May I Help You?

Neal Pollard

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all the top 1o most common U.S. occupations are in the service industry—retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, office clerks, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives, just to name a few (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ocwage.pdf).  But one of the most common complaints you hear is about poor customer service, rude or unhelpful customer service staff, being overcharged or neglected, or a bad attitude.  There may be a great many reasons behind this, but one may well be that our culture is not conditioned to serve, but to be served.  Those in positions of service may just be reflecting the culture.

This is not a new problem.  Jesus addressed that mentality with His followers in Matthew 20:25-28.  In a world insistent upon being the chief and asserting their own rights, Jesus’ message does not play well today.  Yet, it did not play well even when He taught it on earth.  Jesus was very clearly the suffering servant (Isa. 53:11), and how did the masses ultimately react to Him? They shouted, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).

The concept of serving others turned out to be a struggle for the church at Philippi.  To that end, Paul urged them to adopt a better mindset, a proper attitude (Phil. 2:1-4).  Paul reminded these Christians that they were in the spiritual service industry.  It was their job to serve one another.  We can understand why this teaching is a bitter pill to swallow.  We all know those members of the spiritual family who are difficult to deal with, the ones who can be like fingernails on the chalkboard to us or who set our teeth on edge.  We might enjoy doing for the benign brother, the sweet sister, or the friendly family.  The real test comes in serving someone who does not make serving a pleasant, happy task.  A servant heart was lacking among some at Philippi (cf. 4:2), and an unwillingness to put others first will have a dangerous, negative impact on a church if such a spirit is allowed to grow unchecked.

Gordon MacDonald said, “You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one.”  Paul is urging a united, humble, and serving attitude on Philippi and on us.  Our task is not to gauge how others are growing in service, but to examine self.  May we live what we sometimes sing to God, “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You, for you are a servant, make me one, too!”

FAMILY TOGETHERNESS

Neal Pollard

It was a bit ironic to me as a stood up to preach on the subject of family that I had my parents and two of my children sitting and listening.  How rare and wonderful that, normally separated by a couple of time zones and over a thousand miles, we were all able to be together in the same worship service!  It makes me long for heaven, when we can be in the presence of God in eternal adoration of Him and sweet fellowship with one another.  Being together with family is a blessing many of us take for granted and can maybe only fully appreciate when it tends more toward the exception than the rule.

One of the many incredible facets of God’s perfect design for the church is that He made us a family.  Paul depicts us as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters (Titus 2:1-4).  He refers to it as God’s house (1 Timothy 3:15).  Christ is the bond that brings us together, with all our diversities (skin, background, income, education, etc.), to be a spiritual family.  The best attributes of family—love, acceptance, encouragement, motivation, understanding, heritage, leadership, unity, sympathy, assistance—come together in God’s family.  This is what has always baffled me when I think of brothers and sisters who can stay away from their spiritual family for weeks, months, and years at a time.  Who could sustain us and fill the vacuum caused by earthly life like God’s children, our spiritual siblings?

When you look at the church, you perceive it a certain way.  I’m convinced you are either drawn to it or repelled by it.  You long for her members or loathe them.  Certainly, there are the indifferent, the lukewarm, and those who are essentially unfeeling toward other members. But these are steadily moving toward abandoning their family.  Their hearts have already done so, if their bodies haven’t yet.  The indifferent and hostile may blame the church for their attitude, but we choose our mindset.  God puts us in this family (Acts 2:47), a plan He gave to help us successfully survive this life and obtain eternal life.  It’s a sign of spiritual health to long to be around, grow closer to, and be in love with the church.  Luke records, “And all those who had believed were together…” (Acts 2:44a).  What a beautiful picture!  We get to enjoy the same blessing today.  May we never take it for granted, but relish it.

pollards-in-georgia

KING’S CRITERIA WERE RIGHT ON THE MARK

Neal Pollard

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on a seasonable and rain-free day in August of 1963, but this speech, delivered to at least 250,000 people, is often remembered on the holiday in January named for him. This speech is one of the most important documents of our nation’s history and was a watershed moment in improving race relationships between black and white Americans.  Eloquently and poetically pointing out the injustices his race of people had endured and were enduring at the time, King looked forward to a new and improved day.  He hoped all people, whatever their race, would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He hoped to leave Washington, D.C., and return back to his home with a faith in the powers that ruled nationally and locally which would be translated into hope, brotherhood, and unity. His final call was to “let freedom ring” (via http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf).

Many people forget that Mr. King was a religious man, a preacher who often alluded to Bible characters and principles as well as directly quoting from it.  Inasmuch as he accurately referenced it, Mr. King was calling all people to God for guidance regarding right and wrong.  He said that character took priority over color.  He saw unity as right and division as wrong. He called for freedom rather than slavery, real or virtual.  While he was rightly championing these characteristics in the realm of racial equality, those principles doggedly stand regarding other matters.  Character, unity, and freedom matter in religious matters.

When we stand before Christ in the judgment, there is no indication that He will even take note of our race, ethnicity, or nationality.  He will look to see if His blood covers us.  Peter rightly says, “I most certainly understand that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34b-35). Corrupt behavior or disobedience will not be acceptable, no matter who we are.

Furthermore, anyone who fosters division is rejected by God. He hates “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19). He condemns it through Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.  In social or spiritual matters, I don’t want to be responsible for inhibiting a brotherhood God desires.  If I refuse to stand where He stands or if I stand where He doesn’t want me to stand, He will not accept it.

Finally, there is a freedom even more important than the noble cause King and his followers pursued. They wanted loosed from the manacles of a bondage imposed by others.  All of us, outside of Christ, are subject to a bondage we cause for ourselves.  Paul refers to this as being “slaves of sin” and “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness” (Rom. 6:17,19).  But, thank God, we can be “freed from sin” (Rom. 6:18). Then, we become slaves to righteousness.

