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aging death Judgment Day mortality Uncategorized

Mbah Gotho, Methusaleh, And Mortality

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Neal Pollard

Incredibly, his residency card and his nation’s official documents, state his birthday as December 31, 1870 (The Guardian). For clarification, that was almost three weeks before Germany became an official nation, only five years after the end of the Civil War (reconstruction was just underway and Ulysses Grant was president), 28 years before the Spanish-American war, 33 years before the airplane was invented, 44 years before the start of World War I, and America was less than 100 years old. Mbah Gotho died in 2017, making him 146 years old at the time. The only reason it is questioned is because his native Indonesia did not begin recording births until 1900. Officials stand firm that it is accurate. Can you imagine? What was it like to live almost a century and a half? To see almost all of 15 decades? 

To put it in perspective, the ancient Methuselah lived almost seven times longer than Mbah. He died at almost 1,000 years old.  Genesis 5:27 faithfully records, “So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.” Methuselah was contemporary with Adam and Shem, a gap of over 1,600 years. In a day of pristine gene pools and a water canopy-covered atmosphere, everyone and every thing lived much longer. But God determined a general rule of thumb to which humanity has almost universally submitted, saying, “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). Thus, an Mbah Gotho is an almost singular oddity. The official oldest age in modern times was reached by Jeanne Calment, who was 122 when she succumbed in 1997. 

Average life expectancy throughout much of recorded time falls more closely in line with what Moses states, in Psalm 90:10, somewhere between 70-80 years of age. War, disease, famine, poverty, and the like sometimes curtail those numbers, but what is true of those who die at birth or who make it 122, 146, or even 969 years is that they do die. Hebrews 9:27 affirms the inevitability of it barring only the second coming of Christ in one’s lifetime (1 Cor. 15:52).

Most people make decisions as though they will live forever. People who know better put off obedience to the gospel, put other things before Christ in their priorities, serve sin, and neglect their reason for existence. While too many do this in ignorance, how tragic for the untold number who know how they ought to spend their lives but either deny or delay doing it. The moment of surrender will come. The body and spirit separate (Jas. 2:26). The body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God (Ecc. 12:7). At death, one’s eternal existence begins (Mat. 25:46). God gives one only the moments between birth and death to prepare for that existence, but He does not tell any of us how long that is. He simply tells us to be ready (Mat. 24:42,44). May we all get ready and stay ready for that day!

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death Lord's Supper Uncategorized

“She Had Difficulty Accepting Death”

Neal Pollard

Each death marks a transition and passing of an era. The recent death of Doris Day certainly represents this well. The 97-year-old had a stipulation in her will that she not have a funeral, memorial service, or grave marker. She did not want a lot of time spent memorializing her death. She didn’t like death, and, as her manager and friend, Bob Bashara, told reporters, “She had difficulty accepting death” (Tyler McCarthy, FoxNews.com).

Most of us won’t refuse a burial plot and funeral service, but few of us enjoy imagining the process or moment of death in our lives. There is something sobering and precious to us about at least our own lives and mortality. We think it is unhealthy and unusual for someone to have little or no regard for their lives.

Sometimes, we struggle to accept the death of someone else. For how many years have people been in denial about Elvis Presley’s death, thinking him to be living in hiding somewhere. Though she would be dead of natural causes today, many, for years, chose to believe that Amelia Earhart did not die but rather landed on some deserted island or similar conspiracy. Don’t even get me started on Jimmy Hoffa. No compelling evidence was enough to convince ardent fans that these notorious people were actually dead.

Did you know that some people have tried to say that Jesus did not actually die, but only “swooned” on the cross? It’s even called the “Swoon Theory.” The Koran says that he feigned death (Surah IV: 157) and others say Jesus was drugged and only appeared dead (Geisler 347). But, as Geisler notes, there were experienced Roman soldiers there, there was significant blood loss from many wounds that bled for hours, there was an outpouring of blood and water when Jesus’ side was pierced, the governor, Pilate, inquired into the fact of His death before He turned over the body to Joseph of Arimathea, and much more sufficiently prove that Jesus actually died on the cross (ibid 347-348).

