THE CHURCH OF CHRIST

Neal Pollard

Within five minutes of the Bear Valley church building, you will find Atonement Lutheran, Landmark Tabernacle, Bear Valley Church of God of Prophesy, Bear Valley Fellowship, Christ Congregational Church, Hope Crossing Church, and Light of Christ of Anglican.  Expand the search by just a mile or so and that number increases quite a lot.  For the casual passerby, who observes our plain, ordinary facilities, they likely consider us just another in a series of churches or denominations.  In fact, to them, the words are exact synonyms.  Were they to visit each of the churches listed, including us, these observers would conclude that we all share a certain number of things in common while each having uniquenesses that set us apart.  Their deduction from this would run the gamut of perplexity, amusement, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and even, perhaps, disdain and hostility.  When we all meet in large, four-walled edifices with foundations and roofs, with classrooms, an auditorium, some sort of rostrum, a foyer, and even some type of baptistery or “font.”  So, just seeing us from the road or even stepping inside of our building is not enough to tell them who we really are.

If we are serious about the belief that we are trying to be the church of the New Testament, pre-denominational, and apart from Catholic or Protestant ancestry, what is our responsibility?  What is our responsibility to God, one another, and the culture at large?  Are there principles or precepts that should guide us in seeking to be faithful to the pattern the Lord left for His church to follow?  If so, here are some priorities we must emphasize:

  • Identity.  Are we known to our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family? If so, what are we known for? A deacon here recently related a conversation his boss made about her nephew, who she contemptuously related was a member of the “church of Christ,” an “ultraconservative” group that “doesn’t believe in instruments and women preachers.”  Certainly, her statement said a lot about her, but is that how we want to be identified?  What I mean is, when someone thinks of the church of Christ, wouldn’t we rather be known for what we do believe in and what we are for?  Remarkably, Jesus impresses His disciples with this command: “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  The early church exemplified this (see Acts 2:42-47).  Their loving way did not make them popular of universally beloved.  That is not the goal of discipleship or the intention of our Savior (see Matthew 10:37), but we are to demonstrate love.
  • Authority.  To the untrained eye who visits our assemblies, the male leadership, the a cappella singing, the every-week-observance of the Lord’s Supper, the sharing of a “plan of salvation” that necessitates baptism, and the like may or may not evoke serious consideration.  Elsewhere, in denominational churches, they will see choirs, rock bands, “tongue-speaking,” women preachers, babies sprinkled, priests officiating, and liturgical recitations (maybe in a different language).  The thrust of evangelism, not to mention a periodic, thoughtful explanation of why we do what we do in worship and teaching, is to explain why we do (or don’t do) what we do (or don’t do).  Essentially, it boils down to the principle spelled out in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  He has all authority (Mat. 28:18).  He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23). He guided His apostles into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13).  Thus, our concerted, ongoing effort is to honor and submit to His will wherever He specifies a matter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).  If He has specified it, we do it exactly and only that way.  If He has not specified it, we use our best judgment and the most expedient way to carry it out.
  • Practicality.  Synonyms might be “applicable,” “relevant,” or “relatable.” Our mission, first of all, is to enact the truth of God’s word in our everyday lives. This is a matter of example or influence.  Many a member of the body has given the Head a black eye by not following what the church teaches we believe.  Our mission is also a matter of trying to build a bridge to the community around us.  In matters that do not equate to “right and wrong,” can we establish rapport? To the extent that we do not violate Scriptural principles like modesty and decency, does our dress make it easier or harder for us to reach others? So long as their message is biblical and fulfill the criteria of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, do our songs’ melodies and words help “outsiders,” younger members, and new Christians understand His Word and will? Or do they need an lexicon for archaic words? Do our Bible School materials, tracts, bulletin boards, and visual aids seem 21st Century or like a first edition work of Gutenberg’s press? It is possible that there are some who pant for every new, trendy, shiny thing that comes along, hoping it will lure the unsuspecting unchurched one into our midst.  That extreme should not drive us to be obtuse or mysterious in terminology, outmoded in approach, and outlandish in frugality or form.  To be clownish or undignified is unacceptable, but neither should we be cold or unnatural.

