ESSENTIAL

ESSENTIAL

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

  • Grocery store–Place where we buy food to sustain our physical bodies
  • Restaurant–Place where we pay someone else to provide food for our physical bodies
  • School–Place where our children receive an education to prepare them to live on earth as adults
  • Hospitals and Doctor’s office–Place where we go to address issues with our physical health
  • Workplace–Place where we go to earn money to take care of our physical needs

There are other places that have remained open or reopened whether to provide what we’d deem essential or places that are more diversionary but which various experts call essential to economic or social survival (malls, bookstores, ballfields and arenas, etc.). In fact, “essential” can be put into a lot of categories–academic, economic, social, emotional, medical, physical, and spiritual.

Pandemic restrictions have impacted and altered public behavior for almost a year. It’s more than mask mandates, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and the severe reduction of handshakes and hugs. It has been the reduction of personal interaction at the assemblies. Many congregations have devised virtual means of meeting for Bible class and worship. Just like virtual doctor visits, online instruction, and telecommuting lack the desired qualities of the in-person alternative, so it is with the virtual gathering. 

The first-century church labored under restrictions, too. The threat was not a virus, but often a virulent government hostile to their faith. Christians in various places faced severe persecution and even the death penalty if this identity was known (Mat. 24:9; Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). The assemblies were an easy way for Rome to know a Christian’s identity. Despite the potential cost of discipleship, what do we find the early Christians doing and being commanded to do? As a good preacher friend, Terrence Brownlow-Dindy, recently said, Acts 20:7 not only told the saints when to take the Lord’s Supper (the first day of the week) but also how (come together). Despite governmental interference and opposition to them, Christians were still commanded to assemble (Heb. 10:25). It was essential to be present to stimulate each other to love and good deeds (10:24). It was essential to be present to encourage one another (10:25). It was essential to be present to prepare for Christ’s second coming (10:25). 

What’s the difference between the risks incurred in Cracker Barrel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby walking aisles, touching items, and standing in line with strangers and coming together and running any risks we might incur by assembling together for worship and Bible class? The commodities and services provided at places like those at the beginning of this article serve us only in this life. The wisdom of God, who designed the church including the importance of coming together, commands assembling to address our most essential need. It is absolutely true that Christianity is not confined to the church building, a great lesson we discovered or remembered at the start of this crisis. Perhaps, though, we inferred from this that actually coming together was less essential than shopping, going to school, and going to work. 

I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ at stores, restaurants, weddings, and funerals who have not come into the church building to give and receive the fellowship and encouragement God made essential both for our own spiritual health and that of our spiritual family. Scripture repeatedly tells us the earth and all its works will be burned up some day (2 Pet. 3:10). Our souls will never die. As we prioritize the essentials, what is more essential than that? The dictionary defines essential as “absolutely necessary; extremely important.” If anything qualifies, our assemblies do. 

Spiritual Maintenance

Spiritual Maintenance

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Since being mainly confined to home, we’ve had a lot more time to do outdoor activities. One of those activities (besides mowing and building a chicken house) has been target practice and clay shooting. Not only has it been an enjoyable activity, it has also been a great way to spend time with family and engage in some friendly competition.
After the range is cold and we’re ready to stop, the process of cleaning our guns begins. Some don’t require as much cleaning as others, but all of them get a brush, cleaning rod, and some lubricant. This helps to prevent wear and tear in the long term, but it also prevents build-up from causing malfunctions or damage next time. It’s not always the most enjoyable activity but is necessary anyway.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the concerns of life (especially now!), to the neglect of our spiritual maintenance. Most of us are currently unable to worship physically with our spiritual family. We have had to cancel many of our church events and get-togethers. We are more-or-less confined to our homes. Financial and health concerns are at the front line of our minds.
If we don’t stay on top of our spiritual maintenance while this craziness is going on, all kinds of nastiness will build up in our lives. While the world is more or less halted, are we continuing to be tools for good? Have we used some of this time to inspect our spiritual well-being? This is such a great opportunity to do a self-checkup using scripture to clean parts of our lives that need to be removed.
As stated earlier, cleaning guns is not exactly exhilarating. It can be painstaking, monotonous, dirty, and time consuming. If it isn’t done, though, it will lead to premature wear and tear and malfunctions.
Breaking sinful behaviors, leaving our uncertainties in God’s hands, confronting our spiritual struggles, resolving doubts in our faith, repairing relationships that we have damaged, and working towards tangible growth in our spiritual lives can be far from exciting or fun. These things require effort, discomfort, confrontation, and dedication. While not the most pleasant in the moment, they will help us to be the best that we can be.
When we do our spiritual maintenance we become better encouragers, better soul-winners, better friends/family, and we develop strong endurance. Our goal in all of this is to reduce the wear and tear of our spiritual lives by living like Jesus. This kind of maintenance will allow us to do more than last a while – properly maintaining our spiritual lives and relying on God’s grace will cause us to last for eternity with Him.
gun kit
Encourage!

