What To Do When Faced With A Sinking Ship

Neal Pollard

The ship is breaking apart. The timbers of civility. Crack! The planks of morality. Splinter!  The mast of critical thinking. Pop! As we hope to stay afloat, we cannot help but feel growing apprehension over the current state of our society. It’s not a matter of preserving or plastering over a past. It’s a matter of preserving peace in the present, but only if that means God’s people are serious about sharing the only possible remedy–Jesus! Yet, as it increasingly seems our country is ratcheted by prejudice, hatred, division, and rancor, we see the tranquility and calm from so many quarters threatened with the dark storms of violence and uncertainty.

In Acts 27, Paul was with 275 other passengers on a boat bound for Rome from Caesarea, and its captain decided to test the Mediterranean Sea at a turbulent time. A violent storm, known as Euraquilo, caught the ship and ultimately battered it to pieces. It must have been an apprehensive time for the passengers and crew. Luke says the wind was violent, the ship was driven, the sun and moon didn’t appear for days, violently storm-tossed, they incurred damage and loss, and that all hope of their being saved was gradually abandoned. I cannot imagine the helpless, vulnerable feeling they must have felt. At least not literally.

It would be easy to let our national unrest and storminess tempt us to act irrationally (like some on Paul’s ship were tempted) or to give in to fear. But, Paul did five things we should do as we try to respond to the current turbulence.

  • He listened to God (Acts 27:23-24). Nobody else had a better or equal solution to their dire problem. The only way to be saved was to listen to God. Paul sought to persuade the people of this. In the ruckus and tumultuous noise, listen harder to God’s Word! It’s an anchor in stormy waters.
  • He believed God’s Word (Acts 27:25). It’s one thing to comprehend something, but quite another to put your trust in it. What God promised must have seemed quite far-fetched, that this way would save everyone. But, Paul didn’t waver. He said, “I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (25). We are surrounded by people who need to witness our faith. As many as are persuaded will escape a shipwreck of faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19).
  • He encouraged hope (Acts 27:21-26). Despite the foolishness of their leaders, these people were given a message of hope. Paul says, “Keep up your courage!” (22,25). Despite the frightfulness of the moment, Paul offered a possible escape. Right now, you and I are uniquely positioned to give the only true hope available. It’s like an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19)!
  • He warned the disobedient (Acts 27:31-32). There were those trying to break from God’s Word and will and do things another way. They were trying to take matters into their own hands. Paul spoke up against this! Such was defiance against the divine plan. What a message for us, who justify their sins rather than repent of them. We need to keep the message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come before people (Acts 24:25).
  • He prayed faithfully (Acts 27:35). In this ordeal, Paul was a public example of prayer. Read every epistle of Paul’s and you’ll see his faithfulness in and dependency upon prayer. He appealed to the God he knew was the only hope for salvation. How much are we praying about the turmoil in our country (and world)? How much do those around us believe that we are dependent upon God?

Instead of focusing on the frightful winds currently blowing, let’s focus on the One who can calm the storm. Let’s get others to join us in that focus. Whatever happens to our nation, we must save as many souls as possible!

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Another Heroic Sacrifice

Neal Pollard

Heather Christensen, a 33 year old music teacher from Spanish Fork, Utah, contributed the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of dozens of band students on October 10, 2009. The bus driver, bringing back the band competition winners from Idaho State University, slumped over in his seat and Christensen left her seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the bus from crashing. While there were still several injuries, there was only one fatality. The 44 students on board were treated but released from the hospital. The 50 year old driver also survived. Only Christensen, partially ejected in the bus’ rollover, died.

It melted the hearts of an entire community that Heather was willing to lose her life in an attempt to save and rescue everyone on the bus. A gymnasium full of people at American Fork High School honored her at a Sunday night vigil. She was hailed as a true heroine.

The future of 45 people was dramatically changed by Heather’s decision to act. The obvious reaction of these students’ friends and family was to honor her sacrifice. It would be shameful to ignore it!

