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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Longing For The Desert Lodging Place?

Neal Pollard

The beleaguered prophet, Jeremiah, had had it. He was, in the words of Andy to Barney, “beat to the socks”—and then some! He was surrounded by sin and disobedience. At every turn, he was being disappointed by people he expected so much more from. He was fed up, and he wanted to escape from it all.  Can you relate? Have you seen so much hatred, man’s inhumanity to man, gross immorality, defiance and rebellion, God-less living, and the like that you are done with it?

Jeremiah wrote, “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; That I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. ‘They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:1-3). Keep reading and you see a dirty laundry list of other transgressions, like treachery and deceit, immorality, and unbelief (4-8). In fact, God pronounces judgment against that nation for its collective guilt.  So, the astute and informed prophet grieved for the people and longed to escape from this agonizing reality.

Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us refuges from the similar conditions we see around us today? We can choose to consume the salacious, depressing headlines and news stories, monitoring it day and night.  We can engross ourselves in the various activist positions currently advocated in our culture and society. Or…

  • We can increase our daily devotional time.
  • We can set a goal to lead a specific someone to Christ.
  • We can unplug from the endless litany of media-driven bad news.
  • We can do our individual part to strengthen our local congregation (making visits, praying over specific prayer lists, writing encouraging cards and letters to members and visitors, volunteering for needed tasks, etc.).
  • We can deliberately focus more each day on heaven, building our desire to go there.
  • We can go the second mile to be a model citizen in this nation.
  • We can try to find people in our daily lives (co-workers, fellow students, neighbors, and others we see regularly) and build a bridge through acts of love, kindness, and humble service.
  • We can smile and be pleasant more, wherever we are (reflecting the joy and happiness we truly have in Christ).

There are probably quite a few, though lost in spiritual ignorance, who would love to know about this “wayfarers’ lodging place,” not to escape from people but to escape to God. There are brothers and sisters in Christ groping to get to such a place. Perhaps we forget that “there is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.” Jeremiah was discouraged by his daunting task. We who stand this side of the cross know, whatever is happening around us, “our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Wanna get away?

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Focus, Not Complacency 

Neal Pollard

Whether you are elated or despondent today, you face a serious danger as you absorb the reality of the election results. Prayer meetings for our nation transpired all around our country, even from brethren and friends in other nations. Individuals prayed fervently for God’s will to be done. What that will look like and what that will mean only time will reveal.  For many, relief replaces fear at the prospect of the “other side” winning. For others, disbelief and embarrassment, not to mention shock, have begun to roost.

One thing that has been emphasized in the days and weeks leading up to this historic election is that, no matter what, the church must step up and increase its militancy and evangelism. We must work and serve in bigger and greater ways. That has not changed. The kind of change and improvement this (and every) country needs most can only come from Christ. People of both (or neither) political parties still live in view of the Second Coming, the Judgment, and an eternal destination in either heaven or hell.

After warning about the futility of trusting in earthly governments, militaries, and the like, the Psalmist instructs, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You” (Psa. 33:18-22). May that forever be the anthem of the people of God!

The only thing that is over is a political election. The church’s mission is as daunting, daring, and divinely-directed as it has ever been. However you view the national decision, please continue to see the heavenly vision. We are not here to make America great again, though most of us would desire that. We are here to help reconcile the world to Christ (2 Cor. 5:20; Mat. 28:18-20). I love the way my son, Dale, said it yesterday: “After the election, after the selection, I’m still thankful there was a resurrection that gives us direction.” That is the focus that must keep us oriented to our reason for being on this earth.

