Motivation For Attending Church Services

Motivation For Attending Church Services

Neal Pollard

“An Italian newspaper recently carried an interesting story about a young couple in Milan who had a wonderful attendance record at a particular cathedral. The priest assumed they were very devoted to their faith because they regularly spent an hour before one of the statues in the church’s worship area.  He thought they were doing some intense praying.  Only later did he discover the couple simply came to re-charge their cell phone from the electrical outlet behind the statue” (King Duncan, via Waterview, Richardson, TX, 3/16/14).

My first reaction to that was to chuckle, then be a little indignant, and then become introspective.  The thought that someone may come to church services for apparent honorable intentions but be serving some baser motive may be shocking, but it is not unheard of.  Jesus taught, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat. 15:9).  Jesus is quoting Isaiah, and it was a problem in that prophet’s day, too.  Think of what another prophet wrote.  Ezekiel said, “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain” (Ezek. 33:31).

When I come before the Great I Am, not only must I keep from distractions.  Deeper than that, I must examine my overall motivation for being at worship or serving the Lord.  Why am I a Christian?  Self-examination is as important as any spiritual exercise there is (2 Cor. 13:5).  Nobody else may know why we are before the Lord in worship, but He does.  May He see our motivation as transparent and true, honest and sincere!  

The End-Times

The End-Times

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

People all over the eschatological spectrum have been watching recent news events with bated breath. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine must be a sign of the “end-times.” To some, in the premillennial camp, Putin is an antichrist. Yes, he has military might and money. And he could undoubtedly become a global dictator ushering in “The Great Tribulation,” which those unlucky enough not to be raptured must endure before Christ sets up His earthly kingdom.  

But, to postmillennialist Pat Robertson, Putin fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy showing that “God is getting ready to do something amazing…”1Postmillennialism is more optimistic than premillennialism with its doom and gloom of the worst trials and tribulations the world has ever seen. So, first, the world will come to Christ, more or less. (Though Robertson believes it will involve warfare.) Then Jesus will set up a kingdom on earth, and we will enjoy a golden age.  

There is a big problem with this thinking, though. We have been in the “end-times” since about the day of Pentecost A.D. 30 or 33. In Acts 2, Jesus fulfilled His promise to pour the Spirit upon the apostles (John 16.7; Acts 2.33). Thus filled with the Spirit, the apostles began speaking in tongues, languages they had never studied. We know they were languages rather than unintelligible gibberish because the people listening to them were from various places. The people wondered why they could hear these Galileans speak their native tongues. Peter told them that it was a result of the pouring out of the Spirit upon men, something the prophet Joel wrote would happen during the “last days” (Acts 2.16-21; Joel 2.28-32).   

Hence, it has been the “end-times” for about 2,000 years. And what of the kingdom? It might surprise some to hear me say that the kingdom is here. Now, I hear even someone who has only dabbled in theological studies respond, “That just makes you an amillennialist.” No, that is a misnomer. That term means “no millennium” since the prefix “a” negates the following word. It is not a denial of a period of the kingdom’s reign; instead, the Scriptures demonstrate that we are not waiting for the kingdom’s establishment. Jesus told His disciples in Mark 9.1 that there would be those listening to Him who would not die until they had seen the kingdom arrive with power. Therefore, unless there are 2,000-year-old disciples, the kingdom is with us now. 

And the kingdom’s present reality is what the Bible teaches. In Revelations, the beloved apostle John wrote that he was already in the kingdom (Revelation 1.9). Furthermore, Paul thanked God for rescuing us from the “domain of darkness” and transferring us to the “kingdom of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1.13 NASB1995) And Jesus already sits upon His throne at the right hand of God. Note the penultimate verse of Mark’s Gospel: “So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Mark16.19 NASB1995) Jesus will remain on His throne until His enemies are defeated, the last of whom is death (1 Corinthians 15.24-26). 

I have only touched the hem of the garment on this issue. There is much more to be said. However, to paraphrase Jude, I had intended to write a different article but thought I should write this one in response to all the “end-times” talk caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Rather than fear the unfolding of events, take comfort in knowing that you have the ear of a King. Yes, Jesus now reigns and makes intercession for us (Romans 8.34).   

