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.

Live Beyond Yourself

 

Neal Pollard

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

The first stanza of the powerful, convicting poem by C.T. Studd has been the seeming anthem of one of God’s great, 21st Century spiritual warriors, Cy Stafford. I first met Cy around 2000, and his balanced, measured information and guidance helped us identify and deal with a false teacher in East Africa. His interest and concern were for the Christians, new and more seasoned, who might be impacted by this man’s influence.  That godly zeal for God’s people was an indicator of the mind of a missionary, minister, and mentor of men.  The subsequent years have shown me what a true leader and visionary, with God’s help and to God’s glory, can accomplish. Cy is not larger than life, gregarious, charming per se, or glossy in any way. He is steady, focused, and determined.  He has helped change the world by equipping men and women to reach the world. Alongside so many missionaries and Christians indigenous to East Africa, Cy has steadily worked to grow the church and its influence where some of the earth’s poorest and humblest people live.  He often has spoken of the window of opportunity that daily shrinks and he has worked with an urgency to do what he can to make sure everyone has the opportunity to hear the gospel at least once.

Cy and Stephanie have made countless sacrifices of time, comfort, safety, and security because their mission was far broader than themselves. While some in ministry appear motivated by self-interest, self-promotion, and self-absorption, the Staffords have valiantly sought to put the spotlight foremost on Christ and then upon others’ needs.  On whatever day each exchanges the cross for the starry crown, their legacy will have been that of living beyond themselves.   What a convicting challenge to each of us to engage in thoughtful self-examination! What is my agenda? What is my aim? What is my aspiration?

“Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Hebrews 11 speaks of great Old Testament heroes of faith who lived and died as those with a “desire” for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one…” (16). These same ones are called “strangers and exiles on the earth” (13), whose sight was set much higher than self. The whole of the New Testament reveals that a heart set on heaven will reside in one who also has his eyes on others (cf. Phil. 2:3-4). All too rarely do we receive such vivid examples of individuals who have so fully committed themselves to the Great Commission, who challenge us to imitate them in living beyond self. Cy is one of the best examples of this I will ever know.

“Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. “

God, give us more Christians like Cy Stafford! Let that begin with me.

cy and stephanie

CHURCH GROWTH STARTERS

Neal Pollard

  • Offer “medical missions” benevolent campaign in the neighborhood, utilizing the talents of members with medical expertise.
  • Have a worship leadership training class.
  • Incorporate periodic explanations about the purpose and biblical foundation for the acts of worship and the invitation during the worship services.
  • Have an elder/deacon intensive training class.
  • Host community Bible studies in various homes on a regular basis, inviting friends, co-workers, neighbors, unchurched family, etc.
  • Have a benevolent financial planning and strategies seminar, utilizing the talents of members with accounting and other finance-related skills and backgrounds.
  • Have a “special events Sunday,” where a special contribution is taken to fund evangelistic events for the year.
  • Host a website, which you advertise to the community, soliciting religious questions they have on their minds (for an example of this, see 12questions.net—hosted by the Mount Juliet church of Christ).
  • Utilize deacons to identify the talents of new members and new Christians, and then look for ways to leverage them.
  • Start a “come back home” campaign to retrieve erring and fallen away members.
  • Create a bumper sticker that identifies the congregation concisely and in a way that would draw community interest. The Palm Beach Lakes congregation has seen several baptisms from such an effort (pblcoc.org).
  • Make the church website current, interactive, and informative, not just about churches of Christ as a whole but what makes the local church relevant to people’s needs.
  • Give the teens an evangelistic project (teen gospel meeting, teen visitation program, feeding the homeless, etc.).
  • Incorporate as many members as possible in grading Bible correspondence courses (for students both foreign and domestic).
  • Plan, publicize, and promote a Sunday for every member in the directory to be present for worship, then use that day to present the plan and work of the church.
  • Train and use members to “carry” visitors from the parking lot to the dinner table, adopting visitors and helping them find classes and seats in the auditorium as well as connecting them to other members.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for new faces, stepping out of your comfort zone to meet and greet them. Be prepared to follow up and help them meet others, too.
  • Pray about ways you can be more involved in the work of the church and ask the leadership for ways you can be put to work.
  • Make a list of members and visitors that you can influence and encourage, then utilize it.

Launch Out Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

When Jesus met Peter, it may have seemed like an ordinary day to the Galilean fisherman. Simon Peter and his partners had just spent a long night fishing with no results.  You can imagine they were irritated and frustrated, maybe even feeling sorry for themselves. Then, Jesus commandeered Simon’s boat and used it to teach. This presumably would have been Peter’s first impression of Christ, though we do not know how closely he was paying attention to the Lord.  In Luke 5:4, Jesus stops preaching to the crowd and addresses Peter. He says, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus has ulterior motives, but the command is for Peter to literally cast his nets to try to make a literal catch of fish. Immediately, though, Peter is exposed to something far greater than anything earthly or material. Notice how this account illustrates the call of scripture in which Christ tells us, like Peter to launch out into the deep in faith to do great things for Him.

