Service With A Smile

Neal Pollard

Jesus showed the greatness of service by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:12-17). As they fought over who was the greatest, Jesus revealed that He came to serve and not to be served (Mat. 20:25-28). God refers to Him in the great prophesy about His suffering as “My Servant” (Isa. 52:13; 53:11). Why, then, are we more apt to jockey for prominence, position, power, and prestige? Is it not that, in such times, we’ve lost our focus and stopped “looking unto Jesus” (cf. Heb. 12:2)? What are some practical ways we can reflect Jesus through service? Consider the following as a pump-primer:

  • Write a note of encouragement
  • Pleasantly let a merging driver merge in front of you
  • Fervently pray for the good of someone who has been hurtful to you
  • Meet a widow(er) for lunch or coffee
  • Volunteer to babysit so a young couple can go on a date
  • Anonymously send a small amount of money or gift card to a college student, preacher student, or missionary
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Participate in a feeding the homeless event
  • Tell an elder you love and appreciate him
  • Pay for the meal of a young family who looks like they could use the help
  • Ask a neighbor if there is something you can be praying about on their behalf (and, if they’re willing, pray for that on the spot)
  • Text or email someone you know is in a stressful circumstance and express confidence in them
  • Take a small group to go sing for someone confined to a hospital or nursing home
  • Volunteer to work with small children to make a craft or baked good for the elderly
  • Police the bathrooms and pews at church and tidy up little messes you see
  • Make visitors to our assemblies feel welcome and help them find a class or a seat (with a pleasant smile)

There may be profound ways we can serve, but realize that any act of service may be far more profound than we think. We may not know in this life how a simple act opens a heart and opens a door of opportunity for Christ. Think like a servant and seek ways to serve! The greater others think you are, the greater your need to serve. But however much or little you think of yourself, think of others. Then, serve them!

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The Holiday Blues

Neal Pollard

It is amazing how many people lose loved ones around the holidays. If you consider that there are about six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, you realize the statistical probability. But, for one who loses a mate, child, or parent, the situation is not remotely clinical. It is deeply personal. It hurts more because a season of great memories and happiness is upended by grief and loss. An ominous anniversary now wedges itself into “the most wonderful time of the year.” Our congregations are filled with people who are struggling with such dark days, and they find coping particularly hard. They don’t begrudge the festive mood of their friends and brethren, but they may often feel on the outside looking in at such mirth. Scripture urges us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What can we do to help despondent brothers and sisters?

  • Take note. Whenever someone’s loved one, especially a spouse, passes away, keep a record of that and send a card or otherwise let them know you know the significance of the day. What an overt expression of love and concern!
  • Go out of our way. Seek them out and actively console them. You’re not trying to dredge up emotion, but you are desiring to acknowledge it.
  • Go to God for them. Whether or not you tell them, include them and their grief specifically in your prayers. Or, better yet, take a moment and pray with them on the spot.
  • Lend an ear and shed a tear. They may want to talk about their memories, the funeral, the songs that they sang at the funeral, their traditions, or the like. Open your heart and feel for them. It is such good emotional medicine for them and you will be a good servant of Christ.
  • Bring them in. Invite them for a meal, visit them, or ask them to come along on an outing. Take them out to see Christmas lights. They may refuse your invitation, but they’ll know you wanted to help.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Peter urged the Christians to be, among other things, “sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted…” (1 Pet. 3:8). Part of our own personal spiritual growth should be to grow more aware of and concerned about the feelings of others. It is an active mental exercise, but seeking to think about how such a grieving one must feel helps us help them but also helps us.
  • Rope in others. We don’t usually encourage talking about people behind their backs, but this is a significant exception. Inform the potentially unsuspecting of such a difficult anniversary so others can join you in this ministry of consolation. This is a triumphant take on “misery loves company.” Their misery is mitigated by more caring family reaching out to comfort them.

We love our Christian family. We should be quick to express it in ways that can make such a difference. Look out into the congregation and find those hurting hearts. Of course, this is needful even if their loss was in May or August, too. But, minister to minds with these mental millstones. Help them carry their load. Such is an active imitation of our soothing Savior!

