Avoid Being Ironic

Neal Pollard

Friday night, Carl and I flew to Bismarck, North Dakota. Why? Well, of course, we wanted to attend the “Melita Banana Days” in Melita (pronounced Meh LIT Uh), Manitoba. That, and stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, that doubles as an ice cream shop. Saturday night, we were back in our own beds sleeping. While we were registering at the festival  on Saturday morning and talking with some of the organizers, we told them we had flown up from Colorado to check them out. From what we could tell, we were the only attendees from America. They were mildly intrigued by that fact, but basically brushed us off. Which was fine. We also wanted to check out Oak Lake beach about 60 miles north of there. But it was ironic to read on their website that this event is about promoting tourism. Perhaps our tepid reception was an exception to how they welcomed outsiders checking them out.

On a family vacation not too long ago, our family visited a small congregation on a Wednesday night. We drew a few stares from the local members as we took our seat right as Bible class began. Afterward, we were briefly greeted by one member who explained that their little group was going to have a meeting to discuss strategies for being more evangelistic. We were a family of strangers to them, and we might have been newcomers or non-Christians. They would not know. None of them tried to connect with us. We were essentially shown the door. We found this ironic.

It is ironic to sing, pray, preach, teach, and otherwise emphasize about the church’s mission and then to practically ignore it. Our assemblies are foremost about worshipping God and building up the body, but even first-century gatherings were attended by those other than the local Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25).  In our zeal to deepen and build our relationships with one another, we must not ignore or be cold toward those who “enter” our assemblies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to start conversations and create opportunities to open doors which lead them to Christ. Certainly, they should leave our assemblies aware of our intense interest in them. To do otherwise is to undermine our very purpose and mission. That would be the ultimate irony!

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THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Neal Pollard

I was asked by a preacher from Texas to go and provide emotional support to a family of brand new Christians he reached with the gospel. In a tragic circumstance, the matriarch of this family was in the hospital Sunday morning to have a gallstone removed and doctors accidentally severed the hepatic portal vein going into her liver. This led to multi-organ shutdown that ultimately ended her life. In this atmosphere of unanticipated emotional pain and suffering, family had gathered from all over the country to see her before doctors removed the lines keeping her alive. I was unable to communicate very much comfort or support because most of them spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. I sat in the waiting room with them throughout the afternoon, watching their anguish but having little more than smiles and sympathetic looks to offer. The matriarch’s granddaughter spoke good English, but it was hard to expect her to continually provide translation as she struggled with her own grief. Hopefully, they knew I cared and will allow the church to provide further encouragement. Thankfully, we have several members who do speak Spanish fluently who could help in ways I cannot.

As I was driving home and thinking about the best way to quickly learn Spanish, I had another humbling thought. How many opportunities do I pass up with people with whom my communication barrier is not language? There are some other, more sinister barriers that can keep us from speaking up for Christ in situations He is counting on us to take advantage of. There is fear—fear of rejection, opposition, or being ostracized. There is apathy—failure to consider or care about the eternal destination of the souls of those we encounter. There is selfishness—as we are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we do not open our hearts to the lost in our lives. There is sin—the presence of personal lifestyle issues for us that render us ineffective as sharers of the gospel message. These and other matters are much more frequently the roadblocks that keep us from reaching out to the people we encounter.

It will help us, I believe, to remind ourselves daily that this world is not our home and that every person is heading to an eternity that swiftly comes. We must have the courage to share with people how to prepare for that, to understand the great love God has for them and His desire to save them. We must keep the conviction strong that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that His applied blood is their only hope for such. We must care about people, enough to pray for boldness and wisdom, enough to walk through our open doors, and enough to share the good news with them. People are at the heart of our purpose as Christians. Let’s serve them by sharing the good news whenever, wherever, and however we can.

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Your Impact

Gary Pollard III (Hope, AR)

On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bomb itself, compared to the city, was quite small; the devastation is still at the front of many minds today.