Encourage!

Neal Pollard

Steven Covey has said, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” There is great wisdom and truth in that. Encouragement requires unselfishness and thoughtfulness. It requires our looking at the other person and empathizing with their circumstances. It requires a genuine love, care, and concern. The interesting thing is that it does not have to cost anything, take much time, or demand a lot of energy. But, oh the benefit it gives to one who greatly needs it!

Such vital people as Joshua (1:38), David (1 Sam. 23:16), Hezekiah (2 Kings 19), the priests during Josiah’s reign (2 Chron. 35:2), the sons of Israel who returned from exile (Ezra 6:22), Darius the Mede (Dan. 11:1), the Christians in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:23; 15:32), the brethren at Philippi (Acts 16:40), and Paul (Acts 18:27) are recorded in the Bible as having received it. Judges, kings, priests, children of God, Christians, apostles, and even those who were not in a covenant relationship with God all needed and benefited from receiving encouragement. That tells me that everyone I meet could use whatever encouragement I can give.

So, what can I do to encourage the people I encounter today?

  • Express genuine gratitude to someone for something he or she specifically does or demonstrates.
  • Pay someone an unexpected compliment.
  • Tell someone’s superior how much you appreciate their work, service, etc.
  • Do a task or favor for someone who seems stressed or depressed.
  • Look someone in the eye and sincerely ask them how they are doing.
  • Pay attention to one who may ordinarily labor anonymously (parking attendant, security officer, door greeter, janitor, etc.).
  • Show interest in a co-worker or employee who seems lonely, discouraged, or is new.
  • Write a kind note to someone else at church (for extra credit, let it be someone you do not know well), to a preacher you may or may not know who you appreciate, or to an acquaintance from your town or neighborhood.
  • Smile and wave at a little child or an elderly person you come across.

Challenge yourself to find additional ways and people you can encourage. Make it more than a daily dare. Make it an every day effort. You cannot know the full, positive impact you will have and the social, emotional, and even spiritual revolution you can begin in your home, your congregation, and your community. Maybe you, too, can earn a nickname like Barnabas had, and be known as a Son or Daughter of Encouragement (cf. Acts 4:36)! Have you given someone a shot of Vitamin E today? What are you waiting for?

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Embracing The Struggler

Embracing The Struggler

Neal Pollard

So much is said about the deficiencies of youth and young adults in our current culture. While every generation has its shortcomings, I have observed a hopeful trend. Perhaps it rests on the faulty foundations of political correctness and relativism, but young people today seem much more prone to accept and nurture those who have discernible difficulties like handicaps, mental or physical challenges, or social limitations.

Another way it shows up, specifically in the church, is the way they rally around those who are spiritually broken or in need. When a teenager or young adult responds to the invitation, watch how their peers flock to their side to show their support. This beautiful, tangible act is reflective of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it is a trait that the father so wanted from the older brother (cf. Luke 15:20,31-32). It looks a lot like the tender goodbye between Paul and the elders in Acts 20:37.

This willingness to reach out and comfort one another is a supremely biblical way of interacting within the family of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”  God calls His people to have that kind of nurturing spirit. When we see those who are physically hurting, we should respond (Mat. 25:35-36; 1 Jn. 3:17). When we see those who are emotionally hurting, we should respond (Rom. 12:15). When we see those who are spiritually hurting, we should respond (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). The response should be more than token and certainly should not be heartless and surface. It should not be shown with favoritism, but to everyone who is in need of it.

This warm and loving response may not come as naturally to some of us who are older, but oh how crucial it is that we stretch ourselves to do it. Embracing a sinner does not mean embracing a sin. Let us discipline ourselves to see the difference. Hear the words of the Hebrews 12:12-13: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

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