HE’S SO EXCITED TO GO TO CHURCH

HE’S SO EXCITED TO GO TO CHURCH

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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(Pinch-hitting for the groom-to-be)

Neal Pollard

Last weekend, we had an opportunity to see good friends of ours when Kathy did a Ladies Day in “L.A.” (Lower Alabama). We met Justin and Anna Maynard when they served as missionaries in Tanzania, and we have also been to Israel with them. They have two beautiful Standard Poodle puppies, a girl named Ruby and a boy named Colton. They are both smart, but Colton has to be a canine Einstein. Perhaps the best measure of his intelligence is his absolute love of going to the church building with Justin (see picture below). Some years ago, I wrote about a dog from my childhood that was faithful to be at the building when the church met (The Dog At Church). What I appreciate about Colton is how eager he is, every single time, to “go to church.” When Justin asks, “You wanna go to church?,” Colton goes ballistic! When he gets there, he sprints to the door and impatiently waits for his “dad” to open the door. Then, he runs around excitedly (I watched him do laps around the auditorium for several minutes before contentedly sprawling out on the floor to rest). He does a flying leap onto one of the other minister’s couch and thoroughly enjoys the whole experience at the church building.

His enthusiasm is so high, it made me think of what David once said: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psa. 122:1). The sons of Korah described being in the house of the Lord, “with the voice of joy and thanksgiving” (Psa. 42:4). Maybe it was his memories of “sweet fellowship together” with others who “walked in the house of God in the throng” (Psa. 55:14). In those last two passages, the writers look back with longing to a time when they could do freely what now was impossible to do. They longed to be there. The psalms, as much as any book, describes zealous worshippers. Think about Psalm 95:6, which admonishes, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker!”

I watched Colton and I asked myself, “Do I have that attitude toward going to ‘church’?” Frankly, I can let a sour mood or personal problems or distractions dampen my joy and zeal for being there. Here’s a creature who will not live eternally, is not made in the image of God, and for whom Jesus did not die, but whose unbridled enthusiasm is overflowing! The next time I’m tempted to grumble or grimace as I approach the “next appointed time,” I hope I will remember Colton Maynard, who loves to go to church! 

Colton and Justin
Ignorant Vows

Ignorant Vows

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

In Judges 11 we read that Jephthah was a mighty man who was asked by the elders of Gilead to lead the people in a fight against the Ammonites, but who also attracted the company of worthless men (11:3-5). Prior to the battle, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He prays, “If you will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

HE IS VICTORIOUS AND RETURNS

The victory would be short lived, however, as we read, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it” (11:35)

There has been a lot of debate concerning the end of this account. Did he sacrifice his daughter? Did he go through with this horrible thing? 

The account seems to indicate that he did indeed sacrifice his daughter, but if that is the case it wouldn’t have been approved by Him. Jepthah’s character hints to his own spiritual life. Not all of the men and women God raised up to fulfill His will were righteous. If Jepthah went through with the sacrifice it would have been out of ignorance. If he knew the God of Israel, he would have known that God would have never asked him to do such a thing. 

The question we should ask when we read this account is not whether or not Jepthah murdered his daughter, but rather, how well do we know God? 

“The Frozen Chosen”

“The Frozen Chosen”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Recently, in discussing some extremes on matters like the Holy Spirit, grace, and emotion in our worship services, a brother said that a friend of his referred to churches of Christ as “the frozen chosen.” The man was part of a religious group we’d call “charismatic,” and he had attended the worship of one of our congregations which he apparently found stoic and lifeless. We chuckled at the nickname, but it stuck with me.

It is likely that this man found it strange and lacking to have singing without a band, preaching and worshipping without ecstatic utterances and tongue-speaking, and even members seated and without raised hands. We’d rightly point out that the New Testament specifies singing and that adding mechanical instruments is unauthorized (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), that tongue-speaking belonged to the infancy of the Lord’s church as a means of communicating the gospel to other languages (Acts 2:6-11) and, though a means of proving apostolic truth at that time, was regulated and said to be inferior to other spiritual gifts even in the first-century (1 Cor. 14:1ff). We’d show that it was done away (1 Cor. 13:8-12). We’d talk about the need for decency and orderliness (1 Cor. 14:40). Our comedic observer could be charged with holding to some extreme views.

I don’t know about you, though, but I don’t want to be characterized as being at the other extreme. It hurts to think that I convey a “frozen chosen” persona in worship or in the exercise of my Christian life. Worship that is lifeless, rote and repetitive, that’s so predictable that you can engage in it on auto-pilot, that evidences no emotion–joy, intensity of feeling, enthusiasm, etc.–is not the antidote to our religious friend’s brand of religion. While none of us can read each other’s mind to gauge depth of feeling (or lack thereof), cues like body language, facial expressions, hearty engagement, and the like are noticeable by their absence as much as their presence. Ask song leaders what they see on the faces of those seated before them. Ask preachers the same. Ask members what kind of intensity and interest they perceive in the preacher and song leader. 

We’re not the worship critics or the audience of worship. God is. But as we engage in worship that is according to truth, we need to examine the spirit of it (John 4:24). We do not have to be “Holy Rollers” to avoid the other extreme. As those redeemed from sins which would eternally condemn us, shouldn’t we have melted hearts which overflow with gratitude, praise, and passion? Shouldn’t such be obvious to those who visit our assemblies? Be present, with mind and body. Be involved, from beginning to end. Be engaged, inside and out. I want anyone who is watching my worship (and Christian life away from worship) to at least think of me as the “thawed awed” or, hopefully, the “fervent servant.” I do not want to be part of the “frozen chosen.”

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AREN’T WE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION?

AREN’T WE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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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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An Evangelist For An Unworthy Gospel?

An Evangelist For An Unworthy Gospel?

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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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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Lessons Learned At The Stadium

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.

“What’s Your Passion?”

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

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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What It Takes To Grow The Church In Our Culture

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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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).

Spofforth Church Grounds