Categories
devotion praise worship

Yearning To Assemble

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Yesterday was an emotional day. As expected, our attendance was a fraction of our normal size. The current threat is not yet over, but it was a stride toward what we pray is an imminent return of many more. Even from behind the masks and with the required social distancing, the joy and excitement was palpable. From preschool children to even a few octogenarians, our local brethren once again were able to do as God’s people have done for 2,000 years. We had others, mostly in higher risk categories or in daily contact with those who are high risk, who parked outside and tuned in via FM transmitter. They were in proximity with each other and able to fellowship with those around them and many on their way into and out of the building. A great many at home tuned in to the Live Stream and let us know of the hope and joy they feel that we’ve taken this step, several letting us know that as soon as is medically safe they will be there, too. 

Our godly, wonderful shepherds have agonized over how to “return to normal” legally, wisely and safely. At the heart of most of their discussions and “church business” is how this “layoff” or separation or disruption will effect the faith and dedication of us sheep. Their hope is that we will view this situation as one that, for a time, made us a church full of “shut ins” that we could accommodate through virtual services (and later drive-in services) to help keep us connected rather than seeing this as the permanent arrangement or to excuse choosing other activities over assembling when there is no such crisis in place. 

None of us knows the future, and it is hard to predict how every individual will respond post-pandemic. But, the heart of each of us will be at the heart of the matter as we prayerfully decide the timetable for our return. To shape and guide us on that spiritual journey, God has given us insight into the hearts of His saints through the centuries to influence our spiritual hunger. Here is but a sampling:

  • David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Psa. 122:1; notice also Psa. 27:4).
  • Zechariah: “The inhabitants of one (city) will go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go (some versions: “Let me go too!”)'” (8:21; the whole chapter is beautiful)
  • Luke: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42; context shows them together day by day publicly and privately)
  • Hebrews’ writer: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24, in the context of the assemblies).

But it’s the sons of Korah’s words in Psalm 84 that I want to close considering.

  • He saw assembling as “lovely” (1)–Appealing!
  • He saw assembling with “longing” (2)–Attractive!
  • He saw assembling as “logical” (3)–Appropriate!
  • He saw assembling as “lasting” (4,10)–Advantageous!
  • He saw assembling as “lavishing” (note “how blessed” throughout)–Abundance!

The separation and disruption was not of our choosing, but it might have and adverse effect upon us and cause us to forget the blessings of being together in praise and worship to our God. May the inspired words from saints like these help us fortify our souls as we anticipate the time when we are able once again meet each other in His presence for worship! 

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Categories
baptism

Necessary, But Not Essential

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Has your job been deemed “essential” during our mitigation efforts against COVID-19? If not, you are likely either working from home or are facing a difficult financial situation as we await the reopening of our economy. Noting the choices made by certain people in positions of authority about essential and nonessential workers, however, makes this whole process of determination seem…capricious.

Mike Rowe, a man who made a name for himself doing the “dirty jobs” other people refused to do, stated his opinion was that there was no job that is nonessential. Appearing on a cable news program, he said, “Right now, there is this fascinating conversation going on on your network and all the networks, where we are making a distinction between essential workers and nonessential workers.” Rowe continued, “…there’s something tricky with the language going on here because, with regard to an economy, I don’t think there is any such thing as a nonessential worker.” 1

Rowe did admit that certain positions are greatly needed during a pandemic. Hence, we have greater need for a doctor now than a center fielder for a Major League Baseball team. “I just wanted to make the point that, when we talk about the economy, all work is essential,” Rowe stated. “Maybe it’s a distinction without too much of a difference, but in my mind, there is no such thing right now as a nonessential worker.” 2

Rowe makes a good point. For a healthy economy, every able-bodied person of age, must work. When person “A” earns a paycheck, he spends it in person “B’s” store. Person “B” can then provide for his own family. The property taxes person “B” pays allows person “C’s” child to go to school. In other words, the economy is something in which we all play a role, whether we appreciate our role within it or not. Yet, we see what happens when we purposely shut down a country to mitigate a virus. All the financial gains about which our country boasted for the last few years was wiped out in six weeks!

This isn’t a message about the economy or politics or Mike Rowe. It is rather about the harmful consequences we bring about by rashly judging what’s essential and nonessential without considering the bigger picture. When you have extra time, enter in the words, “baptism” along with “essential” and “necessary,” into your internet search engine of choice. I did. I found one page that proffered “101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved.”

Fortunately, we have the book of Acts, also known as the “book of conversions.” Acts has many examples of people who, having heard the proclamation of the Gospel, submitted to baptism. It is a troublesome book for the one seeking to discount the necessity of baptism’s role in salvation. For this reason, such practitioners of a perverted gospel must say, “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith.” In other words, all these people were baptized to show their salvation rather than receive it.

