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greatness humility obedience service

GOD’S RECIPE FOR GREATNESS

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

Traditionally, people have pursued greatness by achieving prominence in politics, athletics, entertainment, business, and the like. The names of such stand outs live on through the records the world keeps–halls of fame, history books, registers, even buildings and monuments that “immortalize” them after they’ve gone. Every community has its men and women who are held up as paragons of greatness. 

How often do we stop and how much do we focus on what God considers greatness? Interestingly, He has quite a bit to say on the subject. The word is found 49 times in the New Testament and is a word from which we get our English word “mega.” As it is used in the Bible, it refers to a state of greatness and preeminence in quantity, quality, intensity, importance, and excellence (BDAG 623-625). You have God through His inspired writers trying to get our attention, saying, “Here is how you grab My attention and stand out in My eyes.” It is important to know what makes God’s list because “that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Surely, the opposite is true, too (1 Cor. 1:26-28). 

God lists the ingredients that, when incorporated into one’s life, renders her or him truly great. Do you want to be great?

Obey God’s Commands (Matthew 5:19)

While Jesus is speaking of the Old Law in context, the application lives on. Jesus ties greatness to having a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (20). Without that, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. He goes on to demonstrate the difference between their righteousness and true righteousness. How do I handle what God’s Word tells me to do? By submitting to His authority in my life, I will become great.

Be Humble  (Matthew 18:4)

Ironically, the point of discussion in this context is, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (1). Surely, Jesus blows their mind by placing a little child in their midst and saying, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (4). They were “little ones,” dependent upon others for their care, looking to others for guidance and instruction, and not concerned with status. Do I see my utter dependence upon God? If so, will I be arrogant and haughty in my dealings with those around me?

Serve Others (Matthew 20:26)

Those frivolous disciples were frequently looking for prominence and recognition. It’s a good thing we don’t fall prey to that today, huh? These very men who walked with Jesus every day, seeing His power and greatness, succumbed to the temptation to want others to esteem them as great. In Matthew 20, James’ and John’s mother comes asking for places of distinct greatness (20-23). The other ten “became indignant” (24; was it because they struggled with the same tendency, Luke 22:24?). Jesus explodes their idea of greatness by saying that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” About this time, Jesus models this principle by washing their feet. He does so to give them an example, then says, “A slave is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:15-16). 

Let’s make that practical, especially in the church context. Who’s the greatest in the Lord’s church today? You’ll find them steadfastly, conscientiously striving to follow Scripture. It’s what brings them “through the doors” to assemble, but it’s also what drives them out into the community and into the lives of others leading righteous, godly lives against the tide of the culture. You’ll find them respectfully listening to others ideas and concerns, not having to be the center of attention or constantly propped up and petted. You’ll find them doing for others, looking for ways to encourage, help, and support them. Obedient, humble, unselfish servants make great elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, soul-winners, parents, children, and disciples! Fill a church with great people and it will turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). 

Let’s be great, God’s way!

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Categories
Christian living example influence Uncategorized works

Make It A Momentous Monday

Neal Pollard

  • Pick out a local church leader and pray for him and his family for several minutes, being very specific in your petitions on their behalf.
  • Email a missionary to encourage them and get an update on how their work is going.
  • Buy a gift card and try to give it anonymously to a young or struggling family you know.
  • Thoughtfully select several people to compliment and encourage by writing on their Facebook wall or other social media platform.
  • Briefly visit a brother or sister in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • Ask a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor what you can be praying for them about.
  • Listen to a book of the Bible in its entirety on your commute.
  • Let go of a grudge or deep-seated resentment.
  • Do an unexpected deed of kindness for a random stranger.
  • Speak to someone you see regularly about your faith–what God is doing in your life, what’s going on at church, etc.
  • Spend some one-on-one time with one of your children (playing a game they enjoy, going for a walk, taking them out to eat, etc.).
  • Show love to your mate in some tangible way you know he/she enjoys (speak their “love language”).
  • Practice pleasantness with everyone you meet today, being mindful of your facial expressions and body language.
  • Carve out some time for meaningful, personal devotion (including Bible reading, singing, and prayer)–make worship more than a Sunday matter!