Each Sunday, we readily embrace the fact that Jesus died. In fact, we base our entire lives upon the truth of that death. We understand that it was necessary for Jesus to die, in our place and for our sins (Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:18). Though it breaks our heart that it was necessary for Jesus to die, we do not have difficulty accepting it. We’re counting on it! As you memorialize the Lord in the Supper today, be grateful for that substitutionary death. He was able to do for us what we could not do for ourselves (2 Cor. 5:21). Of course, what makes the difference in our eternity is that He did not stay dead. He arose (1 Cor. 15)! But, He wants us to embrace His death and let us change who we are and what we do.

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Categories
death example influence Uncategorized

The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

Neal Pollard

May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:

Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?

Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.

For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.

I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.

When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.

Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”

  • He loved his family. He wasn’t gregarious, but rather reserved. Yet, he taught his family the right way to live and how to face death, to know what ultimately counts, what was right and what was wrong.
  • He had a sense of adventure. From semipro baseball as a teen to seeing the entire country in retirement, a lifelong cotton farmer had a wider view of the world. He came of age in the depression and endured some terrible grief, but no one could remember hearing him complain. 
  • He worked hard. He wasn’t a waster of resources, least of all time. He was up with the sun and down with the sunset. He instilled that work ethic in his children and grandchildren. 
  • He put Christ above all else. As a Christian, he took what the Bible guided him to do and be in life at face value. His life went beyond mere rule-keeping. He kept the rules, but he loved the rule-maker. You could see Jesus living in him.
  • He was ready to die. That’s the most important thing any of us could have said of us.

I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.

Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?

grandpa mitchell and uncle larry
Papaw (L) and Uncle Larry (my mom’s older brother), probably between 30-40 years ago.
Categories
attitude death eldership Uncategorized

A Tribute To Harry Denewiler On The Morning Of His Passing

Neal Pollard

I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes

He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes

I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes

A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes

I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes

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Photo credit: Michael Hite
Categories
death poetry repentance Uncategorized

Deathbed Repentance?

Neal Pollard

“From the stirrups to the ground,
Mercy I asked for, mercy I found”
That is a distorted view of grace,
Which seeks God only in death’s face.

It cheapens that which cost Him much,
To use Him only as a deathbed crutch.
Unlike the seeker at his eleventh hour,
Who sincerely reaches for His saving power,

The hardened sinner who in last resort
Hedges his bets for some eternal life support.
So many never reach a deathbed sound in mind,
Or care for His will ’til their death warrant’s signed.

While God is long-suffering, wanting all to be saved,
The majority spend their lives to sin’s power enslaved
They only think heaven when earth’s living is through,
But an afterthought gesture will just not do.

Scripture says “come now,” not “wait til tomorrow,”
So many delayed to their own regret and sorrow.
Instead of relegating God to a last-ditch recourse,
Submit to Him now, you He’ll publicly endorse.

Deathbed repentance is not found in His Word,
No matter what men from their wisdom you’ve heard.
Obey from the heart what His doctrine requires,
Let His word be your truth, let all others be liars.

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Categories
death poetry Uncategorized

If Today Was My Last Day On Earth (Poem)

Neal Pollard

[NEAL’S NOTE: This poem was from the conclusion to the sermon I preached on this subject from Psalm 90]

If today was my last day and tomorrow found me gone
How would life be different, if that unknown somehow was known

Would I be a better person, would I live a better life
How much would I feed resentment, envy, bitterness and strife?

How would I choose to live, and what would be my emphasis
Being a blessing or a burden, full of service or selfishness?

Where would God be in my life, what place would He occupy,
If today was my last day, and before tomorrow I would die.

If today was my last day, and second chances all were through
And I stood before my judge and my eternal fate I knew

I would mourn and fall before Him, if I had not done what’s right
If I had chosen self and sin, if I had chosen eternal night.

But there’s no reason for apprehension, I can die w/head held high
If I die to self & live to Him, it won’t matter when I die.