This is not the irreducible minimum, the end all of the discussion.  But, if we will take who we are, whose we are, and who we are here for seriously, the uniqueness of simple, New Testament Christianity will shine through us and cause us to impact our community and our world for Christ.  Isn’t that what we should desire?

Giving Away Your Wedding Ring

Neal Pollard

Brooklin Yazzle, a Mesa, Arizona, wife and mother, apparently handed out her wedding ring with the Halloween candy last week.  She had taken off her ring and put it in a candy jar to help her children carve pumpkins.  Later, things got hectic and she absentmindedly dumped her ring along with the candy into a candy bag to give to children.  Complicating things, among her treats were plastic rings.  She has made an appeal through the news to get it back, stating that while it isn’t worth much monetarily it has great sentimental value (FOX News).

Many of us can relate to such a mindless blunder.  To my everlasting chagrin, I lost my wife’s High School class ring back while we were dating (she married me anyway!).  It is not uncommon for a person to remove their wedding ring to work or play, but removing it in such cases is to protect it from harm or loss.

The American Community Survey and the Daily Beast collaborated to provide a list of the “Divorce Capitals of the U.S.”  The ignominious top ten list, from “top” to bottom, is: (1) Panama City, FL, (2) Sierra Vista, AZ, (3) Charleston, WV, (4) Medford, OR, (5) Reno, NV, (6) Deltona, FL, (7) Pueblo, CO, (8) Palm Bay, FL, (9) Jacksonville, FL, and (10) Grand Junction, CO. In six states, the divorce rate is between 12.64-14.35% per 1,000 people, age 15 and older (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Oklahoma). Yet, the best of states still average 6.05-7.65% (Ashley Reich, The Huffington Post, 11/4/13).

This survey is but an example of a trend that is only tempered by a falling marriage rate, as more and more couples are living together without the sanctity of marriage. It shows that the dissolution of marriage is not confined to one area of the country, or more like in a “Red” or “Blue” state.  Are there steps we can take to keep our wedding rings?

  • Spend time together.
  • Have shared interests.
  • Focus on pleasing your spouse more than being pleased by him/her.
  • Make marriage a priority, not an afterthought or a “no thought.”
  • Make spiritual investments together (devotions, prayer, serving, etc.).
  • Spend time with couples whose marriages are healthy and happy.
  • Practice hospitality together.
  • Keep romance alive.
  • Keep Christ King of your home.
  • Avoid pettiness.

This list is not exhaustive, but it already gives all of us areas to work on and improve in.  We should remember God’s feelings, who said, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Let’s hold on to our wedding rings!

“MY BROTHER SHOT ME!”

Neal Pollard

My sons have had some notable incidents involving guns, particularly the air-soft variety.  While these all are thankfully memories from the past, they continued a less than proud tradition from their father.  I have stories involving my BB gun, easter eggs set on a fence, and a custom van parked in the next yard, “old west shootouts” involving BB guns and all our neighborhood buddies (including the loss of at least one permanent tooth), and one other BB gun story that stands out in my mind more than any other.  It was shortly after the easter eggs incident, and my brother and I were playing cowboys and Indians on a warm Spring Sunday afternoon.  It had been a tough week for Brent, not yet school-aged. Just a few days before he was climbing on a stair rail, lost his grip, and fell head first onto the concrete.  He had recuperated enough from that to be outside with me.

Our shoutout rules were typical.  If you got shot, you had to fall down and play dead for 10 seconds. Then, you got back up and resumed action. Brent had a cool toy flintlock pistol. I had my trusty BB gun in hand. As I recall, Brent came running around the house right into my ambush.  I cried out, “Bang, bang, bang!” He fell to the ground and got up crying.  He was bleeding under his eye and had a frightening gash.  We both had great imaginations, but not that great!

