Categories
assemblies commitment faithfulness Uncategorized worship

AREN’T WE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

ATF2020 crop

Neal Pollard

  • I’ve never heard the avid fisherman say, “Do I have to go back to the lake?”
  • I’ve never heard the shopaholic say, “How often do I have to go to the store?”
  • I’ve never heard the committed sports fan say, “How many games do I have to watch?”
  • I’ve never heard the foodie say, “How often do I have to try a new restaurant or dish?”
  • I’ve never heard the head-over-heels-in-love say, “How many times do I have to see him/her each week?”
  • I’ve never heard the devoted mom say, “How often must I hold my baby?”

We’ve lost the battle when our sermons, articles, and classes center around answering the question, “How often must I assemble? How many times a week do I have to come to church? Are Sunday night and Wednesday night mandatory?”

How unnatural for a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus who is in love with Him and who has such a relationship with Him that He is priority number one, to approach the assemblies in such a way! Must? Have to? You see, the question is wrong. The mentality and approach is where the work needs to occur.

When Jesus and His church are my passion, the thought-process becomes “I get to,” “I want to,” and “I will!” Neither parents, grandparents, spouses, elders, preachers, siblings, nor anyone else have to get behind anyone and push the one who has put Jesus at the heart and center of their lives.

Not a legalistic or checklist mindset. Instead, an outgrowth of what’s happening in my life between my God and me. Church “attendance” is but one evidence of this, but it certainly is an evidence of this. Church and religion are not just a slice of the pie of a committed Christian’s life. Christ is the hub in the wheel of their life, and each spoke of the wheel is attached to that hub. The difference could not be more dramatic!

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Categories
evangelism soul-winning

An Evangelist For An Unworthy Gospel?

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

I convinced my parents to watch a show I enjoyed with me. I doubt I converted them to watching the same kind of programs as I like but I was happy they enjoyed what we watched together. I was acting as an evangelist, wasn’t I? I told them about something that I felt fervently about, convinced them to look into it themselves, and then encouraged them to commit to following through with it. As I enjoyed the afterglow of the moment, I was hit by a realization. Why is it easy for us to tell others about a book or movie but not about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I suppose one answer is fear. If a friend thinks my movie suggestion is stupid, then he will just think I have bad taste in movies. At worst, he won’t ask me my opinion about movies again. The Gospel is different, though. We’re putting ourselves out there. What we present doesn’t just require the forfeiture of an hour and a half, but a lifelong commitment. What we fear is the loss of that companion since we feel as if we are requiring something great from them. The truth, however, is that it is not we who put forth the requirement. God does. We merely relay the information. Thus, regardless of a negative reaction, if we’ve spoken the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15) we’ve done what we are supposed to do in letting them hear what God requires of them (Ezekiel 3.17-19).

I suppose another answer is shame. I don’t fear what my friend thinks about my secular choices. However, I am reminded of the adage that one never publicly discuss religion and politics. Certainly, we have seen with the latter how divisive of a subject it can be. People unfriended me following the last Presidential election simply because they knew I supported the candidate for whom they didn’t vote! Imagine how that person will take the news that the cherished religion of his grandmother was not one that was true to the teaching of the New Testament? The Thessalonians felt their world had been turned upside down (Acts 17.5-8), and I am sure that my friend would feel the same way too.

Yet, that is not the truth, either. I have no power to condemn any grandmother to hell or grant her access to Heaven. God’s Word is truth (John 17.17). If the truth turns one’s world upside down, the fault lies within the worldview that was turned the wrong way, to begin with. As brother Keeble used to say to such a one bothered by the fate of grandmother, “If she had been taught what you’ve been taught, how do you suppose she would have reacted?” Just the fact that discussing religion in polite company is frowned upon is insufficient to dissuade the one genuinely loving his neighbor.

The next time you find yourself excitedly chattering on about something you’re zealous about to a friend, remember that it is possible to talk with them about Jesus that way as well. The only reason that we don’t is that we feel that we cannot. Love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father (Matthew 10.32-33). Hobbies are great, but may we not find ourselves more energized by them than by the Living God.

