A Lonely, Lonely Man

Neal Pollard

My sons and I often say that we don’t really want to know much about our favorite singers. It seems that there’s always immorality and stories of their ungodliness. That’s as true of many of the rock, country, and easy listening singers from decades ago as those making music today. Despite my having grown up in the south, today I was able to do something I’ve never gotten the opportunity to do. Kathy and I toured Graceland with our gracious hosts, Barry and Celicia Grider. We enjoyed ourselves. This tour tended to glamorize and sanitize his life and career. Elvis Presley enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom, and he was a global icon. He made more money than he could spend, though his lavish collections of furniture, cars, instruments, clothes, and the like shows that he tried. Despite his love of gospel music and religious roots, there were the affairs, drugs, and fast living that likely contributed to his premature death at age 42. His daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who remembers him reading often, “He had stacks next to his bed. He read all the time…Always of a spiritual nature. Always looking. Always searching for something” (from a placard in the mansion). Gospel preacher, C.W. Bradley, preached his funeral thanks to the connection of Elvis’ stepmother. But there is no evidence that his search led him to obey and live the truth, and there’s evidence to the contrary.  He once sang a song where he said, “It’s a lonely man who wanders all around, It’s a lonely man who roams from town to town.  Searching, always searching

for something he can’t find, hoping, always hoping that someday fate will be kind.”

Billions never achieve the fame or wealth of Elvis, but live their lives on a similar quest. They live, always searching for something they can’t find. Solomon spends so much time, with access to wisdom, wealth, wine, and women. He found, in his grand experiment, that these did not fill the void. Instead, the answer was to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). This beautiful hope is shared by Jesus in the greatest sermon ever preached. He teaches, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8).  These things are written to keep mankind from duplicating the future search for purpose and meaning. It has been revealed. Let’s look in the only place where loneliness is vanquished—in the presence of God!

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Why We Are Here

Neal Pollard

It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.

The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!

Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.

If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.

If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.

But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”

—NP

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Avoid Being Ironic

Neal Pollard

Friday night, Carl and I flew to Bismarck, North Dakota. Why? Well, of course, we wanted to attend the “Melita Banana Days” in Melita (pronounced Meh LIT Uh), Manitoba. That, and stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, that doubles as an ice cream shop. Saturday night, we were back in our own beds sleeping. While we were registering at the festival  on Saturday morning and talking with some of the organizers, we told them we had flown up from Colorado to check them out. From what we could tell, we were the only attendees from America. They were mildly intrigued by that fact, but basically brushed us off. Which was fine. We also wanted to check out Oak Lake beach about 60 miles north of there. But it was ironic to read on their website that this event is about promoting tourism. Perhaps our tepid reception was an exception to how they welcomed outsiders checking them out.

On a family vacation not too long ago, our family visited a small congregation on a Wednesday night. We drew a few stares from the local members as we took our seat right as Bible class began. Afterward, we were briefly greeted by one member who explained that their little group was going to have a meeting to discuss strategies for being more evangelistic. We were a family of strangers to them, and we might have been newcomers or non-Christians. They would not know. None of them tried to connect with us. We were essentially shown the door. We found this ironic.

It is ironic to sing, pray, preach, teach, and otherwise emphasize about the church’s mission and then to practically ignore it. Our assemblies are foremost about worshipping God and building up the body, but even first-century gatherings were attended by those other than the local Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25).  In our zeal to deepen and build our relationships with one another, we must not ignore or be cold toward those who “enter” our assemblies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to start conversations and create opportunities to open doors which lead them to Christ. Certainly, they should leave our assemblies aware of our intense interest in them. To do otherwise is to undermine our very purpose and mission. That would be the ultimate irony!

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Surrounded By Hungry And Thirsty People

Neal Pollard

I was a child when I saw news coverage of the famine in Ethiopia, the mass starvation, the distended stomachs, and the deaths from malnourishment. I had never seen anything like this, and I was deeply saddened by the images on the screen. If you had asked me if I ever expected to see or know about anything more tragic than that, I would surely have said no. Now, decades later, I routinely see something much more tragic. I can observe it whenever I wish, though it’s not something that ever gets easier. Noah Icenhour, the fine, new associate minister at the Mabelvale church of Christ near Little Rock, Arkansas, shared a concept with me that he read from N.T. Wright about our culture. Describing why so many are swallowing foolish, harmful ideas, whether false religion, fleshly indulgence, materialism and greed, evolution, atheism, narcissism, or the like, he says that so many are consuming these things because they are so hungry and thirsty that to satisfy and slake these inner yearnings they are willing to consume even sources that are polluted.

