BEAUTIFUL FAITH

Neal Pollard

Every day Johnson Kell visits is a good day.  Today was a good day.  Though we were initially talking about some sad and depressing matters happening currently within churches of Christ and particularly a west coast university traditionally affiliated with the church, Johnson cannot help but talk about good and wonderful things he’s seen and experienced within God’s family.  He told the true story of how one positive experience has made such a ripple effect within our wonderful brotherhood.  It centers around a young man steeped in a denomination but dissatisfied with their teaching.  He had a friend, a love interest, who was from Wyoming. She attended a funeral in Casper and was so impressed by what was said and done by the local church of Christ there that she was converted.  She told this young man, who had moved to work on a golf course in Ventura, California, where Johnson and Dorothy was attending at the time, about the church.  He visited. The Ventura preacher, Floyd Davis, studied with Ken, who obeyed the gospel.  Ken went on to marry, not the Wyoming girl, but another young woman attending with him at Harding University.  He went on to get his doctorate degree in Texas and has built a fine Christian home.

That story by itself shows the power of the gospel upon an honest and open heart. When someone is searching for truth, he or she will find it!  If one has no interest in God’s truth, no amount of persuasion or argumentation may be enough.  The gospel still works, however dark our world seems to be getting.

Yet, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen is a heart seasoned by decades of trial and triumph.  As Johnson relayed this story to me, he choked up several times in his elation over the conversion of the young woman and the young man.  Never have I known one as touched by the gospel and its positive effects on others as Johnson is.  Get him to talk about the cross of Calvary, heaven’s plan of salvation, the joy of Christian fellowship, or any such similar subject and tender emotion will follow.  Listen to him pray.  Tap into his vast reservoir of memories of the church and you get a transparent view of beautiful faith.  Spend any length of time with Johnson and you know he’s spent lengthy time with Jesus.  Every time we part company, I pray, “Lord, let my faith shine like Johnson’s.”  Hebrews 13:7 seems to be speaking of elders, but the principle applies to this former elder: “Considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (7b).  When it comes to Johnson’s life (and all those like him), that’s my advice!

Taken almost 8 years old, when Johnson (then 88) was teaching our boys to play tennis at the courts on Dartmouth.

The “Religious Condition Of The People”

Neal Pollard

After describing the “religion of the heart, not of the head,” scripture-less sermons of his contemporaries, a certain writer then focused on the consequent religious condition of the people.  He wrote,

The religious condition of the people very greatly corresponded to the teaching
of these preachers. The native common sense of some told them, that if God
gave a revelation to man, it certainly was one that man can understand.  That
it was unreasonable God should give a revelation of his will, and then need an
interpreter of it to the very men, for and to whom he gave it, so they studied it
for themselves, and learned many of its truths…

But the masses of the people did not study the Bible, made no effort to learn
what God had revealed in this Book to men, looked at it as a sealed Book to
them, made no effort to a religious life further than to live a respectable moral
life, obey the laws of the land, and maintain a reputable character among their
fellowmen…The religious life was one of impulse and feelings, days of sunshine
and cloud, moments of joy and hope, succeeded by long periods of doubt and
despair. They had no though of regular, faithful, self-denying obedience to God
bearing the fruit of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost.
(Lipscomb, David. Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell.
Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1891. p. 35-36).

Lipscomb wrote concerning those in mid-19th Century Tennessee, but it was probably true of mainstream America at the time.  They experienced different religious influences, particularly the ideas of hardline Calvinism.  Yet, how similar it sounds to even our own day.  Some are willing to hold themselves personally accountable for knowing the Bible, God’s written revelation.  They know they need to study and follow it, and they are open to do that.  Yet, the masses still try to live a self-guided, vaguely “moral” life of doing good things without learning for themselves what God’s instruction book says.  As the result, they meander through life in a sort of rudderless fashion.  That is, they have no concrete guide and show no serious interest in what God wants them to do.  At least, their interest is not great enough to drive them to read, study, and try to understand the Bible.

We have an obligation to seek searchers and point them to “the Book.” We also have a responsibility to ourselves, to faithfully delve into the Sacred pages, discern God’s will and then be changed by it.  The masses will likely always be as they were in Lipscomb’s and our day.  Our task is to go deeper and help others do the same.

