Do You Know The Magnitude Of Your Debt?

Do You Know The Magnitude Of Your Debt?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Do you have a “debt problem”? According to credit service, Experian, the average credit card debt per household is $5,315 (Wallethub puts it at $7,849). Renting money comes at a high cost with exorbitant interest.  Perhaps you or a loved one have faced an enormous debt, medical costs, business or student loans, or a mortgage that made for uncomfortable living? Most of us know how that feels, to one degree or another. We don’t like the thought of owing someone. It gives them power and control over us (read Prov. 22:7). Perhaps you are one of those who can say that you don’t owe anyone–not the credit card companies, the mortgage company, the automobile dealers, etc. But you are still in debt! So am I. 

Luke reveals a dinner party with a very diverse cast of characters (Luke 7:36-50). There’s Simon, a Pharisee, who plays host (36). There are several dinner guests (49), but sinless Jesus, God in the flesh, is the guest of honor (36). Then, there was a woman who crashed the party, whose name Luke doesn’t give us but who instead is identified by her lifestyle–“a woman in the city who was a sinner” (37). The Pharisees were the custodians of the Old Law (Mat. 23:2). Simon would be a man of great reputation, one who we’d think would not be the indebted type. This unnamed woman was the opposite. 

Such is the setting that allows Jesus to drive home a powerful point about debt. The woman, with a visibly enormous, spiritual debt, spends money (Mark and John record a similar incident where the contents were worth as much as 300 denarii, or almost a year’s wages), sacrifices dignity, submits humble service, and shows significant emotion (37-38). Apparently, “who” she was was well-known and she had nothing to lose and everything to gain. She is the picture of transparency and need.

Apparently, Simon is at the other end of the spectrum, physically, socially, and, at least on the surface, spiritually. In fact, he sits in judgment of Jesus for allowing the woman to be so familiar with Him, thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who & what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (39). 

Jesus, able to read Simon’s thoughts, uses them as a launching point to teach that vital point about spiritual indebtedness. He shares the parable of two debtors. There was a disparity between the two debts, but neither could repay what they owed. The lender forgives both debts, no strings attached. Who would feel the greater depth of gratitude and affection? The answer is obvious, and Jesus makes application.

He points to how humbly and freely the woman expresses her love and appreciation to Jesus, while Simon is negligent in all the ways she was demonstrative. Jesus points out that this is about faith and forgiveness (47-50). The Lord doesn’t deny that the magnitude of the woman’s sinfulness is enormous (47), but He fully and freely forgives her. Simon’s disadvantage is not as apparent, but is definitely serious. Was he prideful? Self-righteous? Judgmental? There are definitely signs of such struggles in his life. 

It is dangerous to live a life of sin and rebellion against God’s will. Too many never come to grips with their need for faith and forgiveness. But, it is at least as dangerous to be blind to our sin problem or to rationalize and minimize its effect upon our lives. This woman teaches us to be transparent with God and others, to acknowledge our debt, to ask the only one capable of forgiving it to do so, and then to live with humble gratitude and renewed resolve and purpose. Because, whether we admit it or not, we all have an insurmountable debt we cannot repay without His help. 

Almighty God

Almighty God

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Pollard

The world’s most powerful engine is mind blowing. It stands 44 feet tall, is 90 feet long and weighs 2,300 tons. It’s capable of producing 109,000 horse power, and over 5,000,000 foot pounds of torque. To say this is a powerful engine is an understatement. 

You can take the most powerful engine in the world and it pales in comparison to the power of God. This engine could never speak a world into existence, this engine could never raise someone from the dead, and this engine could never forgive sins and give us the hope of eternal life. 

Paul would tell us in Ephesians 1:19-20, “…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

Notice Paul’s description of this power: 

  • It is “exceedingly great”
  • It is shown toward those who believe
  • It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God. 