There is a lot of evidence on earth of multiple meteor impacts. It is chilling to watch re-creations of how those impacts would have affected the earth. A meteor just six miles across has the potential ability to destroy most of this planet, which is 24,901 miles in circumference. So, something just 0.024% of earth’s size can potentially destroy it entirely.

This country has 321,400,000 people. The church makes up about 0.03% of the US Population. We are ahead of meteors in terms of our ability to make an unforgettable impact.

It is far too easy for us to think, “I’m just one person,” or, ”We’re just a couple hundred people in a community of thousands,” but God can do mind-blowing things with just one person. With His Son, He gave all humanity across eons of time the ability to be saved. With just 12 apostles, the church grew into a global fellowship. With just one faithful Christian, an entire community of lost souls can be reached.

When a meteor strikes the earth, it’s not the crater that creates such devastation: it is what happens afterward. Maybe you convert just one soul. That soul turns around and converts his/her family. That family reaches out to their connections and shares their newfound faith. Before you know it, hundreds of lost souls are now in Christ. All because of the effort of one person to convert one soul!

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:9-10).

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Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

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Producers Versus Consumers

Doug McNary

Allow me to take you back to the early 1930’s, when the U.S. economy was in the throws of the Great Depression. It was a time of record setting negative economic growth. Many Americans lost their means to sustain basic life functions. Many Americans lost all Hope.

At the time, President Herbert Hoover believed in the importance of the role of individuals in society and the economy.

He said, “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Now, let us fast forward to the church today. We find the church in a time of record setting negative growth. And according to a 2014 Pew Research Study, less than 27% of Millennials (defined as ages 18 to 35) regularly attend religious services. Yet, 67% say they believe in a heaven and 84% think there is a God. So, what does the mean?  

I think deep down inside, millennials believe there is a God, but worldly distractions and alternate priorities keep them from contemplating what that really means. A lack of understanding or knowledge of the truth translates into a lack of action. Their ignorance may lead to eternal demise.

So, let’s rewrite Hoover’s insight:

“Church growth cannot be cured by the action or pronouncement of church leaders. Church wounds must be healed by the actions of the members of the church body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Church growth will not be achieved by elders, deacons or preachers alone. It must be cured by each of us also doing our part.

So I ask myself, “Am I a producer, or a consumer?”

In Matthew 5,  Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Honestly, I have been a consumer long enough. I sit in my pew every worship service, I do my daily bible reading, and dwell on God’s word… I have been a faithful Christian, with a proverbial basket over my head.

I want to be a producer…

–Sharing, Caring, and Acting to make a difference for the Lord’s church.

I want to be a producer…

–Proclaiming to others the Truth found in the Bible.

I want to be a producer…

–Openly Praising the Lord, each and every day, in my words and actions.

I want to be a producer…

–Participating in the building up of the body of our church by being involved in the work of the church.

I can no longer be just a consumer, I want to be a producer… Finding creative ways to prick the heart of a lost soul, for the sake of Christ!

Now here is the challenge:

I want to do these things… But, will I?… And how about you?

My brothers and sisters, I pray that each one of us can get up out of our “consumer” pew and DO Something Each Day to help our Lord’s church grow! I pray that we can all become “producers” for Christ.

I leave you with this thought…

In one of my favorite movies, Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart played the role of the father, Charlie Anderson. He sat at a campfire with his family as they were searching for his lost son. They were all about to give up hope when Charlie said: “If we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?”

Brothers and Sisters, if we truly love the Lord’s church, we must try, we must do!

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Dying Villages (And Dying Churches)

Neal Pollard

Liza Zhakova and Dima Zharov have written an extensive expose of a phenomenon I was totally unaware of—the depopulation of villages throughout the Kostroma region northeast of Moscow, Russia. 200 villages have been abandoned and 20,000 villages have faded away, a remarkable, mystifying fact for a vast region—it counts merely “660,000 residents for its 23,000 square miles” (source). Factors contributing to this include “low living standards, high unemployment, and a lack of housing and public services” (ibid.).  The ones who have remained are an odd assortment who either prefer isolation or cannot see another way.

