Categories
commitment commonsense correction

So What?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Here’s a quick recap of the bizarre events that unfold in Acts 20:

 

  • Paul preaches past midnight.
  • A young man named Eutychus falls asleep.
  • As a result, he plummets to his death.
  • He is then miraculously brought back to life.

 

 

 

So what?

Each word that was written in Scripture was penned under God’s guidance— for our guidance. This means that even those accounts that might initially strike us as pointless are, in truth, spiritually-pointed.

With this is in mind, let’s briefly examine three life lessons from Eutychus that deliver relevant reminders for the 21st-century Christian.

  1. A lesson on Commonsense: God is with His people. God protects His people, but we still read of a young man who sits where he shouldn’t have. As a result, he tumbles to his death. Unfortunate things can happen to godly people, especially in the absence of commonsense.
  2. A Lesson On Commitment: This account is not a call for preachers to shorten their sermons, or even a warning for members who might be tempted to take a nap in worship. While Eutychus may not be the first guy that comes to mind when we think of a Bible character who demonstrated commitment— he still made it a priority to be with his Christian family. He held on, even though it was clearly past his bedtime. How many of us have stayed away from services simply because we don’t feel like it? How many Christians find themselves struggling to remain focused in a one hour period of worship? There is something to be said for this man’s commitment to Christ— even as the hours ticked by and exhaustion began to take its toll on him.
  3. A Lesson On Correction: Though I would not want to be immortalized in history as the guy who fell out of a window in church, this potential tragedy became a powerful testimony of God’s grace. God does not expect total perfection, but rather our constant correction. When we take a tumble spiritually, what corrections can we implement to avoid the same mistake in the future?

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Categories
devotion praise worship

Yearning To Assemble

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Yesterday was an emotional day. As expected, our attendance was a fraction of our normal size. The current threat is not yet over, but it was a stride toward what we pray is an imminent return of many more. Even from behind the masks and with the required social distancing, the joy and excitement was palpable. From preschool children to even a few octogenarians, our local brethren once again were able to do as God’s people have done for 2,000 years. We had others, mostly in higher risk categories or in daily contact with those who are high risk, who parked outside and tuned in via FM transmitter. They were in proximity with each other and able to fellowship with those around them and many on their way into and out of the building. A great many at home tuned in to the Live Stream and let us know of the hope and joy they feel that we’ve taken this step, several letting us know that as soon as is medically safe they will be there, too. 

Our godly, wonderful shepherds have agonized over how to “return to normal” legally, wisely and safely. At the heart of most of their discussions and “church business” is how this “layoff” or separation or disruption will effect the faith and dedication of us sheep. Their hope is that we will view this situation as one that, for a time, made us a church full of “shut ins” that we could accommodate through virtual services (and later drive-in services) to help keep us connected rather than seeing this as the permanent arrangement or to excuse choosing other activities over assembling when there is no such crisis in place. 

None of us knows the future, and it is hard to predict how every individual will respond post-pandemic. But, the heart of each of us will be at the heart of the matter as we prayerfully decide the timetable for our return. To shape and guide us on that spiritual journey, God has given us insight into the hearts of His saints through the centuries to influence our spiritual hunger. Here is but a sampling:

  • David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Psa. 122:1; notice also Psa. 27:4).
  • Zechariah: “The inhabitants of one (city) will go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go (some versions: “Let me go too!”)'” (8:21; the whole chapter is beautiful)
  • Luke: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42; context shows them together day by day publicly and privately)
  • Hebrews’ writer: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24, in the context of the assemblies).

But it’s the sons of Korah’s words in Psalm 84 that I want to close considering.

  • He saw assembling as “lovely” (1)–Appealing!
  • He saw assembling with “longing” (2)–Attractive!
  • He saw assembling as “logical” (3)–Appropriate!
  • He saw assembling as “lasting” (4,10)–Advantageous!
  • He saw assembling as “lavishing” (note “how blessed” throughout)–Abundance!

