Three Men Named Ananias

Three Men Named Ananias

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Recently, I heard Dr. Ted Burleson point out that the book of Acts reveals three men named Ananias. The first one is in Acts five, the second one is in Acts nine, and the last one is in Acts 23. Those three men are very much unalike from one another in some basic, important ways.

The Ananias in Acts 5 was a Christian known for lying to Peter and to God about his offering. On the heels of Barnabas’ publicized and praised generosity, this man conspired with his wife to deceive the church about how much they were giving. While we do not read his words or even read that he spoke, it is implied that he did talk this over with Sapphira. His entire legacy is of a liar! Isn’t it tragic that the rest of his life, including his conversion, are completely omitted. This is all we know about him. What a sobering object lesson that I can undo a great deal of other good in my life if I let sin reign in my heart!

The Ananias in Acts 23 was the Jewish High Priest Paul stood before after he was arrested in Jerusalem. “Ananias was High Priest from A.D. 47 to 66, when he was assassinated by the Jews because of his support of the Romans during the Jewish uprising” (Newman and Nida, 432). We also learn that he was “famous for bribery and plunder of temple offerings” (Gangal, 386). Then we see, “His action (having Paul struck on the mouth, NP) was completely in character. Josephus depicted him as one of the very worst of the high priests, known for his pro-Roman sentiments, his extreme cruelty, and his greed” (Polhill, 468). He is known both in Scripture and out of Scripture for being unscrupulous. He will lead the attack against Paul before Felix (Acts 24:1-9). Not only does he refuse to accept Christ, he persecutes and attacks Christ’s messengers. He went out into eternity a sworn enemy of Jesus. At the Judgment, he will stand before Him! He reminds me that life is about preparing for eternity, and it is tragic to live for self in this life and reject the One who died for me.

The Ananias in the middle, in Acts 9, is completely unlike the other two who shared his name. He is introduced to us as a “disciple” (10). The Lord chose him for a choice mission, to go preach to Saul of Tarsus (10). As fearful as that task understandably was, he obeyed the Lord and went (11-17). Acts 22 adds that he was devout (God-fearing)(12), well-spoken of by other Jews in Damascus (12), and a faithful preacher (14) who was bold in message (16). Jesus did not convert Saul on the road; He chose a human messenger on earth to preach to him. Of all the disciples he could have chosen, this Ananias was given the opportunity. This man seized the opportunity and helped give the world the greatest preacher, save Jesus, the world has ever known! Nothing is said about this man after he preached to Saul. Whatever else happened in his life, Ananias is praised for his courage and faithfulness. He is forever linked to this eventual apostle, the man who baptized the ultimate world evangelist whose name we all know 2,000 years later. 

There are other “Neals” in the world today. None of us have our names in the Bible, but which of us will have our names in the “book of life” (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5)? Of course, the same is true of you whatever your name is. How we respond to the Lord’s grace as well as His will matters. Ask Sapphira’s husband. Ask Paul’s antagonizer. Ask Paul’s preacher. We have one life to prepare for the next life. May we so live that our name will be associated with the Name above all names (Phil. 2:9-10)!  

How To Win Souls Without Compromising Doctrine

How To Win Souls Without Compromising Doctrine

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

It’s hard to have balance while times change. Some seize current social realities and use them as opportunities to push unbiblical ideas (God’s design for marriage, leadership in worship, leadership in the home, etc.). As a result, our human nature kicks in and we’re ready to swing the other way. After all, we don’t want to be associated with groups who don’t teach or practice what God wants, right? 

Balance is way more difficult to maintain than reactionary practices in either direction. Both are extremely harmful to the church! Compromising doctrine is never acceptable, but gaining a reputation for being old-fashioned or otherwise incompatible with modern culture is equally harmful. 

I Corinthians 9.19-23 is an awesome text for this. We’ll look at a few key points in this passage briefly. 

  1. It’s About Serving Other People (9.19)
  2. It’s About Winning Them (9.19)
  3. It’s About Meeting Them Where They Are (9.20-22)
  4. It’s About the Message (9.23)

We do what we do because we want to save souls. We cannot maintain a church culture based on reaction because it does not save souls. It is not a sustainable culture and has led to many viewing the church as being incompatible with the modern world. This was never God’s design! We must never compromise doctrine, but we must always try to win souls. We need to do what we can to meet folks where they are and show them something better. 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9.20). 

