WHY PLANNING IS POWERFUL

WHY PLANNING IS POWERFUL

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard

  • It forces us to focus. So often, churches just “do stuff.” We don’t ask who, what, where, when, or how. We don’t ask if the thing is effective, evangelistic, edifying, or empowering. Is it outmoded? Is it merely self-serving? Can it be improved? Planning clarifies. 
  • It makes us intentional. Whether we are looking at what is currently done or what should be done, planning makes us deliberate. Especially is this true when we consider whether or not the activity, program, or work is merely internally-focused (for us) or externally-focused (for lost souls). Do we plan to grow? Reach a tangible number of people each year? Increase the depth of our footprint in the community? If so, how? Specifically how? 
  • It says that leadership is thoughtful. Planning takes precious man hours from the leadership, but how it pays off! Personal analysis, congregational analysis, and biblical analysis require thought. Done well, it will build conviction that doctrine is never to be tampered with, but that methods and means in harmony with Scripture require judgment, discrimination, and scrutiny. Putting thought into the church’s works and needs is Acts 20:28 in motion.
  • It combats chaos. So often, a church’s works lack cohesion and coordination. There are no filters in place to ask if an individual work fits with the church’s vision and mission. Works may be good, but who knows what goes on with them or if they are working. Who is accountable? To whom are they accountable?
  • It expresses discontent with the status quo. It is easy to continue with works, programs, and activities that are already in place and have people managing and executing them. But, most of our methods and means of doing church work need to be evaluated regularly to ask if changes are needed. Change brings discomfort and takes work, but as our resources change–time, talent, treasure–we may find that we are more or less able to engage in the various works of the church. We should always be looking for more and better ways to serve and glorify God. 
  • It is biblical. Jesus had a tangible plan for world evangelism (Acts 1:8). Paul had a tangible plan for growing the church through the missionary journeys (Acts 15:36ff). Look at how 1 Timothy reflects and requires planning to help the Ephesus church (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul had a tangible plan for establishing elders in congregations throughout the island of Crete (Ti. 1:5ff). Something that was in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11) deserves our best effort, using our brightest minds to find biblical ways that are most effective to grow and strengthen it! 

Goals, dreams, intentions, and ideas will not, by themselves, accomplish anything. We must work to make those things a reality. But, a crucial first step is to articulate where we want to go. That makes planning so powerful! 

What Is The Church To Be?

What Is The Church To Be?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Conceived of in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11), purchased by Jesus’ blood (Acts 20:28), spoken of as the body (Eph. 1:22-23) and bride (Rev. 19:7) of Christ, and described as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), the church is valued and treasured by Him. As members of that church, we might develop a distorted picture of what the church should look, feel, think, and act like in our ever-changing world. What is the church to be?
A Museum? Is the church meant to be a relic of the past, a historical marker where the past is revisited, revered, and enshrined? No doubt, we stand on the shoulder of great workers and warriors of the past, but we are not meant to devote our focus to days gone by. It is but a slight renovation to go from museum to mausoleum.  Our best days should be ahead!

A Marketplace? Some see the church as a direct reflection of the culture. Stands on moral, social, and doctrinal issues are dictated by the views of the moment. “Change” is the key word, and selling the gospel becomes the preeminent goal (John 2:16; 2 Pet. 2:3). A church built foremost on society rests upon sand (Mat. 7:26-27). 

A Monastery? The church–though a haven from the craziness of the world–can become insulated and isolated. It is great to let our closest friendships and relationships to be fellow Christians, but we can become so secluded and shut off that we become a cloister that ceases to be soul-winners. Our worship services and Bible classes can be so full of insider language that the unchurched have no idea what we say much less what we mean. 

A Movement? Sometimes, we speak of the Restoration Movement whose leaders were trying to get people back to the Bible for “rule” and “practice.” But the New Testament church did not begin on the American Frontier during the Great Awakening or even shortly before it. It is not to be a political, national, or even social movement. To think of it on those terms is to degrade and devalue it. 

It is to be a model, safe to follow and imitate by others because she follows Christ (Mat. 5:13-16; 1 Cor. 11:1). It is to be a militant group, whose weapons build and save and defeat the devil (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-17). It is to be a mission, on a mission for the Master (Mat. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-16). It is to be a medicine dispensary, offering salve and healing from the Great Physician (Luke 5:31-32). It should reflect the Master in thought, in tone, in teaching, and target! May we all think more critically about what we think about the church!