We are surrounded by spiritually hungry and thirsty people. They long for purpose, meaning, and value, but so often they seek it subjectively. Or they go to an improper source to satisfy these. Consequently, they squander their precious lives pursuing the wrong things, a path that Jesus describes as one in which “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Mat. 7:13). Spoken or unspoken, they are crying out for proper direction. They want their lives to matter. While the majority (Mat. 7:14) will refuse the biblical answer, I am convinced that our society is full of people who are honestly searching. They would be open to hearing the Bible’s answers to these preeminently important questions of origination, motivation, and destination.

Today, wherever you find yourself and whatever else you are doing, will you have the compassion and concern enough to look for and seek to help the kind of person I’m talking about? Let’s pray for courage and wisdom, and walk through the open doors we find. In so doing, we will be aiding hungry and thirsty souls who will ultimately go somewhere to satiate their cravings. With us in their lives, they can find true bread (Jn. 6:35) and living water (Jn. 4:14). Such will lift them now and save them eternally! May our hearts be touched enough by their dire condition that we cannot help but help.

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BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Neal Pollard

I was asked by a preacher from Texas to go and provide emotional support to a family of brand new Christians he reached with the gospel. In a tragic circumstance, the matriarch of this family was in the hospital Sunday morning to have a gallstone removed and doctors accidentally severed the hepatic portal vein going into her liver. This led to multi-organ shutdown that ultimately ended her life. In this atmosphere of unanticipated emotional pain and suffering, family had gathered from all over the country to see her before doctors removed the lines keeping her alive. I was unable to communicate very much comfort or support because most of them spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. I sat in the waiting room with them throughout the afternoon, watching their anguish but having little more than smiles and sympathetic looks to offer. The matriarch’s granddaughter spoke good English, but it was hard to expect her to continually provide translation as she struggled with her own grief. Hopefully, they knew I cared and will allow the church to provide further encouragement. Thankfully, we have several members who do speak Spanish fluently who could help in ways I cannot.

As I was driving home and thinking about the best way to quickly learn Spanish, I had another humbling thought. How many opportunities do I pass up with people with whom my communication barrier is not language? There are some other, more sinister barriers that can keep us from speaking up for Christ in situations He is counting on us to take advantage of. There is fear—fear of rejection, opposition, or being ostracized. There is apathy—failure to consider or care about the eternal destination of the souls of those we encounter. There is selfishness—as we are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we do not open our hearts to the lost in our lives. There is sin—the presence of personal lifestyle issues for us that render us ineffective as sharers of the gospel message. These and other matters are much more frequently the roadblocks that keep us from reaching out to the people we encounter.

It will help us, I believe, to remind ourselves daily that this world is not our home and that every person is heading to an eternity that swiftly comes. We must have the courage to share with people how to prepare for that, to understand the great love God has for them and His desire to save them. We must keep the conviction strong that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that His applied blood is their only hope for such. We must care about people, enough to pray for boldness and wisdom, enough to walk through our open doors, and enough to share the good news with them. People are at the heart of our purpose as Christians. Let’s serve them by sharing the good news whenever, wherever, and however we can.

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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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Caesar’s Citizen Headline: “The Jerusalem Church Splits Over Politics!”

Neal Pollard

Barak monitored the results of the latest Imperial policies out of Rome. And he hashed it and rehashed it with his brethren at the fellowship meals, on his job at the fish market, and definitely, with vehemence, within his inner circle of friends and family.  Elchanan came from a long line of zealots, and, although he had become a Christian several years before, his leanings and passion about the matter were well-known to anyone who spent any time with him. Michael, Zechariah, and Esther voiced their empathy for Elchanan’s position, while Gaius, Claudia, Junius, and Manius, ever loyal to the politics of their native homeland, aligned themselves with Barak. Unfortunately, they all also were Christians who worshipped together or in neighboring congregations around Jerusalem. They got so caught up in it that they marched, they protested, they pledged allegiance with oaths, they argued, and they held one another in contempt and suspicion. Meanwhile, Jews and Gentiles all around them lived and died without hearing the message of Jesus and the purpose He died to make available to them. They did not associate those early Christians with love. They had no clue about the heart of the gospel message, the good news they needed in the unstable times in which they lived. They failed to see distinctiveness and kindness. They saw a mirrored reflection of their unregenerate selves. Mired in the smallness of contemporary concern, the church at Jerusalem, distracted from their mission, never taught lost souls, devoted themselves to service, or lived lives that showed utmost trust in Jesus and His power to save and transform. Predictably, these small bands of disciples circled their chariots around themselves and hid their lights under their baskets.

