“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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Identifying As A Christian

Neal Pollard

There are so many “identifying” stories these days. A white woman, Rachel Dolezal, identifying as a black woman, was back in the news over the weekend. A biological female who identifies as male and has taken testosterone, Mack Beggs, won the Texas girls wrestling title. In a recent interview, Dr. Keith Ablow suggested that such delusional (he is using the term in a psychological, not pejorative, sense) reasoning opens the door for a young person who “identifies” as a 65-year-old to receive Medicare benefits (foxnews.com). Really, every new case of “identifying” reveals the absurdity behind the thinking. All the wishing, wanting, and hoping in the world cannot change ironclad facts. As we used to say discussing reality of any kind growing up, “It is what it is.”

If there is anything more harmful than delusion, it may be denial. For centuries, good, sincere people have claimed to be Christians who have not followed what the New Testament reveals is necessary to become one. They have followed some humanly-devised plan or idea (accept Jesus in your heart by faith, say a prayer, believe the Holy Spirit gives you an experience of grace, etc.). Leaders and teachers who have devised such ideas do not do so from a sustainable, biblical source.  Repeatedly, whether in the gospels (Mark 16:16), the book of history (Acts 2:38; 22:16), or the epistles (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21), we find a simple, but essential, act that stands between one not being and being a Christian. But the idea that one can fail to do this and still be a Christian is pervasively taught, believed, and practiced.

Akin to this is the belief that one can claim to be a Christian, then live any way they wish. Their speech, conduct, and attitude can exactly mirror and mimic the world’s. Their aspirations, pursuits, and values can be completely worldly. But, when death visits a loved one or comes to them or at some similar time when it would be advantageous to claim so, they aver that they are a Christian. While they may have followed God’s plan to become one, they think of themselves as saved and safe even while walking in darkness (cf. 1 John 1:6-9).

It takes more than a claim. Facts are stubborn things. The ultimate source of what is factual is God’s Word. It educates us about gender (Gen. 1:27) and race (Acts 17:26). It educates us about who a Christian is (Acts 2). It educates us about faithful Christian living (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). If we wish to be accurate in the way we “identify” ourselves, we must let Scripture inform our view!

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Celebrating Independence Day

Neal Pollard

Scores of people from virtually every nation on earth make the journey by land, sea, and air to come to the United States, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  The day in American history, marked by the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the Revolutionary War with Britain, is considered the birthday of America.  “Independence Day” symbolizes not merely a day, but a way of life and the blessings of living in a free nation.

Mark’s gospel begins with the life of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.  In the passage, Mark tells about the many people from Jerusalem and all the land of Judah who came to be baptized by him.  This immersion, though not the one to which all believers must submit today for salvation (cf. Mark 16:16), was an important precursor to Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Apollos (Acts 18:25) and certain men of Ephesus (Acts 19:1ff) were among those even in the Christian age who had previously undergone it.  The baptism bears a remarkable resemblance to the water baptism of the Great Commission.  It was a baptism involving repentance (Mark 1:4), as is baptism under Christ’s covenant (Acts 2:38).  It was a baptism resulting in the remission of sins (Mark 1:4), as is baptism into Christ today (Acts 2:38).  It was a baptism done in much water (Mark 1:5; cf. John 3:23).  So it is with baptism into Christ (Acts 8:38-39; Romans 6:3-4).  It was a baptism properly submitted to only by those understanding its importance in light of their sin problem (Mark 1:5).  So it is with baptism into Christ (Acts 22:16).

Both the baptism of John and the baptism of the Great Commission share this, too.  Both brought freedom and independence from sin, each in its proper dispensation.  Freedom to vote, own property, and pursue happiness are wonderful, but nothing compares to the Independence Day we celebrate when we are baptized into Christ.

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What Keeps People From Salvation?

