“PRCHNG1”

Neal Pollard

The title above, PRCHNG1, was once the vanity tag on a truck I owned. When in 2004 I said a sentimental goodbye to the “Black Bullet” (as Kathy affectionately named my 1985 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe pickup, which I traded in on a “new” 1992 Dodge Dakota), I transferred the tags down at the DMV.

As I picked up a number at the front counter, I had my tags in hand, and the receptionist saw them. It launched an interesting conversation.

She said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try that. I bet that’s so fun. Is it scary?”

I was puzzled and said so.

She said, “Your tags. How long have you been parachuting?”

I guffawed.

You may have surmised by now that my tag stood for “Preaching One.” I worked with DMV originally to find something that gave that clue. “Preacher,” “Mr Preach,” “Preacher,” and several others were already snagged. So I settled on “PRCHNG1.”

I thought it was clear, but apparently my fellow motorists either thought I was in some airborne division or maybe purchased hand guns. I don’t know.

As Christians, we’re told to be salt, light, and leaven, to clearly point others to Jesus.

When others see your works (cf. Mat. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12), do they conclude that you are a Christian? Or does the general tone and slant of your life lead people to contrary conclusions?

Be careful! Others are watching us, and they make assumptions about our character and lives by what they see. Let us make it plain (cf. Hab. 2:2)!

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Enlightening Journey

Neal Pollard

I have been preaching full-time for 26-plus years, and made my first attempts over three decades ago. I’ve taught Bible classes about the same length of time and taught in a preacher training school for a dozen years. I’m a preacher’s son and feel like a fairly diligent student. But, this trip has been enlightening in many ways.

I’ve learned more about the physical features of the land. Today is just a sampling of that. Going to the Shephelah, the Judean foothills or lowlands, we looked at ruins of the Old Testament town of Tel Beit Shemesh. It was a fertile, strategically important area and the site of conflict between particularly the Israelites and Philistines.  The valley of Elah, also a famous location of conflict between Israel and Philistia, was a playing field surrounded by two stadiums, those Judean foothills where each army camped. We got to walk in the creek bed where David retrieved his five smooth stones. But far to the south, where we ended up in the afternoon, we reached the arid, though surprisingly green, area at the very south of the nation–Beersheba. It is south of the mountains of Jerusalem, at the northern edge of the hot, flat Negev desert. Each day, we’ve been surprised and enlightened by the secrets of this land unlocked with our GeoBasics book, an expert guide, and an extremely knowledgeable tour group leader.

I’ve learned more about the people I’m traveling with. Each day, I’ve said something about them, but the blessing continues with every new day. You can’t travel with anyone for this long without learning new and interesting and unexpected information.

I’ve learned something about the religion of the land I’m in. I know far less about Judaism than I do areas of Christendom, but tonight we had a rabbi speak to us after dinner. He is a conservative rabbi that grew up an Orthodox Jew. He shared with us the viewpoint of at least a portion of the Jews in Israel and the rest of the world. When I heard him, it showed me how much there is for us to share with so many people in this world. It also told me something of the unique hope found in the New Testament.

Ive learned more principles about the Word of God, especially as viewed through the lens of Bible Geography. Wes Autrey gave a powerful lesson overlooking the valley of Elah, where David defeated Goliath. Adeptly using that story, he urged us to see the stone fired by David as faith in action. Donnie Bates, at Bersheva, related how the God revealed there is literally the living God who sees me. In the wilderness, God was there to be with His people. Masterful! Every day, the lessons have tied the geographical location to a spiritual lesson that has helped me in my relationship to God, His Word, and this land. I’ll never forget it.

I’ve learned more about me.  These days have exposed those areas in me that need more work. They’ve shown me what touches my heart and how. They’ve shown me what I should be doing more effectively and why. It seems strange that a place would help do this, but it has done exactly that.

The journey still has about three days left. The days are long and tiring, but thrilling, too. And, as today perfectly represents, they are so enlightening.

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A Joyful Journey

Neal Pollard

One thing becomes more clear each day as this trip unfolds, and that’s the bond and enjoyment among the travelers this trip is producing. No trip is without it’s bumps and bruises, but the days have brought us closer together as we collective experience the often “overwhelming” moments of the day. It’s wonderful to love and like the people you travel with. There’s lots of laughing and talking, perhaps accentuated by the incredible things we see each day. That’s the result of leadership, and John and Carla Moore have done an incredible job setting a happy tone. But there’ll be more to say about that later.

