“BLESSED”

“BLESSED”

Neal Pollard

I’ve never known a day when I didn’t live in a “preacher’s home.” “Preacher’s homes” are very much like every other home–problems, inside jokes, traditions, hobbies and interests, sin, laughter–except the chosen profession of the father is to serve either full-time or part-time as a proclaimer of God’s Word. At times, the home I grew up in was made of figurative glass, meaning I was occasionally subjected to unfair favoritism and criticism.  Kathy, also a lifetime resident of a “preacher’s home,” knows that feeling, too. Then, we subjected our sons to the exact same thing!

Whenever we are asked about what it is like to live this unique life (and lifestyle), different words would be appropriate:

  • Challenging–There can be elevated expectations and unrealistic assumptions about the preacher’s personal life, marriage, parenting, and the like. What Shakespeare’s Jewish character says of his people in the “Merchant of Venice” applies: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” Life’s pressures and temptations visit our homes, too. 
  • Lonely–Occasionally, we feel alone and stand alone because of the message we preach. Usually, it’s not others who make us feel this way, but an innate part of the life.
  • Ordinary–Most preachers probably love to hear church members and those in the community say, “You’re just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.” To be genuine and real is, in my view, a worthy aim. See the opening paragraph.

But, please understand that the most fitting, usual words used to describe the life in preaching are positive, superlative words and phrases–“important,” “exciting,” “fulfilling,” “full,” “rewarding,” “humbling,” “meaningful,”and “uplifting.” Yesterday, we said “so long” to one of God’s greatest churches as we prepare to move to work with another one. I asked Kathy to describe a one-word assessment that best described how she felt in light of the generous words and acts from our spiritual family throughout the day. She used words like “Overwhelmed,” “grateful,” and “touched.” But then, scanning her brilliant mind as if to find that perfect summary word (as she usually does), she simply said, “Blessed.” 

We’ve been blessed by a lifetime of living the “preacher life.” Blessed by 27 years of full-time preaching. Blessed by 13 years of preaching at Bear Valley. Blessed by the opportunity to preach in this “next chapter” of life at Lehman Avenue. Blessed, as cracked pots (2 Cor. 4:7), to be used by the Master Potter. Far from a perfect life, it is certainly a blessed life. 

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Thank you, Bear Valley, for your many acts of kindness–yesterday and for the entirety of our time with you in Colorado. We love you and will miss you!
The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

Neal Pollard

May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:

Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?

Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.

For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.

I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.

When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.

Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”

  • He loved his family. He wasn’t gregarious, but rather reserved. Yet, he taught his family the right way to live and how to face death, to know what ultimately counts, what was right and what was wrong.
  • He had a sense of adventure. From semipro baseball as a teen to seeing the entire country in retirement, a lifelong cotton farmer had a wider view of the world. He came of age in the depression and endured some terrible grief, but no one could remember hearing him complain. 
  • He worked hard. He wasn’t a waster of resources, least of all time. He was up with the sun and down with the sunset. He instilled that work ethic in his children and grandchildren. 
  • He put Christ above all else. As a Christian, he took what the Bible guided him to do and be in life at face value. His life went beyond mere rule-keeping. He kept the rules, but he loved the rule-maker. You could see Jesus living in him.
  • He was ready to die. That’s the most important thing any of us could have said of us.

I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.

Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?

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Papaw (L) and Uncle Larry (my mom’s older brother), probably between 30-40 years ago.
A Strong Sense Of Family

A Strong Sense Of Family

Neal Pollard

Trevor Matich was being interviewed on ESPN radio, asked about why he thought that Clemson had built such a strong football program in the last few years. His quick response was, “They have built a strong sense of family.” He talked about how Head Coach Dabo Sweeney and his staff wanted players to see their coaches not just as coaches but also as husbands and fathers. Consequently, the coaches’ families spend a lot of time around the athletic facilities or hanging out with the players. They have intentionally built a strong family environment that doesn’t compartmentalize but rather coalesces. Recruits talk about sensing it when they make a visit, but, more importantly, players on the roster speak just as strongly about it. 

How many teams make such an emphasis isn’t clear, but you don’t seem to hear that said often enough. While I find such human interest stories heartwarming, it makes me wonder, “Do people describe our congregation with similar terminology?” Are we creating, developing, and nurturing a strong sense of family?

The early church definitely majored in that priority. From the time the first church of our Savior was established, we find this emphasis (Acts 2:42-47). Often, New Testament writers spoke of the church with family terminology (Eph. 2:19; 3:15; 1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1-2; Ti. 2:1-8; etc.). The church exists as a sub-community within the broader community around them. People from that broader community are looking for greater intimacy and meaningful relationships. One place they often turn is to various churches. Whether through our efforts to evangelize or through their seeking that brings them within our walls, we have an opportunity to expose them to a “strong sense of family.” 

But, by being faithful to New Testament teaching, we offer this in the context of truth rather than error. We cannot settle for simply offering truth, as eternally vital as that is. Along with it, we must love, embrace, and work to incorporate them into our family. God has His church designed to follow His written will in the context of a tight-knit, spiritual family. A true sense of family will draw them into a relationship with us. It will better open their hearts and minds to being drawn into a relationship with Christ. The net effect will be greater than a national championship. It will be many, many souls won to eternal life. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to be spiritual family!

