Categories
church church (nature) church function influence Uncategorized

Dark Churches

Neal Pollard

I was intrigued by an article written by Janet Thompson of crosswalk.com. The eye-catching title asked, “Why Is The Church Going Dark?” She meant this literally. Her complaint was about the design of many auditoriums having dim lighting and being windowless, almost like a movie theatre or concert venue. She wondered if this was to reach a younger generation or to set a certain mood. 

While I prefer a well-lit room, there is a more significant concern. Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14-16). His words have nothing to do with church building designs, LED lighting, or window sizes. Preaching to His disciples, Jesus wants us to know that those reflecting His light cannot be hidden, but shine in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. 

  • Dark churches are situated in neighborhoods that know nothing about them.
  • Dark churches are so indistinct that the world can see no difference between themselves and those churches. 
  • Dark churches have no vision or plan to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
  • Dark churches exist to assemble, but not much more.
  • Dark churches focus inwardly, but neither outwardly nor upwardly. 
  • Dark churches operate from fear and prefer the safe route, taking no risks and attempting only what they can produce.
  • Dark churches are disconnected from the Light of the world.

It is good for us to constantly challenge ourselves, when setting budgets, making plans, gauging our true priorities, or evaluating the leadership or the pulpit. Are we doing what will help us be “Light-Bearers” or what will cause us to be “Dark Churches”? What an important question! Our actions determine the answer. 

dark churches

Categories
death example influence Uncategorized

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.
Categories
greed materialism Uncategorized

Distracted And Delayed By Baggage

Neal Pollard

On May 7, Bill McGee wrote in a USA Today article about the crashed Aeroflot plane that killed 41 of the passengers onboard: “Reports from people on the plane indicate the evacuation may have been slowed by passengers grabbing their bags. Videos show passengers taking their carry-on bags with them as they exited the plane,” the AFA said in a statement. “We will never know if more lives could have been saved if the bags were left behind” (online edition, “Were lives lost at the cost of carry-ons in Aeroflot plane crash that killed 41?”).  It’s outrageous and unbelievable that people would care more for their luggage than human lives, but that appears to be the case.

In Luke 12:15, Jesus taught, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” The NASB translates the first part of the verse, saying, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed….” Watching video footage of those passengers making an emergency exit with carry-ons in hand is a rather graphic, unmistakeable illustration of Jesus’ point. Unfortunately, we can have a harder time seeing ourselves doing the same thing in the prioritization of our lives. We may be aghast at the thought that their seemingly greedy decision came at the expense of some people behind them being able to escape the flames, but Scripture teaches the devastating effect greed can have on our own lives and the lives of those we influence.

Paul teaches that such can be a “snare,” “harmful desires,” plunging men into “ruin and destruction” that pierces them “with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10). It’s interesting that Paul’s inspired counsel is to “flee from these things” (11). We should consider that an inordinate desire and pursuit of material things may hurt not only ourselves, but the people that come along behind us. That includes our children, grandchildren, and the other people who are guided by our influence and example. They are watching what we value most and what has our greatest attention and affection. We may not be caught on camera, but God sees it with perfect, all-seeing eyes. 

Let’s be careful not to allow this world to cloud our judgment, making the things of this world more important than souls or the will of the Lord. The stakes are higher than whether we exit an airplane alive. It’s about how we leave this world and enter the next one.

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Categories
cheating ethics honesty Uncategorized

The Bible And The College Cheating Scandal

Neal Pollard

One of the nation’s biggest news stories last week involved a college admissions scam that included several high-profile people, including at least two Hollywood actresses. A California man, Rick Singer, spearheaded a scheme to bribe coaches and administrators at such colleges as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, USC, and other prestigious universities. The bribes bought these privileged High School students extra time to take the SAT and ACT, make fake athletic profiles, and substitutes to take their entrance exams for them. This has proven embarrassing for both the colleges and those breaching this most basic of ethical codes (via Foxnews.com, Madeline Farber). 

Someone observed that there is a bit of irony and hypocrisy in all of this. We feel outraged at this glaring lack of honesty and ethics, but students who attend these (and other) universities have been taught for decades that there is no such thing as absolute truth and an objective standard of right and wrong. Are we surprised when people live out the consequences of such world views? Remove a measurable, immutable standard, and anything goes! It disgusts us to see such values in action, but people of influence in our society have been pushing such values for a long time. 