Appreciation for salvation, the power of the gospel and the beautiful simplicity of the restoration plea, the exalted mission of the church, and much more should cause the church to spread and grow across the nation and throughout the world despite the opposition of the darkest forces against it. But, especially in America, the statistics show a decline in total number of members even as the nation’s population rises. Last Spring, Christian Chronicle reported that over 100,000 fewer souls were members of the church in 2015 than in 1990 (source). The United States’ net population increase over that period was 70 million (source). My experience in visiting churches in various parts of the country and in visiting with brethren from all over is that most churches are not experiencing growth. Some have seen an increase in attendance, almost always as the result of transfer from other congregations (over doctrinal issues, lack of resources and activities, or even churches that have to close their doors). But instances of churches that are taking the gospel into their communities and winning souls should, per the factors cited above, have us growing like wildfire.  In especially “mission fields” and rural areas, the church is often fighting for survival. My parents and brother, for example, work in a ministry called Carolina Outreach. Through their exposure to churches in the Carolinas, they witness and work with tiny congregations fighting to keep their doors open. They lack funds and workers to get the gospel to the souls in need of the truth in that part of this nation. I have spent over 20 years as a local preacher in states that are typically considered a mission field, outside of the traditional “Bible Belt” (i.e., Virginia and Colorado). In these and surrounding states, I have been saddened to hear about churches closing their doors or simply fighting just to “keep their doors open.”

As the Lord looks down at these shrinking parts of His glorious body, His heart must be breaking. Yet, He gave us the blueprint to address this problem and to reverse this trend when He gave us the New Testament. It is not more vibrant youth programs. These are wonderful and beneficial, but many of us faithful to Christ today grew up in small churches with virtually non-existent youth programs (including Kathy and me). It is not big, beautiful buildings. These can at times cause more problems than not. It is not extremism, whether to the right or the left. Building on the foundation of man is sand (Mat. 7:24-27). It is a resource available to everyone, in rural and urban areas, in depressed or booming economies, in north, south, east or west. In a word, it is “commitment.” The first commentary on the first church begins, “They were continually devoting themselves…” (Acts 2:42). Christianity meant everything to them in their daily lives. They were dedicated to seeking the lost, dedicated to helping each other, dedicated to following their Lord and Savior. They were dedicated in prosperous and perilous times. Their living hope was so strong (1 Pet. 1:3), they persisted even in dire persecution (see the rest of 1 Peter).

What a challenge this is to me. My dedication and commitment has room to grow. My complacency and apathy must decrease and His importance in my life must increase. If the church all over catches hold of this, the familiar phenomenon of “dying churches” will be a bad memory. May God grant us the strength and courage to reverse this tragic trend. May it begin with me!

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Use The Resources Available To You

Neal Pollard

Judging from Candice Millard’s straightforward account of the assassination of James Garfield, there were two men responsible for his death. The more obvious villain was the shooter, Charles Guiteau, an unquestionably insane loner. The less obvious accomplice, judging from her words, was the man who seized control of Garfield’s care and appointed himself the president’s chief physician. The bullet that wounded the president would not have been fatal, but the medical attention he received afterward was. In fairness, a medical discovery already made in 1881 that could have helped Garfield was considered controversial and would not be generally embraced in America for a few more decades. Yet, Dr. Joseph Lister’s use of carbolic acid to sterilize surgical instruments and clean wounds had been in existence since the 1860s. The Englishman attended the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, attempting to convince American doctors of its effectiveness. Alexander Graham Bell, whose telephone was discovered at that same exhibition, heard the news that Bliss could not find the bullet inside the president. The incredible inventor came up with the “induction balance”—a metal detecting machine. But Bliss waited too long to call Bell, and when he did he never allowed the inventor to check his left as well as his right side for the bullet. Bliss was sure it was on the right; an autopsy found it on the left. In court, Guiteau made the argument that the president died from malpractice rather than his attempt. While almost certainly true, Guiteau was still hung. Yet, most historians name Bliss as a proud, ignorant accomplice. Portrayed as a glory seeker, Bliss relied on his prowess and rejected several people and principles that could have prevented Garfield’s death (Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, And The Murder of a President, Anchor: New York, 2011).

