“Men Are A Dying Breed”

Neal Pollard

He said it in his prayer, this young man in his thirties who did not say it as a lamentation but as a petition that Christian men would be the spiritual leaders of their families that God wants us to be. No doubt, in the background of his prayer, he thought about the agenda of feminization that has targeted the males of society for several decades. But, predominant in his thoughts was the idea that men have too often abdicated their God-given role and responsibility. Whether or not they are good wage-earners, do”manly” things, and look and dress like the classic, rugged male, have they aimed to be the protector, leader, and example in the home, church, and society that God expects?  Truly, it was a challenging, exacting phrase.

In discussing the sins of Israel, God said to Ezekiel, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one” (22:30). God did a roll call of the prophets, priests, princes, and people of the land, and one by one He cites their dereliction and disobedience. It was not in their clothing style, hobbies, facial hair or hairstyle, or similar, superficial measurement. It was a matter of how they responded to God and fulfilled the responsibilities He had given them.

The world has a concept of what it thinks to be manly.  The Philistines said, “Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight” (1 Sam. 4:9).  For them, it was a fleshly matter devoid of God.  By contrast, Paul tells the church, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). True manliness is connected to faith, spiritual strength, and readiness. God needs a tribe of such men to stand up and be counted in this wicked generation.  He needs us to instill this spiritual leadership in our sons and other young men and new Christians who need spiritual leadership. May we accept that challenge and prevent men, as God defines it, from becoming a dying breed.

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WHERE ARE THE ELDERS?

Neal Pollard

  • At the hospital, attending a surgery
  • At home, hosting a family or families and getting closer to the sheep
  • Hosting and attending church activities
  • In private meetings with hurting, needy members
  • In meetings together, praying over and discussing the needs of the sheep
  • Spending time with their wives and children, nurturing that needed part of their lives
  • On their knees and in their Bibles, strengthening their walk with the Good Shepherd
  • Teaching our Bible classes, leading our worship, and even preaching as needed
  • On the job, exemplifying Christ before the world in a superlative way
  • Weeping with the weepers at funerals
  • Found among our graduates, parents of newborns, celebrating newlyweds, and other happy moments experienced within the flock
  • In Bible studies with non-Christians or Christians wrestling with some Bible matter
  • Looking for visitors and new faces in our assemblies
  • Working, sleeves rolled up, on workdays and other occasions where they can serve
  • Enjoying fellowship, their very actions reminding us they’re normal and one of us
  • Watching and listening carefully, especially at the teaching and preaching that is done, ensuring the spiritual food their sheep ingest is healthy and nourishing
  • Holding up the hand of faithful gospel preaching, having their hands help up by their preachers
  • Touching base with the deacons, encouraging and aiding their success in ministry
  • Attentive to little children, the elderly, the alone, and others that many might unintentionally overlook
  • Ensuring the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, rooting out divisiveness
  • On the phone and in the homes with erring sheep, striving to retrieve them and, sadly, if necessary, leading the flock to withdraw fellowship from the irretrievable
  • Setting the spiritual tone, emphasis, and direction of the flock

Our elders, like faithful elders everywhere, do a lot that is unseen by the majority.  It is hard to quantify the time and effort each of these godly men put into their work, but God sees it. What is more, God rewards it. My prayer is that righteous elders everywhere will take heart at what an inspired elder once wrote: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

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Bear Valley elders among our 2016 High School graduates

WHY WE KEEP FAITHFULLY SERVING AND LEADING

Neal Pollard

It took the Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland, 17 years and 23 days to complete the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 2900 feet away from the eroding Atlantic Ocean beach on the North Carolina Outer Banks location where it had been standing. They started in 1982 and finished in 1999. Little things may get done quickly, but big things take time.  Someone once said, “Most people tend to overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” Paul was in a position to look back over his life and see, if his humility allowed it, a lifetime just since his conversion to Christ that was marked by much fruitful labor.  Luke chronicles some of that work from Acts 11-28. Paul reflects back on some of it in 2 Corinthians 11. But in what is firmly believed to be his last inspired writing, 2 Timothy, he has a brightly lit torch in his condemned hand. He is ready to hand it off to the young preacher, Timothy.

