Learning About Worship From Children

Neal Pollard

Thom Vaught gave the “elders remarks” last night after the Young Lions participated in their annual program of Scripture reading, song leading, prayer, and preaching. The fourteen first through six graders obviously listened well and learned much. Thom noted how we look at the Christian life as a marathon, but these boys (and the seventeen God’s Precious Daughters who hosted a tea in the fellowship hall at 4:00 PM yesterday afternoon for 80 Christian women!) were actually the next leg in a relay race.  Everybody seemed to leave the assembly last night so spiritually full and energized. Perhaps that was because of what we had seen (and learned) throughout last evening’s service.

…That genuine enthusiasm is infectious.
…That worship should be characterized by purity.
…That you cannot easily fake sincerity.
…That sometimes truth gets told most poignantly and effectively from such an innocent heart.
…That it is encouraging to see someone overcome their fears to lead.
…That we appreciate seeing those who lead us unashamedly show us their hearts.
…That worship should be joyful.
…That we should carry the experience of worship out the door with us into our lives.

When Thom asked those present last night who had formerly been through Young Lions and God’s Precious Daughters to stand along with the 31 children involved this year, it was overwhelmingly encouraging to see so many scattered among our healthy crowd last night who had received this wonderful training. The leadership training they have received through the years has contributed to the teenagers and young adults they have become, serving Christ and others. Some of them are married now. Others have graduated from preacher training schools or are students there. Others have gone on to Christian Colleges. They lead us in every phase of our worship regularly and effectively. We appreciate the men and women who came up with this program and all those who have served through the years. All of us are the better for it. Last night was a reminder of something Trent Woolley, who helped lead this year’s program, said to us, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3).  I pray we will carry these lessons learned into worship with us next week and the weeks beyond that!

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The Tactics Of The Tactful

Neal Pollard

“To ensure people listen to you, insult their race, politics, and intelligence. Be sarcastic. Be close-minded. Don’t attempt to hear what they have to say. Do not gently reason and certainly do not be patient and thoughtful. Courtesy should be thrown to the wind, along with assuming the best and thinking before speaking. Inflammatory statements are sure to win the hearts of people on the fence or on the other side of the issue from you. When they disagree or offer a dissenting view, really let them have it. Call them names, make baseless assumptions and accusations, and angrily dismiss them. Persuade them with harsh, rude, coarse, crude words and phrases, and even resort to cursing to strengthen your point.”

I don’t suppose I’ve ever seen anyone give the advice above, but an incredibly large number of people seem to have adopted those very tactics through social media to promote their own points of view and to attack those of others. Beyond the right and wrong of specific issues, there is the attitude and demeanor the Christian is to maintain. The late Wendell Winkler would often tell us “preacher boys” that “you can be right and still be wrong.” How sad to lose the moral high ground of an issue because we yield to the fleshly tendency to rip, tear, and insult “the other side.”

Scripture counsels this approach instead: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other” (Eph. 4:32); “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a); “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21); “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6); “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

Oh, sure. People will rationalize their ugly, insulting speech through distorting the words and actions of Jesus, Paul, and others. People often rationalize their sin and disobedience. How many have done the same thing in the face of Scripture commanding baptism and teaching the singular nature of the church? But, make no mistake about it! Venomous, hateful, insulting speech is not the way of the faithful Christian.  The source of that is from a distinctly different direction!

Be convicted and courageous, but cloak it in Christlike kindness! In addition to being right, it will be far more successful. May our goal be to win hearts and souls and not just arguments!