To be fair, it would have taken uncommon clarity and vision for Bliss to ignore the prevailing views of his colleagues and embrace Lister’s techniques and Bell’s invention, but he could have.

There will be people we encounter today, who appear to be in great health and no danger. Yet, the vast majority of them will face a fate infinitely more terrible than the one Garfield succumbed to. They will eventually die, unprepared for the eternity that will follow (Mat. 7:13-14). The most tragic part of this will be, if you and I are in their lives, that it will not have had to be this way. At least, we have the solution from the “Great Physician” and we should know how to administer it. God needs us to make use of the resources He’s made available to us—prayer, Bible knowledge, influence, personality, courage, love, and a sense of urgency (cf. Col. 4:2-6; 1 Pet. 3:15; Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; John 4:35; etc.). We can look within our congregations and see those who were reached in this way. We see others who are not far from the cure, but who need us to help them. How inexcusable is it to have the remedy but refuse to share it? May God help us use the resources we have available to us!

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Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Neal Pollard

  • Pray, specifically, about having opportunities to share your faith. Think about the people in the various places you spend your time and ask God for inroads with these individuals specifically. Pray for courage, wisdom, and your words (cf. Col. 4:2-6). Pray for their hearts. Pray to pick opportune times to approach them.
  • Cultivate your fields. Spend time thinking about who you have or can build a relationship with. That will be your area of greatest success. Be involved in their lives (see below). Work at growing the number of people you could share Christ with.
  • Develop genuine interest in the lives of the people in your life. Learn spouse’s and children’s names, occupation, interests, hobbies, and passions in their lives. Ask about those things. File away and remember those facts, as your specific recall with them will impress them with your sincerity and concern. How is trust won? Time and transparency.
  • Be able to speak openly and wisely about religion with them. That means picking your battles wisely. You will hear people spout misinformation and false ideas when religion is being discussed. Always maintain control and calm, being gentle in discussing religious matters (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). If asked (and you eventually will be) about some specific, like salvation or church organization or what “denomination” you are a member of, be winsome and kind but courageous enough to give a biblical answer.
  • Work at working in your faith and the church into your conversations naturally. This may require prayer and thought, but practice turning your conversations with people toward the spiritual. Like anything, if you’ve not had practice, it may seem clunky and awkward initially but not ultimately. If something is going on at church that relates some way to what your friend is saying, bring it up matter of factly. If their issue or struggle concerns something you have come across in your recent Bible study, share the verse with them.
  • Be prepared to serve and help. So many of our co-workers, associates, neighbors, and other friends have messy lives. They are struggling and, without Christ, have no bearings on how to address their problems. As human beings, they inevitably struggle with the same things all people struggle with—relationships, family, finance, uncertainty, health, fear, etc.  Remind yourself that you are here, on earth, to serve (cf. Mat. 20:28; Gal. 5:13).
  • Watch yourself. Your example, especially under the pressures and fires of life, can make or break your evangelistic opportunities. Your temperament, reaction, attitude, and the like are a display case for the Lord or the world. Regularly remind yourself of this (Ti. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Remember the mantra, “It’s not a matter of ‘who’ is right, but ‘what’ is right.” I received this counsel decades ago, as a young preacher, from David Sain. I have used it countless times in soul-winning circumstances. Truly, ultimately, all religious questions must be settled upon the foundation of Scripture. Feelings, opinions, what churches teach and practice, what religious leaders say, and such must be subjugated to what the Bible says. Those other standards may fail us. Scripture won’t!

Evangelism will always be intimidating because it ultimately calls for courage and conviction. Not every specific situation will be a success story, but if we can remind ourselves of our purpose on this earth and how much people need what we have learned we will act! And there will be success!

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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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