Categories
death Judgment Judgment Day Uncategorized

The Appointment We Cannot Escape

Neal Pollard

William T. Turner was captain of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a german U-boat in May, 1915. He was one of the few officers saved (Montreal Gazette, 6/24/33, obituary). The Atlantic writes in an article that Turner was “relieving captain” of the SS Ivernia when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on New Year’s Day, 1917, and he once again survived (James Gould, 5/7/15). Turner was a man renowned for heroics and not a coward, which makes a captain surviving the sinking of two ships all the more incredible. But in 1933, after three, bed-ridden months, Turner succumbed to intestinal cancer (Gazette).

A few years ago, I wrote about Roy Sullivan, the park ranger who had survived seven lightning strikes (Preacher Pollard Blog). What an incredible tale of survival, but Sullivan insured his own mortality when he committed suicide in 1983 (ibid.). The man was incredible, but not invincible.

Jeanne Louise Calment is thought to be the world’s longest living person in modern times. She was born in 1875 in France, met Vincent Van Gogh as a young teenager, but eventually died in a nursing home in 1997, 122 years old! She took up fencing at 85, rode a bicycle until she was 100, ate two pounds of chocolate each week and quit smoking at 119 (http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~wang/calment.html). Back in the antediluvian period, in a purer world closer to creation, several lived over 900 years. But in each case, scripture punctuates their earthly existence by saying, “…and he died” (Gen. 5:5).

I have been involved in so many funerals as a preacher, from the first I assisted with Gary Hampton in Gainesville, Alabama, in 1992, until as recently as a couple of weeks ago. What strikes me as much as anything, whether in preparation for it visiting with the family or during slide shows during the service, is watching the progression of life unfolded in photos. Usually they are arranged chronologically, so that the fresh faces of the baby becomes the look of vitality found in children and young adults gives way to the robust strength of early to middle adulthood. Signs of aging subtly appear as the photos fade in and out, the added pounds or gray hairs or the advent of wrinkles. Pictures eventually show frailty and signs of physical deterioration. Then, one in attendance simply needs to gaze at the casket, if present, to see that this once fresh, new physical life does not go on forever.

The writer of Hebrews speaks in hopeful, positive terms to Christians as he proclaims the superiority and potency of Jesus, our great High Priest. At the cross, He offered His own life to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26). Having a human body, Jesus was destined for death “inasmuch as it appointed for men to die once…” (9:27). Death is unavoidable, but it does not have to be unhinging. Death is followed by judgment, but that day can be the day of salvation realized and eager anticipation (9:28). What happens on the other side of death depends on what we do with Jesus on this side of it.  Whatever we decide, we will make the appointment Turner, Sullivan, Calment, Adam, and billions of others have already made. We must decide if we will meet it prepared.

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Jeanne later in life
Categories
death hope Judgment Judgment Day perseverance Uncategorized

Confident And Unafraid

Neal Pollard

Some are afraid of death because they’re uncertain of where they are going, but others are afraid of death because they are certain of where they are going! Paul was confident even in the face of death (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He could see his end coming but he embraced it. While it is possible to have a false hope and confidence about eternity (cf. Mat. 7:21-23), the faithful New Testament Christian should be confident and unafraid of death. By looking at the last words we have from Paul, we can learn from him how to face death. How could he be so confident even in the face of death?

He was going to face Jesus as judge (1). Our relationship with Christ makes the difference. If I don’t know Jesus and haven’t made Him Lord, I don’t want to face Him in the judgment. But if I’m in Christ, there are several reasons why I long to face Him there.

  • He understands us (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15). Even before Christ came to earth, God was “mindful that we are but dust” (Psa. 103:14). When I stand before Christ, He will know what it was like to be me. He will have experienced temptation and be sympathetic and merciful.
  • He will be fair (2 Tim. 4:8—He’s the righteous judge). This means in accordance with what God requires. That means He won’t be more lenient than He’s promised, so I can’t expect to disobey His will in this life and hear Him say, “Claim your eternal inheritance in My Father’s house.” If I never obey the gospel, when I face Christ at the judgment He’ll be fair. If I obey the gospel but become unfaithful, when I face Him at the judgment He’ll be fair. But if I’ve tried to walk in His light, though I sometimes fell short, He’s going to be fair (1 Jn. 1:7-9). He knows I’ll be struggling with sin up until the day I die, but if He sees me struggling, He’s going to be fair. More than that, He’ll be merciful and faithful to atone for my sins!
  • He’s told us by what we’ll be judged (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s why we must faithfully present it in spirit and in truth “with great patience and instruction.” Jesus said His word will judge us in the last day (John 12:48).

