THREE QUALITIES OF A FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

THREE QUALITIES OF A FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Two parables and an incident in Luke 18:1-17 reveal three attributes Jesus is looking for in His disciples. As you read through these verses, ask yourself if you struggle with one or more of these. The examples Jesus holds up are all lowly characters–a defenseless widow, a sinful tax collector, and babies and little children. They were all either financially, spiritually, or physically dependent on others, yet these are the ones Jesus tells us to imitate. What are the qualities?

PERSISTENCE (1-8). The parable of the widow and the unjust judge is delivered to his listeners for a specific reason, “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (1). A widow pleaded for legal protection from a judge who neither feared God or respected men (2). She wouldn’t stop coming to him and pleading her case until finally he relented and granted her request out of frustration and annoyance at her continual coming (3-5). Jesus’ point is that the perfect God will bring justice to His elect who faithfully pray to Him (7). He ties this persistence to faith (8). Jesus is giving us insight into God’s heart and desires. He wants to hear from us in prayer, and He is influenced by our prayers. Do we have faith in that? 

HUMILITY (9-14). Jesus launches into a second parable about prayer, to highlight another necessity in the practice of it. He focuses on an unlikely duo, a prominent religious leader and a contemptible tax collector. Both enter the temple, both for the purpose of prayer. Both prayers are recorded. Jesus evaluates them. The first prayer, uttered by the Pharisee, is self-directed (he prayed to himself), self-righteous (God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector), and self-promoting (I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get). He shows no recognition of or need for God. He’s pretty self-satisfied. The second prayer, uttered by the tax collector, is selfless, self-indicting, and self-emptying. Jesus notes his hesitance (standing some distance away), abjection (even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven), emotion (beating his breast), and honesty (his entire prayer is, “God be merciful to me, the sinner”). Jesus’ analysis? The second man was the one who went home justified, not the first. Jesus’ point is explicit: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (14). I may know more sophisticated ways to exhibit my pride and self-righteousness, but the response and result will be the same in heaven. Faithful followers humbly recognize their need of God’s favor. 

RECEPTIVITY (15-17). Parents were bringing their children to Jesus at this time so that He could touch them. We aren’t told why the disciples rebuke them for this, though it could be they were wrestled with pride of position or self-importance. Jesus corrects their course, telling them to let the children come to Him. In fact, He says, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (17). He tells them that the kingdom of God belongs to those like these little children. How so? They were dependent on others (15). They were apparently willing (16). They were open (17). Certainly, this is a great exhortation to us as parents, to bring our children to Jesus in the impressionable years of life. But beyond that, there is an admonition to each of us to keep child-like faith and recognize our need to come to Jesus in order to have a place in God’s kingdom.

Often, we think that being in the kingdom is about us daring and doing great things for God. But, doesn’t it begin with our having the lowliness of heart to come to Him, persistent, humble, and receptive? These three qualities put the focus on His attractiveness, ability, and power. If we allow ourselves to be tools in His hand and recognize that it’s about Him and because of Him, then we’ll be faithful followers. 

Labor Day

Labor Day

(Bulletin Preview)

Neal Pollard

Tomorrow, most of us will be able to celebrate the Labor Day Holiday. That means, ironically, that most of us will have a day off from–well–labor. Schools and workplaces across the nation will shut their doors and many will be off for their last “summer vacation.” Friday, an anticipated 3 million passengers took to the friendly skies to enjoy the long weekend. We can either thank Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire for being the mastermind of this holiday, both secretaries for New York labor unions who made significant efforts to recognize a day for American workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor has published a lot of useful information about this holiday, which it states was started as a “national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” (dol.gov). It was a local observance in the northeast at the height of the Industrial Age, though Oregon was the first state to pass statewide legislation to observe the holiday. That same year, 1887,  Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York followed suit. In 1894, Congress made it a legal holiday to be celebrated the first Monday of September. 

In the early days, there were picnics, street parades, speeches by prominent men and women, and “Labor Sunday” which was “dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement” (ibid.). The first parade, in New York City in 1882, had up to 20,000 marchers as well as “Windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames…occupied by persons anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization” (ibid.).

