A Tale Of Two Shepherds

A Tale Of Two Shepherds

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

It’s a safe assumption that even the unchurched have heard the 23rd Psalm, given its connection to funerals or memorial services. It is a most comforting psalm, but we note the implications for the deceased are only found in the final verse, in which David confidently asserts that the righteous dead will dwell in the Lord’s House forever. Otherwise, the psalm depicts what the Good Shepherd does for His living sheep. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10.11,14).  

In contrast to the 23rd Psalm, Jesus is the One walking not only in the shadow of the valley of death but into the grave itself, laying down His life for the sheep. However, this difference does not suggest that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, does not still provide the same blessings to God’s sheep living under the New Covenant. Indeed, John 10.10 tells us He gives us abundant life. So, the first Shepherd, the One with Whom we are most familiar, is the Shepherd Whose voice we must hear (John 10.3-5, 14-16). 

But what of the other shepherd? For illustrative purposes, we will call him “Mammon.” In Psalm 49, the psalmist, presumably one of Korah’s sons, presents a didactic poem. Essentially, by calling it didactic, we are acknowledging that it is a poem that teaches an important lesson (or lessons). The instruction found in Psalm 49 is a warning against trusting in one’s riches. In Psalm 49.14, the psalmist says: 

“They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions” (NASB1995). 

Despite sounding like a 1980s hair metal band, the 49th Psalm teaches about the “Death Shepherd.” The “they” in the first part of verse 14 are those trusting in material wealth. The latter part of the verse reveals that death will separate them from their wealth. Note that the son of Korah provides a parenthetical contrast. The upright will prevail over them in the morning. Commentators acknowledge this is an understanding of a coming resurrection day, even if not explicitly stated. You can come away with no other interpretation, especially as you read the next verse. 

“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49.15 NASB1995).  

On the other hand, Mammon will prevent you from being able to serve God (Matthew 6.24). He fills one with anxiety and makes them forget the Providence of God (Matthew 6.25-34). The Death Shepherd is an enticing distraction, not unlike the storied Pied Piper of Hamelin, who led away the innocents with his magical piping. The Death Shepherd entrances the susceptible sheep with wealth but pastures them in destruction from which the sheep cannot escape. Both this son of Korah and Jesus, through His Parable of the Rich Fool, remind us that one’s riches end up the property of another after death (Psalm 49.10; Luke 12.16-21). Thus, one forfeits his or her immortal spirit for nothing worthwhile compared to the price he or she pays (Matthew 16.26).  

Two voices are calling to the sheep today. One is the voice of the Good Shepherd. The other voice is the Death Shepherd. Endeavor to make sure you heed the correct One so that you end up in the correct sheepfold!   

The Parable Of The Lost…Hen?

The Parable Of The Lost…Hen?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Five hens were safely back in the coop, but one would not go back inside. When the man and his wife tried to coax her back in, she began darting left and right and back and forth. The closer the couple came to her, the more frantic she grew. She darted away from her house toward the woods. When the man went after her, she flew over the fence and deeper into the neighbor’s woods. The man and his wife went inside their home and waited. Later, the hen was back outside the coop. Her sisters were pacing inside their run and she was trying to go head first through the small square of the welded wire to join them. The man and his wife herded her into the corner where the coop meets the run. The man caught the frantic hen as she tried to fly away. As he held her and tossed her inside the coop, she squawked and wailed the whole way. A few minutes later, she was mindlessly and meekly scratching and pacing with the rest of the girls. 

It was tempting to let her go, to conclude that she asked for that. But, we thought about the feed and care that has gone into her, the fact that she is just about ready to start laying eggs, but also the humane aspect. There are so many predators on or near our place–foxes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, coyotes, a bobcat, and even an occasional long-tailed weasel. We also have seen the carnage that befell a Green Egger in this current flock. So, we did not give up on Pearl. She’s safely home and doing the things hens do, scratching, pacing, eating, and so forth. 