None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus!  See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.

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Jesus Jesus Christ salvation Uncategorized

A Wonderful Savior!

Neal Pollard

Since I was a boy, “A Wonderful Savior” has been one of my favorite hymns. A multitude of reasons are cited in this beautiful song, all of which builds my adoration for the Lamb of God! Let me suggest three reasons why I think Jesus is a wonderful Savior.

He has a wonderful nature. Jesus is Divine and eternal. He possesses all the traits of Deity without qualification or limitation (Col. 2:9). That means He has the power to save “to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). Not only does He, as God, have the power, but He has the love (1 John 4:8). He has not only the power and the will, but also the desire.

He demonstrated wonderful love. Again, what could drive the perfect God to die for woeful, sinful, and wicked man? There was nothing in us deserving of love, so this says everything about Him and nothing about us. He loves me because HE is wonderful (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; cf. Rev. 3:9).

He has opened wonderful doors of opportunity. Paul loved using this terminology. He told Corinth in two letters about the Lord opening such doors for him (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). He told the church at Colosse (4:3). He reported as much to the church at Antioch at the end of the first missionary journey (Acts 14:27). We cannot separate these opportunities from the Savior. Who do we seek to promote? What is our message? Who is the object of hope? He opens doors because of who He is. The Godhead, when we pray and seek His will, opens the doors through divine providence. How enriching and rewarding when we step through those wonderful doors!

Fanny J. Crosby had in mind the event up on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments and the Lord descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there. It is a beautiful picture of a God who condescends to lowly man. That’s what Jesus did! He lowered Himself for us (Phil. 2:5ff). Thank God for such a Savior as we have!

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humility service spirituality Uncategorized

Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Categories
Christian living involvement service Uncategorized

Tools In God’s Toolbox

Neal Pollard

Romans 6:13 tells us our body is an instrument, and we choose to use it for righteousness or unrighteousness. The Greek word translated “instrument” there means “tool or weapon.” What kind of tool or weapon are you? Are you an instrument God holds in His hand to do His will?

  • Are you a battering ram? The ancients would use a log or some other hard object to break down a wall or door. Have we filled our hearts with the Word to the degree that we can, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), break down barriers keeping the honest-hearted from God?
  • Are you a crowbar? Crowbars pry objects apart. There are things we should separate from our thinking and lifestyle. Are we trying to pull away from worldliness (Js. 4:4)?
  • Are you a chisel? This is a tool that does meticulous, detailed work. Its blade carves or cuts hard materials. Do we have the tenacity and trust needed to use God’s Word and benefit from His providence to remake our lives into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)?
  • Are you a level? We live in not only a dishonest world but also a corrupt world. So many call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). Can people find in us a reliable standard of right and wrong, as we reflect the principles of God’s Word? Levels are used to determine whether something is true and as it ought to be.
  • Are you a plane? The plane smooths rough surfaces by repetitiously moving back and forth across the surface. All four Gospels (Mat. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) speak of John the immerser’s work as making ready the path of the Lord, making His paths straight. We are not forerunners of Jesus; we follow in His steps (1 Pe. 2:21). As we do follow Him, we are going to forge a path safe for others to follow (1 Co. 11:1).
  • Are you a magnet? A magnet is an object that draws and holds another object disposed toward such attraction. Magnets can be used as tools themselves, but they are often made a part of other tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers. By living like Jesus, you will draw people to Him.

Paul also referred to “tools” or “weapons” when talking to the Corinthians. He mentions “armor of righteousness” and “weapons of our warfare” (same word). In both cases, the tools or weapons are spiritual and figurative, yet with them we can help shape and build up those around us. Be a tool in God’s toolbox!

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Categories
example humility influence service

May I Help You?

