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The Art Of Conversation

Neal Pollard

With conversation, when both are active listeners, you are exchanging ideas. Along with this, there’s body language and tone of voice which give clues to what the words mean to the speaker. You negotiate, reason, affirm or deny, and continue through these patterns while discussing any number of subjects. This process is invaluable to building relationships, working together, and even evangelism. For all its advantages, social media lacks almost all of those dimensions.

MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle, in the book Reclaiming Conversation (New York: Penguin, 2015), makes the case that we are talking more than ever but we’ve lost the art of conversation.  Turkle observes, “From the early days, I saw that computers offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship and then, as the programs got really good, the illusion of friendship without the demands of intimacy” (7).  What demands? Paying attention, building trust, having empathy, and giving thoughtful responses (as opposed to rude, reckless ones). 

I’m not trying to militate against the use of social media platforms, texting, or emailing. But the more we gravitate toward those to do our “communicating,” the less we successfully navigate the more difficult, yet more rewarding, art of conversation.

When we read the Bible, we are struck–from beginning to end–with the pervasive importance of dialogue and conversation. From Genesis one, where we read the Godhead’s conversation, “Let us make man…,” to Jesus’ conversation with John in Revelation 22, conversation is indispensable. Not only did God create interpersonal relationships and the vehicle of conversation to build them, but He models it throughout the pages of Scripture.

This article seeks to inform, teach, and even persuade, but it is only one dimension of communication. One might argue that other forms of communication are not only necessary, but in many cases will be more effective. The snippets and soundbites of social media postings, much more condensed and lacking context, while being pithy and thought-provoking, are no substitute for what happens face to face in the tension, hard work, and unpredictable dynamic of conversation. Conversation necessitates practice, attention, and mental engagement. 

From the dawn of time, God observed that it’s not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). As suggested by the title of another book by Turkle, Alone Together, we find ourselves increasingly isolated from others and more ill-equipped for building real life relationships. The antidote to that is simple and so attainable.

Let’s engage people more. Let’s resort more to making real life connections and less to hiding behind screens. Let’s look for opportunities to do this with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Let’s connect more in real life. As with anything, the more we practice the better we’ll get at it. 

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Photo credit: Michael Hite

 

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love marriage romance Uncategorized

How To Improve Your Love Life

Neal Pollard

  • Even when provoked, endure without complaining.
  • Give your spouse a gift (not necessarily monetary) as an act of kindness.
  • Avoid intensely negative feelings toward your spouse’s success and jealousy over them.
  • Avoid an exaggerated conception of yourself or an inflated ego.
  • Avoid behaving in a way that shames, disgraces, or embarrasses your mate.
  • Don’t be selfish and self-centered.
  • Don’t be easily stirred to anger and irritated toward your mate.
  • Don’t keep score.
  • Don’t derive delight and happiness from the sinful in your marriage.
  • Delight in the things that God promotes and delights in.
  • Put up with annoyances and difficulties in your marriage.
  • Have faith in your mate.
  • Think positively about and anticipate the future with your spouse.
  • Dedicate yourself to standing by your mate’s side, for better or worse, in sickness and health, etc.

No, that does not sound like what the world’s “love doctors” will tell you, but it’s a short summary of the 14 characteristics of love that Paul gives as part of the inspired definition of that word (1 Cor. 13:4-7). The love he writes about is that highest form of love, exclusive, totally committed, totally trusting, uplifting, edifying, unselfish, connected to faith and hope.

When we pore over those qualities and see how God defines it, it leaves us fully aware of the fact that each of us, in our relationships, has so much room for growth and improvement in the “love life” of our marriages. My prayer for each of us who is married that, not just on days like today but every day, we will focus on how we can improve the love we demonstrate in our marriages.

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resolutions resolve Uncategorized

Resolutions Reinforcements–#6

Neal Pollard

“Who cares?” That is not necessarily an expression of apathy or scorn. All of us need to feel like we have people in our lives who care about us and our wellbeing. Such people should do more than offer positive reaffirmation and reassurance. We benefit from those who keep us honest and are willing to say even the difficult things we need to hear. When we talk about goals and resolutions, we need at least someone whom we seek out to hold us accountable. Accountability, in its strictest sense, means “liable to judgment and punishment” when used of God’s holding mankind accountable (Rom. 3:19; BDAG 1037).  Today, we typically mean by accountable that we are responsible to someone to explain or defend our actions. Am I succeeding or failing? Who will help me accurately assess that?

Augustine of Hippo, in his fourth-century Confessions, wrote, “A brotherly person rejoices on my account when he approves me, but when he disapproves, he is loving me. To such people I will reveal myself. They will take heart from my good traits, and sigh with sadness at my bad ones. My good points are instilled by you and are your gifts. My bad points are my faults and your judgements on them. Let them take heart from the one and regret the other. Let both praise and tears ascend in your sight from brotherly hearts, your censers. …But you Lord…Make perfect my imperfections.” We are well-served to have those willing to disapprove, to sigh, and to render gentle judgment as much as give their positive counterparts.

