What Is The Church To Be?

What Is The Church To Be?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Conceived of in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11), purchased by Jesus’ blood (Acts 20:28), spoken of as the body (Eph. 1:22-23) and bride (Rev. 19:7) of Christ, and described as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), the church is valued and treasured by Him. As members of that church, we might develop a distorted picture of what the church should look, feel, think, and act like in our ever-changing world. What is the church to be?
A Museum? Is the church meant to be a relic of the past, a historical marker where the past is revisited, revered, and enshrined? No doubt, we stand on the shoulder of great workers and warriors of the past, but we are not meant to devote our focus to days gone by. It is but a slight renovation to go from museum to mausoleum.  Our best days should be ahead!

A Marketplace? Some see the church as a direct reflection of the culture. Stands on moral, social, and doctrinal issues are dictated by the views of the moment. “Change” is the key word, and selling the gospel becomes the preeminent goal (John 2:16; 2 Pet. 2:3). A church built foremost on society rests upon sand (Mat. 7:26-27). 

A Monastery? The church–though a haven from the craziness of the world–can become insulated and isolated. It is great to let our closest friendships and relationships to be fellow Christians, but we can become so secluded and shut off that we become a cloister that ceases to be soul-winners. Our worship services and Bible classes can be so full of insider language that the unchurched have no idea what we say much less what we mean. 

A Movement? Sometimes, we speak of the Restoration Movement whose leaders were trying to get people back to the Bible for “rule” and “practice.” But the New Testament church did not begin on the American Frontier during the Great Awakening or even shortly before it. It is not to be a political, national, or even social movement. To think of it on those terms is to degrade and devalue it. 

It is to be a model, safe to follow and imitate by others because she follows Christ (Mat. 5:13-16; 1 Cor. 11:1). It is to be a militant group, whose weapons build and save and defeat the devil (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-17). It is to be a mission, on a mission for the Master (Mat. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-16). It is to be a medicine dispensary, offering salve and healing from the Great Physician (Luke 5:31-32). It should reflect the Master in thought, in tone, in teaching, and target! May we all think more critically about what we think about the church!

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“First, Sit Down…”

“First, Sit Down…”

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Not pictured: Riley, who was under the weather. 

Neal Pollard

In Luke 14, Jesus gives a couple of short parables about counting the cost of discipleship. He prefaces them by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (26-27). If we drink deeply of this statement, we see exactly how challenging it is. The choice is always between Jesus and everything and everyone else. How badly do we want what only Jesus can give? Think hard, then decide!

Then come the parables. The first is a construction parable, of one building a tower. He first sits down and calculates the cost in order to be able to finish and avoid ridicule (28-30). The second is a military parable, of a king going into battle. He first sits down and considers whether or not he can win (31-32). The common denominator in both parables is to first sit down and deliberate. Ultimately, there is action which follows, but the planning precedes it.

In how many congregations do elderships or men in the absence of elders never get proactive and formulate a plan for the immediate, intermediate, and far off future? Leadership must cast the vision and deliberate about where that congregation is going and how it will get there. What will be done to grow? How can we get more members active? How can we best utilize the collective resources of the congregation? The Bible reveals all the answers, but it is essential for the church’s leaders to gather around the drawing board.

It was exciting to spend a few hours at the Lehman elders’ 2019 retreat to discuss the short-term plans of the congregation. These men are convicted about the stewardship of the work they eagerly consented to do as our shepherds. They want us to be more effective, but they are determined to set the tone and example for us. I’m amazed at how deeply they care about us and the growth they want us to collectively experience. Words like emphasis, accountability, and purpose continually came up. Building a biblical culture, which works against our contemporary culture of consumers rather than producers, is foremost in their minds. They desire for us to “grow together” as a church, drawing those outside of Christ to our spiritual family.

I cannot wait to see what God will do through such capable leaders in 2020 and beyond. We are blessed with such godly, conscientious elders. Please don’t miss a day praying for Russell, Riley, Kevin, John, Darrell, and Bobby and their families. Also, please never miss an opportunity to express your love, encouragement, and support of them as they strive to do their best to fulfill their God-given duty. Or, as Paul put it, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:11-12). 

They are first sitting down this weekend, but then they will challenge us all to “rise up and build” (cf. Neh. 2:18). 

THE KIND OF LIFE WE SHOULD LIVE

THE KIND OF LIFE WE SHOULD LIVE

Neal Pollard

Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!

We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).

We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.

We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:

  • Focus on the Father’s house (2). Long for heaven.
  • Focus on the Son’s coming (3). Anticipate His return. We know death is an appointment followed by the Judgment (Heb. 9:27).
  • Focus on God’s fellowship (4). Long to be where God is and to follow where He leads. Let that desire lead you to fellowship with Him and His saints publicly and privately in your personal devotional life.

We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.

We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.

Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.

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What Vision Is

What Vision Is

Neal Pollard

It is the ability to see what a thing could be. A carpenter, looking at a tree, sees with a trained eye much more than others can see. With his expert shaping, appropriate tools, and seasoned patience, he can make out of that tree what was once only in his mind. The Lord needs people, from the leadership down, who look at the community, each other, their income, and their abilities and see what could be done. It takes no effort, emotion, or education to say, “It can’t be done!” That’s what is expected. Vision sees what could be.

It is the ability to not obsess over what a thing has been. Due respect is owed to the labors of the past, and due recognition is owed both its successes and failures. The past, however glorious, will have ample samples of both. Yet, the people, plans, and programs of today and tomorrow should not be shackled and chained exclusively to was has been. Vision is not always settling for being “has beens.” “Will be” is what Paul seemed more focused in pursuing (cf. Phil. 3:10-12). Biblical vision recognizes that doctrine cannot change, but methods, technology, tools, and people invariably do. Vision asks how people living in the present time can best reach people living in the present time and prepare them for an endless eternity.
It is the ability to trust in what God can make it be. No plan would succeed without God’s hand in it. I love the prayers where brethren plead, “Help us in the things that are right and defeat us in the things that are wrong.” Among the Bible’s heroes are those who factor God into the plans and say, “We are well able” (Caleb, Num. 13:30). “I can do all things” (Paul, Phil. 4:13), “There is nothing too hard…” (Jeremiah, Jer. 32:17), and “No good thing does He withhold” (the sons of Korah, Psa. 84:11). Our vision can be bold when “our” is God and us! Since God made the sky, the limit exceeds even that! Our giving, our ambitions, our goals, and our sights should be set to reflect our belief in that fact.
Where will we be this time next year? In five or ten years? Vision plays a role in that. Vision attempts to see the unseen, forget the past, and trust the One who holds past, present, and future in His all-powerful hand. With those truths factored in, let us dream big dreams!

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What Kind Of Church Do We Want To Be?

What Kind Of Church Do We Want To Be?

Neal Pollard

V–ictorious? Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn. 5:4). No coach hopes to win without first planning and architecting. The blueprints have already been put in place (Rom. 6:17), but we must work the plans to be a success in God’s eyes!

I–nvolved? Do we want to merely keep house and meet together each week? That is not New Testament Christianity (cf. Acts 2:46). They took Christianity out of the church building’s doors. They were tangibly involved in doing God’s work. Will be be?

S–erving? This is a self-serving world. Many seem intent to climb over whoever is in their way to the top. Jesus’ religion runs contrary to that (John 13:12-17), and He calls us to follow His example. A serving church is a living, thriving, arriving, surviving church.

I–mpactful? Do our neighbors know who we are? What about the surrounding communities? What about the farthest reaches of our world? Don’t you want to be part of a church putting a Christ-sized impression on those around us?

O–bedient? We have one authority (Col. 3:16-17; John 14:1-6; Acts 4:12). There are potential masters, but only one will lead us to heaven. A church that steps outside His “lines” will become eternally out of bounds. Those intent on obeying Him will be saved (Heb. 5:9).

N–urturing? Don’t we want to be part of a people with an infinitely more profound purpose than that found by the patrons and workers portrayed in the old sitcom Cheers? We want everyone to know our name and be glad that we came, but we should also want a place where we can grow in every right, positive way. This must be a church that cares about all, whatever our age, background, interests, income, or education!

A–ble?  Do we want to focus on our liabilities or, through Christ, our limitless resources? We have so much to do, but we’ve been given so much to do it. Don’t we want to be part of a “can do” church, doing with our might what our hands find to do?

R–eaping? If we are a working church, we will see results. They will come through baptisms, programs of work, outreaches, visitation, stronger fellowship, missionary success, and much, much more. As my good friend, Cy Stafford, says, “What God controls, grows.” The law of sowing and reaping is positive, too (Gal. 6:8).

Y–earning? A church that is alive and growing is full of holy desire, enthusiasm, and a confidence that we can do all things through the Christ alive within us (Phil. 4:13). Our greatest desires will be to do spiritual things to the glory of God.

How does a church become a visionary church? We must be intentional! What do we intend to do?  With God’s help, that is up to us!

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Why These Are Exciting Times

Why These Are Exciting Times

Neal Pollard

I am filled with a tremendous sense of optimism that is not generated by politics, current events, the media, the economy, or any other worldly thing.  Neither am I fueled by some Pollyanna spirit.  Yet, I cannot shake this swelling tide of hope that fills me on a daily basis.  It is a hope for what the church and its members can be in the face of the growing challenges we face in this culture and around the world.  Why are these such exciting times?