Paul shows us how this power is given to those who believe in chapter 2:1-6. This power made us alive when we were dead. Colossians 2:12-13 tells us that those who were spiritually dead are now spiritually alive because of God’s power. 

As Christians we must understand the power and might of God. 

Do we understand what God could do to the world? Do we understand that God’s power is the only reason we are here today? Paul prays that we might know the power of God, and that that knowledge should shape our every thought and action here on earth. 

Wärtsilä RT-flex96C engine
Four Waves On The Sea Of Life

Four Waves On The Sea Of Life

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

For whatever reason, I have been fascinated with stories of maritime disaster. I have read about the Titanic, but have even read more closely about the Lusitania, the Edmund Fitzgerald, the HMS Hood (for more, click here), and more. Perhaps few things could conjure up more fear than the thought of being thrust into a cold, deep ocean with no way to stay afloat, subject to attack and almost certain drowning. Poets have drawn upon such imagery, but so do the psalm writers. Read Psalm 42:7 or Psalm 69:2, 14-15 or Psalm 88:7. It is also the way Psalm 130 begins.

It seems to me that the writer is depicting the rolling waves we encounter in life, the ups and downs and the good and bad. How will I respond when I am in the storm, whether a literal storm, a storm others bring upon me or a storm I bring upon myself? What will I do when the winds have subsided and the storm has passed? Let’s look at this psalm as depicting four successive waves. 

APPREHENSION: Our Cries And Supplications (1-2)

(Wave One)

We find the writer in a watery valley, looking up at a high, but descending, wave. It causes him to cry out and voice his pleas and supplications. The crisis may be financial, medical, familial, personal, or spiritual. It may seem like the world is crashing in on top of you. Do you sink in waves of worry, fear, and doubt? Or do you cry out to God for help? The writer sets an example for us, when we feel like we will be buried by trouble!

TRANSGRESSION: Our Iniquities And Unforgiven Sins (3-4)

(Wave Two)

Though the writer moves away from the metaphor, the idea continues. When you wade in the ocean and reach a shelf, you can no longer put your feet on the bottom. You can sink or swim, but you cannot stand. Verse three asks, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The question is rhetorical, but a lifesaver is thrown! “But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” Perhaps better imagery is to see the Omnipotent Hand of God reaching into the deep, grabbing our outstretched, up- stretched hand! Perhaps self-inflicted trouble, our sins, cause us to sink deeper than any other trouble. 

EXPECTATION: Our Waiting And Hoping (5-7a)

(Wave Three)

Perhaps we could envision this as one floating to the top or having their head come up out of the water. The writer uses two significant, connected words–“wait” and “hope.” Help is coming! Just wait. Hope. You’re trusting, praying, studying, serving, and enduring. Maybe you feel like you’re holding onto a splintered plank that’s separating in the aftermath of your shipwreck, but you hear the sound of the rescue vessel humming on the waters. You know Who is at the helm, so you hang on!

REALIZATION: Our Mercy And Redemption (7-8)

(Wave Four)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could be coaxed off a massive barge onto a rickety rowboat. But, most of us would make the exchange in the opposite scenario. Yet, the world clings to the leaky carrier of lostness when the ship of salvation is within reach. The writer calls heaven’s help “lovingkindness” and “abundant redemption.” This is the way I want to view the tumultuous waves of this world, from the safety of God’s saving grace. Resting in His everlasting arms, I can experience confidence and assurance at life’s worst while keeping my focus on Him at life’s best! 

You are probably facing, enduring, or looking back at one of those first three waves right now. We sometimes singing, “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal, chart and compass came from Thee, Jesus, Savior, pilot me.” We are echoing the sentiments of the psalmist in Psalm 130. Wherever you are in life, be sure you are letting Him lift and lead you! It’s the only way to reach eternal safety (John 14:6)! 

