What Would Our Slogan Be?

Neal Pollard

A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination.  The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!”  Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.

But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?”  If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be?  For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).

Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:

  • “We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
  • “We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
  • “We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
  • “We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
  • “We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
  • “We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
  • “We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
  • “We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • “We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).

The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.

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TO THOSE WHO DIVIDE BRETHREN

Neal Pollard

—“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
—“A worthless person, a wicked man is one who…spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12,14).
—“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: …one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16,19).
—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12).
—“Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Prov. 26:26).
—“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
—“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).
—“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).
—“He who loves transgression loves strife…” (Prov. 17:19a).
—“Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).
—“An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (Prov. 28:25).

Suffice it to say, the Lord has not been silent on the matter. Our age is marked by the manufacturing and fanning the flames of controversy, endless argument, and divisive issues. Men seem to take pride in starting strife and stirring the pot. When we share the gospel, in gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24) and love (Eph. 4:15), it can still be met with devastating disagreement and vehement vituperation. But, thanks to mediums like social media, some among us have seized the platform to spread division where they could as easily work to promote love and unity among brethren.  I cannot presume heart or motives, but the fruit has been to start brotherhood brawls and to stratify schisms. It is worrisome that while we manufacture outrage on politics, race, law enforcement, “guilt by association,” nitpicking the church, or constantly bringing up the latest “what’s wrong with the church” scenario, 151,600 people die around the world every day (via http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/)! Most of that number will have traveled the broad way that leads to destruction. Surely we can redirect our passion and conviction away from divisive diversions and do our part to stem the tide of such an eternal tragedy!

Meanwhile, we can resolve to see people, not skin color, God’s sovereignty, not party affiliation or uniform, the local church’s autonomy, not an opportunity to be a busybody, and with every other, similar scenario, not major in the minors. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness while scrupulously focusing on matters comparatively minor (Mat. 23:23).  We have a brief time to use our talents and influence on this earth. Will our cause be social justice, brotherhood policing, or political activism, or will it be building up the kingdom through evangelism, edification, and benevolence? May God grant us all the wisdom to “not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Be a builder, not a basher!

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Hazards of Firefighting

Neal Pollard

343 on 9/11/2001 in New York City. 86 in 1910 across Washington, Idaho and Montana. 29 in 1933 in Los Angeles. 27 in April, 1947, in Texas City, Texas. 21 on December 22, 1910, in Chicago. 19 on June 30, 2013, near Yarnell, Arizona (Firefighter Tragedies).  Those are the deadliest incidents for firefighters in American history, in number of fatalities. Firefighting is deadly, if heroic, business. Those answering the call know that each response, however simple or innocuous it may seem, masks many dangers. Firefighting is hazardous business.

The same is certainly true in the firefighting business Jesus calls us to perform. The Bible clearly indicates that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels will be eternally shared by those who know not God and do not obey His gospel (Mat. 25:41ff; 2 Th. 1:8-9). As Christians, then, we are God’s firefighters (Jude 23). We should do this job out of a sincere concern and love for souls and a desire to be working for and serving the One who rescued us from so great a death (2 Co. 1:10). But, by stepping into that arena, we should realize the risks and dangers involved.

  • We can be ill-equipped.  Firefighters can’t hope to do their work with old, shoddy, or faulty equipment. The best equipment available is ineffective when not put into use. In our spiritual battle, we know that our “equipment” (2 Tim. 3:17) is perfect for every situation. But, we have to know it (2 Ti. 2:15). We also need to know how to use it. We need to make sure our approach to people is not shoddy or faulty (cf. Gal. 6:1). To be boisterous or bullying with God’s Word not only further harms the one in danger, but also endangers us!
  • We can get too close to the fire. Firefighters can be the victim of their proximity to the conflagration. It’s often difficult to judge how close is too close, but it is an ever-present hazard. In our spiritual firefighting, we can get too close to the fire through compromising God’s Word, conforming to the world, committing sins of attitude, morality, ethics, or the like in our outreach. We must avoid behaving in a worldly way when trying to help save those out in the world. In trying to help a struggling soul, we can sin with our tongues or gossip about the one whose troubles we’ve been made aware of.
  • We can ignore the dangers. It’s true in firefighting as in all professions that one may occasionally choose not to practice what he has been trained to know, see and think. In the heat of the moment, one may not focus on certain warning signs. Buildings collapse, air runs out, black draft areas are entered and serious results follow. Spiritually, we must be careful in how we go about this “business.” Going alone when we need another with us, trying to help someone when we are too emotionally invested, or responding out of hurt and anger instead of “cooling off” are all ways we can ignore the dangers we might face.

Let us be aware of the risks we take in reaching out to those who are in spiritual danger, but let us be eager to respond to the need. Despite the ever-present risks firefighters take, they still are faithful and dedicated to the job. God needs us on the front line, too. May we simply factor in the perils of firefighting, then do it!

