THE ADVANTAGES OF ADVERSITY 

THE ADVANTAGES OF ADVERSITY 

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Safari 2017

Neal Pollard

Since March Madness begins later this week, I was reading about all the teams to help me fill out my brackets. I came across the incredible story of Damian Chong Qui, a guard for the Mount St. Mary’s basketball team that won the Northeast Conference tournament and will play Texas Southern for the right to play against Michigan. The odds of Mount St. Mary’s winning the NCAA tournament are so astronomical that the team is more likely to be hit by an asteroid in their team bus going to the arena to play, but Chong Qui symbolizes the team’s grit, determination, and uncanny ability to defy the odds. His story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Born and raised in crime-riddled East Baltimore, his father and mother were shot in separate incidents less than two months apart in 2002, when he was only four. His father recovered, but his mother was murdered. Eight years later, his father was shot again and paralyzed from the waist down. Damian has been his father’s most consistent caregiver since then, dressing him and helping him into his wheelchair. Damian found an outlet in basketball, starting on his High School basketball team as a freshman. He was only 4 feet, 9 inches tall. A growth spurt helped him reach his current height of 5 feet, 8 inches tall. No Division One teams showed interest, so he walked on with the Mountaineers. Not only did he go on to earn a scholarship, but he is a star and the heart and soul of this scrappy squad. From his father to coaches and teammates, Damian is called dependable, hardworking, and focused (much biographical data from a 1/17/20 Baltimore Sun article by Edward Lee: “…Damian Chong Qui has overcome tragedy to shine at Mount St. Mary’s”). 

There is no one who would want to go through what this young man has endured. Many might use such tragedy as an excuse or a crutch to let life defeat them, but Chong Qui shows the resiliency and resolve which is in mankind. While the Chong Quis do not sound especially devout, Damian’s father, Edward, said of him, “I feel like God has been working things out for him” (ibid.). 

God does not cause evil (Jas. 1:13), but God is able to bring about good in the worst of circumstances. It is evidence of His omnipotence and omniscience. Do you remember Job’s wise and righteous assessment, even as he was in the dark about the cause of his pain and suffering? He tells God, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (42:2). As James assesses Job’s situation, he writes, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). Paul experienced this, too. He speaks of his “thorn in the flesh,” which God saw fit to allow him to retain. Why? Paul explains, “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). 

Maybe you are struggling with some thorn in the flesh, some pain and suffering, some adverse circumstance that looms over you and seems poised to undo you. How will you respond? Will you see it as an advantage? A chance for God’s power to be perfected in weakness? For the power of Christ to dwell in you? As the means of strength in weakness? Do not forget that there is no force, earthly or spiritual, that can withstand the advantages that God can bring into your life even in times of greatest adversity! His purpose cannot be thwarted. And if our lives are being lived according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), that is confidence that can propel us through the worst of situations! 

Damian Chong Qui

Four Ways to Cope With a Day Gone Awry 

Four Ways to Cope With a Day Gone Awry 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

Thursday, October 29, 2020, proved to be a day gone awry for me. I was supposed to have a follow-up appointment with one of the many specialists my health problems require. The day started with a bang. That banging was the screen door repeatedly smashing the side of the house, driven by the wind in Tropical Storm Zeta. The power was out, but our backup generator was on, providing electricity. No problem, correct? No, our community well does not have a backup generator.  So, though I had electricity, I had no water. What was going to make me presentable to the public? Baby wipes to the rescue.  

The thought had occurred to me that if I were having a hard time because of the weather that the doctor’s office might as well. I called. No answer. Perhaps, I should stay at home? No. One incurs a fee for missing an appointment without prior 24-hour notification of a missed visit. So, there was no turning back from this point. I checked Georgia 511 to ensure the roads I was traveling was clear. My route checked out. There were reports of debris on secondary roadways in the areas I would travel, but none affected my trip. Everything looked great. 

