A Literal Appeal For “Help”

Neal Pollard

In an interview given at her home, Ann Rodgers appears a bit eccentric but a wonder to behold. The 72-year-old woman survived 9 days in an Arizona desert by eating plants and drinking pond water. She was driving to Phoenix via a remote stretch of back country road on the White River Indian Reservation when she got lost and subsequently ran out of gas. Thus began a series of efforts, building signal fires to draw the attention of rescuers or the forest service. She got lost while climbing a series of ridges trying to get cell signal. She and her dog faced gloomy odds, but she kept trying. She went missing on March 31st. On April 3rd, she used sticks and rocks to spell out “help.” To further draw attention to it, she found an antelope skull nearby and placed it with her message (via nbcnews.com). Since moving out west, I have learned that people frequently get lost in the vast stretches of deserts and mountains. I cannot find statistics for how many people get lost or how many are found alive or dead in the United States, but each incident is obviously traumatic for those involved. Can’t you imagine how desperately and completely those who realize their lostness long to be saved?

Wherever you go today, the vast majority of the people you encounter are going to be wandering through this world lost in the most profound way. Without rescue, they are heading for a fate infinitely worse than physical death. “Lost” is the way Jesus, the Good Shepherd, describes those not right with God. While He uses the word that way in three of the four gospels (Mat. 10:6; 18:11; Luke 19:10; John 18:9), it is the parables of Luke 15 that most vividly speak in these terms. The first parable, that of the lost sheep, draws on the search and rescue metaphor (Luke 15:4). That’s how Jesus likens the situation with one outside of God’s redemption.

Be watching for signs from the lost. They often send signals, if we are looking in the right places. Whether personal problems, major life changes (like marriage or having children), those new to the area, or those demonstrating an open mind, they may be just like the Ethiopian Eunuch and hoping for someone to guide them (Acts 8:30-31). Jesus has us here to conduct search and rescue missions. May we have our eyes peeled and keep ourselves equipped to rescue the lost. They are out there everywhere.

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That’s The Church For You!

Neal Pollard

  • Where you can build relationships with some of finest, most enjoyable people on earth.
  • Where the world gets smaller and mutual connections are usually a conversation away.
  • Where God’s Word is honored and imperfect people try to follow it.
  • Where Christ is at the heart of every idea, program, and plan, but also every class period and worship assembly.
  • Where you connect with people throughout the week, from thoughts and prayers to cards, calls, messages, and visits.
  • Where hope is always vibrant whatever in the world is happening, where joy is always possible however gloomy the forecast.
  • Where there’s always room for more members to be added to the family.
  • Where young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated blend together in a harmony that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
  • Where we literally get a foretaste of glory divine.
  • Where you feel a part of something so truly profound in purpose and exciting in destiny that sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real. And it is.
  • Where you have clarity and grounding in the midst of chaos and confusion.
  • Where you have heritage and history, but just as much hope and hankering.
  • Where truth is honored, and the way, though difficult, is clear.

A couple of closing caveats. No, I do not think the church, from the human side, is perfect. We have our foibles, fragility, and faults, but our foundation is flawless. No, the church is not a place, it is a people. “Where” indicates that the church, as a body, is a place where I can fit, belong, and function. No, this is not a Pollyanna-like, rose-colored glasses view of the church that glosses over or is ignorant of times when God’s people do not behave like they ought. But, when too often the diatribe is “what’s wrong with the church” and the mantra is, with negative and sarcastic spin, “that’s the church for you,” maybe it’s time we take a moment to count some of the blessings and perks of membership in the institution bought with the life and blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28). Obviously, there are other items to be added to the list. Feel free to do so! Generously.

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At the end of morning worship at the Katy, TX, church of Christ, 4/10/16.

