Categories
millennials self-denial selfishness unselfishness

Denying Self

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Self-denial is tough. Yet, for us to be obedient to God, we must lay our will to the side in order to pick up God’s Will for us (Luke 9.23). But God is not the only One deserving our consideration in this matter. Sometimes, a Christian’s self-denial requires acquiescing to his or her fellow man (Philippians 2.4).

You’ve likely watched the news about young people insisting that they have their spring break despite admonitions to provide for “social distancing” from the threat of the novel coronavirus. When interviewed, these young people said things such as, “I had been waiting for this for two months and wasn’t going to give this up/lose my money.” With youth, we realize that there is a certain feeling of invincibility. More than one spring breaker stated that he or she felt that the entire threat was being overblown. One fellow, however, stated his feelings thusly: “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” 1 Fortunately, Governor DeSantis stepped in to bring an end to this partying. 2 Even so, the consequences may be irreversible.

I’ve heard the statistics. Yes, they do seem to be on the side of young people (i.e. lower death rates). 3 Even so, it is not a matter of the welfare of these revelers. The CDC guidelines are intended to ensure that fewer people contract the virus, especially those at higher risk. By selfishly engaging in risky behavior (beyond that of the typical spring break fare), these young people put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19. When they return home, they may pass the virus on to an elderly grandparent, despite not showing any symptoms. 4 Suddenly, that spring break that they insisted on partaking of becomes someone else’s problem, a potentially life-threatening problem.

That’s easy to see, isn’t it? But what of other situations where our refusal to humble ourselves and cede our way to another creates other unintended circumstances? For example, Paul says that if the stronger brother doesn’t bear with the weaknesses of the weak, he is just seeking to please himself (Romans 15.1ff).  Paul immediately follows this up by saying that even Christ did not please Himself (Romans 15.3)! Here is the Son of God, Whom Paul said thought it not robbery to be equal to God (Philippians 2.6). (John more plainly states that He is God—John 1.1.) Despite this truth, God decided for the sake of those “made lower than the angels” that His Son would taste death for the greater need of His creation (Hebrews 2.5-9).

Sadly, the flesh wants what it wants. This blinds us to the greater needs of others. When we act selfishly, we are not being like Him Who is our example (Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Peter 2.21). This is why I said at the outset that self-denial is tough. In perilous times, as well as during the good, we may find ourselves asking the Lord to increase our lacking faith. Let us strive to determine to do things not solely based upon its impact or cost to us, but the impact our course of action has upon others. That makes sense not just in pandemics, but when you strive to be a mature member of God’s Family on earth.

 

REFERENCES

1 “US students party on spring break despite coronavirus.” BBC News, BBC, 20 Mar. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-51955362/us-students-party-on-spring-break-despite-coronavirus.

2 Elizabeth-Matamoros. “’The Party Is Over’: Florida Governor Shuts Down Beachgoers.” Washington Free Beacon, Washington Free Beacon, 19 Mar. 2020, freebeacon.com/issues/the-party-is-over-florida-governor-shuts-down-spring-break/?fbclid=IwAR1VNde4flHCtg3dzFvLH4ePKHGTkPYoAo_HNxG2gCNxpOv2B1a1EidzD1Q.

3 Belluck, Pam. “Younger Adults Comprise Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-young-people.html.

4 Salo, Jackie. “Ex-CDC Head Tom Frieden Says Kids May Be Secret Coronavirus Carriers.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 Mar. 2020, nypost.com/2020/03/02/ex-cdc-head-tom-frieden-says-kids-may-be-secret-coronavirus-carriers/.

self-denial

Categories
attendance church attendance Hebrews worship

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

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Categories
church church (nature) church function loneliness

Defeating The Adversity of Loneliness In The Communication Age

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Human connections are necessary. Though stated in the context of needing a mate comparable unto himself, God nevertheless said of man it wasn’t good for him to be alone (Genesis 2.18). Thus, God provided Adam with Eve. Elsewhere, the wise man of God reminds us of the advantages of having companions:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12 NASB)

Hence, even if being around many people wearies our soul, we admit it’s a blessing to have those precious few upon whom we can depend to be there for us when we emerge from our solitude.
Jesus had His close companions. We don’t doubt He loved all those men He chose to be His apostles, but He singled out Peter, James, and John to be His “inner circle.” They were His confidants. It was to these three alone He shared His true glory (Matthew 17.1ff). Peter, James, and John also went further into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus as He prayed (Mark 14.32-35). In addition, John refers to himself throughout the Gospel he was inspired to pen as “the disciple whom the Lord loved” (John 21.20). This same passage also shows us that John leaned against the Lord during the last Passover (Can you imagine?).