“I Drive A Donkey”

“I Drive A Donkey”

Neal Pollard

There is an obscure Bible character that holds a great deal of fascination for me.  His name is Harbona(h) and his name only appears twice, both in connection with the account of Esther.  He is introduced in Esther 1:10 and plays a key role in this divine story of providence in Esther 7:9.  His name means “donkey driver.”  Granted, his name means more than that.  The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names says his name means, “Warlike; martial; a destroyer. Ass driver; the anger of him who builds” (Cornwall and Smith 96).  Harbonah was the eunuch in Ahaseurus’ court who informed the king of Haman’s treachery, saying, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Hanan made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!”  Ahaseurus, true to form, wasted no time and said, “Hang him on it.”  Thus, ended the life of the man who tried to end the life of the Jews, through whom the Messiah of the world would eventually be born.  Thus, Harbonah has an important footnote in the beautiful unfolding of God’s providence in the life and book of Esther.  His name is favorably included in only sacred volume God ever moved men to write.  That’s a pretty good legacy for a man whose name means “donkey driver.”

All of us are probably curious, if uninformed, about what our name means.  I once learned that my middle name, by which as a “junior” I am called, Neal, means “champion.”  Lest I should be exalted above measure, my first name, Gary, means “hunting dog.”  My surname, Pollard, means “tree topper.”  Thus, taken together, I can be proud to know that my full name means “champion hunting dog tree topper.”  Solomon wrote about a good name, calling it better than it is more desired than great wealth (Prov. 22:1) and better than a good ointment (Ecc. 7:1).  Regardless of what your given name means, what means most and how your name will be remembered on the lips of others, good or bad, is determined by what you do on this earth as is associated with that name.  So even if your name is Rafe Bosephus McGillicutty, that name will be sweet on others’ lips if how you wear your name honors the Lord and promotes His cause.

Meeting The Needs Of Newcomers

Meeting The Needs Of Newcomers

Neal Pollard

It has been said that visitors make up their mind about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit. Before they’ll even discern the doctrine we teach or form an impression about the distinctiveness of our worship, they’ve already decided. If you will walk through the first ten minutes of each time you come to services, you can discern the needs visitors have when they “enter” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-24) our midst. Consider these needs.

  • Where to park. Designating visitor parking and having members park as far from the main entrance is thoughtfulness. Having a greeter or greeters in the parking lot who can make contact quickly and facilitate with friendliness makes a positive impression.
  • Where the restrooms are. Good hospitality ought to drive us to be thoughtful and even proactive (i.e., when greeting, point out the nearest facilities). Along with this is showing them where the nursery is. If they have infants, toddlers, or small children, they are likely to have needs during their time in attendance.
  • Where to sit. An obvious practical help here is not to crowd the seats at the rear of the auditorium. It’s less awkward to be seated without parading past rows and rows of people. If there’s a full crowd, have designated personnel, pleasant, friendly, and considerate, to help them find a seat. Never, ever, never have a designated pew! “Pew-itis” is a disease that should be eradicated from every congregation.
  • What to expect. This is something worship leaders can do, explaining periodically why we do what we do in a “user-friendly” (as opposed to browbeating) way. Door greeters and those at a welcome center can help, as can visitor packets that cogently explain things. Such packets can include not just activities we do, but a map of where we do them.
  • How to find out more. Have a “new member orientation class” or a “Church 101” class available for those who are “seeking.” It can include an annual church calendar of events, ministries, church leadership (complete with pictures and bios), ways to be involved, and the like to orient newcomers.

At first, it may seem hard to identify book, chapter, and verse for the foregoing suggestions. But consider these principles. There’s the Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12; Luke 6:31). There’s the principle of the Law of Moses, which says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Colossians 4:5 urges wisdom with outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Being Christians, we should be ever increasing in the mentality that puts others before self (Phil. 2:3-4). How do we best serve Jesus? By serving others, including our visitors and newcomers.

