Categories
angels apostasy grace temptation

The Angels’ Struggle (And Ours)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

We sometimes have a tendency to give up when we mess up spiritually. We’ll think, “Guess I blew it, there’s no point in trying now.” Guilt or frustration over the difficulty of living for God and falling short is a powerful Achilles Heel of ours. Paul describes our struggle with sin as combat with self (Romans 7). 

A Christian who is fighting to follow God is still going to sin at some point. We sometimes allow the loss of that battle to drag us into a pattern of sinning solely because we’ve become discouraged that we even allowed that sin to happen. 

I’d like to point out that we aren’t alone in that struggle. Consider Job 38.7: angels – who do not need faith because they live in the presence of God – were up close and personal to the creation of our incredible universe. They watched in awe as God fabricated the stars. They heard those stars sing, which means that they were amazed by the sheer power and majesty of what we can only hear as obscure signals. They were right there! 

Some of those same angels were caught up in sin (II Peter 2.4ff; Jude 6-9). Satan currently has followers who were at one time up close and personal to the Power behind our existence (Romans 12.7ff; Matthew 25:41). 

If an angel, a being who does not serve God based on a mere belief in His existence, but because they were originally created for the sole purpose of carrying out His will, and who are eyewitnesses to His existence and unlimited power, can be tempted to the extent that they are willing to abandon the presence of God and forfeit ever seeing His face again, who are we to think that our struggle is that defeating? 

God does not have a salvation plan for angelic beings (II Peter 2.4). When they breach their boundaries, that’s it. The moment they act outside of God’s will is the moment they forfeit the presence of God for eternity. 

We are lower than angels on the creation totem pole (Psalm 8.5), yet we have Jesus as a mediator defending us before God (I John 2.1) and constantly making us sinless in God’s eyes when we’re doing our best to live for Him (I John 1.7). We have a gift that angels do not enjoy: we get extra chances. As long as we are willing to wage war with our sinful desires, as long as we are striving to be like Him, and as long as we are trying to incorporate the word of God into our lives, we have grace. 

We’re stepping out of the concrete and into conjecture, but there is at least some evidence that lust (Genesis 6; II Peter 2; Jude 6-9) and perhaps tragedy (Matthew 18.10) are enough to make an angel forfeit their home. Again, this is pure conjecture but it has, at the very least, some scriptural evidence to suggest legitimacy. 

When we sin, we need to take a step back and get some perspective. We must not brush off sin as being inconsequential, but we also must avoid allowing a mistake to send us into a dysfunctional pattern just because we think, “I’ve blown it, there’s no point in trying now” or, “This struggle is too great for me.” If angels aren’t immune, why on earth would we think that we are supposed to be? 

The beauty of Christianity is found in God’s grace. It is understandable, seeing how some have abused the subject, to want to avoid the topic altogether. How many, though, have found themselves trapped in sin because they did not understand or believe in the power of God’s continual forgiveness?

Understanding what we have when we make a concerted effort to follow God is of the highest importance. We will sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are liar and there is no truth in us (I John 1.8). When we do sin, let’s remember that not only can we have forgiveness if we’re walking in light, we’re not especially awful just because we find ourselves falling short. If even God’s angels can be tempted to the point of leaving His presence forever, so can we who have not seen His face. And let that cause us to seek His face with even more enthusiasm than before! 

I Corinthians 10.13

II Peter 3.9

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Categories
apostasy hope Man of Lawlessness

Lessons from the Apostasy

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

One of the more difficult passages to understand in scripture is found in II Thessalonians 2. This chapter talks about a figure known as the Man of Lawlessness. Theories abound concerning his/its identity which, thankfully, is immaterial to our salvation and will not be the focus of this article. I would prefer to focus on the apostasy (also translated “rebellion” [ESV] or “falling away” [KJV]) preceding the appearance of the man of lawlessness in our passage. 

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica because some false teachers, evidently posing as Paul and Sylvanus (2.2), had convinced several members that they had missed out on the second coming (2.1-3). Paul begins by telling them not to believe anything other than what he had already taught them (2.2, 5) and rehashes a proof he taught in person (2.5). Before the second coming, two things had to occur: 1. The Apostasy, 2. The Man of Lawlessness. This would not be a sign of the second coming but an event that would be obvious (2.8, 9) and of unknown duration, eventually brought to an end by the appearance of Christ (2.3, 8). Clearly this had not happened yet or it would be an irrelevant comfort or proof to the Thessalonian church. 