In Union County, the highway was passable. The Notley River overflowed its banks, flooding the surrounding lowlands, but the road was in no danger because it is above the water-engorged river. In Lumpkin County, just beyond the Appalachian Trail crossing at Neel Gap, I noticed that the leaf and pine needle debris increased. The winds must have been worse further south.  I began seeing evidence of trees that had been cleared from the roadway in the hours before I arrived. In White County, the power was out, rendering stoplights inoperable. I discovered that most of the drivers I encountered did not know that you treat a useless traffic light as a 4-way stop. In Hall County, I drove over two or three dead, downed powerlines. A flagman stopped me briefly before directing me around a large tree, still covering half of Clarks Bridge Road.  

But I arrived at the doctor’s office safely. I was even early for my appointment. I couldn’t help but notice the parking lot was empty when I arrived, however. Yes. The office was closed because of the power outage. Had anyone thought to contact those having to drive “over the mountain” from over 50 miles away? Of course, they had not. I heard a sigh slip out.  

 

There is a large Dollar Tree in Cleveland, Georgia. So, I called my parents to let them know I arrived safely but would be returning home sooner than they expected. The Dollar Tree excursion went well. I returned to Walmart in Blairsville, Georgia, since dad had some medicine I needed to pick up. Before doing so, I stopped to take a picture of the raging Trahlyta waterfall at Vogel State Park 11 miles outside of Blairsville. It was beautiful, even if it looked like the observation deck might be washed away. Once at Walmart, I found the pharmacy was closed. The “system” had “gone down.” Despite saying they hoped they would have it back up in thirty minutes, they did not. I went home, minus dad’s medicine.  I fixed a cup of coffee and sat down to write my article. I spilled some of it on my desk. Fortunately, I did not get the keyboard wet. However, my workspace now smells like coffee. (But that is a good thing.)  

Do you want to know something interesting? I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation at several points during the day but refused to do so. I pulled out four tricks to help me cope with a day gone awry. And here they are. 

  1. RELAX. As Cain discovered, when we become agitated, sin crouches at the door desiring mastery over us (Genesis 4.7). I could be upset that my doctor’s office was discourteous to me, but that was no excuse for sinning (Ephesians 4.26). Hence, I needed to “be still” so I could acknowledge God (Psalm 46.10).

 

  1. REJOICE. That day was a day made by my Lord. So, I needed to rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118.24). I had a say over how I would feel about things. It was a beautiful day, despite its raucous start. I was happy to be alive. Despite sounding trite, I knew others that day faced actual challenges, potentially imperiling their life. The pointless trip only inconvenienced me.  

     
  2. REFOCUS. After telling us how to find indescribable peace through prayer, Paul tells us to meditate (think) about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,” and anything excellent or worthy of praise (Philippians 4.8). Now that I calmed down, I needed to think about what I would do to salvage the rest of the day, filling it with superlatives!

     
  3. REPURPOSE. So, I was not seeing the doctor. Even so, I needed to find something productive to ensure that I could make the most of my time (Ephesians 5.16). I immediately scrapped my previous idea for my Biblical Byte to a lesson on coping with days gone awry. I meditated upon it during my trip and read through the Scriptures after returning home. And this is the result.

It may be that one needs to throw in a fifth “R” also. Repent. If you allow a bad day to make profanities escape your lips or harbor hatred in your heart, you need to make that right with God and any other parties that may be present pronto. In that way, you can turn the day around and make it something good. I trust, though, that with practice, you can better deal with your days gone awry too. Let us strive to do all to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10.31).    

 

The Quality That Makes Us Excited For Hard Times

The Quality That Makes Us Excited For Hard Times

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Joy is something we’re supposed to have when we go through trials (Jas. 1.3). It’s χαρά, which means, “to experience gladness.” It describes a forward-thinking mentality that says, “Right now isn’t great, but I can learn from this and grow.” Our joy comes from anticipating the ultimate growth we experience from conquering trials! And if those trials take my life, that joy is in anticipation of heaven. 

Joy is something experienced in heaven and in the presence of angels when someone repents (Luke 15.7, 10). It is compared to the excitement one feels when regaining something valuable that had been lost. Joy is more than just contentment;  it contains also an element of excitement. 

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). It is contrasted with outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, etc. A part of living the Christian life, denying our primal desires, and not being boastful is having joy. Sometimes we find ourselves focusing on what we give up to live faithful lives, but we forget that Christianity provides for, encourages, and promotes excitement and joy! 

