THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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Surrounded By Hungry And Thirsty People

Neal Pollard

I was a child when I saw news coverage of the famine in Ethiopia, the mass starvation, the distended stomachs, and the deaths from malnourishment. I had never seen anything like this, and I was deeply saddened by the images on the screen. If you had asked me if I ever expected to see or know about anything more tragic than that, I would surely have said no. Now, decades later, I routinely see something much more tragic. I can observe it whenever I wish, though it’s not something that ever gets easier. Noah Icenhour, the fine, new associate minister at the Mabelvale church of Christ near Little Rock, Arkansas, shared a concept with me that he read from N.T. Wright about our culture. Describing why so many are swallowing foolish, harmful ideas, whether false religion, fleshly indulgence, materialism and greed, evolution, atheism, narcissism, or the like, he says that so many are consuming these things because they are so hungry and thirsty that to satisfy and slake these inner yearnings they are willing to consume even sources that are polluted.

We are surrounded by spiritually hungry and thirsty people. They long for purpose, meaning, and value, but so often they seek it subjectively. Or they go to an improper source to satisfy these. Consequently, they squander their precious lives pursuing the wrong things, a path that Jesus describes as one in which “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Mat. 7:13). Spoken or unspoken, they are crying out for proper direction. They want their lives to matter. While the majority (Mat. 7:14) will refuse the biblical answer, I am convinced that our society is full of people who are honestly searching. They would be open to hearing the Bible’s answers to these preeminently important questions of origination, motivation, and destination.

Today, wherever you find yourself and whatever else you are doing, will you have the compassion and concern enough to look for and seek to help the kind of person I’m talking about? Let’s pray for courage and wisdom, and walk through the open doors we find. In so doing, we will be aiding hungry and thirsty souls who will ultimately go somewhere to satiate their cravings. With us in their lives, they can find true bread (Jn. 6:35) and living water (Jn. 4:14). Such will lift them now and save them eternally! May our hearts be touched enough by their dire condition that we cannot help but help.

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BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Neal Pollard

I was asked by a preacher from Texas to go and provide emotional support to a family of brand new Christians he reached with the gospel. In a tragic circumstance, the matriarch of this family was in the hospital Sunday morning to have a gallstone removed and doctors accidentally severed the hepatic portal vein going into her liver. This led to multi-organ shutdown that ultimately ended her life. In this atmosphere of unanticipated emotional pain and suffering, family had gathered from all over the country to see her before doctors removed the lines keeping her alive. I was unable to communicate very much comfort or support because most of them spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. I sat in the waiting room with them throughout the afternoon, watching their anguish but having little more than smiles and sympathetic looks to offer. The matriarch’s granddaughter spoke good English, but it was hard to expect her to continually provide translation as she struggled with her own grief. Hopefully, they knew I cared and will allow the church to provide further encouragement. Thankfully, we have several members who do speak Spanish fluently who could help in ways I cannot.

As I was driving home and thinking about the best way to quickly learn Spanish, I had another humbling thought. How many opportunities do I pass up with people with whom my communication barrier is not language? There are some other, more sinister barriers that can keep us from speaking up for Christ in situations He is counting on us to take advantage of. There is fear—fear of rejection, opposition, or being ostracized. There is apathy—failure to consider or care about the eternal destination of the souls of those we encounter. There is selfishness—as we are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we do not open our hearts to the lost in our lives. There is sin—the presence of personal lifestyle issues for us that render us ineffective as sharers of the gospel message. These and other matters are much more frequently the roadblocks that keep us from reaching out to the people we encounter.

It will help us, I believe, to remind ourselves daily that this world is not our home and that every person is heading to an eternity that swiftly comes. We must have the courage to share with people how to prepare for that, to understand the great love God has for them and His desire to save them. We must keep the conviction strong that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that His applied blood is their only hope for such. We must care about people, enough to pray for boldness and wisdom, enough to walk through our open doors, and enough to share the good news with them. People are at the heart of our purpose as Christians. Let’s serve them by sharing the good news whenever, wherever, and however we can.

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The Dilemma Of Discipleship: Doctrine Or Duty

Neal Pollard

Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”

Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.

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Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

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We Need More Kevin Tortorellas!

