THE MASTER’S MATERIAL

Neal Pollard

A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.

JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.

JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).  Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!

JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.

Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST

Neal Pollard

Within five minutes of the Bear Valley church building, you will find Atonement Lutheran, Landmark Tabernacle, Bear Valley Church of God of Prophesy, Bear Valley Fellowship, Christ Congregational Church, Hope Crossing Church, and Light of Christ of Anglican.  Expand the search by just a mile or so and that number increases quite a lot.  For the casual passerby, who observes our plain, ordinary facilities, they likely consider us just another in a series of churches or denominations.  In fact, to them, the words are exact synonyms.  Were they to visit each of the churches listed, including us, these observers would conclude that we all share a certain number of things in common while each having uniquenesses that set us apart.  Their deduction from this would run the gamut of perplexity, amusement, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and even, perhaps, disdain and hostility.  When we all meet in large, four-walled edifices with foundations and roofs, with classrooms, an auditorium, some sort of rostrum, a foyer, and even some type of baptistery or “font.”  So, just seeing us from the road or even stepping inside of our building is not enough to tell them who we really are.

If we are serious about the belief that we are trying to be the church of the New Testament, pre-denominational, and apart from Catholic or Protestant ancestry, what is our responsibility?  What is our responsibility to God, one another, and the culture at large?  Are there principles or precepts that should guide us in seeking to be faithful to the pattern the Lord left for His church to follow?  If so, here are some priorities we must emphasize:

  • Identity.  Are we known to our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family? If so, what are we known for? A deacon here recently related a conversation his boss made about her nephew, who she contemptuously related was a member of the “church of Christ,” an “ultraconservative” group that “doesn’t believe in instruments and women preachers.”  Certainly, her statement said a lot about her, but is that how we want to be identified?  What I mean is, when someone thinks of the church of Christ, wouldn’t we rather be known for what we do believe in and what we are for?  Remarkably, Jesus impresses His disciples with this command: “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  The early church exemplified this (see Acts 2:42-47).  Their loving way did not make them popular of universally beloved.  That is not the goal of discipleship or the intention of our Savior (see Matthew 10:37), but we are to demonstrate love.
  • Authority.  To the untrained eye who visits our assemblies, the male leadership, the a cappella singing, the every-week-observance of the Lord’s Supper, the sharing of a “plan of salvation” that necessitates baptism, and the like may or may not evoke serious consideration.  Elsewhere, in denominational churches, they will see choirs, rock bands, “tongue-speaking,” women preachers, babies sprinkled, priests officiating, and liturgical recitations (maybe in a different language).  The thrust of evangelism, not to mention a periodic, thoughtful explanation of why we do what we do in worship and teaching, is to explain why we do (or don’t do) what we do (or don’t do).  Essentially, it boils down to the principle spelled out in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  He has all authority (Mat. 28:18).  He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23). He guided His apostles into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13).  Thus, our concerted, ongoing effort is to honor and submit to His will wherever He specifies a matter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).  If He has specified it, we do it exactly and only that way.  If He has not specified it, we use our best judgment and the most expedient way to carry it out.
  • Practicality.  Synonyms might be “applicable,” “relevant,” or “relatable.” Our mission, first of all, is to enact the truth of God’s word in our everyday lives. This is a matter of example or influence.  Many a member of the body has given the Head a black eye by not following what the church teaches we believe.  Our mission is also a matter of trying to build a bridge to the community around us.  In matters that do not equate to “right and wrong,” can we establish rapport? To the extent that we do not violate Scriptural principles like modesty and decency, does our dress make it easier or harder for us to reach others? So long as their message is biblical and fulfill the criteria of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, do our songs’ melodies and words help “outsiders,” younger members, and new Christians understand His Word and will? Or do they need an lexicon for archaic words? Do our Bible School materials, tracts, bulletin boards, and visual aids seem 21st Century or like a first edition work of Gutenberg’s press? It is possible that there are some who pant for every new, trendy, shiny thing that comes along, hoping it will lure the unsuspecting unchurched one into our midst.  That extreme should not drive us to be obtuse or mysterious in terminology, outmoded in approach, and outlandish in frugality or form.  To be clownish or undignified is unacceptable, but neither should we be cold or unnatural.