I can face death confidently because it won’t be just any man judging me. Like you, I’ve had some people judge my actions and motives pretty harshly and unfairly. They may have thought they knew my heart or every fact, and they were ready and seemingly eager to pronounce me guilty. That’s not going to happen with Jesus! He’ll be consummately fair!

He spent his life doing good (5). This verse is the measuring stick of every gospel preacher, who asks, “Was my mind, endurance, work, and ministry as God wanted it to be?” No preacher wants to go through life and have these answers to be no. But in a broader sense, that’s a question every Christian needs to ask. Paul could look at his life with spiritual confidence (7). Three times, Paul, in essence, says, “I have” lived a faithful Christian life. You’ll remember that the first part of Paul’s life was spent not doing good, but from his conversion to his death he did good. Think about his missionary journeys in Acts. Think about all he went through for Christ that we read about in 2 Corinthians 11. What about the trials he mentions in Philippians 1? You may have a past you are ashamed of. Even as a Christian, you may have some regrets and things you wish you could change. But, if you’ve tried to walk in the light of Christ, you can face death and the judgment with blessed assurance.

He knew that he had a crown waiting (8). When we stop to think about death, it contains many variables that tend to make us anxious if not fearful. But Paul could look to death with the idea of its reward. The crown Paul speaks of is described in many ways in the New Testament:

  • It’s perfect (2 Tim. 4:8).
  • It’s permanent (1 Cor. 9:25).
  • It’s payment (Jas. 1:12).
  • It’s preeminent (1 Pet. 5:4).
  • It’s personal (Rev. 3:11).

But there’s not just one crown or a few crowns available. There’s one for “all who have loved his appearing.” If you sincerely desire it, you can receive it.

He knew that God would be with him (16-18). At the time he wrote, Paul knew betrayal and abandonment. Good friends had left him (10). At times, he had no one to stand with him. But he knew that One was always there (17). He was even confident of the future. Being delivered didn’t mean escaping physical death, but it meant rescue in the eternal sense.

You and I can live with the same blessed assurance of Paul. We’ll never go through anything alone (cf. Mat. 28:20). We may be pilgrims and strangers on earth (1 Pet. 2:11), but we aren’t one this journey by ourselves. The Lord will preserve and deliver us, as He did Paul.

I want to remain on this earth to enjoy family, friends, and brethren. I want to be as useful as I can be for as long as I can. But, like Paul, I can look forward to dying (cf. Phil. 1:21-24). We can be confident, even in the face of death!

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Categories
Christ death redemption salvation Satan sin

WHO KILLED CUSTER?

Neal Pollard

There’s quite the controversy over who killed General George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana on June 25, 1876. There is even a book by the title, “Who Killed Custer?,” authored by Bruce Brown. There are so many mysterious and hard-to-document events that made up this notorious battle that symbolizes the “Indian Wars” of the late 1800s.  Brown, analyzing eye witness accounts, gives an interesting top three suspect list:  (1) an Oglala Sioux warrior named White Cow bull, shooting him near the beginning of the battle, (2) Custer himself, committing suicide as he dashed away from the battlefield near the battle’s end on his horse Victory, and (3) Brave Bear, a Southern Cheyenne warrior, given the honorary title of “Custer’s Killer” at an Indian council in 1909 (www.astonisher.com/archives).  About ten years ago, the Helena Independent Record revealed the long-circulated, but secret oral history of the Northern Cheyenne Indian storytellers, crediting a woman, Buffalo Calf Trail Woman, for striking the fatal blow (helenair.com).

It is fitting that a man surrounded by so much controversy and whose reputation and achievements are incredibly enigmatic would have such a mysterious cloud hanging over his death. His killer is upheld by many as a tangible standard-bearer of justice and righteous revenge. For others, it is simply a matter of historical fascination.  There are even those who lamented his death, as the brash and rash Custer was widely viewed as a “war hero” by his U.S. contemporaries in the years immediately following his death. Yet, one thing we know for sure.  Custer was killed.  Two fatal bullet wounds loudly testify.