I imagine most of you are blessed to lay claim to someone, either still living or now dead, who was a Paul to you. Having a mentor or mentors to help us grow and develop, spiritually, is priceless. When Paul tells Timothy what he does in 2 Timothy 4:1-8, a passage we typically use to encourage preachers, he is urging a precise attitude and precise teaching. The reasons why he wanted that for Timothy are reasons that should motivate us to live faithfully and to encourage our own Timothys to persevere until the current pressures. Here are three reasons why Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful:

  • BECAUSE PROBLEMS ARE COMING (3-4). It was a fourfold problem (you’ll notice it by reading these two verses). Paul told Timothy to handle it with great patience and teaching. You cannot always anticipate what the problem is going to be, but as long as you come in contact with people there will be problems. You cannot hope to be an influence on them if you do not cultivate the attitude of patience. When problems arise, be patient and stick to the doctrine of Christ.
  • BECAUSE YOU ARE DIFFERENT (5). No matter how you are treated (or mistreated), you cannot stoop to the level of unethical, immoral, or unscrupulous people. These false teachers Paul references were willing to discard truth, and many wanted that kind of teacher. We will encounter people who don’t play by the Lord’s rules, but we must be different. We must be sober in all things, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry. We are to have a better character, and we have a better message. We aim higher because we are the people of God.
  • BECAUSE JUDGMENT IS COMING (6-8). Paul looks ahead to the very end of all things. Because he was faithful, he anticipated the crown of righteousness. Why do you want to serve the Lord? Is it for prominence, popularity, or influence? To successfully endure, do what you do in view of the Judgment. God won’t forget your faithfulness (see Heb. 6:10)!

Your faith will be tested. You may be resisted, rejected, ignored, disbelieved, and debated. The question is, “How are you going to handle it?” Will it make you better or better. It will try your patience, but will you be found guilty or not guilty? If you will be patient and faithful to God’s Word, you will be an example to more than you’ll ever know. Keep your eyes open for your own Timothys to train and members to mentor. The more we have who listen to and follow the advice of this passage, the greater the influence of Christ will be in this dark, sinful world.

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What God Does Not Expect Of Elders

Neal Pollard

Sermons preached on the qualifications of elders often, rightly, emphasize the importance of selecting men who qualify to serve. In the Lord’s church,  covetous, inhospitable, intemperate, cold, imprudent, biblically ignorant, pugnacious, and newly-converted men (among others) have been appointed to that important work who should not have been. That hurts the local church! Many times it has been said that “bad elders” are worse than “no elders.”

Harboring unfair expectations of men who would serve as elders is another hurtful trend that occasionally surfaces. A hypercritical spirit is a quality of human nature, though a quality the spiritually-minded ought to fight to personally eliminate. Let us briefly consider what God does not expect of elders.

  • More Than The Qualifications Specify. Gut feelings, intuitions, and hunches might work well when hunting, fishing, or making March Madness picks, but there is no call for them in selecting men to serve as elders. God does not need our help, tacking on additional requirements for an elder than He felt the need to supply for us. Adding to the Word of God carries a stiff penalty (cf. Rev. 22:18); therefore, our scrutiny of a man’s fitness to serve needs to stop where the Bible’s does.
  • Sinless Perfection. He expects maturity (1 Tim. 3:6), ability (Ti. 1:9), and stability (1 Ti. 3:4-5), but not impeccability (the Latin origin of this word means “not to sin”)! If so, no man could ever conceivably qualify to serve. Gnat-straining can keep a qualified man from serving as surely as camel-swallowing can allow an unqualified man to sit as watchman. With a 1000-tooth-comb, some would inspect the minutia of his life and his family’s. Those searching for flaws, who look hard enough, will always find things. Yet, such findings do not necessarily prove anything except his humanity and fallibility (cf. Rom. 3:10,23).
  • To Neglect Their Own Families. It is unfair to expect a man, as elder, to always place the needs of the congregation over those of his own family. Too many wives and children have been deprived of husbands and fathers due to disproportionate expectations of time, resources, and attention placed upon elders by members. Elders need the full cooperation and understanding of their families, while elders are obligated by God to supply the needs of their families (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5,7). Elders (and their families) are entitled to vacations and nights at home together. Elders will answer for not only their service as elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pe. 5:4) but also their influence and leadership in the home (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 1 Co. 11:3; Eph. 6:1-4).
  • To Be The “Complaint-Receiving Committee.” It is impossible but that complaints will come, but woe unto him (or her) through whom they constantly come. Murmuring and complaining got Israel into trouble (cf. 1 Co. 10:10), and members who find it impossible to speak to elders without doing such may find themselves in the same predicament. How many times has an elder heard you say something positive about another member, a successful program, or their efforts on your behalf? How many of your complaints have they fielded? Elders will answer for our souls. Let us find ways and opportunities to encourage, praise, and support them. Complain whenever you must, but compliment whenever you can.