Sources Cited 

1 Warren, Steve. “’God Is Getting Ready to Do Something Amazing’: CBN Founder Pat Robertson on Russia and Its Place in Prophecy.” CBN News, CBN News, 1 Mar. 2022, www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2022/february/god-is-getting-ready-to-do-something-amazing-founder-pat-robertson-on-russia-and-its-place-in-prophecy

Can These Dry Bones Live Again?

Can These Dry Bones Live Again?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail 

blond man with goatee smiling at camera with blazer on
Dale Pollard

Six hundred years before Christ would make His providential appearance, a righteous man finds himself in captivity. While exiled, Ezekiel was able to witness the spirit of God in a very intimate way (Ezekiel 1). Even so, he was still living under the thumb of the Babylonians like every other Israelite with him. While under these unideal circumstances though, he is privileged to see awe inspiring visions from God. Have you ever paid attention to the eerie sensations described throughout this book? In Ezekiel 1:4, the prophet feels a great and stormy wind on the bank of the river Chebar. The wind brings with it a massive cloud with fire flashing around it and a substance like glowing metal in the center of it. The wings of the creatures he saw (verse 24) made sounds like that of roaring waters. The voice of the Almighty was like the sound of a great army camp. What sights he was able to see! This great connection to God didn’t take away his pain or sorrow, though.

Chapter 19 is one long lament as Ezekiel cries over his hard-hearted Israelite brothers. Why won’t they listen to him? Even after Ezekiel performs some radical visual illustrations like eating his bread over dung and laying on his side for an entire year, they won’t respond to the “invitation.” How frustrating is that, preachers? God never abandons His faithful servant but His confused prophet is still left to wonder what God is going to do about the mess which makes up his reality. A familiar feeling for many faithful Christians today.  

Never underestimate the hand of the Almighty. This truthful statement can be pulled from Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is taken up and then placed in the middle of a dark valley. Ezekiel is surrounded on all sides by heaps of dry human bones and he’s probably wondering why in the world God has taken him to such a place. The text answers the question by asking a question. God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Can these dry bones live again?” What an odd thing to ask. However, Ezekiel responds, “Only you know, oh Lord.”

It’s always when we’re deep in the valleys of life that we’re forced to answer the difficult questions about God’s abilities. When we’re surrounded by darkness, the question we have to ask is, “Does God have the power to see me through this?” If you remember, Ezekiel has become frustrated with the fact that Israel just won’t listen to him or Him. He’s lost hope in their ability to change— they’re just too far gone. However, God demonstrates to His prophet in a dramatic way that NOTHING is impossible for Him. 

He doesn’t bring the bones to life in the blink of an eye, but we know He could have. Instead, He allows Ezekiel to hear those bones rattle and to hear the sounds of fibers and flesh sticking together. He wanted to leave an impression on Ezekiel to demonstrate the might of the Almighty. Ezekiel had no idea how those bones came to life, but he knew one thing for certain. God did it. You may not understand why God has allowed you to enter your valley, but you can be certain that He has the power to see you through. You are standing on your two feet because God has given you the strength to do so. God has promised His faithful servants a heavenly light at the end of our tunnels and whatever God says— He will always accomplish (Ezekiel 37:14). 

Everything You Want

Everything You Want

 Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

There is a rite of passage dreaded by aging music fans; It is the day that your favorite music, your youth’s music, becomes relegated to a niche station on platforms like satellite radio. Fortunately, music providers have found more creative ways of marketing such specialty stations than slapping the “classic” or “oldies” label upon it. Instead, you are now a member of an exclusive club of people with exquisite musical taste. Yes, I am such a club member, and I listened to “my station” while running errands. The unofficial theme of my present love life began playing on the radio: “Everything You Want.” As one who finds illustrations in practically everything, I started drawing religious parallels. However, before you can understand those parallels, I first need to fill you in about the song. 