Jesus Christ deliberately decided, from eternity, to die on a cross in an attempt to save all mankind. His was a completely selfless act, requiring Him to take the place not of one but of all. Tragically, the majority of humanity for whom He offered Himself ignore His sacrifice. It does not move or touch them, and it certainly does not motivate them to do what they should do. Yet, for those of us who have obeyed the gospel and are Christians, we come together–not once–but once every week to commemorate His sacrifice. Each day we live, we live mindful of what He did in our place and for our sins. May our hearts stay soft to this supreme act of heroism!

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Avoid Being Ironic

Neal Pollard

Friday night, Carl and I flew to Bismarck, North Dakota. Why? Well, of course, we wanted to attend the “Melita Banana Days” in Melita (pronounced Meh LIT Uh), Manitoba. That, and stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, that doubles as an ice cream shop. Saturday night, we were back in our own beds sleeping. While we were registering at the festival  on Saturday morning and talking with some of the organizers, we told them we had flown up from Colorado to check them out. From what we could tell, we were the only attendees from America. They were mildly intrigued by that fact, but basically brushed us off. Which was fine. We also wanted to check out Oak Lake beach about 60 miles north of there. But it was ironic to read on their website that this event is about promoting tourism. Perhaps our tepid reception was an exception to how they welcomed outsiders checking them out.

On a family vacation not too long ago, our family visited a small congregation on a Wednesday night. We drew a few stares from the local members as we took our seat right as Bible class began. Afterward, we were briefly greeted by one member who explained that their little group was going to have a meeting to discuss strategies for being more evangelistic. We were a family of strangers to them, and we might have been newcomers or non-Christians. They would not know. None of them tried to connect with us. We were essentially shown the door. We found this ironic.

It is ironic to sing, pray, preach, teach, and otherwise emphasize about the church’s mission and then to practically ignore it. Our assemblies are foremost about worshipping God and building up the body, but even first-century gatherings were attended by those other than the local Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25).  In our zeal to deepen and build our relationships with one another, we must not ignore or be cold toward those who “enter” our assemblies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to start conversations and create opportunities to open doors which lead them to Christ. Certainly, they should leave our assemblies aware of our intense interest in them. To do otherwise is to undermine our very purpose and mission. That would be the ultimate irony!

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Why We Need The Word

Neal Pollard

Many know that Psalm 119 is the greatest, inspired tribute to the Word of God known to man. 176 verses, eight verses under the heading of every Hebrew letter, grace these pages of our Bibles. All but a few verses mention some synonym for God’s Word. So many individual studies can be made of themes and thrusts in Psalm 119, but by reading it one discovers David giving many benefits or needs for studying the Bible. Consider what is no doubt an inexhaustible study.

  • To keep from sinning against God (11)
  • I am a stranger in the earth (19)
  • The influential can be against us at times (23)
  • Our soul often melts from heaviness (28)
  • To keep our eyes from worthless things (37)
  • To have an answer for him who reproaches us (42)
  • It causes hope (49)
  • For comfort in affliction (50, 76)
  • It causes righteous indignation (53)
  • It leads us to seek God’s favor with our whole heart (58)
  • It makes us choose better companions (63)
  • It brings good judgment and knowledge (66)
  • It prevents apostasy (67)
  • It makes us more attractive to the God-fearing (74)
  • That I may live (77, 93, etc.)
  • For revival (88)
  • For greater understanding (99)
  • To be upheld and safe (117)
  • To have a proper sense of self (125)
  • For a proper sense of values (128)
  • For proper emotional investment (136)
  • For righteous zeal (139)
  • For a proper sense of dependency (147)
  • It brings confidence (152)
  • It gives us the proper sentiment toward the world (158)
  • To develop a proper “praise life” (164)

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A Small Portion Does Not Mean Small Proportion

Neal Pollard

Those who address us prior to our giving often make a statement like this, that we are giving back but a small portion of what God has blessed us with. In other words, if you could owned and could contribute all the world’s wealth, week after week, how would that compare to the sacrificial gift of Christ (cf. Mat. 16:26)? In fact, how could it compare with the many additional blessings besides atonement—a body equipped with the ability to perform involuntary actions (breathing, blood flow, cell regeneration, etc.), an environment conducive to life (air to breathe, photosynthesis, etc.), a planet in harmony with sun and moon making life possible, and the list is endless. It is not only impossible to out-give God, it is impossible to come anywhere close.