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I Met A Soul Today (POEM)

I Met A Soul Today (POEM)

Neal Pollard

A lonely soul was crying out
For someone to direct
Their mind to know the will of God
But I chose to deflect.

An edgy soul was acting out
Intimidating and coarse
Yet they were searching for the truth
I recoiled with too little remorse.

A hopeful soul was reaching out
And attended our worship service
But I was busy, too much to do
To connect, plus I was nervous.

A hurting soul, in time of loss
Crossed my path today
I felt so bad that he was grieved
But still I hurried on my way.

A lost soul was needing Christ
She is destined for eternity
I was busy, nervous, no zeal for her
Guess I was too caught up in me

The next soul that I come upon
Lord, may I try with zeal
To share your grace and teach your Word
And your matchless love reveal.

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THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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Is The Church Broken?

Is The Church Broken?

Neal Pollard

You hear comments in Bible classes that amount to what’s wrong with the church, what we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing, and what it’s doing to us, our children, and the world. You read people’s minds through their social media rants, raves, and ramblings, and the bottom line message is that the church is inept, irrelevant, irresponsible, or, worse, insidious. To hear some tell it, the church is not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful.  I know that we can be prone to say things out of hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness, but the words themselves are no less potent even if influenced by such emotions.

Is the contention, as one Christian sister put it, that “the church is broken,” true? Another way to put that is, “Are elders, preachers, deacons, Bible class teachers, and every other Christian broken?” Perhaps we impersonalize it and overly-institutionalize it with a nameless, faceless designation of “church.” But the church is, as we were taught as children, “the people.” People who are prone to say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and, sadly, the wrong thing at the wrong time. We disappoint, we mishandle, we poorly execute, we unfairly judge and criticize, and we simply blow it. That is definitely not an excuse or a permission slip for bad behavior. Yet, it is not likely to ever change.

Because the church is made up of sinners saved by grace, the church is broken. We who are quick to condemn the church as broken need to face that we ourselves, as those placed by Christ into that church when we were saved, are broken, too. Show me the perfect person who never mishandles a situation, never sins with tongue, attitude, or deed, and I’ll show you someone who will stand before Christ at the Judgment saved on the basis of their own merit and goodness. That won’t happen.

Let’s be reminded of what the church is.  It is the precious, beloved bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-25; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). It is that institution purchased by His very life’s blood (Acts 20:28). It is that which was thought up by God from the eternity before time as is the expression of His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:9-11). It is the place where Christ is glorified (Eph. 3:21; 5:27). It is the present the Son will present to His Father when time is no more (1 Cor. 15:24). It is that and truly so much more.

God designed the church. Reckless criticism of it is reckless criticism of Him. All of us should be determined to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, to be for others what we need to be, to conquer faults and sins in our lives. We should also extend to others the grace we intensely desire to receive when we stand before the King at the last day! Yes, the church is broken, but not in the sense that it cannot help, serve, minister, love, and encourage. Let each of us strive to be the church we want the church to be. Model and exemplify it. Emit the fragrance of Christ. That way, the broken church can help mend the broken lives that make it up.

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DIVIDING OVER POLITICS

DIVIDING OVER POLITICS

Neal Pollard

“Rancor” is synonymous with hostility, bitterness, spite, and vitriol. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul warns the Christian against “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice.” While it didn’t seem possible that this election cycle could produce more heat and saber-rattling than the last couple, it has already exceeded it. It is almost painful to watch the cable news networks, but we should expect the world to behave like the world. Yet, when I see brethren so vehemently defending their candidate and excoriating those who disagree with them, I am truly disheartened. Social media continues to pour gasoline on this already potent fire.

I try to imagine the apostles and early Christians, were they to have such an outlet, tying into one another and beating their chest as they debated each other over the merits of Claudius over Nero, devoting so much time arguing their points about which candidate would better favor the cause of Christianity.  Inspired writers had every opportunity to show such a participation and bias, but they are conspicuously silent. While I do not agree with the extreme that David Lipscomb took in his book On Civil Government, can we not, if we are not careful, veer toward the other extreme through blind allegiance to rulers who, when dispassionately and objectively viewed, honor and demonstrate evil over godliness? Whether it is foul language, deceit and dishonesty, and glorifying sexual immorality (a la Playboy!) or lying, pro-abortion, and criminal behavior, I am baffled as to why a Christian should get so invested in one candidate or exorcised at the other.  May we never prioritize America over our dear brotherhood or our heavenly goal. We gauge that priority by our thoughts, speech, attitude, and actions regardless of what we claim.