God never intended us to face life alone. As mentioned previously, God provided the foundation for the family in the very beginning. The family has often been called the “bedrock of society.” Aristotle wrote in Politics that humans organized themselves first in families that birthed villages which, in turn, gave rise to the polis (i.e. city-state).  As we live in a world into which sin was welcomed, we understand people bound to us, even by ties of blood, may betray or abandon us. We see, then, the wisdom of God in giving to us the church.
It’s a sad paradox in a world of virtual, perpetual interconnectedness people feel lonelier than ever. The HRSA reveals that loneliness and social isolation is as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! 1 Just type in the words “loneliness epidemic” in a search engine and see what pops up. This isn’t a problem just for our seasoned citizens either. 2 There’s no excuse for the child of God to be lonely, however. Christ instituted the church to be God’s Household on earth (Ephesians 2.19). If we assemble as we ought, we will be stirred to love and the performance of good works (Hebrews 10.24-25). Furthermore, we encourage and build up one another in the church (1 Thessalonians 5.11; Ephesians 4.15-16).
Yes, we’re currently facing a global epidemic not physical in nature. It’s a disease of the heart perpetuated by loneliness, which focuses one’s attention inward on troubles and wants. God didn’t create you to be alone. Dismiss the foolish notion that the church is for the weak and embrace the strength it supplies the lonely heart. You’ll never find an app that can do for you what the church can.

References

1 “The ‘Loneliness Epidemic.’” Health Resources & Services Administration, HRSA.gov, 10 Jan. 2019, www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic.

 

2 Howe, Neil. “Millennials And The Loneliness Epidemic.” Forbes, Forbes Media LLC, 3 May 2019, 13:21, www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/05/03/millennials-and-the-loneliness-epidemic/#77096a8f7676.

 

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Categories
church faith millennials religion Uncategorized

Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Neal Pollard

Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion. 

Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith. 

Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,

Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux). 

I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:

  • It is a matter of crisis. People abandoning God’s Word and will is foreboding (Judges 2:10ff; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:3ff). It is happening, and it must matter to us. It does to God. 
  • It is a matter of correction. The home can change course if it is on the broad way. Individual Christians can improve their ethics and morality in public (Ephesians 4:25ff). Soul-conscious Christians can make the most of our opportunities to share Jesus in Christlike fashion (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We must change what we can change. 
  • It is a matter of consequence. A culture does not get where ours currently is as the result of sincere devotion to Christ and His Word. Hosea 4:6 is incredibly relevant. The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, for good and bad (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we exalt as guide is leading us somewhere.
  • It is a matter of courage. The only way I can see for this to change is for you and me to not just believe something or hold a conviction. The early Christians didn’t confine their faith to the holy huddles of the assemblies. They stood up for Jesus every day and every way. 

Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff). 

Walking Away

Categories
church church (nature) church function church growth Uncategorized

Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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Categories
church church function church growth church of Christ evangelism involvement soul-winning Uncategorized

Producers Versus Consumers

Doug McNary

Allow me to take you back to the early 1930’s, when the U.S. economy was in the throws of the Great Depression. It was a time of record setting negative economic growth. Many Americans lost their means to sustain basic life functions. Many Americans lost all Hope.

At the time, President Herbert Hoover believed in the importance of the role of individuals in society and the economy.

He said, “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Now, let us fast forward to the church today. We find the church in a time of record setting negative growth. And according to a 2014 Pew Research Study, less than 27% of Millennials (defined as ages 18 to 35) regularly attend religious services. Yet, 67% say they believe in a heaven and 84% think there is a God. So, what does the mean?  

I think deep down inside, millennials believe there is a God, but worldly distractions and alternate priorities keep them from contemplating what that really means. A lack of understanding or knowledge of the truth translates into a lack of action. Their ignorance may lead to eternal demise.

So, let’s rewrite Hoover’s insight:

“Church growth cannot be cured by the action or pronouncement of church leaders. Church wounds must be healed by the actions of the members of the church body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Church growth will not be achieved by elders, deacons or preachers alone. It must be cured by each of us also doing our part.

So I ask myself, “Am I a producer, or a consumer?”

In Matthew 5,  Jesus said,

“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.”

Honestly, I have been a consumer long enough. I sit in my pew every worship service, I do my daily bible reading, and dwell on God’s word… I have been a faithful Christian, with a proverbial basket over my head.

I want to be a producer…

–Sharing, Caring, and Acting to make a difference for the Lord’s church.

I want to be a producer…

–Proclaiming to others the Truth found in the Bible.