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Categories
commitment passion Uncategorized zeal

Lessons Learned At The Stadium

Neal Pollard

Corey Sawyers and I decided a few weeks back to go to the Georgia-Tennessee game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, this past Saturday. Thanks to various reward programs and good deals, we were each able to do it all for less than a discount airfare. We were gone about 24, action-packed hours. We even were able to connect with the Shillidays, who had the same idea as us and made the trip from Colorado to Georgia. It was a lot of fun and we made some great memories. While there, especially in the several hours we were at the stadium, several things occurred to me that I would like to share.

  • People get emotionally invested and passionate about what they love.
  • Diverse individuals can unite around a common cause.
  • We sacrifice (time, inconvenience, effort, money, and voice) for what we truly care about.
  • We can be bold enough (vocally and visually) to let everyone know where we stand.
  • We may be too quick to forget past successes, but we’re also quick to forget past failures. 
  • With sufficient interest, we can endure discomfort (backless seats, extreme heat and humidity, and no elbow room).
  • We do not let lack of knowledge or understanding of a subject (like the rules and strategy of college football) to keep us from speaking up.
  • We tend to be proud of our history and heritage (coaches, players, broadcasters, past seasons), feeling a sense of connection or belonging through it.
  • Despite aforementioned unpleasantries and sacrifices, most remain willing to do it again in the future. 
  • We can quickly build a bond with likeminded people, even strangers, out of a common love.

It’s easy to see the comparisons and contrasts between our Saturday experience and trying to be a Christian in our world today. Obviously, I am not disparaging going to ballgames and having a good time. It’s great fun! But, it always reminds me of my need to exhibit greater commitment and zeal for the only thing that matters eternally. My prayer is that, in every way it can be measured, my heart, mind, soul, and strength will be most invested in loving the Lord, His church, and the lost. It also makes me aware of the vast potential in every person, properly directed, to seek first the Kingdom of God! How many, adequately exposed to God’s will and His offer of salvation, will wholeheartedly embrace and share it? Seemingly, the numbers are staggering! May we be enthusiastically about the Lord’s business. 

Bear Valley at Sanford Stadium
Bear Valley crew at Sanford Stadium shortly before kickoff.
Categories
enthusiasm passion Uncategorized zeal

“What’s Your Passion?”

Neal Pollard

Most of us, repeatedly throughout our lives, get asked or ask ourselves the question, “What’s your passion?” The word, defined as “a strong and barely containable emotion,” is one we may use for ourselves but one as likely to be used by others to describe us. Thanks to social media, we can see people’s interests, hobbies, and diversions whenever we choose. They post pictures, make comments, and talk about them with great frequency. However, there are some people whose focus is so intent on some topic that their emotion spills over. If anyone else brings it up, they cannot refrain from jumping in “with both dogs.” Yet, they themselves are always finding and sharing relevant material that supports or upholds their views. Maybe it’s guns (for or against), race (black, white, or hispanic), politics (R or D), illegal immigration (for or against), or some equally charged issue. Have you ever noticed someone whose passion seems to be for being argumentative and disagreeable? Passion is unmistakeable.

Not only through social media, but through my every social interaction, my life is declaring what my passion is. Those closest to me are best equipped to reveal what that is, but everyone who is exposed to me for any period of time can figure it out. What a sobering thought! I know what I would want that to be. Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In Philippians 3:10, he simply says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…” We have the corpus of Paul’s inspired writings, and it is filled with his expressing that passion. We have eyewitnesses to his ministry, especially Luke, who verify that this is what drove him and ignited his passion.

A lot of people know that I enjoy dark roast coffee, all things Georgia Bulldogs, running, peanut butter, traveling, and my family, but do they see passion for Christ in my life? I don’t get to say what my passion is, simply by thinking about what it should be in some moment of reflection. It is what my life shows that it is. When all is said and done, what will have been the great passion of my life? What about you?

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Categories
passion Uncategorized zeal

Are You “Boiling Over” Or Just “All Wet”?