The Bible does not dictate a percentage for the New Testament Christian giver. The inferior covenant (cf. Heb. 8:7-8) required a tenth of all (Heb. 7:5), a pretty good benchmark for those of us having access to the better covenant established upon better promises. It is impossible to know what anyone might be thinking who hears the well-intended, if well-worn, statement, “We have the opportunity to give back a small portion of the many blessings we have received…” It does not mean, “A small proportion.” Nowhere does the Bible sanction stingy, leftover-style giving. In fact, it condemns such (read Malachi). Instead, Paul writes, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7).

Giving involves a monetary, financial exercise, but it is a distinctly spiritual activity. It is an act of trust, a faith that the God who has provided will continue to provide and bless the one who bountifully shares what he has been given. When we, like the Macedonians, give beyond what we believe is beyond our ability (2 Cor. 8:1-5), we open up an exciting door in our walk with Christ.

If you are one who gives a small proportion of your income, may I challenge you to increase it? See what happens in your life. You are not giving to manipulate or coerce God, but you will experience a growth not possible on the “small proportion” side of generous giving. Trust Him! He has never broken a promise yet (read Mal. 3:10 and Luke 6:38).

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The Rubber Band Metaphor

Neal Pollard

The rubber band’s a handy tool
If it but follows a simple rule
It must know how much that it can take
If it goes beyond that, it might break

It does no good inside the drawer
Or on a peg inside the store
It must assume its intended use
If sitting unused, it amounts to abuse

But when in working operation
It must guard against its ruination
Stretched too often or too far
It will not work or be up to par.

Just like that loop which holds together
That which needs a trusty tether
You and I must know our max
And not our limit to unduly tax

We’re not useful up on the shelf
We must work hard, extend ourself
But taken too far, we risk too much
We can hurt ourselves by doing such

Let’s prayerfully consider each opportunity
And realize none has complete immunity
From burnout, fallout, stress and strain—
Then we’ll be useful, happy, strong and sane!

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“Wait Until Fall”

Neal Pollard

It was a beautiful experience, talking with our newest brother in Christ last night. It was beautiful watching him be bombarded with love and attention from member after member. Listening to him tell his story built my confidence in the simplicity of the Bible when a person reads it without prejudice or agenda. What an affirmation that God has a will for us and He made sure it was understandable to the seeker. As Jesus put it, “Seek, and you shall find” (Mat. 7:7).

Roberto has been seeking. As he has been attending a large, area Community Church, he has also been studying his Bible. He’s been a diligent student. Along the way, he read the repeated emphasis upon baptism as a necessity for salvation. This prompted him to approach his church and ask if he could be baptized. He was told that they baptize in the fall, and he could be baptized then. His immediate concern? What if I am killed in a car wreck or my phone blows up when I charge it? There was no manipulative or badgering teacher filling his head with such scenarios. Instead, he could make the connection between a command from God and the consequences of disobeying it.

He started Googling the importance of baptism and eventually found World Bible School. This led him to connect with Terry Pace, a Christian in Flint, Michigan, who studied with him. Roberto wanted to know if he could be baptized. Terry went to work. Terry’s son, Sam, happens to preach at the Northwest congregation in Westminster. One of the Northwest members, Allan Javellana, met him to study with him on Monday and found out he had sufficient understanding to be baptized. Since he lives close to Bear Valley, Allan brought him to our building where Wayne Nelson let him in. Allan stressed with Roberto the importance of working and worshipping with a group that is trying to answer Bible questions with Bible answers.

On Pentecost, they asked “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They were told (Acts 2:38), and they acted that day (Acts 2:41).

On the road to Gaza, the eunuch asked Philip (who had preached Jesus to him, Acts 8:35), “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). They stopped the chariot right there and then, and he was baptized (Acts 8:38).

At Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, this Gentile asked Peter to come over from Joppa (Acts 10:23ff). Cornelius knew Peter would be speaking words by which he could be saved (Acts 11:14). When it was clear that God wanted Gentiles to be saved (Acts 10:44-47), Cornelius and his household were baptized on the spot (Acts 10:48).