Do you have someone in your life right now who can help you stay accountable to your goals? Ideally, it would be your spouse, but maybe it’s a trusted friend, a sibling, a local Christian, a church leader, or a parent. Find someone in whom to confide your goals and then establish a system to have them evaluated. Just knowing that someone else knows what you’re aiming at may dramatically improve your likelihood of hitting it.

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attitude church church growth ministry relationships

The Word Is “Relationship”

Neal Pollard

Soon, we’ll have lived in our current home for two years.  We are enjoying the house, the location, the neighborhood, and most of the neighbors. However, one that lives pretty nearby has proven less than pleasant.  His wife is an officer in our neighborhood HOA, and each month’s newsletter is a new posting of the hierarchy’s “95 theses.”  Hardly anyone can keep from committing at least one infraction—certainly not us.  They’ve had very little communication with us except when the husband complained that our compost pile was too close to the fence (on the other side of which were his garbage cans).  Recently, while seeking our permission to re-paint their house, he took the opportunity to inspect the state of cleanliness of our garage.  I share his desire that we keep our homes and yards in good shape, as property values are riding on our collective interest in such.  The problem for them is that they have spurned our efforts at a relationship and they have done nothing to create one themselves.  Thus, we tolerate and peacefully co-exist.  But, there is no relationship.

Have you thought about how vital relationships are to our lives?  Think about how ineffective we are with people without them.  At best, we are mere associates. At worst, we become antagonists.  Think of how vital the entity of relationship is to:

  • Marriage (1 Pet. 3:7).
  • Parenting (Deu. 6:1ff).
  • A congregation (1 Th. 5:11).
  • Shepherding (John 10:4-5).
  • Church discipline (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
  • Restoring the erring (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Preaching (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2).
  • Church works (Eph. 4:16).
  • Deacons’ work (Acts 6:7).
  • Soul-winning (Col. 4:2-6).
  • Friendship (Prov. 18:24b).

Taking the time to build rapport may be mentally and emotionally exhausting at times.  The best of relationships will have their downs as well as their ups.  But God created us social beings not meant for isolation (Gen. 2:18).  Joel O’Steen is shallow and superficial in his “preaching,” but tens of thousands of people are drawn to him because they find him relatable. His message is deadly, but his method is engaging.  Some who consider themselves the staunchest “defenders of the faith” are virtual porcupines with their quills primed to stick those in their proximity.  Surely those of us striving to follow New Testament Christianity can strive to build relationships while we steadfastly teach and follow the truth.  How much more effective will we be as we conquer this principle every day?

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church growth fellowship

“As We Go Our Separate Ways…”

Neal Pollard

I’ve heard this prayed my whole life: “Be with us as we go our separate ways.”  I fully appreciate what is meant, but I lament a trend I’ve seen for many years.  Too often, we go our separate ways until the “next appointed time.”  We have no contact with one another. Instead, the bulk or totality of our contact is with worldly people with ungodly philosophies.  While we need to be among the world to exert salt and light, perhaps we have neglected something else that first century Christians took full advantage of.  Luke describes it this way, saying, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  As he had observed in verse 42, they were continually devoting themselves to fellowship.  This created a close knit community that could not only weather some huge storms of opposition, but it helped them produce an attractive environment that thousands of people wanted to be a part of. Perhaps we discount or even overlook what a vital part of church growth that fellowship and time together had on the early church.

Today, we have our civic activities, our kids’ full slate of responsibilities, our work and overtime, our personal entertainment regimen, and similar time-consuming matters that are not inherently wrong but that can help create a dramatic separation from our spiritual family during the week.  Where is the time allotment for getting together with other Christians during the week?  Have we relegated or resigned ourselves to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night?  Are we losing the art of hospitality, of having spiritual family over to deepen Christian relationships?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to speak of each other and say that our hearts have “been knit together in love” (Col. 2:2)?  In that same context of the church’s beginning mentioned earlier, Luke adds, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44).  What will happen to the local church that becomes very intentional about this, not just with an exclusive few but in a way that includes new Christians, potential Christians, the otherwise disconnected, and those of different as well as similar demographics? Certainly, it requires time, effort, and even some expense, but what will it yield?  A feeling of connection in the place of separation.

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Little Things?

 

Neal Pollard

Look what one look at a woman bathing on her rooftop cost a man, his home, and his country.  The pronunciation of one word spelled the difference between life and death for a nation of people.  One word inserted by a serpent changed the course of human history forever.

One visit to a website, one indiscreet email or phone call, one moment of anger and fury, one rash and foolish decision made before a new Christian, or one “white lie” can create unbearable consequences to the heart, destiny, and influence of a person.  Rationalization that it’s only once or only a little can be fatal, both to self and others.