A Bear Attack And Two Blind Men

A Bear Attack And Two Blind Men

Thursday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Hugh Glass decided to live the difficult and adventurous life of a fur trapper and pioneer. He embarked on an expedition to North Dakota in early August, 1823. The vast wilderness of the Badlands set the stage for the events that transformed him from a man to a legend. North Dakota, also known as the “Rough Rider State,” would not reach it’s statehood for another sixty five years. In these wild days thousands of buffalo still roamed the endless plains and were hunted by the Native American tribes, of which were the Mandan tribe. Hugh Glass and his men would encounter the Mandan early on in their expedition and a skirmish would ensue. Hugh would emerge alive, but not unscathed. Before his wound had time to heal, the largest predator on earth, the Grizzley Bear— nearly takes his life. The nature of his gruesome injuries were such that two men were ordered to remain with Glass until he met a seemingly inevitable end. Due to either their impatience or threatening weather, the two men hurriedly dig a shallow grave, lower Hugh inside— and leave. But Hugh wasn’t dead. He claws out of his grave and over the next two months he would make a grueling three hundred mile trek to Fort Kiowa near modern day Chamberlain. His will to live was matched by his determination to wreak revenge on the two who had prematurely laid him to rest. For the time being, however, Hugh found himself on his hands and knees making agonizingly slow progress but— he inches forward. 

In the months to follow Hugh Glass would make a full recovery and in that time, he also forgives the wrongs that were done to him. He had buried his grudge and unlike him— it would remain buried (source). 

While the long journey of Hugh Glass took a great deal of grit and resolve, the journey Jesus made from Jericho to Jerusalem is far more inspiring.

 When we get to Matthew 20 the cross is already on our Savior’s mind. The following chapters will focus on the teachings of Jesus and the moments leading up to the His ultimate sacrifice. We won’t read about miraculous healings after this point, but the final healing that Jesus makes on that walk from Jericho to Jerusalem, is a special one. 

Ahead of Jesus and one excited crowd, are two men intently listening on the side of the road. They’re blind. They survive off of the charity that’s shown to them by a minority. As Jesus draws ever closer they begin to yell in desperation for His attention. There are some in the crowd, perhaps those closest to them on their side of the road, who scold them. 

Can’t these sad beggars see that Jesus has more pressing matters on His mind? 

The rebukes don’t quiet the men from calling out; in fact, they raise their voices above the crowd. Christ wasn’t lost in any thoughts about a military takeover, but we can assume that Calvary was on His mind. Now Calvary— that was a pressing matter. 

Nobody would blame Him for ignoring two blind men. After all, the crowd didn’t need to witness some miracle to solidify their belief in His power (John 6.30), and beggars on the side of the road were a common sight. 

Even so, Jesus stops. 

He calls out to them and then asks, “What would you like me to do for you?” 

The blind men respond with, “Lord, we want our sight.” 

These men should have been paying attention when the Rabbi’s read from the scrolls of Daniel or Isaiah. The Jewish people had hundreds of years to piece together the true nature of the Messiah’s mission. 

Yet, the response of Jesus is compassion and it’s followed by His touch. 

That masterful plan was set in place the foundations of the earth were waiting to be laid. A plan that involved Jesus trading heaven for earth in order to answer the call of two blind men. He created time for them and He proved it by making time for them a second time— so that they could see it. 

He would make a special stop for you, too. 

Forgive

Forgive

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

When someone fades into my lane or is driving erratically with phone unashamedly in hand, I channel my inner Jeremy Clarkson with an encouraging, “Maniac!” There’s no denying that distracted driving is irresponsible and grossly negligent, but my attitude is far from where it needs to be. There’s little room for patience or grace with that mentality. 

Shortly after soldiers drive stakes through his wrists and feet, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23.34). Some early witnesses omit this verse, but the majority of witnesses include it. When reading these words it’s easy to think, “Jesus is so nice that He asks the Father to forgive people who are hurting Him.” It’s a nice gesture, or an example of how forgiving we need to be. 