In addition to its answers to all of life’s crucial questions, the Bible lays down an ethical code that is universal and logical. Its rules are blind to nationality, economic status, gender, age, or any other category one falls into he or she might appeal to as an exception. In fact, those who have more have greater expectations made of them (see Luke 12:48).  The Judgment Day will be eminently impartial. No one will manipulate the results. No one can sidestep heaven’s requirements for salvation without an eternal consequence. Just because one is religious leader does not mean that they are above the law of Christ. Again, there are higher standards for those who are in positions of leadership (Jas. 3:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 4:16; etc.). 

It’s not at all surprising that a society which rejects God’s guidelines finds itself sinking into a moral and ethical abyss (cf. Prov. 14:34). But, it does go to show that no one wants to reap the harvest from sowing the seeds of sin. However, there is no way to avoid it (Hos. 8:7; Gal. 6:7-8). Our challenge is to live lives of consistency, exemplifying the benefits of respecting and adhering to God’s standards. Jesus calls such modeling “salt” and “light”which highlights God’s existence and relevance in our world (Mat. 5:13-16). 

We cannot keep others from being cheaters and liars, but we can show them a powerful alternative!

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Categories
Christian living example influence Uncategorized works

Make It A Momentous Monday

Neal Pollard

  • Pick out a local church leader and pray for him and his family for several minutes, being very specific in your petitions on their behalf.
  • Email a missionary to encourage them and get an update on how their work is going.
  • Buy a gift card and try to give it anonymously to a young or struggling family you know.
  • Thoughtfully select several people to compliment and encourage by writing on their Facebook wall or other social media platform.
  • Briefly visit a brother or sister in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • Ask a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor what you can be praying for them about.
  • Listen to a book of the Bible in its entirety on your commute.
  • Let go of a grudge or deep-seated resentment.
  • Do an unexpected deed of kindness for a random stranger.
  • Speak to someone you see regularly about your faith–what God is doing in your life, what’s going on at church, etc.
  • Spend some one-on-one time with one of your children (playing a game they enjoy, going for a walk, taking them out to eat, etc.).
  • Show love to your mate in some tangible way you know he/she enjoys (speak their “love language”).
  • Practice pleasantness with everyone you meet today, being mindful of your facial expressions and body language.
  • Carve out some time for meaningful, personal devotion (including Bible reading, singing, and prayer)–make worship more than a Sunday matter!

None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus!  See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.

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Categories
influence Uncategorized

THE MYSTERY OF INFLUENCE

Neal Pollard

Several years ago, a fourteen-year-old girl named Shannon Smith was shot to death in her own back yard. A bullet lodged in her brain. Though already tragic and horrific, the story was made more tragic by the inexplicable nature of the shooting. Police, judging from the trajectory made by the entry would, concluded that the bullet fell from the sky. Somewhere nearby, some unknown person had fired a gun for no known reason. The bullet completed its path of travel inside an unsuspecting teenager. Tragic, indeed!

Who fired the gun and why? The action pales next to the consequence. Someone aimlessly fired a weapon. A child died and parents were left to mourn her loss. It was all so unnecessary and avoidable!

Christians are a special people, a God-possessed, holy group (1 Pet. 2:9). The world sees Christians (Matt. 5:16). They react to children of God, either “glorifying” (Matt. 5:16) or “blaspeming” (2 Sam. 12:14) Him. Christians are either transformed from worldliness or conformed to it (Rom. 12:2). Conformity carries tragic consequences.

Influence is an inevitable burden carried by every Christian. Others watch what we do, hear what we say, and evaluate our judgments. What we wear, how we talk, where we go, and with what we entertain ourselves may seem harmless or at least harmful only to us. Yet, we can aimlessly fire and eternally wound another’s soul by our influence.

The man or woman who fired that gun may not realize even now what they did with one “harmless” squeeze of a trigger. Maybe they will not know on this side of time. Just so, we may be shocked on that day to realize how many or exactly whom we influenced. We’re on a spiritual battlefield (Eph. 6). Let’s be careful not to shoot at the wrong side! We may wind up doing harm to the very people we’re commissioned to save. Let’s watch our aim!