Christians must care about racial equality, never treating someone different because of the color of their skin.  The way to right content of character, unity, and freedom is found in the book so often quoted by Mr. King.  No matter where or when we live, it will guide us toward an eternal home in heaven.

Cease Fire!

(Guest Baker)

Gary Neal Pollard III

On Christmas Day in World War I, British and German soldiers called a ceasefire and shared food and other comforts. They were definitely still enemies, but were able to tolerate each other long enough to celebrate a holiday.

In keeping with the prominent theme of “walking” in the book of Ephesians, Paul says, “Always be humble and gentle, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (4:2). This word “tolerance” literally means “to endure something unpleasant or difficult” or “to permit the presence of something.”

I don’t like all of my Christian family. I love them all, but there are personality differences and thought processes and it’s hard to get along with them all. I like most of them! Talk to any member of the family of Christ, and they will agree, no one gets along with everyone.

According to Ephesians 4:2, we are required to put up with those who bother us or don’t get along with us or do things the way we do. We aren’t told to be their best friend, but we are going to be held accountable for how we treat those in the family of God.

Let’s be determined this week to be civil and deferential to everyone in the family of God and not think about our differences with them. Let’s remember that this is all done for the purpose of unity, which is vital to the health of the church (4:3,4). It will require effort – no one said it would be easy! But if it will help the church be healthy, it’s totally worth it.

A COORDINATED RESPONSE

Neal Pollard

The leading local story today has to do with how police and fire responded to the Aurora theatre shooting in the summer of 2012, a horrific crime that left 12 dead and most of the other theatre patrons injured to one degree or another.  Those tasked with evaluating the response use words like “chaotic” and uncoordinated to describe what emergency responders did in the face of the incredibly unusual and tragic scene.  It is hard to imagine how one would prepare for something so unprecedented and it is much easier to make such evaluations in hindsight, but all seem agreed about the need to work together more efficiently when faced with life or death situations.

There is no greater life or death situation than concerns the spiritual state of even a single soul.  Whether we are talking about bringing a lost soul to Christ, helping a discouraged or offended brother or sister, or retrieving a Christian who has fallen away, it requires a coordinated response! Many people are needed to work together to help a person in his or her relationship to God.  Paul urges, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…” (1 Th. 5:11).  He also writes, “Bear one another’s burden” (Gal. 6:2a).

When we are faced with the challenge of reaching a lost soul, think of all the coordination needed.  There is the friend or family member trying to reach them, but who else? What about the one(s) trying to study with them, not to mention members who need to reach out to them by befriending them, make them feel welcome, have them into their homes, and introduce them to other Christians?

When someone is struggling, it requires many people calling and reaching out, visiting, and doing what can be done to show them love and concern.  When someone has fallen away, it takes more than the preacher or an elder to do that “heavy lifting.”  Anyone who knows them and can influence them should coordinate with all others to rescue the perishing one!

Twelve lives ended that fateful night in Aurora.  It has been determined that emergency responders were not responsible for a single person being lost, a fact that has to provide them with solace and validation.  When we stand before Christ, each of us wants to do our part so that we can say no one was lost due to our neglect or lack of response.

Avoid Foolish And Ignorant Disputes!

Neal Pollard

A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ.  He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher.  The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful.  In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.

Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23.  One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.”  We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate!  Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn.  I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.”  Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?

And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler.  For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar.  The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not!  That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.

Remember what Paul tells the Romans.  “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19).  The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this.  Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words.  “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving.  You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!

I REMEMBER CALE VERSUS DONNIE

 

Neal Pollard

1979 was the year I discovered sports, developing a fledgling interest in my home state’s greatest football team, the Georgia Bulldogs, watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, young stars on a woeful Atlanta Braves team, learning names like Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, and Greg Brazina. I started collecting baseball, football, and basketball cards.  But my clearest memory and biggest sports’ memory in that seminal year of sports-fan-man-ship came when I walked into our living room in Cairo, Georgia, at the end of the Daytona 500.  I can’t remember how many laps I watched, but I watched them all in utter fascination—including the historic final lap.  The suspense, drama, and excitement was palpable, climaxed by Cale Yarborough coming down the inside in an attempted “slingshot” move and triggering a crash between himself and Donnie Allison.  The maneuver cost them both the victory as Richard Petty took the checkered flag.  But what I remember was not Petty’s win, but the altercation between Cale and Donnie’s brother, Bobby, who had stopped to check on his brother.  Cale hit Bobby in the face with his helmet, then, as Bobby famously recounted, Cale went to beating Bobby’s fist with his nose.  That moment (“the fight”) is credited with putting NASCAR “on the map” and leading it into the mainstream of American interest.

While it’s ultimately a matter of indifference that a fight led a sport to success, it’s profoundly sad that the religious world is often known for its division and difference rather than its being united in truth.  One of the biggest arguments against Christianity is that “Christians” (as the world sees them and understands the term) argue with each other.  As world religions spread and as secularism and atheism grow in our world, the strife and division among us is more negatively noticeable than ever.

This fragmentation could not be farther from heaven’s desire.  Jesus prayed for His followers to be united (John 17:20-21).  Paul condemned religious division (1 Co. 1:10-13) and called for the body of Christ to be one (1 Co. 12:13; Eph. 2:16; 4:4).  The world is heading toward eternal punishment and religious people who follow manmade doctrine are said by the Bible to share that tragic fate (Mat. 7:21-23; 15:8-9; John 12:48; Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19).

When the world looks at those professing to be Jesus’ disciples, what should they see?  I know what Jesus wanted them to see.  He said, “”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).  Let’s be known to the world as lovers, not fighters!