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Christmas scruples Uncategorized

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

Neal Pollard

To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10). 

When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.

According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong? 

According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers. 

According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.

According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.

When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.

This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.

nativitysilhouette1

Categories
priorities priority resolve spiritual maturity spirituality Uncategorized

My Daily “To-Do” List

Neal Pollard

  1. Be Productive With Your Time (Eph. 5:16).
  2. Be Pure In Your Heart (Mat. 5:8).
  3. Be Proactive In Your Relationships (Eph. 5:21-6:4).
  4. Be Peaceable With Your Provokers (Rom. 12:17-21).
  5. Be Purposeful With Your Life (Rom. 8:28).
  6. Be Praiseful With Your God (Psa. 150).
  7. Be Pleasant In Your Demeanor (Prov. 16:24).
  8. Be Prayerful In Your Decisions (Phil. 4:6).
  9. Be Patient In Your Challenges (1 Th. 5:14; Psa. 37:7).
  10. Be Positive About Your Future (Phil. 1:20-21; 4:13).
  11. Be Persistent In Your Evangelistic Pursuit (1 Cor. 9:19-22; Mat. 28:19).
  12. Be Pitying Of The Downtrodden (Prov. 19:17).
  13. Be Picky About Your Associates (1 Cor. 15:33).
  14. Be Passionate About Your Spirituality (Rom. 12:11).
  15. Be Perseverant In Your Trials (2 Th. 1:4).
  16. Be Prospective In Your Opportunities (Gal. 6:10).
  17. Be Petrified Of Falling Away From God (Heb. 6:1-6; 10:26-31).
  18. Be Powerful In Your Faith (Luke 7:9; 2 Th. 1:3).
  19. Be Persistent In Your Study (2 Tim. 2:15).
  20. Be Penitent In Your Sins And Failures (2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 3:19).
  21. Be Plentiful In Your Gratitude (1 Th. 5:18).
  22. Be Permeating In Your Influence (Mat. 13:33-34).
  23. Be Profuse In Your Generosity (3 John 5; Prov. 11:25).
  24. Be Prolific In Humility (Mat. 23:12; 1 Pet. 5:5).
  25. Be Pining For Heaven (Heb. 11:16; Phil. 1:23).

to-do-list-tools

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church church growth comprehension ignorance spiritual maturity Uncategorized

DO WE HAVE CONFUSING MENU TERMS?

Neal Pollard

Open Table, a company that facilitates reservations at better restaurants, sent a quiz today to test my familiarity with some of the more sophisticated menu terms one encounters. I made 40%, and at least a few of my right answers were lucky guesses. Truly, I’ve never heard of “okonomiyaki,” “Harissa,” “gochujang,” or “crudo.” These and others were foreign words, in the literal and culinary sense. Certainly, chefs, maitre d’s, refined diners, and the otherwise alimentary literate folks know these terms, but most of us are proud to differentiate between la fork and la spoon. We also do not like to be made to feel less than intelligent by the more informed foodie.

The more we try to be soul-conscious and truly sensitive to the visitors who attend our services, the more thoughtfully we should consider especially the terms we use and even take for granted. We’ve used them so long that maybe we assume everybody knows them.  But, these visitors may be sitting there, despite their intelligence and capability, feeling ignorant or uninitiated as we pepper them with “expediency,” “hermeneutics,” “extend the invitation,” “conversion,” “denominational,” “redemption,” and other terms that require the context of our learned church culture. Other terms, not at all hard to define, are terms that mean something specific to us but that mean something else to those without our “background”: sin, salvation, repentance, worship, born again, holy, works, grace, etc.  On many occasions, I’ve looked at some of the lyrics in our songbook and have found, especially in older songs where words have inevitably changed or fallen into disuse, we press on without defining or explaining these words to our youth, new Christians, or non-Christian attendees. “Could my zeal no respite know?”  “His garment too were in cassia dipped?” “Heavenly portals loud with hosannas ring?” Many, many more examples of such lines could be produced!

My point is not to be critical. There is no way we can define every word a visitor or newcomer may encounter in our worship services, but we do have so many who do not have our grasp of our unique terms. We have a serious obligation to them (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25). If we took some time to define the words of our songs, sermons, and even prayers, we would be helping those several groups who may not “get” it otherwise—teens and pre-teens, some of our young adults, a lot of our first-generation Christians, new converts, and those valuable visitors who may be termed “unchurched.” It will help the rest of us, too, to break down our rote and memorized sentences and think about what some of those “ten-cent” theological terms really mean. God desires worship that involves our heart (cf. John 4:24), and clear comprehension is a key to achieving that. May we deliberate on this when we assemble together this Lord’s Day!