Whoever/whatever the man of lawlessness may be, no one argues that its advent is preceded by the apostasy (2.3). The construct of the original language seems to describe this apostasy as being a major, far-reaching event rather than an isolated or regional one. Regardless of the timing of its advent (as in, has it happened or is it yet to come?), the apostasy was or is to be a tragic event. 

The word is ἀποστασία which means, “Defiance of established system or authority” (BDAG 121). Keeping the context in consideration this apostasy is an event characterized by a mass “falling away” from the church. It is a tragic event. To quote a great fictional philosopher, “Today is not that day.” It is easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of current events and think, “There’s no hope.” 

Bear Valley Bible Institute recently released their annual report on the work being done through its mission efforts. This is just one school and one evangelistic effort among hundreds, but the church is doing great work in a world that seems to falling apart. Last year alone over 800 preachers were trained and over 3,000 people converted. Again, this is just one great effort among many. The soil is still fertile. There is still work for us to do. There is still hope. When we get overwhelmed by the political chaos in our own country or stressed about events overseas, let’s remember this: this world is not our home, and with our limited time here there is still so much good to be done! 

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Photo credit: Keith Kasarjian (Limbe, Cameroon, near Bear Valley Bible Institute extension)
Categories
apostasy evangelism restoration soul-winning Uncategorized

The Danger Of Being Swept Away

Neal Pollard

You may have heard that I was caught in a rip tide during Carl’s senior trip. We were at St. Pete’s Beach in the Tampa-area, swimming and playing in the water not far from a fishing pier. Somehow, I was pulled into a riptide and quickly pulled out toward the Gulf. The shore quickly grew distant and my subpar swimming abilities were tellingly useless. A couple of fishermen told me I was caught in it and my best hope was to try and move parallel to the waves and angle for a point about a half-mile up from where I was. That was a painfully slow process, and the water kept taking me where it wished.  I was on the other side of the pier, moving generally toward that point but still in the grips of the tide, when Dale swam out and helped pull me out of the current until I could finally get to shallower water and make my way back onto the beach. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe Dale saved my life.

Only after this did I learn that, according to the CDC, there was an annual average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States from 2005 to 2014. That’s about ten deaths per day. Nearly 80% of all people who die from drowning are male. A lack of swimming ability is the greatest risk factor in drowning, and 57% of all people, age 15 and over, who drown do so in “natural water settings” (like the ocean)(cdc.gov).  I also was reminded, from the Pandora playlist Dale piped through our van’s sound system, that he has an interesting sense of humor—playing “Under the Sea,” “The Ocean,” “High Tide, Low Tide,” “In Too Deep,” “Riptide,” “Drowing,” and “How To Save A Life” (plus a bunch more).

But I also have a different perspective toward some of the songs in our songbook:

  • “Soul you are drifting along on the tide, out on life’s ocean so boundless and wide…”
  • “Some poor fainting, struggle seaman, you may rescue, you may save…”
  • “Throw out the lifeline, someone is drifting away…”
  • “While on the sea hear the terrible roaring…”

As I look back, the currents were strong but the force was subtle. It did not take long for me to be moved away from the shore and taken away. Making the right efforts played a part in my staying afloat. Ultimately, however, I needed outside help to come back to shore.

The writer of Hebrews says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). A.T. Robertson says of the word “drift”: “Here the metaphor is that ‘of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach’ (Westcott), a vivid picture of peril for all” (342). BDAG says it is an imagery of flowing water and means “be washed away” or “drift away” (770). The Greek Old Testament uses the word in Proverbs 3:21, where Solomon urges his son to not let wisdom “vanish from [his] sight.” The epistle’s nautical metaphor pictures vividly what can happen in our spiritual lives. We can  lose sight of where we are, and we may begin to struggle and start to succumb to the pull of the current. We must continue to make the effort to pull away and we should accept the attempts of those who seek to rescue us.

Spiritually, none of us want to become a casualty. We do not want to perish. May we realize that falling away from God is not usually sudden or dramatic. It is often subtle and gradual. Let’s pay much closer attention to what we have heard! It’s our lifeline.