Neal Pollard

Let me preface this by saying I did not get to meet Kevin Tortorella. I know next to nothing about him. Here is what I do know. He reached out and brought Cy Stafford to Christ. Ultimately, as we heard from Cy’s funeral on Saturday, there are 500 churches that have been planted throughout a quarter century of service by Cy and Stephanie in east Africa. There may be literally thousands of people in heaven connected to the work God did through the Staffords in their time in Tanzania. It began in North Carolina, when Kevin taught Cy the gospel. He is not a full-time gospel preacher. All I know is that his courage and care has made a gigantic impact on the Kingdom, whoever else he ever tells the story of Jesus to.

That is the amazing thing about evangelism! God works through men, often even ordinary men, to do extraordinary things which change the world and grow the church. Whatever else we know about Andrew, he brought Peter to Christ and also left an indelible mark on church history. Paul tells us that all, in building on the foundation of Christ, who bring people to Jesus will bring those who will be tried with fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). While there will be those who do not pass the test of fire, some are said to be gold, silver, and precious stones. It would seem that these are converts who not only pass the test but prove themselves of such great value. Who would question that Cy was a “gold conversion”?

You and I encounter various people throughout life who we have the power to influence. We may fear or hesitate to speak to them about Jesus. We may think it will do no good to speak to them. We may think they are not interested. We might even fail to realize how much they, through our influence and the influence of others, could amount to. But if we will look at the Peters and Cys that have come along in the history of the church, we will be encouraged to take that first step and have that conversation. Don’t worry about what comes next. Just step up. Be a soul-winner. Be a Kevin Tortorella!

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Producers Versus Consumers

Doug McNary

Allow me to take you back to the early 1930’s, when the U.S. economy was in the throws of the Great Depression. It was a time of record setting negative economic growth. Many Americans lost their means to sustain basic life functions. Many Americans lost all Hope.

At the time, President Herbert Hoover believed in the importance of the role of individuals in society and the economy.

He said, “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Now, let us fast forward to the church today. We find the church in a time of record setting negative growth. And according to a 2014 Pew Research Study, less than 27% of Millennials (defined as ages 18 to 35) regularly attend religious services. Yet, 67% say they believe in a heaven and 84% think there is a God. So, what does the mean?  

I think deep down inside, millennials believe there is a God, but worldly distractions and alternate priorities keep them from contemplating what that really means. A lack of understanding or knowledge of the truth translates into a lack of action. Their ignorance may lead to eternal demise.

So, let’s rewrite Hoover’s insight:

“Church growth cannot be cured by the action or pronouncement of church leaders. Church wounds must be healed by the actions of the members of the church body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Church growth will not be achieved by elders, deacons or preachers alone. It must be cured by each of us also doing our part.

So I ask myself, “Am I a producer, or a consumer?”

In Matthew 5,  Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Honestly, I have been a consumer long enough. I sit in my pew every worship service, I do my daily bible reading, and dwell on God’s word… I have been a faithful Christian, with a proverbial basket over my head.

I want to be a producer…

–Sharing, Caring, and Acting to make a difference for the Lord’s church.

I want to be a producer…

–Proclaiming to others the Truth found in the Bible.

I want to be a producer…

–Openly Praising the Lord, each and every day, in my words and actions.

I want to be a producer…

–Participating in the building up of the body of our church by being involved in the work of the church.

I can no longer be just a consumer, I want to be a producer… Finding creative ways to prick the heart of a lost soul, for the sake of Christ!

Now here is the challenge:

I want to do these things… But, will I?… And how about you?

My brothers and sisters, I pray that each one of us can get up out of our “consumer” pew and DO Something Each Day to help our Lord’s church grow! I pray that we can all become “producers” for Christ.

I leave you with this thought…

In one of my favorite movies, Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart played the role of the father, Charlie Anderson. He sat at a campfire with his family as they were searching for his lost son. They were all about to give up hope when Charlie said: “If we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?”

Brothers and Sisters, if we truly love the Lord’s church, we must try, we must do!

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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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Tora! Tora! Tora!