“He Shot Me”


Neal Pollard

I want to preface this story by saying that, of all my siblings, I probably got away with more than the other two combined.  However, on at least one occasion, I was punished for something I did not do.  My brother was about four years old, and he, some neighborhood buddies, and I were playing war.  Brent had a toy Kentucky rifle, while I was toting my new, unloaded Daisy B-B gun.  Perhaps my parents had worried that at nine years old I was too young for such a potent weapon, but they allowed me to own it.  In the heat of battle, Brent and I converged around the corners of our house.  I aimed and fired.  He fell down to play dead for the obligatory “five Mississippis,” but he fell on the sight of that Kentucky rifle.  This led to perhaps the quickest peace treaty in the history of boys playing war.  Brent had a nasty gash under his eye and very nearly did permanent damage to himself.  When Dad and Mom asked what happened, he said, “Neal shot me!” You, Brent, and I know what he meant, but seeing things from their point of view they concluded I had fired a B-B that produced the gaping wound.  These were the last moments between my Daisy and me.  Soon it was a mangled heap of metal.  Dad felt terrible when he understood what Brent meant.

Before you wag your head in disbelief at how this was handled, consider a few facts.  The Sunday before, another buddy and I had been putting Easter eggs on the chain link fence at our property line for target practice.  We did pretty well, though we were oblivious to the fact that we were putting small dings in my buddy’s stepfather’s new 1979 customized Chevy van.  It was another thirty feet beyond the eggs.  I escaped any punishment for that one.  Dad had shown me how to safely use the gun, but I had my own ideas.  The target practice example was my worst but not my only.  I was destined for a date with a demolished Daisy.  My track record caught up to me.

Paul deals with “track records” and character with his son in the faith.  He had been teaching Timothy about how to deal with sin in the latter part of 1 Timothy five.  Public sinners were to be rebuked publicly (20).  Yet, dealing with others’ sins was to be done prudently to avoid sharing responsibility in their sins (22).  The rebuking one was to keep himself free from sin (22b).  Then, Paul ends by writing, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (24-25, NKJ).  In context, Paul is guiding Timothy in the investigating of those who would serve as elders.  Prudence and deliberation, in looking into their character, was vital.  Jumping to conclusions too quickly, whether too charitably or too severely, was unwise.  To help Timothy, Paul emphasizes that character often becomes apparent after sufficient examination.

By way of broader application, isn’t the same true of all of us.  As Jesus once put it, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35, NASU).   John and Jesus had been wrongly rejected by the Jews, but time and fruit would eventually exonerate the character of each.  That is, those converted through their work would prove the rightness of their teaching.  This would require the test of time and sufficient proving grounds.

Is one preaching for fame, glory, wealth, or power?  Look long and hard, with a good and discerning heart.  You will often see.  Is an elder serving through selfish ambition, to wield power, or out of materialistic greed?  It often comes to the surface.  Why are we Christians?  Why do we serve God?  It so often comes to light in this life.  Yet, whether it does in this life or not, it will ultimately.  Let us strive to keep watch over our hearts (cf. Mark 7:20-23).  Let us constantly purify our motives (cf. Eph. 6:5-8).  Remember that character will be tested.  Strive to do what is right even when you are not seen by others, and character will usually be apparent.

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We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)

How Could He Not Take That Shot?

Neal Pollard

His coach, Jay Wright, and teammates expected and wanted him to take the last shot in the 2016 NCAA basketball championship game. The senior point guard had intentions of doing so, too, but at almost the literal last second he turned and delivered a short pass to Junior Kris Jenkins who sank a three-pointer just before the final buzzer. It was the game-winning shot, lifting Villanova over North Carolina for the Pennsylvania school’s first championship since their legendary victory in 1985. Ryan Arcidiacono, who grew up 20 miles from campus and constantly dreamed of hitting a game-winning shot for the championship, will be remembered, as much as Jenkins, for delivering one of the most exciting games in college basketball history—Jenkins for his beautiful shot and Arcidiacono for his unselfish pass.

For those who know coach Wright’s philosophy, this turn of events is absolutely no surprise. Google “Jay Wright unselfish” and a multitude of articles come up talking about how the coach drills the idea of putting everybody else above yourself from the time kids enter his program. Players earn his trust and confidence by proving themselves converts to his selfless style of play. It is heartwarming to see such values being instilled in impressionable young people.

The local church must adopt the philosophy of its leader, Christ. He modeled it (Ph. 2:5-11) and mandated His followers do the same (Ph. 2:3-4). An atmosphere of unselfishness cultivates spiritual and numerical growth, just as selfishness inhibits such growth. Selfless service is most often bypassed by the world, though most deeply appreciate seeing demonstrations of it. Deference to others is a mark of distinctiveness that must be found in disciples. The better we do this, the brighter the light of Christ can shine through us!