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Shannon Smith (undated photo)
Categories
example irony Uncategorized

AN IRRECONCILABLE IRONY

Neal Pollard

Some years ago an AP wire report yielded this incredible, true story.  Apparently a dirty joke was sent by a company employee to 6,000 people!  What was so unusual?  The perpetrator, intending to send a daily report to reporters and government officials, was a federal communications commission employee!  The headline read, “Joke Is On The FCC” (via Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/9/99). The FCC, charged with setting decency limits on various media outlets, was guilty of that which they are employed to prevent. Ironic!

The jokes abound.  Plumbers have the worst pipers.  Electricians have the faultiest wiring.  Doctors are the sickest people.  Preachers’ kids get in the most trouble.  They learn it from the elders’ kids.  While these are more axiomatic than true, there are guilty plumbers, electricians, doctors, preachers, elders, lawyers, politicians, and the like out there.  They get such attention because they fail at that which is supposed to epitomize and characterize them!

Christians become Christians through grace and obedient faith (Eph. 2:8-10).  But Christianity is more than a state of being.  It requires certain characteristics to be in one’s life.  A Christian is part of a spiritually “chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation” and is a person “for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9).  Moreover, a Christian is one redeemed from all iniquity, purified unto himself, and zealous of good works (Ti. 2:14).  A Christian is one who has put fleshly deeds to death (Col. 3:5).  A Christian takes on “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), which means assuming a code of conduct and disposition of heart that is clear before the world’s eyes (Matt. 5:14-16).

There is an irreconcilable irony when a Christian is indistinct, indifferent, immoral, and inconsistent!  Like salt without taste, a Christian who dresses, talks, and behaves like a worldly person cannot be properly used by God (cf. Matt. 5:13).  A Christian without ethics, morality, honesty, and integrity is a walking oxymoron.  A Christain who talks one talk and walks another makes no sense and draws no following, at least none leading to Christ (cf. John 12:32; 1 Cor. 11:1).

Will the “Great Report” reveal that we, as Christians, spoke and showed the saving message or the wrong message?  What message are we sending to others?  Let it not be the irony of wearing a name we are not honoring.

Doctor in lab coat smoking a cigarette   Original Filename: 88300580.jpg

 

Categories
character influence perspective Uncategorized

How Will We Be Remembered?

Neal Pollard

Seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Each remembered for an overall characteristic. The same is true for individual Bible characters, isn’t it? Most remember Moses, Samson, David, Jeroboam, Jonah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Judas, Peter, Paul, and John for a particular attribute, whatever else could describe their lives. That’s more than fascinating. It’s sobering.

What about you and me? Is there a word others–those we attend school with, work with, live near, attend church with, or share family ties with–would use to describe us? Here are some possibilities:

  • Grumpy
  • Disagreeable
  • Dishonest
  • Hot-tempered
  • Unreliable
  • Divisive
  • Worldly
  • Gossiping
  • Selfish

Such attributes are the cumulative result of the attitude, words, and actions that we portray each day we live. Everybody has good days and bad days. But, there is an overall tenor and flavor to our lives that cause people to associate something with us. However, the word might be different:

  • Gentle
  • Patient
  • Loving
  • Kind
  • Serving
  • Sacrificial
  • Unselfish
  • Humble
  • Uniting
  • Faithful
  • Courageous

That, too, is being built moment by moment, day by day.

With both groups of words, we can think of people who epitomize characteristic above. But I want to know, “Which one would best describe me?” Don’t you want to know that about you?  The good news, if you don’t like the answer there’s time to change that. Dickens’ Christmastime novel about Ebenezer Scrooge is written to make that very point. Infinitely more importantly, the Bible is written to make that point. We can be transformed through the influence of Christ in our hearts and lives (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18). How will you be remembered? 

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discouragement helpful Uncategorized

“Just A Broken Guy…”

Neal Pollard

The chilling audio from Richard “Beebo” Russell reveals an internal conflict nobody, not family, friend, or co-workers, knew was going on. The 29 year old ground worker at Seattle-Tacoma International airport took a Horizon Air Dash-8 airplane on an unauthorized joy ride, complete with complicated aerial stunts before crashing into a remote island on Puget Sound. Before crashing, he spoke with air traffic controllers and pilots and confessed to the inner turmoil. The words used by loved ones to describe him range from “warm” and “compassionate” to “happy” and “regular” (Alex Horton, Washington Post, 8/13/18).  Of course, the behavior was irregular and bizarre, and it ended tragically for the young man as he fatally crashed the plane.