Neal Pollard

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all the top 1o most common U.S. occupations are in the service industry—retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, office clerks, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives, just to name a few (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ocwage.pdf).  But one of the most common complaints you hear is about poor customer service, rude or unhelpful customer service staff, being overcharged or neglected, or a bad attitude.  There may be a great many reasons behind this, but one may well be that our culture is not conditioned to serve, but to be served.  Those in positions of service may just be reflecting the culture.

This is not a new problem.  Jesus addressed that mentality with His followers in Matthew 20:25-28.  In a world insistent upon being the chief and asserting their own rights, Jesus’ message does not play well today.  Yet, it did not play well even when He taught it on earth.  Jesus was very clearly the suffering servant (Isa. 53:11), and how did the masses ultimately react to Him? They shouted, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).

The concept of serving others turned out to be a struggle for the church at Philippi.  To that end, Paul urged them to adopt a better mindset, a proper attitude (Phil. 2:1-4).  Paul reminded these Christians that they were in the spiritual service industry.  It was their job to serve one another.  We can understand why this teaching is a bitter pill to swallow.  We all know those members of the spiritual family who are difficult to deal with, the ones who can be like fingernails on the chalkboard to us or who set our teeth on edge.  We might enjoy doing for the benign brother, the sweet sister, or the friendly family.  The real test comes in serving someone who does not make serving a pleasant, happy task.  A servant heart was lacking among some at Philippi (cf. 4:2), and an unwillingness to put others first will have a dangerous, negative impact on a church if such a spirit is allowed to grow unchecked.

Gordon MacDonald said, “You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one.”  Paul is urging a united, humble, and serving attitude on Philippi and on us.  Our task is not to gauge how others are growing in service, but to examine self.  May we live what we sometimes sing to God, “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You, for you are a servant, make me one, too!”

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pride self service

What Is “Selfism”?

Neal Pollard

I came across the term “selfism” in Dick Meyer’s 2008 book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.  He defines it as “American individualism redefined by the age of marketing, self-help, moral relativism, and the belief that the “self” is something that can be deliberately found or made” (36).  He warns that “it is different than the older, can-do, self-made-man American spirit because it substitutes feeling for doing” (37). Later in the chapter, Meyer ties this hyper-emphasis on self  to a growing belligerence in society.  He writes, “On the Internet, belligerence can be anonymous, faceless, and hence risk-free. In schools and offices, for example, the Web is a problem, because parents and workers say nasty things in e-mail that they would never say in person. Chat rooms, blogs, and online comments are clogged with vitriol and hate-mongering…the need to make others wrong has turned into an addiction” (44).  One of his points in the chapter is that the elevation of self is not just a problem of narcissism, but it has become commonplace to vaunt self by stepping on, insulting, and ridiculing others to do it.  We are witnessing an ever-growing game of “King of the Mountain,” where in a rush to get noticed we are shoving off anyone who might eclipse or overshadow us.

Selfism is Satanic rather than sanctified behavior, but each of us must wrestle with it.  The temptation to join them rather than “beat” them through Christlike humility is ever-present.  What is “one-upmanship” if not an effort to present self as above another? In certain circles, the ability to respectfully and civilly discuss differences has been assassinated by hired killers like vanity, self-importance, animosity, and contempt.

Do we have a more difficult task than obeying Jesus’ command to deny self (cf. Mat. 16:24)?  When Paul urges Philippi to eliminate selfish ambition and conceit while esteeming others as better than self (Phi. 2:3), do we appreciate the polar opposite this is to the cultural arch-hero of selfism?  Jesus came into this world to show us the selfless life.  It is scary to live that way, especially in a world full of adherents to the cult of self.  We fear that being selfless with selfish people will lead to being walked over, preempted, or mistreated.  What will help is developing the faith to trust that living the way God commands leads us to the best life possible.  The best life possible is one where self is suppressed in deference to Christ and others.  Such a life will be noticed as a beacon in our choppy seas of selfism!