I could not help but think how often I act like Pearl. My Father has given me so much. He supplies my every need (Phil. 4:19), and then some! He takes care of me (Mat. 6:25-32) and has my best interest at heart. He has invested more into me than I can possibly comprehend (John 3:16). Yet, so often I fail to trust Him and even run away from Him in favor of my own, misguided way (Prov. 3:5; 14:12). When I go astray and get into harmful predicaments, I reveal a rejection of His wisdom in favor of my own folly. I don’t have near the excuse of a chicken. Despite journal articles outlining the spatial capacities, very basic arithmetic capacities, complex communication system, and complex emotions of chickens, the most generous assessment is that they are, at best, of average intelligence in the animal world and not remotely comparable to humans. Of all God’s creation, only we are made in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Only we were valuable enough to Him that He devised a plan to save us from our sins. 

Why would I run from Him? Why would I evade His care and His guidance? Why would I protest and fight His efforts to help me and bring out my best good? While the parable in Luke 15 and the 23rd Psalm are about sheep rather than poultry, the reminder is spot on: “He makes me lie down…He leads me…He restores my soul…He guides me in the paths of righteousness” (Psa. 23:2-3). He is with me, He comforts me, He generously provides for me, and He heals me (Psa. 23:4-5). The Bible helps me see the big picture, to see beyond the desires of the flesh and the perceived need of the moment. God wants me to trust Him and follow His way. May I be “smart” enough to know that and never run away! 

An update from this afternoon: Pearl is on the nest!
Sheep, Love The Shepherds

Sheep, Love The Shepherds

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Though scripture doesn’t say, you can be sure David’s sheep had no idea how lucky they were to have a shepherd like him. They were just sheep after all. How could they fully appreciate the extent that David went to in order to keep them safe? Before this begins to sound ridiculous, let’s remember that at least two of David’s sheep were carried off in the jaws of a lion and a bear. When the terrified bleating of an unfortunate sheep is heard by the shepherd, he sprints after the wild animal knowing all the while— it’s just a sheep. It’s just one sheep! Nevertheless, David strikes the predator and saves the sheep (1 Sam. 17.34-35).  

What made David a good shepherd? It certainly wasn’t his stature. The average male of his day stood around five feet tall. He was also the youngest of his family and often unappreciated (1 Sam. 16.11,17.29,33). It was David’s heart and not his height that made him exceptional. He was a natural shepherd of sheep, and of people. 

David is sent by his father, Jesse, to deliver bread for his brothers who are among Saul’s army. When he arrives on scene everyone, including the king, is afraid and unwilling to take a stand against the arrogant Goliath. But before the giant warrior from Gath meets the shepherd boy from Bethlehem, a few more giants will be faced. 

The first giant was the giant of degradation. 

David’s own brother, Eliab, would greet him with two belittling questions that would make a lesser man feel sheepish, but not this shepherd. Eliab asks, “why have you come down here? And who is watching the few sheep?” David’s brother doesn’t think he belongs among warriors and that he is only capable of handling a small number of dumb animals. 

The second giant was that of accusation.

In the same breath Eliab would accuse and insult David three different times. He claims, “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is. You’ve only come to watch the battle.” How wrong he was and how dare he insult such a godly man! It’s interesting to note that David had an answer to each of these questions and accusations, but never attempts to defend himself. His father sent him, that’s why he was there. He was there to deliver nourishment for this dear brother who had, no doubt, worked up an appetite doing absolutely nothing. No retaliation or snarky remark would escape from the shepherd’s mouth because nothing like that was in his heart (Matt. 12.34).

The third giant David would conquer would be the towering giant of indignity.

He didn’t shame his brother and he didn’t let his brothers shaming keep him from shining. 

Shepherds put up with a lot, don’t they? Good shepherds really put up with a lot. Faithful god-fearing elders within the Lord’s church all over the world are faced with giants more often than they should. Sometimes the giants they face are their own sheep. How easy it is to make confident accusations against them, to question their intentions, hearts, and capabilities. That unpaid servant of God is more often than not the first one to come running when the bleating of a wayward member is heard. When we find ourselves in the clutches of our various trials, they attempt to pry us out. At times they earnestly pray over and take on burdens that aren’t theirs to carry. Faithful elders will find themselves in a position where they could make the sheep feel shame, but choose to save the feelings of others because that’s what a good shepherd does. It’s not their height, it’s their heart. The sheep need to love their shepherds, because the shepherds love their sheep!