Neal Pollard

The word translated “zealous” is from the Greek word zero (Dzay-lo-o). It is found 17 times in the New Testament. It means to “burn with zeal; to be heated or to boil, whether with envy, hatred, anger, or to be zealous in the pursuit of good; to desire earnestly, to strive after, busy one’s self about” (Thayer 271). It is found in both the positive and negative sense:

  • Negatively–Acts 7:9; 17:5 (“became jealous”), 1 Corinthians 13:4 (“jealous”), Galatians 4:17 (“eagerly seek”), James 4:2 (“envious”)
  • Positively–1 Corinthians 12:31 (“earnestly desire”), 1 Corinthians 14:1,39 (“desire earnestly”), 2 Corinthians 11:2 (“jealous”–with a godly jealousy), Galatians 4:18 (“eagerly sought”–in a commendable manner), and Revelation 3:19 (“be zealous”).

(The object of the zeal and the attitude it describes
determines whether it is an acceptable emotion or not.)

We have all known people who are prone to boil over with jealousy and anger. They seethe. They grit their teeth. They explode! They are just like that unattended pot on the stove, and they usually leave an even bigger mess. They are proving that there is something underneath them leading to such “outbursts of anger” (Gal. 5:20).

We also know people who always seem enthusiastic about serving the Lord. They are effervescent. They have an infectious smile and positive attitude about almost everyone and everything. They are eager to serve and help. They go the extra mile. They seem genuinely thrilled to be able to engage in spiritual service, no matter what it is! Guess what? They are proving that there is something underneath them leading them to be “zealous of good works” (Ti. 2:14).

Both vessels, boiling over, impact the church. Both have influence. Yet, one is using his or her passion constructively, but Satan is using the other destructively. What lights your fire? Is there one underneath you? Let it be an earnest desire to build up the Kingdom! This is one instance where a “watched pot” needs to boil–boil over with enthusiasm for serving Christ!

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Categories
church church growth evangelism Uncategorized

What It Takes To Grow The Church In Our Culture

Neal Pollard

It was such a treat to be among the hearty, faithful Christian men of central Wyoming and the Bighorn Basin. By Bible-belt comparison, they come from small congregations. But their passion and desire to grow the church is humongous. Near the end of their men’s retreat, they divided into groups to discuss the obstacles to growth and suggestions for growth. What they came up with was incredibly insightful, helpful to especially anyone living in the current, western culture.

Among the obstacles they listed were:

  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear
  • Political correctness
  • Biblical ignorance
  • Sin
  • Apathy/indifference
  • Misplaced priorities
  • Lack of adequate leadership

For those in Alabama, Oklahoma, and California who would say, “Those are our obstacles!”, isn’t it interesting how common our struggle is.  The same factors are holding back our growth all over the nation.

Yet, I love the suggestions they came up with. I think they are key to tapping into our growth potential throughout the country and, to a great extent, throughout the world. They suggested the following:

  • Increase fellowship—The key to growth is being in each others’ lives more
  • Emphasize and empower Bible study—There can be no spiritual or numerical growth without growing our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
  • Think outside the box—Staying faithful to truth, get out of method ruts and overcome fear of rejecting a different, scriptural method just because it is new
  • Challenge greater application of biblical truth—Every class and sermon must have a viable “so what”
  • Be intentional in our relationships—Realize that our jobs, community involvements, friendships, etc., are means to an end rather than an end of themselves. They all exist as opportunities to evangelize.

Our brethren in the deep south, the north, the Atlantic region, the upper midwest, the southwest, the far west, the northwest, and, in short, any recognizable region of the country share a desire to be relevant and meaningful in our communities. We want to honor Christ and grow His body. But it will take measurable steps. It won’t happen incidentally! We must act on our hopes and desires. We must personally engage ourselves in enacting these suggestions daily! In so doing, we’ll not only avoid being part of the problem but we’ll be part of the solution.

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Categories
daily living legacy life purpose Uncategorized

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).

Spofforth Church Grounds

Categories
brotherly love faithfulness restoration

WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

Categories
evangelism priorities soul-winning

DETERMINED TO GET OUT THE NEWS

Neal Pollard

I spoke with our newspaper deliveryman this morning, and he had some story to tell.  He summarized his experience as the longest 15 hours of his life.  He got stuck once and had been towed twice.  He delivers his newspapers in a 2014 Toyota Camry, a front-wheel drive vehicle fighting against 10-12 inches of snow in a thousand cul-de-sacs.  Surprisingly cheerful, he was plodding on until finishing his task—delivering The Denver Post to every customer on his route.  That, my friend, is dedication!