Did you realize members have qualifications to meet with regard to the elders?

  • Love and appreciate them (1 Th. 5:12-13)
  • Honor them (1 Ti. 5:17)
  • Do not recklessly accuse them (1 Ti. 5:19)
  • Obey and submit to them (He. 13:17)

As we examine who would serve as elders, let us not forget to examine ourselves (2 Co. 13:5). How spiritually fit are we? Jesus’ words about beams and specks apply to our relationship with elders, too (cf. Mt. 7:3-5). Let us have high expectations of elders, but let us have only those expectations God has!

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The Shepherd Of The Sheep

Neal Pollard

“That grass is greener,” so he thought,
The sheep who wandered from the fold
Watching carefully the shepherd caught
The wanderer, so soon in the overseer’s hold.

The roaring waters so dangerously near
Forms a hazard for the trembling herd
But the herdsmen is wise, his vision is clear
With his guidance their safety is assured.

Surveying the cliffs or helping them rest
His vigilance is timely and needful,
For the sheep he labors to give them the best
For their well-being the shepherd is heedful.

The Lord chose imagery, graphic and vivid
To illustrate how His church should function
Lackadaisical leadership leaves Him livid
He urges them have compassionate compunction.

Watchful shepherds who tend with care
Are assets in the heavenly realm
Who carry, calm, who steer and spare
Who are willing to assume the helm

Stewards for the Great Shepherd of the soul,
They lead as they point out the way
And help us keep our sight on the heavenly goal
And prepare us for the Great Judgment Day!

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Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

ROUGHING UP THE REFEREE

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the video of two John Jay High School football players targeting an official late in their loss last Friday to their Marble Falls, Texas, opponent.  Marble Falls was running out the clock to preserve their win.  Details have not been divulged to explain why the players were angry or why they took apparent revenge by blindsiding the unwitting official. It does not take too much discernment to conclude they must not have liked something this referee said or did prior to their inappropriate response.  Whether or not the official provoked these young men to anger, all would have to agree that whatever moral authority they might have had disappeared after their vicious tackle of the defenseless man (Read and watch here).

Umpires and referees exist to keep order, to enforce and interpret the rules, and make judgments about whether the game is being played as it should be. They are not a popular lot, as attested by the heckling they can receive and the jokes made about them. We may even wonder what draws a person to take on such a job.  They make an easy target for those who often know less than and have a worse view than the one on the field or the court who must execute their judgment in real time.

While as a preacher and the son of a preacher I have seen and experienced ministers blindsided by angry hearers who confused the message with the messenger, I see a much more maligned, misunderstood, and marked group whose judgment and decision-making has occasionally been unfairly attacked.  No wonder Peter promises faithful elders that they will receive a superlative reward (1 Pet. 5:4). There is certainly such a thing as bad leadership and decision-making, and elders are fallible human beings. Yet, I have never yet seen an eldership practice church discipline without at least a few members taking a cheap, undeserved shot at them for trying to follow and get God’s people to follow His “rules.”  Whenever they are faced with a difficult decision in the realm of judgment, like eliminating an ineffective ministry or starting a challenging one, a change or alteration to the place of meeting, letting a preacher go or hiring another one, or the like, they may get figuratively roughed up.

The New Testament urges a different attitude from the spiritually mature.  Paul says appreciate and highly esteem them in love (1 Th. 5:12-13). The writer of Hebrews tells us to be the kind of sheep that bring our leaders “joy and not grief” as grievous fellowship isn’t profitable even for us (Heb. 13:17).  Be careful what you say about elders (cf. 1 Tim. 5:19). In fact, why not let them know, out of the blue, how much you appreciate their efforts to shepherd the flock (cf. Acts 20:28).  That may knock them off their feet, but it will be in the good way!