Launch out into the deep…even if, despite great effort, you have failed in the past (Luke 5:5). Simon explained that he and his associates had struck out overnight. Jesus was telling him not to worry about the past. He tells us the same things today. If you have failed in trying to do right or have succeeded in doing wrong, don’t give up hope. Launch out again!

Launch out into the deep…at the prompting of God’s Word (Luke 5:5). Simon was willing. What a great character trait. He tells Jesus, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” Simon says, “I value and respect your word enough to try again where I failed in the past.” Do we trust God’s promises and revere God’s commands enough to keep trying and biting off big things for the Lord?

Launch out into the deep…and involve others with you (Luke 5:7). Of course, with the Lord’s help, Simon became a success. In fact, the disciple knew immediately that he was not big enough to tackle his opportunities alone. He got his partners involved. In the Lord’s church today, each of us as Christians are partners and associates together with Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-6:1). Launching out into the deep requires involving as many as possible, for the task is so great and too much for one alone.

Launch out into the deep…and astonishing things can happen (Luke 5:9-11). First, the catch of fish is astonishing to them. Then, Jesus’ commissioning of them is astonishing (to turn from fish to men). Finally, their response is astonishing. They get to land, leave their boats and all they have, and follow Jesus. Eventually, they change the entire world! Launch out into the deep.  Who knows what you can do through Christ (cf. Phil. 4:13), but it will be astonishingly amazing.

Obviously, this was about men and not about fish.  Jesus was not interested in making them rich fishermen in Galilee.  He was looking to enrich the people of Galilee and far beyond through these fishermen. All it took was for some men who believed in God’s power to launch out into the deep.

The Lightning March

Neal Pollard

It was unusual for foot soldiers to play a major role in the Middle Ages. Harold II of England’s 7000 infantrymen were an exception. He marched them from London to York, about 216 miles, in a week. The rate of the march was 30 miles per day for an entire week!  “A sustained rate of thirty miles per day for seven days was in most circumstances unheard of. A sustained twenty miles per day would have been considered extraordinary.”  The army moved faster than news of its approach. This helped turn the Battle of Stamford Bride in 1066, known as “Harold’s Lightning March”  (Hackett, Jeremiah.  World Eras, Vol. 4: Medieval Europe, 814-1350, p. 128). What seems lost to history is how Harold motivated such rapid movement.  To build such resolve and determination in so many people, in unified purpose, must speak to Harold’s leadership ability.

All of us are marching with rapid pace toward the end of life and eternity.  Hasn’t it been going by so quickly?  It truly is a “lightning march.”  At the end of the march, will we have won the battle?  The church of every generation, and not just individuals, are making this march.  What impression are we leaving on the world around us, what battles of significance will have been won?  Think of the first-century church.  They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  They “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23).  They permeated their immediate communities, surrounding communities, and the remotest communities (cf. Acts 1:8-11).  Think of those brave, sacrificial Christians during the 19th Century who rallied together around the principle of restoring New Testament Christianity.  With a great reverence for the pattern of Scripture, they sought to imitate the faith and practice of that first-century church.  In their wake was growth and influence.

In both cases, profound as their influence was, they rapidly left the scenes of time.  Their influence remained, but succeeding generations of the Lord’s Army—for whatever reasons—slowed their pace considerably.  We may glorify the church of the 1950s, at one time known as the fastest growing religious group in our country.  But most of them have gone and those who remain have grown slower in their pace. What about the church of the early 21st Century?  How will we be remembered?  Never forget that, in part, this is influenced by what you and I are doing as soldiers under the Lord’s direction.  We could not want for better guidance and a better Commander.  We should have ample motivation.  It is high time we pick up the pace!  Victory awaits (1 Cor. 15:54-58).

Protect Yourself


Neal Pollard

Helmets, seat belts, bullet proof vests, insurance, handguns, and home security systems are all means we use to protect ourselves.  The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” has proven itself worthy time and time again.  We want our homes, families, and health preserved, shielded from potential danger.  What about our inward selves?

It’s possible for us to become a spiritual casualty.  We can fall away.  Peter urges us as Christians to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves in 1 Peter 2:11-12.  One is negative and the other is positive, but both are necessary!

Abstain from fleshly lusts (11)!

We must do this because of who we are (“pilgrims and strangers”).  We must realize where we’re from and where our home is (cf. Heb. 11:13-16).  In a moral and spiritual sense, we have a higher law.  We don’t see right and wrong, fair and unfair, the way the world does.  Our ethics, morals, and our principles are derived from God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

We must do this because of what they are (“fleshly lusts”).  Peter is addressing base physical desires, things like he discusses in 1 Peter 4:3.  These are things the world engages in that can do physical damage, but they certainly lead us away from God.  They are morally wrong in God’s eyes and are destructive desires.  God knows there are things that harm us, hurt our influence, and are hated by His holy heart.