As a husband and father for whom the prospect of grandchildren may not be many years hence, I grasp with such personal investment the gravity of this year’s election and the current world situation. Yet, I can let the fear of that eclipse the infinitely bigger picture. What a glorious day it would be if we could steer our consuming passion toward Jesus and the mission He left us!

You may have a decided leaning toward the Republican or Democratic offering in this year’s election. Given this year’s choice, I don’t believe you can cling to either without your hands being very dirty. That being said, may we all be prayerful and imminently restrained in our interchange especially with our brethren and before the eyes of the world. Our unity in truth, our common mission, and our Christian example are eternally more important than politics. Period!

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What The Israelites Lost Besides Canaan

What The Israelites Lost Besides Canaan

Neal Pollard

If you were to ask the typical Bible student what the consequences of Israel’s following the foolish counsel of the ten negative spies, you might hear talk of the wilderness wandering or the fact that God denied them the Promised Land. This was truly, from a physical standpoint, the most visible result of their faithlessness. Yet, looking closer, the Israel of that generation lost much more. They teach us today what not to do in doing the Lord’s work.

–They lost proper perspective. Who did Israel send to Canaan? Every tribe sent a “leader among them” (Num. 13:2; lit., “An exalted one; a king of sheik; captain; chief”). Also, who was Israel? They were not a people chosen of God because they were the biggest, strongest, or fiercest nation, but because God loved them (Deu. 7:7)! But, when Israel goes into Canaan, they walk by sight (Num. 13:28,32) rather than faith. They saw the giants, not the God who made them. They saw themselves as grasshoppers (Num. 13:33), not God’s people! They saw by fear and not by faith.

So often, today, we set our aim too low because our perspective is skewed. We launch out as far as we can see and go no farther. This hamstrings our budgets, our goals for evangelism, and the extent of our involvement in needed works. If we focus solely on ourselves, we become latter day followers of the Israel described in Numbers 13.

They lost sight of their purpose. Why had they left Egypt? At the bush, God told Moses (Exo. 3:8,17), and Moses, between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai, told Israel (Exo. 13:5). From the days right after their exodus from Egypt, Israel knew she was journeying toward Canaan. Certainly, she was prone to get sidetracked, as when Aaron led the calf-building project (Exo. 32) and when the people periodically, bitterly complained (Exo. 15-17). But, they ultimately plodded up to the precipice of the Promised Land. They camped at the corner of Canaan. This was where they were going. What happened? A few challenges, formidable as they might have seemed, derailed them. Rather than occupy the land God promised them, “They said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt'” (Num. 14:4). How exasperated with them God must have been!

Do we get like that today? Our purpose for being on this earth, to win souls (Mat. 28:19), help our brethren get to heaven (Jas. 5:19-20), help people in need of it (Jas. 1:27), and save ourselves (Acts 2:40), can get lost in the shuffle of career success, material gain, worldly acceptance, and even the material rather than the spiritual concerns within the local work of the church. Why are we here?! That determines where we go from here!

They lost the sense of their identity. They were God’s special people. He had covenant with them and they with Him (Exo. 24). They were God’s children. Exodus 6:7 captures succinctly God’s sentiment toward Israel, where God says, “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.” Nobody could defeat them. Nobody stood a chance before them. They were the hands and feet of God on the earth. No army stood a chance against them. They could have recalled Egypt as “Exhibit A” of this (Exo.. 15:4; Heb. 11:20). Instead, when they looked in the mirror of fear, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.

Christians are God’s people. We are the Lord’s army (Eph. 6). Can you think of fighting for a more powerful ruler? We are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12; Col. 1:18). Can you think of a healthier, stronger organism? We are branches of His vine, and the Father’s the farmer (John 15). No drought, pest, or conditions can keep us from being weighed down with fruit for Him! Yet, we have got to conquer the cricket concept if we want God to be pleased with us!

We are able to do more for the Lord, and we are able to do it better. But, this requires our enthusiastic, wholehearted participation in the work of the church. Don’t let the giants of time, apathy, inaction, and distraction turn you back. Through Christ we can do all the things He’s already commanded us to do! On to the milk and honey!

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What Are You Living For?

What Are You Living For?