How To See The Good In Others

Neal Pollard

Some just can’t! They assume bad motives, intentions, and behaviors in others. They like to predict failure and disaster. Some take that attitude toward people, including Christians. “They won’t last!” “They can’t cut it as a deacon/elder.” “He won’t ever be a good preacher!” “They just want the praise of men.” Think about all the people you know and interact with. Some are exceptionally talented and pleasant and some are pretty worthless and repulsive, but most are in-between the two extremes. But, what if I told you that you could influence what others become?  Barnabas did (Acts 4:36).  He was so good at encouraging people, “encouragement” wasn’t his middle name but his first name. Who was the first one to see good in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:27)? Who saw great potential in Antioch (Acts 11:23-26)? Who still believed in John Mark (Acts 15:37), who Paul would later think valuable once more (2 Tim. 4:11)? Barnabas was a great leader because of what he could see in others. We can make an eternal difference in people by seeing the good in them.

First, take them where they are. Jesus did.  Do you remember when Jesus met Peter (Luke 5:1-11)? Peter calls himself sinful.  We know he was impetuous (John 18:10) and could use unsavory words (Mat. 26:74). Peter’s business partners, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) seemed to have some anger management issues. In fact, Jesus made it an emphasis to take sinful people and work with them wherever they were (the woman at the well, the sinful woman caught in adultery, Bacchus, publicans, sinners, etc.). We will never help people get to heaven if we can’t take them where they are.

Then, see them for what they could be. Whether it’s a non-Christian or Christian, they need us to be able to see their potential and think the best of them. I don’t mean gullibility or compromise, but optimism! Why did Christ put such effort into Peter? He was a sinful man when He met him, made many mistakes while he was with Him, and denied Him in His greatest moment of need (Luke 22:60-62). He saw what Peter could be (John 21:15-17). Look past people’s quirks and flaws; imagine the possibilities.  There’s got to be a soul-winner in every Christian, since Christ commands it of us all (Mark 16:15-16). Every one of us can be faithful, dedicated, and fruitful Christians. Every lost person could have their hearts softened by the gospel–at the least the gospel has the power (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Remember, love “hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Finally, help them be what they can be. It’s far easier to be the critic and tell people what they’re doing wrong. But remember, “To belittle is to be little.” Criticism alone is useless.  It’s a lot tougher to help people improve and to go about helping with patience. Jesus didn’t end His work by telling people what sinners or failures they were. He guided them to the better way (Mat. 7:13). He told the adulteress to stop sinning (John 8:11). He told Peter to go feed His sheep (John 21). When He was through with Zaccheus, he went from thief to philanthropist. Jesus’ whole purpose was to take people afflicted with sin and transform them. It is rewarding work to invest in people and to help them grow. The Bible tells us to help people do better and be better (Gal. 6:1). To see the best in others, be willing to help and lead them (Luke 6:39-40).

If we are negative and pessimistic, that really is just a commentary on us. Look for good in others. Accept, anticipate, and assist!

“Moral Leadership?”