Jesus did not ask God to forgive those soldiers. He demanded it! Αφες (afes: forgive) is an imperative. This was so much more than a nice gesture. As one who had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9.6),He told the Father to forgive them. 

If anyone had the right to ban someone eternally, it was Jesus. We are going to be mistreated, and most can recall examples right away. How do we respond to people who mistreat us? II Corinthians 10.1 describes Jesus as gentle. That word means, “the quality of making allowances despite facts that might suggest reason for a different reaction” (Bauer επιείκεια). 

He set the bar to maximum height. Are we willing to reach it? That mentality can only be achieved by having genuine love for everyone. “Let us continue to love each other, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I Jn. 4.7f). 

David’s Year Away From God

David’s Year Away From God

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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Carl Pollard

 
“You’re the man” is what we say when someone comes through for us. It’s used as a compliment that helps us convey our gratitude. “You’re the man” means that the person you’re saying it to deserves to be praised for what they’ve done or will do. We find this same phrase in scripture, but it’s used in a completely different manner.
 
David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was still a man. He made mistakes and sometimes failed to live the way he should. There’s one instance in his life that we are all familiar with. 2 Samuel 11 records for us the time David committed adultery with Bathsheba and got her pregnant. In order to cover his tracks he had her husband killed. Chapter 11 ends with Bathsheba crying over her husband’s death, while David waits for her to get over it so he can move her into his house.
 
This chain of sins committed by David creates a rift in his relationship with God. The last phrase we read in chapter 11 is that “the things that David had done displeased the Lord.”
 
What I find interesting is that God doesn’t immediately punish David. He didn’t do anything when David first slept with her, He didn’t do anything when David killed her husband, and God didn’t punish him when he bore a son with Bathsheba. For what appears to be about a year, David seems to live without any consequences for his sins. But this lack of immediate punishment didn’t mean that God was overlooking David’s sin. Rather, God had a plan that we read of in chapter 12.
 
David found himself in a place that he wasn’t normally in. For a year he wasn’t a man after God’s own heart, but his own heart. For 12 months David didn’t walk with God, rather, he walked away. For 365 days David was no longer a friend of God, he was an enemy. Think about what was going through his head. He had sinned, and he knew it. After David spends a year living with the sin he had committed, God comes to him with a message. It is a message that is summarized with only four words: “YOU ARE THE MAN.”
 
From 2 Sam. 11:27-12:1, there seems to be a gap of about 12 months, a time where nothing is said about the sin David just committed. Just because nothing was said doesn’t mean everything was normal. After the awful sins David committed, God was silent. Why? I believe it was for two reasons:
 
  1. So that David could think on his sinful actions. Think about what was going on in his head. He had to live with the guilt of sleeping with another man’s wife and then killing her husband in secret. Every time David looked into the eyes of Bathsheba he was reminded. No one knew except David and Joab (the one David used to get Uriah killed in battle). After the sins were committed, David was left to think about his sin and David knew that God knew. He lived for a year knowing that God didn’t approve and was angry with him. God was silent so that the noise in David’s head could be heard.
  2. So that David would truly feel and experience the burden of his actions. Psalm 32 and 51 were both written after David had confessed his sin, but he writes about what his life was like (Psa. 32:3-4; 51:12). David was eaten up with guilt. He carried a weight that was destroying him and his life was void of hope and joy. God was silent so that David could think about what he had done and so that he could feel the weight of his sinful actions.
 
David chose to ignore his sin for a year, but that year was a time filled with stress and guilt. We can either fix the sin, or ignore it and face the consequences. If we ignore it and take God’s silence as a lack of punishment we WILL face the punishment that is promised on those who live in sin. We must choose the first course of action. 
“Toying With God All My Life”

“Toying With God All My Life”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

It was such a beautiful moment yesterday morning. A brother in Christ from our area who has been attending with us for a few months responded to the invitation. As Kevin and I took his confession, he spoke of sins in his past that fill him with regret. Though he was raised in the church, he has been away from the Lord for a long time. Among the things he expressed from his tender heart, he confessed, “Ive been toying with God all my life.” His point was simple. He felt doubt about God’s existence and concern for him, and it led him to make regrettable choices. But, recently, his study of God’s word and fellowship with God’s people led him to see how real God is and how much he needs Him in his life. 