In the prison in Philippi, the jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He’s told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), Who they proceed to teach him about (Acts 16:32). Armed with this knowledge of the Savior, this jailor “immediately…was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:33).

Nobody waited because God’s answer was “now.” What has changed from then to now? What would make a different answer acceptable today? Roberto is another, amazing example of what a receptive heart does when faced with God’s Word and will. Simply, humbly do what He says. Oh, that I will approach God’s Word the same way!

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It Will Work!

Neal Pollard

  • Planting gospel seed (cf. Luke 8:11) will result in people of all ages, backgrounds, and nations becoming Christians.
  • Overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21) will soften hard-hearted enemies.
  • Approaching a wayward brother or sister in lovingkindness (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20) will bring some back to faithfulness.
  • Faithful attendance will stimulate to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
  • Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from the heart and with purpose will help us and everyone else who is present (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
  • Spending time together and getting to know each other will make us closer to one another (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
  • Investing in a heartfelt relationship with God will lessen anxiety and increase peace and joy (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
  • If the church stays committed to souls and service, it will grow (Acts 6:1-7).
  • Speaking to (rather than about) those who we feel have offended us results in greater harmony and reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17).
  • Culture is met mightily by transformed, sacrificial representatives for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • We will win more in the world if we are not trying to simply embrace and imitate it as it is (Jas. 4:4).
  • Emphasizing leadership will result in people rising up to lead (cf. Ti. 1:5-11; 1 Th. 5:12-13).
  • Homes united in dedication to putting Christ’s kingdom first will have a high rate of success in raising faithful children (Pr. 22:6; Eph. 6:1-4).
  • If we will consult Scripture for answers to our dilemmas, we’ll uncover the best solutions possible (Ps. 119:105).

In our search for relevance, effectiveness, and success in our present world, let’s not overthink it! Whatever the question, if it matters (2 Pet. 1:3), the Bible has the answer. It will work!

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Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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WHAT DID MOSES CONFRONT?

Neal Pollard
Moses is remembered for his meekness, yet he also is the man who in indignation killed an Egyptian slave driver. He was afraid to lead, but what a leader he was with God’s help. In Exodus three, we see this man who has gone to hide among his father-in-law’s sheep as one who was ready for confrontation. Of course, at times this was good and at times it was not. What did Moses confront?

–Moses confronted his God. Receiving his Great Commission at the burning bush, Moses was introduced to the God who desired to work with him to accomplish some of the greatest feats of the entire Old Testament period. Moses learned just who his God was, a lesson that would continue the rest of his life.
–Moses confronted himself. He was a man with a bag of excuses, all of which he apparently pulled out to try and avoid the task God was handing him. He rightly saw his personal inadequacies, but he reluctantly began to see the Moses he could be in God’s omnipotent hand.
–Moses confronted his people. He had to go back to his hometown. Many of us would have a hard time being effective in that forum, but Moses had the gall to go. Did he have to face the two Hebrew men whose fight he had tried to break up, men who had either witnessed or at least heard about Moses’ murder? It must have been to go back and face his fellow country men, but he did it.
–Moses confronted his enemy. Rarely has an enemy been so formidable as Pharaoh was. His heart was hard to his very end. He was arguably the most powerful man on earth and as stubborn as he was strong.
–Moses confronted his faith. Hebrews 11 affirms the greatness of his faith. It was challenged and he did not possess a perfect faith, but inspiration proves that it was exemplary and memorable faith.
–Moses confronted his penalty. At the end of his journey with a stubborn and disobedient, yet chosen, people, Moses took too much on himself. He disobeyed God and failed to properly glorify him. Consequently, he was denied the Promise Land. The result of his sin was separation; for him, it was from the physical land of promise. For the disobedient who fail to repent, it will be from the spiritual land of promise. We all confront the fact that our sin has consequences.

Moses was a man who talked to God as friend talks with friend. He was an imperfect man and even occasionally an impetuous man. Yet, he was a successful man in part because of his willingness to confront. May we be so bold!

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