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Dabo in his early days at Clemson
Be Patient!

Be Patient!

Neal Pollard

In James 5:7, James gives us some specific instructions concerning being patient. It is said as a response to those whose patience was being inflamed by the sinful actions of those in James 5:1-6. In just a few words, James has some pretty exhaustive instruction.

He addresses the who—“Be patient brethren.” There’s an ethic and morality expected of those in God’s family that is more than for everyone else.  Almost every use of the word “brethren” in the New Testament is addressed to Christians. As light-shiners and salt-spreaders, we must exhibit patience with others and especially other Christians.

He addresses the when—This command has a duration (an expiration date)—“Until the coming of the Lord.” How long are we to remember Christ in the Lord’s Supper? 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “Until He comes.” How long was Thyatira to hold onto what they had? Revelation 2:25 says, “Until Jesus would come.” How long was Corinth to refrain from unrighteously judging one another? 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Until the Lord comes. You don’t encounter this phrase very often, but every time it regards a matter of significance.  There will not come a point in time when you can cease being patient—it’s as long as you live or until Christ comes again, whichever comes first.

He addresses the howYou’ve got to strengthen your heart (be inwardly committed, cause to be more firm in attitude or belief).  James is saying, “Steel yourself because this is going to get hard sometimes.” When I think of people who have fallen away from the Lord, I think of conversations with people who say they gave up on the church or the elders or the preacher. They weren’t responsive enough, caring enough, or too nosy or not what they needed when they needed it.  But ultimately this means these fallen ones weren’t firm and unchanging within.

He addresses the why“The coming of the Lord is near.” Don’t focus on a time element here, but on the need to endure for as long as the time is. It’s constantly drawing nearer, not in a chronological sense, but an expectation and assurance that we expect it any time. I don’t want to be caught living in a state of impatience with my brethren. If I am, it means I’ve lost focus on Christ’s second coming!

I need to be convicted that impatience is not “no big deal.” James ties it to spiritual harmony, divine superintendence, and eternal safety. We can’t chalk up failure in this area as just our makeup, personality, and temperament. We must be obedient to the heavenly injunction and “be patient”!

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Proud Of My Father 

Proud Of My Father 

Dale Pollard

I was cleaning out the basement and found a box of old photos. You know the kind of photos I’m talking about. Cheesy, dated, and awkward family photos. There was a reason we had them hidden in the darkest corner of our house. They weren’t worthy to be put on display, but they were also too precious to merely throw away. As I flipped through them, I stumbled across some ancient photos of my dad. In one picture he had an afro and this corny smile on his face. In another picture, my dad was standing by an old pickup truck wearing a long and baggy cut-off T- shirt. He had 80’s frame glasses on with large lenses, and a truckers hat that barely sat on his head.

To most people, those were embarrassing pictures. To most people, those were things that I should hang my head in shame over. But you know, all I felt was pride. I was so proud of who I came from, and as weird as he looked, I sat there defending his fashion choices in my mind. I’m proud to be the grandson of a preacher and the son of a preacher. But, there is nothing that fills me with more pride than the fact that I am a child of God.

There are so many reasons that I’m proud of that fact, but here is the main reason… because He loves me more than I deserve. Our sins put Christ on the cross. It was my sin problem that made Jesus cry out in agony, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). When we commit sin, we are participating in the very thing that Christ came to die for. And yet, despite all of that, my God loves me. My Father has still taken me in. He has shown unconditional love, a love stronger than any mortal could show. My Heavenly Father has offered salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and a hope of eternal glory.

I’m proud to be a child of God.

Dale is the associate minister of the Forrest Park church of Christ in Valdosta, Georgia. 

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One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

Neal Pollard

There are few statements or pronouncements that are clearer than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9, yet perhaps none, in our current culture, is more intimidating to state. Jesus contrasts His will on marriage, divorce, and remarriage with the already existent stance of the Law of Moses. He says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (19:8-9).  From this brief response (the Pharisees ask the question, testing Him in verse three), we see:

  • The teaching transcends time and culture—“From the beginning…and I say to you”
  • The teaching transcends all other authority—“I say”
  • The teaching transcends only believers—“Whoever”
  • The teaching transcends the caveats and conditions men have tried to place on the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (not the specific law with its exception).

Yet, despite the clarity of Jesus on the subject, in the spirit of Christ we want to always approach this with utmost compassion, patience, and tenderness. Souls are at stake. Often, children are involved. Emotions are inevitably involved. A cold, callous treatment of people’s lives will surely draw Divine disapproval. That’s why Jesus’ stated position on this matter is one of the hardest to take. But, that cannot mean that we refuse to stand with Him in His teaching. However, we should ask why it is so hard to stand where the Bible stands on this matter?

—Learned men have stated different positions from this.
—Divorce is so prevalent in our culture.
—All of us have family members who are in marriages that violate Matthew 19:9.
—Marriage involves one of mankind’s greatest drives and needs (cf. Gen. 2:18-25).
—Leadership in more and more congregations refuse to deal with marriage, divorce, and     remarriage in the classroom, pulpit, or the hands-on shepherding of the local church.
—Few of us relish the role of being “the bad guy” (the one who has to break heartbreaking news to husbands and wives).

