My Heroes Have Always Been Preachers

Neal Pollard

I got to walk through the Aigne-Marne World War I American Cemetery east of Paris, France, in the Spring of 2006. It was dedicated in 1923 by an army general who said, “Now and then, a veteran will come here to live again the brave days of that distant June. Our countrymen will come here in hours of depression and even of failure, and take new courage from this shrine of great deeds.” 100 years later, memories have faded and fewer go there for inspiration. But soldiers, as well as policemen, firefighters, and doctors, are role models of bravery, sacrifice, and commitment that make great heroes.

My heroes have always been preachers, and I appreciate the depth of understanding I’ve gained from them. I’ve been motivated to live closer to Christ because of their preaching. Earthly memorials fade with time, but the value of good Bible teaching only grows with the passing of time. We must always measure what every preacher says by the Word of God and never blindly accept something just because someone we admire is the speaker (cf. Acts 17:11). But with that in mind, you can learn so much from older gospel preachers.

LISTEN TO THEIR SERMONS. Many old audio sermons are available online. Try wsoj.net, thepreachersvault.podbean.com, schwegler.us, housetohouse.com, pioneerpreachers.com, and therestorationmovement.com. There, you’ll find sermons of preachers who were much older when I was a boy and teenager, like V.P. Black, Franklin Camp, Roy Lanier, Sr., Bobby Duncan, and Wendell Winkler. There are also sermons from men who died before many of us were born, like N.B. Hardeman, B.C. Goodpasture, G.C. Brewer, and Marshall Keeble. These men were from a time when the church was experiencing incredible growth and when gospel preaching emphasized Bible doctrines and fundamentals. It’s a glimpse into church history from the voices of men who helped make it. Some of them baptized thousands and established many congregations.

READ THEIR BOOKS. I do not refer just the preachers from another time period, but those today, too. Those who have put much study into a topic of Bible book can bless you life and relationship with God. Read church history biographies, topical studies, sermon books, debate books, and the like.

HEAR THEM LIVE. I just ordered a set of DVDs from the 1988 Faulkner University lectureship. Though I was there live as an 18-year-old freshman, I am looking forward to reliving those wonderful days. I heard Franklin Camp, Hugo McCord, Leroy Brownlow, George DeHoff, Winfred Clark, Rex Turner, Sr., and others. My parents carried us to gospel meetings where I got to hear great preachers who have long since died. We still have that opportunity today through gospel meetings, workshops, seminars, and lectureships. We need to value this treasure in “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).

SPEND TIME WITH THEM. I have directed Future Preachers Training Camp since 2007. One of my goals for these teen boys is to allow them to see preachers out of the pulpit. Their teachers and counselors are mostly preachers. The campers find out we like sports, video games, listen to some of the same music, and go through many of the same kinds of things. We are ordinary men who sincerely care about them. Many preachers are interested in what’s going on in your life.

I feel I could have done many other things in life, but if I had it to do over again, I’d still be a preacher. That’s thanks in large part to the preachers I’ve known in my life. Take time to get to know preachers. It will encourage them, but it may just encourage you, too!

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Perry Cotham in a 1989 debate in his “younger years” (77 years old). He was 101 when he died in 2013.

“GM”

Neal Pollard

I make a notation “GM” along with the date and place on the paper copy of my sermons to indicate that I preached that sermon in a gospel meeting. It is one of my homemade preacher shorthand notations. Growing up a “PK” (“preacher’s kid,” of course), I’ve got a lot of GM memories. I would not trade anything for them, especially the indelible imprint they made on me in shaping the adult I have become. Let me encourage you to bring your children and yourselves to our gospel meetings for what they will mean to your faith and for the part of you they will forever become. To me, the GM of gospel meeting stands for a few other things, too.

Great Memories. When James Watkins held a meeting for us in 1984 in Franklin, Ga., I led singing that Sunday night. I was 14, and this participation was a big deal to me. I led, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” and in verse three mistakenly bellowed out, “All ye fruitless trees and cedars.” Once when the air conditioner was out, we opened the side doors on either side of the pulpit for relief in that muggy July, west Georgia heat. This was an open invitation for the horse fly that landed on the calf of my leg during the chorus of “the song before our opening prayer,” which bit mercilessly until I could swat it during said prayer (which was by no means a quiet slap).

