Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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Facts Deduced About Baptism From The Eunuch

Neal Pollard

The book of Acts is wonderful for teaching the history of the church as well as providing examples of how people became Christians. From the first gospel sermon (Acts 2), baptism is central and essential to God’s plan of salvation. The emphasis is even found through facts implied from these statements and examples. Consider some facts deduced about baptism from the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.

  • First, baptism is part of preaching Jesus. In Acts 8:35, Philip began with the eunuch from the passage the eunuch had been reading (Isaiah 53), and “he preached Jesus to him.” Consequently, the eunuch, when they came past a body of water, said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Why would this man ask such a question unless preaching Jesus included preaching the necessity of baptism?
  • Second, baptism is part of believing (Acts 8:37). Philip ties his request for baptism to the essentiality of faith preceding baptism. The eunuch confesses belief “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Jesus had sent His disciples with this understanding, that “he who has believed and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).
  • Third, baptism involves urgency (Acts 8:38). The eunuch ordered the chariot to stop. Why? Why not wait until he was back in Africa? Why not wait until Philip collected several others and then have a baptismal service for them all at once? When the Eunuch saw water, for some reason he wanted to submit to baptism right then and there.
  • Fourth, baptism involves immersion (Acts 8:39). We primarily know this because the word “baptism” means “strictly dip, immerse in water (Friberg & Miller, 87). However, the fact that Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water indicates that baptism must involve more than sprinkling or even pouring. This man  (and Philip) went to the trouble of getting wet by going down into the water.
  • Fifth, baptism produces rejoicing (Acts 8:39). The first evidence of joy comes after the eunuch comes up out of the water, not when Philip preached Jesus or when the eunuch confessed belief in Jesus. There was something important and necessary about the act of baptism.

Despite a religious world filled with groups who resist, argue against, and deny the importance of baptism, that one example (and there are several others–Acts 2:36-47; 8:12-13; 9:18+22:16; 16:15; 16:30-33; etc.) leaves no doubt about the indispensable part baptism plays in God’s plan to redeem humanity. Thank God for this conversion example in Acts 8. May our hearts be open to accept what the Word says to us (Luke 8:15).

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Megan Meeks was baptized this past Thursday, 4/21/16, in Denver, CO. The plan has not changed since Acts 8.

How Could He Not Take That Shot?

Neal Pollard

His coach, Jay Wright, and teammates expected and wanted him to take the last shot in the 2016 NCAA basketball championship game. The senior point guard had intentions of doing so, too, but at almost the literal last second he turned and delivered a short pass to Junior Kris Jenkins who sank a three-pointer just before the final buzzer. It was the game-winning shot, lifting Villanova over North Carolina for the Pennsylvania school’s first championship since their legendary victory in 1985. Ryan Arcidiacono, who grew up 20 miles from campus and constantly dreamed of hitting a game-winning shot for the championship, will be remembered, as much as Jenkins, for delivering one of the most exciting games in college basketball history—Jenkins for his beautiful shot and Arcidiacono for his unselfish pass.

For those who know coach Wright’s philosophy, this turn of events is absolutely no surprise. Google “Jay Wright unselfish” and a multitude of articles come up talking about how the coach drills the idea of putting everybody else above yourself from the time kids enter his program. Players earn his trust and confidence by proving themselves converts to his selfless style of play. It is heartwarming to see such values being instilled in impressionable young people.

The local church must adopt the philosophy of its leader, Christ. He modeled it (Ph. 2:5-11) and mandated His followers do the same (Ph. 2:3-4). An atmosphere of unselfishness cultivates spiritual and numerical growth, just as selfishness inhibits such growth. Selfless service is most often bypassed by the world, though most deeply appreciate seeing demonstrations of it. Deference to others is a mark of distinctiveness that must be found in disciples. The better we do this, the brighter the light of Christ can shine through us!

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I Don’t Want To Know!