Even if we only had the example of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts, we would have enough reason to prove why baptism is not only necessary but essential. Paul was a man, made miserable by his newly acquired knowledge he was a sinner. He prayed fervently for three days. If one could “pray through” then Paul should have been able to have done so. And yet, when the preacher Ananias arrived, he saw the pathetic state that Paul was in and said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16). Did Paul not realize he was saved and needed only to perform a ritual to confirm his salvation? If true, Paul was the most miserable Christian about whom we read in the pages of the New Testament during those three days he prayed and fasted.

We might make a tough judgment call because of a virus and shut down certain sectors of our economy since we believe them less essential during a health crisis. Ultimately, though, we realize even those deemed “nonessential” do play an important part in our economy, as Rowe suggested. We need them if we are going to climb up out of this trillion-dollar deficit hole this crisis has made us fall into.

Likewise, people may capriciously proclaim baptism nonessential. However, one wanting total restoration to the innocence lost in Eden must also know a demon’s faith (James 2.19) is not only insufficient to save but fatal (Mark 16.16).

References

1  Shiver, Phil. “’Dirty Jobs’ Star Mike Rowe: There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Nonessential Worker’.” The Blaze, Blaze Media LLC, 2 Apr. 2020, www.theblaze.com/news/mike-rowe-non-essential-worker.
ibid.

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Categories
attendance church attendance Hebrews worship

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

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Categories
comfort God God (nature) stability

“AND HE WILL BE THE STABILITY OF YOUR TIMES”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

In a world facing ever-changing circumstances, we need to be reminded of some truths about God. A great text that can help us do this is found in the writings of the Messianic prophet, Isaiah. He tells us some exciting facts about God in Isaiah 33:5-6.  In brief, Isaiah reminds us of God’s transcendence (“exalted…on high”), His trustworthiness (“has filled Zion with justice and righteousness”), and His treasure (“a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure”).  In the midst of upholding God’s perfect character, the prophet makes this reassuring statement: “And He will be the stability of your times.”

In part, here is what that means to us today

  • There is no minimum distance we have to keep from Him under any circumstance (Jas. 4:8).
  • There is no restriction or limit on our access to Him and His blessings, on prayer or His Word (Phil. 4:19). 
  • There is no chance that you will look for Him and He will not be there (Psa. 50:15).
  • There is no possibility that you will learn that what was true of Him yesterday is not true of Him today (or tomorrow)(Heb. 13:8)
  • There is no cancellation policy at the throne of grace for the child of God (Heb. 4:16).
  • There is no threat or danger that can keep you from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).
  • There is no earthly thing to nullify the truth that “the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid” (Heb. 13:6). 
  • The more we expose ourselves to Him, the healthier we will be.
  • There is zero chance that you will go to Him for healing and have it fail (Jer. 8:22; Luke 5:31).

Scripture calls Him the Rock (Deut. 32:4), the shield (2 Sam. 22:31), my protection (Isa. 27:5), my shield, stronghold, and protection (2 Sam. 22:3), and a strong tower (Prov. 18:10). As Nebuchadnezzar understood, “all His works are true and His ways just” (Dan. 4:37). 

Take heart. Take on the day. Take comfort and refuge. “And He will be the stability of your times.”

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Random great photo: courtesy Baker Street Photography
Categories
fear omnipotence omniscience trust

FEAR NOT

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

Neal at ATF 2020
Photo credit: Wayne Roberts

Neal Pollard

Fear not…

Military Threats.  Whether Al Qaida, the Taliban, Iranian nuclear weapon building, alliances between China, North Korea, and Russia, or armed forces spread too thin.

Natural Catastrophe.  Whether global warming, meteors crashing through the atmosphere, glacial melting, California sliding off into the ocean, or events like tornadoes, tsunamis, and hurricanes.

Economic Collapse.  Whether the breaking of Social Security, a major stock market crash, the mounting U.S. debt, recession, the real estate bubble bursting, bankruptcy, out of control inflation, or job losses to illegal immigrants.

Potential Persecution.  Whether the steadily rising antagonism against Christianity, overthrow by foreign oppressors, the mounting tide of immorality promoting sin, or the epidemic ignorance of the Bible in our land.

Health Problems.  Whether Coronavirus, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, ALS, AIDS, kidney failure, dementia, arthritis, blood clots, or liver disease.

Academic Decline.  Whether comparative test scores with children in other nations, a socially-charged curriculum agenda, the “dumbing down of America,” the de-emphasis of classroom competition, or outcome-based education programs.

Rather, “Fear God” (Ecc. 5:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).       “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).  “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him” (Deut. 13:4). “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him” (Psalm 25:14).  “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;  He will also hear their cry and will save them.  The Lord keeps all who love Him,  but all the wicked He will destroy” (Psalm 145:19-20).  “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50).  “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

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