Vicarious Faith

Vicarious Faith

Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

David Chang

Joshua, at the end of his life in Joshua chapter 24, summons all the tribes of Israel and their leaders to Shechem. He reminds them of their journey as a nation so far, what all God has done for them since the days of their forefathers, and everything God has done for them from Egypt until that present moment. Starting in verse 14, Joshua calls the people to fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness and to put away the gods beyond the River and of Egypt. 

Joshua issues a challenge to the people, that if it’s evil in their eyes to serve the Lord, to choose that day whom they will serve—whether the gods beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites whose land they conquered. As for Joshua and his house, they will serve the Lord. Israel answers, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” (v. 17a). They review what they have seen and what they know that God did for them since bringing them out of Egypt. Joshua continues to challenge their response. They respond the same way: “No, but we will serve the Lord” (v. 21). Joshua once again warns them, that by renewing this covenant, they are becoming witnesses against themselves. The words they say are weighty; it is nothing to play around with. The moment they choose God, that decision comes with accountability and responsibilities. Israel answers, “We are witnesses” (v. 22). 

This scene of unity as the entire nation of Israel come together to answer their calling to serve God is incredible. Just imagining all of those people coming together to renew their covenant relationship with God is a chilling image, in a good way. However, the other side of this story, the part that makes this scene a tragic one, is the reality of their eventual disobedience and apostasy. Just a single page after this part of the Bible, we know what begins to take place in Judges. Israel’s continual downfall as they constantly forget their God and stray towards other pagan gods of the peoples they failed to drive out as God commanded them.

Reading this interaction between Joshua and the people of God and knowing what takes place shortly after makes us wonder: how many people in that crowd that day were truly zealous for God?

We do not do faith alone; Christianity was designed by God to be something that we share with each other and with those around us. However, it is also a double-edged sword in that we as participants of this faith journey can mistaken other’s zeal for our own. When things are going well and you see work being done, it is easy for our emotions to get heightened. And there is a sense in which we need to promote that kind of synergy among the members of the Body in all that we do. However, boil it down to the core. At the end of the day, we are accountable for what we do individually. As difficult as it is, we have to constantly challenge ourselves and ask: “Is my faith truly mine? Is this zeal for God that I feel truly my zeal for Him—or is it a momentary passion that I feel vicariously through others?”

It is a dangerous thing, living vicariously through others. Passion in the hands of others does not do much good to us in the long run. The same goes for faith. I wonder just how many people among the number that was present there when the covenant was renewed were truly zealous for God. And I wonder how many in that number was just saying the right things, looking the right way, and just went along with the flow. Feeling the passion and the emotions around them in that moment, mistaking it for their own zeal for God. Living vicariously through others is dangerous for obvious reasons, but it is harmful in that it is deceiving. The deception is that the congregation’s overarching atmosphere, culture, and zeal can replace one’s own true desire for God. Personal zeal for God requires real work, effort, and endurance.

Let us never become a people who lives vicariously through others’ faith. Rather, let us individually be producers and workers for the kingdom, that when we do come together corporately like tonight, the fruits we bear are hundred-fold. 

It’s Black Friday, Or Is It?

It’s Black Friday, Or Is It?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

We commonly refer to today as “Black Friday.” Though retailers have begun holding sales before the actual day, “Black Friday” retains its significance as the day when most businesses will finally make a profit for the year, moving from being “in the red” (a deficit) to “in the black” (a profit). It never fails to astound me that a nation can go from offering thanks to God for their gifts to enjoying a scuffle over a discounted television in a day. People’s whimsy, however, is hardly unprecedented. Wasn’t Jesus hailed as the Messiah the same week the mob demanded His crucifixion? Humans, admittedly, are inconsistent creatures. 

Some people use the term “Black Friday” to refer to what is also known as “Good Friday,” or the day Jesus bore the world’s sins on the cross. This moniker is because, for a total of three hours, the world was in total darkness. An issue with trying to discern such specifics retroactively is that tradition can often take precedence over Scripture. To pinpoint the year of Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, some have even resorted to using computers and date-calculating software.  

So that I do not fall into the same trap, let me quickly raise a couple of issues that may make a nice and tidy timeline for the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord problematic. In the first place, let me state one undeniable truth. Early on a Sunday morning, the women found the tomb empty (John 20.1). From this one point, we apply Jesus’ words to the evil and (spiritually) adulterous generation seeking a sign: “for just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12.40 NASB). So, Jesus would be in the grave for three days and three nights. 

A Friday crucifixion would not permit three full days and nights. According to religious scholars, a fraction of a day counts as an entire day. How do we know this, though? It turns into a speculative game. As a result, some argue that the Romans crucified Jesus on Wednesday. This alternative is also a possibility. But first, consider another hint. Because they were preparing for a high Sabbath, they had to bury Jesus quickly (John 19.31). That suggests another vote for Friday. Is that correct? What was the last meal Jesus wished to share with His disciples before His crucifixion? It was Passover (Matthew 26.18). Matthew 26.17 states that Jesus sent His disciples ahead to secure a room to eat the Passover meal on the first day of Unleavened Bread. 

A careful reading of the text reveals that everything from the institution of the Lord’s Supper to the death of Jesus occurred on Passover since it occurred between the span of one sunset to the next (e.g., Leviticus 23.32). This coincidence is apropos, given that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1.29). Moreover, according to Leviticus 23.5-6, Passover was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But note Leviticus 23.7. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a holy convocation on which keepers of Moses’ Law were not supposed to work. In other words, it was a special Sabbath. Aha! 

So, the high Sabbath that led to the quick burial of Jesus was not a typical Saturday Sabbath. This truth creates an intriguing scenario, and the Gospels do provide hints. A regular Sabbath may have fallen after a special Sabbath. Take note of what the Gospels say about women. They went to see where Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus before returning home to prepare spices and perfumes to anoint Him (Luke 23.55-56). These women, according to Luke, kept the Sabbath. But then Mark says something that skeptics say contradicts Luke. After observing the Sabbath, the women purchase spices for Jesus’ anointing (Mark 16.1). But instead of contradiction, it more likely indicates a two-Sabbath week. Whatever the reason, the women could not attend to Jesus’ body as they had hoped until Sunday morning. This day was when they discovered the empty tomb. 

Our conclusion may not please those insisting on specifics, but I believe it allows our Lord’s words to be proven. He spent three days and three nights in the tomb, as He said because that was the sign. It was not an hour or two here and there, coupled with two full days. So, those of you better with math and willing to consult astronomical computer programs can give me a date based on those variables, but until then, we hear the words of Jesus to Thomas Didymus: 

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed (John 20.29 NASB). 

“Do This In Remembrance”

“Do This In Remembrance”

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Pollard

The Lord’s Supper comes once a week. Often I find myself wishing that we could spend more time dwelling on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But Sunday morning isn’t the only time that we can think about our Savior. In fact, if we spend more time throughout the week thinking about it, the time during the Lord’s Supper can mean so much more. 

In this article I want to encourage each Christian to start thinking about Christ and His sacrifice before Sunday comes this week. You’d be amazed at the difference it makes. These few verses and hymns are a beautiful reminder of what Christ went through on our behalf. Our sins are washed away through the powerful blood given by God’s Son!

Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That you, my God, would die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That you, my God, would die for me?

I pray that this weekend we all see the importance of having the right mindset going into worship on Sunday. I pray that as a church we recognize the unity and fellowship we have in Christ. May we never take the cross for granted! 

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

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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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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