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THE CHRIST?ANS

Neal Pollard

I’ve seen the play advertised locally. Lucas Hnath, a 36-year-old playwright, has a background in religion. His mother attended seminary and he even sat in her classes. The New Yorker reveals that there were expectations early on in his life for him to become a “pastor,” a choice he forewent for the arts instead (“Divine Intervention,” 9/7/15, Hilton Als). The play is about a megachurch preacher who has come to believe there is no hell and who believes God gave him this revelation. The result of his divulging this in a sermon is a church split, led by the assistant pastor who does believe in the reality of hell. While doctrine lays at the heart of the split, the play is said to focus on the personalities and behavior of various folks making up the church. Alissa Wilkinson, in a flamboyantly titled review, says this play resonates because “schisms, church splits, or at least disgruntled storming-outs are familiar to virtually everyone who stays in a church long enough to be committed to its life” (Christianity Today, 9/23/15). At least in advertising I’ve seen, the play title appears “The Christ?ans.” The idea is that, judging from their behavior, it is questionable whether or not they are truly Christians.

There are heartbreaking stories of congregations of the Lord’s church whose internal battles became known to the community and the brotherhood at large. Some have resulted from battles over doctrinal issues, whether regarding morality, fellowship, worship, leadership, or the like. Some have resulted from dueling strong personalities, jockeying for power, position, and prominence. Some have boiled down to squabbles about money. In all of them, tragically, Christ has been relegated to the corner and forced to be quiet while His “followers” duke it out.

While the implications over a doctrinal dispute and a personality power play are different, too often the predominant feature is a show of the flesh.

Many with a background in religion will be able to relate to the theme of the play because they have seen schisms in churches before. The world is a divided place, full of rancor, backstabbing, infighting, and unfair fighting. The church, particularly the church of the New Testament, must never exhibit such traits. Corinth set off such an alarm with Paul for this very reason. He urges no division to mar them (1 Cor. 1:10-13) and goes on to address both doctrine and attitudes in the letter. Philippi had two quarreling women straining the unity of that church (4:2) and Paul goes right to the heart and the mind.

We must strive to conduct ourselves with one another in a way that is always exemplary before the eyes of the community, the brotherhood, and the world. I thank God to work with a church that has been around so long and been through so much and who have weathered those storms by sticking together. Yet, too often, people have aired their dirty, unsightly laundry out on the clothesline of public purveyance. This soils the reputation of the Savior! That fact alone should horrify every child of God. May we always strive to be a beacon of light (Mat. 5:16), shining a spotlight on the Sinless Savior and not squabbling saints!

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Who Is The Greatest?

Neal Pollard

  • The preacher who dazzles with his insight, personality, influence, popularity, or following?
  • The teacher who is the students’ favorite?
  • The member who is “balling” (making a lot of money and having a lot of success in business)?
  • The family with the biggest house and nicest automobiles?
  • The one with the best academic pedigree, with the proverbial alphabet soup behind their name?
  • The folks who are best known and most influential in our community?
  • The ones who are incredibly fit and attractive?
  • The greatest debater, philosopher, and reasoner we know?
  • The elder who is most successful in his career?
  • One who seems to combine a great many or even all of these attributes?

It could be one of these individuals, but despite and not because of the specifics just mentioned. But, we so easily fall into the trap that causes us to think that those criteria are what make one greatest.  Such can cause us to vest blind trust in them or put them in a higher place than is right. Worse, we can try to be motivated to define and promote ourselves as greatest through these means.

The tendency is so fundamental. Jesus warned against it in places like Matthew 20:25-28 and 23:12. His disciples, like James (4:6-10), Peter (1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5-6), Paul (2 Cor. 10:12-18), Jude (16), and the rest, at least implicitly, address the same trap. We all fight the desire to be seen so as to be admired. We may do so through our marriages, our children’s accomplishments, our economic status, our apparent importance, our having it all together, our professional prowess, or any other asset we feel responsible for having. If we use these things to place ourselves above and/or push others below, we are disqualifying ourselves for greatness in the only way that matters—God’s way. False modesty isn’t the answer, either.

We must look at ourselves as dependent creatures. It’s all His and without Him we’d have nothing!
We must look at ourselves as devoted stewards. It’s all His and He expects us to use it wisely, on His behalf!
We must look at ourselves as divine instruments. It’s all His and He works through us to do His will!
We must look at ourselves as dutiful slaves. It’s all His and so are we, living and serving at and for His pleasure!