“I Don’t Consider Myself Unfaithful”

Neal Pollard

An intelligent, independent young American man in his mid-20s showed up at the Siem Reap church building for mid-week services.  He not only grew up in the church, but he even attended a “Christian” high school and one of our brotherhood universities.  He is doing field research for an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, which brought him to Cambodia.  He is a decent, inquisitive person seemingly intent on bringing positive change to this world, but upon leaving his home state after graduating college he ceased association with the church.  When asked about his religious life, he said, “I don’t consider myself unfaithful, but I’m not attending the church right now.  I guess you could say I’m taking a break.”

Rather than being a “what’s wrong with young people is…” or “what’s wrong with the church is…” article, I want to think in terms of what faithfulness or unfaithfulness is.  Is it something we can gauge, and, if so, how?  Can we claim faithfulness but fail to demonstrate it?

The Bible speaks of the faithfulness of God, for example.  How do we know He is faithful?  Moses suggests we conclude such based on His work, ways, and attributes (Deut. 32:4). The psalmist points to His word and work (Psa. 33:4).  Faithfulness involved His working wonders and deliberately planning (Isa. 25:1).

In the same way, the Bible identifies faithfulness as something tangible and measurable, as visible as justice and mercy (Mat. 23:23), as demonstrable as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  The very word refers to loyalty and trustworthiness (Utley, np).  In Galatians 5:22, it “describes the believer’s new relationship with people, especially believers” (ibid.).  In this list, it is more than trust or belief.  The other eight words indicate ethical qualities, so this should be interpreted as such, too.  In other words, being faithful is seen by how we live and what we do.  Can we be faithful to Christ and His church when we do not attach ourselves to a local congregation, provoking others to love and good works as a manner of habit (Heb. 10:24-25).  If we are not seeking to build up one another (1 Th. 5:11) or cause the growth of the body (Eph. 4:16), how is that not unfaithful?  Twice in the gospels, Jesus tells parables concerning faithfully accomplish our Christian responsibilities (Mat. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). There could be no judgment and accountability without there being concrete ways to measure and determine faithfulness.

We do not get to define it for ourselves.  The Lord has already revealed what He considers faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  Ceasing to work for and worship Him, failing to encourage the spiritual family, and abstaining from such service as soul-winning and moral distinctiveness are tangible indicators that we have ceased from faithfulness.  Let us so live that in the end we can hear our Lord exclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat. 25:21,23).

Carl preaching at the mid-week service at Siem Reap church of Christ.

This World Is Not My Home: Some Reminders


Neal Pollard

  • “My team” got crushed last night in embarrassing fashion. Today, life continues.
  • A talented actor succumbed to his cruel coping mechanism and craving and is found dead in his apartment. Heroin is not the answer.
  • Unrest and fighting in Bangkok, Kiev, Aleppo, Moscow, and Bangui remind us that men of various earthly motives continue to use carnal warfare to gain power and subjugate their enemies.
  • Conservationists and whalers literally colliding their ships in Antarctica show how passionate we can be about things that ultimately cease. The same is true of those arguing over a pipeline from out of the north.
  • Even morally conservative people cheer the “good news” that abortion rates are their lowest since 1973—but over a million babies per year were still slaughtered in that 13% decline.
  • Handwringing over government healthcare and economic volatility dominates some people’s focus, while so little attention is given to the church’s mission to get heaven’s inheritance into the hands of as many as possible.
  • One “alternative lifestyle” is trumpeted, promoted, and force-fed the public through every media means possible, while the most important “alternative lifestyle”—Christianity—is sneered at and belittled.

Hey, but the reminders are not nearly all so negative.

  • I derive deep joy and peace from my daily communion with my Creator.
  • The church, though imperfect, is filled with people who are trying to please God and help each other get to heaven.
  • Jesus is greater than every challenge, discouragement, and strife.
  • Every spiritual blessing in Christ keeps every faithful child of God buoyed up in the most turbulent circumstances.
  • So many are going against the popular tide out of devotion to Him.
  • In the darkest times, the promises of God shine their brightest.
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing!

So, what kind of day are you having.  Maybe adjusting your perspective will help!

  • Our happiness is not tied to our net worth, worldly acceptance, or access to pleasure and ease. It is often most found where these are most lacking.
  • Evangelism still works and will always work.
  • Through consistent compassion and Christlikeness, we can reach the hearts of people struggling with so many of the ills previously mentioned and explode their stereotypes and prejudices against Christianity.
  • In the end, we will be victorious through Christ!