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Who knows what this is?
Categories
humility service spirituality Uncategorized

Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

broom_sponge_and_towel

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Uncategorized

Snapshots

Neal Pollard

We are going through photos of Gary for a collage to be used at Sunday’s church graduation party.  It has been quite an exercise in nostalgia and reminiscence.  I have seen everything from his baby pictures to his senior pictures, with every stage in between the two.  My how he has changed and grown!  Since he was born at the end of 1993, his first several years in photo were captured the more “old-fashioned” way–pre-digital, 35-mm prints.  Those pictures symbolize so many memories of what was going on in life, in general, as well as what was going on specifically in his life. 

When you look in the New Testament, you see snapshots, if you will, of churches.  There is Jerusalem church of Christ in multiple stages, from a flourishing beginning (Acts 2) through internal issues (Acts 5), perceived prejudice (Acts 6), persecution and scattering (Acts 6-8), and financial hardship ().  The Bible doesn’t really show us what ultimately happens to this congregation, though at some point in history it seems to have ceased to exist.  Ephesus church of Christ has the longest, most dramatic history of any church in the New Testament. The church was established in probably the early to mid-50s A.D. on Paul’s second missionary journey.  The epistle to the Ephesians would have been written around 62 A.D.  Paul wrote Timothy, the preacher at Ephesus, before he was beheaded in the late 60s.  John addressed the church in Revelation, which would have been a generation later in the 90s.  What a transformation occurs and not all of the changes were positive.  As they went from a newborn congregation to being mature in age, somewhere they lost their relationship with God (Rev. 2:4-5).

When we look at our own lives, spiritually, we can the changes that come with “aging.”  The question is whether or not this is a graceful process.  Spiritually, are we growing more lovely and attractive, or are we gnarled and callused with the unchecked presence of sin in our lives.  A Heavenly Father has privy to what we have been and what we have become.  He loves us perfectly, but are we making Him proud?  Are we making progress?

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Uncategorized

“Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine…”


Neal Pollard

My good friend, the late Bill Snell, enjoyed telling a story about a preacher who was staying for several days with a brother in Christ, his wife, and their little 5-year-old son.  Every morning, the woman of the house made a hot breakfast that included the flakiest, fluffiest biscuits he had ever tasted.  Each morning, the little boy would get to the table before the preacher.  As the preacher sat down to eat, the little boy would touch the top of all the biscuits and say, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….”  Finally, the preacher was fed up enough to get to the table just before the boy.  As the boy sat down, the preacher touched the top of all the biscuits and said, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….”  The little boy smiled impishly, licked the palms of his hands, and said, as he touched the top of each biscuit, “Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours….”

Selfishness may seem childish, but it is not just a problem for children, is it?  Too often, we allow others to provoke us into childish actions.  We lower ourselves to their level, but we come out looking just like them.  In the book of Philippians are several, well-known statements warning against the follow and hurtfulness of selfishness.  Paul writes that some preached out of selfish ambition (1:17). He further says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (2:3). Some “seek after their own interests” (2:21).

James warned, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (3:14-17).

However cute you did or did not think that little boy, selfishness is anything but adorable.   It is evil and chaos.  It is arrogant and dishonest.  May we ever strive toward a spiritual maturity that does away with this sort of behavior.

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HEIGHTENED SENSITIVITY

Neal Pollard

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the largest act of terrorism against our nation, better known to the world as 9/11. Today’s newspaper in Pittsburgh was filled with news items and articles surrounding this ominous anniversary. Among these were several items regarding security scares at various airports and flights. In New York, a flight from Los Angeles was escorted by two F-16 fighter jets because three passengers would not leave a plane bathroom. In Detroit, a flight from Denver had three passengers who did the same thing. In Dallas, a rental truck was parked too long at DFW airport prompting suspicion and fear. In Kansas City, an ex-NYC police officer was detained for having suspicious items in his carry-on bag that he refused to let TSA screeners examine. Nothing serious has yet come of any of these incidents, but the nation was on edge yesterday. The anniversary probably brought out the neurotic in search of 15 minutes of fame, but the country was taking extra precautions. It was probably the worst day to try these shenanigans (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/11, A8).

Paranoia is detrimental and abnormal. None of us should be guilty of such. Seeing things that are not there is unhealthy. Yet, there is a sense in which all of us should live with heightened sensitivity. Peter says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Sobriety, alertness, and firm resistance are acts of heightened sensitivity. Knowing the strength and influence of our opponent, we must stay keenly aware of his tactics and attempts. One cannot be too guarded with this enemy. Earlier, Peter writes for Christians to “prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit” (1 Pet. 1:13). Paranoia involves perceiving what is not a real threat. Vigilance involves perceiving what is. Such is our daily task!