Neal Pollard

Too often, it’s a great disappointment to learn about the personal lives of politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and other professional entertainers. Their public persona and abilities may attract, inspire, and move us, but the aforementioned details are all too sordid. What might look wholesome on closer examination has a very seedy side.  Perhaps this says as much about any of us who place them on a pedestal, but that doesn’t lessen the chagrin.

Hypocrisy is something that can occur among “normal” people like Christians, too. Sadly, we can appear to be one thing around those of “like, precious faith” but have a different side that we show away from them. This is a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, preachers, elders, deacons, and their families included. It can have such a devastating effect. To think that our poor example could cause a new, a weak, or any other Christian to stumble and fall should fill us with dread.  The precious influence we build by our talents and positions must never be squandered by defects of character or even bowing to pressures in specific circumstances.

Peter preached the first and second recorded gospel sermons. He was an apostle and one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. Yet, Paul recalls an occasion where Peter succumbed to his flesh and sinned in a way that hurt his influence. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul says,

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain
men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they
came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the
party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy,
with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the
gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel
the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was driven by fear and favoritism. His action was devastating, dragging even “the son of encouragement” to follow his discouraging behavior. Thankfully, Paul loved Peter (and the Lord) enough to challenge the hypocrisy.

Friends, none of us will ever be perfect. We’re continually susceptible to sinful words and deeds. But let us guard against secret, double, or insincere lives knowing that such can totally destroy the faith of those who look to us to show them what Christlikeness looks like. In other words, let us be what we tell others that we are and that they should be. Consistency and integrity are some of the Lord’s most potent tools in our lives to bring others to Him.  Take care of His tools!

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Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

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What’s So “Social” About It?

Neal Pollard

“Social” is an interesting word. It can be a noun, as in “church social,” referring to a gathering of people to socialize. Usually, it is an adjective–“social studies,” “social club,” “social butterfly,” or “social grace.” “Social” modifies another word to form a phrase normally found only in the restraints of religious discussion. The phrase is “social drinking.” Social drinking implies situations such as guests in the home, friends at a meal or bar, or business dinner or party where a typically smaller amount of alcohol is consumed than occasions where drunkenness is typical. Certainly, this is an emotional issue for some either adamantly for or against its practice. In the spirit of fools going where angels fear to tread, please allow me to consider with you a few questions about “social drinking.”

  • What constitutes the limit on social drinking? In other words, when does one cross the social line in social drinking? If one of the drinkers has two rather than one, is it still social drinking? Three rather than two? Four rather than three? When is it excessive? Who, of the other drinkers, is to be the judge of that? Often, there are those in the “social drinking” crowd who try not to miss a shot, glass, or refill. For all the sippers, there are guzzlers, too. What makes four wrong and one right?
  • What positive social messages does it send? Sophistication? Success? With social drinking, what is the Christian hoping to achieve? A soul-winning opportunity? A Christlike influence? A demonstration of the transformed life (cf. Rom. 12:1-2)? Or, is it simply a way of conforming, bowing to the social pressures of a worldly-minded culture? Is it ever simply a way to seek the acceptance, approval, and advancement of secular friends, co-workers, employees, and employers (Jas. 4:4)?
  • Are there negative social implications? What message does it send to non-Christians or new-Christians, to whom we would share scripture’s condemnation of drunkenness (Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Th. 5:7-8). Furthermore, the landscape is continually changing. Social drinking, to teenage and college party-goers, stretches all the way to bald-faced drunkenness. It is not uncommon to hear stories of “social drinkers” dead of alcohol poisoning on frat-house floors. Can we envision a preacher gesturing carefully during his sermon with his shot of whiskey? Or an elder pleading with a wayward Christian to come home, laying down his beer long enough to pray with them? Or the church fellowship, with a deacon in charge of bartending?

Let us be careful endorsing something so fraught with potentially negative side-effects, socially as well as physically. Certainly, you will ultimately decide which side of the ledger social drinking falls on. But, consider this a loving plea. Be careful with the precious commodities you possess as God’s child–your influence, your example, your holiness, and your righteousness. “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2).