That’s not quite the way Luke records it. Politics was a constant, headline news matter in the first century. There was volatility and polarization. With the theatre and stadiums, there were no shortages of entertainment diversions, too. But, reading the book of Acts, you find a quickly growing band of disciples reaching the thousands in number precisely because they stayed above the sensual fray of politics or any other ephemeral concerns. They understand what lasted and what wouldn’t. From the first verse that records their collective activity, they were “devoted” (Acts 2:42). Their devotion was powerfully, primarily, and passionately Jesus and His will.

It doesn’t matter that we’re 2000 years removed from that, or that our situation isn’t exactly parallel. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our primary focus must be the same as theirs. Ever wonder who benefits the most from our getting mired in the mud of these carnal things? It isn’t Jesus!

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Christian, Who Are You?

Neal Pollard

  • You Are An Insurance Agent—Life (Philippians 2:16), Health (cf. 1 Peter 2:24), and Fire (2 Peter 3:9-10).
  • You Are A Tour Guide (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 8:31).
  • You Are A Soldier (Ephesians 6:10ff; 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • You Are A Slave (Romans 6:17).
  • You Are A Firefighter (Jude 23).
  • You Are An Ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • You Are A Priest (Revelation 1:6).
  • You Are A Conductor (2 Corinthians 2:14; 9:11).
  • You Are A Day Laborer (John 9:4; cf. Matthew 20:1ff).
  • You Are A Farmer (2 Timothy 2:6; Luke 8:5).
  • You Are A Fisherman (Matthew 4:19).
  • You Are A Gem Distributor (Colossians 1:27).
  • You Are A Taste Tester (Colossians 4:6; Hebrews 5:14).
  • You Are Royalty (Revelation 1:5-6).
  • You Are A Student (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • You Are A Body-Builder (Ephesians 4:16).
  • You Are A Restorer (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1).
  • You Are A Physician’s Assistant (Hebrews 12:12-13; cf. Mark 2:17).
  • You Are A Standard-Bearer (Philippians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:13).
  • You Are A Builder (1 Corinthians 3:10).
  • You Are A Judge (John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 6:2).
  • You Are A Nutritionist (1 Timothy 4:6).
  • You Are A Maintenance Worker (Phlippians 2:2; Titus 3:8,14, KJV).
  • You Are A Cleaner (2 Timothy 2:21; James 4:8).
  • You Are A Runner (1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2; 5:7; etc.).
  • You Are A Boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26).

I’d be amazed if I did not leave out several of our job titles and descriptions. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of work for all of us to do. The next time we find ourselves figuratively twiddling our spiritual thumbs, wondering how we can be involved, let’s draw from the exhaustive inventory of tasks the Lord has left us!  Remember, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23).

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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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Embracing The Struggler

Neal Pollard

So much is said about the deficiencies of youth and young adults in our current culture. While every generation has its shortcomings, I have observed a hopeful trend. Perhaps it rests on the faulty foundations of political correctness and relativism, but young people today seem much more prone to accept and nurture those who have discernible difficulties like handicaps, mental or physical challenges, or social limitations.

Another way it shows up, specifically in the church, is the way they rally around those who are spiritually broken or in need. When a teenager or young adult responds to the invitation, watch how their peers flock to their side to show their support. This beautiful, tangible act is reflective of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it is a trait that the father so wanted from the older brother (cf. Luke 15:20,31-32). It looks a lot like the tender goodbye between Paul and the elders in Acts 20:37.

This willingness to reach out and comfort one another is a supremely biblical way of interacting within the family of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”  God calls His people to have that kind of nurturing spirit. When we see those who are physically hurting, we should respond (Mat. 25:35-36; 1 Jn. 3:17). When we see those who are emotionally hurting, we should respond (Rom. 12:15). When we see those who are spiritually hurting, we should respond (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). The response should be more than token and certainly should not be heartless and surface. It should not be shown with favoritism, but to everyone who is in need of it.

This warm and loving response may not come as naturally to some of us who are older, but oh how crucial it is that we stretch ourselves to do it. Embracing a sinner does not mean embracing a sin. Let us discipline ourselves to see the difference. Hear the words of the Hebrews 12:12-13: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

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