I wonder how many of us could confess that, at times and in ways, we’ve toyed with God in some way. Perhaps we appealed to Him only when we were in trouble that we couldn’t solve ourselves. Maybe we promised Him we’d be faithful if only He’d give us something we specifically prayed for or thought we needed, and when we got it we broke our promise. It might have been a time or season when we “played church” and acted the role of Christian in the building but acted like the world when around them. 

This is not a tendency that started in our current generation. It is a human tendency. Bible writers exposed such thinking. God tells Ezekiel, “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ 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. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them” (Ezek. 33:30-32). This is similar to what Isaiah wrote (29:13) and Matthew (15:8-9) and Mark (7:6,7) quote. It’s playing with God to speak as though we desire His Word and even listen to it but be driven by desires and a heart that practice something different (cf. Jas. 1:21-25). 

I need to have the good heart our dear brother expressed on Sunday morning. One who wants others to see and know how much He believes in God, loves Him, and intends to serve Him. May we all keep our hearts tender to God’s Word and let its power do its surgical work in removing what doesn’t belong and moving us to act on what does belong. 

Being Kind

Being Kind

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Most readers can hopefully state to themselves, “I haven’t murdered, stolen, committed adultery, etc.” While we know that forgiveness can be had for all of our sins, humans in general typically want to avoid practices that harm others. 

We have brief encounters with others constantly. Most of those encounters will not leave much of a lasting impression on anyone involved. Two types of encounters definitely leave a lasting impression, though: good ones and bad ones. Bad ones seem to stick the longest. 

So when people encounter us, do we leave a lasting impression? If we do, is it positive? If someone doesn’t walk away thinking, “Man, they were so nice!!!” we have room to grow. As an aside, I’m talking exclusively about normal interactions with others. The Christian and Self-Defense is a study for later. 

While we avoid practices that bring physical harm to others, do we invest in being kind? How do we treat staff at restaurants, people who are obviously different from us, people who may be under us in an authoritative chain or over us? 

It’s easy to be indifferent. For some, it’s easy to be rude and unlikeable in general. Christians must put energy into being kind to others. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume bad intentions. Even in the face of persecution, Christians are commanded to respond rationally and with meekness and fear (I Peter 3.15,16). If we’re supposed to be that composed in the face of persecution, shouldn’t we be all the more kind in everyday encounters? 

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (I John 2.9-11). 

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

In 1976, I was in first grade attending school in Barrackville, West Virginia, where my dad preached. One of my buddies was a black-haired kid named Carl. He got me in more trouble, wetting paper towels and throwing them on the bathroom ceiling in our school, exploring a filthy, condemned house across the street from the church building, and probably other acts of mischief I have chosen to repress. The worst Carl incident is probably still recalled in janitorial circles throughout the greater Fairmont area. Apparently, the school was replacing a lot of windows. There were sheets and sheets of panes of glass propped up against the school building. Carl, who looked a lot like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, said he thought he could throw a pane of glass further than I could. The very suggestion made alarms go off in my head. This was wrong, dangerous, and I’m sure I threw in illegal. How I went from those thoughts to a sheet of glass- throwing-contest I honestly don’t remember. But I did and we did several times until an aforementioned janitor yelled at us to stop and stand still. I didn’t move but surprisingly Carl took off in a sprint. By the time the janitor made his way to my asphalt courtroom, I was feeling serious buyer’s remorse. I was arraigned and was told to report to the judge, better known as the principal, first thing in the morning.  I remember two things about that next day. One was that this is the only incident of my childhood that merited two spankings from my parents. The other was how gentle and kind the principal was. I later found out that the principal had told mom and dad that they would not make us pay for the broken glass.  I had no defense. Carl had hung me out to dry, but I forged my dastardly destiny the moment I cast my lots with that little rascal. I was at the mercy of one who could have made my life much harder, but he simply urged me to reform–the very thing I was eager to do. That was the last memory I have of Carl.