Singing Hymns in Church

THE CHRIST?ANS

THE CHRIST?ANS

Neal Pollard

I’ve seen the play advertised locally. Lucas Hnath, a 36-year-old playwright, has a background in religion. His mother attended seminary and he even sat in her classes. The New Yorker reveals that there were expectations early on in his life for him to become a “pastor,” a choice he forewent for the arts instead (“Divine Intervention,” 9/7/15, Hilton Als). The play is about a megachurch preacher who has come to believe there is no hell and who believes God gave him this revelation. The result of his divulging this in a sermon is a church split, led by the assistant pastor who does believe in the reality of hell. While doctrine lays at the heart of the split, the play is said to focus on the personalities and behavior of various folks making up the church. Alissa Wilkinson, in a flamboyantly titled review, says this play resonates because “schisms, church splits, or at least disgruntled storming-outs are familiar to virtually everyone who stays in a church long enough to be committed to its life” (Christianity Today, 9/23/15). At least in advertising I’ve seen, the play title appears “The Christ?ans.” The idea is that, judging from their behavior, it is questionable whether or not they are truly Christians.

There are heartbreaking stories of congregations of the Lord’s church whose internal battles became known to the community and the brotherhood at large. Some have resulted from battles over doctrinal issues, whether regarding morality, fellowship, worship, leadership, or the like. Some have resulted from dueling strong personalities, jockeying for power, position, and prominence. Some have boiled down to squabbles about money. In all of them, tragically, Christ has been relegated to the corner and forced to be quiet while His “followers” duke it out.

While the implications over a doctrinal dispute and a personality power play are different, too often the predominant feature is a show of the flesh.

Many with a background in religion will be able to relate to the theme of the play because they have seen schisms in churches before. The world is a divided place, full of rancor, backstabbing, infighting, and unfair fighting. The church, particularly the church of the New Testament, must never exhibit such traits. Corinth set off such an alarm with Paul for this very reason. He urges no division to mar them (1 Cor. 1:10-13) and goes on to address both doctrine and attitudes in the letter. Philippi had two quarreling women straining the unity of that church (4:2) and Paul goes right to the heart and the mind.

We must strive to conduct ourselves with one another in a way that is always exemplary before the eyes of the community, the brotherhood, and the world. I thank God to work with a church that has been around so long and been through so much and who have weathered those storms by sticking together. Yet, too often, people have aired their dirty, unsightly laundry out on the clothesline of public purveyance. This soils the reputation of the Savior! That fact alone should horrify every child of God. May we always strive to be a beacon of light (Mat. 5:16), shining a spotlight on the Sinless Savior and not squabbling saints!

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Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Neal Pollard

While we must be concerned with doing what we do in worship according to Christ’s expressed will, we must also be sure to reflect His love to strangers, newcomers, outsiders, and otherwise unfamiliar faces. It offends my sensitivities anytime I hear anyone complain that a church I love so much seems cold and unfriendly to them. However, when I see so many focused on one another or on no one or hear accounts of our visitors complaining that we are neither warm nor welcoming, that love motivates me to say something.  Please consider the following principles:

  • We must stop expecting that others will represent us in friendliness. Maybe we look at those seven or eight members of the congregation that “go after” our visitors and conclude that they are covering the bases for the rest of us. In a congregation our size, that is woefully inadequate. They cannot reach everybody, but even if they can their friendliness does not let us off the hook. Dear reader, the chances are great that I am challenging you!
  • We must not use our introverted nature as an excuse. It would be hard to get an accurate estimate, but it is probably fair to say that more of our members are introverted than extroverted. Yet, the introverts may mistakenly conclude that extroverts are merely doing what comes easy and natural to them. As a representative of the extrovert clan, may I suggest that reaching out and connecting with strangers and visitors requires effort. Everyone must make an effort!
  • We must avoid the thinking that the visitor bears responsibility to be friendly. Some visitors may be extroverted and resilient to connect with us, but we’re the hosts and they’re the guests. Think about how hard it is to come into an unfamiliar place where you know no one and reach out to them. This is our “home turf,” and we must always take the initiative!
  • We must practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Again, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them how you’d want to be treated if in their place.
  • We must see ourselves as direct representatives of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls us just that. Treat visitors exactly like Jesus would. Seek them out and do everything within your power to let them know how glad you are they are here.
  • We must understand the eternal implications of being friendly to visitors. Wouldn’t it be awful if we contributed to seekers, new Christians, and the like being discouraged, even to the point of walking away from Christ and His truth? We cannot minimize the eternal impact, for good or ill, we make by how we do in this matter.
  • We must break out of our ruts and routines. What creatures of comfort we are! What I am talking about requires us getting uncomfortable and changing our current habits. Avoiding eye contact, walking past unfamiliar faces, withdrawing into ourselves, talking only to those who talk to us or those we feel comfortable with may be the niche we’ve carved for ourselves over a long period of time. Confront those well-established patterns and insist on breaking them.