“Everything You Want” was released by the alternative rock band Vertical Horizon in 1999 and became a hit in July of 2000. It became Billboard’s Most Played Single of 2000. Matt Scannell, the songwriter, explained that an ex-girlfriend inspired the song. She looked for love and acceptance everywhere but the person who loved her the most. Obviously, as a listener unaware of the backstory, I interpreted the song differently. I thought of those times when a member of the fairer sex made an offhanded comment about wanting to meet someone “just like” me. (I seem to live in a place called “the friend zone.”) I wished to reply, “Why do you want ‘just like’ when the original is available?” Unrequited love can be frustrating, as it has been for me, or sad, as with the songwriter. 

Would it surprise you to know God experienced unrequited love too? God compared Himself to the husband of two faithless women, Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23.1ff). Elsewhere, Solomon admitted his spiritual infidelity in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon looked for happiness and contentment in EVERYTHING but what ultimately mattered. After his vain pursuit of such things, Solomon says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (Ecclesiastes 12.13 NASB1995) The famous baseball player-turned-preacher, Billy Sunday, once summed up such people as Oholah, Oholibah, and Solomon. They have only enough religion to make them miserable. Sunday added, “If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.” Indeed. The problem lies not with the Bridegroom but the bride. Yes, if there is no love for Him, or our love has faded, the fault lies in us.  

How do we show our love for the Bridegroom? He says we show our love by keeping His commandments (John 14.15). Is it that simple? Yes, obedience springs from the mindset of putting God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). We stray when we look for fulfillment elsewhere. And for the one yet to put on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3.27), the preference is for another whom he or she believes can bring similar joy: “The love of God enamors me, but the world gives me pleasure without requiring ‘burdensome’ commandment-keeping.” Jesus assures us that His yoke is not a burden (Matthew 11.28-30). As Saul discovered on the road to Damascus, we only hurt ourselves when we fight against that yoke. Jesus told Saul that he was kicking against the sharpened sticks (i.e., goads) used to pen cattle (Acts 26.14). Thus, I urge you, whether you have left your first love like Ephesus (Revelation 2.4) or have not confessed your love for the Savior, that you don’t ignore the Greatest Love you have ever known or can ever know (John 3.16). 

It may seem odd to close devotional thoughts out with secular lyrics, but I will do so anyway. I pray that you do not find a relevant metaphor for your relationship with Jesus Christ in these lyrics. He loves you. Don’t make His an unrequited love: 

“He’s everything you want 
He’s everything you need 
He’s everything inside of you 
That you wish you could be 
He says all the right things 
At exactly the right time 
But he means nothing to you 
And you don’t know why.” 

Works Consulted 

“Vertical Horizon.” Billboard, Billboard Media, LLC, www.billboard.com/music/Vertical-Horizon/chart-history/HSI/song/67304

Erica. “Out and About in Jax.” Out and About in Jax: Interview with Lead Singer of Vertical Horizon Matt Scannell, Blogger, 18 Nov. 2010, web.archive.org/web/20120326110903/www.outandaboutinjax.com/2010/11/interview-with-lead-singer-of-vertical.html

“Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want Lyrics.” MetroLyrics, MetroLyrics, www.metrolyrics.com/everything-you-want-lyrics-vertical-horizon.html

 

A Message From The Rattling Bones

A Message From The Rattling Bones

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

Six hundred years before Christ would make His providential appearance, a righteous man finds himself in captivity. While exiled, Ezekiel, was able to witness the spirit of God in a very intimate way (Ezekiel 1). Even so, he was still living under the thumb of the Babylonians like every other Israelite with him. While under these unideal circumstances though, he is privileged to see awe-inspiring visions from God. Have you ever paid attention to the eerie sensations described throughout this book? In Ezekiel 1:4 the prophet feels a great and stormy wind on the bank of the river Chebar. The wind brings with it a massive cloud with fire flashing around it and a substance like glowing metal in the center of it. The wings of the creatures he saw (verse 24) made sounds like that of roaring waters. The voice of the Almighty was like the sound of a great army camp. What sights he was able to see! This great connection to God didn’t take away his pain or sorrow, though.

 Chapter 19 is one long lament as Ezekiel cries over his hardhearted Israelite brothers. Why won’t they listen to him? Even after Ezekiel performs some radical visual illustrations like eating his bread over dung and laying on his side for an entire year, they won’t respond to the “invitation.” How frustrating is that, preachers? God never abandons His faithful servant, but His confused prophet is still left to wonder what God is going to do about the mess which makes up his reality. A familiar feeling for many faithful Christians today.  