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What God Does Not Expect Of Elders

Neal Pollard

Sermons preached on the qualifications of elders often, rightly, emphasize the importance of selecting men who qualify to serve. In the Lord’s church,  covetous, inhospitable, intemperate, cold, imprudent, biblically ignorant, pugnacious, and newly-converted men (among others) have been appointed to that important work who should not have been. That hurts the local church! Many times it has been said that “bad elders” are worse than “no elders.”

Harboring unfair expectations of men who would serve as elders is another hurtful trend that occasionally surfaces. A hypercritical spirit is a quality of human nature, though a quality the spiritually-minded ought to fight to personally eliminate. Let us briefly consider what God does not expect of elders.

  • More Than The Qualifications Specify. Gut feelings, intuitions, and hunches might work well when hunting, fishing, or making March Madness picks, but there is no call for them in selecting men to serve as elders. God does not need our help, tacking on additional requirements for an elder than He felt the need to supply for us. Adding to the Word of God carries a stiff penalty (cf. Rev. 22:18); therefore, our scrutiny of a man’s fitness to serve needs to stop where the Bible’s does.
  • Sinless Perfection. He expects maturity (1 Tim. 3:6), ability (Ti. 1:9), and stability (1 Ti. 3:4-5), but not impeccability (the Latin origin of this word means “not to sin”)! If so, no man could ever conceivably qualify to serve. Gnat-straining can keep a qualified man from serving as surely as camel-swallowing can allow an unqualified man to sit as watchman. With a 1000-tooth-comb, some would inspect the minutia of his life and his family’s. Those searching for flaws, who look hard enough, will always find things. Yet, such findings do not necessarily prove anything except his humanity and fallibility (cf. Rom. 3:10,23).
  • To Neglect Their Own Families. It is unfair to expect a man, as elder, to always place the needs of the congregation over those of his own family. Too many wives and children have been deprived of husbands and fathers due to disproportionate expectations of time, resources, and attention placed upon elders by members. Elders need the full cooperation and understanding of their families, while elders are obligated by God to supply the needs of their families (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5,7). Elders (and their families) are entitled to vacations and nights at home together. Elders will answer for not only their service as elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pe. 5:4) but also their influence and leadership in the home (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 1 Co. 11:3; Eph. 6:1-4).
  • To Be The “Complaint-Receiving Committee.” It is impossible but that complaints will come, but woe unto him (or her) through whom they constantly come. Murmuring and complaining got Israel into trouble (cf. 1 Co. 10:10), and members who find it impossible to speak to elders without doing such may find themselves in the same predicament. How many times has an elder heard you say something positive about another member, a successful program, or their efforts on your behalf? How many of your complaints have they fielded? Elders will answer for our souls. Let us find ways and opportunities to encourage, praise, and support them. Complain whenever you must, but compliment whenever you can.

Did you realize members have qualifications to meet with regard to the elders?

  • Love and appreciate them (1 Th. 5:12-13)
  • Honor them (1 Ti. 5:17)
  • Do not recklessly accuse them (1 Ti. 5:19)
  • Obey and submit to them (He. 13:17)

As we examine who would serve as elders, let us not forget to examine ourselves (2 Co. 13:5). How spiritually fit are we? Jesus’ words about beams and specks apply to our relationship with elders, too (cf. Mt. 7:3-5). Let us have high expectations of elders, but let us have only those expectations God has!

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Devil Anse: A Sinner Redeemed?

devil-anseNeal Pollard

I just finished reading best-selling author Lisa Alther’s book, Blood Feud: The Hatfields & The McCoys, The Epic Story of Murder & Vengeance. It chronicles the often-confusing causes and effects, crimes and consequences between these two families. While it was neither the longest-standing nor bloodiest feud of its kind in 19th-Century America, it, probably thanks to T.C. Crawford’s stereotyping, contemporary book about the hillbilly feud, is by far the most famous. Alther, related by an ancestor’s marriage to the McCoys, includes a great many fascinating facts concerning the feud and its aftermath. None interested me more than something she mentions several times throughout the book. Long after the feud, an elderly Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the Hatfield side of the fight, was baptized by Dyke Garrett, a former Civil War chaplain, and Devil “went on to found a Church of Christ congregation in West Virginia” (142; cf. Hatfield and Spence, Tale of the Devil, 97).  I do know that a member of the church where I preached in Virginia, transplanted from West Virginia, was a direct descendent of Devil Anse, but I did not know about his baptism.