Our parents heard the commotion and Brent told them, “Neal shot me!”  That was sufficient investigation, given that the concussion and the easter egg incident were both fresh on their minds.  Dad took my Daisy and in an incredible show of strength ended its functional use with a single application to his knee.  A spanking quickly followed.  Meanwhile, Mom had done triage on Brent enough to ascertain one additional fact.  I had only pretended to shoot him (the Daisy was not loaded) and Brent fell on the sight of that pistol and produced that gash.  Dad felt terrible and apologized to me before taking Brent to get stitches.  Of course, with my checkered past with my low-powered air gun, I was not very incensed.

Since I have “grown up,” I have drawn my own conclusions without having all the facts.  I have done this with my sons, and I have done it with my wife.  I have done this at times with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I was sure I had all the facts and I reacted.  More than once, I’ve felt the regret of being hasty and premature.

When that brother or sister seems cold, distant, or unfriendly, they may simply be having a terrible day or dealing with an incredibly heavy burden.  When it seems that son or daughter has misbehaved, take the time to ascertain all the facts before reacting.  When  in a spousal spat, stave off assumptions, perceptions, and prejudices that may lead you to a hasty, false conclusion.

How many have fallen prey to “friendly fire” from loved ones? Be careful not to accidentally shoot first and ask questions later.  If you do, have the humility to admit your mistake and make it right!  If we can, we should avoid a “shoot out.” If we must, then we must fight fair!

Conquered The World And Left It With Empty Hand

Neal Pollard

Somehow, it has come down through the ages that Alexander the Great made this dying request, that he should be buried with his hands outside his coffin so that all his subjects could see that despite all the riches he had accumulated in life that he left the world empty-handed.  Artists through time have famously depicted this posture. It has been retold repeatedly.  Whether or not Alexander requested it, the sentiment reflects divine truth.  Paul told Timothy, “For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim. 6:7).  Similarly, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon similarly states of the wealthy, “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecc. 5:15).

While even world conquerors cannot transport their treasures from time to eternity as they make the transition, everyone will exit the world having left so many things behind us.  We leave behind so much more than our financial assets.  We leave behind memories of ourselves, encouragements either given or withheld, speech either edifying or destructive, deeds which brought others closer to or further from Christ, family members influenced either to follow Christ or abandon Him, and similarly impactful matters.  When we leave earth, our hands are empty.  We have bequeathed all that we are and have for those whose lives we touched and influenced.  They pick up our habits, worldview, pleasures, interests, and priorities.  Some day, they will die and leave empty-handed, too, passing along what in some way we gave them to give.

You may never be a world conqueror, but here is how you conquer the world.  It takes faith and spiritual rebirth (1 Jn. 5:4).  But do not simply possess it.  Be sure to pass it along.

Would You Let Your Kids Sit On The Goat?

Neal Pollard

Have you heard about a “goat situation” in Oklahoma City that, well, stinks?  Members of a Satanic Temple there want a 7-foot Satanists’ statue to be placed at the capitol building right next to a monument of the 10 commandments.  The group submitted to a panel with oversight of the capitol grounds “an artist’s rendering that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard that’s often used as a symbol of the occult. In the rendering, Satan is sitting in a pentagram-adorned throne with smiling children next to him” (via Huffington Post, Sean Murphy, 1/6/14). Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves added, “”The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation” (ibid.).

I first heard about this from one of our local news networks, reporting on the story.  They were aghast and appalled at the very idea, especially the thought that this would potentially be a place where children could sit on Satan’s lap.  While I wholeheartedly agree that even the idea is disturbing, we as parents need to make sure we do not, in our negligence, allow our kids to figuratively do such.