This day started at an incredible site, uncovered only about a decade ago. After spending the night in Bethlehem (it’s so cool just to type that!), we went down from Bethlehem toward the biblical city of Tekoa. There, we saw the Herodium, one of the palaces of Herod the Great and the place he was buried. Michael Hite contrasted his opulence and extravagance, destined for ruin and decay, with the living stones that make up God’s spiritual house (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). Afterward, we enjoyed a few hours at the Israel Museum, seeing so many artifacts collected from various archaeological sites–including many tels we have visited on this trip.

From there, we went into the old city of Jerusalem for the first time. We went to the presumed site of the city of David, then down into Hezekiah’s tunnel. This wet tunnel goes for over 1700 feet with water as high as the thigh. It was an incredible engineering feat that protected Jerusalem’s water supply when the Assyrians laid siege during Hezekiah’s reign. We sang our way through much of the tunnel, and laughed a lot, too. Several Israeli teenagers were just ahead of us and enjoyed our singing so much they asked for an encore when we arrived at Siloam’s pool. Tyler King shared a great lesson with us from John 9.

After dinner, several of us went down to the old city at night. We walked in through the Damascus Gate in the Muslim quarter and eventually wound our way over to the western wall. We were treated to a hoard of sights and smells, then wearily returned to our hotel rooms. Every day is thrilling, educational, and overwhelming, but the people continue to bring as much joy and enjoyment as the places we are going (cf. Isa. 52:8-9).

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An Emotional Journey

Neal Pollard

This being the only Sunday in Israel on this journey, it’s not surprising that this day would be so highly emotional. We began the day at the Dead Sea, where we worshipped together (being several hours away from the Nazareth congregation). The songs we sing are always profound, but something about looking out a window at the landscapes of the Holy Land honestly evoked even more feelings as we sang “How Great Thou Art,” “He Could Have Called 10,000 Angels” or “Surround Us Lord.” The tight bond of fellowship with other New Testament Christians was (and is) intense. Dan Owen challenged us not just to know the Word of God, but to do it! What a challenging gap between the two! Then, we saw and explored the grounds of perhaps the greatest discovery of the 20th Century, the caves of Qumran. We heard that just this past week a scroll containing text from the book of Esther found in one of the caves, marking the fact that the entire Old Testament was discovered in them (read this interesting article). Such thrilling, faith building facts, pointing to the faithful transmission of copies of the original autographs of the biblical canon.

From there, we went to the Jordan River to the approximate place where Jesus obeyed the will of God being baptized by John. Watching particularly those of the Russian Orthodox religion being baptized en masse, this was a site of faith for so many people. As John Moore said, “It shows the great challenge to faithfully declare the Word of God to the world.” Despite the misguided beliefs of the crowds at this hallowed spot, how encouraging to see so many who believe in God, His Son, and the importance of His coming.

We moved along to Jericho for an incredible experience, standing at the oldest city in the world. It was the place where the greatest generation of Israel began their conquest of the land promised by God to their forefather Abraham. It was also the site of so many important events in Jesus’ ministry, from Zaccheus to Bartimaeus. It was also one end of the journey made by the unfortunate man in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. A place we’ve studied about since we are little children, Jericho lay out before us as a marvel our eyes could behold. Donnie Bates brought it vividly to life, speaking to us there with the admonition that when we do things God’s way there’s victory but when we go our own way there’s defeat. What a feeling of awe and excitement, being soldiers of Christ!

Then, oh the emotion of making the initial drive into Jerusalem. Stopping at the Ma’ale Adummim, imagining the Jews en route to Jerusalem and singing the songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-134), we were mesmerized by the grandeur of the wilderness even as we were surrounded by Bedouins extra eager to hawk their wares and baubles to us as we read Scripture and prayed. The initial view of the Mount of Olives and the walls of Jerusalem brought exclamations from people all over the bus. It’s hard to describe the well of emotion kindled by such views. A stop at Mt. Scopus, with an exceptional view of the Temple Mount, part of which we recognize as Mt. Moriah, intensified so many feelings.

Today, there were so many smiles, songs, and tears, but also many moments of solemn silence. How better to describe it than emotional? It makes the needed feelings of dedication and diligence raw and real, I’m so thankful I got to experience it and to experience it with such wonderful people.

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Cave Four, Qumran (photo by Kathy Pollard)

Journey To The Top Of The Lowest Place On Earth

Neal Pollard

Today marked a slower paced day filled with significant stops. One of our group, Melissa Herbelin, would later say that she was not excited about the prospect of our first stop before she arrived but afterward was thrilled to have been there. We woke up at the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. But our first stop, Masada, was over 1300 feet up from the ground. It was home to a fortress and palace built by Herod the Great as a place of refuge were he to need it for political reasons in the often tenuous times of the Roman Empire with its intrigues and alliances. Accessed today by a cable car, the steep mountain detached from the rest of the Moab Mountains was thought impregnable. It was there that the last of the Jewish zealots and rebels against Rome, 960 of them, withstood the great Roman legion until finally committing suicide. The remains are impressive, from Herod’s three-tier palace to the deep cistern and other edifices like the synagogue, storehouses, and the ingenious aqueduct system the king put in place. Herod never lived there, but the insurrections held up there until their deaths signaled the end of the revolt. Many have wondered if David wrote some of the psalms from this impressive spot before Herod build his stronghold there. Dan Owen chose to focus us on the tenacity of the Jewish zealots and Roman army as each fought to defeat the other, and he told us their cause was not eternal. He encouraged us to fight with that intensity for our eternal goals.