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faithfulness

“I Don’t Consider Myself Unfaithful”

Neal Pollard

An intelligent, independent young American man in his mid-20s showed up at the Siem Reap church building for mid-week services.  He not only grew up in the church, but he even attended a “Christian” high school and one of our brotherhood universities.  He is doing field research for an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, which brought him to Cambodia.  He is a decent, inquisitive person seemingly intent on bringing positive change to this world, but upon leaving his home state after graduating college he ceased association with the church.  When asked about his religious life, he said, “I don’t consider myself unfaithful, but I’m not attending the church right now.  I guess you could say I’m taking a break.”

Rather than being a “what’s wrong with young people is…” or “what’s wrong with the church is…” article, I want to think in terms of what faithfulness or unfaithfulness is.  Is it something we can gauge, and, if so, how?  Can we claim faithfulness but fail to demonstrate it?

The Bible speaks of the faithfulness of God, for example.  How do we know He is faithful?  Moses suggests we conclude such based on His work, ways, and attributes (Deut. 32:4). The psalmist points to His word and work (Psa. 33:4).  Faithfulness involved His working wonders and deliberately planning (Isa. 25:1).

In the same way, the Bible identifies faithfulness as something tangible and measurable, as visible as justice and mercy (Mat. 23:23), as demonstrable as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  The very word refers to loyalty and trustworthiness (Utley, np).  In Galatians 5:22, it “describes the believer’s new relationship with people, especially believers” (ibid.).  In this list, it is more than trust or belief.  The other eight words indicate ethical qualities, so this should be interpreted as such, too.  In other words, being faithful is seen by how we live and what we do.  Can we be faithful to Christ and His church when we do not attach ourselves to a local congregation, provoking others to love and good works as a manner of habit (Heb. 10:24-25).  If we are not seeking to build up one another (1 Th. 5:11) or cause the growth of the body (Eph. 4:16), how is that not unfaithful?  Twice in the gospels, Jesus tells parables concerning faithfully accomplish our Christian responsibilities (Mat. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). There could be no judgment and accountability without there being concrete ways to measure and determine faithfulness.

We do not get to define it for ourselves.  The Lord has already revealed what He considers faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  Ceasing to work for and worship Him, failing to encourage the spiritual family, and abstaining from such service as soul-winning and moral distinctiveness are tangible indicators that we have ceased from faithfulness.  Let us so live that in the end we can hear our Lord exclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat. 25:21,23).

Carl preaching at the mid-week service at Siem Reap church of Christ.
Categories
influence

The Munchkin’s Legacy

 

Neal Pollard

Ruth Duccini died in January at the age of 95, the last surviving female munchkin from the Wizard of Oz leaving only Jerry Maren left of the original 124 little people from the film.  All her life she was associated with the classic and made numerous appearances at festivals celebrating the movie. Given her stature, at 4 feet, 4 inches, and the fact that she lived in Santa Monica, she likely had someone remind her of her starry past each day.  But if you asked her what she was most proud of and what she wanted to be remembered for, she would give one answer.  She would say that it was her role as “Rosie the Riveter.” She worked on airplanes at a defense plant during World War II.  She helped her nation through this patriotic work.  Whenever her name is mentioned by the press or her picture is seen in a book or on a website, it will likely be associated with her brief work in that cinematic effort.  But she preferred to be known for her service (http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2014/01/16/wizard-of-oz-munchin-dies/4542745/).

I find that more than patriotic.  It is both admirable and exemplary.  Rather than longing to be “seen” and “out front,” Ruth wanted to be behind the scenes working hard.  Her preference was a few years of difference-making work rather than decades of recognition.

This is a reminder that none of us can choose how we will be remembered.  We know that our decisions and actions collect together like raindrops to form the pool of our legacy.  Looking down, we can see a reflection of who we really are.  But others look at our lives and form their own impressions.  Usually, whatever we desire to be most known for is exactly what we become most known for.  Yet for what do we want to be most known?  Our looks?  Our wit?  Our wealth? Our talents?  Our notoriety?  Or, do we desire to be known for our godliness, service, encouraging, courageous, loving, faithful, persevering, or similar spiritual quality?

Whether or not we log 95 years on this earth, we are leaving daily impressions.  May we leave the kind that help people go to heaven and that keep us on the path that leads there, too.  Make yours a legacy of love for the Lord!