.

Do you ever feel unstoppable? Maybe you are bounding with energy, excited, or happy without even knowing why.  It may cause you to sing, exercise, eat, kiss your spouse, give exploding knuckles to a stranger, or pause in grateful thanks to God.  Every moment cannot feel euphoric and golden, but how wonderful when it happens.

Depression is a real malady that many people, including good Christians, experience.  Some deal with clinical depression, physiological and demanding chemical treatment.  However, some without such an excuse seem to have a hard time finding joy in their lives.  It could be because they have conditioned themselves toward negativity, constantly complaining, bemoaning, wallowing in self-pity, and being their own one-person thunderstorm.  Some seem to stand there, waiting for the lightning strike on a cloudless day.

As Christians, we are not expected to be out of touch with reality or even our own feelings.  Yet, only we can choose our outlook and attitude.  Isn’t it amazing that we are all exposed to national politics, economic uncertainties, sickness, disappointment, and betrayal, but some are resilient while others are resentful.  Some count blessings, but others court burdens.  May we, as God’s children, always focus more on what we have been given by Christ, what we have through Christ, and what we look forward to with Christ.  I tell you, it will make you feel unstoppable!