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Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Neal Pollard

While we must be concerned with doing what we do in worship according to Christ’s expressed will, we must also be sure to reflect His love to strangers, newcomers, outsiders, and otherwise unfamiliar faces. It offends my sensitivities anytime I hear anyone complain that a church I love so much seems cold and unfriendly to them. However, when I see so many focused on one another or on no one or hear accounts of our visitors complaining that we are neither warm nor welcoming, that love motivates me to say something.  Please consider the following principles:

  • We must stop expecting that others will represent us in friendliness. Maybe we look at those seven or eight members of the congregation that “go after” our visitors and conclude that they are covering the bases for the rest of us. In a congregation our size, that is woefully inadequate. They cannot reach everybody, but even if they can their friendliness does not let us off the hook. Dear reader, the chances are great that I am challenging you!
  • We must not use our introverted nature as an excuse. It would be hard to get an accurate estimate, but it is probably fair to say that more of our members are introverted than extroverted. Yet, the introverts may mistakenly conclude that extroverts are merely doing what comes easy and natural to them. As a representative of the extrovert clan, may I suggest that reaching out and connecting with strangers and visitors requires effort. Everyone must make an effort!
  • We must avoid the thinking that the visitor bears responsibility to be friendly. Some visitors may be extroverted and resilient to connect with us, but we’re the hosts and they’re the guests. Think about how hard it is to come into an unfamiliar place where you know no one and reach out to them. This is our “home turf,” and we must always take the initiative!
  • We must practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Again, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them how you’d want to be treated if in their place.
  • We must see ourselves as direct representatives of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls us just that. Treat visitors exactly like Jesus would. Seek them out and do everything within your power to let them know how glad you are they are here.
  • We must understand the eternal implications of being friendly to visitors. Wouldn’t it be awful if we contributed to seekers, new Christians, and the like being discouraged, even to the point of walking away from Christ and His truth? We cannot minimize the eternal impact, for good or ill, we make by how we do in this matter.
  • We must break out of our ruts and routines. What creatures of comfort we are! What I am talking about requires us getting uncomfortable and changing our current habits. Avoiding eye contact, walking past unfamiliar faces, withdrawing into ourselves, talking only to those who talk to us or those we feel comfortable with may be the niche we’ve carved for ourselves over a long period of time. Confront those well-established patterns and insist on breaking them.

I want our congregation to be known for preaching and teaching the truth, but I want far more for us. Another thing I want is for us to be the church that doesn’t just embrace and accept “our own,” but who is always making room for one more. I’d far rather risk creeping someone out by bombarding them with extreme warmth than to turn a cold shoulder to one who was trying to connect with God. Wouldn’t you?

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A Strategy The World Never Sees Coming (Poem)

Neal Pollard

How I treat you says much about me
My demeanor and my disposition
It’s my calling card but your memory
Of who I am and my primary mission.

For I treat you as I would treat Jesus
As if He were standing before me
That He came not for ease but to ease us
He was driven by the needs He would see.

If we all were an advocate for each other
More concerned with the good of our neighbor
Moved deeply by each sister and brother
A faithful worker in that needed labor

The world preaches, “Me, mine, and my!”
“For me you must give, serve, and do!”
The world is dead, but we must die
To self and the self-centered view.

Imagine a world where everyone tried
To defer to the people around them
Just walk in love, by the Savior’s side
When they look at you, they will see Him!

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Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Neal Pollard

