WHAT I SAW WHEN A SISTER SERVED

Neal Pollard

It was such a joy to accompany the BVBII students on campaign to Greensboro, Georgia.  Chuck Ramseur, one of our graduates, is doing a great job with Brianna and their four children, and the church was so warm and hospitable.  Yet, one of the things I’ll remember the most from this trip was the continual service displayed by Bonnie Saldana. Her husband, Mario, is a freshman and we had the same host family.  Throughout the week, Bonnie would jump up and clear the dishes from the table and clean the kitchen.  Our hosts, Dean and Karen, would urge her to sit down, but you could tell how much they truly appreciated it.  She made no fanfare about it, but quietly and diligently worked.

Mario is a joy to be around, but his wife’s willingness to jump in and get involved will help raise his “stock” when he graduates and looks for a place to preach.  Increasingly, I have seen women married to preachers who, in apparent protest at the thought of being part of a “package deal,” do little if anything to be involved (clean up, teach classes, otherwise volunteer, etc.) in the local church.  This sends a powerfully clear message to the other ladies (and men) in the congregation.  Rather than greatness, it shows gross selfishness.

Jesus proclaimed service as the way heaven esteems greatness (cf. Mat. 20:26-28). I wonder how He feels when He sees those unaware and unwilling to look around and assist where work is to be done.  The particulars of the problem are not given at Philippi between the divided women, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), but an overarching solution to “church trouble” is to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

What is to be eliminated? (1) Selfishness (Louw/Nida—“What they do is just for themselves,” 88.167), (2) Empty conceit (“A state of pride which is without justification,” ibid.), (3) Personal interests (A selfish preoccupation with with one’s own affairs, O’Brien, NIGTC, np).  What is encouraged? (1) Humility of mind, (2) Higher regard for others, (3) Looking out for the interests of others. Apply this to cleaning up after fellowship activities, babysitting, helping with workdays, providing transportation, practicing hospitality, listening to others’ ideas and input, doing security, greeting visitors, providing meals for those in need, visiting the hospitals and nursing homes, taking an interest in the youth through the elderly, teaching a class, nurturing a new Christian, and using your training and talents however you can to help the church grow.

There are many Christian women and men out there like Bonnie.  May each of us look at examples like these and eagerly imitate them.  In noticing them, we are following heaven’s example.  In following them, we are following heaven’s advice.

Bonnie is pictured (far left) in this picture of the BVBII campaign group in Georgia.

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Be Sure Of The Foundation

Neal Pollard

In 2008, I traveled to Bangladesh and spent an unscheduled night in the Capitol city of Dhaka. It’s likely that I passed the eight-story tall Rana Plaza building on that trip, given its proximity to my hotel.  I certainly saw many like it.  But on April 28, 2013, during morning rush hour in one of the most densely populated countries of the world, Rana Plaza collapsed and killed well over 1000 people. It was the deadliest garment factory accident in history.  Why it happened is an outrage. It was built on swampy ground. Extra stories were constructed without proper authorization.  Costs were cut everywhere they could be. Because of this, a huge number of people paid the ultimate price.

Did you know there were warnings? Cracks appeared in the walls the day before and the building was evacuated. But five garment factory owners who had space in the building ordered their employees to go back inside Rana Plaza on that fateful day.  This fact caused global outrage, spawned boycotts and led to calls for international sanctions. It was rightly considered unacceptable and inhumane for such conditions to continue to exist.

There is an infinitely greater problem invisible to the naked eye.  Billions of people are building their lives upon a foundation guaranteed to fail.  They have either never come to Jesus, or even more tragically they have heard Him and ignored His appeals and warnings for safety.

In Luke six, the point of Jesus asking, “Why call Me Lord, then do not do what I say?” is to teach that we must build our lives on the foundation of Him.  In Jesus’ illustration there, the first builder is well protected. He has dug deep and laid his house on the bedrock foundation.  The second builder has no protection.  Incredibly, he builds on the ground with no foundation at all.  In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Paul says there is no other foundation to build your life on than Christ. In that context, Paul warns against building on other foundations—the foundations of men.  Our lives must be built on the bedrock foundation of Christ.  The very foundation of the church (cf. Mat. 16:18) is the one we must each choose for our lives.  “Storms” are coming, including the ultimate storm at the end.  On that day, it will matter how you built.

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FAMILY TOGETHERNESS

Neal Pollard

It was a bit ironic to me as a stood up to preach on the subject of family that I had my parents and two of my children sitting and listening.  How rare and wonderful that, normally separated by a couple of time zones and over a thousand miles, we were all able to be together in the same worship service!  It makes me long for heaven, when we can be in the presence of God in eternal adoration of Him and sweet fellowship with one another.  Being together with family is a blessing many of us take for granted and can maybe only fully appreciate when it tends more toward the exception than the rule.