I want our congregation to be known for preaching and teaching the truth, but I want far more for us. Another thing I want is for us to be the church that doesn’t just embrace and accept “our own,” but who is always making room for one more. I’d far rather risk creeping someone out by bombarding them with extreme warmth than to turn a cold shoulder to one who was trying to connect with God. Wouldn’t you?

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What Would Our Slogan Be?

What Would Our Slogan Be?

Neal Pollard

A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination.  The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!”  Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.

But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?”  If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be?  For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).

Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:

  • “We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
  • “We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
  • “We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
  • “We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
  • “We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
  • “We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
  • “We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
  • “We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • “We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).

The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.

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Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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HONESTY PAID JOHNNY DUCKWORTH NEARLY $4,000

HONESTY PAID JOHNNY DUCKWORTH NEARLY $4,000

Neal Pollard

A customer who ate at Randy’s Southside Diner in Grand Junction unluckily left $3,000 in a bank envelope at his booth. Fortunately, his busboy was Johnny Duckworth. Johnny gave it to his boss, who through the ATM bank slip in the envelope was able to track down the rightful owner. That unnamed person gave Johnny a $300 tip, but strangers started a “gofundme” page for the struggling Duckworth and have raised nearly $4000 for the young man. In an interview, he said he did not for a moment consider keeping the money, adding, “I work for a living” (denverpost.com).

You’ve not likely had honesty pay so well for you. At least not financially. But, as the proverbial adage goes, “honesty does pay.”  How?

  • In reputation. Honestly builds businesses, friendships, leadership, and the like, when people have implicit confidence in your word (cf. Proverbs 14:25).
  • In relationships. People trust you and are closer to you when you are honest with them. The opposite is true, too, that people keep their emotional distance from you if you are dishonest (Ephesians 4:25).
  • In righteousness. Your character is built through dedication to unconditional truthfulness (Proverbs 12:17).
  • In reliability. Who will people come to, lean on, and go to? The honest. They know where they stand with such a one (Proverbs 12:19).
  • In respect. While you may fear hurting feelings and alienating others through courageous honesty, you gain the admiration of most through transparency and scrupulous speech and behavior (1 Kings 22:13-14).

Sadly, doing the right thing was once routine but now it merits newsworthiness. May the tribe of Johnny Duckworths increase. When we as Christians are renowned for our kind honesty, we will draw a world in search of goodness and trustworthiness to the One who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2).

420

420

Neal Pollard

Missouri has “The Arches,” California, “The Golden Gate Bridge,” New York, “The Statue Of Liberty,” Georgia, “Stone Mountain,” and Minnesota, “The Mall of America.” For years, Colorado was most renowned for our glorious views of the Rocky Mountains.  More and more, our nation’s fellow citizens associate us as “the state that legalized marijuana.”  Although Washington legalized pot the same day Colorado did, somehow the fame (infamy?) of this move is more associated with our great state.

Today, April 20th, is known by many as the marijuana holiday.  Many theories abound as to the origin of this number being associated as a code word for smoking weed—the most educated guess being a group of High School pot smokers from the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, known as “The Waldos”—but the mainstream public is now quickly catching on to the implications of its use.  Say “420” and a growing number of non-users will think “marijuana.”

Association is a powerful thing.  Whatever we think, people associate us, as a church and as individual Christians, with something.  Think about it.  Did you know people will speak of our congregation and say, “That church is _____________”?  Chilling, isn’t it?  What goes in the blank?  Evangelistic? Friendly? Active? Dead? Cold? Out-Of-Touch?  The same thing happens with us.  They say, “He (she) is so ___________.”  How sobering!

If I could choose, I’d want to be associated with a number like one of these:  (Philippians) 2:1-4, (John) 13:34-35, (Hebrews) 13:1, (Mark) 16:15, (Matthew) 16:24, (John) 15:14.  But, try as I might to manufacture a reputation, that’s ultimately not my call.  I earn that by what I practice, avoid, value, and prioritize.  We take a lifetime to build it, one conversation, one deed at a time.  It will be our memorial, standing well after we are gone.  What’s your number? What do people associate you with? If, by chance, you don’t like the answer, get busy repairing or rebuilding. It’s never too late to start.