Neal Pollard
This is how Seth Fiegerman at Mashable summarized new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent moves, an array of social activist “statements” that includes an Apple gay pride parade and declaring himself homosexual, calling to attention to perceived environment and climate change, and associated causes. Fiegerman also synonymously dubbed his activism as “moral authority” and “staking out moral ground.”   The evocative title of the article is “Apple’s new moral era begins” (6/8/15). As a happy “Macster” with an iPad and iPhone, I am not a frustrated PC user looking for an opportunity to rage against the Apple machine.  It is what it is.
Whether or not you agree with Cook, he is most certainly assuming definite moral leadership.  Indeed, it is not overstating things to say he is “moralizing,” as vehemently as any preacher, professor, or reformer could.  In his powerful position at one of the most influential companies in the world, Cook is spending his leadership capital in a profound, definite, and specific way.  However, it is not as if he invented moral leadership.  Anyone with any influence in any point in history is wielding moral leadership, staking out moral ground with at least some degree of moral authority.  The defining question is, “Whose morality?”
The Bible defines morality.  As the product of a transcendent, all-powerful authority, the Bible is the only legitimate standard of morality.  It outlines a specific way of living, using words like godliness (see especially 1 Tim. and 2 Pet.), moral excellence (2 Pet. 1:5), detailing a moral lifestyle (cf. Gal. 5:22-23), and the like. It also forbids a specific way of living, using terminology like immoral and immorality.  Its standard is specific.  Consider a few examples:
  • If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality (Lev. 20:14).
  • Divorcing your wife and marrying another woman is adultery, unless your wife is guilty of sexual immorality (Mat. 19:9).
  • A man who had his father’s wife was guilty of immorality (1 Cor. 5:1).
  • Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of gross immorality and going after strange flesh (Jude 7).
  • Along with a covetous, idolatrous, drunk, or swindling person, God says to avoid the immoral (1 Cor. 5:11).
  • Immoral men are placed alongside homosexuals, kidnappers, liars and perjurers as contrary to sound teaching (1 Tim. 1:10).
  • Esau selling his birthright is called immoral (Heb. 12:16).
There are many other examples of Scripture defining morality, often by pointing out its opposite.  People who use their influence to lead people to do the immoral are certainly exerting moral leadership, but it is leadership contrary to the heart and will of God.  There is a vital need for you and me, as those who love and trust God’s Word, to exert true, moral leadership, to exalt His morality.  A saying attributed variously to Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Aked, is very familiar to most: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”  May we step forward and exert moral leadership that honors God.

L.E.A.D.

Neal Pollard

When speaking of the work of elders, there are multiple aspects of his work and his life outlined in Scripture.  He is an “elder” (“A person of responsibility and authority in socio-religious matters,” Louw-Nida, 53.77; “being relatively advanced in age, older, old,” BDAG).  He is a “pastor” or “shepherd” (“To care for, provide,” WSNT, Zodhiates; “To care for the congregation…to seek the lost…and to combat heresy,” TDNT, Kittel, et al, eds.).  He is an “overseer” (“one who serves as a leader in a church…caring for the needs of a congregation as well as directing the activities of the membership,” Louw-Nida, 53.71).  His qualifications are seen in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, his relationship to the membership seen in such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:7,17, and his authority in such passages as 1 Timothy 5:17, but among the three designations identifying him nothing may be more pressing and important than his leadership.  Too often, preachers or other influential members fill the vacuum and void of leadership left by elders who fail to assume this role.  When this happens, God’s pattern for church life is not followed.

Wendell Winkler once wrote, “Leaders cannot lead where they do not go anymore than they can come back from where they have not been.  They influence some by what they say, more by what they do; but, most by what they are” (Leadership: The Crisis Of Our Times, 15).  Citing the example of Isaiah, Franklin Camp wrote, “Isaiah’s response (to God’s question in Isa. 6:8, NP) was as though he were afraid that someone else might volunteer before he did. This attitude is that of which real leadership is made. When there is a challenge placed before the church, read leaders, like Isaiah, are ready to accept it” (Principles and Perils of Leadership, 50). Then, J.B. Myers adds this, that “a leader is one who guides others and directs a course of action. Fundamental to leadership is the willingness to take the initiative in behalf of a group, such as the church” (Elders and Deacons, 166).  These and other men have written books or articles, preached sermons, and taught classes urging the church’s elders to be leaders.  The need is as great today for this as ever!

How can elders effectively lead today?

Love.  Be tender and compassionate, as a shepherd. Be gentle and wise, as an elder.  Be faithful to God’s will, loving Him first, as a leader.

Exemplify.  Study and follow the example of the Great Shepherd.  Have a long track record of righteous living, as an elder. Show before you tell as a leader.

Admonish.  Realize the care attached to warning, as a conscientious shepherd. Summon the benefit of experience, as an elder, to be reminded of the abject neglect attached to ignoring sin “in the camp.”  Appreciate that sheep need a clarion, understandable voice from the leaders.

Decide.  Know that confusion and scattering lies in the wake of an indecisive shepherd. Trust the accumulation of wisdom gained as one who has reached the age befitting an elder. Grasp the connection between decisiveness (even if unpopular) and leadership.

Bigger, stronger congregations hinge upon good, godly leaders.  The faithfulness of Christians rests in the hands of capable leaders. Evangelism flags and fails minus the sure guidance and equipping of leaders.  Pray for every elder everywhere to L.E.A.D.!