About ten miles north of Masada, we arrived at En Gedi. This is an oasis of incredible lushness in the midst of the dry, brown Negev desert. Home to the rock badger, Nubian ibex, and endangered starling, among other creatures, it is home to two large and several smaller waterfalls. Ron Crawforth led us to consider events, like Saul’s pursuit of David (1 Sam. 24) and some of David’s Psalms, like Psalm 37, that could well have occurred in this precise oasis location. Not many other places would fit the description so well.

Finally, we came back to the Dead Sea to see one of God’s great marvels. It is pondered that this area was part of the grazing area seen by Lot and part of the choice land he took for himself and his herds, an area later destroyed by God with fire and brimstone (cf. Deut. 29:23–“brimstone and salt”). Several of our group floated or stood in the water of this unique, mineralized sea. They played and marveled at the lowest place on earth.

We continue to make this journey as a group bound by Christ and being bound closer to one another. Very little complaining is heard and a general spirit of joyful fellowship wins each day. Thank God for the times in which we live and the opportunity we have to journey in the footsteps of Christ.

The Ambition Of A Burmese Python In The Everglades

Preacherpollard's Blog

Neal Pollard

No, I have not gone geographically goofy!

It’ll take more than a sack lunch to go from Florida to southern Asia, but because some pet owners have deposited their no-longer-wanted pythons into the Everglade Swamp there have arisen some interesting ecological dilemmas. The most spectacular one I have seen had pictorial documentation to prove itself. There, in the black and white of the newspaper, was a Burmese python that had burst in its attempt to swallow…an alligator!

What about you? Do you have big goals and dreams? Where do you see yourself this time next year? By retirement time? In eternity? What tangible things are you “biting off” to make those goals reality? Do you have soul-winning and other spiritual goals? Would you like to be a “lighthouse Christian” whose example motivates many to be like Jesus?

How big are you thinking? How big can you think?

Remember…

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Journey To The Sea And To The South

Neal Pollard

Today was a day about the Changeless and change. As we got on the bus to depart, we sang to John Moore who saw a change from one year to the next as we celebrated his birthday. Our tour started at the Jordan River at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus’ baptism signaled a change in His life and the beginning of His public ministry. We rode a boat on the Sea of Galilee, which led our thoughts (as Michael Hite spoke to us) to a life-changing experience for the apostles as they watched their Teacher show His miraculous power over winds and waves. Just the stiff westerly breeze we experienced helped us appreciate what a violent,east driven storm would have done to change courage to fear in an instant. We went to Beit She’an, where Saul’s body was nailed after his violent death in battle. This signaled a change in Israel’s leadership. In New Testament times, the city was one of ten cities known as the Decapolis where Jesus did miracles and brought His message of eternal change (Mark 5:20; 7:31ff). Ken Dawdy spoke to us of this city as we sat in the well-preserved theatre. Then, we made the two-plus hour journey southeast to the Dead Sea. We watched the gradual change of terrain and topography, going from lush, hilly and green to arid, dry, brown and accented by the dramatic contrast of the Dead Sea. All along the way, I thought of the words, “Change and decay in all around I see; Oh Thou who changes not, abide with me.” Thousands of years of rich history reside in this hallowed land. Change aptly describes the land. We passed through territory claimed by dozens of nations through time. Overseeing and ruling over it all is the God who changes not! Praise God for His steady, unchanging hand, a hand we count on to hold, protect, and comfort us whatever changes come into our lives!