Have you ever been caught dead to rights–no excuse or mitigating circumstances (just plain guilty)? In John 8:1-11, there is a powerful lesson on forgiveness centering around a woman caught in adultery. We can look at this text from a variety of perspectives, but this very guilty woman was literally in the center of them all and at the heart of the text. Who was this woman to everyone present?

  • To all the people, she was an object of curiosity and possible amusement.
  • To one man, she was a sexual object to use.
  • To the scribes and Pharisees, she was a pawn for their use.
  • To the law of Moses, she was a sinner worthy of death.
  • But to Jesus, she was a person to defend, a soul to save, and a forgiven one to send.

This woman was viewed from every conceivable angle, from curious spectacle to sexual object, from contempt to compassion. The view that mattered most, Jesus’ vantage point, saw her not only for what she was but for what she could be. The example of her story helps us to appreciate that not only is sin bad, but it can be remedied. Jesus would say to every obedient one today what He told her. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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Ten Thoughts Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Ten Thoughts Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

We’ve all had opinions and reactions in public that never made it from our brains to our mouths. Not all of these were positive, and perhaps that’s why they were never spoken.

Have you ever wondered what visitors who come into our home congregation are thinking? What do they make of the worship service? How do they see the people who fill the building?

I’d like to dedicate this post to the young people I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and who have privately expressed their first impressions of the Lord’s church. These honest thoughts did not come from people who were trying to be disrespectful.

Here’s a list of TEN thoughts (some rephrased) that most visitors won’t openly say. 

  1. “I guess I came underdressed for this church.”
  2. “Why do you stand for some songs and not the others?”
  3. “Why are the communion plates gold?”
  4. “I didn’t understand the purpose of the invitation.”
  5. “Nobody smiled much until after the service.”
  6. “I’ve got too much baggage for you guys.”
  7. “I didn’t even know this church was here.”
  8. “How much money was I supposed to put inside the plate?”
  9. “It’s a nice congregation, but there’s not a lot of people my age.”
  10. “Sorry for bringing my drink into the sanctuary.”

While these comments and questions may seem negative, I’m thankful that they’ve given us their perspective. As His church, we should be thoughtful about who we are, and what we’re engaged in when we come together.

We’re either involved in offering our Father praise and worship, or we’re enjoying the sweet fellowship that we have in Christ. God is our life, God is the One who gives every blessing, and God is the one who saved us from ourselves. With this in mind—

Here’s a list of FIVE things we can do to let visitors know what we’re all about. 

  1. We should carry ourselves with an attitude that expresses our joy and thankfulness. They may not understand everything about the service or the practical aspects of our traditions, but they see a group of people who have been given the greatest gift ever given.
  2. Let’s not place too much emphasis on the location of worship, but the worship itself. There’s nothing holy about the “sanctuary” but there should be something holy about the acts being done and the people in the pews.
  3. Even though we may have been to worship countless times, we shouldn’t assume that everyone completely understands what’s going on. There should be an effort put into briefly explaining why we’re participating in each act of worship, as well as who it applies to. For example, visitors are not required to give. We shouldn’t assume they already know this.
  4. We’re all in need of Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. God is the God of second chances…and beyond! Do the visitors know this? We’ve all got varying amounts of baggage, but even a small pocketbook full of sin is enough to eternally condemn us.
  5. No matter how odd things may appear to a first time visitor, if we can show them the love of Christ, what was once strange to them— just might become beautifully familiar.

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