Make God A Priority

Make God A Priority

Friday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

There’s a story told of four men that went into the woods on a deer hunt one morning. The men split into groups of two and set out for the day. When evening rolled around, 2 of the 4 hunters had already returned and set up camp and were waiting on the other 2 men to return. Hours passed by when finally one of the hunters staggered into camp carrying a massive 8 point buck. The hunters asked where the other guy was, and the man answered and said, “He had a stroke earlier and is a couple miles up the trail.” The men are shocked and they say, “Why did you cary the deer back and leave your friend?” The hunter paused for a moment and said, “Well…I didn’t want my deer to get stolen.” 

Sometimes in life our priorities can get a little mixed up. Maybe not to the point where we would choose a deer over a person, but nevertheless, each one of use is prone to lose focus. The definition of priority is “something that is regarded as more important than another.” For example, when you choose “priority shipping,” it is regarded as more important by the postal service and reaches its destination quicker. The things that we prioritize are the things that take up the majority of our time, money, and effort. A student trying to get a good grade will make studying their top priority. A football player that is trying to be the best will make training, exercise, and memorizing the team plays a top priority. And so it is with any aspect and profession. 

There is revealed to us a top priority for us as christians in God’s Word. In Matthew six Jesus is just about halfway through His sermon on the mount when He turns His focus onto the subject of worry in verse 25. He says multiple times “do not be anxious.” And He goes on to give us a reason why. Jesus explains that God’s care for us is our reason for not worrying. We are more valuable than grass and birds. Therefore do not be anxious. God values us infinitely more than birds and flowers. It is at the end of this section that we find our priority. Verse 33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 

According to this verse, what is it that we should make a priority? What should we be putting our energy and focus into? The kingdom of God. “Seek first” literally means to “chase after.” Jesus tells us that we are to be in constant pursuit of the Kingdom. This means we are actively chasing and longing for it. Not just the kingdom of God, but also HIS righteousness. Not our own, but God’s. This is accomplished through constant prayer and daily scripture reading, continuous reflection and growth, caring for those around us and copying the mindset of Christ in everything. 

Make God a priority, and the worries of this world will be taken care of. Chase after God and He has promised to take care of us. 

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Ten Thoughts Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Ten Thoughts Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

We’ve all had opinions and reactions in public that never made it from our brains to our mouths. Not all of these were positive, and perhaps that’s why they were never spoken.

Have you ever wondered what visitors who come into our home congregation are thinking? What do they make of the worship service? How do they see the people who fill the building?

I’d like to dedicate this post to the young people I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and who have privately expressed their first impressions of the Lord’s church. These honest thoughts did not come from people who were trying to be disrespectful.

Here’s a list of TEN thoughts (some rephrased) that most visitors won’t openly say. 

  1. “I guess I came underdressed for this church.”
  2. “Why do you stand for some songs and not the others?”
  3. “Why are the communion plates gold?”
  4. “I didn’t understand the purpose of the invitation.”
  5. “Nobody smiled much until after the service.”
  6. “I’ve got too much baggage for you guys.”
  7. “I didn’t even know this church was here.”
  8. “How much money was I supposed to put inside the plate?”
  9. “It’s a nice congregation, but there’s not a lot of people my age.”
  10. “Sorry for bringing my drink into the sanctuary.”

While these comments and questions may seem negative, I’m thankful that they’ve given us their perspective. As His church, we should be thoughtful about who we are, and what we’re engaged in when we come together.

We’re either involved in offering our Father praise and worship, or we’re enjoying the sweet fellowship that we have in Christ. God is our life, God is the One who gives every blessing, and God is the one who saved us from ourselves. With this in mind—

Here’s a list of FIVE things we can do to let visitors know what we’re all about. 

  1. We should carry ourselves with an attitude that expresses our joy and thankfulness. They may not understand everything about the service or the practical aspects of our traditions, but they see a group of people who have been given the greatest gift ever given.
  2. Let’s not place too much emphasis on the location of worship, but the worship itself. There’s nothing holy about the “sanctuary” but there should be something holy about the acts being done and the people in the pews.
  3. Even though we may have been to worship countless times, we shouldn’t assume that everyone completely understands what’s going on. There should be an effort put into briefly explaining why we’re participating in each act of worship, as well as who it applies to. For example, visitors are not required to give. We shouldn’t assume they already know this.
  4. We’re all in need of Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. God is the God of second chances…and beyond! Do the visitors know this? We’ve all got varying amounts of baggage, but even a small pocketbook full of sin is enough to eternally condemn us.
  5. No matter how odd things may appear to a first time visitor, if we can show them the love of Christ, what was once strange to them— just might become beautifully familiar.

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What Would Our Slogan Be?

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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Don’t Preach!

Don’t Preach!

Neal Pollard

What an odd thing to say, especially when our Lord (Mark 16:15; Acts 10:42) and Paul (2 Tim. 4:2) say to preach!  I’m not saying don’t preach at all, but there’s too much “preaching” that is not really preaching.  We must not preach that way.

  • Don’t preach self!  No matter how funny, folksy, charismatic, creative, good-looking, glamorous, smart, or suave I might be, it’s not about me.  I am no Savior. I am a sinner proclaiming the Savior.
  • Don’t preach doubt!  People already wrestle mightily with doubts.  Don’t reinforce them.  Clear away such cobwebs with the definitive, hopeful, concrete message of truth.
  • Don’t preach man-made doctrine!  It’s a foundation of sand.  It will land countless people on the Lord’s left hand at the day of reckoning.  If a doctrine is at odds with the gospel, keep it from the message.
  • Don’t preach unprepared!  Every hearer deserves a well-planned, well-thought-out, and well-practiced sermon.  They are giving their time.  Make sure you have put in yours.
  • Don’t preach in a pandering way!  Audience analysis is helpful, but don’t “play to the crowd.” It seems insincere and disingenuous. Don’t carry the standard down to the people. Call the people up to the standard.
  • Don’t preach philosophy!  Philosophers prefer questions without answers more than answering questions.  “What ifs” may be fun with sports teams and political elections, but they too often tear down rather than build up faith.
  • Don’t preach arrogantly!  The preacher, George Bailey, would often say, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package.”  How many times have people echoed the sentiments of the Greeks, “Sir, we want to see Jesus!” (cf. John 12:21).
  • Don’t preach timidly!  Should we apologize for the Lord’s message?  We never want to be harsh, antagonistic, or in any way present an obstacle with negativity or our presentation, but we must have the courage to share what the Lord said. If the Lord commands it, we must convey it, even if it’s difficult to do so.
  • Don’t preach indistinctly!  Truth stands out. We must let it.  We cannot hide the parts that may make the church or the preacher seem in the minority or at odds with prevailing views.  We must be Micaiahs, intently committed to preach with this philosophy: “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that shall I speak” (1 Kin. 22:14).

Instead, preach the Word!  Saturate your message with His message.  The late Wendell Winkler would say, “Fill your lesson with Scripture. At least that much of it will be right!  Let God get a word in edgewise!”  Some have convinced themselves that they know better than God does what makes sermons effective.  The old song, “None of Self and all of Thee,” is in order here.  Hide behind the cross and lift Him up.  Being thoroughly biblical, applicable, and practical, we will grow the church and we will grow people.  If one is prone to veer from His pattern and example of New Testament preaching, may we ask such a one is genuine, loving candor, “Don’t preach!”

(Carl preaching the word in Cambodia last month)