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CHAMELEONS

Neal Pollard

Chameleons are truly one of God’s most fascinating creations.  Their tongue can be twice the length of their body! Their feet are climbing marvels. Their eyes can focus on two objects at once, and they have a 360-degree arc of vision. They can see both visible and ultraviolet light (information via Journal of Comparative Physiology, 2/98, PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 12, A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, et al). Despite all of this, what do we associate the chameleon with?  It changes colors to blend in with its environment.  From this alteration of appearance, we have come to use the word in a figurative sense. To be a chameleon has come to mean one who becomes like those around them in order to blend in with them.  Often, the term is not used in a complimentary way.

Paul tells us that he was able to relate to people of different circumstances, adapting himself to peoples of different backgrounds in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Context and other passages would not lend support to the idea of compromising biblical truth in order to fit in with anyone. He would not sacrifice doctrine for fellowship with those in error nor would he sacrifice moral truth to accommodate those of a worldly mindset. Motivated by a burning desire to convert the lost to Christ, Paul went among the Jews, those under the Law, those without the law, and the weak and used his knowledge, experience, and familiarity with people in those circumstances “for the sake of the gospel” (23). But he did all of that, being under the law of Christ, in a disciplined way (27).

We are tempted to alter our speech, compromise our convictions, hedge our beliefs, and place ourselves in ungodly situations in order to fit in with people whose acceptance we seek. We may feel we have to put our lights under a basket (cf. Mat. 5:15) to appease a client, coworkers, non-Christian family, or others whose association or friendship we’ve made. It can feel more comfortable to blend in, to conform to them (cf. Rom. 12:1).

Peter writes to Christians faced with persecution, encouraging them to suffer in this world in order to gain unsurpassed joy and blessings in eternity. They were tempted to enjoy comfort and acceptance here only to forfeit God’s acceptance at the Judgment. It is so hard to see past what we’re facing right now, but we must ready to suffer with Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Our challenge is to relate to as many people as possible, understanding and loving them without participating with them in what’s not right or making them think that they are right in living contrary to the way of Christ. Politicians may “go along to get along,” but Christians have a higher calling. Make sure your Christian light shows up in the crowd!

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THE GIRL ON THE WINDOW OR THE AISLE?

Neal Pollard
Two women sitting on a plane
They didn’t seem acquainted
The “aisle one” seemed in anger and pain
The other by cares seemed untainted
“Window woman” smiled with a beam
As past their row I filed
The other was cursing at a full steam
She was ruffled, rankled and riled
After the flight, we all stood to go
I watched as the ladies departed
The grouser was healthy, with youthful glow
But from her my eyes quickly darted
To watch the other one get to the aisle
I marveled at what I could see
Her left arm was mangled from something vile
She was amputated above that same knee.
I heard her, soft-spoken, tell of her surviving
A car fire that happened last June
But she lost her dear husband, who was driving.
They were so in love. Yes, she lost him too soon.
But the twinkle reappeared as thought about him
And anticipated their ultimate reunion
She still had much to live for, she wasn’t a bit grim
For with Christ she said she had sweet communion.
Soberly, I left still thinking about this
As the jet bridge I left for the concourse
There was “aisle girl” causing a scene hard to miss
Yelling until she was almost hoarse.
Apparently the airline had failed to upgrade
Her from lowly coach up to first class
She was special, important, so went her tirade
But her language was lowbrow and crass.
I thought about me in that moment
All healthy, without big losses or trouble
How I handle my blessings or treat my opponent
When I’m tried, am I gold or am I stubble?
Some people’s problems eclipse ours, it’s true
But we all have our crosses to bear
Yet, when you’re under pressure, they see what’s in you
Will they want what you’ll inevitably share?
I went on my way after what I witnessed that day
Resolved to live in true, Christlike style
Every thought, feeling, deed, and think that I say
Is like that girl on the window or the aisle.

Negligence Can Lead To Fire

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.  As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people.  Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire.  Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization.  I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89).  The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:

The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).

Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion.  A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.).  This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.

Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15).  Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff).  Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18).  All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.

However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff).  Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16).  Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.