Bragging On The Shepherd

Bragging On The Shepherd

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

 
Have you ever been in the habit of praying the same prayer over and over again?
You’ve said that prayer as a child and it’s so familiar to you that it just rolls off the tongue. It can seem robotic and maybe this is how we read Psalm 23.
 
Many of us know this Psalm and can quote it quickly— the words fly past our lips. The author, David, practically writes this Psalm like a young boy bragging about how awesome his Father is. Let’s look at this Psalm from his perspective.
 
He says that the Shepherd is always there to protect him, lead him, restore him, and He’s concerned with his needs. He’s nothing without God, and God inspires David to articulate his view of Him.
 
Do we think of God in this way? Some might feel ashamed of Him because standing  up for Christ means saying something or doing something that makes us uncomfortable from time to time. You don’t see that in David. He’s bursting with pride because to him that relationship with the Shepherd is like no other. Today let’s humbly bow in thanksgiving and praise the perfect shepherd.
Elders Who Shepherd

Elders Who Shepherd

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

There was a problem with the shepherds of Ezekiel’s day. They tended to their own needs, but not the flock’s (34:2-3). There were tangible needs and problems, but these shepherds sinned by omission (34:4). The sheep were scattered and these shepherds did not work to get them back or save them from predators (34:5-6). Then, God through Ezekiel utters these harrowing words: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep” (34:10). 

In the New Testament, Paul tells the elders of the church at Ephesus to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Guard the flock, watch over the flock, and shepherd the flock. What a weighty work! To be on guard means “to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately” (Louw-Nida 332). An overseer has the responsibility of seeing to the spiritual safety and proper conduct first of themselves but also of those they watch over (Arndt 379). The idea of shepherding indicates care, concern, love, provision, relationship and intimacy, knowledge, and familiarity (see Kittel et al 902ff). These lexicographers who define what Bible words mean give insight into what elders are to be like as they do this crucial work. Isn’t it incredible and encouraging to see spiritual, albeit inevitably imperfect, men who “aspire to the office of overseer” (1 Tim. 3:1)?

Yesterday is a day I’ll never forget. We tagged along with three elders and their wives as they went around to 26 houses of members of our congregation. Exercising due caution under the current medical crisis, they nonetheless drove to see members young, old, and in-between. They visited with, sang to, and prayed for so many face to face, delivering Dana’s delicious baked goods. Seeing their enthusiasm to do this and watching the genuine joy on their faces as they served and ministered was a blessing that will stoke my spiritual fire for a long time to come. 

But, that’s just what I got to see. I’m not seeing the other times they’ve done this. I’m not there as they’re making so many phone calls to everyone. Over the weekend, they met together for several hours to strategize about a reopening and communication plan not just to get back to “normal” but to thrive and grow as we go into the future. Another of the elders has since spent hours piecing together that plan to provide clear communication to the church. 

All of them work full-time jobs and are hard workers. All of them have families to love and care for. All of them have hobbies and interests. But, all of them have Christ in the center of their hearts and lives. That last fact is what drives them to know about, care about, and reach out to the sheep. 

Thank God for the many churches who are being shepherded through unprecedented times like these by engaged, concerned, and involved shepherds. Church growth, doctrinal soundness, examples of Christ-centered living, and so much more depend on elders who shepherd. Will you take the names of your shepherds to the throne of God each day, imitate their faith, and assist them in their work? They are a vital part of God’s plan to touch and transform eternity! 

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Only ten in this group picture! 

