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HE DIED FOR THEM

Neal Pollard

The 21-year-old woman driver who lost control making the turn at the corner of Utica and Mineral is devastated that her car struck and killed a 47-year-old Baltimore, Maryland, resident who was in Denver attending the Colorado Center for the Blind.  David Nanney and two other students were struck by the woman’s vehicle while waiting for a bus to take them to the center.  The accident occurred on Friday morning, just a day before he was scheduled to fly back to be with his family for Christmas.  Apparently, as the blind man heard the approaching automobile skidding onto the sidewalk where the three stood, he “pushed the two women out of the way and took the brunt of the hit” (9News.com).  He was a carpenter in Maryland and was here to learn how to use, in his sightless condition, the tools of his trade.  He is remembered as thoughtful, charitable, and a natural leader.  He was well-liked by all who met him (www.denverpost.com, Howard Pankratz and Carlos Illescas, “Denver And The West”, 10-18-10).

Thinking about the individuals making up this story, some things come to mind.  First, the young woman driving the car feels she’s done the unthinkable.  Reports indicate she will be charged with some traffic violation, but nothing will likely penalize her like her own conscience in the time to come.  Then, the two women saved by Nanney will likely feel gratitude for as long as they live that someone did something to save their lives and wound up losing his to do it.  Finally, there’s Nanney.  He apparently was a man full of good deeds in life who gave his life doing good.  In fact, he made the ultimate sacrifice.

Occasionally, life’s tragedies yield powerful illustrations of vicarious sacrifice and incomparable love.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  Scripture says that Jesus, the ultimate sacrificer, “died for us” (Rom. 5:8; 1 Th. 5:10), “died for all” (2 Cor. 5:14), and “died for sins” (1 Pet. 3:18).  He was perfectly sinless (2 Cor. 5:21), but was purposely sent for our sins (Gal. 4:4-5).  Nanney is an unqualified hero because he shoved two friends out of harm’s way.  Jesus is the unparalleled hero of Calvary because His death saves us from eternal condemnation.  May we appreciate the great price paid which gives us life!

 

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My Wednesday Nights


Neal Pollard

It is my view that every member who can should always be there when the doors are open.  That has nothing to do with Hebrews 10:25.  It has more to do with the idea that the shepherds are charged with feeding the flock (Acts 20:28), that each service we assemble helps accomplish that, and none of us should feel free to miss feeding time.  It also has something to do with an easy, logical way we can encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11) and stir up each other to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).  It further has to do with how since kingdom matters have first place in my heart and life (Matt. 6:33) the meeting times of His saints should be at the top of my priorities.

 

But, my sentiments at the moment have less to do with that and more to do with selfish reasons.  As I look back on the life God has blessed me with to this point, I have collected so many wonderful memories.  A significant number of them have occurred on Wednesday nights.  As I survey my Wednesday nights, in the recent and long distant pasts, I call to mind:

  • An 11 year old Christian brother lighting my fire with his motivational devotional talk.
  • A father and husband putting Christ on in baptism.
  • Bible class lessons that built my faith and flared my passion for further study.
  • Seeing and hearing my own sons speak, lead singing, and pray.
  • Seeing and hearing our teens do those same things.
  • Being met at just the right time by a brother or sister who lifted my spirits with a timely word “fitly spoken.”
  • Seeing a man confined to a wheel chair who will let nearly nothing keep him from being here, despite personal pain, discomfort, and sacrifice (and seeing others like him through the years).
  • Many other public responses made by Christians confessing sins or asking for prayers or others who chose on Wednesday night to become Christians.
  • Enjoying a weekly family reunion with my spiritual siblings, a lift above the mundane matters of life.
  • Seeing brethren from other congregations, whether I had never met them or have known them well in the past, who “popped in” on Wednesday nights.
  • Spiritual uplifts from congregational singing or heartfelt prayers on Wednesday nights.
  • New Christians, taking their first spiritual steps which include coming to Wednesday night Bible study.
  • Week after week that helped build a closeness and relationship with the Lord that is built not just on my personal feelings and estimation but on study and worship.

Though those may be mostly or entirely selfish reasons, I am thankful for the good Wednesday nights have done and are doing my family and me.  The church is my spiritual family.  How else would I want to spend my Wednesday nights?

 

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MARRIAGE: CONSUMERS OR COOPERATORS

(My Dad and Mom, taken around their tenth anniversary)

Neal Pollard

William Doherty, in Take Back Your Marriage, writes about “Resisting Consumer Marriage.”  He goes a long way in defining that concept with his good, thorough discussion of it.  He writes, “Consumer culture has always been based on individuals pursuing their personal desires. But in the late twentieth century, advertisers began to emphasize desire for desire’s sake…Consumer culture has always been one of self-gratification, but the entitlement dimension is more prominent now” (30-31).  He later says that certain “jingles” or tunes, to borrow ad speak, play in our minds, things like “I am not getting my needs met!”, “I deserve better!”, “If only I were married to that one!”, “My marriage is not as good as you’re marriage!”, “My spouse is a flawed person!”, or “I’m the good guy here!”  (ibid., 44-46).  He ends by urging, “The best way to keep the consumer culture from dominating your marriage is to see yourself as a citizen of your marriage…Being a citizen of a marriage means taking responsibility to make things better and not just be passive, to value the marriage itself and not just your own interest in it” and several other wise, valuable pieces of advice (47).  Doherty seems to have identified a major threat to marriage in the modern world.  He gives it a new and catchy name, but its true identity is “selfishness.”

Marriage with selfish participants is doomed.  That seems harsh and pessimistic, but I have seen it too many times.  Me-first marriages meltdown.  Interestingly, Peter encourages a different model upon which to build a marriage.  In 1 Peter 3:1-7, he addresses husbands and wives.  It is a passage that speaks to unity and security.  Focus particularly on the central phrase, “Being heirs together of the grace of life.”  In marriage, you have a singular identity because you are “fellow-heirs.”  You have a singular goal since you are fellow-heirs “of the grace of life.”  You have a singular approach as you are heirs “together”–not mine, not yours, but ours and us!  This model, the biblical model, calls for husband and wife to be cooperators.  We are teammates, pulling the same direction and encouraging each other.  That will never be done in a sin-free, perfect environment because each participant cannot qualify for that (cf. Rom. 3:23).   At the beginning, God saw marriage as the lifelong opportunity of each to suitable help for the other (Gen. 2:18).  May we have the grace and wisdom to do the same.

–Doherty, William J.  Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World that Pulls us Apart (New York: The Guilford Press, 2001).

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INVITATION ETIQUETTE

Neal Pollard

While delivering and having the invitation is an expedient rather than obedience to a specific command, it seems a very wise and judicial custom.  If someone has heard the gospel preached and the plan of salvation delivered, they may never be more inclined to obey than in the moments directly following the invitation delivered.  Whether we are talking about members responding to ask for prayers or confessing sin struggles or a lost sinner expressing a desire to be baptized, the invitation is a vital moment of decision for several at any given service.  Perhaps because it is such a “fixture” in our services, occurring at the end of each lesson, it can make us, individually and as a whole congregation, lax about how we should behave leading up to and during the invitation and the “invitation song.”  Consider some suggested advice for “invitation etiquette.”

  • Select an invitation song that convicts, persuades, and admonishes.  Some songs do this much better than others, as evidenced by indexers efforts to list certain songs as “invitation songs.”
  • Avoid the pregnant pause. The song leader who is ready to begin leading the song as soon as the preacher stops speaking helps prevents that dramatic time lapse that may be enough to break one’s train of thought who is mentally wrestling with the decision to respond.
  • Avoid the rack rattle.  As listeners who are thoughtful of one another (including those deliberating over whether or not to respond), let us be careful not to drown out one’s thoughts by pulling out our songbooks as we anticipate the preacher “winding down” his sermon.  Most of us know most of the songs well enough that we probably don’t need the songbook for the first line anyway.  It is a courtesy to the preacher and potential responders when we refrain from the racket of pulling out the songbook as the invitation is offered.  If you must get the songbook ready while the preaching is still going, go the extra mile to remove it without making any noise!
  • Moving lips should be singing.  The invitation or the song that follows it is not the most ideal to handle logistics, further worship planning, and similar discussions.  Who knows but that we may be carrying on some conversation in such a way as completely distracts one who might have been readying to respond?  If a dialogue with someone is necessary, why not discreetly excuse yourself and the other person to some place outside the auditorium, if possible?
  • Be prayerful. How powerful would it be if all present not intending or needing to respond were in prayer for anyone who might be wrestling with that decision?  Satan is looking for any obstacle or scheme (cf. 2 Co. 2:11) that will keep someone away from Jesus.  By silently praying for these ones as we sing, who knows what impact will be made in this matter?

Perhaps there are other “etiquette tips” that could be added.  Certainly, the preacher should give thought and preparation to that final part of his sermon, emphasizing urgency and eternity.  He should not make false promises of concluding a sermon without “keeping his word.”  With that, let the rest of us consider how we can partner together with him to make each invitation as impacting and effective as possible.

 

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What Are We Doing Here?


Neal Pollard

Too many congregations have forgotten the reason they exist.  Maybe you have heard Thomas Wedel’s parable of the crude lifesaving station that was just a hut and one small boat with a few dedicated members who constantly looked for shipwreck victims lost on the storm-tossed sea.  In time, their success attracted new members, and they were able to buy several new boats and train large crews.  Eventually, as they swelled in numbers and affluence, they became a social club that talked about the value and importance of lifesaving.  Yet, gradually, they had stopped saving those in actual danger (Heaven Bound Living, 99-101).

Are there churches filled with people who study about, preach about, and talk about our mission, but are not saving many?  Perhaps, in too many cases, we are not being true to our reason for existence.  It is like the story about a man who sees a sign in a store window in a small European town.  The sign said, “Pants Pressed Here.” The man goes in and starts to remove his trousers, but he is stopped by a clerk who asks him what he’s doing.  The man said, “I saw your sign and want my pants pressed.”  The clerk replies, “We don’t press pants here.  We just paint signs” (source unknown).  It says “church of Christ” on our buildings.  Are we serving Him and the lost, or have we just painted a sign?

Forgetting or betraying our reason for existing may be a matter of failing to realize why we are here.  The age in which we live has given us astounding opportunities and tools to grow, but a failure to realize the need to grow may be behind the fact that the church is not growing throughout the brotherhood.  A lot of congregations and individual Christians have forgotten that the world is really lost.  Second, our pluralistic culture has caused many to lose a clear picture of who is saved and who is lost, and as a result many hesitate to talk to others about their lost condition.  Third, we have become too internally focused on felt needs and personal satisfaction rather than on the eternal salvation of souls around us.  Finally, too many churches question the absolute authority and truth of scripture, seeing it as spiritual suggestions and not Divine directives.  In essence, Jesus says, “Look around you and take off the blinders.  People are dying eternally lost and need the gospel!”

We must remain true to our original purpose.  We must remain true to what the sign in front of the building says.  Only then will we keep reminded of exactly what we are doing here!

 

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IT’S ABOUT TIME!

Neal Pollard

A Republican and a Democrat came up with opposing bills.  That’s hardly news, except the issue does not seem politically charged or motivated.  Both bills have to do with changing “how Coloradans set their clocks” (Colorado Springs Gazette, 12/8/10).  Greg Brophy, the Republican, wants us to keep daylight savings time year round to take advantage of  longer daylight to engage in outdoor activities, for which our fair citizens are so well-known.  Ed Vigil, the Democrat, wants us to be like Hawaii and Arizona and stay on standard time year round.  He says that would give farmers, ranchers, and school kids an advantage over the current format.  Neither knew of the other’s bill proposal, but both wanted to change how we reckon time.

Who knows if either of these proposed pieces of legislation stand a chance of becoming law?  We can change the time on our clocks, but what we cannot change is how much time we are allotted.  There are still but 24 hours in a day.  No piece of legislation can give or take time from us.  No bill can lengthen or shorten how much time we will have lived.  Each of us, individually, are stewards of our time, no matter what time it is when the sun rises and sets.  The admonition of scripture is to make “the most of your time” (Eph. 5:16), “inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Harvey MacKay, owner of MacKayMitchell Envelopes for more than 45 years, once said, “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.” What wisdom!  What a challenge for us to spend that priceless commodity in view of eternity and the unique influence we wield.  A constituent told Brophy, “If we could shorten Monday to Thursday by an hour we could extend Saturday and Sunday each by two hours” (Lynn Bartels, Denver Post, 12/8/10).  Don’t hold your breath for that.  But make the most of your Mondays, Saturdays, and the rest of your days!

 

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THE HEART WOUNDED AT PEARL HARBOR

Neal Pollard

Dean Derrow was one of 1,178 listed as wounded during the attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened on this date in 1941.  He was a fire control man who served about the USS West Virginia.  That ship was blasted by five torpedoes and two bombs, and Darrow was blown into the water by the blast.  There, unconscious, he was rescued by personnel from the USS Solace, a navy hospital ship.  As he was being transported by motor launch to the Solace, a Japanese plane started strafing the boat.  Finally, the servicemen made it to the hospital ship where Derrow was examined and judged fit to return to duty.  He set out with others on the USS Porter, which set out for Midway and Christmas Islands. Derrow passed out while swimming and slept for ten days in sick bay.  He went back to the Solace and had his appendix removed on February 24th.  But it was what was discovered in March, 1942, that almost defies belief.  Herb Louden, a Navy corpsman on the Solace, wrote, “Then finally, March 7th, 1942, an X-ray technician by the name of Robert Rule found a 7.7 MM 1 1/2″ long bullet lodged in Derrow’s heart, three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It became obvious that when he was pulled into the rescue boat a bullet from the strafing Japanese fighter plane had struck his back, penetrated his lung and the back muscle of his heart, stopping before popping out the front” (http://pearlharborsurvivorsonline.org/html/WoundedHeart.htm).

What an incredible story of survival.  How blessed Derrow was for the fortuitous outcome.  So many other amazing things happened in this story.  Alice, the nurse who took care of him, married him and they enjoyed 50 years of married life in California. Louden, who told the story and helped pull him out of the water, conducted his funeral on January 4, 1992.

As we honor these heroes who faced such terrifying odds as teenagers and young men, I find something significant about this incident.  Derrow went 132 days with a bullet lodged in his heart.  He apparently did not know it or feel it, but that did not make it any less serious and life-threatening.  If that object had not been removed, Derrow would likely have died.

Satan shoots his fiery darts at us, trying to destroy us!  The stakes are eternally high.  He aims at the heart, which controls and influences all we do and who we are.  If we are not careful, we can allow him to hit us there and wound us.  We will show symptoms, but we may be able to function despite the serious danger to our hearts.  We must allow the Great Physician to help us remove any object from our hearts that threatens our spiritual lives!

800px-aerial_view_of_pearl_harbor_on_8_march_2016

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THE ROLE OF RULES

Neal Pollard

A blogger from Australia, who seems at least quasi-religious, wrote an article entitled, “Why I Hate Rules.”  He gave three reasons.  (1) Rules are for “twonks” (British slang for “a stupid person.”  (2) Rules are for others (rule makers are notorious for ignoring the rules).  (3) Rules don’t inspire me.  Here, he cites among others Jesus’ healing on the sabbath and eating with tax-collectors and sinners.

This man, to some degree, seems a casualty of pop culture.  Nobody likes rules.  It is more noteworthy to find someone who does.  It goes against our nature to be subjected to rules.  You hear, “Rules are made to be broken.”  Sometimes, those who do not say it live it.

While some may unevenly apply rules or abuse rules, like the Pharisees, priests, lawyers, and scribes too often did, to disdain and disavow rules because some misuse them is like asking for a ban on automobiles because some are reckless drivers. Certainly, there is the sense in which the Bible itself is a book containing several rules.  We are not saved by rule-keeping, but that does not nullify the importance of rules in our lives.  Rules serve several roles.

Rules create accountability. I am accountable to others and, most of all, to God (Rom. 14:12; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 4:5).  His expectations and instructions are designed to help me see my accountability and to be accountable to Him.  If I live to myself and die to myself (cf. Rom. 14:17), I can do just as I please.  Gravity is a natural law, but it implies certain rules that cannot be defied and which hold us accountable.  How much more is it true that the Bible contains spiritual laws that include with them accountability measured either by obedience or disobedience.

Rules foster consistency.  “What’s right for me may not be right for you” only works in fairy tales and fantasies.  God is an impartial judge (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; etc.).  Thus, it is fair for the perfectly fair God to have all His rules apply evenly to everyone.  With but two eternal destinies and two roads to get there, there needs to be objective directions given.  Consistency and fairness are complementary.

Rules encourage submission. Jeremiah wrote, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).  Most of us wrestle with trying to be our own boss, but rules stubbornly stand in the way of that philosophy.  I am not my own man.  I am God’s man.  He tells me, “Submit therefore to God” (Jas. 4:7a).  How do I do that apart from obedience and submission of my will to His.