As we walk through this world, we meet and interact with people who may be projecting an outward appearance that is masking inward pain and trouble. It may lie behind their broad smile. That’s a disturbing thought, but what can we do? We cannot read their minds. There is no full-proof way to prevent every tragic action, but we may have more power than we think. Consider some things all of us can do with everyone in our lives.

Be kind. Look people in the eyes. Smile at them. Even if it slows you down from some important task, don’t overlook the people God puts in your path. Your helpful word might sink deeper into their spirit than you realize. Let’s be like the inhabitants of Malta, who showed Paul and his companions “extraordinary kindness” as they simply “kindled a fire and received” them all (Acts 28:2). We’re told as Christians to put on a “heart of kindness” (Col. 3:12). How will anyone know the proof of our kind hearts? We will display it.

Be concerned. We fear being nosy or busybodies. Don’t do that. But there is room for active concern. Such is more apt to listen than advise, to help and not gossip, and to do than to judge. People who are surrounded by those they know care for them have a better chance at emotional survival. Look at the example of Paul, pressured by the concern for congregations and intensely concerned for individuals led into sin (2 Cor. 11:28-29). The word Paul uses for his concern for individuals literally means “to cause to be on fire; burn” (BDAG, 899). It’s the word used to describe the heavens being on fire (2 Pet. 3:12). Paul was “inflamed with sympathy, ready to aid” (ibid.). That’s got to be us, too!

Be helpful. Our Christianity should be tangible, not theoretical. We must be attuned to needs and ready to help (cf. Titus 3:14). Let’s avoid empty words that lack the intent of action. Acts of service, doing for others, are powerful and penetrating. God tells us, “On the day of salvation I helped you” (2 Cor. 6:2; Isa. 49:8). A helper sees a need and meets it. Oh, the impression that can make on a weary struggler. 

Listen, for all we know, this young man was surrounded by people who were kind, concerned, and helpful. Ultimately, each of us is individually accountable for our actions (2 Cor. 5:10). But, our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nations will be a better place when Christians are active bearers of such faithful fruits. Treat everyone you see as the eternally-bound souls that they are! Help them. We know the One who mends the broken (cf. Ezek. 34:16). 

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Categories
influence passion Uncategorized

Out-Cheered At Home

Neal Pollard

It’s hard to beat the weather and the views at the average Rockies baseball game. This past Tuesday, 29 Bear Valley guys converged on the upper deck overlooking first base as the “good guys” took on those world-champion Houston Astros. For the unfamiliar (or disinterested), the Astros are the defending Worlds Series champions. They’re very good this year. But, so are the Rockies. Whenever Colorado can sniff first place when August is in view makes it a “great” season, by their standards (spoken by a long-suffering fan). We came into that game having won 12 out of 16 games in July. Several of us got there early–for a game which would start an hour late due to bad weather–and the thing that struck us was how many orange shirts and jerseys there were. Again, for the uninitiated, those are Astro rather than Rocky colors. But, it wasn’t their apparel that stuck out. It was their boisterous, relentless cheering. As much as I like Colorado baseball, I get frustrated with how quiet the average fan in the stand is (perhaps they are lulled into a tranquil state by those rich sunsets and cool breezes. Opposing teams’ fans seem less affected. We were louder than usual, but they were louder than us.

“Home field advantage.” It’s supposed to mean something, but Tuesday night was a reminder that it can be taken away. These were committed fans. We saw Texas license plates in parking lots. No doubt, some arranged their travel to attend a game while visiting our fair state. Or, they’re locals whose allegiance is strong enough to brave the prospects of tens of thousands of people who oppose their point of view. They weren’t embarrassed or ashamed to proclaim their loyalty. They were eager.

We often sing, “This world is not my home.” Truly, Peter calls the Christian an alien and stranger (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). The Devil has control of this world and its domains (Eph. 2:2; 6:12; John 12:31; 1 Cor. 15:24; etc.), though Jesus will win in the end and He causes us to triumph now (2 Cor. 2:14; 1 John 4:4). 

We enter the daunting arena of the world clothed with Christ. He wants us to stand out and to be heard. No, not obnoxious, but He expects us to infiltrate it with His influence (Mat. 5:13-16). We won’t sway the crowd or determine the outcome, but we will make a difference if we show up, stand up, and speak up. The world will be aware of our presence, even if it disapproves. That’s not really the point is it–to have their approval? The point is to show our unswerving loyalty. We know that we are on the winning side! With humility but also boldness, we should make that known!

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