The warning and disclaimer is that this transformation must happen at heart-level, rooting out thoughts and attitudes that, while fleshly, are so easy to embrace. If the weeds of pride aren’t dislodged from deep within, this effort will prove impossible. But, if it could not be done, God would not have spent so much time instructing us to live and walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh and mind. It is the old song, “None of self and all of Thee.” To the degree we adorn that mindset and make that transformation, to that degree we will achieve greatness God’s way!

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A Footprint, A Fingerprint, And An Imprint

Neal Pollard

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What will they put on your headstone?” It’s the kind of fundamental questions that accompany us all along the road of life. We want to have significance, to serve purpose, and to matter.  Whether motivated by legacy or something larger than self, the thoughtful periodic evaluate the difference they are making to those whose lives they touch. Of all people, Christians should take that matter seriously.  Consider this.

You Are Leaving A Footprint. Your decisions are observed by friends, family, and even those who only know you incidentally or even not at all. You are a leader.  So many people will eventually wind up somewhere because of what you do with and in your life. Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In the most dramatic facet of this fact, people will be led toward an eternal destination through your influence. You are leading people toward or away from heaven. It’s in your heart, attitude, words, priorities, conduct, and passions.  To a line of folks longer than you could imagine, you are yelling, “Follow me!” Ask yourself, “Where am I going?”

You Are Leaving A Fingerprint. You are touching people’s lives. Your hands are in a variety of endeavors—your occupational life, your social life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. You are a servant of something and someone. Paul says it’s inevitable (Rom. 6:16). Everyone works at something, even if it’s laziness. It’s a legacy of labor. Where will people remember that your hands were most often seen? Will your chief legacy be whatever your occupation was? Your civic service? Your material accumulation and notoriety? Your pursuit of pleasure? Or will it be your involvement in people’s lives and with people’s souls? Consider this challenge, to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Heb. 12:12). Your hands will find something to do (cf. Ecc. 9:9). Make it count for God.

You Are Leaving An Imprint. Isn’t it sobering to think that all of us are associated with some quality. When our name is brought up, something—either directly or indirectly—is attached to it. For some, it will be: “grouchy,” “gossipy,” “complaining,” “foul-mouthed,” “critical,” “selfish,” “dishonest,” “arrogant,” “icy,” and the like. Fair or not, such broad labels are typically made interaction by interaction. For others, it will be: “humble,” “sincere,” “encouraging,” “dependable,” “loving,” “joyful,” “godly,” “positive,” etc.  You may feel yourself plain and insignificant, but you will leave an indelible impression on others throughout your life.  Even the one talent man, who tried to bury his talent, had to give an account for it (Matt. 25:14-30).

Leadership, labor, and legacy. These are gifts given by God to us all. What a powerful opportunity, one that lies before us daily! The great news is that if we don’t like the footprints, fingerprints, and imprints we have left and are leaving behind, we can change course. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol (and the best version!) is the one starring George C. Scott. He captures the remarkable transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a malevolent miser who becomes a merry mirth-maker. Charles Dickens shows us that anyone is redeemable if they’ll genuinely and fervently change. Of course, the Bible beat him to that message (Rom. 12:2; Acts 3:19; etc.).  Our time here is so short. May we all have the wisdom to know what is most important and pursue it relentlessly.

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NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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What Would YOU Do?

Neal Pollard

On the one hand, Brunhilde Pomsel says she knew nothing but on the other says she saw the “ranting, rowdy man,” the “raging midget” that her boss, Joseph Goebbels, could become. Though usually sophisticated and elegant, if arrogant, he was the propaganda minister for Hitler’s Nazi regime, culpable in the murder of millions of Jews and other Nazi targets, and she was his secretary. She’s 105-years-old and is the star of a documentary film, A German Life, set to be released soon (The Guardian, Kate Connelly, 8/15/16, “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-Year-Old Secretary: No One Believes Me Now, But I Knew Nothing”). One of her most poignant comments was this:  ““Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.”