Neal Pollard

  • Ignorance: They have not learned how to be saved
  • Fear: They know the potential cost of being saved
  • Pride: They do not want to admit they are not saved
  • Loyalty: They fear that they will be tacitly condemning those they care for if they are saved
  • Comfort: They do not want to do what it takes to be saved
  • Emotion: They feel they are saved
  • Guilt: They do not believe they can be saved
  • Prejudice: They cannot see the necessity of following what certain scriptures say they must do to be saved
  • Sin: They enjoy something(s) too much to surrender in order to be saved
  • Self: They want to follow their own terms to be saved
  • Blindness: They cannot see through their religious traditions and doctrines in order to be saved
  • Responsibilities: They are too busy with life to be saved

So many more excuses might be given by someone who refuses to do what God says to do in order to be saved, but whatever excuse is given overlooks the fact that God allowed no excuse to keep Him from sending His Son, that Christ allowed no excuse to keep Him from going to the cross, that the Holy Spirit allowed no excuse to keep Him from revealing to us through the Bible how to be saved, that the apostles and early Christians allowed no excuse to keep them from sharing and doing God’s will for salvation (even at the cost of their lives), and that so many throughout time have not allowed these same excuses to keep them from obeying the gospel to be saved. Salvation is so important, eternity is so long, the soul is so precious, sin is so destructive, the devil is so ravenous, and the world is so wrong that we must remove every barrier that might stand in our way. If we were to write down our reason for not being saved and keep it until the day of judgment, how valid and reasonable would it sound as we conveyed it to Christ? If we would not want to tell Him then, let’s not let it keep us from Him now.  “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).

South Fork Church of Christ baptistry mural looking in from the

Devon Allen’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

I will preface this by saying I cannot determine anything specific about the religion of Devon Allen, a remarkable college student-athlete at the University of Oregon. He is in the headlines now as a starting football player who qualified for the Olympics in track and field.  It was during his training and competition for the latter that he decided the time was right to be baptized. So he was, in the Willamette River in Eugene last Friday before the watchful gaze of family and teammates from his track and football teams. No less than ESPN reported on his religious quest alongside his impressive athletic achievements. The article ended with the proper sentiment, particularly if Allen was baptized in the right way for the right reason. It reads, “It was the right starting line for two different races” (Chantel Jennings, espn.com).

I am encouraged that Jennings found this newsworthy. I am encouraged that Allen thought baptism to be so important. I am encouraged that his friends and family showed up in impressive numbers to witness this act.

When even so many in Christendom go the extra mile in denying the importance and significance of baptism, Devon troubled himself to do it. We do not know, but he might have said what the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). As he studied with Oregon football team chaplain, could he have been taught the New Testament truth that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), baptism reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptism buries one with Christ (Colossians 2:12), and baptism saves one (1 Peter 3:21)? If he was taught baptism from the New Testament, these are the kinds of things he would have heard.

Regardless of Allen’s understanding about baptism’s function in God’s plan to save us, one who is taught in accordance with the several passages above and who has a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15) will want to be baptized without delay (cf. Acts 22:16). Like the jailor at Philippi, they will submit to baptism even if it is the middle of the night (Acts 16:33). Like the 3,000 on Pentecost, they will demonstrate gladly receiving the word by being baptized (Acts 2:41). Thus, they will be saved.

My prayer is that Devon Allen understand these Bible facts and responded the way he did because he humbly accepted their truth. More than that, my prayer is that those who need to make the decision to be baptized will not let anything hinder them from doing what Jesus died to make possible for us all. May we ignore all rationalization that leads us to resist the act which, from a believing, penitent heart, washes our sins away.

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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.

We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)

“Is It Possible To Be Born With The Wrong Skin?”

Neal Pollard

Freedom of speech may be a constitutional right, but do you ever wish people did not feel so free to exercise that right?  It’s hard not to bemoan the cultural lunacy that appears to be another step down the slippery slope from rational to irrational thought.  Bruce Jenner claims to identify as a woman despite the biology of his birth.  Now, Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who is born to two white parents, identifies herself as African-American.  Her story has ignited yet another “identity crisis” conversation, complete with its own Twitter Hashtag (#WrongSkin).  Some who have posted there are engaging in some intelligent tongue in cheek and sarcasm, but many more seem to be seriously conflicted about their racial identity.  Our ancestors would be in utter disbelief of the lack of critical thought they would hear in such discussions.

But let’s carry this line of “thought” further:

  • I was born to middle class parents, but I identify as the son and heir of Bill Gates.
  • I barely passed High School, but I identify as a Rhodes Scholar.
  • I am a lazy couch potato, but I identify as an elite triathlete.
  • I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, but I identity as a musical virtuoso.
  • I scorch water and ruin Ramen noodles, but I identify as a world-class chef.

