Should We Let The Devil Make The Rules Of Engagement?

Neal Pollard

Thanks to the hospitality of my good friend, Jason Jackson, I had the opportunity to visit beautiful AT&T Park in San Francisco, witnessing a rarity (a Rockies win) against his beloved Giants.  It was LGBT Night at the old ballpark, an annual sponsorship of “SF Pride.” It was also the day of the historic Supreme Court decision mandating the recognition of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The crowd was enthusiastic about that event in Washington, D.C., cheering when it was proclaimed over the P.A.  The videoboard featured gay and lesbian couples for its “kiss cam.”  While San Francisco is renowned for its “sexual progressiveness,” the city of Denver has earned a reputation for similar liberality of thought regarding homosexuality. In a growing number of places in our nation and especially among those under a certain age, there is welcoming, sanctioning language for homosexuality and vehement intolerance for the least word of condemnation of the behavior as sinfulness.  Even among those professing to be Christians, there is a changing posture in how or if it is dealt with.  Understanding that no sin is worse than any other, that it is not right to display an ungodly attitude in addressing any sin, and that there should not be an inordinate amount of time, attention, and energy given to any sin to the exclusion of the other, I wonder if even some of our Christian brothers and sisters have become unwitting pawns of the prince of this world regarding this matter.  The devil is at war against the Word and will of God, and he is at war against anyone loyal to such (Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:10ff; etc.).  He wants his cause, the ultimate end of which is the spiritual destruction of all men, to succeed, and he wants the cause of Christ to be overthrown.  We know that his mission will ultimately fail, with there being those who are welcomed by our Lord to heaven (1 Cor. 15:24; Mat. 25:34-39). Yet, most will follow him to everlasting punishment and destruction (Mat. 25:41-46).  He has the bulk of the resources and influence of this world, as he almost always has had in every generation. He has powerfully allies and mouthpieces from Washington to Hollywood and most media and education outlets in between.

  • Who is behind the idea that we are not loving the sinner when we speak of homosexuality as sin?
  • Who would have us believe that we are mean-spirited or unrighteous if we use terms like “unnatural” (Rom. 1:26), “exceedingly grave sin” (Gen. 18:20), “ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6), “gross immorality” and “going after strange flesh” (Jude 7) to describe homosexual behavior?
  • Who would sell us on the idea that loving the homosexual means keeping quiet about their practice of it, failing to warn them to repent (Ezek. 33:8)?
  • Who would seek to equate a behavioral choice (1 Cor. 6:9) with one’s race or skin color (Acts 17:26; Acts 10:34-35)?

What happened in our nation’s highest court last Friday may have been necessary to shake the church out of its general lethargy and indifference regarding evangelism.  What happened there will ultimately be overruled in the highest court there is (Mat. 25:31ff).  What happened there should not become our obsession, but neither are we wrong to take note of how this is a significant societal erosion.  Jesus implies how intolerable it would be for Sodom and Gomorrah at the Judgment (Mat. 10:15). The Lord overthrew them in “in His anger and in His wrath” (Deut. 29:23). Homosexuality is not the only sin there is nor is it the chief sin, but may we not be intimidated away from calling it what it is—“sin.”

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?

I Have Learned…

  • That some people are not happy unless they’re in a fight with someone.
  • That there are still lost people hungry for to know God’s will for their lives.
  • That it is so easy to make excuses and so hard to make the effort.
  • That I still have so much to learn, so far to go, and so little time to do it.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the right.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the left.
  • That some people get “preach the truth” but not “in love.”
  • That some people know how to be loving, but are unwilling to preach the truth.
  • That there are some who believe they are judge, jury, and executioner.
  • That some preachers decide what to preach based more on popular opinion and felt needs than honestly, courageously seeking to preach the whole counsel of God.
  • That some run roughshod over others while hypersensitive to their own rights.
  • That some can tell you what the preachers’, elders’, and deacons’ jobs are, but think their only job is to tell you that.
  • That many of God’s people are striving to live right every day, often at great personal sacrifice and despite great opposition.
  • That there are some who do good all the time, and would be mortified for others to know it.
  • That some make sure others know every good thing they do.
  • That everybody is extremely busy, but some are better time managers than others.
  • That with some people you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent, and you may still be guilty in their minds.
  • That no one can hand you success, prosperity, or discipline.  God gives you the tools, but neither He nor anyone else can make you develop and sustain them.
  • That elders and preachers who work together create a bond that holds the local church together.
  • That we have overemphasized specialization (evangelism training, youth workers, Bible class teachers) to the point that many feel unqualified and “opt out.”
  • That every one of us that gets to heaven will get there with much help from God and brethren.

—Neal Pollard

On The Other Side Of Security

Neal Pollard

Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability.  He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established.  He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together.  I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.

Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded.  Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way.  At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15).  Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.

There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design.  Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you.  Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was.  I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm.  However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me.  I’m anxious to see them!  They are my family, even if we’ve never met.

As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family!  The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!

420

Neal Pollard

Missouri has “The Arches,” California, “The Golden Gate Bridge,” New York, “The Statue Of Liberty,” Georgia, “Stone Mountain,” and Minnesota, “The Mall of America.” For years, Colorado was most renowned for our glorious views of the Rocky Mountains.  More and more, our nation’s fellow citizens associate us as “the state that legalized marijuana.”  Although Washington legalized pot the same day Colorado did, somehow the fame (infamy?) of this move is more associated with our great state.

Today, April 20th, is known by many as the marijuana holiday.  Many theories abound as to the origin of this number being associated as a code word for smoking weed—the most educated guess being a group of High School pot smokers from the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, known as “The Waldos”—but the mainstream public is now quickly catching on to the implications of its use.  Say “420” and a growing number of non-users will think “marijuana.”

Association is a powerful thing.  Whatever we think, people associate us, as a church and as individual Christians, with something.  Think about it.  Did you know people will speak of our congregation and say, “That church is _____________”?  Chilling, isn’t it?  What goes in the blank?  Evangelistic? Friendly? Active? Dead? Cold? Out-Of-Touch?  The same thing happens with us.  They say, “He (she) is so ___________.”  How sobering!

If I could choose, I’d want to be associated with a number like one of these:  (Philippians) 2:1-4, (John) 13:34-35, (Hebrews) 13:1, (Mark) 16:15, (Matthew) 16:24, (John) 15:14.  But, try as I might to manufacture a reputation, that’s ultimately not my call.  I earn that by what I practice, avoid, value, and prioritize.  We take a lifetime to build it, one conversation, one deed at a time.  It will be our memorial, standing well after we are gone.  What’s your number? What do people associate you with? If, by chance, you don’t like the answer, get busy repairing or rebuilding. It’s never too late to start.

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.

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.

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