The Christian Chronicle did a feature on this in 2012, authored by Bobby Ross, Jr.  Ross interviewed Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, who seemed doubtful that the Hatfields were anything other than primitive Baptists. However, Foster confirmed that Garrett was a member of the church of Christ. A genealogical site managed by Charles Douglass Brown echoes Alther’s report that Hatfield helped establish a church of Christ in an unspecified West Virginia location (https://www.geni.com/people/William-Anderson-Devil-Anse-Hatfield/6000000006903464087). A man taught by Alexander Campbell, Alexander M. Lunsford, is said to have converted Dyke Garrett in the 1870s. “Garrett began his ministry near Crooked Creek in Logan County on December 14, 1878” (http://blueridgecountry.com/blogging/hatfields-mccoys-revisited-blog/hatfields-and-mccoys-revisited-week-4religion/). One year soon thereafter there were nearly 100 conversions in Logan and Boone Counties, and growth continued to occur in the area built on the foundation of their work (ibid.).

All of this lends credence to the multiple reports that Hatfield, goad of so many McCoy murders, responded to the gospel call about a decade before his death. How sincere he was at the time or how faithful he was thereafter is difficult to tell. But, if he was, there is truth to Ms. Alther’s tongue-in-cheek designation of Hatfield as “a sinner redeemed” (p. 171). What Scripture makes clear is, that a sinner who sincerely turns from sin and obeys from the heart (cf. Rom. 6:17) follows Paul’s example. The apostle wrote, “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). If so, what a redeeming end to a tragic, tragic tale. Certainly, whatever our past, obedience to the gospel brings triumph where there was once tragedy! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

The Difference Between Unity And Union

Neal Pollard

When I was a little boy, I heard my dad contrast these two ideas, union and unity, with an interesting illustration.  He said, “You can tie two cats’ tails together and hang them over a clothes line. You may have union, but you do not have unity.”  Recently, political pundits have been making a somewhat similar contrast concerning the European Union. They are bound together economically, socially, and geographically, but there is at times a lack of unity.  These ties have not led to effective communication and information sharing in dealing with terrorist threats. Distrust, the ambitions of individual EU countries, and autonomous business dealings with nations outside its union all contribute to an uneasy synthesis between themselves.

There is great misunderstanding in the religious world and, at times, in the Lord’s church about what biblical unity is.  While there are those who believe that unity demands agreement on matters that ultimately are not established and determined in Scripture (how/if Bible classes are divided, whether to extend an invitation after a sermon, whether or not to meet on Sunday night, order of worship services—i.e., Lord’s Supper or sermon first, etc.), there are many others who believe that unity is possible where union is really what is attempted.

Scripture is the basis of unity! Jesus defined the oneness He wanted His followers to have as reflective of the unity He shares with the Father (John 17:20-21). Through His inspired writer, Paul, He emphasizes the importance of unity, saying that we are to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Unity is clearly defined as existing within a diligence to preserve the truth of “one body…one spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:4-6). The New Testament tells us in specific terms what’s involved in each of these. Attempting to be tied and bound to those who reject or attempt to change what Scripture says about these is not biblical unity. It amounts to tying together what’s incompatible and incongruous. That’s just inconceivable!

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Googling Church

Neal Pollard

Despite Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s fall, 2015, pessimistic forecast in the “Sunday Review” column of the New York Times, where he perhaps wistfully reports Google searches for God down 15% in the first half of this decade and presents data showing Kim Kardashian as at least 10 times more popular than Jesus (if such is gauged by Google searches)(“Googling For God,” 9/15/15), a front-page “USA Snapshot” from last weekend’s USA Today’s front page reveals a different statistic. Google Trends, which has been tracking searches since 2004, says that Google queries for the word “church” peak at Easter and spiked last year at 68% (3/25-3/27, 1A). Looking at Google.com/trends, searches for church in the last seven days spiked in too many categories to list but included “church service” (110% rise), “mass-church” (100%), “churches near me” (90%), and “Catholic Church (near me)” (both 100%).  Good friends of mine who are devout Catholics have referred to such querists and Easter or Christmas-only attendees as “C&Es” (Christmas and Easter), “CEOs (Christmas-Easter Only),” “Chreasters” (Christmas and Easter Christians) and “Submarine Christians” (because they only surface a few times per year). I’m not picking on Catholics, but singling them out since they see the biggest attendance spike and put special emphasis on those holidays as “holy days” with heightened importance over other days of the year.  Protestant denominations experience something similar if on a smaller scale. Many congregations of churches of Christ can attest to a rise in visitors on certain days, whether Easter, Mother’s Day, or Christmas.

