A Lonely, Lonely Man

Neal Pollard

My sons and I often say that we don’t really want to know much about our favorite singers. It seems that there’s always immorality and stories of their ungodliness. That’s as true of many of the rock, country, and easy listening singers from decades ago as those making music today. Despite my having grown up in the south, today I was able to do something I’ve never gotten the opportunity to do. Kathy and I toured Graceland with our gracious hosts, Barry and Celicia Grider. We enjoyed ourselves. This tour tended to glamorize and sanitize his life and career. Elvis Presley enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom, and he was a global icon. He made more money than he could spend, though his lavish collections of furniture, cars, instruments, clothes, and the like shows that he tried. Despite his love of gospel music and religious roots, there were the affairs, drugs, and fast living that likely contributed to his premature death at age 42. His daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who remembers him reading often, “He had stacks next to his bed. He read all the time…Always of a spiritual nature. Always looking. Always searching for something” (from a placard in the mansion). Gospel preacher, C.W. Bradley, preached his funeral thanks to the connection of Elvis’ stepmother. But there is no evidence that his search led him to obey and live the truth, and there’s evidence to the contrary.  He once sang a song where he said, “It’s a lonely man who wanders all around, It’s a lonely man who roams from town to town.  Searching, always searching

for something he can’t find, hoping, always hoping that someday fate will be kind.”

Billions never achieve the fame or wealth of Elvis, but live their lives on a similar quest. They live, always searching for something they can’t find. Solomon spends so much time, with access to wisdom, wealth, wine, and women. He found, in his grand experiment, that these did not fill the void. Instead, the answer was to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). This beautiful hope is shared by Jesus in the greatest sermon ever preached. He teaches, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8).  These things are written to keep mankind from duplicating the future search for purpose and meaning. It has been revealed. Let’s look in the only place where loneliness is vanquished—in the presence of God!

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Why We Are Here

Neal Pollard

It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.

The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!

Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.

If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.

If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.

But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”

—NP

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“3-2, With The Bases Loaded”

Neal Pollard

Dave Stewart, former Oakland A’s pitcher known for pitching well in the big games, was asked how he was able to shine when the spotlight was brightest. He explained that as children he and his brother would play against each other in the backyard. They would pretend they were in the “big game,” and it was always “3-2, with the bases loaded.” So, Dave would face the situation as if it were always the big game. He conditioned himself to confront the pressure situations, and through this he came to excel in the playoffs and World Series.

How do we excel in life? It is not by expecting and waiting for smooth sailing and an easy life. You do not grow in life when the sun is shining and there is zero wind resistance. Why not embrace challenges as catapults for personal growth? Look adversity in the eye and take it on.

The first-century church was in a situation where they faced opposition on an ongoing basis. They probably did not welcome this, but neither did they cower before it. In the face of fiery trials, they won the lost and kept the faith. In our own personal lives, we may dislike the thought of suffering. However, looking back, we may find these as the times where most growth occurred.

How do we face life? Are we looking for a beautiful, problem-free life? If so, we will be disappointed! More than that, we shall fail. We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God! Former Minnesota Vikings head football coach Dennis Green once told his team, “We are going to go on in the road, in the cold, in a hostile environment, and we don’t want it any other way.” That’s the philosophy to embrace in our spiritual lives. The world opposes us as we stand faithfully for Christ. That’s OK! It is a chance to excel to the glory of God.

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Wells And Cisterns

Neal Pollard

In 1980, my family moved to the thriving metropolis of Glenn, Georgia. Dad brought in a Jim Walters Home on the property that already held a barn, smokehouse, and considerable spring. However, it proved difficult to bore a well there because of the rock that stood between the surface and the water table. I’m sure that was one of the more trying experiences my parents ever had in their decades of home-owning. Because we could not access fresh water, my siblings and I had to make regular trips up to the neighbor’s house for drinking water (I say up because the driveway was a long, steady incline to the highway, and our neighbor, the Buckners, had their house just off the highway to our north).