One of the many incredible facets of God’s perfect design for the church is that He made us a family.  Paul depicts us as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters (Titus 2:1-4).  He refers to it as God’s house (1 Timothy 3:15).  Christ is the bond that brings us together, with all our diversities (skin, background, income, education, etc.), to be a spiritual family.  The best attributes of family—love, acceptance, encouragement, motivation, understanding, heritage, leadership, unity, sympathy, assistance—come together in God’s family.  This is what has always baffled me when I think of brothers and sisters who can stay away from their spiritual family for weeks, months, and years at a time.  Who could sustain us and fill the vacuum caused by earthly life like God’s children, our spiritual siblings?

When you look at the church, you perceive it a certain way.  I’m convinced you are either drawn to it or repelled by it.  You long for her members or loathe them.  Certainly, there are the indifferent, the lukewarm, and those who are essentially unfeeling toward other members. But these are steadily moving toward abandoning their family.  Their hearts have already done so, if their bodies haven’t yet.  The indifferent and hostile may blame the church for their attitude, but we choose our mindset.  God puts us in this family (Acts 2:47), a plan He gave to help us successfully survive this life and obtain eternal life.  It’s a sign of spiritual health to long to be around, grow closer to, and be in love with the church.  Luke records, “And all those who had believed were together…” (Acts 2:44a).  What a beautiful picture!  We get to enjoy the same blessing today.  May we never take it for granted, but relish it.

pollards-in-georgia

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Remember I Am Dust (Poem)

Neal Pollard

I read the words of David today
They were so full of hope and trust
They spoke of God’s merciful way
That He is mindful we’re but dust.

He knows that transgressions we commit
That His forgiveness is a must
His lovingkindness He gives those who try to quit
Because He knows that we are dust.

Like David, I’m glad God has not dealt
Just with justice toward my anger, sin, and lust
As exalted His nature, so His tender heart will melt
Because He’s mindful we are but dust.

Like a father pities his erring child,
He reacts with compassion, not disgust,
When we fear Him, we learn He’s tender and mild.
He is mindful that we are but dust.

So as I embark on this unique day,
I know God is holy, perfect, and just,
But He balances this with a most merciful way
As He dwells on the fact that we’re but dust.

How should I treat you, my fellow pilgrim
Who’s also driven by imperfection’s fierce gust?
May I see you as I’m seen by Him,
And remember that you are but dust.

Extend you grace and excuse your stumbles,
Be willing to forgive, forget, adjust,
Because David’s inspired truth forever humbles,
He is mindful that we are but dust!

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THE ULTIMATE “HATE SPEECH”

Neal Pollard

A couple of days ago, many of the major conservative news outlets broke the story of former Navy SEAL and current chaplain Lt. Col. Wes Modder who was removed from duty and threatened with expulsion from the military.  An office assistant, a young lieutenant junior grade officer, showed up last December with two “Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain” (foxnews.com). The officer, who turns out to be homosexual, had constantly drilled Modder with questions about his views on the matter. The ensuing handling of the case appears very unfavorable for a person in a position of spiritual guidance trying to use the Bible as the guide in helping people with right and wrong on such matters as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Time will tell how this plays out, but we are living in different times.  It appears that one of the more unconscionable crimes against society is to promote an objective standard of right and wrong which dares to call specific behaviors and lifestyle choices “sinful.”  Readers of my blog have written me and told me they have seen posts of mine occasionally labeled as “hate speech” (I would invite the reader to peruse my archives in search of inflammatory, derogatory, or unkindly written articles).  I have seen writers who would profess to be Christian and/or religious who are caustic, obnoxious, and unnecessarily offensive in tone and manner.  Such hurt the cause of Christ and do not reflect His spirit.  Hateful speech is, by biblical standards, sinful speech.  Scripture speaks against it (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).  It also exalts godly speech: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21), “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6), “In speech…show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12), and be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Ti. 2:8).

But, when we let the world—without knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches—define “hate speech,” we will often get things turned upside down.  We will have evil called good and good called evil (Isa. 5:20).  We need to remain convicted in the belief that nothing could be more hateful toward a person than to have the opportunity to tell them the truth about anything God has revealed in Scripture and speak lies, whether to comfort, avoid offending, or to validate what God will not condone.  We must reach out to anyone who rebels against the will of God in love, but what could be more hateful than encouraging anyone along a path that leads away from Him?  Any word of false comfort and hope is the ultimate hate speech!