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Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Neal Pollard

  • Pray, specifically, about having opportunities to share your faith. Think about the people in the various places you spend your time and ask God for inroads with these individuals specifically. Pray for courage, wisdom, and your words (cf. Col. 4:2-6). Pray for their hearts. Pray to pick opportune times to approach them.
  • Cultivate your fields. Spend time thinking about who you have or can build a relationship with. That will be your area of greatest success. Be involved in their lives (see below). Work at growing the number of people you could share Christ with.
  • Develop genuine interest in the lives of the people in your life. Learn spouse’s and children’s names, occupation, interests, hobbies, and passions in their lives. Ask about those things. File away and remember those facts, as your specific recall with them will impress them with your sincerity and concern. How is trust won? Time and transparency.
  • Be able to speak openly and wisely about religion with them. That means picking your battles wisely. You will hear people spout misinformation and false ideas when religion is being discussed. Always maintain control and calm, being gentle in discussing religious matters (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). If asked (and you eventually will be) about some specific, like salvation or church organization or what “denomination” you are a member of, be winsome and kind but courageous enough to give a biblical answer.
  • Work at working in your faith and the church into your conversations naturally. This may require prayer and thought, but practice turning your conversations with people toward the spiritual. Like anything, if you’ve not had practice, it may seem clunky and awkward initially but not ultimately. If something is going on at church that relates some way to what your friend is saying, bring it up matter of factly. If their issue or struggle concerns something you have come across in your recent Bible study, share the verse with them.
  • Be prepared to serve and help. So many of our co-workers, associates, neighbors, and other friends have messy lives. They are struggling and, without Christ, have no bearings on how to address their problems. As human beings, they inevitably struggle with the same things all people struggle with—relationships, family, finance, uncertainty, health, fear, etc.  Remind yourself that you are here, on earth, to serve (cf. Mat. 20:28; Gal. 5:13).
  • Watch yourself. Your example, especially under the pressures and fires of life, can make or break your evangelistic opportunities. Your temperament, reaction, attitude, and the like are a display case for the Lord or the world. Regularly remind yourself of this (Ti. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Remember the mantra, “It’s not a matter of ‘who’ is right, but ‘what’ is right.” I received this counsel decades ago, as a young preacher, from David Sain. I have used it countless times in soul-winning circumstances. Truly, ultimately, all religious questions must be settled upon the foundation of Scripture. Feelings, opinions, what churches teach and practice, what religious leaders say, and such must be subjugated to what the Bible says. Those other standards may fail us. Scripture won’t!

Evangelism will always be intimidating because it ultimately calls for courage and conviction. Not every specific situation will be a success story, but if we can remind ourselves of our purpose on this earth and how much people need what we have learned we will act! And there will be success!

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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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TO THOSE WHO DIVIDE BRETHREN

Neal Pollard

—“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
—“A worthless person, a wicked man is one who…spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12,14).
—“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: …one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16,19).
—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12).
—“Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Prov. 26:26).
—“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
—“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).
—“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).
—“He who loves transgression loves strife…” (Prov. 17:19a).
—“Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).
—“An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (Prov. 28:25).

Suffice it to say, the Lord has not been silent on the matter. Our age is marked by the manufacturing and fanning the flames of controversy, endless argument, and divisive issues. Men seem to take pride in starting strife and stirring the pot. When we share the gospel, in gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24) and love (Eph. 4:15), it can still be met with devastating disagreement and vehement vituperation. But, thanks to mediums like social media, some among us have seized the platform to spread division where they could as easily work to promote love and unity among brethren.  I cannot presume heart or motives, but the fruit has been to start brotherhood brawls and to stratify schisms. It is worrisome that while we manufacture outrage on politics, race, law enforcement, “guilt by association,” nitpicking the church, or constantly bringing up the latest “what’s wrong with the church” scenario, 151,600 people die around the world every day (via http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/)! Most of that number will have traveled the broad way that leads to destruction. Surely we can redirect our passion and conviction away from divisive diversions and do our part to stem the tide of such an eternal tragedy!

Meanwhile, we can resolve to see people, not skin color, God’s sovereignty, not party affiliation or uniform, the local church’s autonomy, not an opportunity to be a busybody, and with every other, similar scenario, not major in the minors. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness while scrupulously focusing on matters comparatively minor (Mat. 23:23).  We have a brief time to use our talents and influence on this earth. Will our cause be social justice, brotherhood policing, or political activism, or will it be building up the kingdom through evangelism, edification, and benevolence? May God grant us all the wisdom to “not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Be a builder, not a basher!

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