We must do this because of what they do to you (“wage war against your soul”).  Just as desiring the sincere milk of the word (2:1-2) gives you a taste for God’s kindness, satisfying fleshly lusts will destroy your soul.

What a valuable guidelines God gives us as we evaluate an activity, a means of entertainment, who to befriend, an indugence—whatever it is.  We should ask, “Where is this thing or person leading me, toward God or away from Him?”  Instead of debating our Christian liberty or looking for loopholes to pursue something we crave or desire, we would do well to analyze it through the prism of Peter’s petition in verse 11.

Keep your behavior excellent (12)!

Moral and holy behavior does more than just protect our souls.  It reaches others.  You are being watched on the job, at school, and everywhere you go.  More people are guided by your influence than you realize.  How many measure right and wrong by your example?  They may not the Bible, but they know you.  By your wise and righteous conduct, who knows how many you may lead to Christ?  Ultimately, there will be people who stand on the Lord’s right hand at the judgment because you led them there by excellent behavior.  So many people are looking for the purpose and meaning of life, and as Christians we know what it is. As we consistently live it out before them, they will want to know more about that way.

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.

DETERMINED TO GET OUT THE NEWS

Neal Pollard

I spoke with our newspaper deliveryman this morning, and he had some story to tell.  He summarized his experience as the longest 15 hours of his life.  He got stuck once and had been towed twice.  He delivers his newspapers in a 2014 Toyota Camry, a front-wheel drive vehicle fighting against 10-12 inches of snow in a thousand cul-de-sacs.  Surprisingly cheerful, he was plodding on until finishing his task—delivering The Denver Post to every customer on his route.  That, my friend, is dedication!

As a former subscriber to the Rocky Mountain News and current subscriber to the Post, I cannot describe his product as “good news.”  With the internet competing, the newspaper is far from the exclusive or timeliest source of news.  That notwithstanding, this man is determined to get out the news.

The gospel is, by definition, “good news.”  Without a doubt, it is the most important and timeliest news of all time and eternity.  Every person needs to be exposed to it as it contains information that will impact where they will spend their forever.  God has given the job to you and me and every Christian in this nation and around the globe. Every day, we see people and relate to people on their everlasting journey.  They may or may not be oblivious to their need, but we are well aware of it.

Are we determined to get out the news?  The first century church was.  In bad times (Acts 8:4) or in good times (Acts 2:47), the news went near and far.  Paul described it as news which had reached every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23).  Christ commissioned that the news be spread to that extent (Lk. 24:44ff).  The challenge is great today, with over seven billion people on the earth.  But we have more resources than they did, and there are more of us, too.  The difference, then, may be the level of our determination.  Until we are determined to let nothing stop us from getting out the news, darkness will eclipse light and our challenge will grow.  Let’s let nothing stop us from sharing the great salvation of Jesus to everyone we meet.

Act While You Can!

Neal Pollard

Recently, I was corresponding with Arthur Ohanov, a gospel preacher in Donetsk, Ukraine, who served as my translator on a couple of mission trips to eastern Ukraine in the early 2000s.  In part, he wrote me, “As I am typing this letter I hear bombing in our city, but God is good! We continue our ministry of reconciliation of sinners with their Father!”  Brethren like Arthur are heroes, facing difficulties we can only imagine in America.  Walking the streets of Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, and Slavyanagorsk back then, I could not fathom that war, carnage, and death could possibly come to that region in so few years.

Periodically, people talk about how the immorality and unbelief in our nation will bring devastation to this nation.  While that is undoubtedly a possibility, which we can see even with God’s special nation in Old Testament times, that belongs to the sovereignty and justice of God.  Yet, nations throughout the centuries rise up and testify that national peace can quickly and dramatically give way to war and destruction.

Today, we wake up to calm and peace.  At the throne of God, we can (and should) humbly thank Him for this tremendous blessing.  Each day that begins like this represents a golden opportunity for each of us.  Wherever we go, we encounter people who are alienated from God and who are heading for eternal catastrophe.  We should consider this peace more than a privilege.  It is an obligation.  While we have time, we must try to reach as many as possible.

The deacons at Bear Valley have been working for several months, planning and strategizing to enhance our vision for the lost in our area.  Many of our members have been approached and asked for help as we try to prepare ourselves as a church to more effectively carry out the Great Commission.  That will continue to expand. We really need to feel the urgency expressed by Christ, who said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).  “Night” may come by virtue of how swiftly our lives are lived on earth.  It can also come at the hands of dramatic changes in our nation and communities. Because the future is wholly unforeseen, act while you can!

“Lysychansk 16” by Ліонкінг – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA