Seeing God In Nature: Volcanos

Neal Pollard

As we received word of the volcanic eruption near Guatemala City, Guatemala, yesterday, where Bear Valley Bible Institute has had an extension school for several years, we were reminded of the omnipotence of God. The power God displays through nature and His creation reveal how such a powerful effect reveals an even more powerful cause. Volcanic activity for which there is no recorded history, like at Yellowstone, Deccan Plateau, and Santorini, stand alongside several we do know about. Perhaps Pompeii or Mt. Saint Helens is most infamous, but the Mount Tambora volcano in Indonesia has been called the most explosive and deadly for which there is historical recounting. Mount Tambora’s eruption began on April 5, 1815, and the mountain blew apart on the evening of April 10th. “The blast, pyroclastic flows, and tsunamis that followed killed at least 10,000 islanders and destroyed the homes of 35,000 more” (britannica.com). It went from being a mountain 14,000 feet high to being a caldera (a crater) 3.7 miles across. Its effects were intense and global. It shot megatons of material into the atmosphere, preventing so much sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface that 80,000 more Indonesians died from famine and disease. The earth’s average temperature was reduced over five degrees. Western Europe and eastern North America experienced heavy snow and killing frost in June, July, and August, causing “crop failures and starvation in those regions, and the year 1816 was called the ‘year without a summer’” (ibid.).

Volcanos are so awesome and powerful that they evoke a strong response from us. They illustrate several things of a spiritual nature. As noted above, they are demonstrations of an all-powerful God. So often, they erupt without specific warning. There may have been tremors and signs for years, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then, too rapidly for many to escape, the cataclysmic occurs. It is a testimony of good that comes from tragedy, too. The Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University reminds us that volcanic soil is very rich and conducive to a dramatic agricultural comeback following these geological events (volcano.oregonstate,edu). These events should help remind us of a truth Bible writers like Peter teach us, that “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet. 3:10-12). 

Please pray for our brethren in Guatemala and for the hearts of all men outside of Christ, that they might come to a saving knowledge of the truth before it is eternally too late. May the evidence gleaned from places like nature, including volcanic events, persuade mankind of the reality and power of God. So persuaded, perhaps their hearts will be open to learning more about Who this God is as we share the revelation of Him as found in His Word!

caldera_mt_tambora_sumbawa_indonesia
Mount Tambora caldera

ARE YOU ON THE LIST?

Neal Pollard

I recently heard D.C. Brown, illustrating proper conduct, mention a list I’ve seen at times in my adult life. The list he mentioned was of people whose personal checks the cashier was not to take. The offenders apparently wrote “bad checks,” checks they did not have sufficient funds to cover. The names, as is typical, were bold and legible to the customer as well as the employee. Multiple purposes are achieved through such a list—warning, shaming, identifying, and the like. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that someone’s name might accidentally land on the list.

Throughout our lives, we may find ourselves looking to see if we are on this list or that. When I was in school, they would publish the honor roll list, depth charts in sports, casts for plays and who was chosen for what part, and those who were selected for the Beta Club or Honor Society. The advent of the internet has slowly replaced paper lists with electronic ones, but the concept is still intact.

The Bible talks about a “list.” It is a list every thinking and feeling person should yearn to have their name written on.  The setting is the great day of judgment, recorded by John in Revelation 20:11-15. Jesus is sitting in all His majesty on His throne. Everyone, great and small, stood before that throne. They were judged by God’s Word and what they did with it. In a sobering text, here is the climax: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was throne into the lake of fire” (15). Jesus preached on earth that the majority of all people will not be on that list (Mat. 7:13-14). They will have neglected or rejected the will revealed in the Bible (cf. John 12:48). If never before that moment, at that threshold of eternity they will have never wanted anything like they will want to have their name on that list. But, then it will be too late. Now is the time to submit ourselves and our lives to that divine will and, by grace through faith, have our name written there.

Some lists we would wish to avoid in this life. The list, in Revelation 20:12, is not one of them. What a joy it will be to hear our name “when the roll is called up yonder”!

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Tora! Tora! Tora!

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event which drew our country into World War II. 2,343 men were killed, 1,143 were wounded, and 960 unaccounted for or missing. The Japanese chose Sunday to attack as it was the most relaxed day of the week for the servicemen. Many were still in their pajamas or having breakfast when the attack began at 7:55 that morning. Kermit Tyler, an Air Force lieutenant serving as the officer on duty that morning, told the radar operator not to worry about the large blip on the radar screen. He thought it was a flight of U.S. bombers coming from our mainland. Instead, it was the first wave of attackers. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the airstrike leader for the Japanese carrier force, could see that Pearl Harbor was totally unaware of the impending attack. He radioed back a coded message, repeating an abbreviated word three times—“to ra, to ra, to ra”—meaning “lightning strike.” The transmission began at 7:49, undetected by the soon-to-be victims of the attack that began a mere six minutes later (read more here).

Among so many significant facts, what we most remember about the attack on Pearl Harbor was how utterly surprising it was. No one stood vigil, considering the possibility of it. Like its later counterpart, “9/11,” and even natural catastrophes like Pompeii, the Galveston hurricane, the 2004 tsunami, or Mexico’s El Chicon volcano, serious and deadly events can occur without warning. With our most sophisticated technology and detection systems, we are without the ability to forewarn about the greatest surprise that will ever be.

Paul says that the resurrection of the dead of all time will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). Paul and Peter both refer to “the day of the Lord” as that which will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Jesus warned that the day could be a disaster, a trap that comes on one “suddenly” (Luke 21:34). He taught that it will come at an hour unknown to everyone (Mark 13:32-33).

While it will surprise everyone, the coming of Christ will be a devastating event for the great majority of mankind. For them, it will infinitely exceed the loss of physical life. It will be an everlasting loss (Mat. 25:46; 2 Th. 1:9). Yet, God has made preparation eminently possible. He desires escape for everyone (2 Pet. 3:9). One can be prepared for that day and be saved from harm and for something inexpressibly superior. Those of us who have discovered the way of preparation must hold fast to it (cf. Heb. 3:6) and strive to share this vital information with as many as possible. The sudden coming of Christ need not be a defeat, but can instead be the harbinger of the greatest victory ever.  May Paul’s inspired exclamation be our song of victory: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54b-55). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20)!

burning_ships_at_pearl_harbor

Is It A “Sign”?

Neal Pollard

I read about the discovery of World War I shells found in the Sea of Galilee, likely dumped by fleeing Turkish ships lightening their load to escape the pursuit of the British. There is a bigger story, though, than a 100-year-old wartime artifact being found in an unlikely place. The shell was uncovered through an unprecedented drought that has left exposed an island in the middle of that sea. Some religious Jews think it presages their long-awaited Messiah, their conviction based on their view of Psalm 66:6, Zechariah 14:8, and Isaiah 15:9. Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and freelance writer, cites various rabbis who say that the present weather anomaly and its consequences are prophesied signs. Yosef Berger, the rabbi of David’s tomb in Jerusalem, says, “Just like in prayer, which is a dialogue with God, our thoughts are taken into account in Heaven, and can bring the desired prophecy into existence… By people believing that the Galilee drying up is part of the prophecy, it will help the Messiah come” (Breaking Israel News).

I appreciate any people who believe in the truth of the Messiah, and I see any such looking and longing of a transparent sincerity. However, these well-meaning Jews are 2000 years too late. The kind of Messiah they seek is not clearly stated, but their forefathers rejected the kind of Messiah Jesus Christ was and is. The Old Testament prophesies of His birth, ancestry, forerunner, earthly ministry, opposition, crucifixion, resurrection, and church were fulfilled in the time of Jesus. The New Testament often looks back at prophesies and show how Jesus fulfilled them.

The Jews of Jesus day stopped their ears and shut their eyes to the signs and miracles He did, repeatedly proving to the open-minded observer that what such revered men as Moses, David, Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi, and others wrote concerning the Messiah was fulfilled by the nature, birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke 24:44-47; John 20:30-31). Their lack of faith cost them at Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It will cost them eternally, if they do not believe in the Christ who has already come.

The drought-stricken waters of Galilee are a sign of a lack of sufficient rain, but nothing more. Those still awaiting the One who already came should instead learn of Him and follow Him. Because His second coming will be without signs (cf. Mat. 24:36ff). May we all be ready for that day!

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Some Things That Will Not Be At The Judgment

Neal Pollard

What will the throne of judgment look like? What will Christ, the Judge, look like? Will the Judgment be experienced through the sense of sight? What will be different there from this life? What will be changed?

The Bible speaks often about the moment of reckoning, when the righteous and wicked dead (John 5:28-29) and all living (Mat. 25:31-33) will stand before the King of kings to give account for the conduct of the body (2 Cor. 5:10). As we attempt to paint a mental picture of the Judgment Day, some things shouldn’t be envisioned because they won’t be there.

  • There will not be an unbeliever at the Judgment (Phil. 2:10-11). With an introduction only heaven could produce, John says Jesus will come with clouds, every eye shall see Him, and all nations of the earth will wail because of Him (Rev. 1:7). No person will be able to continue in unbelief. Faith will be permanently past tense. Evidence of God’s power and the power of His promises will be beyond the realm of the hopes for and in the arena of the finally seen (Heb. 11:1). Jokes scoffing the Divine will not slip off the sin-darkened hearts of the defiant. No skeptics, no agnostics, no doubters, and no infidels will be at the Judgment.
  • There will not be a material possession at the Judgment (2 Pet. 3:10). The inhabitants of this planet seem to be more engrossed with things daily. The Lord calls things “corruptible” (1 Pet. 1:18) and inferior treasure (Mat. 6:19). People seek material things to provide them a life of joy, peace, and comfort. We will give an account for our stewardship of material things. We will answer “yes” or “no” when asked if we robbed God (Mal. 3:8). But no person will bring his possessions or amassed wealth into the venerable court of justice.
  • There will not be a mistrial at the Judgment (Acts 17:31). Each of us will appear before the Judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10). We will each “stand trial” (2 Cor. 5:10). Christ, the “true” (John 8:16), universal (Acts 10:42), righteous (Acts 17:31), God-ordained (Rom. 2:16) and ready (1 Pet. 4:5) judge will sit to hear the case of every mentally accountable person to have lived. Jesus will judge without bias (Eph. 6:9) by relying on heaven’s unabridged record of the individual’s life (Rev. 20:12). He will judge according to the perfect law of liberty (Jas. 1:25). No one will be able to legitimately cry “foul.” When the law book is closed and the last judgment is handed down, no one will be able to find a loophole or mistake in the proceedings that will allow them to go free or be retried. There will not be any miscues or oversights.
  • There will be no secrets at the Judgment (Rom. 2:16). God now knows every man’s secret sins (Psa. 90:8) and He shall bring such things to the Judgment (Ecc. 12:14). God sees every secret place (Jer. 23:23). He reveals the deepest, darkest secrets (Dan. 2:22). At the Judgment, such things will judged (Rom. 2:16). “…All things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13b).
  • There will be no baptistery at the Judgment. Most people will go into eternity not having been washed, sanctified and justified (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). As Christ divides the sheep from the goats, it will matter whether a person has fully obeyed the gospel (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12; Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:27; Acts 22:16; Mark 16:16). Perhaps people will cry out for another person to baptize them. The angst of many who bargained for a later date to be baptized will be realized when they stand before Christ without His blood covering their sins.
  • There will be no invitation song at the Judgment. When the trumpet sounds, no sermon will be preached to convince the lost to obey the gospel. There’ll be no pleading with the lukewarm and unfaithful Christians. No song leader will stand before that numberless crowd to appeal to the lost and erring. Legions of hearts will be melted by the power of God. Fearful realization will fill those unready to meet Christ. Perhaps many will cry out for another chance, but the last opportunity will have passed.

There will be a righteous Judge who will give a fair trial to every individual. All will give an account. An eternal sentence will be handed down based upon one’s life and acceptance or rejection of Christ’s sacrifice. There will be no parole, stay of execution, or pardon for the lost. We all will need abundant grace to be able to stand at His right hand side, but Scripture tells us how that is extended. We must prepare for that in this life (Heb. 9:27). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ancient, But Temporary

Neal Pollard

The oldest buildings in the world are found in Turkey, France, Italy, Scotland, Malta, England, Ireland, and Iran. All of them date back to at least 3,000 B.C.  They include tombs, temples, settlements, houses, sanctuaries, and plazas. They are historical treasures, revealing the earliest dental procedures, burial habits, religious ceremonies of pagans, societies and more. Some are remarkably preserved for their age, and many are visited by tourists after having been meticulously studied by archaeologists and other students of history.  It fires the imagination to think about what life was like for people who lived contemporary to Noah’s sons, Abraham, and perhaps Job. The fact that any part of these edifices still stand is incredible. When you consider that the oldest buildings intact in the United States are Puebloan houses and villages located in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, dating only as far back as between 750-1000 A.D., the existence of the aforementioned structures in Europe and Asia is all the more impressive (information via taospueblo.com, wikipedia, et al).

History and archaeology buffs revel at the thought of visiting such sites, and who could fail to marvel at such testaments to durability?  We can hardly fathom buildings that have stood for several thousands of years.  However, they are all comparatively temporary.

Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet. 3:10-12).  When Christ comes again, all the works of earth will be destroyed with fire. Such a promise is meant to motivate us to live in view of the unseen and the eternal.  Specifically, Peter says such knowledge such cause us to be holy and godly, watchful and anticipating.  Ancient buildings can be seen with the eyes of flesh.  Future destruction must be viewed through eyes of faith.  May we remember, as we live each day and build our lives, that nothing in this life is worth surrendering eternal life.

GET READY!

Neal Pollard

As one who can count on one hand the number of snow events experienced in childhood, I have lived the last decade in Colorado where snow is more ordinary than oddity. Even so, the meteorological chatter is much higher in advance of an anticipated big storm this weekend. Because almost all my adult life has been spent in either Virginia or Colorado, we have heard many warnings.  In both places, it has seemed as though the weather experts were akin the boy crying wolf.  At the same time, in both places, we have had some huge surprises measured in feet rather than inches.

Perhaps because of this, locals in both places have at times been jaded and skeptical at these fearsome forecasts.  Their facial expressions say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Why not? I remember a time in Virginia when the forecast was a foot of snow, all metro county schools closed in anticipation, and the next pre-dawn morning revealed starry skies without even a cloud.  Man, even with sophisticated radar and computer models, are at the mercy of the complexities of weather put in motion millennia ago by an all-powerful Creator.

We should not make the mistake of thinking God is like man (Ps. 50:21; Ezek. 28:2).  When He speaks of things to come, it is not mere prognostication or educated guessing.  He declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10).  Thus, whatever He says is to come must not be dismissed.  It is a promise, as certain as His perfect character.

Throughout the New Testament, God is telling us to get ready for a day of judgment.  When writers say, “The Son of Man is going to come” (Mat. 16:27), “an hour is coming” (John 5:28-29), “all the nations will be gathered before Him” (Mat. 25:32), and the like, we should not expect a change in that forecast.  Just because it has not happened yet does not mean it will not come.  Peter warned of those who would say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4).  Nonetheless, Scripture says, “Get ready!” We don’t know when, but we should not wonder if.

Evel Knievel At Snake River Canyon

Neal Pollard

Today I took a picture of a famous pile of dirt.  It was the “launch site” for an infamous jump made by an infamous figure of the ’60s, ’70’s, and ’80s.  On September 8, 1974, almost 40 years ago, Evel Knievel used a rocket-powered cycle known as the Skycycle X-2 to jump the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Having now seen this foreboding span between the north and south rim with my own two eyes, I can only wonder why he would have even attempted it. If you aren’t familiar with how it turned out, it was a dud.  His chute deployed at the beginning of the jump and he fell to the canyon floor narrowly missing the river in what would have been a certain drowning due to a malfunctioning harness. Tim Woodward, a now retired columnist for Boise’s Idaho Statesman newspaper, was there covering the event.  He describes the atmosphere, saying, “It was, in the terminology of the day, a ‘happening.’ Spectators and groupies came by the thousands from all over the country, bringing drugs, alcohol and nudity in profusion. It was Woodstock without the music. Or the peace and love” (Woodward, Idaho Statesman, 12/1/07). A local member of the church says that the event cost the city untold money, due to vandalism, theft, and other destructive acts.  He also says the common belief is that the daredevil lost his nerve and panicked, triggering the parachute himself.  Whether that was the case or not, it was a much-anticipated event at which many raucous spectators gathered only to be disappointed.