After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell…”

Her point, even if uttered in rationalization, is pretty poignant. It’s so easy to look back on horrific actions like those perpetrated by the Nazi machine and say we’d die fighting it. But, the rank and file of the German people in the 1930s and 1940s were “normal” people. I’m sure it would have been possible for someone like Brunhilde to keep herself in a bubble from the truth, but I’m not sure it exonerates her. I’ve read too many books about so many who secretly and openly defied the evil of that fascist government to protect the innocent, especially the Jewish people.

One of history’s hardest challenges has been to go against the flow of culture and society. Scripture reveals some of those struggles, like faced by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Imagine facing the “rage and anger” of a ruthless king who demanded you to sin, and saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). Then imagine seeing him “filled with wrath, and his facial expression” being “altered” toward you. While the event was transformational for the king, they still needed the courage to be distinct in their times.

It is frightening to think of how our country has changed in such a relatively brief period of time. As morality erodes and attitudes toward God and the Bible change for the worse, we have opportunities to stand. The ruling powers may not seem as evil as Nazism does in the rearview mirror, but their hostility toward Christianity is becoming clearer. While we remain the respective, obedient citizens Scripture commands us to be (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2), let us be willing to stand with the likes of Peter and John and always say, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

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Each One Will Bear His Own Load

Neal Pollard

Ulm Minster, a Lutheran church building in southern Germany, is the tallest church building in the world, has the tallest steeple in the world, and is the 4th tallest structure built before 1900. Construction began in the 1300s and was finished in 1890. The masonry building is thought to be the tallest load-bearing brick or masonry building in the world. That means that each brick supports its own weight (Wells, Matthew. Skyscrapers: Structure and Design, King: London, 2005. p. 8).

In Galatians 6, Paul urges Christians to reach out, gently and introspectively, to help a fallen brother (1). We do so because it is the fulfillment of Christ’s law to help each other (2). None of us is above this (3). But at the same time, we have personal accountability (4) and responsibility (5). The example, in context, is financial support of the Word rather than fleshly indulgence (6ff). But a fair application of this principle extends to the need we each have to pull our own weight. Just as I need to help others in need, I need to realize my need to stand on my own two feet. What are some areas where the individual Christian must bear his own load?

  • Involvement in the work of the church. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us every member plays a vital part to the overall function of the body. I cannot just be a pew-sitter. I must be at work. When I hear announcements about needs or opportunities, I should not console myself thinking that others will do it. Let them do their part. I must do mine.
  • Financial contribution to the church. Being in a generous, giving church is no substitute for my personal obligation. The command is to “each one of you” (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:6-7).
  • Personal relationship with God. A godly spouse, parent, or child is a wonderful asset in our lives, but none are a substitute for my own faith and intimacy in the relationship with God. No one can say my prayers, read my Bible reading, or walk my walk with the Lord.
  • Battling temptation.  Temptation is common to all men and escape is available to every man, but none can do the escaping for me (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). I can draw strength from others and receive prayers from others and confess to others, but it is ultimately a battle I must win, with God’s help, in the trenches of my own life.
  • Being an encouragement to those in need. The exhortation to “therefore encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th. 5:11) is very personal. The uplift I give is uniquely mine and no one can give this in the way that I can.
  • Visiting those who are sick, in prison, and the like. Matthew 25:31-46 puts the individual in the Judgment before Christ. That means I will answer for whether or not I did this, whether preachers, elders, deacons, or others did.
  • Meeting benevolent needs. The same passage challenges me in meeting the physical needs of those around me. Paul makes it personal, too, in Galatians 6:10.
  • Loving the brotherhood, with each individual brother and sister. This is to be the trademark trait of a disciple of Christ (John 13:34-35). And, it is individual (cf. 2 Th. 1:3). As I measure how I treat, talk about, and think about the spiritual family, am I bearing my load?

Pink Floyd was pessimistic when they said, “All we are is just another brick in the wall.” But, there is such an exciting prospect when we consider that we make up that holy temple to the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22). When all of us, as individuals, bear our part of the load, more and more growth and expansion is possible! Help each other, but do your own part. It’s the way Christ wants it.