I find it interesting that we honor work with a day of rest and that the holiday itself has seen a shift in emphasis and expression. That’s neither a complaint or criticism. I intend to enjoy Labor Day with Kathy, taking the vacation day given to me in my working agreement. 

But, as we celebrate this national holiday, it’s fitting to recognize the hard work done by so many in this congregation. When you teach Bible classes, lead in worship, decorate bulletin boards, provide transportation to services, stock our pantry, do work on our facilities, engage in soul-winning efforts, practice hospitality, serve officially as church leaders (whether elders, deacons, or someone else tasked with some work), prepare the communion, clean the kitchen, organize the teacher’s work room, go on mission trips, make visits, handle church finances, coordinate worship, serve as ushers and greeters, host youth devotions, or the many, many other things you do, you are doing honored work. Jesus taught that greatness comes through service (Mat. 20:25-28; Jn. 13:12-17). New Testament writers honored those who work among us, Paul urging us not to “be weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9) and to “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV). Often, Scripture speaks of the Godhead working. It instructs us to be “to the work.” Enjoy the holiday tomorrow. Yet, in the general, ongoing sense, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Labor on, brothers and sister!

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“Just A Broken Guy…”

“Just A Broken Guy…”

Neal Pollard

The chilling audio from Richard “Beebo” Russell reveals an internal conflict nobody, not family, friend, or co-workers, knew was going on. The 29 year old ground worker at Seattle-Tacoma International airport took a Horizon Air Dash-8 airplane on an unauthorized joy ride, complete with complicated aerial stunts before crashing into a remote island on Puget Sound. Before crashing, he spoke with air traffic controllers and pilots and confessed to the inner turmoil. The words used by loved ones to describe him range from “warm” and “compassionate” to “happy” and “regular” (Alex Horton, Washington Post, 8/13/18).  Of course, the behavior was irregular and bizarre, and it ended tragically for the young man as he fatally crashed the plane.

As we walk through this world, we meet and interact with people who may be projecting an outward appearance that is masking inward pain and trouble. It may lie behind their broad smile. That’s a disturbing thought, but what can we do? We cannot read their minds. There is no full-proof way to prevent every tragic action, but we may have more power than we think. Consider some things all of us can do with everyone in our lives.

Be kind. Look people in the eyes. Smile at them. Even if it slows you down from some important task, don’t overlook the people God puts in your path. Your helpful word might sink deeper into their spirit than you realize. Let’s be like the inhabitants of Malta, who showed Paul and his companions “extraordinary kindness” as they simply “kindled a fire and received” them all (Acts 28:2). We’re told as Christians to put on a “heart of kindness” (Col. 3:12). How will anyone know the proof of our kind hearts? We will display it.

Be concerned. We fear being nosy or busybodies. Don’t do that. But there is room for active concern. Such is more apt to listen than advise, to help and not gossip, and to do than to judge. People who are surrounded by those they know care for them have a better chance at emotional survival. Look at the example of Paul, pressured by the concern for congregations and intensely concerned for individuals led into sin (2 Cor. 11:28-29). The word Paul uses for his concern for individuals literally means “to cause to be on fire; burn” (BDAG, 899). It’s the word used to describe the heavens being on fire (2 Pet. 3:12). Paul was “inflamed with sympathy, ready to aid” (ibid.). That’s got to be us, too!

Be helpful. Our Christianity should be tangible, not theoretical. We must be attuned to needs and ready to help (cf. Titus 3:14). Let’s avoid empty words that lack the intent of action. Acts of service, doing for others, are powerful and penetrating. God tells us, “On the day of salvation I helped you” (2 Cor. 6:2; Isa. 49:8). A helper sees a need and meets it. Oh, the impression that can make on a weary struggler. 

Listen, for all we know, this young man was surrounded by people who were kind, concerned, and helpful. Ultimately, each of us is individually accountable for our actions (2 Cor. 5:10). But, our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nations will be a better place when Christians are active bearers of such faithful fruits. Treat everyone you see as the eternally-bound souls that they are! Help them. We know the One who mends the broken (cf. Ezek. 34:16). 

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