The separation and disruption was not of our choosing, but it might have and adverse effect upon us and cause us to forget the blessings of being together in praise and worship to our God. May the inspired words from saints like these help us fortify our souls as we anticipate the time when we are able once again meet each other in His presence for worship! 

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Categories
Christian living Christianity discipline spiritual maturity spirituality

Spiritual Maintenance

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Since being mainly confined to home, we’ve had a lot more time to do outdoor activities. One of those activities (besides mowing and building a chicken house) has been target practice and clay shooting. Not only has it been an enjoyable activity, it has also been a great way to spend time with family and engage in some friendly competition.
After the range is cold and we’re ready to stop, the process of cleaning our guns begins. Some don’t require as much cleaning as others, but all of them get a brush, cleaning rod, and some lubricant. This helps to prevent wear and tear in the long term, but it also prevents build-up from causing malfunctions or damage next time. It’s not always the most enjoyable activity but is necessary anyway.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the concerns of life (especially now!), to the neglect of our spiritual maintenance. Most of us are currently unable to worship physically with our spiritual family. We have had to cancel many of our church events and get-togethers. We are more-or-less confined to our homes. Financial and health concerns are at the front line of our minds.
If we don’t stay on top of our spiritual maintenance while this craziness is going on, all kinds of nastiness will build up in our lives. While the world is more or less halted, are we continuing to be tools for good? Have we used some of this time to inspect our spiritual well-being? This is such a great opportunity to do a self-checkup using scripture to clean parts of our lives that need to be removed.
As stated earlier, cleaning guns is not exactly exhilarating. It can be painstaking, monotonous, dirty, and time consuming. If it isn’t done, though, it will lead to premature wear and tear and malfunctions.
Breaking sinful behaviors, leaving our uncertainties in God’s hands, confronting our spiritual struggles, resolving doubts in our faith, repairing relationships that we have damaged, and working towards tangible growth in our spiritual lives can be far from exciting or fun. These things require effort, discomfort, confrontation, and dedication. While not the most pleasant in the moment, they will help us to be the best that we can be.
When we do our spiritual maintenance we become better encouragers, better soul-winners, better friends/family, and we develop strong endurance. Our goal in all of this is to reduce the wear and tear of our spiritual lives by living like Jesus. This kind of maintenance will allow us to do more than last a while – properly maintaining our spiritual lives and relying on God’s grace will cause us to last for eternity with Him.
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Categories
attendance church attendance Hebrews worship

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

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Categories
Uncategorized worship

Don’t Miss The Privilege Of Worship

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, John and Carla Moore, Kathy, and I worshipped with the church of Christ in Nazareth. We have been there a few times, but there was something extremely special about yesterday. In attendance was Wissam Al-Aethawi, an Iraqi and Muslim-born brother in Christ whom I first met at Polishing the Pulpit. What was so special is that this man, who explained that he has been a believer for 20 years and a New Testament Christian for 10 years, was able to worship in his native Arabic tongue for the first time ever. Can you imagine being a child of God for a decade before you ever had the opportunity to sing, pray, or hear preaching in the language you were born and raised to know? 

Every Lord’s Day, most of us have the privilege to worship God in our native tongue. In fact, such is probably an afterthought if a thought at all. I got the sense that brother Al-Aethawi would relish the idea of being able to worship in Arabic each week, and there’s no doubt he would not take it for granted. But do I appreciate that privilege? Does worshipping God mean so much to me that I prioritize it over everything else? When I am in attendance, do I pour my heart and soul into it? Do I let the words of the songs touch me, the prayers reach me, and the sermon change me? As I am able to stimulate the others to love and good deeds with words that come naturally to me, do I appreciate the blessing of fellowship felt before, during, and after worship?

What a shame if I let the glory of praising God seem so ordinary that I fail to treasure each service! What if we approached each time as if it was the first time we were able to worship God with the people of God ? What a difference it would make to the energy and passion of worship, if each of us did that. 