That means being plugged into our kids’ social media (they are abandoning Facebook for other forms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, by the way), knowing who their friends are and something of their friends’ character, safeguarding our homes from ways Satan gets in (TV, computer, movies, phone, etc.), and modeling proper and biblical values as parents.  It also means arming them, encouraging and sharing Bible study, prayer, and Christian service with them.  It is about setting our affections on things above, not on things of the world (Col. 3:1-2).  It is about being transformed and not conformed to this world (Rom. 12:1-2).

While most everyone would never set their children in that creepy Satan statue, are we, through their wardrobe, activities, friends, priorities, and the like, doing what is tantamount to that?  God has entrusted us with an eternal stewardship—our children!  Like those in Luke 18:15-17, let us ever be bringing our children to the “lap” of Christ!

PRODIGIES OR PRISONERS?

Neal Pollard

There is a video clip all over the internet showing five very young children playing an incredible piece, each with full-sized guitars.  Not only is it a complicated piece, “Our Kindergarten Teacher,” but their synchronized performance from the play to the choreography, is mind-boggling.  The children are from North Korea, leaving many to speculate whether this is a group of children with enormous desire and natural ability or a group of children playing for their and their parents’ lives.  The talent is rare and undeniable, but the hope is that this is born of choice and not coercion.

 

There have been people in nations and societies who have been brainwashed, blackmailed, bullied, and beaten to force their compliance in one way or another.  While such tactics may produce the results desired by those in positions of power, they usually control the body without winning the heart.  No child, spouse, employee, citizen, or other person wants to be made to do what they do or prevented from actions and behaviors without the exercise of their own free will.

 

While a Christian is one who has submitted to the will and Lordship of Christ, God has made this completely voluntary.  There are extreme consequences involved in not giving one’s life to Him and great reward for one who does, but He has made us with the freedom to choose.  Men and women have done tremendous acts of Christian service and have even made the ultimate sacrifice for Christ, but not as His prisoners without volition.  What sets Christianity apart from other religions is this very thing, that people love and revere Him so much that they are willing to lay down their lives for Him.  True Christianity is not based on one trying to earn salvation.  Paul says our salvation is “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9).  Christianity does not thrive and grow through guilt, manipulation, terror, or brute force.  Instead, this occurs when people truly get ahold of the depth of God’s love and the value of His sacrifice.  For those with good and honest hearts, this produces obedience and “good works” (Eph. 2:10).  Let us understand why we serve Him—not because we are pushed but because we are passionate to reciprocate His love!

A Beautiful Tribute

Neal Pollard

Kathy and I attended the funeral of Mildred (Millie) King, Larry’s mom and relative to several Bear Valley members, this morning at the Loveland church of Christ.  Ron Lauterbach, the local preacher there, delivered a fine tribute to the godliness of this woman.  So many kind things were said by Ron as well as family members about her faithful Christian life.  It was all very inspiring.  However, the crowning moment of the service was her widower’s words in her honor.  Ron saved these words for last, and they were touching.  He spoke of his “sweetheart” of 62 years, reflecting on how she put Jesus Christ before anything and anyone else.  Then, he spoke about what a devoted mother and wife she was throughout these many decades.  It was touching to hear about this wife who dedicated her life to raising faithful children and standing faithfully behind and beside her man.  When the service was over, Kathy whispered to me, “I don’t know her, but I want to be just like her.”

Is there any better tribute that can be paid than a life lived well?  She served at times as a preacher’s wife, but mostly a school teacher’s wife.  She made many a meal and sent many a card to others.  Her service was very well attended, especially for a late Thursday morning.  All of this honored her, but nothing more than the ones closest to her lavishing such praise about her spiritual maturity and service.  And the one closest to her of all people, Leland King, spoke most tenderly, fondly, and cherishingly.  No praise outshines the genuine admiration and affection of one’s spouse, the person with the most intimate knowledge of that one.  This kind of legacy lives on, even after that one dies (cf. Heb. 11:4b).