So what are we supposed to be excited for? Paul even had joy in the face of suffering (Phil. 2.17). Joy and happiness are not necessarily the same thing. We can have joy or gladness or excitement concerning the life that waits for a Christian while living in the sometimes harsh realities of a fallen world. 

In this life, Christians can have joy because of a profound sense of purpose, having meaning in a confusing world, healing after tragedy, and something to always look forward to. 

It may not be our first response to be excited about hard times, but if we develop a mindset that looks to the rewards and positives of difficulty (growth, endurance, empathy, perspective, heaven), we will have joy and excitement. 

Carl and Chip

How To Make The Best Of A Bad Situation 

How To Make The Best Of A Bad Situation 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Rattlesnakes are large, venomous snakes that live throughout North and South America. In my humble opinion, they are one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet–from the hair-raising sound of that rattle to those intimidating fangs that can be up to six inches long. The bite from one of these monsters is excruciatingly painful. If you were to be bitten, at first you would experience a tingling feeling, followed by an intense burning sensation. After this you would feel lightheaded and begin sweating profusely. Your vision would become blurry, and each breath would be more strained than the last one.

If left untreated, it can be fatal to humans. All of that sounds terrible doesn’t it? What good could possibly come from a deadly rattlesnake? Well, at some point in history, somebody looked at these snakes and decided that they would make a beautiful pair of boots. That’s how to make something great, out of something terrible. There is no doubt in my mind that the inventor of snakeskin boots was an optimist. He could see the good, even when staring into the dark vertical pupils of pure reptilian evil.

When faced with hardship, that simply comes from living in a fallen world, it can be a challenge to see the silver lining in each dark cloud. American basketball player, Charles Barkley once said, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.” That’s definitely how it can feel sometimes! Although we have books in the Bible like Job and James that teach us how we should view our earthly struggles, here are just a few reminders from our God.

Number one, remember that each day is worth rejoicing over. Psalm 118:24 gives us the reason why— because today is another day that the Lord has made. It’s not my day; it’s God’s day. Reminder number two, what we can’t see in times of difficulty, is worth waiting for. Paul would inform us in Romans 8:27, “But if we hope in what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” In the muck of life it may feel at times that there’s just no way out. Just because you may not see the end in sight, rest assured that our hope is in a promise that was put in place before time itself began (2 Timothy 1:9). The last reminder is simply this, that God made the world you are living in and Jesus is currently creating the world we will one day live in (John 14:1-3). I firmly believe each day that passes can only mean that heaven will be that much more beautiful. If God created this world in six days, in all it’s beauty, imagine the splendor of our home to come. Now, if that doesn’t make a bad situation a good one, I don’t know what will! Here are the lyrics to an optimistic hymn that I hope get stuck in your head for quite a while.

“I care not today what tomorrow may bring, if shadow or sunshine or rain. The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything, and all of my worry is vain. Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting confiding in His great love. From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.”

rattlesnake boots
One of two pair of rattlesnake skin boots I own.

LESSONS FROM ADVERSITY: LIVING WITH ONGOING ADVERSITY

LESSONS FROM ADVERSITY: LIVING WITH ONGOING ADVERSITY

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard 

While in the exceptional care of the physicians of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System, I met Dr. Alan Siqueiros as he was completing his Fellowship. He could tell I was depressed. My lung function was at 25% from my history of three pulmonary emboli. I had no prospects for a “normal” future. Yet, Dr. Siqueiros left me with some words of exhortation, since he was about to depart for Yale’s Danbury Hospital to do his Residency. “You’re a bright young man. You may not have the health you wanted, but you have a sharp mind. You’re still young. If I were you, I would focus on developing my mind and see where that leads.”

 

There’s something to be said about doing what you can with what you have at your disposal, isn’t there? The woman with the costly oil of spikenard did what she could when she took her costly oil and anointed Jesus’ head. When people complained she wasted something precious, Jesus told them to leave her alone since she had done what she could for Him (Mark 14.1-9).  A woman in the first century had limited options for service and this was a risky step. Even so, she was motivated to do what she could with what was available to her. Jesus understood and appreciate her effort.