This is not the irreducible minimum, the end all of the discussion.  But, if we will take who we are, whose we are, and who we are here for seriously, the uniqueness of simple, New Testament Christianity will shine through us and cause us to impact our community and our world for Christ.  Isn’t that what we should desire?

I Have Learned…

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

—Neal Pollard

SKELETONS IN LAWN CHAIRS

Neal Pollard

A man who was snorkeling in the Colorado River may have been expecting to find plants, aquatic life, and even ruins, but he did not expect to find two skeletons sitting in lawn chairs 40 feet below the surface.  The man was frightened, undoubtedly convinced he’d stumbled across a relatively recent tragedy. There was a sign with the date August 16, 2014, alongside the “bodies.”  Dutifully, the man reported the find to the La Paz County sheriff’s office, which investigated the scene.  The whole thing turns out to have been a hoax, a set up which law enforcement believes to have been nothing more than an attempt to be funny (AP report, 5/7/15, via foxnews.com).

Perhaps you have heard the adage, “Only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  We do not want to go through life as cynical skeptics, but there is truth to the idea that looks can be deceiving.

Sometimes we can mistake someone’s bad day or scowled face as anger or a vendetta against us.  We can be guilty of judging a book by its cover.  We may overhear part of a conversation, drawing an unwarranted conclusion without the benefit of “the rest of the story.”  We may think we know the circumstances or character of someone’s life based on partial “evidence.”  So many times, it is just hard to know.  In the end, what we thought we saw, heard, and knew turns out to be different from the reality.

Jesus warned, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  The Old Law had a similar admonition: “Judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15). Proverbs 18:13 warns, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”  When it comes to our dealings with anyone, but especially our brethren, we should be sure we have the whole picture.  That preacher may not be the false teacher he is painted out to be.  That brother or sister may not be mad at you, but hurting for unrelated reasons.  That rumor or piece of gossip may be totally unfounded.  “Hastiness” can be hurtfulness (cf. Prov. 21:5; 29:20; Ecc. 5:2).  In a rush to get the scoop, let’s always be sure we’ve got the whole truth!

“Every Way Of A Man Is Right In His Own Eyes”

Neal Pollard

I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly.  I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator.  I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it.  I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear.  I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways.  In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.

Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).  In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2).  Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world.  At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse.  However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says.  Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.”  Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation.  Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence.  But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.

Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us!  If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like.  When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores.  Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2.  “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.”  He never gets it wrong!

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!

MIKEY, LIFE, AND POP ROCKS

Neal Pollard

Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s remember the infamous Life cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the finicky little boy who liked the taste of that cereal.  Somewhere along the way, the story got out that Mikey—whose real-life name is John Gilchrist—ate Pop-Rocks candy, washed it down with a Coca-Cola, and had the resulting chemistry experiment explode in his stomach, killing him.  How many mother’s absolutely forbad their children eat Pop-Rocks and drink Coke thanks to this story?  It turns out to have been a hoax, urban legend, or whatever you’d like to call the fabrication.  Today, Gilchrist, who appeared in a total of 250 commercials, is sales director at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Who knows how these silly rumors get started?  It has been said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (stated by banker David Hannum rather than P.T. Barnum, as is popularly thought, by the way; R.J. Brown, editor-in-chief, historybuff.com). The idea is that people are gullible and many are trusting to a fault.  Cynicism is its own problem, and gullibility can be amusing.

Too many, however, have bought into ideas that could not be more destructive.  Consider the following sentiments:

  • “One church is as good as another”
  • “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere”
  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “Anything’s permissible between two consenting adults”
  • “Truth is whatever you think it is”
  • “If it feels good, do it”

Obviously, the list is rather long but these are illustrative of the point. How remarkable it is that such lies are nearly as old as the world itself.  The serpent lied to Eve, selling her on the belief that she would surely not die if she ate fruit forbidden by God (Gen. 3:4).  Jesus taught a group notorious for changing God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Who are we listening to? Are they telling us the truth?  “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).