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event which drew our country into World War II. 2,343 men were killed, 1,143 were wounded, and 960 unaccounted for or missing. The Japanese chose Sunday to attack as it was the most relaxed day of the week for the servicemen. Many were still in their pajamas or having breakfast when the attack began at 7:55 that morning. Kermit Tyler, an Air Force lieutenant serving as the officer on duty that morning, told the radar operator not to worry about the large blip on the radar screen. He thought it was a flight of U.S. bombers coming from our mainland. Instead, it was the first wave of attackers. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the airstrike leader for the Japanese carrier force, could see that Pearl Harbor was totally unaware of the impending attack. He radioed back a coded message, repeating an abbreviated word three times—“to ra, to ra, to ra”—meaning “lightning strike.” The transmission began at 7:49, undetected by the soon-to-be victims of the attack that began a mere six minutes later (read more here).

Among so many significant facts, what we most remember about the attack on Pearl Harbor was how utterly surprising it was. No one stood vigil, considering the possibility of it. Like its later counterpart, “9/11,” and even natural catastrophes like Pompeii, the Galveston hurricane, the 2004 tsunami, or Mexico’s El Chicon volcano, serious and deadly events can occur without warning. With our most sophisticated technology and detection systems, we are without the ability to forewarn about the greatest surprise that will ever be.

Paul says that the resurrection of the dead of all time will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). Paul and Peter both refer to “the day of the Lord” as that which will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Jesus warned that the day could be a disaster, a trap that comes on one “suddenly” (Luke 21:34). He taught that it will come at an hour unknown to everyone (Mark 13:32-33).

While it will surprise everyone, the coming of Christ will be a devastating event for the great majority of mankind. For them, it will infinitely exceed the loss of physical life. It will be an everlasting loss (Mat. 25:46; 2 Th. 1:9). Yet, God has made preparation eminently possible. He desires escape for everyone (2 Pet. 3:9). One can be prepared for that day and be saved from harm and for something inexpressibly superior. Those of us who have discovered the way of preparation must hold fast to it (cf. Heb. 3:6) and strive to share this vital information with as many as possible. The sudden coming of Christ need not be a defeat, but can instead be the harbinger of the greatest victory ever.  May Paul’s inspired exclamation be our song of victory: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54b-55). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20)!

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Use The Resources Available To You

Neal Pollard

Judging from Candice Millard’s straightforward account of the assassination of James Garfield, there were two men responsible for his death. The more obvious villain was the shooter, Charles Guiteau, an unquestionably insane loner. The less obvious accomplice, judging from her words, was the man who seized control of Garfield’s care and appointed himself the president’s chief physician. The bullet that wounded the president would not have been fatal, but the medical attention he received afterward was. In fairness, a medical discovery already made in 1881 that could have helped Garfield was considered controversial and would not be generally embraced in America for a few more decades. Yet, Dr. Joseph Lister’s use of carbolic acid to sterilize surgical instruments and clean wounds had been in existence since the 1860s. The Englishman attended the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, attempting to convince American doctors of its effectiveness. Alexander Graham Bell, whose telephone was discovered at that same exhibition, heard the news that Bliss could not find the bullet inside the president. The incredible inventor came up with the “induction balance”—a metal detecting machine. But Bliss waited too long to call Bell, and when he did he never allowed the inventor to check his left as well as his right side for the bullet. Bliss was sure it was on the right; an autopsy found it on the left. In court, Guiteau made the argument that the president died from malpractice rather than his attempt. While almost certainly true, Guiteau was still hung. Yet, most historians name Bliss as a proud, ignorant accomplice. Portrayed as a glory seeker, Bliss relied on his prowess and rejected several people and principles that could have prevented Garfield’s death (Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, And The Murder of a President, Anchor: New York, 2011).

To be fair, it would have taken uncommon clarity and vision for Bliss to ignore the prevailing views of his colleagues and embrace Lister’s techniques and Bell’s invention, but he could have.

There will be people we encounter today, who appear to be in great health and no danger. Yet, the vast majority of them will face a fate infinitely more terrible than the one Garfield succumbed to. They will eventually die, unprepared for the eternity that will follow (Mat. 7:13-14). The most tragic part of this will be, if you and I are in their lives, that it will not have had to be this way. At least, we have the solution from the “Great Physician” and we should know how to administer it. God needs us to make use of the resources He’s made available to us—prayer, Bible knowledge, influence, personality, courage, love, and a sense of urgency (cf. Col. 4:2-6; 1 Pet. 3:15; Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; John 4:35; etc.). We can look within our congregations and see those who were reached in this way. We see others who are not far from the cure, but who need us to help them. How inexcusable is it to have the remedy but refuse to share it? May God help us use the resources we have available to us!

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