You know, you can claim anything, but that does not make it so.  Sometimes, the best way to expose an absurdity is to escort them further down that slope.  Then, they can get a better look at themselves.

Claiming to be a woman when you are a man or to be one race when you are another is head-scratching, but did you know that there are people making a much more serious claim whose incorrect conclusion is infinitely more grave?  A great many people, asked if they are a Christian, say “yes.”  However, though they identify as a Christian, they have not followed the plan God put in place whereby one becomes a Christian.  Jesus says that claiming does not equate to being (cf. Mat. 7:21-23).  He also says there is but one way (John 14:6).  We can strongly identify ourselves as a Christian, but have we actually been “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16).  Peter said, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  Ananias said, “Get up and be baptized, and washing away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Paul wrote, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). He also said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Peter wrote, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Now, Scripture sets other conditions in place one must meet in order to receive God’s grace and salvation, but the overwhelming majority do not reject faith and repentance.  They do, however, dismiss the role of baptism as a divine condition for salvation. In light of the above Scriptures (and there are others, too), how can one refuse to obey this and yet still claim to belong to Christ (cf. Luke 6:46)?

“NO MATTER WHAT” OBEDIENCE

(video by Wes Autrey)

Neal Pollard

I cannot imagine anyone present yesterday morning to witness Janice Lee baptized into Christ could have failed to be touched at a very deep level.  J.J. and Lila Brennan had been studying the Bible with Janice, and she came to the conclusion that she needed to be baptized for the forgiveness of her sins.  So, she came to the front after my sermon and made that desire known.

She was in a wheelchair because she suffers left side paralysis as the result of a stroke.  She is also on oxygen.  Several ladies and a few of us men took special measures to help her into the baptistery.  She could walk, slowly, gingerly, and with much difficulty.  The ladies helped her up the stairs, while we stood in the water to receive her and help her the rest of the way.  Each step was tenuous and required the utmost effort on her part. Once she was finally in the baptistery, we carefully lowered her under the water and brought her back up.  Very quickly, her deeply felt emotions gently bubbled to the surface.  She softly cried, recalling difficult things from her past, and she said, “I forgive those who’ve sinned against me.”  The joy and peace on her face is something impossible to adequately describe.

What did this new sister in Christ demonstrate yesterday?  Resolve!  Afterward, I found out not only that she had to deal with the consequences of the stroke, but she is afraid of water.  Yet, she saw the need of her soul as preeminent over any obstacle she might have cited.  The constant need of oxygen, the paralysis, and the phobia were outweighed by the Lord’s command.  Her faith was so strong that they were not insurmountable barriers.  She refused to let them be!

The difference at the Judgment, in part, will be that some will offer excuses for why they did not obey the Lord while others, through genuine, trusting faith, will not need to make excuse.  They will stand before Christ, who will see His blood covering their transgressions.  What does it take to go to heaven? A “no matter what” obedience!

V__7BB1(Photo taken by Kathy Pollard)

Willing To Use Firefighters

Neal Pollard

Patrick Daly, fellow Faulkner alumni and friend, sent me a heartwarming news story from CBS in Huntsville, Alabama.  A terminally ill patient came to a knowledge of the truth and wanted to be baptized.  She contacted the Oliver church of Christ in Rogersville, and the local preacher, David O’Connell, contacted the local fire department seeking assistance to get her to the church building so she could be immersed.  They happily agreed and aided David in getting her to the building and into a member’s pool for baptism.  Doris Chandler, a 74-year-old with stage four pancreatic cancer, was met by 10 firemen and 15 members, who witnessed her burial with Christ.  She knew she faced death and she was willing to go to any lengths necessary to be prepared for eternity (Story Here).

So many meet death with less preparation or warning than our new sister had.  Death may come suddenly, the mind may precede the body, or the figurative heart may be too hardened before physical death comes.  Many others are delaying, putting off the decision they know the Bible says they must make.  They may have excuses or obstacles they deem insurmountable.  

However, the good heart is willing to obey no matter what extremes are necessary.  The eunuch stopped the chariot.  The jailor went at midnight. Saul was blind. The people on Pentecost and many of those after them were in a different religion.  They heard God’s plan of salvation and what did they do?  They “became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which” they were committed (Rom. 6:17).  

Jesus left heaven for earth. God gave His only begotten Son.  First-century believers at times paid with their lives.  What are you willing to do to be prepared?

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