Do Brotherhood

Neal Pollard

Hayden Holland, who obeyed the gospel less than three years ago, taught his first Bible class last night at Teens in the Word. It was an excellent, hour-plus long study of the parallels between serving in the military and living the Christian life. In this very practical study, Hayden mentioned the Army’s concept of brotherhood. The fraternity and bond built by basic training and the structural philosophy of the armed forces creates this sense of brotherhood among soldiers.  Without fellowship, he said, disputes will pull soldiers apart. Throughout his lesson, Hayden urged us to “do brotherhood.” Brotherhood is a noun, meaning “the feeling of kinship with and closeness to a group of people or all people” (Dictionary, version 2.2.1, 2016). Peter uses the word in 1 Peter 2:17, a word, according to BDAG, meaning, “A group of fellow-believers, a fellowship” (19; cf. 1 Pet. 5:9—“brethren”). Hayden’s exhortation to us was to do what it takes to create that feeling and fellowship.  Saying we are brethren, even acknowledging and teaching what God says is necessary to become part of that brotherhood, is insufficient of itself.  There is something to be done!

He directed us to the seven values touted by the army—“loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity, courage, and selfless service”—as examples of how we can “do brotherhood” in the Lord’s Army (cf. Eph. 6:10ff). Doing brotherhood means taking time to listen to and help our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are struggling. It means spending time together, engaging in each others’ lives. It means being faithful to live out what we say we believe daily, in the world and in the absence of our church family, because we love them and don’t want to let them down. It means talking out our problems and disagreements. As we work to see ourselves as a part of something bigger than just ourselves, the effect is revolutionary. Non-Christians see the bond we have with our brethren and it draws them. Jesus told His disciples that this brotherly love would be their identifying mark to a searching world (John 13:34-35).

How often it has been observed that Christianity is more than a state of being; it requires a life of doing. The brotherhood consists of all those within the body of Christ. But, that “group” has to be maintained, sustained, and retained. Such requires action! My action and your action. Let’s be sure we are “doing” brotherhood!

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The Lost Loved By The Lord

Neal Pollard

The prostitute on the street with a painful past who’s made dreadful decisions. The grownup who’s the product of unbelievable dysfunction and endured issues like abuse, abandonment, alcohol, and anxiety.  The teen who has never been shown true, Christlike love. The religious adherent whose idea of God and the Bible has been filtered through a trusted, but false, teacher. There are endless individuals who fall into the category of “lost” by Scripture (see the parables of Luke 15), even if they would not identify themselves with that word.

A particular challenge for those of us who “inherited” the knowledge of the truth from our homes is to recognize our dependency upon God for salvation. We look at our lives which, though littered with sin and shortcomings, do not have the disarrayed appearance of lives like the ones mentioned above. We’re basically “good.”  It is so easy for us to be like Simon in Luke 7:36ff. We know our Bibles. We invite Jesus along. We are aghast at how lost those lost people are. We cannot fathom that Jesus would want them. Then, we find ourselves as the one who loves little because we think we have little to be forgiven of. We do not serve Him like we should, but we feel pretty safe.

By contrast, the lost often do not become Christians because they feel so unworthy of forgiveness or see their past as insurmountable chains though they long for freedom. They don’t know, but they need to know, that God longs for them and wants them. They have immense value in His eyes, and, if they come to Him, He will say, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:48,50). Whereas pride might be our impediment, guilt is often theirs.

Each of us needs to find the balance between self-righteousness and self-loathing. If we are the Pharisee, we need humility. If we are the sinful woman, we need hope. But for that latter category, who we are in constant contact with, we must embrace and share the message that the Lord longs for them and sees their soul as precious enough to die for. They need to know He already did that as proof of His love (John 3:16; 15:13). Do you know somebody who is lost? Let them know the Lord loves them!

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Before You Type Or Talk Today

 

Neal Pollard

A pick, a poke, a controversy,
Hit and run, a verbal grenade,
We may see it as clever, though without mercy
And own it like an accolade

But are we making people think
When what and how we say it scars?
If it causes a stir, a strife, a stink
Instead of edifying it maligns and mars?