There is another mystery, one with far weightier and eternal implications.  Who killed Jesus?  He is the most enigmatic figure in human history.  He was viewed contemptuously as a blasphemer and traitor by the religious leaders of His day. He was viewed with depraved indifference by the masses who switched from adoration to execration in a matter of days.  He is viewed even more diversely today, 2000 years after He died on the cross.  The power and proof of the resurrection is a matter to write about another day (see, for example, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/644-resurrection-literal-or-merely-symbolic).

But, there is another vital question surrounding the death of Jesus.  Who was really responsible?

  • Was it the devil? Yes!
  • Was it the Jewish leaders? Yes!
  • Was it the onlookers that day? Yes!
  • Was it Pilate? Yes!
  • Was it the Roman soldiers? Yes!
  • Was it God? Yes!
  • Was it you and me? Yes!

How could all of these be mutually responsible for the death of Christ? There is no controversy.  The devil desired Jesus’ death, through which he longed to defeat the Lord’s purpose (cf. Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:4ff). In this, he failed (Heb. 2:14). The people that day were instruments in the hands of God, who accomplished His eternal plan of salvation through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:23; 3:18; etc.). We are responsible because we sin (Rom. 4:25) and He had to be made sin for us (2 Co. 5:21). The good news is that the death of Jesus was not the defeat of God’s plan. It accomplished the plan.  However, for the plan to be effective, we must properly respond to it.  The fact of His death does nothing for us, if we do not respond to it the way Scripture tells us to.  Thus, there is a much more important question than, “Who killed Jesus?” It is, “Who will follow Jesus?”

Categories
Christ death hope sorrow

Christ-less In Crisis

Neal Pollard

It is hard to describe the beauty of faith evidenced in Room 913 yesterday as all the elders and their wives, Wes and Teri Autrey, and Tiffanie and Bethany Vaught stood with Myrna and the rest of the Murphy family at University Hospital yesterday.  We sang songs and Dave Chamberlin prayed a touching, loving prayer.  Moments later, a godly, wonderful woman made her transition from this life to the better one. Despite the inevitable, natural flow of tears, the heartache of separation, and the final earthly stanza of a beautiful, 59-year-old love song played by Ray and Myrna.  Myrna was an obvious success as a mother, wife, grandmother, and friend, but central to everything she did and who she was was Christ.  She did not fear death nor the condition that brought it.  She was ready because of Christ.

When I think of the red-letter days that have occurred in our nation and world during my lifetime, whether the bombing of the Murrah Building, the horrors of 9/11, the unbelievable natural disaster of the December 26, 2004, tsumami (“Boxer Day Tsumami”), the disappearance of the Malaysia Airliner, and the like, I am made to think how many stood in the wake of such tragedy without the hope and promise made possible through Christ.  Yet, every ordinary day where death looms through the natural course of life, people come to those final moments either ignorant or bereft of the bright prospect of what happens beyond death.  Certainly, some think they have hope, but it is not hope rested in what they can find in Scripture but rather what they think, feel, or have been told is real and true.  In some ways, those situations are the most tragic of all. Others are convinced that we are the result of chance and will cease to be when we draw our last breath, yet they continue to try and live with purpose and even act in the interest of others without bothering to ask why they behave civilized with such an animalistic point of view.

But for the one whose hope is built on the truth of what God’s Word says, there is no tidal wave of heart or explosion of life powerful enough to wrench us free from that hope. Paul exalts that we are saved by unseen hope (Rom. 8:24-25). In the rest of the chapter, he proclaims the unfailing love and promise of God for the redeemed who place their trust in Him.  Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to face death, sorrowing like a world without hope (1 Thess. 4:13).  Without Christ’s resurrection, there is no hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:19-20).  However, because He lives, we can face tomorrow, all fear is gone, we know who holds the future, and life is worth living (Bill Gaither lyrics from “Because He Lives”).

The Murphys will have sorrow and grief to bear.  This is a testimony to their humanity.  But they look at tomorrow with an even brighter anticipation.  This is a testimony to the Christ who lives in them.  It is available for us all!

A dear sister in Christ, Myrna Murphy