  • Pray, specifically, about having opportunities to share your faith. Think about the people in the various places you spend your time and ask God for inroads with these individuals specifically. Pray for courage, wisdom, and your words (cf. Col. 4:2-6). Pray for their hearts. Pray to pick opportune times to approach them.
  • Cultivate your fields. Spend time thinking about who you have or can build a relationship with. That will be your area of greatest success. Be involved in their lives (see below). Work at growing the number of people you could share Christ with.
  • Develop genuine interest in the lives of the people in your life. Learn spouse’s and children’s names, occupation, interests, hobbies, and passions in their lives. Ask about those things. File away and remember those facts, as your specific recall with them will impress them with your sincerity and concern. How is trust won? Time and transparency.
  • Be able to speak openly and wisely about religion with them. That means picking your battles wisely. You will hear people spout misinformation and false ideas when religion is being discussed. Always maintain control and calm, being gentle in discussing religious matters (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). If asked (and you eventually will be) about some specific, like salvation or church organization or what “denomination” you are a member of, be winsome and kind but courageous enough to give a biblical answer.
  • Work at working in your faith and the church into your conversations naturally. This may require prayer and thought, but practice turning your conversations with people toward the spiritual. Like anything, if you’ve not had practice, it may seem clunky and awkward initially but not ultimately. If something is going on at church that relates some way to what your friend is saying, bring it up matter of factly. If their issue or struggle concerns something you have come across in your recent Bible study, share the verse with them.
  • Be prepared to serve and help. So many of our co-workers, associates, neighbors, and other friends have messy lives. They are struggling and, without Christ, have no bearings on how to address their problems. As human beings, they inevitably struggle with the same things all people struggle with—relationships, family, finance, uncertainty, health, fear, etc.  Remind yourself that you are here, on earth, to serve (cf. Mat. 20:28; Gal. 5:13).
  • Watch yourself. Your example, especially under the pressures and fires of life, can make or break your evangelistic opportunities. Your temperament, reaction, attitude, and the like are a display case for the Lord or the world. Regularly remind yourself of this (Ti. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Remember the mantra, “It’s not a matter of ‘who’ is right, but ‘what’ is right.” I received this counsel decades ago, as a young preacher, from David Sain. I have used it countless times in soul-winning circumstances. Truly, ultimately, all religious questions must be settled upon the foundation of Scripture. Feelings, opinions, what churches teach and practice, what religious leaders say, and such must be subjugated to what the Bible says. Those other standards may fail us. Scripture won’t!

Evangelism will always be intimidating because it ultimately calls for courage and conviction. Not every specific situation will be a success story, but if we can remind ourselves of our purpose on this earth and how much people need what we have learned we will act! And there will be success!

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What Would Our Slogan Be?

Neal Pollard

A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination.  The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!”  Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.

But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?”  If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be?  For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).

Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:

  • “We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
  • “We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
  • “We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
  • “We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
  • “We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
  • “We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
  • “We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
  • “We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • “We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).

The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.

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Mercy Personified

Neal Pollard

Anita Geurink relates the incredible story of locals finding and rescuing a little baby boy who was abandoned in a forest outside Maseru, Lesotho. Hours later, a freak hailstorm pounded the area, damaging windows and roof, causing flooding, and striking the very spot where the baby had just been laying. The little boy already had a name, but it took on great significance in light of these events. His name, translated, means “Mercy” (Anita’s blog post).

When we look over our lives, how many times have we experienced the generous mercy of our God? We do not know what all He has spared us from, how He has protected us, or how He has delivered us. For every instance where we have seen His generous, providential hand, how many times has it been at work behind the scenes unbeknownst to us?

The apostle Paul deals with a difficult subject in Romans 11. God’s sovereign choice, summarized at the end of this discussion, can be hard for us to understand or accept. Paul concludes, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (33-36). But God is neither cruel nor capricious. Paul characterizes Him as one who desires to show mercy to the obedient. The Gentiles received mercy through the rejection and disobedience of the Jews (30). But God still longed to show mercy to the Jews (31). He withholds His mercy only to those who persist in disobedience (32).

If only we can see ourselves as the little orphaned Lesothoan boy, vulnerable and helpless and in need of rescue, we will not harden our hearts against the kindness and mercy of God. Hosea seems to speak of a literal orphan who finds mercy in God (14:3), but the New Testament repeatedly speaks of us as spiritual orphans who received greater mercy, shown by His love, grace, and forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10; Jude 21).

By no means does God’s mercy exempt us from obedience. On the other hand, we should humble ourselves by remembering, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Ti. 3:5). You and I were more helpless than that abandoned baby in that forest in South Africa. He can enable us to overcome and do great things to His glory, but we must never forget that He does that! Have you thanked God for His “great mercy” today?

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Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

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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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