“Secret Service”

“Secret Service”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Whenever we hear about the United States Secret Service, we generally picture an elite agent with dark sunglasses and an earpiece. They certainly are elite, with only 1% of 15,600 applicants being accepted as Special Agents in 2011. They have extremely important jobs, from protecting the president and his family to investigating financial crimes in order to protect our economy. Being a Special Agent or any of the other elite positions in this government branch is not easy to achieve. These government agents have a huge responsibility and the public often keeps a close eye on them.

It’s no wonder, then, that they would come under scrutiny when something goes wrong. In 2014, Omar Jose Gonzalez jumped the White House fence and ran across the North Lawn with a knife. He was able to make it through the front door and past a security guard, making it as far as the East Room before being tackled by another guard.

The church is made of imperfect humans. We are called to live to a higher standard and to hold one another to a higher standard. Whenever someone makes a mistake – especially someone in a position of leadership – it’s easy for us to gossip, condemn, talk about “what we would have done,” or offer insincere criticism. Worse yet, it’s easy to tarnish the name of the church just because of the mistakes of someone inside. Yes, sin must be dealt with in a godly way. But using the mistakes of others as an excuse to damage the bride of Christ is inexcusable. Let us always strive to not only hold ourselves to the highest possible standard, but to also keep the name of God’s people in high standing with the world and with each other.

Mercy Personified

Mercy Personified

Neal Pollard

Anita Geurink relates the incredible story of locals finding and rescuing a little baby boy who was abandoned in a forest outside Maseru, Lesotho. Hours later, a freak hailstorm pounded the area, damaging windows and roof, causing flooding, and striking the very spot where the baby had just been laying. The little boy already had a name, but it took on great significance in light of these events. His name, translated, means “Mercy” (Anita’s blog post).

When we look over our lives, how many times have we experienced the generous mercy of our God? We do not know what all He has spared us from, how He has protected us, or how He has delivered us. For every instance where we have seen His generous, providential hand, how many times has it been at work behind the scenes unbeknownst to us?

The apostle Paul deals with a difficult subject in Romans 11. God’s sovereign choice, summarized at the end of this discussion, can be hard for us to understand or accept. Paul concludes, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (33-36). But God is neither cruel nor capricious. Paul characterizes Him as one who desires to show mercy to the obedient. The Gentiles received mercy through the rejection and disobedience of the Jews (30). But God still longed to show mercy to the Jews (31). He withholds His mercy only to those who persist in disobedience (32).

If only we can see ourselves as the little orphaned Lesothoan boy, vulnerable and helpless and in need of rescue, we will not harden our hearts against the kindness and mercy of God. Hosea seems to speak of a literal orphan who finds mercy in God (14:3), but the New Testament repeatedly speaks of us as spiritual orphans who received greater mercy, shown by His love, grace, and forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10; Jude 21).

By no means does God’s mercy exempt us from obedience. On the other hand, we should humble ourselves by remembering, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Ti. 3:5). You and I were more helpless than that abandoned baby in that forest in South Africa. He can enable us to overcome and do great things to His glory, but we must never forget that He does that! Have you thanked God for His “great mercy” today?

lesothoboys

What Do We Make Of God’s Second Chances?

What Do We Make Of God’s Second Chances?

Neal Pollard

We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.”  A kid kicked it hard and I caught it.  As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain.  Something wasn’t right.  My parents took me that week to see the local doctor.  He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver.  My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital.  Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was.  Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.

Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view.  I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go.  With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.

All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation.  We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us.  Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.”  We passed from death to life.  More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10).  You may have messed things up badly in your life.  You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you.  Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God is the God of the second chance!  His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts!  Trust in the Great Physician.  He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!

Picture of me (2nd from left) about a year after the surgery.

Oise-Aigne American Cemetery Plot E

Oise-Aigne American Cemetery Plot E

Neal Pollard

My brother and fellow preacher, Brent Pollard, finds the most interesting historical facts—an ability which makes his preaching illustrations most interesting.  He sent me an article about the Oise-Aigne Cemetery in northern France.  Though I have actually visited that cemetery, I had no idea about the existence of an auxiliary burial plot known as “Plot E.”  While the 6012 military personnel buried in the four main burial plots lost their lives in World War I, the 94 interred in Plot E are infamous, disgraced soldiers who died for their crimes during or after World War II.  These men either murdered fellow soldiers or raped and/or murdered 71 people in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Algeria.  “No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road” (warhistoryonline.com).

These men were supposed to be fighting for the freedoms and rights of American citizens, but instead they were most dramatically undermining the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the unfortunate ones who crossed their paths.  For their crimes, they not only paid the ultimate penalty but were buried in disgrace and immortalized with infamy. They are remembered as “the dishonorable dead.”

The book of Revelation refers to the “book of life” (20:12), implying that it is possible for one’s name to be blotted out of it (3:5).  However, those whose names are not found in that book will be “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). Those who take away from the words of this revelation—and by application any other (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)—“God shall take away his part of out of the book of life” (22:19).  More specifically, John says, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).  For the ungodly and disobedient, John lays out in apocalyptic terms how unthinkably horrible it will be to die unfaithful to Christ.  He says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (14:10-11a).

Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).  The faithful will receive glory and honor and reward (Mat. 25:34-40).  The unrighteous, however, will go away into everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46).  No one will deserve heaven, but will go there thanks to God’s amazing grace and his or her conscious effort to walk in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Those who know not and obey not the gospel will endure something eternally worse than a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, or blameworthy burial (2 Th. 1:8-9).  Though the world may believe less and less in the reality of hell, the Bible’s position on the matter has not changed. Knowing the terror of the Lord, may we persuade others and, ourselves, be persuaded (2 Cor. 5:11).