I want to be a producer…

–Openly Praising the Lord, each and every day, in my words and actions.

I want to be a producer…

–Participating in the building up of the body of our church by being involved in the work of the church.

I can no longer be just a consumer, I want to be a producer… Finding creative ways to prick the heart of a lost soul, for the sake of Christ!

Now here is the challenge:

I want to do these things… But, will I?… And how about you?

My brothers and sisters, I pray that each one of us can get up out of our “consumer” pew and DO Something Each Day to help our Lord’s church grow! I pray that we can all become “producers” for Christ.

I leave you with this thought…

In one of my favorite movies, Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart played the role of the father, Charlie Anderson. He sat at a campfire with his family as they were searching for his lost son. They were all about to give up hope when Charlie said: “If we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?”

Brothers and Sisters, if we truly love the Lord’s church, we must try, we must do!

nakedspur_trailer_3

Categories
change faith millennials

MILLENNIALS LEAVING THE ESTABLISHED FOR THE CONVENIENT?

Neal Pollard

I was more than a little amused to read one of the latest offerings at the offbeat online food site “Munchies” (munchies.vice.com).  While it seems to be having fun with the overkill-reporting of all movements millennial, they give hard data to support the idea that those in the age range of 18-34 are forsaking fast-food chains and sit-down restaurants in deference to convenience stores with their nachos, taquitos and slurpies.  This data is being interpreted as a reflection on their tendency to impulse buy or be lured in by novelty.

Having at least two children who would fit the broad definition of “millennials,” I am always trying to figure out how this demographic ticks.  It seems that every news story featuring them, as a generation, casts them as fickle, rebellious, self-serving, or disconnected from the rest of society.  While they have inherited some broken systems (educationally, economically, religiously, etc.) and, as such, may naturally feel some distrust and disdain for those responsible, stereotypes and broad brushes are usually faulty.

When I view Christian millennials, having spoken with a great many of them over the past few years, I see a group intent on doing great things for Christ.  They don’t want to hear plans for helping the poor and needy; they want to organize and supply manpower for doing it.  They want more than Bible classes and sermons on soul-winning; they want to see their “role models” doing it and involving them in it.  They don’t want to simply accept our word for it on why we do what we do in worship and doctrine; they want well-thought-out explanations and demonstrations of book, chapter, and verse.

Today’s millennials are on the frontline of a battlefield more daunting than any living generation before them.  The prince of this world has attempted to brainwash and indoctrinate them with his lies.  The institutions of our culture actively seek to redefine right and wrong for them.

So many of the Christian millennials I know are eager to serve as soldiers in the Lord’s Army.  They may disparage some of the “established” forms not founded upon the Rock, but the kind of faith they are developing and must grow will be anything but “convenient.”  They may have to pay a higher price for holding onto their faith than any of us did at their age.  May we have the wisdom and take the time to mentor, encourage, love, and assist them in influencing a world so rapidly changing.  They can do it, and we must help.  God certainly will (cf. Rom. 8:37-39)!

Categories
character

“No Doubt You Are The People, And Wisdom Will Die With You!”

know-it-all

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard

This is, in my estimation, the most withering of Job’s comebacks to those miserable comforters introduced to us as his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (2:11).  The statement is made by Job in Job 12:2 at the end of the first cycle of speeches by these friends, in all of which are accusations and insinuations that Job was suffering due to sins he had committed.  They were wrong, but they were certain they were right.

Aren’t there more than a few Eliphazes, Bildads, and Zophars today?  There are those who act as though they believe civilization has been holding its collective, bated breath in great anticipation of their arrival.  So many complexities, mysteries, and intellectual quagmires have sat stubbornly, mystifying their forebears, but pliably come forward as mere child’s play for them.  Or perhaps they purport themselves to be experts, demonstrating academic or professional credentials in support of such.  They may even move or speak with the air of unmistakeable confidence.  It might be that they have substantial followings and impressive venues to spout their philosophical triumphs.  

But, as the case was for Job, the proof is in the pudding.  God’s Word proved these men wrong.  Job 42 shows that their claims and theories, however confidently asserted, were at odds with His mind.  They spoke words of man’s wisdom.  It may have sounded right on the surface, but it wasn’t right.  

Consider Paul’s message to Corinth.  He speaks of preaching, the foolishness of God, coming in the wake of men’s inability to grasp His wisdom.  Then he writes, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,  so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:25-29).

Humility, teachability, and submission are three indispensable quality traits we must possess when it comes to the Bible.  Our theology must be formed by the latter (the Bible) and our character is formed by the former (the quality traits).  Let us forever be less concerned with being judged right by others and be consumed with a desire to be right with God.