Never underestimate the hand of the Almighty. This truthful statement can be pulled from Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is taken up and then placed in the middle of a dark valley. Ezekiel is surrounded on all sides by heaps of dry human bones and he’s probably wondering why in the world God has taken him to such a place. The text answers the question by asking a question. God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Can these dry bones live again?” What an odd thing to ask. However, Ezekiel responds, “Only you know, O Lord.”

 It’s always when we’re deep in the valley’s of life that we’re forced to answer the difficult questions about God’s abilities. When we’re surrounded by darkness, the question we have to ask is, “Does God have the power to see me through this?” If you remember, Ezekiel has become frustrated with the fact that Israel just won’t listen to him or Him. He’s lost hope in their ability to change— they’re just too far gone. However, God demonstrates to His prophet in a dramatic way that NOTHING is impossible for Him. 

He doesn’t bring the bones to life in the blink of an eye, but we know He could have. Instead, He allows Ezekiel to hear those bones rattle and to hear the sounds of fibers and flesh sticking together. He wanted to leave an impression on Ezekiel to demonstrate the might of the Almighty. Ezekiel had no idea how those bones came to life, but he knew one thing for certain. God did it. You may not understand why God has allowed you to enter your valley, but you can be certain that He has the power to see you through. You are standing on your two feet because God has given you the strength to do so. God has promised His faithful servants a heavenly light at the end of our tunnels and whatever God says— He will always accomplish (Ezekiel 37:14). 

Elders Who Shepherd

Elders Who Shepherd

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

There was a problem with the shepherds of Ezekiel’s day. They tended to their own needs, but not the flock’s (34:2-3). There were tangible needs and problems, but these shepherds sinned by omission (34:4). The sheep were scattered and these shepherds did not work to get them back or save them from predators (34:5-6). Then, God through Ezekiel utters these harrowing words: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep” (34:10). 

In the New Testament, Paul tells the elders of the church at Ephesus to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Guard the flock, watch over the flock, and shepherd the flock. What a weighty work! To be on guard means “to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately” (Louw-Nida 332). An overseer has the responsibility of seeing to the spiritual safety and proper conduct first of themselves but also of those they watch over (Arndt 379). The idea of shepherding indicates care, concern, love, provision, relationship and intimacy, knowledge, and familiarity (see Kittel et al 902ff). These lexicographers who define what Bible words mean give insight into what elders are to be like as they do this crucial work. Isn’t it incredible and encouraging to see spiritual, albeit inevitably imperfect, men who “aspire to the office of overseer” (1 Tim. 3:1)?

Yesterday is a day I’ll never forget. We tagged along with three elders and their wives as they went around to 26 houses of members of our congregation. Exercising due caution under the current medical crisis, they nonetheless drove to see members young, old, and in-between. They visited with, sang to, and prayed for so many face to face, delivering Dana’s delicious baked goods. Seeing their enthusiasm to do this and watching the genuine joy on their faces as they served and ministered was a blessing that will stoke my spiritual fire for a long time to come. 

But, that’s just what I got to see. I’m not seeing the other times they’ve done this. I’m not there as they’re making so many phone calls to everyone. Over the weekend, they met together for several hours to strategize about a reopening and communication plan not just to get back to “normal” but to thrive and grow as we go into the future. Another of the elders has since spent hours piecing together that plan to provide clear communication to the church. 

All of them work full-time jobs and are hard workers. All of them have families to love and care for. All of them have hobbies and interests. But, all of them have Christ in the center of their hearts and lives. That last fact is what drives them to know about, care about, and reach out to the sheep. 

Thank God for the many churches who are being shepherded through unprecedented times like these by engaged, concerned, and involved shepherds. Church growth, doctrinal soundness, examples of Christ-centered living, and so much more depend on elders who shepherd. Will you take the names of your shepherds to the throne of God each day, imitate their faith, and assist them in their work? They are a vital part of God’s plan to touch and transform eternity! 

elders
Only ten in this group picture!