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Unmistaken Identity

Neal Pollard

They both had a mole next to one eye and a scar on the left wrist. They lived 54 miles apart, one in Brookville and the other in Mooresville, Indiana. It was said they were practically identical twins. For notorious bank robber John Dillinger, that was no problem. But, for upstanding Ralph Alsman, it was a nightmare. Alsman was arrested 17 times and shot 11 times. When arrested, though he was always released, he had to undergo stressful interrogations in which he had to prove he wasn’t Dillinger. Only when the real Dillinger was gunned down in 1934 did the unbelievable saga end for the hapless Alsman (information taken from The Pittsburgh Press, 6/18/34, p. 11). Can you imagine having to look over your shoulder everywhere you went just because you looked like someone else—a really bad someone else?

The thought occurs to me as I read that harrowing account, based on my attitude, speech, and actions, “Who or what would people mistake me for?” As I live out my life before the world, waiting in lines or in traffic, when under pressure at work, as people mistreat or frustrate me, judging from my relationships, my ethics, and my morality, would people say that I strongly resemble Jesus? He is supposed to be living in me (Gal. 2:20). It has been the case that bystanders have recognized people as having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Of course, Scripture does not at all emphasize the physical appearance of Jesus (Isaiah 53:2), but Paul speaks of bearing the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17). While his “marks” were literal stripes from a tormentor’s whip, there are unmistakeable traits of Jesus that we, too, can and must bear.

I have so much need and room for improvement in my spiritual life.  Every day, I want to look more like Jesus. I want people to see Him when they look at me. If they do, He will be pleased and they just might be saved. Let’s work on our appearance! It may mean eternal life for somebody in our life.

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What Kind Of Church Do We Want To Be?

Neal Pollard

V–ictorious? Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn. 5:4). No coach hopes to win without first planning and architecting. The blueprints have already been put in place (Rom. 6:17), but we must work the plans to be a success in God’s eyes!

I–nvolved? Do we want to merely keep house and meet together each week? That is not New Testament Christianity (cf. Acts 2:46). They took Christianity out of the church building’s doors. They were tangibly involved in doing God’s work. Will be be?

S–erving? This is a self-serving world. Many seem intent to climb over whoever is in their way to the top. Jesus’ religion runs contrary to that (John 13:12-17), and He calls us to follow His example. A serving church is a living, thriving, arriving, surviving church.

I–mpactful? Do our neighbors know who we are? What about the surrounding communities? What about the farthest reaches of our world? Don’t you want to be part of a church putting a Christ-sized impression on those around us?

O–bedient? We have one authority (Col. 3:16-17; John 14:1-6; Acts 4:12). There are potential masters, but only one will lead us to heaven. A church that steps outside His “lines” will become eternally out of bounds. Those intent on obeying Him will be saved (Heb. 5:9).

N–urturing? Don’t we want to be part of a people with an infinitely more profound purpose than that found by the patrons and workers portrayed in the old sitcom Cheers? We want everyone to know our name and be glad that we came, but we should also want a place where we can grow in every right, positive way. This must be a church that cares about all, whatever our age, background, interests, income, or education!

A–ble?  Do we want to focus on our liabilities or, through Christ, our limitless resources? We have so much to do, but we’ve been given so much to do it. Don’t we want to be part of a “can do” church, doing with our might what our hands find to do?

R–eaping? If we are a working church, we will see results. They will come through baptisms, programs of work, outreaches, visitation, stronger fellowship, missionary success, and much, much more. As my good friend, Cy Stafford, says, “What God controls, grows.” The law of sowing and reaping is positive, too (Gal. 6:8).

Y–earning? A church that is alive and growing is full of holy desire, enthusiasm, and a confidence that we can do all things through the Christ alive within us (Phil. 4:13). Our greatest desires will be to do spiritual things to the glory of God.

How does a church become a visionary church? We must be intentional! What do we intend to do?  With God’s help, that is up to us!

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