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When “Help” Is Actually “Harm”

Neal Pollard

Rob Heusevelet and his son came upon a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that was shivering in the cold. They were afraid for the health and survival of the animal, so they put it into their SUV and drove it to a ranger station in the park. A witness who took a picture of the calf in the car said, “They were demanding to speak with a ranger. They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying” (NPR). Ironically, their “intervention” ultimately cost the animal his life. His mother and the rest of the family rejected him because of the contact with people, and, isolated and alone, the baby bison had to be eventually euthanized. This act of ignorance was more than foolish; it was fatal!

Good intentions are fine enough, as long as they are built on the right foundation. A 12th-century French mystic and Catholic monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, is often credited with a saying antecedent to our modern aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” (Ammer, The American Heritage of Idioms, np).  We appreciate the meaning of the proverb. No matter how well-meaning our motivation, how we act from it have consequences and they matter.  The Bible shows us those whose motivation was unimpeachable, but whose resulting actions were tragic. There was Jephthah’s rash vow (Judges 11:30ff). There were so many examples provided by Peter’s impetuousness. There was Paul’s persecution of the church, motivated by religious fervor (Acts 26:9). These are examples enough to show that simply intending to do right is not enough.

Today, we can do much harm in trying to help. Consider three specific ways that are common, though critical.

  • Making the gospel plan of salvation or gospel requirements broader, easier, or different than what Scripture teaches. We do not want to offend or hurt feelings. We do not want to face rejection. We do not want to seem arrogant. Paul calls such “scratching itching ears” (Acts 4:3-4). There is only one way (John 14:6; Gal. 1:6-9).
  • Offering false hope or peace. This is often done at funerals for the non-Christian or unfaithful Christian. We should always be comforting and gentle, but we cannot swing to the other extreme and tell anyone living (or on behalf of the dead) that they are “right” when they are not. We do them no service, and we do disservice to our own souls.
  • Pretending like nothing is wrong when a loved one (relative, friend, Christian family member) is living in sin. Sometimes, we act as though time equals repentance. We gradually accept and embrace one whose deeds are in rebellion to God. We may even never have the nerve to imitate the great spirit of Nathan and tell the guilty, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). But such pretense cannot change divine facts!

Paul preaches the imperative of proper motivation (cf. Phil. 1:15-17). Jesus stresses the value of a good heart (Luke 8:15). Neither of these is a substitute for the grave duty we face as Christians to not do harm as we seek to do good. It is not an either-or proposition. It is both-and.

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Photo Credit: Karen Olsen Richardson

GoFindMe

Neal Pollard

San Diego entrepreneurs Brad Damphousse and Andy Ballester started GoFundMe “as a way to help individuals and small charities raise money for good causes” (WSJ). Most people have heard of this “crowdfunding site” and have even contributed. MacMillan and Tan report, “Its members now raise about $100 million in donations per month.” But, Forbes Magazine revealed how some have used such sites for the ridiculous, including Zach Brown who raised $55,492 from 6,911 backers to make potato salad (Forbes). I have seen some pretty audacious, if not questionable, uses of such sites to fund events and circumstances.

But I’d like to alert you to an infinitely greater need that people all around you every day have. They have surmounted a debt they cannot possibly repay. Their circumstances are desperate, far beyond eviction, lawsuits, or bankruptcy.  A billion people giving all their material resources could not satisfy that debt. Despite this, I have never seen even one of them advertise, beg, or solicit help to resolve their circumstance. In an incredible turn of events, it is incumbent upon you and me to find them and offer them aid. They usually cannot identify the need, much less articulate it. But you and I know their need, and the expectation falls squarely upon our shoulders to meet it.

If they were to put it into words, they would say, “Go find me!” How could we turn a callous heart away from such a desperate need? May we muster the courage and heart to, in the words of the old quartet hymn, “go out and win, rescue from sin, day’s almost done, low sinks the sun. Souls are crying, men are dying, win the lost at any cost.”

Consider these passages, too:

Micah 6:6-8
1 Peter 1:18-19
Luke 15
Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49

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DO WE HAVE CONFUSING MENU TERMS?

Neal Pollard

Open Table, a company that facilitates reservations at better restaurants, sent a quiz today to test my familiarity with some of the more sophisticated menu terms one encounters. I made 40%, and at least a few of my right answers were lucky guesses. Truly, I’ve never heard of “okonomiyaki,” “Harissa,” “gochujang,” or “crudo.” These and others were foreign words, in the literal and culinary sense. Certainly, chefs, maitre d’s, refined diners, and the otherwise alimentary literate folks know these terms, but most of us are proud to differentiate between la fork and la spoon. We also do not like to be made to feel less than intelligent by the more informed foodie.