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Wissam presiding over the Lord’s Supper. 
Categories
Uncategorized worship

Reflections On Worship, From A-Z

Neal Pollard

How great to say with David, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).  Another psalm also urges, “Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (95:6).  Both verses are the attitude of a redeemed, transformed heart.  Worship is not a substitute for daily living, and we may find ourselves primarily or solely focused on assembling to the neglect of Christian duty or evangelism. But, though those be true, we cannot lose sight of the importance of fulfilling God’s command for His people to faithfully worship Him (John 4:24; Heb. 10:24ff).  More than that, as recipients of His grace, we will want to come before Him with what He wants, giving Him our best from an enthusiastic heart. What can help us do that?

A–TTENDANCE (It puts us in the right position–for ourselves, each other, and God)
B–
RETHREN (There’s a community, communion, and camaraderie in worship)
C–
HILDREN (Is there anything sweeter than seeing and hearing them worship?)
D–
ELIVERANCE (Delivered for a few moments from the profane, delivered for a lifetime by the Prince of Peace)
E–
FFORT (Hardwork, dedication, and preparation truly pay off!)
F–
AITHFULNESS (Obedience, consistency, and holiness fuels acceptable worship)
G–
OSPEL (Bible-centered worship highlights the best news of all time)
H–
EAVEN (Worship better prepares us for it, reminds us of it, and gives us a foretaste of it)
I–
NTEREST (See “attendance” and “faithfulness”; At some level, you can’t fake this)
J–
ESUS (We lift Him up, obey Him, and center everything around Him in every service)
K–
NOWLEDGE (We seek to know God more and understand Him better, in part, by worship)
L–
ISTENING (To God, through His Word, and each other, through the various acts)
M–
EMORIES (Young or old, each occasion provides an opportunity to make more of them)
N–
OTHING (What’s more special, important, fulfilling, and encouraging)
O–
PPORTUNITY (Different places and times have been forbidden from what we get to do multiple times per week)
P–
ARTICIPATION (Not just in the door and in a seat, but actively taking part)
Q–
UALITY (Not measured by voice quality or dynamic speech, but the very best we can with what we bring)
R–
ESPONSE (Each time we assemble to worship, we are responding to God and His gospel)
S–
ACRIFICE (You cannot properly define worship without it; It may be a sacrifice to come, but it must be an offering when you do)
T–
OGETHERNESS (Worship means fellowship and building our common bond)
U–
RGENCY (Feeling a pressing need to be here, and then to act on what we hear)
V–
ISITORS (These take note of how much worship means to us; They can see and sense it)
W–
ONDERFUL (God knew we needed worship, and that can touch us deeply)
X–RAY (Worship should lay our hearts bare and show us ourselves)
Y–OU (The presence of everyone, including you, spells the difference!)
Z–EAL (Passion and enthusiasm is observable, by others and, most of all, by God!)

Maybe we cannot fully grasp all of why God wants us worshipping Him, but He, as our Creator, knew we would need it to draw us closer to Him and each other. Let’s never let anything occupy a higher place in our hearts!

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Categories
singing Uncategorized worship

Singing With The Understanding–Miscellany* 

Neal Pollard

We are a diverse group who gather to sing for worship. We vary in age, education, religious background and literacy, race, and doubtless other factors. Some of us have been singing the same hymns for decades, while others may be seeing those hymns for the first time.  There is a mutual responsibility, one for the song leader and one for the participant. Yet, I would argue that the leader has the greater obligation to assist the participants in offering better worship. Mindless participation is the fault of the participant, but being led to speak and teach words they don’t understand is not.  What can the song leader do to increase the effectiveness of “singing with the understanding.”

Engage In Thoughtful Preparation. When picking out songs to lead, opt for simplicity. Archaic or technical words can hang up and distract the worshipper. It is fruitful to ask the question, “How will this be comprehended by the average participant?” Does the song read like we speak today? If we’re not careful, we can tend to speak through song in mystical terms that help disconnect the mind and the mouth. Do we know what it means to “vanquish all the hosts of night”? Do we know what “cassia-dipped” garments are? Do we know what’s referenced “where Eden’s bowers bloom”? How do I “launch my bark”? These are lyrics from songs that are sung every week in congregations across the land, but words I’d venture to say that many, if not most, do not comprehend. We must give thought in preparation.