 

We all expect our trials to be swift, don’t we? We don’t anticipate the possibility that we may find ourselves in a situation where adversity persists and may not go away. If you have an illness, others may see your adversity and help. Even so, there are also those forms of adversities people face on their own since no one else notices it (e.g. unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse). So, if you are living with ongoing adversity, what can you do?

 

First, accept God’s sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12.1-10). You don’t have to enjoy adversity, but trust God’s grace to give you a reason to rejoice, even if only in His strength. His strength shines through your weakness, when you’re living faithfully.

 

Second, go ahead and do what you can, even if it’s just with a box of “costly oil of spikenard.” As we’ve seen, even a simple act has its place when used to God’s glory. Christ has entrusted us with the gifts we may use (Ephesians 4.7-8).

 

Third, don’t compare yourself to others. We each have our own cross to carry (Luke 14.27). And the execution of our duties produce the results God intends (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).

 

Lastly, keep going (Hebrews 12.1-4). We know that we will only receive the crown of life if death finds us faithful (Revelation 2:10).

 

The nature of your adversity may be ongoing. It may be something you feel you face alone. However, the sufficient grace of God, coupled with the tools with which He has entrusted all of us, permits even those living amidst adversity to live a fulfilling life leading to our eternal home.

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THE TACTICS OF TROUBLEMAKERS

THE TACTICS OF TROUBLEMAKERS

Neal Pollard

When you come across Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the unnamed others of Nehemiah six, you can’t help but be struck by how timeless some things are.  The book of Nehemiah recounts the great construction project led one of the Bible’s great leaders, Nehemiah.  In fact, this Bible book is a great instruction manual on great traits of leadership.  Despite his skill, though, Nehemiah faced several obstacles.  He had overcome poverty, internal strife, and discouragement, only to encounter the opposition of troublemakers at this stage of the work. Notice what they did and how great leaders respond to such tactics.

He faced insincerity (1-3,10-12).  The aforementioned men tried to pull Nehemiah away from wall-building under the guise of a “meeting.”  Yet, the text says they sought him harm.  Later, we see that these troublemakers have hired an associate of Nehemiah’s, who fabricates a story meant to frighten him.  Both times, Nehemiah saw through the deception.  His answer was to focus on the work, refusing to leave it to become trapped in their snare.  When we are engaged in great works for Christ, there will be those, either out of jealousy or their own heart problems, who don’t want it to succeed.  Perhaps even despite an air of piety or “righteous concern,” they are willing to twist the truth to undermine our work.  Like Nehemiah, we must refuse to leave the work to be dragged into unproductive distractions.

He faced insistence (4).  They sent this same message at least five times!  Imagine Nehemiah and the others, up on the wall, finishing the job as the troublemakers keep pestering them with the same mantra.  Look at what Nehemiah does.  He sticks to his guns.  What grit and determination!  We should know that troublemakers often have nothing better to do.  They aren’t working on their own “walls,” so they choose to do nothing better than try to tear down the walls of others.  We must be prepared to keep working, however much they pester.

He faced insinuation and invention (5-7).  This is a favorite weapon in the troublemaker’s arsenal. They used talebearing, slander, gossip, and the like to try and undermine the work.  You can imagine the sneaky, slithery way in which they did it, can’t you?  “It is reported.” “Gesham says.”  “We’re going to report you to the king.”  What Nehemiah did in response is such a lesson for us.  He didn’t wring his hands or spend a lot of time with counterarguments.  He had truth on his side and did not feel compelled to wallow in the mud with the mudslingers.  He knew he was doing right, and he simply told them so.

He faced intimidation (9).  God gives us insight into the motivation of the troublemakers. Nehemiah says, “They all were trying to make us afraid.”  Why these mean-minded men were so obsessed with halting the work is not exactly clear, but pride and self-importance seem to play a part.  Nehemiah counteracts their bullying by going way over their head! He took it to God, praying for strength to overcome their pressures and threats. Obviously, as we read, God answered Nehemiah’s noble prayer.  When we face such intimidation, we have access to the same power!  That’s the first place we should turn when bullied by troublemakers.

How incredible that something which happened 2500 years ago can be so relevant to us today.  The old adage attributed to Aristotle is true: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”  Well, for Christians trying to do God’s work today, “nothing” is not an option.  We must be ever at work building His kingdom.  Thus, expect trouble and troublemakers.  Then, look to Nehemiah for the strategy to overcome them!  It still works.