The limitation of the rules rest with us.  When we fail to obey the rules or obey them disingenuously, they do little if any good.  It is like the old story of the girl, sternly warned by her mother to sit down, who replied, “I’m sitting on the outside but standing on the inside!”  But, our consistent failure to apply these rules to our lives, while such may hurt a great many, other people, ultimately hurts us most of all.  Paul said, “For neither is circumcision anything, or uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16). The new creation that we become through Christ by getting into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27) is one in which Christ lives within us (Gal. 2:20).  That means He rules!  When He rules over me, the rules I am under are bearable and doable.  Thank God for His righteous rules!

 

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DRIVING AWAY THE VULTURES WHEN YOU WORSHIP

Neal Pollard

 

In Genesis 15, Abraham is offering a heifer, goat, ram, turtledove, and pigeon on an altar.  This was the way you worshipped in Abraham’s day.  As a matter of course, Abraham was cutting all but the birds in half in preparation to worship when the buzzards buzzed the sacrifices.  Almost as a footnote, Moses writes, “The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away” (Gen. 15:11).

 

Have you ever had to do that when you worshipped?  Maybe, you’ve prepared for worship and are actively engaged in it when the vultures try to descend.  That bird of prey might be a noise in the auditorium, an uninvited thought, an action by another worshipper or a worship leader, the room temperature, some type of visual distraction, or almost any other sort of external or internal intrusion.  But, these things can become the predators that pick at, sabotage, or consume our worship.  Our thoughts and attitudes can be adversely affected to the point that we fail to offer God acceptable worship.

 

Sometimes, you have to shoo away those birds of prey.  Swoop into action.  Pray.  Redouble your concentration.  Give yourself a mental pep talk, reminding yourself why you are assembled.  Do not let the vultures violate your veneration!  Fight off the distractions, annoyances, and aggravations!  You will be the better for that effort, and God will be pleased with what you offer.

 

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A Famous “Foster Child”


Neal Pollard

What do Marilyn Monroe, Eddie Murphy, author Dave Pelzer, Olympic athlete Reese Hoffa, Cher, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer have in common?  All of them spent time growing up in foster care.  There have been a great many famous foster parents, too.  My parents were involved in foster care for several years during my childhood.  Several good brethren today continue to provide a home, if temporarily, to those whose own homes are strained or broken.

There is a man in Acts, an Ephesian, whose time upon the inspired stage is brief.  His name, Trophimus, literally means “foster child.”  Though there is no particular significance attached to his name, it is one of the more interesting names in the New Testament. It seems that adoption was very common in the Greco-Roman life.  Ryrie says, “Childless couples could often adopt a son who then became their heir. Even if the adopted son had living biological parents, they had no more claim over him after the adoption had taken place. Often parents were willing to let their sons be adopted by another family if it meant a better lot in life” (Basic Theology, 306; see rules of adoption in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome, Lefkowtitz and Fant, 99-100).  A foster child would have been essentially the same as an adoptee in that society,

It is not far-fetched to think that Trophimus was converted through Paul’s efforts (cf. Acts 20:4; Easton considers him to have literally been a foster child).  Paul once called Timothy his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2) and his influence over many others, among them Titus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, Jesus Justus, Clement, may have had a paternal flair.  Once, he told the Thessalonians that he was as gentle as a “nursing mother” caring for her own children (1 Th. 2:7; the word for “nurse” there is in the same word family as Trophimus).

Trophimus was certainly nurtured and tutored in discipleship under Paul’s capable guidance.  The Ephesian was with Paul when he was arrested in Jerusalem, mistakenly assumed to have entered the temple with Paul (Acts 21:29).  Trophimus had come to Jerusalem on Paul’s last recorded visit to that city (Acts 20:4).  At the end of Paul’s life, Trophimus was unable to accompany the apostle due to illness (2 Tim. 4:20).  Some have supposed that he was one of the brothers who accompanied Titus in delivering the second epistle to Corinth in 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 (cf. Elwell and Comfort, 1275).  “Legend suggests that Trophimus was ultimately beheaded by the order of Nero” (ibid.).

That is all we know of Trophimus, but we know he was in the sphere of Paul’s influence.  Paul adopted him, as he no doubt did others.  What an example Paul provides for us of the power of mentoring and influence.  Leadership training, church growth, and elder, preacher, deacon, or other working enlisting is a valuable, but too seldom practiced, work.  We need to foster our own Timothys, Tituses, and Trophimuses.  Who are you helping grow in the service of the Lord?