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apostasy Christian living faithfulness immorality responsibility struggle Uncategorized

Ignoring The Symptoms

Neal Pollard

“What is that smell in the kitchen sink?” “Ah, honey, I’ll look at it, uh, soon.” “When?” “Uh…soon.” “It’s been like this for six month now, honey…honey, are you listening to me? Agh! Look, the drain is bubbling…”

“Mr. Smith, when did you first notice the mole discoloring and becoming asymmetrical?” “Well, um, I think it was last fall.” “Why did you wait a year to get this checked out? I’m pretty sure it’s cancer. To be straight with you, Mr. Smith, I don’t know how this will turn out for you.”

“Brother Jones, have you noticed that sister Blue is acting withdrawn?” “Yea, she lost her job last month and her children are grown and gone.” “Brother Jones, I’ve noticed that she’s recently stopped coming on Sunday nights.” “Yea, Brother Jackson, we need to go visit her this week.” “I know. We’ve been saying that…every week.” “Well, we’ll get there.”

May I suggest that none of these three scenarios is likely to turn out pleasantly? Yet, damage and expense to our material things, or even the loss of physical life to a dreaded disease, are not as devastating or frightening as the loss of a soul. The tragedy is that there are normally symptoms that accompany apostasy (i.e., turning away from the Lord). It is not enough to see the symptoms. We must respond in a timely manner.

One symptom is a decrease in faithful attendance. When individuals who would not miss a service choose to do something else, an alarm has been sounded. Something is replacing their dedication and commitment to Christ. When it is odd or noteworthy that someone is missing services, we need to respond with a card, call, or visit. Somehow, let them know they are missed. Do not lay this solely at the doorstep of preachers and elders. These folks need to be inundated with our concern. Run the risk of offending them. Why should they get offended at genuine brotherly love?

Another symptom is a decrease in reliability in doing church work. The tasks they once did and were counted on to do they no longer do with consistency. Maybe they felt unappreciated or overly burdened. Maybe they needed relief or at least a break. Or, maybe spiritual struggles and worldly concerns have overwhelmed them. Whatever explains the cause, respond to the effect. Tell them how important and special they are. Praise their work. Help them. Encourage them.

Yet another symptom is a change in behavior and withdrawal. This is perhaps the most common precursor and symptom in a spiritual struggle. Distancing themselves from the rest of the church family, a loss of enthusiasm for the church, worship, and/or its programs, and a change in personality within the congregation are all telling signs something isn’t right. We are taught that individuals in a marriage are constantly changing. Those same individuals fill our pews and participate in the church’s work. Let us never take each other for granted or ignore this symptom.

Ultimately, it is not the church’s responsibility to stand for an individual in the judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). Yet, we have a mutual responsibility to each other (1 Pet. 3:8). To borrow from the medical analogy above, when one member of the body hurts, we should all respond to help him or her (1 Cor. 12:26). Please do not be blind to the symptoms of those around you. Ask them how you can help. Do not let them spiritually die because of our neglect.

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faithfulness

“I Don’t Consider Myself Unfaithful”

Neal Pollard

An intelligent, independent young American man in his mid-20s showed up at the Siem Reap church building for mid-week services.  He not only grew up in the church, but he even attended a “Christian” high school and one of our brotherhood universities.  He is doing field research for an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, which brought him to Cambodia.  He is a decent, inquisitive person seemingly intent on bringing positive change to this world, but upon leaving his home state after graduating college he ceased association with the church.  When asked about his religious life, he said, “I don’t consider myself unfaithful, but I’m not attending the church right now.  I guess you could say I’m taking a break.”

Rather than being a “what’s wrong with young people is…” or “what’s wrong with the church is…” article, I want to think in terms of what faithfulness or unfaithfulness is.  Is it something we can gauge, and, if so, how?  Can we claim faithfulness but fail to demonstrate it?

The Bible speaks of the faithfulness of God, for example.  How do we know He is faithful?  Moses suggests we conclude such based on His work, ways, and attributes (Deut. 32:4). The psalmist points to His word and work (Psa. 33:4).  Faithfulness involved His working wonders and deliberately planning (Isa. 25:1).

In the same way, the Bible identifies faithfulness as something tangible and measurable, as visible as justice and mercy (Mat. 23:23), as demonstrable as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  The very word refers to loyalty and trustworthiness (Utley, np).  In Galatians 5:22, it “describes the believer’s new relationship with people, especially believers” (ibid.).  In this list, it is more than trust or belief.  The other eight words indicate ethical qualities, so this should be interpreted as such, too.  In other words, being faithful is seen by how we live and what we do.  Can we be faithful to Christ and His church when we do not attach ourselves to a local congregation, provoking others to love and good works as a manner of habit (Heb. 10:24-25).  If we are not seeking to build up one another (1 Th. 5:11) or cause the growth of the body (Eph. 4:16), how is that not unfaithful?  Twice in the gospels, Jesus tells parables concerning faithfully accomplish our Christian responsibilities (Mat. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). There could be no judgment and accountability without there being concrete ways to measure and determine faithfulness.

We do not get to define it for ourselves.  The Lord has already revealed what He considers faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  Ceasing to work for and worship Him, failing to encourage the spiritual family, and abstaining from such service as soul-winning and moral distinctiveness are tangible indicators that we have ceased from faithfulness.  Let us so live that in the end we can hear our Lord exclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat. 25:21,23).

Carl preaching at the mid-week service at Siem Reap church of Christ.
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apostasy Current Events

Flight 370 And Falling Away

Neal Pollard

We are now several days into an unspeakable tragedy that is equally mysterious.  Despite sophisticated tracking methods and multi-national radar, a Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared without warning or a trace on Saturday, March 8, 2014. The disappearance of Flight 370 is an enigma because “there are only a handful of scenarios that could explain how a usually reliable wide-body jet could seemingly vanish from a clear sky with no distress call and no obvious debris field” (Tracy Connor, NBC News online).  At this point, all experts have are theories—mechanical malfunction, bomb or explosion, hijacking, pilot error or sabotage (ibid.).  None of the theories is entirely satisfactory, however, and friends and family from 14 nations find no consolation or closure from this heretofore unsolved mystery.

Though it fails to make the news or be as dramatic, there are mysterious disappearances continuously occurring.  It is usually possible to physically find the missing, but it can be just as hard to understand exactly why they came to be “missing” all the same.  There are multiple causes, but that does little to bring consolation or satisfaction.  I am referring to Christians who fall away from faithfulness.

Some fall away because of structural problems, a failure on the part of the congregation or some negative influence within it (cf. Mat. 18:6).  Bad example, being a stumbling block, and thoughtless speech are ways we can contribute to a Christian falling.  Some fall away because of something that “explodes” or “blows up” in their lives—financially, relationally, emotionally, or the like (Luke 8:13).  Some fall away because their faith is hijacked, maybe by a false teacher or even a well-meaning family member who is bothered by their “changing religions” (cf. Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1).  Some simply fall away because of “pilot error”—their own failure to successfully navigate the difficulties of living the Christian life (Luke 8:14; Heb. 6:4-6).  No matter how it happens, it should be a source of sadness and concern to those of us still striving to walk in the light. More than that, we must become part of the search and rescue team.  Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:19-20 are just two of the passages that should convict and challenge us in this work.  Not even the loss of a single person should be considered acceptable loss.  Not with so much at stake and not given the high price Jesus paid for each and every soul!