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Categories
apostasy Christian living faithfulness immorality responsibility struggle Uncategorized

Ignoring The Symptoms

Neal Pollard

“What is that smell in the kitchen sink?” “Ah, honey, I’ll look at it, uh, soon.” “When?” “Uh…soon.” “It’s been like this for six month now, honey…honey, are you listening to me? Agh! Look, the drain is bubbling…”

“Mr. Smith, when did you first notice the mole discoloring and becoming asymmetrical?” “Well, um, I think it was last fall.” “Why did you wait a year to get this checked out? I’m pretty sure it’s cancer. To be straight with you, Mr. Smith, I don’t know how this will turn out for you.”

“Brother Jones, have you noticed that sister Blue is acting withdrawn?” “Yea, she lost her job last month and her children are grown and gone.” “Brother Jones, I’ve noticed that she’s recently stopped coming on Sunday nights.” “Yea, Brother Jackson, we need to go visit her this week.” “I know. We’ve been saying that…every week.” “Well, we’ll get there.”

May I suggest that none of these three scenarios is likely to turn out pleasantly? Yet, damage and expense to our material things, or even the loss of physical life to a dreaded disease, are not as devastating or frightening as the loss of a soul. The tragedy is that there are normally symptoms that accompany apostasy (i.e., turning away from the Lord). It is not enough to see the symptoms. We must respond in a timely manner.

One symptom is a decrease in faithful attendance. When individuals who would not miss a service choose to do something else, an alarm has been sounded. Something is replacing their dedication and commitment to Christ. When it is odd or noteworthy that someone is missing services, we need to respond with a card, call, or visit. Somehow, let them know they are missed. Do not lay this solely at the doorstep of preachers and elders. These folks need to be inundated with our concern. Run the risk of offending them. Why should they get offended at genuine brotherly love?

Another symptom is a decrease in reliability in doing church work. The tasks they once did and were counted on to do they no longer do with consistency. Maybe they felt unappreciated or overly burdened. Maybe they needed relief or at least a break. Or, maybe spiritual struggles and worldly concerns have overwhelmed them. Whatever explains the cause, respond to the effect. Tell them how important and special they are. Praise their work. Help them. Encourage them.

Yet another symptom is a change in behavior and withdrawal. This is perhaps the most common precursor and symptom in a spiritual struggle. Distancing themselves from the rest of the church family, a loss of enthusiasm for the church, worship, and/or its programs, and a change in personality within the congregation are all telling signs something isn’t right. We are taught that individuals in a marriage are constantly changing. Those same individuals fill our pews and participate in the church’s work. Let us never take each other for granted or ignore this symptom.

Ultimately, it is not the church’s responsibility to stand for an individual in the judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). Yet, we have a mutual responsibility to each other (1 Pet. 3:8). To borrow from the medical analogy above, when one member of the body hurts, we should all respond to help him or her (1 Cor. 12:26). Please do not be blind to the symptoms of those around you. Ask them how you can help. Do not let them spiritually die because of our neglect.

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Categories
apostasy parables Prodigal Son restoration

AFTER 31 YEARS, MURDER VICTIM IS FOUND ALIVE

Neal Pollard

There was a disappearance and a murder confession.  So, the last thing police expected when they stopped at “Mrs. Schneider’s” apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, was to find the 1984 murder victim, Petra Pazsitka, talking to them.  Thus began the unraveling of an elaborate plot by Ms. Pazskitka to disappear and reemerge with a new identity.  She was successful for 31 years, living in several West German cities without a passport, driver’s license, and social security card. She supported herself by “living off illicit cash-in-hand work” (via uk.news.yahoo.com). Why did the college student who had just completed her thesis on computer languages leave the grid and go into hiding? So far, there has been no explanation given. Perhaps there will eventually be more details and insight into this bizarre situation, but for now a grief-stricken family can take some measure of comfort in knowing their loved one they thought was dead is alive.

Spiritually, we are surrounded by the living dead.  It is the result of choices they’ve made.  This is even true for some who have abandoned God’s family and reemerged in the world having cast off the privileges and position of that honorable name they took on when they were baptized into Christ.

Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). He tells Timothy, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). God diagnosed an entire church, Sardis, “having a reputation of being alive” as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Of course, nothing illustrates the point better than Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  The younger son was off in the “far country,” and through that lifestyle he reached the point of desperation and despair. He repented and came home, where his father declared “my son was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).