I remember attending a meeting in Carrollton, Georgia, and being jolted by Bobby Duncan’s dramatic cries of “the boy is home!” in his powerful telling of the story of the prodigal son. I remember, though, I was no more than 5 or 6, the smell of hay and watching members set up a portable baptistery for a tent meeting my dad preached in Aragon, Ga. I remember the family car rides when we rode to others’ meetings. I remember the baptisms, restorations, preaching, and fellowship so much a part of these special times.

Giant Men. Through this venue I first became acquainted with men who became my heroes: Frank Chesser, Perry Cotham, Howard Swann, James Watkins, Bobby Duncan, Truman Cobb, Franklin Camp, Winfred Clark, Wendell Winkler, Glen Posey, Ken Thomas, V.P. Black and others. I remember playing basketball with Ken Thomas, who had to play in his socks and still took us all to school (he also demolished me in a game of “punt, pass, and kick”). I recall having me heart stirred and being convicted of sin by the penetrating preaching of Frank Chesser.

I vividly recall being amazed by Perry Cotham, who seemed to me even three decades ago to be a very old preacher (I saw him preach in California when he was in his late 90s). I will never forget being touched by Franklin Camp’s tender heart as he told the story of Christ’s crucifixion. I was wowed by J.J. Turner’s ability to turn a phrase. There was the time when I walked by James Watkins’ hotel room and saw him diligently studying his Bible in the middle of the afternoon. These men were spiritual giants to me.

Gospel Message. Even as a child, I learned so much from the sermons I heard. I saw things in a new way because every preacher has his own unique style, history of study, and method of delivery. I was challenged by the Bible-centered approach these men faithfully took. I got my first glimpse at sermon organization, taking crude notes and main points from sermonic masterpieces. Meeting after meeting, year after year turned my heart and mind more and more to the Bible. Even then, I saw, at least to a juvenile degree, the effectiveness of this method of evangelism and edification.

Give your children, your mate, your non-Christian friends and neighbors, and yourself the pleasure of experiencing these unparalleled joys. The Godhead and the heavenly host pay particular interest to each service of every gospel meeting. Let us join them there and grow from hearing anew the wonderful story of love. It will stay with you for a lifetime.

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Petrified!

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the incredible collections of petrified wood in some of our National Parks or Monuments, or maybe you have seen individual examples in any number of other places. A geology site briefly explains how material becomes petrified:

Petrified wood is a fossil. It forms when plant material is buried by sediment and protected from decay by oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite or another inorganic material such as opal. The result is a fossil of the original woody material that often exhibits preserved details of the bark, wood and cellular structures (geology.com/stories/13/petrified-wood).

There are a few interesting aspects to this process—the burial, the protection, the replacement, and the resulting appearance.

Twice in the gospel of Mark, the writer uses a term to describe the condition of His disciples’ hearts. In Mark six, they have seen him feed the 5,000 men and immediately thereafter they are in the boat in a strong wind when Jesus came walking on the water. They were troubled and fearful, amazed and marveling “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (52). Ironically, the second incident happened in a boat following Jesus feeding thousands of people again. They misunderstand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the religious leaders, and Jesus laments, “Is your heart still hardened?” (8:17).

BDAG defines this word, πωρόω, in this way: “To cause someone to have difficulty in understanding or comprehending, harden, petrify, make dull, obtuse, blind, close the mind” (900).  The truth was buried from their understanding, their preexisting, preset points of view blocking its penetration, and the result was their missing the important point. The truth couldn’t get through to their petrified hearts.

Why do we fail to understand basic, vital Bible truths, like the essential nature of baptism, the abrogation of the Law Of Moses (including the Ten Commandments), the emotionally difficult teaching of Jesus about marriage, divorce, and remarriage in Matthew 19, God’s law regarding sexual purity, and the like? Why do we struggle with worry, fear, and doubt? Why do we lack the courage to boldly share Jesus with the lost? Often, the answer to each of these and similar questions is the same as why the disciples feared and faltered.

We should pray for our hearts to stay soft, receptive, and moldable to Jesus. We cannot let our ignorance, resistance, or outside influences to harden our hearts. In fact, that very prospect should make us, well, petrified!

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Selling What You Don’t Own

Neal Pollard

One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star.  For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one.  The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate.  I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.

When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars.  Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer.  They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing.  Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace.  Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin.  The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give.  Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

The same things occurs with worship.  People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God.  They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).  Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.

When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that.  Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18).  He makes the rules and determines right and wrong.  Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).