“One Will Go Forth”

“One Will Go Forth”

Neal Pollard

In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, the writer quotes the prophet Micah. This prophet, whose ministry was to both the northern and southern kingdoms (1:1), writes much to warn these divided kingdoms united in sin and rebellion against God. But, he also extends hope for the future. He speaks of One to come, who would come from the same little village the great king David called home (1 Sam. 16:4ff). This coming king would be characterized in several ways, which Micah writes about in Micah 5:

  • From an unlikely place (2)–This coming one would defy men’s expectations. 
  • From the Lord (2)–This coming one would be given from God. 
  • From the days of eternity (2)–This coming one would be God Himself
  • For the purpose of ruling (2)–This coming one would come with authority.
  • For the shepherding of His flock (4)–This coming one would come to lead men.
  • For our peace (5)–This coming one would come for our good. 
  • For deliverance (5-6)–This coming one would come for our salvation. 

As Jesus conducted His earthly ministry, His works and teaching fulfilled over 300 prophesies written down in every major division of the Old Testament books. But there are prophesies, like Micah 5:1-6, which He fulfilled simply by being born and pursuing His ministry. These aspects of His work had to be hopeful and comforting to those with hearts of faith who lived during that time. But, as we look back over two millennia, it still has relevance to us today.  He still defies our expectations, exceeding them. He still is God’s gift for us. He still bears the same nature. He still must be Lord of our lives. He still must be the leader of our lives. He still gives peace. He still delivers. 

As you count your blessings today, look beyond the earthly and material. If there are things going poorly for you right now, be reminded of the greatest blessing of all. Because God loves and cares for us, He sent One forth for us. He accomplished His work and now has returned to the Father’s right hand. At His appointed time, God will send Him forth to judge. Those who have embraced and followed Him will enjoy eternal deliverance. For that, be thankful!

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A New Testament Leadership Style

A New Testament Leadership Style

Neal Pollard

USA Today ran a story about New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan. He’s depicted as a heavy-handed micromanager who feels more allegiance to his shareholders than the fans of the iconic professional basketball team. He’s contrasted with successful franchises, which the Knicks certainly are not at present, whose leadership sees themselves as stewards of a public trust and who casts a vision of a team which belongs to the people more than it does to those writing the paychecks and making the profits (Zillgitt, Jeff. USA Today, 3/15/19, 6C). 

While the article is prone to the subjective and fallible viewpoint of the author and his ability to properly research the subject, there’s a valid point to be made and applied much more broadly than just the world of sports.  Leadership approach is pivotal to the way and degree to which “followship” responds and participates in the vision and direction provided. Leaders who micromanage, arbitrarily dictate, fail to facilitate opportunity to be involved, and lead from fear stifle and prevent those in their stewardship from investing and contributing to the overall success of the organization.

Think about how this applies in the context of church leadership. When the Bible describes an elder’s role, one of the terms it uses for him is an “overseer” (Acts 20:28). This word means “one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that something is done in the correct way” (Arndt, Gk.-Eng. Lex. Of the NT, Et al,  2000: 379).  Neither the definition nor New Testament passages outlines, specifically, how that is to be done by means of method and judgment. It has to get done and it must be done correctly. Sometimes, elders hang on to “deacon duties” because it’s easier to do something than seeing to it that others do it correctly. Sometimes, it can be easier just to say “no” to some program idea or ministry than to endure the headaches of the trial and error in getting it off the ground.

Yet, there is wisdom in shepherding as stewards who help members invest and share in the success of fulfilling the purpose of the church as laid out in the New Testament. Such leadership encourages members to find ways to serve, to propose new ideas and methods to fulfill the New Testament mandates to evangelize, edify, and be benevolent. It facilitates their success–it announces, promotes, and advocates. It provides a watchful oversight that puts biblical rails around whatever the specific work is. Paul’s counsel helps elders know how to oversee: be on guard and shepherd. That means pay attention and take care rather than be aloof and detached. It also means to watch out for people and provide for and help them what it takes for them to spiritually survive. 

This leadership style is what makes such works as Bible camps, Lads to Leaders, Monday Night for the Master, lectureships, Bible classes, in-home Bible studies, fellowship groups, workshops, and the like thrive and grow. The more of us that feel invested in the work and success of the church, the more effort will be put toward growing and improving how it all gets done. Let’s show our appreciation (1 Th. 5:12), loving esteem (1 Th. 5:13), and cooperative submission (Heb. 13:17) to our overseers as they continue to try and lead us in this way. 