Sometimes, it makes no sense to us why a brother or sister leaves God’s family, abandoning spiritual life, hope, and heaven for spiritual death, hopelessness, and hell.  Yet, we must continue to search for them.  Let us pray that we can find those long since declared dead and encourage them so that we “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). Search for them. Appeal to them. Help them reclaim the blessed identity they had when they had “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

Categories
apostasy faithfulness perseverance salvation

Right Back Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water.  He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive.  Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.

Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham.  Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).

What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense.  Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution.  The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering.  We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return.  We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start.  Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before.  We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.

Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away.  He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).  Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.

May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

Categories
apostasy courage

Giving Up Ground To the Enemy

Neal Pollard

On at least three fronts, there are major battles occurring—ISIS and the existing governments in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and Ukraine and Russian-led rebels. In each of these conflicts, both sides are trying to gain ground or at least hold onto what they already have. They are trying not only to win the actual battles they are fighting, but they also seek to win the battle of public opinion.  With the money and lives invested, neither side in any of the conflicts can bear the thought of losing.

While “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) and “we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3), we face a deadly adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  He is the enemy, though he has a great many who have “been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:26). They are fighting his battles for him of their own free will (Js. 1:13-15), and they are more than willing to engage those of us who would steadfastly resist him (1 Pet. 5:9).

In this media age, the devil’s soldiers have used means previous generations did not have at their disposal to spread his ideas across the nation and all over the globe.  But because there have been people willing to battle him, he has not gained ground all at once. The moral erosion has happened slowly over time, attitudes about foul language, alcohol, modesty, sex outside of marriage and living together, adultery, homosexuality, and much more.  Doctrinal erosion also occurs subtly and gradually, but denominationalism has given way to modernism, post-modernism, and emergent theologies.  The Lord’s church is impacted by assaults on its distinctiveness, and elderships, pulpits, classrooms, and memberships can gradually lose their militancy, courage, and resolve to stand up for God’s revealed will.  It is easy to be cowered by charges of extremism, hatred, or sanctimoniousness, especially when there are examples of such to be found.

Yet, we cannot forget that we are in a battle.  God needs us to stand in the gap and continue fighting for His truth, even in the face of opposition and resistance.  Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons in our left and right hands is righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7).  We press on in spiritual armor (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11ff).  When each of us as soldiers in the Lord’s Army arrive at the time when we must lay down our armor, may it be said that we gained ground and served the Lord’s cause successfully. May it never be that we gave up ground to the enemy!

Categories
apostasy Current Events

Flight 370 And Falling Away

Neal Pollard

We are now several days into an unspeakable tragedy that is equally mysterious.  Despite sophisticated tracking methods and multi-national radar, a Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared without warning or a trace on Saturday, March 8, 2014. The disappearance of Flight 370 is an enigma because “there are only a handful of scenarios that could explain how a usually reliable wide-body jet could seemingly vanish from a clear sky with no distress call and no obvious debris field” (Tracy Connor, NBC News online).  At this point, all experts have are theories—mechanical malfunction, bomb or explosion, hijacking, pilot error or sabotage (ibid.).  None of the theories is entirely satisfactory, however, and friends and family from 14 nations find no consolation or closure from this heretofore unsolved mystery.

Though it fails to make the news or be as dramatic, there are mysterious disappearances continuously occurring.  It is usually possible to physically find the missing, but it can be just as hard to understand exactly why they came to be “missing” all the same.  There are multiple causes, but that does little to bring consolation or satisfaction.  I am referring to Christians who fall away from faithfulness.

Some fall away because of structural problems, a failure on the part of the congregation or some negative influence within it (cf. Mat. 18:6).  Bad example, being a stumbling block, and thoughtless speech are ways we can contribute to a Christian falling.  Some fall away because of something that “explodes” or “blows up” in their lives—financially, relationally, emotionally, or the like (Luke 8:13).  Some fall away because their faith is hijacked, maybe by a false teacher or even a well-meaning family member who is bothered by their “changing religions” (cf. Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1).  Some simply fall away because of “pilot error”—their own failure to successfully navigate the difficulties of living the Christian life (Luke 8:14; Heb. 6:4-6).  No matter how it happens, it should be a source of sadness and concern to those of us still striving to walk in the light. More than that, we must become part of the search and rescue team.  Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:19-20 are just two of the passages that should convict and challenge us in this work.  Not even the loss of a single person should be considered acceptable loss.  Not with so much at stake and not given the high price Jesus paid for each and every soul!