But this “little thing” principle applies to attitude, too.  A brief, gossiping conversation may seem harmless, but discourage or devastate the subject of it.   Small, snide comments about the elders, Bible class teachers, deacons, or others may divide friends for a long time.  A grudge-bearer may help divide a church over a single, relatively minor incident having long since occurred.  “Little,” too often, is in the eye of the beholder.

A dear preacher friend of mine, David Sain, once illustrated this point very well.  He wrote:

I once read a statement that really got my attention.  It declared that a
tiny gnat can wreck an automobile.  Of  course, I wondered, “How?”
The article then explained that a tiny gnat had wrecked a car by flying
into the eye of the driver at a critical time, causing him to lose control.
So often in life, little things can do great harm.  It is easy for us to be
like that gnat.  Our petty criticisms, murmuring, complaints, and fault-
finding can “wreck” the most ambitious person or program.  Friend,
what our world needs is builders-not “wreckers.” (via Eastern Meadows Church
Bulletin, Montgomery, AL).

Let’s be careful with our influence, not minimizing our impact on others by our words, acts, and attitudes.  We want to do the little things that make a church great, through those same mediums.  As David says, let us build rather than wreck!

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GOD’S RELATIONSHIP TO ME

Neal Pollard

The prophet Jeremiah was concerned about the task before him. He felt he was unqualified and unseasoned (1:6).  He was wrestling with fears (1:8).  Whether or not we preach the gospel, as Christians living in this world we can relate to how hard it can be to stand up for Jesus.

The “omniscient” (all-knowing) God makes three statements about the as yet unborn Jeremiah. The God who sees the future as though looking at the past (cf. Isa. 46:10) says some things about Jeremiah before he was placed in his parents’ arms.  Consider three things God tells Jeremiah to reassure him and that bear relevance to us today.

God knew him. This seems to be specific and personal. How exciting to think that God sees us, as our hair, organs, bones and features develop, and knows who we are.

God set him apart.  He says, “I consecrated you.”  Some in religious error have made too much of this, teaching that God chooses us against our will and arbitrarily decides whether we are saved or lost.  God is simply saying, “I had you in mind to work for me.”  Isn’t it incredible to think that God thinks so much of us as to give us work to do.  The Great Commission confirms that God thinks that way about you and me, too (cf. Mark 16:15).

God gave him a job.  He says, “I appointed you.”  Does God determine your occupation, location, and station in life?  I cannot answer for Him, but He says that Jeremiah was appointed a prophet.  Jeremiah could have exercised free will and rejected the assignment, but that does not negate what God saw for him.  I know that Paul says we have differing abilities (cf. Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4ff).  Observation says that we have different personalities, temperaments, and characteristics.  Whatever that is, we are all well-suited to serve some way in God’s kingdom.  The question then only remains, “Will we do our job?”

God is not detached and unconcerned about this world or the seven-plus billion people currently inhabiting it.  We can deduce that from the way He spoke of just one man who died over 2,500 years ago.  It is another proof of God’s desire to “relate” to us.  It should move us to want to “relate” to Him.

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The “Three Year Glitch”

Neal Pollard

Does it ever seem like the information age, our current age of technological advances, is all-consuming?  It has, according to a new survey, even impacted the attention span the average person gives to his or her mate once married.  The proverbial “seven year itch,” for years a benchmark test of a relationship when romance and passion were eclipsed by annoyances and mundanity, has shrunk with society’s attention span and attention to the other’s needs as more important than self’s.

The survey of over 2000 Britons, a study commissioned by Warner Brothers, found that work, financial worries, and other facets of “hard work” in a relationship were leading couples these days more quickly to boredom and aggravation with one another.  Often, this has led to couples wanting more time apart from one another.  Too often, it has led to marital infidelity.  Detractions and annoyances in relationships leading to this “3-year-glitch” include such things as weight gain and lack of exercise, hygiene issues, in-laws, money (spending too much or too little), alcohol, snoring, lack of romance, fashion lapses, and more (some information from Reuters.com).

As we step back from this study, we can observe several things.  First, these relational trends reflect society’s general worldview.  Materialism and plenty, when focused and consumed upon self, can quickly lead to boredom.  Second, these relational issues are like the poor–“they are always with us” (cf. John 12:8).  They exist from the day we walk down the aisle together and embark on the honeymoon.  They are typically no worse at 50 years than they were at 50 seconds into the relationship.  That means that, each day we live in married life together, we must continually remind ourselves of all that’s good in our mate and of all that drew us to him or her in the first place.  Marriage is not a license to let up but instead to lather up what was done in courting.  How dishonest to act one way to “get” someone and another once we “got ’em.”  Third, marriage must be viewed as a marathon rather than a 40-yard-dash.  Our lives are filled with change and stages, and God’s people learn to adjust and grow with them.

May we be dedicated to building the “All Our Years Rich” trend.  Whether God gives us only a few years together or 60 or 70, let us resolve to spend the time building up our mate and helping them go to heaven.  That will scratch any itch and fix any glitch!