As I heard and read these details, it made me think of an event that will be far different from this one.  It will involve a figure who has been the center of far greater controversy than any other—one who some love but many more hate.  It will involve a promised event infinitely more spectacular than anything man has devised.  It will include the largest crowd ever assembled to witness any other event, and it will include raucous rabble-rousers as well as righteous religious people.  But it will be neither a dud nor a flop.  Its magnificence defies adequate words of description.  The second coming of Christ will be no mere “publicity stunt.” It will be at the center of the ending of time and the ushering in of eternity.  It will draw every person from every nation for all time.  It will bring everyone to our knees.  God has foretold us of this day and we cannot afford to take it lightly (cf. John 5:28-29; 2 Pe. 3:10).  We must be prepared for it (Mat. 24:44).  We have never seen anything like it, but we can be ready for it!

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And The Rain Fell

Neal Pollard

You’re building your house for life, not a day
By all that you do and everything you say
But more important than roof or even the walls
Is your foundation, for there’s coming floods and squalls.

Today the sky may be sunny and fair
And life may seem easy with no burden or care
But the clouds can gather with little or no warning
And strike with fury late at night or mid-morning.

If you’re building on sand, storms will still surely bombard
Whatever your strengths, deluges come steady and hard
The foundation will matter, it determines the outcome
The variables of your life surely influence the sum.

Great men of earth, building on other men’s acclaim
Must face life’s storms and its floods all the same
The beautiful people, who on this factor construct
Cannot escape how the gale forces strike and deduct

The theories and teachings of man’s own device
May seem like safe bedrock and sound very nice
But however solid they look or how long they may stand
At the end they’ll be seen for what they are, shifting sand.

You’re building your house for life, not just now
Take heed what you’re building on, why, where and how
For there’s coming a storm for which all must prepare
It will be all or nothing, no rebuild or repair.

But there is a material, failsafe and unbending
Proven by torrents, it’s trustworthiness is unending
That foundation is Christ, the only One of all
Shown to be eternally safe when the rain starts to fall.

(Matthew 7:24-27)

An Honest Obituary

Neal Pollard

It was the early 1990s, and I, as a green, inexperienced preacher, was asked to do a funeral for a man from the community with no real religious roots.  It was my first funeral for a non-Christian and I went, armed with the knowledge gained from Wendell Winkler’s Preacher And His Work class, prepared to preach to the living neither giving false hope nor crushing the hearts of people I was trying to reach.  I remember standing nervously in the back of this old denominational church building out in the country.  A group of men gathered there, who I later learned were the pall bearers, were talking caustically about someone.  One said he had made a pass at his wife. Another said he had stolen two of his cows the previous week.  He was a good-for-nothing snake in the grass. Honestly, I was now listening very closely.  I was shocked when one said, “If he hadn’t died, I might have killed him.”  They were talking about the deceased, the man whose funeral I was about to preach.  Needless to say, I felt no pressure to “preach him into heaven.”  Five minutes before the funeral, I wrestled with whether or not my words were too plain or off-putting. Five minutes after it, one of those pallbearers told me, “Preacher, you gave him a better funeral than he deserved.”

If you are prone to read obituaries or as you reflect on every funeral you have attended, everyone speaks of every dead person as if they are the most wonderful, saintly individual who has ever lived.  Some, considering the circumstances of the deceased’s lifestyle, brashly speak of them being in heaven even if the one never made mention of or made preparation to go there.  It is a significantly disgusting thing to hear people blithely pronouncing people saved in death who were disobedient to God’s saving plan in life.

A few months ago, the children of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick defied this common trend upon her death. They literally celebrated her passing by publishing a “scathing” obituary in their local Nevada newspaper. The obituary, published in September, 2013, begins, “”On behalf of her children who she abrasively exposed to her evil and violent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty and shame that she delivered on her children” (via Newsmax.com).  The article gives details of her horrific abuse of the six children, which abuse she regularly inflicted before she lost custody of them to a Nevada Children’s Home.   While they gave no speculation about her eternal destiny, neither did they sugar-coat or white-wash her life.

Who knows what will be said about us when we die?  However naughty or nice it is matters little next to what our Lord knows and sees. He will “judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1).  He will be the “righteous Judge” (2 Tim. 4:8; Acts 17:31).  He will tell it like it is concerning each of us as we are gathered with all the nations (Mat. 25:31ff).  Heaven keeps, if you will, a perfect, accurate obituary on file for each of us when we die.  The Bible calls it “the Book of Life” and the dead will be “judged according to their works, by the things which [are] written in the books” (Rev. 20:12b).  Let us live so we are not ashamed for that record to be revealed.