 

A Wonderful Legacy

Neal Pollard

It is a blessing to be in a family of preachers.  Though the men in my personal heritage have not necessarily been well-known to our entire brotherhood, their faithfulness and steadiness has proven exemplary to me.    Three uncles are or have been gospel preachers for several decades.  A cousin is a Bible professor in one of our Christian colleges.  His father was a preacher in the Atlanta area for many years.  My brother, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all preach.

My father, who has been preaching the gospel for 50 years, has started a program called “Carolina Outreach” to try and help struggling congregations in the Carolinas.  There are scores of congregations in both states doing all they can to keep open their doors.  Of course, like so many works, he is in great need of financial help to aid his ability to do this (the work is overseen by the North Charleston congregation in Charleston, South Carolina).

What is ironic in the most wonderful way is that my dad is standing on the shoulders of another man in our family.  My great-grandfather, Gilbert F. Gibbs, worked with T.H. Burton to establish the “first congregation of present churches of Christ in South Carolina” and “directly or indirectly had part in most now there” (from a tract published about him in Lawrenceburg, TN, in 1970).  A 1918 graduate of David Lipscomb, Grandpa Gibbs went to Union, South Carolina, with brother Burton to establish the work there.  In 1921, they went and held a tent meeting in Greenville and planted the church there.  In both cases, Christians converted in other places moved to South Carolina and found that the church was not in existence in their communities.  Grandpa Gibbs did local work in Tennessee and Indiana and did foreign missions in Canada, Puerto Rico, St. Croix and on the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  But perhaps his greatest evangelistic legacy may have been in the Carolinas throughout most of the 1920s.

We don’t think of the Carolinas as a mission field, but it is certainly not part of the Bible belt as we think of it.  The need continues to be great to evangelize and edify the church of this part of the world.  I can think of no one more capable than my dad.  We do not have very many wealthy or famous relatives, but I could not want a better family legacy than I have.  Please pray for “Carolina Outreach” and help if you can!

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).

 

A PLEA TO THE OLDER AND YOUNGER GENERATIONS

Neal Pollard

I am at a unique crossroads at which I cannot hope to long remain.  Currently, I am young enough to exercise vigorously, play sports, appreciate indie music,  vaguely cope with technology and its changes, and not feel old.  Yet, I am old enough now to have seen all my children reach the teen years, accumulate some life’s experience, and deepen my appreciation for the living history and wisdom that is our senior citizens.  Subtly, but surely, I will loosen my grip on youth and embrace old age.

As a 43-year-old, I still am able to hold hands with both sides.  No generation is perfect, nor does any have the clear advantage over the others. There are things all of us should keep in mind, no matter our age.

To our older Christians, may we appreciate that our youth and young adults need so much more than a constant diet of teaching and preaching on sexual and moral sins.  They need a larger diet of Christian evidences, how we got the Bible, and similar subjects in a post-faith world that is increasingly hostile to biblical principles. They deserve as many textual and deeper studies as anyone else. May we further appreciate our need to meet the younger people of our churches with technological savvy, newer (though scriptural) songs, and an empathetic view of the challenges they face in the culture. They need us to believe in them, listen to them, and go to bat for them.  May we view them as “innocent until proven guilty,” hoping the best for them.  May we value them, empower them, and use them in meaningful service in the Kingdom today!

To our younger Christians, may we appreciate that the church is comprised of more than those 30 and younger. There may be some things that are lawful but are not expedient. The fact that you are a part of your culture does not mean you should not strive to rise above it, excel, and be an example to it.  That even should impact how you dress for worship (not meaning coat and tie, but meaning doing better than ratty shirts, “holey” jeans, and flops).  Remember that the church has more than one generation in it, and the servant-hearted does not insist on his or her “rights” or liberties but rather strives to serve through love. Wisdom should propel you to “rise up before the gray-headed and honor the aged” (Lev. 19:32).  As was said of Lot’s wife, so we do well to “remember Rehoboam” who listened to his peers instead of his elders (1 Ki. 12:8).  Beware the temptation to hold the “older generation” in contempt and disrespect the greater wisdom that usually accompanies the accumulation of years.

We all truly need each other, now more than ever!  There must be empathy for everyone else, a love that seeks the best for others. Let us look through each other’s eyes as best as we can and so “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph. 4:3).