Neal Pollard

A man had the good fortune and insight to take a chance with a credit card company in the Baltimore area several decades ago. He retired a wealthy, high ranking executive. In the course of his career, he put together a streak so impressive–35 years in which he never missed a day of work–that “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr., wrote him a letter commending him for it. When he retired, the company gave him a classic car as well as many other lavish gifts. He had a great many benefits and perks, the admiration of peers and competitors, resort townhouses, and considerable wealth. But, one day very soon after he retired his life was dramatically changed after a visit to the doctor. He had an aggressive form of cancer. A few months later he was dead.

This is not a commentary on the morality or priorities of the man. I know nothing about either. His story points out that his well-laid plans and successful career could not forestall the inevitable end result common to every man.

It should also provoke a question. What are we living for? Is our identity tied to our career? Do we want to be known as the life of the party? Is it all about travel and adventure? Does life revolve around going to the river, campground, fishing hole, beach, or mountains? Is it sports, shopping, spending, or spirituality? Of necessity, all of us have a central focus. It is the thing that forms the bull’s eye we repeatedly find ourselves aiming at. Too many times, some thing becomes the thing in “first place” over Christianity. Colossians 1:18 reminds us Christ must come to have first place. When it comes to our jobs, Jesus must take first place. When it comes to our recreation, same thing. When it comes to relationships, He deserves primary position. Whatever we say or do, Jesus must be at the forefront.

He warns that we may invest in the wrong kind of treasure rather than the true riches (Mat. 6:19-21). He admonishes us to seek the kingdom first over “things” (Mat. 6:33). He warns against choosing family members over Himself (Mat. 10:37).

When life draws to a close, one will be confronted by the reality of what he or she made first place. Certainly, when we cross the sea of time to eternity, there will be no denying, rationalizing, debating, or arguing what our “bull’s eye” was. But, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all know what’s most important to us right now? It’s what occupies the greatest amount of our interest, time, energy, emotion, and effort. It is what we live for. When we die, will what we live for help us live eternally or be the cause of eternal death (cf. Rev. 21:8)? Let’s hear Paul’s encouragement to “set your affection on things above and not on things of the earth” (Col. 3:2).

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Live Beyond Yourself

Live Beyond Yourself

 

Neal Pollard

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

The first stanza of the powerful, convicting poem by C.T. Studd has been the seeming anthem of one of God’s great, 21st Century spiritual warriors, Cy Stafford. I first met Cy around 2000, and his balanced, measured information and guidance helped us identify and deal with a false teacher in East Africa. His interest and concern were for the Christians, new and more seasoned, who might be impacted by this man’s influence.  That godly zeal for God’s people was an indicator of the mind of a missionary, minister, and mentor of men.  The subsequent years have shown me what a true leader and visionary, with God’s help and to God’s glory, can accomplish. Cy is not larger than life, gregarious, charming per se, or glossy in any way. He is steady, focused, and determined.  He has helped change the world by equipping men and women to reach the world. Alongside so many missionaries and Christians indigenous to East Africa, Cy has steadily worked to grow the church and its influence where some of the earth’s poorest and humblest people live.  He often has spoken of the window of opportunity that daily shrinks and he has worked with an urgency to do what he can to make sure everyone has the opportunity to hear the gospel at least once.

Cy and Stephanie have made countless sacrifices of time, comfort, safety, and security because their mission was far broader than themselves. While some in ministry appear motivated by self-interest, self-promotion, and self-absorption, the Staffords have valiantly sought to put the spotlight foremost on Christ and then upon others’ needs.  On whatever day each exchanges the cross for the starry crown, their legacy will have been that of living beyond themselves.   What a convicting challenge to each of us to engage in thoughtful self-examination! What is my agenda? What is my aim? What is my aspiration?

“Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Hebrews 11 speaks of great Old Testament heroes of faith who lived and died as those with a “desire” for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one…” (16). These same ones are called “strangers and exiles on the earth” (13), whose sight was set much higher than self. The whole of the New Testament reveals that a heart set on heaven will reside in one who also has his eyes on others (cf. Phil. 2:3-4). All too rarely do we receive such vivid examples of individuals who have so fully committed themselves to the Great Commission, who challenge us to imitate them in living beyond self. Cy is one of the best examples of this I will ever know.

“Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. “

God, give us more Christians like Cy Stafford! Let that begin with me.

cy and stephanie

HOW TO MAKE GOD SICK

HOW TO MAKE GOD SICK

Neal Pollard

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.