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Reaching Out Without Caving In

Neal Pollard

What could we do as the people of God to reach out into our community with the gospel in such a way as to remove as many barriers as possible while striving to remain first-century in character and characteristics? Here are some ideas that come to my mind:

  • Give thought to changing the auditorium seating arrangement where we can face more of one another.
  • Sustain an emphasis, via Bible class, email communication, leadership, the pulpit, etc., on drawing as many members as possible into creating an atmosphere of friendliness when we assemble. For example, never look past or fail to engage a visitor.  Build a culture of friendliness.
  • Investigate ways to incorporate psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that are not exclusively or primarily nostalgic favorites of members from 100-200 years ago.  That may mean we learn new songs (visitors are often trying to learn each and every one we’re singing, so it can be done).
  • Be careful about attaching an over-importance on suits and ties or dresses, or conveying that such are criteria to determine reverence or holiness.
  • Consider fellowship activities that allow small groups to get to know one another better and activities that get us away from the church building.
  • Make sure that we keep current with technology, from an attractive, updated website to that technology which is used within the assembly to any printed literature or brochures.
  • Seek to organize the program of work where all our activities and functions, if possible, are tied to a soul-centered, evangelistic purpose.  Approach every work seeking to make it more evangelistic.
  • Eliminate strafing, caustic, and otherwise thoughtless comments made in Bible classrooms that are de facto attacks on unbelievers or even those in religious errors or denominations.  Blanket statements or attacks on their intelligence or integrity do nothing but lower ours.
  • Thoughtfully, gently, and periodically give explanation for why we do what we do in worship (i.e., the frequency of the Lord’s Supper, extending the invitation, the reason for singing a capella, etc.).
  • Don’t drag out announcements.  Find multi-media ways to “get the word out” about prayer requests, announcements, and upcoming events.

I understand that the worship assemblies in the first-century were primarily geared toward members and not visitors.  Yet, thinking about these things and having such discussions are fruitful because: (1) We are blessed by visitors, often a great many of them, (2) Many of these suggestions will greatly aid new Christians, (3) We have an obligation to reach out to the young as well as the old, and many of these things are central to the world as they know it.  We must remain faithful and obedient to God’s eternal truth, but we must keep discerning eyes regarding what’s truth and tradition and what cannot change and what can and often should change.

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HOLY HILL DWELLERS

Neal Pollard

In Psalm 15, David shows us who is fit to be pleasing to God. I had a general physical and check up on my 30th and 40th birthdays.  I’ll have to say I was more pleased w/the results of the first one. Surprisingly, I found out that I should exercise more, eat less and weigh less.  While I didn’t like what I heard, I heard what I needed to hear. Though I’ve taken the exercise advise more seriously than the eating advice, I know that my physical health depends on my compliance.

Psalm 15 is a fitness test regarding our spiritual health. What does it take to please God in my morality and ethics?I find it interesting that what the Lord puts in His battery of tests is surprisingly difficult, and many good people, even basically good Christians, fail miserably at some of them. But if I don’t want to be shaken (5), I need to submit to this check up.

To dwell on the Lord’s holy hill, I need…

  • Properly working arms and legs (2-3).  The Lord sets forth an agility test for us.
  • We must walk with integrity (this refers to our character, a matter the entire book of Psalms begins with (1:1). We live so that the person we see in the mirror is one we can legitimately admire as wholesome, honest, and honorable).
  • We must work righteousness (this refers to our conduct, how we treat others and deal with them. Are we one people love or dread to see, and are we seen as a cutthroat, back-stabber, and ankle biter or as one who portrays the godly life of Matthew 5:16?).
  • A strong heart (2). No conditioning test is any good that doesn’t check the heart.  God requires truth in our innermost part (Ps. 51:6). A strong heart is a sincere one, one that makes us genuine and transparent. You won’t hear one thing in public but something contradictory in private, but you’ll get consistent truthfulness. One who tells you one thing but lacks sincerity and truth is not one who is going to pass the heart test.
  • A healthy mouth (3-4). Isn’t it amazing how much time God spends examining our mouths.  Even the heart test is connected to the mouth (2). An untamed tongue is an audacious, destructive, reckless, condemned thing (just read James 3:5-10).  Every one of us, to one degree or another, would be mortified if we could hear a recording of the things we’ve said—in anger, gossip, malice, slander, and dishonesty.  Particularly, the Psalmist says “slander” will keep one from the temple. This is an epidemic problem, made worse by the presumption we have that our speech is covered somehow by an exemption. Slander is sinful—it discourages good works because people get gun-shy of criticism, it kills morale as a backbiting atmosphere is unpleasant, and it hinders relationships because it destroys trust.  A tongue can lead a beautiful prayer, teach an amazing Bible class, preach a beautiful sermon and sing like the angels—only to be heard whispering backbiting words, running someone down, or criticizing someone.
  • Excellent eyesight (4). No routine exam is complete without looking at the eyes.  The righteous sees the wayward as God sees them. He doesn’t excuse or defend them as they willfully engage in sin. He sees the evil as God sees them.  That doesn’t mean the righteous won’t try to spiritually win them, but he doesn’t condone them as they live without contrition.