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So thankful for the great, godly elders. of the Bear Valley church of Christ

A Tribute To Harry Denewiler On The Morning Of His Passing

A Tribute To Harry Denewiler On The Morning Of His Passing

Neal Pollard

I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes

He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes

I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes

A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes

I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes

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Photo credit: Michael Hite

The Kindest Elder I’ve Ever Known

The Kindest Elder I’ve Ever Known

Neal Pollard

He was appointed an elder during the Reagan administration. At the very time he was appointed, the congregation was reaching the climax of a very traumatic incident. A man who was a charter attender, but not a member, when Bear Valley began meeting, he has seen every great work this congregation has dared to do, walked through its every valley, and he has done so with as even-keeled and unflustered way as I have ever known. I have heard him preach both here and abroad, watched him do short-term missions, make difficult shepherd visits, hug and encourage more people than I can remember, and seen his kindness and humor generously displayed. He was not usually the first to speak when elders conversed, but his insights have always been profound. He always did what he did with class and compassion.

I was crestfallen when I recently heard Maynard Woolley tell the eldership that he was ready to step aside as an elder after nearly 30 years of service. Only Harry Denewiler served more years in that role for the Bear Valley church of Christ. He stayed on a couple of years after five great men were appointed to this work in 2016, helping them to acclimate, learn, and grow under his, Ernie Barrett’s,  and Dave Chamberlin’s tutelage. A telling tribute to the breadth of his leadership was the collective, deeply respectful, regret that he was going to resign. Maynard is a man who one appreciates more and more the longer one works alongside him.  His faithful wife, Donna, has both encouraged him and endured, as an elder’s wife for so long, what not many women living have.

Some men impress with refined oratory, outspoken and charismatic ways, and larger-than-life personalities. Others live more understated ives, but their value cannot be overstated. Maynard Woolley is such a man. We will miss his formal oversight, but we look forward to his continued faithful service and loving example. Thank you, Maynard, for what you’ve done and for who you are.  Bear Valley bears the imprint of your bearing.

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What Preachers Wished All Members Knew About Their Elders

What Preachers Wished All Members Knew About Their Elders

Neal Pollard

While there are doubtless men who wear the name “elder” that do not meet the biblical qualifications, many of the church’s greatest heroes and biggest assets are her shepherds. I have been privileged to serve under a total of 21 elders in 26 years of full-time preaching, and what I am about to say applies to each of them. Part of their work is public and visible, but I dare say so much more of it is conducted before the eyes of only a few or one sheep or even at times only before the eyes of God. My experience with elders is that they are humble men and they will never tell you what I am about to tell you.  Here are a few things elders wish all members knew about them.

—Elders do…

  • Care.
  • See people at their messiest.
  • Sometimes get the brunt of the lashing out people do when in pain.
  • Always, always put people first.
  • Give generously of their time.
  • Agonize.
  • Hard things none of the rest of us can or will do.
  • Have insight into sensitive situations that others may not.
  • Have feet of clay.
  • Pray fervently for the needs and problems of the flock.
  • Desire to communicate to the church as much as they feel they can.
  • Want to have a relationship with every member.
  • Love God and seek to please Him above all else.

—Elders don’t…

  • Give up on sheep.
  • Defend themselves.
  • Do it for the glory.
  • Seek the praise of men.
  • Hold a grudge.
  • Play favorites or have double standards.
  • Read minds or judge motives.
  • Want to lose a single sheep.
  • Publicly share everything that’s on their plate or comes their way.
  • Want to lead God’s people away from Him and His will.

In an elders meeting last night, one of our shepherds was asked to read Hebrews 13:17. The elder chairing the meeting said, “This passage encourages me.” The elder who read said, “This passage frightens me!” As each of them discussed the sober meaning of that passage, I thought back to things I’d seen each of them do recently. It made me so thankful to serve under an eldership that takes their work seriously. Are they perfect men? Impossible! Are they God’s men? Absolutely! Please pray for the eternal work elders do in congregations around the world every day!

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