We rarely think about the blessing we enjoy in this nation simply to turn on a faucet and have safe drinking water on demand. Many places I have visited around the world do not enjoy that same extravagance, but must at times travel a great distance to get water from a well. Others must risk drinking water contaminated with bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause typhoid fever, cholera, Hepatitis A, giardia, and similar, deadly pathogens.

It is not surprising that God uses a substance so basic to our existence to illustrate great spiritual truths. It’s not just the water itself that is presented figuratively, but the source and reservoir of it. The well is the source, while the cistern is the container of water. As followers of Christ, we draw from a divine source but it is contained within us. If we’re not putting it in, we will not keep it or have it to use. The Bible tells us that:

—Wells May Need Dug Again (Gen. 26:18). In Isaac’s day, that was literal. Today, that may mean reviewing the basics even if we feel like people should already know them (2 Pet. 1:12; 3:1).

—Cisterns Need To Be Clean (Lev. 11:36). That was true physically, and it needs to be true of our hearts today. How well can we keep divine water in a dirty pool?

—One Must Draw From His Own Cistern And Well (Prov. 5:15). Solomon uses the cistern figuratively to speak of the imperative nature of faithfulness in the marriage relationship. Be satisfied with your spouse alone.

—One May Foolishly Decide To Draw From Broken Cisterns (Jer. 2:13). Jeremiah speaks of how Judah rejected God for the thinking of men. It was doomed to failure then, just as it is today.

—We Must Drink From The Well Springing Up To Eternal Life (John 4:14). Jesus uses physical water to speak of eternal life. We cannot go to a source other than Him and hope to receive it.

Water is an essential part of us and a necessity to maintain us. That’s true spiritually, too. Are we going to the right source? Are we a good reservoir for that living water? When we lived in Virginia, we had a well. We were told to pour a little Clorox into it on occasion to keep it from contamination. However helpful that is to drinking water, it is vital that we let the water of life serve us in its pure and unadulterated form. Then, let us share that with the people around us dying of spiritual thirst.

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What Are You Living For?

Neal Pollard

A man had the good fortune and insight to take a chance with a credit card company in the Baltimore area several decades ago. He retired a wealthy, high ranking executive. In the course of his career, he put together a streak so impressive–35 years in which he never missed a day of work–that “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr., wrote him a letter commending him for it. When he retired, the company gave him a classic car as well as many other lavish gifts. He had a great many benefits and perks, the admiration of peers and competitors, resort townhouses, and considerable wealth. But, one day very soon after he retired his life was dramatically changed after a visit to the doctor. He had an aggressive form of cancer. A few months later he was dead.

This is not a commentary on the morality or priorities of the man. I know nothing about either. His story points out that his well-laid plans and successful career could not forestall the inevitable end result common to every man.

It should also provoke a question. What are we living for? Is our identity tied to our career? Do we want to be known as the life of the party? Is it all about travel and adventure? Does life revolve around going to the river, campground, fishing hole, beach, or mountains? Is it sports, shopping, spending, or spirituality? Of necessity, all of us have a central focus. It is the thing that forms the bull’s eye we repeatedly find ourselves aiming at. Too many times, some thing becomes the thing in “first place” over Christianity. Colossians 1:18 reminds us Christ must come to have first place. When it comes to our jobs, Jesus must take first place. When it comes to our recreation, same thing. When it comes to relationships, He deserves primary position. Whatever we say or do, Jesus must be at the forefront.

He warns that we may invest in the wrong kind of treasure rather than the true riches (Mat. 6:19-21). He admonishes us to seek the kingdom first over “things” (Mat. 6:33). He warns against choosing family members over Himself (Mat. 10:37).

When life draws to a close, one will be confronted by the reality of what he or she made first place. Certainly, when we cross the sea of time to eternity, there will be no denying, rationalizing, debating, or arguing what our “bull’s eye” was. But, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all know what’s most important to us right now? It’s what occupies the greatest amount of our interest, time, energy, emotion, and effort. It is what we live for. When we die, will what we live for help us live eternally or be the cause of eternal death (cf. Rev. 21:8)? Let’s hear Paul’s encouragement to “set your affection on things above and not on things of the earth” (Col. 3:2).