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View of Beit She’An (Photo: Neal Pollard)

Journey To Jesus’ Hometown

Neal Pollard

The last two days have been full of interesting events, We went to Nazareth to see where Jesus grew up. In the place He learned Joseph’s trade and where Jews hearing Him open the door to the Gentiles wanted to throw Him off the brow of the hill, we visited the only known congregation of the Lord’s church in the whole nation. They served us lunch, We sang, prayed and fellowshipped with them. We saw the spot where it’s posited that Mary received news that she would conceive a child. We visited Mt. Precipice, thought by some to be the place where the Jews angrily tried to throw Jesus down. Wayne Burger shared some tremendous truths from Luke four. It was a surprisingly emotional day, especially because of the deep connection I felt with the family of Christ I was able to share it all with,

This morning, we woke up at the Sea of Galilee. Keith Kasarjian and I went for a run and then I nearly sliced off my finger with a cheese knife (on cheese I never got to eat). But the day was eventful again, visiting two cities where we know Jesus walked. The towns and synagogues of Capernaum, where Denny Petrillo shared some interesting facts and applicable truth, and Chorazin hold so much history in them, We went up to the ancient city of Dan, which even earlier than the conquest period was a Canaanite city almost certainly visited by Abraham. It became infamous as one of the two cities set up by Jeroboam as a center of idolatrous worship. We then were able to travel to Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus and the disciples stood amid unbelievable pagan idolatry and affirmed the truth of His Deity. Tyler King told us how precious the truth of His Lordship is.

Amid all these startling scenes and thoughts, as John Moore reminded us near the Israeli-Syrian U.N. controlled buffer zone, we serve a Christ who came to bring unity and peace in a divided world. We came close enough to see across into both Lebanon and Syria, both of whom have been enemies of Israel for some time. Israel itself is a nation not friendly to foreign missionaries preaching New Testament Christianity and evangelism is difficult among the Orthodox Jew and Muslim populations. But we visited places where Jesus started everything, not just a movement that changed the world but THE movement of all movements. It’s what has us moving from place to place in this beautiful country and what moves our hearts so deeply,

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Adjustments On The Journey

Neal Pollard

We encountered a delay in Newark, New Jersey, that slowed down our journey. Our plane had made the long haul from Hong Kong and needed some maintenance work before we could take off. This meant that we arrived in Tel Aviv over an hour behind schedule. Between that and the lengthy customs process, we were a couple of hours behind schedule. John and Carla put together such an incredibly thoughtful itinerary. Because of the delay, however, we had to eliminate the first stop from the planned journey. Aphek, where Joshua apportioned the tribal inheritance, where the ark was stolen, and where Israel fought Syria. Instead, we journeyed up to the an amazing city, with its harbor, the place where Paul was interred and transferred to Rome (Acts 21-25), where Pilate stayed, and which Herod the Great built. Caesarea Maritima, with its impressive colosseum and hippodrome, with its engineering marvel, the aqueducts, and with its ingeniously designed harbor, sits at the Mediterranean Sea. Philip preached here (Acts 8:40). Peter saw his vision calling him to preach to the Gentiles here (Acts 10:1ff). Herod died his gruesome death here (Acts 12). While we had to hurry through this incredible site, we sat and listened to John Moore deliver a powerful devotional lesson about the blessings God gave Israel, the testing ground of faith and trust in God’s leadership, and the challenge to us to trust in Him and receive His blessings today. How incredible that we got to do this on the day of our arrival, jet lagged and fatigued as we all were. Even in our mental fog and physical exhaustion, what a blessing to be able to share in all of this with so many of our Bear Valley family members. There are 39 of us on this journey, experiencing the expected and unexpected, soaking in the powerful places and principles that seem to be as fruitful as the orange, fig, avocado, fig, date palm, and banana trees we saw along the journey from Tel Aviv to Caesarea. Not everything will go smoothly. With about 40 people moving from place to place, flexibility will be the name of the game. Each new day, we will adjust yet we will appreciate every detail!

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On A Journey

Neal Pollard

We’re at B20 at the Denver International Airport, waiting to take off for Israel. We’ve been looking forward to this trip and in some ways more than any other trip we’ve been on. There are at least two reasons why. First, we’re going to the Holy Lands. When we were there last summer, we felt sure that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thanks to God’s blessings, a generous benefactor, and our kind elders, we’re able to go back and see the places where Bible events occurred and walk again in the footsteps of our Savior. Second, we’re going with so many special people. As people walk up to our gate, it’s exciting to see them and know that we’ll be experiencing this with my Bear Valley brothers and sisters. We have elders, deacons, teachers, students, and wonderful members who we will experience this with. To see these sites and feel these feelings is wonderful enough, but to do so in the fellowship of friends and spiritual family is even greater.

I believe that I will be reminded throughout each day of the blessing of the church. To be able to connect that to the place where the church began will be special and thrilling. Having Kathy by my side is always my chiefest blessing, but to associate with so many other people with whom we share faith and life will stay with us for the rest of our lives. With your permission, I will be sharing observations and facts from the various places on our journey. Thank you for coming along with us, if only in a virtual sense. We’d appreciate your prayers over the next several days. I leave you with the thoughts of Jeremiah, who said, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (29:11). May God bless us all on the grand journey we’re making from this world to eternity.

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Looking at the Mediterranean Sea from Ashkelon, Israel.