People should be thinking anyway
And what they think should be of good report
Let’s meditate on what we say
Not load up on sarcastic, sardonic retort.

The world already knows that tactic
And uses it at the drop of scarf and hat
It brightens no story, dresses up no didactic
But stokes the fire and escalates the spat

Here’s something requiring greater skill
You won’t find it in general practice
Restraint and kindness, grace and good will
Be a rose in a field of cactus.

When entering today the public sphere
And the marketplace of varied ideas
Let the Jesus in you shine bright and clear
So they can look at you and believe He is!

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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 Ever-Fixed Mark

Neal Pollard

This phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to describe love. While it is an apt, poetic description of love, it also is the perfect modifier of God’s Word. If there is a word to describe the current culture, it is “change.” Our world is enamored with it, constantly changing its mind, its values, its standards of right and wrong, its worldview, and its priorities. Swept up in all of this are societal attitudes about so many things.

What was once right is now wrong. What was wrong is now right. And while not every instance of this is wrong, so many of them are the product of mankind pushing the envelope of previous norms and standards of decency. Let me cite some specific examples:

  • The definition of marriage
  • The definition of gender
  • Sexual mores
  • The sanctity and humanity of the unborn
  • The view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • Male and female leadership roles
  • The move from monotheism to polytheism (one God to many Gods)
  • The existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ
  • The ethics of honesty, hard work, and service

Our list could be much longer, but these representative items have all fallen victim to the world’s push for what it sees as greater freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Those who rely on the Bible as their infallible guide already know how the story turns out for those who make themselves the standard. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). More solemnly, Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). In Paul’s day, suppressing, speculative, sensual, and subverting souls rejected God in deference to self-guidance with destructive results (Rom. 1:18ff). Thus it will always be when man builds upon the foundation of himself.

What happens with us, individually and collectively, when we build upon the rock of Scripture is survival in the severest tests (Mat. 7:24-25). When we see Scripture as something to change us rather than something subject to our changes, we have a sure standard by which to chart our lives. Antecedent societies have experienced the trauma of spiritual self-determination (cf. Prov. 14:34). In a world enamored with unrighteous change, may we determine to fix our gaze on the ever-fixed mark of Scripture!

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Help Them On Their Way!

Neal Pollard

As Paul nears the close of his short epistle to Titus, he urges, “Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them” (3:13). Whatever Paul had in mind, whether financial, transportation, lodging, emotional, or similar help, it is an interesting plea. It isn’t said, but is fair to infer, that “their way” involved spiritual business. Lange and others surmise that these were on Crete but wanting to head out on a missionary journey and that Titus must have been a man of financial means who could see to their provisions. Maybe, but let’s not miss the bigger principle. One Christian is told to help others along their way.

God’s great work is still going on today. Each of us has a role to play in advancing it, but we should not discount the importance of helping others on their way in this effort. We should do so thoroughly and thoughtfully. As we look within the local congregation, we should ask who we could help on their way.

  • Those who organize the Bible School program, as they look for teachers and helpers
  • Those who organize the worship services, as they seek those to lead it
  • Those who desire to engage in mission work, as they try to raise the necessary funds
  • Elders and deacons, who appeal for help in their respective works
  • Those who need a ride to the doctor
  • Those on our prayer list, as they have various needs we can carry to the throne of God
  • The homeless, imprisoned, and otherwise needy, as they represent Jesus (Mat. 25:35ff)
  • Our youth who would benefit from godly, spiritual leadership and mentoring
  • Young mothers who would be encouraged by sympathy and kindness as they strive to train their children in the assemblies
  • Those who organize workdays and need help from the rest of us
  • Those who have recently suffered a loss, as they struggle to retain balance and stability
  • A lost neighbor, co-worker, and family member who may be struggling to find the truth
  • Whoever I may have missed who needs you or me to be God’s hands and heart

Mary Barrett wrote, “Lend a hand to help a brother who is striving hard and true, don’t forget that in the valley there is someone needing you.” May we take that personally. Don’t discount what you might do to help a brother or sister on their way. What might we find, when we get to heaven, which came of taking that precious moment to supply what they needed in such a situation?