The more we try to be soul-conscious and truly sensitive to the visitors who attend our services, the more thoughtfully we should consider especially the terms we use and even take for granted. We’ve used them so long that maybe we assume everybody knows them.  But, these visitors may be sitting there, despite their intelligence and capability, feeling ignorant or uninitiated as we pepper them with “expediency,” “hermeneutics,” “extend the invitation,” “conversion,” “denominational,” “redemption,” and other terms that require the context of our learned church culture. Other terms, not at all hard to define, are terms that mean something specific to us but that mean something else to those without our “background”: sin, salvation, repentance, worship, born again, holy, works, grace, etc.  On many occasions, I’ve looked at some of the lyrics in our songbook and have found, especially in older songs where words have inevitably changed or fallen into disuse, we press on without defining or explaining these words to our youth, new Christians, or non-Christian attendees. “Could my zeal no respite know?”  “His garment too were in cassia dipped?” “Heavenly portals loud with hosannas ring?” Many, many more examples of such lines could be produced!

My point is not to be critical. There is no way we can define every word a visitor or newcomer may encounter in our worship services, but we do have so many who do not have our grasp of our unique terms. We have a serious obligation to them (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25). If we took some time to define the words of our songs, sermons, and even prayers, we would be helping those several groups who may not “get” it otherwise—teens and pre-teens, some of our young adults, a lot of our first-generation Christians, new converts, and those valuable visitors who may be termed “unchurched.” It will help the rest of us, too, to break down our rote and memorized sentences and think about what some of those “ten-cent” theological terms really mean. God desires worship that involves our heart (cf. John 4:24), and clear comprehension is a key to achieving that. May we deliberate on this when we assemble together this Lord’s Day!

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Who knows what this is?

PREVENTING A POST-ANTIBIOTIC APOCALYPSE

Neal Pollard

Economist Jim O’Neill had readied a report about drug-resistant infections, “bacteria and other microbes that have become impervious to antibiotics” (The Atlantic, Ed Yong, 5/19/16). O’Neill’s prognostication is grim and macabre. On our current trajectory, 10 million will die every year by the year 2050 and that doesn’t include those undergoing procedures only safe because of antibiotics (surgeries, transplants, and chemotherapy, for example). No doubt, this report is no fodder for a bedtime story, but it is not without suggestions of what can be done to prevent such an ominous occurrence. O’Neill gives a nice, round ten suggestions to avert this potential “plague” on humanity.  They include: improve sanitation, a global surveillance network, a public-awareness campaign, better diagnostic tools, avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture, promote effective alternatives, improve incentives for workers, rewards those working on the problem, adequately fund those working, and build a global coalition (ibid.). All in all, this seems like a practical, workable solution.

I read this in light of the global epidemic you and I are engaged in to fight together. It is the most dangerous threat any of us will face and it will be with us, if the world continues, in 2050 and beyond. What I find interesting is that many of O’Neill’s suggestions for fighting these microbes are the marching orders God has given us to fight our plaguing antagonist—sin.  Holiness, unity, improved evangelism, Bible study, avoid unnecessary fights, example, focusing more on eternity, better giving, and increased mission efforts all factor in saving more souls! It’s a system that will work locally, nationally, and globally.

Frankly, we don’t know that O’Neill’s prediction will come to pass. But, the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and then the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The majority will be lost (cf. Mat. 7:13-14)! God is counting on us, Christians, stemming that tide as much as possible (Mark 16:15-16).  Every individual you and I reach with the gospel is one less who will succumb to this eternally fatal threat!

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What It Takes To Grow The Church In Our Culture

Neal Pollard

It was such a treat to be among the hearty, faithful Christian men of central Wyoming and the Bighorn Basin. By Bible-belt comparison, they come from small congregations. But their passion and desire to grow the church is humongous. Near the end of their men’s retreat, they divided into groups to discuss the obstacles to growth and suggestions for growth. What they came up with was incredibly insightful, helpful to especially anyone living in the current, western culture.

Among the obstacles they listed were:

  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear
  • Political correctness
  • Biblical ignorance
  • Sin
  • Apathy/indifference
  • Misplaced priorities
  • Lack of adequate leadership

For those in Alabama, Oklahoma, and California who would say, “Those are our obstacles!”, isn’t it interesting how common our struggle is.  The same factors are holding back our growth all over the nation.

Yet, I love the suggestions they came up with. I think they are key to tapping into our growth potential throughout the country and, to a great extent, throughout the world. They suggested the following:

  • Increase fellowship—The key to growth is being in each others’ lives more
  • Emphasize and empower Bible study—There can be no spiritual or numerical growth without growing our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
  • Think outside the box—Staying faithful to truth, get out of method ruts and overcome fear of rejecting a different, scriptural method just because it is new
  • Challenge greater application of biblical truth—Every class and sermon must have a viable “so what”
  • Be intentional in our relationships—Realize that our jobs, community involvements, friendships, etc., are means to an end rather than an end of themselves. They all exist as opportunities to evangelize.

Our brethren in the deep south, the north, the Atlantic region, the upper midwest, the southwest, the far west, the northwest, and, in short, any recognizable region of the country share a desire to be relevant and meaningful in our communities. We want to honor Christ and grow His body. But it will take measurable steps. It won’t happen incidentally! We must act on our hopes and desires. We must personally engage ourselves in enacting these suggestions daily! In so doing, we’ll not only avoid being part of the problem but we’ll be part of the solution.

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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.