Engage In Adequate Explanation. Something that can help in song leading is to point out words or expressions we’re about to sing, defining and explaining them. This does not necessitate a second sermon, but as part of preparation we should be ready to clarify obscure or difficult words. For example, from songs we often sing, we find:

  • “Repining”–To feel or express discontent; to fret
  • “Guerdon”–A reward
  • “Warble”–To sing (especially used of birds)
  • “Fain”–Gladly
  • “Trysting”–Meeting 
  • “Essay” (as used in I’ll Never Forsake My Lord)– To attempt
  • “Cloven”–Divided
  • “Garish”–Bright and gaudy
  • “Fen”–A swamp

While some songbooks, like Praise For The Lord, have footnoted some of these difficult words, many worshippers don’t pay attention to them. So many of us project our hymns in worship. The onus (i.e., duty) is on the leader to explain.

Engage In Balanced Variation. Everyone has their favorite type and genre of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Song leaders are no different than worshippers. How important it is to balance out old and new hymns, considering the typical “audience” present to participate. 

Engage In Heavenly Petition. Anyone who leads in worship should season their preparation and participation with petition to God. Pray about doing what you’re tasked with doing as effectively as possible. 

What a blessing to have willing, talented worship leaders. We have a powerful opportunity to show God’s wisdom in singing according to the authority of the New Testament (cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Let’s capitalize on that by putting everyone in the optimal position to sing with proper spirit and understanding!

*–Miscellany–A group or collection of different items; a mixture

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Categories
Christian living elderly Uncategorized worship

The Tender Tears Of The Timeworn Travelers

Neal Pollard

I suppose I have met more than a few elderly people, including some professing to be Christians, who could be described as “crusty,” “crotchety,” “contrary,” and “curmudgeonly.” These no doubt spent decades developing such a winning personality. But one of the greatest blessings I have received as a member of the church and minister of the gospel is my association and friendship with “senior saints.” Through the years, I have discussed with them the subject of worship. The most frequent topic of that is how precious that public time of communing is to them.

A godly widow recently told me she has spent the last two years focusing more intently on concentrating more on the song service, reflecting on the words and their meaning. Songs she has sung for decades, through this exercise, have become almost like new songs to her. Another older woman, married to an elder, talked about how she finds herself much more apt to be tearful in worship these days. She’s almost embarrassed at how emotional the experience of worship is making her. An elderly man who was a longtime elder and recently passed on to paradise, struggled to pray, sing, or publicly speak in worship without being choked with emotion. I could fill pages of writing about other godly Golden Agers who treasure assembling to worship God. Their hearts are full and their emotions engaged. Their voices may be softened and broken by age, but their spirits are stronger than ever.

When I think of these faithful, aged Christians, I am reminded of Paul’s words: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  Sometimes, the elderly are made scapegoats of alleged “lifeless” or habitual, but heartless worship. No doubt, there are likely Christians in that age range who struggle with and even fall prey to such (as there is in every other age category). But on the whole, these Christians have walked longer with God, know Him better, and value Him more than their younger counterparts. They are closer on the journey to the Father’s house and are anxious to see His face.

We are heirs of a heartfelt heritage handed to us by these holy hoary heads. To our seasoned brothers and sisters, we thank you for showing us how to walk with and love God as years turns into decades and the shadow of the grave looms larger. As we narrow the gap between our age and yours, we want worship and life in Christ to grow more precious to us, too. Thank you for your trembling lips, your tear-stained cheeks, and your tender hearts. They look great on you!

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Categories
giving redemption Uncategorized worship

The Gift That Jesus Gave

Neal Pollard

Often, during this time of year, there is an emphasis placed upon the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus—“gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat. 2:11).  They understood how Jesus was worthy of worship (2:2,11) and celebration (2:10).  Their giving flowed from that recognition.