While I strongly disapprove of the unpalatable, but predictable, gigging and gauging of those provocateurs with “in your face,” polarizing statements and ensuing debates praising and condemning these religious holidays, I am hard pressed to ignore the hard and anecdotal data. More people come to church services, including our church services, on these days.  While I have preached on the resurrection at Easter and the birth of Christ when Christmas fell on a Sunday (and cannot see how such is wrong) and while I have also preached “educational” sermons about the origin of these holidays and how we celebrate these great truths each Sunday and each day (which I believe is also legitimate), there is a matter of greater importance we must consider.

Yesterday morning, Bear Valley had a big crowd that included several visitors. Mark Hanstein preached on the work of elders. Nothing was said to highlight or downplay the resurrection. There were no awkward speeches about the origin of the Easter holiday and no pageantry to pander to guests. The worship, from the singing to the supplications and the Supper to the sermon and the sacrificing of the salary, was uplifting and encouraging.  As usual.

Every time we assemble to praise God and encourage our fellow Christians, we need to be sensitive to the fact that we are blessed with visitors. If we want to impact and reach those who “come into all the building,” on “special” or “ordinary” days, we need to prove it by doing everything we can to connect with them and take the conversation further. As you warmly greet them and find out more about them, ask them what brought them to church, what questions they might have, what their lunch plans are, if they are members of the church of Christ, and what you might do to be of service to them. Be genuinely interested and prove it with your words, facial expressions, and body language.

Did you know that the top church related search trends include “the church” (up 100%), “Christ church” (up 30%) and “church of Christ” (up 20% and the seventh most popular church related search), according to Google.com/trends? Who knows exactly what that means? But I can tell you what it means when a non-Christian visitor comes to one of our services. They are searching for something bigger than themselves. The real question is, “Are we searching for them?”

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What We Know About Recently Uncovered Ancient Viking Treasure

Neal Pollard

BBC reports that Historic Environment Scotland, Treasure Trove Unit, and the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrance’s conservation team have discovered an ancient Viking pot full of treasure, including six silver Anglo-Saxon disc brooches, a silver brooch from Ireland, Byzantine silk, a gold ingot, and gold and crystal objects wrapped in cloth bundles (read article here). The objects date from the 8th or 9th Century. The article goes on to tell us what the discover cannot tell us, at least without years of further research and theorizing. Stuart Campbell of the Treasure Trove Unit says, “”The complexity of the material in the hoard raises more questions than it answers, and like all the best archaeology, this find doesn’t give any easy answers. Questions about the motivations and cultural identity of the individuals who buried it will occupy scholars and researchers for years to come” (ibid.).

While we do not know whether the owner of this pot was a Christian or was more interested in laying up treasure in heaven, we do know that he (or she) was laying up treasure on this earth. We also know that this treasure did not continue to benefit the owner following his or her demise. The photographs released with the find also show that the objects have been worn and decayed with time.  It seems like a fitting illustration of what Jesus taught.

In the Sermon on the Mount, he wrote, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:19-21).  He doesn’t condemn saving or even making money. He does continue to warn that one inevitably chooses God or money as master (Mat. 6:24). This find in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, reminds us of the ultimate futility in laying up treasures on the earth.  What’s held and hoarded isn’t stored in heaven, but it does reflect what’s in the heart. Later, Paul urges Timothy to teach the need to fix the hope on God rather than riches (1 Tim. 6:17).

It would be great to find out that this was the church treasury of a congregation of God’s people being taken and used to help the poor or preach the gospel or the personal portfolio of a person who put his riches to good use in the kingdom. It’s not statistically probable, but it’s possible. What I do know is that there is a Perfect, Heavenly Accountant who knows what we treasure most. May our legacy be that we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mat. 6:33).

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