The Psalmist calls for an overall clean bill of health. The spiritually healthy keeps his word, doesn’t take advantage of the needy, and doesn’t betray the innocent. This is an exam we must pass.  How is your spiritual health in light of this heavenly health check?

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SARCASTIC, STORMY SQUABBLES AMONG THE SAINTS

Neal Pollard

(Imagine The Following 1st-Century Social Media Thread)

“Apostles And Disciples On Facebook”

James of Jerusalem: I believe the gospel should only go to the Jews. Or at least we should circumcise Gentiles who want to become Christians.
Simon Peter: Poor James.  I used to think that way, too.  But I know better.  You should check with Cornelius and his people.
James of Jerusalem: Where did you get your education?  The Samaritans?! LOL
Paul, the Tarsus Teacher: James, James, James.  I used to be right where you were.  I even had to set ole Petey straight because of you troublemakers.  You just keep turning up like a bad denarii.
Apollos: Apparently, the pedagogical philosophy of the Jerusalem saints is as circumscribed as the Strait of Sicily.  My buddy Paul always cuts straight to the point.  What do you have to say for yourself, J.J.?
Barnabas: Guys, let’s not make this personal.  Let’s deal with the issue. OK?
Simon Peter: Barnabas, did somebody steal your man card? Ha ha!  Jimmy, are you going to answer Paul’s powerful point?  Or will you crawl back into your cave?
Apollos: Well… James?
Simon Peter: Apollos and Paul, that’s just the way “brother” James is.  Hit and run. SMH!

OK. So, the apostles and disciples did not have social media in the first-century.  But if they did, is the sample above how we would imagine them discussing the issues between them?  Church leaders did meet to discuss a matter similar to the imaginary scenario just depicted.  It is recorded in Acts 15. There was sharp dispute and debate with them (3). There was much discussion (7).  Imagine what you’d like about what was said and how it was said, but look at what the Holy Spirit preserved. There was lots of Scripture quoted.  Love and civility carried the day.  Even in Galatians two, when there were issues of actual prejudice, they handled the matter head on.  But there was no vilifying, name-calling, or slanderous libeling of brethren.

How is it that some among us have lost the ability to discuss passionately without attacking personally?  Especially if our intent is to be a part of restoring first-century Christianity, why would we think we could exempt ourselves from the spirit and attitude faithful brethren exhibited as they sought to work together for the cause of Christ? This is baffling!

Certainly, we live in tumultuous times. Truth has been redefined and the church is being pressed by some enormous, identity-changing issues (i.e., same-sex marriage, an expanded women’s role in teaching and church leadership, the contention that the idea of non-denominational Christianity or the singular nature of the church is arrogant and false, etc.).  There are a great many other matters that merit discussion, but no matter what we are addressing we cannot—especially before the eyes of the world—fail to exhibit the love Jesus commanded His disciples show.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

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“Redemption Is Tailor-Made For The Wretched”

Neal Pollard

If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it.  This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles.  Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison.  Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background.  It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.

The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online).  The New Testament uses the word twice.  Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25).  The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV).  The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption.  One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.

One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it.  Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption.  To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved.  To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background.  Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!

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DETERMINED TO GET OUT THE NEWS

Neal Pollard

I spoke with our newspaper deliveryman this morning, and he had some story to tell.  He summarized his experience as the longest 15 hours of his life.  He got stuck once and had been towed twice.  He delivers his newspapers in a 2014 Toyota Camry, a front-wheel drive vehicle fighting against 10-12 inches of snow in a thousand cul-de-sacs.  Surprisingly cheerful, he was plodding on until finishing his task—delivering The Denver Post to every customer on his route.  That, my friend, is dedication!

As a former subscriber to the Rocky Mountain News and current subscriber to the Post, I cannot describe his product as “good news.”  With the internet competing, the newspaper is far from the exclusive or timeliest source of news.  That notwithstanding, this man is determined to get out the news.

The gospel is, by definition, “good news.”  Without a doubt, it is the most important and timeliest news of all time and eternity.  Every person needs to be exposed to it as it contains information that will impact where they will spend their forever.  God has given the job to you and me and every Christian in this nation and around the globe. Every day, we see people and relate to people on their everlasting journey.  They may or may not be oblivious to their need, but we are well aware of it.

Are we determined to get out the news?  The first century church was.  In bad times (Acts 8:4) or in good times (Acts 2:47), the news went near and far.  Paul described it as news which had reached every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23).  Christ commissioned that the news be spread to that extent (Lk. 24:44ff).  The challenge is great today, with over seven billion people on the earth.  But we have more resources than they did, and there are more of us, too.  The difference, then, may be the level of our determination.  Until we are determined to let nothing stop us from getting out the news, darkness will eclipse light and our challenge will grow.  Let’s let nothing stop us from sharing the great salvation of Jesus to everyone we meet.

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