The darkness is allowing the light to shine brighter!  Sadly, moral, ethic, philosophical, and civil behavior is eroding.  The messages being sent by those in power and authority are increasing anti-biblical.  Those who have lived for any length of time have witnessed a pretty dramatic shift in thinking and behavior.  This is reflected in so many things from language on the job and on “the street” to what is allowed and promulgated in TV and movies to the blatant lifestyle choices of the rank and file.  What all this means is that as Christians we can, by leading “a quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti. 2:2; cf. 1 Th. 4:11), shine the light of Christ (cf. Mat. 5:14-16).  As we share Christ with those in our circle of influence, we can countermand the marching orders of the “world forces of this darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  That, brothers and sisters, is exciting!

People are earnestly searching! I read with interest the studies about exiting millennials, new world orders (not just conspiracy theories, but fundamental shifts in worldviews), spirituality over organized religion, and the like. For all of that, down where we live day by day on our jobs, at school, in our neighborhoods, and our community and civic activities, people are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives.  Yes, they can be confused and misguided.  Yes, they have broken and messed up lives.  Yes, this produces a great challenge to churches as we are intentional and outwardly focused.  But, we have not seen a day in any of our lifetimes where biblical ignorance and, thus, directionlessness has been greater.  Remember what Jeremiah said: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).  There are many who would say with the Ethiopian nobleman, “How can I (understand, NP), unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).

The church is ripe for revival! It seems that the tale most churches with whom I have contact tell boils down to larger numbers, greater involvement, and younger members occurred in the past! Thus, panic, pessimism, and perplexity lace the private conversations and public addresses of the pulpits, the pastors, and the pews. Perhaps it is time for congregations to consider moving from the defensive to the offensive. I don’t know that individual Christians have ever been more impressed with the dire urgency of evangelizing than right now. I believe the conviction and dedication of our Christian soldiers is palpable.  With bolder leadership, concerted efforts, and a faith-filled plan of action, I believe the church as a whole is poised for growth.  This will require a change of priority, focus, and commitment, but I believe that we are more than ready for it.  We are eager for it!

But, time is short!  Paul is right.  “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).  If ever the mantra, carpe diem, has applied, it is right now!  May our anthem become, “Rise up, O men of God!”

A Mass Appeal To Help Us Reach A Worthy, Wonderful Goal!

A Mass Appeal To Help Us Reach A Worthy, Wonderful Goal!

50th anniversary

Melvin Otey’s lecture from the 2013 lectures. Stay tuned for details on 2014’s program!

THE SWISS PARAGUAYAN

THE SWISS PARAGUAYAN

Neal Pollard

Moises’ Bertoni’s story is fascinating.  Born in Switzerland in 1857, son of a renowned lawyer, Bertoni was an idealist and an adventurer whose scientific passions took him first to Brazil and ultimately to Paraguay, where he and his wife raised their thirteen sons!  They suffered many hardships in the area known as Alto Parana, a department (like a region or state) featuring the Parana River.  When still living on the Brazil side of the river, it overflowed its banks and deluged the Bertoni home, destroying ten years of research on two continents.  Once in Paraguay, they faced pumas, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, and anacondas.  He wrote, in an 1885 personal letter, “We have passed through all the difficulties that human existence can offer…villainy, the most absolute misery, freaky weather, hunger! We have born up under all of it, amazed at ourselves. We are not willing to give in…We are on the field of battle, and the fight offers only two outcomes: victory or death!”

Not surprisingly, Bertoni became an eminent figure in Paraguayan history renowned for his scientific research, agricultural advancement, publishing, environmentalism, and his work as an expert student the Guarani race of people who were his neighbors.  He suffered many disappointments and failures before succumbing to malaria in 1929, but his approach to the challenges of life proved him a fighter who persevered (some information via Mike Caesar, “Paraguay’s First Man Of Science,” 2002).

Though Bertoni was misguided in some of his pursuits, he exemplifies a principle we should all apply to our lives as Christians today.  Whatever difficulties and challenges we face, we must remember that we, too, are on the field of battle.  As he framed his work, how much more is ours a matter of “victory or death”?  Repeatedly, New Testament writers cast Christianity as a battle fraught with adversity (Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 4:7; etc.).  Yet, this is the promised finale of the fight, that “you are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).  In the next chapter, John explains that we overcome by faith (1 Jn. 5:4).  Some day, unless Christ’s coming precedes it, physical death will overtake us, but, if we are faithful in Christ, we will experience eternal victory!