As a former subscriber to the Rocky Mountain News and current subscriber to the Post, I cannot describe his product as “good news.”  With the internet competing, the newspaper is far from the exclusive or timeliest source of news.  That notwithstanding, this man is determined to get out the news.

The gospel is, by definition, “good news.”  Without a doubt, it is the most important and timeliest news of all time and eternity.  Every person needs to be exposed to it as it contains information that will impact where they will spend their forever.  God has given the job to you and me and every Christian in this nation and around the globe. Every day, we see people and relate to people on their everlasting journey.  They may or may not be oblivious to their need, but we are well aware of it.

Are we determined to get out the news?  The first century church was.  In bad times (Acts 8:4) or in good times (Acts 2:47), the news went near and far.  Paul described it as news which had reached every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23).  Christ commissioned that the news be spread to that extent (Lk. 24:44ff).  The challenge is great today, with over seven billion people on the earth.  But we have more resources than they did, and there are more of us, too.  The difference, then, may be the level of our determination.  Until we are determined to let nothing stop us from getting out the news, darkness will eclipse light and our challenge will grow.  Let’s let nothing stop us from sharing the great salvation of Jesus to everyone we meet.

Categories
church evangelism future optimism

Why These Are Exciting Times

Neal Pollard

I am filled with a tremendous sense of optimism that is not generated by politics, current events, the media, the economy, or any other worldly thing.  Neither am I fueled by some Pollyanna spirit.  Yet, I cannot shake this swelling tide of hope that fills me on a daily basis.  It is a hope for what the church and its members can be in the face of the growing challenges we face in this culture and around the world.  Why are these such exciting times?

The darkness is allowing the light to shine brighter!  Sadly, moral, ethic, philosophical, and civil behavior is eroding.  The messages being sent by those in power and authority are increasing anti-biblical.  Those who have lived for any length of time have witnessed a pretty dramatic shift in thinking and behavior.  This is reflected in so many things from language on the job and on “the street” to what is allowed and promulgated in TV and movies to the blatant lifestyle choices of the rank and file.  What all this means is that as Christians we can, by leading “a quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti. 2:2; cf. 1 Th. 4:11), shine the light of Christ (cf. Mat. 5:14-16).  As we share Christ with those in our circle of influence, we can countermand the marching orders of the “world forces of this darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  That, brothers and sisters, is exciting!

People are earnestly searching! I read with interest the studies about exiting millennials, new world orders (not just conspiracy theories, but fundamental shifts in worldviews), spirituality over organized religion, and the like. For all of that, down where we live day by day on our jobs, at school, in our neighborhoods, and our community and civic activities, people are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives.  Yes, they can be confused and misguided.  Yes, they have broken and messed up lives.  Yes, this produces a great challenge to churches as we are intentional and outwardly focused.  But, we have not seen a day in any of our lifetimes where biblical ignorance and, thus, directionlessness has been greater.  Remember what Jeremiah said: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).  There are many who would say with the Ethiopian nobleman, “How can I (understand, NP), unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).

The church is ripe for revival! It seems that the tale most churches with whom I have contact tell boils down to larger numbers, greater involvement, and younger members occurred in the past! Thus, panic, pessimism, and perplexity lace the private conversations and public addresses of the pulpits, the pastors, and the pews. Perhaps it is time for congregations to consider moving from the defensive to the offensive. I don’t know that individual Christians have ever been more impressed with the dire urgency of evangelizing than right now. I believe the conviction and dedication of our Christian soldiers is palpable.  With bolder leadership, concerted efforts, and a faith-filled plan of action, I believe the church as a whole is poised for growth.  This will require a change of priority, focus, and commitment, but I believe that we are more than ready for it.  We are eager for it!

But, time is short!  Paul is right.  “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).  If ever the mantra, carpe diem, has applied, it is right now!  May our anthem become, “Rise up, O men of God!”