I could lengthen the list of reasons, and you could add several to it, but if the list grew to hundreds of reasons, we have one sobering, gut-wrenching question to ask, “Do any of them nullify the strength of Jesus’ teaching?” If Matthew 19:9 were not in the Bible, fewer preachers would have lost jobs, fewer elders would have lost favor, and fewer churches would have seen members go to congregations accommodating their marriages. But, Jesus warned that His way was difficult (cf. Matt. 7:14). He tells aghast disciples that discipleship requires whatever sacrifice is necessary to follow Him (Matt. 19:10-12). That message must be shared lovingly, gently, and patiently. There can be no other way (cf. Eph. 4:15). The harsh, unkind, or mean-spirited will deal with the Judge of all (cf. 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1). However, what will be the case for those who neglect, change, or distort what Scripture says to accommodate people? Perhaps there’s no way to ask that question without evoking a visceral reaction from those who have reinterpreted Jesus’ words, but in light of eternity it must be asked. Balance looks for biblical truth in between unbiblical extremes. However unpleasant a position that may put us in, that is the place we must always humbly stand. But, the only enduring place to stand is on the rock solid foundation of Christ (cf. Mat. 7:24-27; 1 Co. 3:11). God give us loving, but courageous, hearts to stand there.

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Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Neal Pollard

In the annals of American history there is a remarkable story you may not know.  Daniel Bakeman was born on October 9, 1759.  He married Susan Brewer on August 29, 1772, though not yet a teenager.  Soon thereafter, he joined the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Not only did he survive the war, he lived almost another 100 years.  When he died on April 5, 1869, he was most likely the last surviving veteran of the war that made us a country.  He lived about four years after the end of the Civil War.  As remarkable as that distinction is, he also was part of another world record that still stands to this day.  His marriage to Susan lasted until September 10, 1863, when she passed away.  That means the Bakemans were married for 91 years and 12 days!

I cannot find anything about the details of that marriage, though they left many descendants who carry, through various spellings of the family name, the names Bachman, Beckman, Bakeman, Bateman, and even Baker (genealogytrails.com).  Various archives indicate that Mr. Bakeman was spry and humorous to the end and that Mrs. Bakeman exhibited needlework she had done without the aid of glasses when she was 102.  They lived and died in a town called Freedom, and Mr. Wakeman holds the distinction of having voted in every election from Washington to Grant!

As remarkable as his military distinction is, his marriage distinction deserves higher honor.  He fought in and survived a war that lasted less than ten years.  He endured hardships, who knows how many ups and downs, and undoubtedly some trying marital moments en route to almost a century of marital bliss.  They were together to the end, an exaggerated example of commitment and highest love.

You will almost certainly fail to break the Bakemans’ record for length of marriage, but you might exceed what they enjoyed for depth and breadth.  What are you doing to build upon the highest love for your spouse?  What daily investments are you making?  Your marriage will be remembered by those who know you.  How it will be remembered is something over which you exert full control.  Make it a legacy of lasting love!

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What Keeps People From Salvation?

What Keeps People From Salvation?

Neal Pollard

  • Ignorance: They have not learned how to be saved
  • Fear: They know the potential cost of being saved
  • Pride: They do not want to admit they are not saved
  • Loyalty: They fear that they will be tacitly condemning those they care for if they are saved
  • Comfort: They do not want to do what it takes to be saved
  • Emotion: They feel they are saved
  • Guilt: They do not believe they can be saved
  • Prejudice: They cannot see the necessity of following what certain scriptures say they must do to be saved
  • Sin: They enjoy something(s) too much to surrender in order to be saved
  • Self: They want to follow their own terms to be saved
  • Blindness: They cannot see through their religious traditions and doctrines in order to be saved
  • Responsibilities: They are too busy with life to be saved

So many more excuses might be given by someone who refuses to do what God says to do in order to be saved, but whatever excuse is given overlooks the fact that God allowed no excuse to keep Him from sending His Son, that Christ allowed no excuse to keep Him from going to the cross, that the Holy Spirit allowed no excuse to keep Him from revealing to us through the Bible how to be saved, that the apostles and early Christians allowed no excuse to keep them from sharing and doing God’s will for salvation (even at the cost of their lives), and that so many throughout time have not allowed these same excuses to keep them from obeying the gospel to be saved. Salvation is so important, eternity is so long, the soul is so precious, sin is so destructive, the devil is so ravenous, and the world is so wrong that we must remove every barrier that might stand in our way. If we were to write down our reason for not being saved and keep it until the day of judgment, how valid and reasonable would it sound as we conveyed it to Christ? If we would not want to tell Him then, let’s not let it keep us from Him now.  “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).

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Not Enough Room On A Short Pew

Not Enough Room On A Short Pew

Neal Pollard

I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew.  The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews.  They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.

I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was!  This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.

It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.

What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it.  Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!

Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

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FORGOTTEN FRUIT

FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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