The book of Hebrews turns the tables and reveals the Jesus who is the gift-giver. The same Greek word used to describe the wise men’s gifts to Jesus is used twice by the writer of the epistle to talk about Jesus’ gift. He does so in the context of Jesus’ work as a High Priest, as contrasted with the gifts offered by priests under the Law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:1, the writer talks about the qualifications necessary to serve in that role—taken from among men, working on behalf of men in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. Chapter five deals more with His qualification to serve and offer, but the writer does deal with the gift itself later on. Later on turns out to be chapter eight. The writer uses that same word for “gifts” in Hebrews 8:3-4 to talk about what Jesus offered. His gift is contrasted with those that cannot make the worshiper “perfect in conscience” (9:9). He gave His own blood (9:10) and with it obtained eternal redemption which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). The writer summarizes that gift, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), as the gift that sanctifies us to God.

But what do we give in return? We cannot repay His priceless gift. But God presupposes that we will be motivated to give. Jesus does, referring to worship in Matthew 5:23-24. He does again, referring to the monetary gifts of the wealthy and the sacrificial (Luke 21:1-4). The Hebrews writer will use Abel as an example of faith-fueled giving (11:4). But our most generous gifts to Christ, however moved by sincere love and unwavering commitment, is but a shadow and reflection of His gift. We give Him money, honor, time, energy, heart, and everything else we can, because He is the greatest giver of all. May we take the time, every day, to honor and give freely, to the Gift-Giver!

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Categories
Bible classes evangelism Uncategorized visitors worship

Audience Analysis

Neal Pollard

People, in talking about public speaking, will sometimes speak of “audience analysis.” What they mean is that you need to know your audience or you run the risk of being irrelevant, disconnected, and even possibly offensive. You may assume too much of them or sell them way short. Neither extreme is effective.

A wonderful sign for any congregation is the presence of especially non-Christian visitors, especially those from our community. Hopefully, we are doing something right when these visitors make repeat visits to our assemblies. However, too often, I fear that we have not done sufficient “worship neighbor analysis” or, equally, “Bible class neighbor” analysis. I recently was in a class when a teacher made a remark about how poorly a specific religious group scored on a Bible comprehension quiz. The remark itself was poignant and effective, but the cackling laughter from a few near the front of the class was easily heard throughout the classroom. I’m sure it was heard by two students sitting near them whose background is in that religious group. One is a brand new Christian and the other is a non-Christian visiting with him. Not only was the members’ reaction unnecessary, it displayed a lack of awareness of who else was present.

At times, we select songs from a century when “thees” and “thous” were commonplace and whose vocabulary was drastically different from how we speak today (“guerdon,” “cassia,” “pinion,” “dross,” and “hoary”). Even songs I have long been fond of read in ways that seem almost foreign to us today. Preparation for worship leadership should include a cognizance of how new Christians, young people, non-Christians, and the like will process or even if they can process such.

Specifically biblical or theological terms which we know people like our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates do not understand should not be uttered undefined. Making assumptions in an age marked by a growing lack of biblical literacy can undermine our effectiveness. It can make the most relevant message of all seem irrelevant and incomprehensible.

Of course, most fundamentally, one of the most unforgivable sins in the eyes of the typical visitor is to be ignored or made to feel invisible. We may hesitate to engage someone because we lack awareness of their “status” (visitor or member). Instead of risking embarrassment, scorn, or an expenditure of time, we walk past them or speak to someone we know we know. Perhaps, in believing that true seekers find, we let ourselves off the hook despite Jesus’ call for us to sympathetically consider others (Lk. 6:31; 1 Pet. 3:8).  Common sense should move us to see that we can attract or detract, depending on how we react.

Spiritual maturity will steer us to be mature, kind, patient, and self-aware. Basic thoughtfulness will help us prepare, speak, and act in ways that make us magnets for the Messiah rather than repellant from the Redeemer. The effort will be appreciated and, I truly believe, rewarded. If we need to, let’s break out of our bubbles of isolation and seek to see things through the eyes of others—especially “the little” (Mat. 10:42; 18:6-14) and “the least” (Mat. 25:40).

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