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.

pollards-in-georgia

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.

MILLENNIALS LEAVING THE ESTABLISHED FOR THE CONVENIENT?

Neal Pollard

I was more than a little amused to read one of the latest offerings at the offbeat online food site “Munchies” (munchies.vice.com).  While it seems to be having fun with the overkill-reporting of all movements millennial, they give hard data to support the idea that those in the age range of 18-34 are forsaking fast-food chains and sit-down restaurants in deference to convenience stores with their nachos, taquitos and slurpies.  This data is being interpreted as a reflection on their tendency to impulse buy or be lured in by novelty.

Having at least two children who would fit the broad definition of “millennials,” I am always trying to figure out how this demographic ticks.  It seems that every news story featuring them, as a generation, casts them as fickle, rebellious, self-serving, or disconnected from the rest of society.  While they have inherited some broken systems (educationally, economically, religiously, etc.) and, as such, may naturally feel some distrust and disdain for those responsible, stereotypes and broad brushes are usually faulty.

When I view Christian millennials, having spoken with a great many of them over the past few years, I see a group intent on doing great things for Christ.  They don’t want to hear plans for helping the poor and needy; they want to organize and supply manpower for doing it.  They want more than Bible classes and sermons on soul-winning; they want to see their “role models” doing it and involving them in it.  They don’t want to simply accept our word for it on why we do what we do in worship and doctrine; they want well-thought-out explanations and demonstrations of book, chapter, and verse.

Today’s millennials are on the frontline of a battlefield more daunting than any living generation before them.  The prince of this world has attempted to brainwash and indoctrinate them with his lies.  The institutions of our culture actively seek to redefine right and wrong for them.

So many of the Christian millennials I know are eager to serve as soldiers in the Lord’s Army.  They may disparage some of the “established” forms not founded upon the Rock, but the kind of faith they are developing and must grow will be anything but “convenient.”  They may have to pay a higher price for holding onto their faith than any of us did at their age.  May we have the wisdom and take the time to mentor, encourage, love, and assist them in influencing a world so rapidly changing.  They can do it, and we must help.  God certainly will (cf. Rom. 8:37-39)!

 What It Means to Be An Overseer

Neal Pollard

Elders are identified with three broad terms.  As Gary Hampton has put it, those who serve congregations in this honored way should not be offended that the term most often associated with them is the one that identifies them as old.  Not only are they “elders,” but they are also “shepherds” and “overseers.”  “Shepherd” describes their pastoral function:  caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of the flock, knowing the sheep, and building relationships with the sheep.  Too often, people confuse preachers as the ones associated with this role.

They are also “overseers.”  In one way, this term is almost self-defining.  They are to oversee the affairs and activity in the congregation they serve.  In another way, there may often be confusion about what it means to oversee.

  • They should not be “over hearers.”  They must be communicators and “contactors.”  They cannot rely solely on hearsay and rumor.  They cannot afford to be so detached from sheep life that they are uninformed. While they rely on information from preachers, deacons, and the “general membership,” that cannot be their sole means of information regarding church life.
  • They should not be “over meeters.”  I have heard it said that elders should visit two hours for every one hour they meet.  Although that may be unscientific, is it not saying that personal contact with church members is at least twice the job that coming together and making decisions about those members is?  How can anyone best decide about sheep with whom they have not spent quality time?  Certainly, lengthy meetings are draining and frustrating to elders.  Often, overseers are in danger of burn out from marathon sessions.
  • They should not be “over workers.”  God has not placed the entire workload of the church on elders’ shoulders.  Almost always, men are appointed elders because they have proven themselves diligent workers in various areas of church life.  Yet, as it was in Moses’ day, when elders are overloaded with the church work “alone” (Ex. 18:14) what they are doing “is not good” (Ex. 18:17), it is “too heavy” for them (Ex. 18:18), and they “are not able to do it alone” (Ex. 18:18).  That means elders should not be doing deacons’ work and deacons, by definition, should.

David E. Smith, an elder with the Birdville congregation in Heltom City, Texas, said, “Let me confess up front that I’m guilty.  Guilty of not letting deacons do their jobs so I’ll have more time to do mine.  I think most elders fall in this category from time to time.  There is an urgent need for us to change our “modus operandi”! …Sometimes I get overly involved with our deacons’ work which distracts my attention from spiritual matters.  And there is never a lack of spiritual matters needing attention” (“Questions Of Eternal Consequences,” Ft. Worth Lectures 1999, pp. 267-268).  With regard to church work, let overseers be delegators of work rather than devourers of it all.

  • They should not be “overreactors.”  Faith is vital to effective pastoring.  Financial contribution is vital to church work.  Disgruntled members are an unpleasant reality from time to time, and some can never be placated short of letting them always have their way.  People are growing older.  Most every church should be more evangelistic and all churches could be growing more.  These are some of the burdens God’s shepherds must bear.

Elders no doubt regularly lose sleep and generate stress over such matters.  Yet, as God makes elders overseers (Acts 20:28), He will supply their needs (Phil. 4:19).  It is God’s work, and He blesses all Christians who step out in faith in service to Him.  That certainly applies to the valiant work and oversight of His shepherds.

We cannot “over praise” elders.  They are definitely not over-rated.  They work over time. It is amazing that they are not overcome by the heavy task they execute.  Let us all be reminded of what these special men known as overseers are truly called to do.  It takes extraordinary men to do this heavenly task. “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17b).

“NO MATTER WHAT” OBEDIENCE

(video by Wes Autrey)

Neal Pollard

I cannot imagine anyone present yesterday morning to witness Janice Lee baptized into Christ could have failed to be touched at a very deep level.  J.J. and Lila Brennan had been studying the Bible with Janice, and she came to the conclusion that she needed to be baptized for the forgiveness of her sins.  So, she came to the front after my sermon and made that desire known.

She was in a wheelchair because she suffers left side paralysis as the result of a stroke.  She is also on oxygen.  Several ladies and a few of us men took special measures to help her into the baptistery.  She could walk, slowly, gingerly, and with much difficulty.  The ladies helped her up the stairs, while we stood in the water to receive her and help her the rest of the way.  Each step was tenuous and required the utmost effort on her part. Once she was finally in the baptistery, we carefully lowered her under the water and brought her back up.  Very quickly, her deeply felt emotions gently bubbled to the surface.  She softly cried, recalling difficult things from her past, and she said, “I forgive those who’ve sinned against me.”  The joy and peace on her face is something impossible to adequately describe.

What did this new sister in Christ demonstrate yesterday?  Resolve!  Afterward, I found out not only that she had to deal with the consequences of the stroke, but she is afraid of water.  Yet, she saw the need of her soul as preeminent over any obstacle she might have cited.  The constant need of oxygen, the paralysis, and the phobia were outweighed by the Lord’s command.  Her faith was so strong that they were not insurmountable barriers.  She refused to let them be!

The difference at the Judgment, in part, will be that some will offer excuses for why they did not obey the Lord while others, through genuine, trusting faith, will not need to make excuse.  They will stand before Christ, who will see His blood covering their transgressions.  What does it take to go to heaven? A “no matter what” obedience!

V__7BB1(Photo taken by Kathy Pollard)