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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 Story With Many Points

Neal Pollard

Several years ago, when preaching in Virginia, I spoke with a sweet, 69-year-old woman who had watched our TV program and wanted to speak to me. During the course of our visit, she told me a story I will never forget. Tearfully, she told me of her 14-year-old grandson, Matthew, who locked himself in his room, took a pistol, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He was rushed to MCV Hospital in Richmond. He survived, but the bullet was permanently lodged in his sinus cavity and he was in constant, relentless pain. The greatest pain, however, was not physical. It was emotional and spiritual. Matthew’s mother and father routinely flew to Las Vegas to gamble, dumping him off with anyone who would take him. They might win a few thousand dollars on some trips, but they invariably lost their winnings and then some. The father had told the son, not long before his suicide attempt, “I wish I’d never set eyes on you!” The boy had told his grandmother, “Nobody loves me.” He had also told her, “I want somebody to take me to church.” When she offered, he said, “I want my daddy to come and sit beside me.” This dear elderly woman lamented that he grandson’s parents never showed Matthew love and affection. In the wake of that, a young man with most of life before him, could not bear the thought of continuing one more day in such a topsy, turvy, loveless circumstance.

I felt a flood of emotions: Pity, for the boy; Anger, for the parents; Sympathy, for the grandmother. Upon reflection, there are several lessons to be learned from Matthew’s plight.

  • Bad decisions often carry awful consequences. Matthew learned this by the single squeeze of a trigger. If the parents weren’t past feeling, they might see the connection between their selfishness and his anguish. Galatians 6:7-8.
  • Sin destroys a proper sense of priorities. The parents were, in the grandmother’s estimation, greedy and selfish. They put themselves above their responsibility to their son. They made it clear they loved money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10), and they made it clear they did not love their own boy (cf. Eph. 6:4).
  • Homes without love crumble. “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand” (Prov. 12:7; cf. 14:11). How our homes need to be filled with love! Without it, how many children will feel like Matthew did?
  • Parents have a vital role to play in the spiritual development of their children. What did Matthew want? His daddy seated next to him “in church.” Was that too much to ask? He was hungry for spiritual guidance from his parents. What a challenge! How are we preparing our children in spiritual matters?

There are too many young Matthews, empty inside, unsupported, unloved, and unaided. What condition is our home in? Is sin in the way? We should be careful how we walk in front of our children (cf. Eph. 5:15). We want them to do more than value their physical life. We want them to pursue and gain eternal life! May God bless us in that needed pursuit.

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Who Can Be Against Us?

Neal Pollard

Have you ever had someone that seemed to have it out for you? Not only did they not like you, but they actively undermined you. They may have slandered you or even lied about you. You may have even felt that they were trying to ruin your life!

Have you ever had something that seemed to overwhelm and overshadow you? It could be something from your past, present, or future, worry, guilt, regret, fear, trouble, pain, problem, or other stress. Maybe it was something that was nearly impossible to shake or something of which you were constantly reminded.

In a beautiful context writing about assurance, Paul asks, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). That is an eminently fair question to ask. Here are some potential foes that could undo us: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, powers, the present, the future, height, depth, or any other created thing (35, 38-39). Examine that list closely. Doesn’t it include just about every potential threat and trial? Do we believe the assertion of Romans 8:31, this rhetorical question firmly implying that God is bigger and stronger than any potential problem or person?

When it comes to our righteous plans, isn’t this same principle vital to our process? What can we do and be as a church? The only limitation is that which goes against God’s will or that which can dominate God’s will. We must give great care to the first part, but we need not worry for a second about the second part. There will be factors that strain or intimidate. There will be reverses and failures. But, if we will persist and persevere, what can defeat us?

How exciting, in our personal and congregational lives, to serve a God more powerful than any foe or fear! We can succeed by His help and to His glory, come what may! Let us trust this timeless truth and live our lives as though we believe it!

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