“NO MATTER WHAT” OBEDIENCE

“NO MATTER WHAT” OBEDIENCE

(video by Wes Autrey)

Neal Pollard

I cannot imagine anyone present yesterday morning to witness Janice Lee baptized into Christ could have failed to be touched at a very deep level.  J.J. and Lila Brennan had been studying the Bible with Janice, and she came to the conclusion that she needed to be baptized for the forgiveness of her sins.  So, she came to the front after my sermon and made that desire known.

She was in a wheelchair because she suffers left side paralysis as the result of a stroke.  She is also on oxygen.  Several ladies and a few of us men took special measures to help her into the baptistery.  She could walk, slowly, gingerly, and with much difficulty.  The ladies helped her up the stairs, while we stood in the water to receive her and help her the rest of the way.  Each step was tenuous and required the utmost effort on her part. Once she was finally in the baptistery, we carefully lowered her under the water and brought her back up.  Very quickly, her deeply felt emotions gently bubbled to the surface.  She softly cried, recalling difficult things from her past, and she said, “I forgive those who’ve sinned against me.”  The joy and peace on her face is something impossible to adequately describe.

What did this new sister in Christ demonstrate yesterday?  Resolve!  Afterward, I found out not only that she had to deal with the consequences of the stroke, but she is afraid of water.  Yet, she saw the need of her soul as preeminent over any obstacle she might have cited.  The constant need of oxygen, the paralysis, and the phobia were outweighed by the Lord’s command.  Her faith was so strong that they were not insurmountable barriers.  She refused to let them be!

The difference at the Judgment, in part, will be that some will offer excuses for why they did not obey the Lord while others, through genuine, trusting faith, will not need to make excuse.  They will stand before Christ, who will see His blood covering their transgressions.  What does it take to go to heaven? A “no matter what” obedience!

V__7BB1(Photo taken by Kathy Pollard)

Blown By Storms

Blown By Storms

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, several of us traveled from Siem Reap out to Tonle Sap Lake to visit two of the graduates from the first class at the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap, one of our Bear Valley extensions.  They live on a raft and operate a water filtration system capable of servicing dozens of locals each day.  The lake is over an hour from Siem Reap, and they have yet to establish a congregation so our visit was to encourage them.  After visiting, we were having a devotional—singing songs and having a short lesson.  During the lesson, the winds started to blow and the raft started to pull against the ropes tied to the dock.  Suddenly, hard and heavy tropical rains had replaced sunny skies and we were in a storm.  The dock was damaged by the raft tugging against it, and quickly we were tethered by only one rope.  Currents were moving downstream in this, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and the surge flow produced fast-moving water intensified by the rains.  In short, the visit could have ended much more dramatically and dangerously.

There were things that struck me about that storm—it was sudden, powerful, and intense.  It is hard to think of disciples in a boat during a storm without thinking of the events recorded in Matthew 8:23-27.  A storm arose, the boat was covered with waves, the seasoned fishermen and boatmen were frightened, and Jesus was asleep onboard.  They awake Him, He rebuked the wind and the water, and then He rebuked them.  Their faith was not as firm as the fracas.  After yesterday, I am even less critical of their reaction.  It’s easy to feel small and helpless when such a storm arises.

The Bible compares our trials and difficulties to storms.  Job and David, among others, call them “tempests” (Job 9:17; Psa. 55:8). Jesus calls them floods and torrents (Luke 6:47-49). Solomon likens them to storms (Pro. 1:27).  We appreciate the imagery!

These storms can blow us off course and can even make us drift. We can find ourselves barely hanging on and wondering how much more we can take.  Let us remember that Jesus is still with us (Mat. 28:20), so no matter how fierce the storm we will ultimately survive.  “Ultimately” may not mean being spared from physical death, but it does mean that we will preserve our spiritual lives.  May our faith be strong enough to remember that as long as our Lord is near, we are more than conquerors (cf. Rom. 8:31).

We were “fodder” for makeshift foreigners’ photography. Here’s how I’m getting even. 🙂

 

Saran is one of the men in the water trying to set poles to help tie down the raft.

Our ultimate “rescue.”