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THE MORE I KNOW, THE LESS I KNOW

Neal Pollard

It is a true paradox. Today,  I’ve been married longer than I have ever been.  I’ve been a father longer than I have ever been.  The same is true for me as a Christian, a preacher, and every other relationship I am in.  My experience in all of these has never been greater than it is right now.  Yet, as I examine things, I realize just how much I do not know.  I am not saying that truth is unknowable, for such a statement would be false and contradictory to what God affirms in Scripture (John 8:32; Eph. 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:15; etc.).  It is just that I realize how little I understand compared to what needs to be understood, that I find the challenge of putting truth into practice in every situation requiring wisdom and understanding as daunting as I ever have.  Yet, despite such a realization, my optimism has never been greater.  Why?  Because I have never believed more strongly in the power and wisdom of God, nor have I ever depended more on Him for strength and provision where I am lacking than I do today.  I feel smaller, but He seems bigger.  While the walk on the narrow way seems a steeper, more strenuous, incline each day and the challenges to faith more daunting, more than proportionate to this is my realization that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). My conviction about what the Bible says has never been stronger. My belief in God’s existence, involvement, concern, and righteousness has never been more than this moment.  Yet, my awareness of my finiteness and limitations, the transiency of this life, and the ferocity of the adversary is acute.  Incredibly, this doesn’t cause me to despair. It causes me to hope. It takes the focus off me and puts it where it belongs—on Him! He is able to establish me through His Word (Rom. 16:25). He is “able to make all grace abound to” me, that I, “having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).  The most important thing for me to know, every day in every challenge and responsibility, is that God is able (Rom. 14:4; Phil. 3:21; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 2:18).

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not despairing. I am not even frustrated. I am hopeful and excited.  One of the greatest promises of Scripture is, “But He gives more grace” (Jas. 4:6). He will walk with me through the darkest valleys (Psa. 23:4). As He holds my hand and guides me through His word and His providence, He also points me toward His house.  He tells me He will help me get home and when the narrow way becomes too steep or arduous for me to walk alone, He will carry me in His everlasting arms (cf. Deu. 32:7). I will keep studying His inspired guidebook and striving to apply it to my life.  And as I do, I will increase my dependence and reliance upon Him, confident that “He who has begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).  That’s really all I need to know!

Be Sure Of The Foundation

Neal Pollard

In 2008, I traveled to Bangladesh and spent an unscheduled night in the Capitol city of Dhaka. It’s likely that I passed the eight-story tall Rana Plaza building on that trip, given its proximity to my hotel.  I certainly saw many like it.  But on April 28, 2013, during morning rush hour in one of the most densely populated countries of the world, Rana Plaza collapsed and killed well over 1000 people. It was the deadliest garment factory accident in history.  Why it happened is an outrage. It was built on swampy ground. Extra stories were constructed without proper authorization.  Costs were cut everywhere they could be. Because of this, a huge number of people paid the ultimate price.

Did you know there were warnings? Cracks appeared in the walls the day before and the building was evacuated. But five garment factory owners who had space in the building ordered their employees to go back inside Rana Plaza on that fateful day.  This fact caused global outrage, spawned boycotts and led to calls for international sanctions. It was rightly considered unacceptable and inhumane for such conditions to continue to exist.

There is an infinitely greater problem invisible to the naked eye.  Billions of people are building their lives upon a foundation guaranteed to fail.  They have either never come to Jesus, or even more tragically they have heard Him and ignored His appeals and warnings for safety.

In Luke six, the point of Jesus asking, “Why call Me Lord, then do not do what I say?” is to teach that we must build our lives on the foundation of Him.  In Jesus’ illustration there, the first builder is well protected. He has dug deep and laid his house on the bedrock foundation.  The second builder has no protection.  Incredibly, he builds on the ground with no foundation at all.  In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Paul says there is no other foundation to build your life on than Christ. In that context, Paul warns against building on other foundations—the foundations of men.  Our lives must be built on the bedrock foundation of Christ.  The very foundation of the church (cf. Mat. 16:18) is the one we must each choose for our lives.  “Storms” are coming, including the ultimate storm at the end.  On that day, it will matter how you built.