But, They Were Certain!

Neal Pollard

Have you ever been absolutely sure about something, only to find out you were wrong? Maybe, it was the name of the band that sang your favorite song or the name of the third baseman on your favorite team when you were in elementary school. Sometimes, the stakes are higher and being wrong more costly than that.

Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, is about a man and an entire bureau’s certainty that cost probably 6,000 their lives. And because they were so certain that a hurricane could not strike Galveston, Texas, a lot of people made fatal choices based on their own certainty—they were certain of houses that would stand, trains and tracks that would get them to their destinations, and that the slope of the coast would deter tidal waves and storm surges. Yet, in September, 1900, on Saturday and Sunday, probably the worst hurricane in modern history struck the exposed, helpless booming Texas city.

Some have been so certain about spiritual matters, but were wrong. They have been certain about what to bring God to worship (Gen. 4:2-3), about how to be saved from death (2 Kings 5:11-12), and about how to carry out God’s command (1 Sam. 15:13ff).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of some who seemed certain, but were certainly wrong. Depicting the Judgment scene, Jesus preaches, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mat. 7:21-23). These folks will have done religious acts in Jesus’ name. They will haven been certain they were on the right path, but Jesus says they will have been mistaken. They will not have done the will of the Father.

How many people will this ultimately describe? They have confidence in a preacher, a teaching, a tradition, a feeling, or a belief. Sadly, they have not even questioned whether or not it might not be what the Bible says on the matter. Jesus ends His sermon by talking about storms. This storm is more powerful than the one Larson writes about. It determines destiny (Mat. 7:24-27). We must base our certainty on the Rock!

ursuline_academy_galveston
Ursuline Academy in Galveston, Texas, before the hurricane.

The Ever-Fixed Mark

Neal Pollard

This phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to describe love. While it is an apt, poetic description of love, it also is the perfect modifier of God’s Word. If there is a word to describe the current culture, it is “change.” Our world is enamored with it, constantly changing its mind, its values, its standards of right and wrong, its worldview, and its priorities. Swept up in all of this are societal attitudes about so many things.

What was once right is now wrong. What was wrong is now right. And while not every instance of this is wrong, so many of them are the product of mankind pushing the envelope of previous norms and standards of decency. Let me cite some specific examples:

  • The definition of marriage
  • The definition of gender
  • Sexual mores
  • The sanctity and humanity of the unborn
  • The view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • Male and female leadership roles
  • The move from monotheism to polytheism (one God to many Gods)
  • The existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ
  • The ethics of honesty, hard work, and service

Our list could be much longer, but these representative items have all fallen victim to the world’s push for what it sees as greater freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Those who rely on the Bible as their infallible guide already know how the story turns out for those who make themselves the standard. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). More solemnly, Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). In Paul’s day, suppressing, speculative, sensual, and subverting souls rejected God in deference to self-guidance with destructive results (Rom. 1:18ff). Thus it will always be when man builds upon the foundation of himself.

What happens with us, individually and collectively, when we build upon the rock of Scripture is survival in the severest tests (Mat. 7:24-25). When we see Scripture as something to change us rather than something subject to our changes, we have a sure standard by which to chart our lives. Antecedent societies have experienced the trauma of spiritual self-determination (cf. Prov. 14:34). In a world enamored with unrighteous change, may we determine to fix our gaze on the ever-fixed mark of Scripture!

harrows_bristle_board_bullseye

The Best Thing To Do For The Body This Year

Neal Pollard

When it comes to caring for the physical body, I have a lot to learn. While I work out nearly day, my most developed muscle is the table one. I will be working to use that muscle far less this year. But judging from all the new faces in the gym this morning, there are a lot of people who are going to be exercising their bodies who haven’t been doing so—at least for the next few days or weeks.

When it comes to caring for the spiritual body of Christ, I have even more to learn. Helping the church grow, develop, and fulfill its purpose better is a challenge that grows more daunting with each new year as our culture changes, our own distractions mount, and our sight is so easily eclipsed by the influence of this world. With that in mind, there is something we can do for His body that will give it its best opportunity to please God.  It centers around what we do with the Bible, as a church.

We must have confidence that God’s Word will give us what we need to have to be what we need to be. Through such, we will be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It takes the Word to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Isn’t this what Paul is also saying to Colosse, when he urges them to hold fast to the head so that the body would grow “with a growth which is from God”? (Col. 2:19).  We cannot hope to strengthen and protect Christ’s spiritual body locally without consulting the training manual of the Great Physician.  Let’s make that specific and practical:

  • Preachers must lovingly preach even the difficult subjects (i.e., God’s law of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the distinct plan of salvation, the undenominational, singular nature of the New Testament church, God’s sexual ethics, the role of men and women, God’s pattern of worship, personal purity, etc.) and be a living example of the believer as their ethic is driven by that Word.
  • Elders must shepherd guided by the infallible Word and not with personal favoritism, deciding solely on popularity or what the majority favors, bending to political correctness, fear of offending influential members, and the like.
  • Deacons must function in a way that shows discipline, dedication, devotion, and discretion which is shaped and guided by the New Testament pattern for their works.
  • Members must follow with love, esteem, and cooperation when their leaders urge them to follow God’s truth, even if it’s distasteful to us or challenges our comfort and complacency.
  • Individual Christians must discipline their hearts and minds to be open and submissive to what they encounter in Scripture rather than be defensive and rebellious.
  • Families must dedicate themselves to studying and honoring the Word at home, in their daily lives, to grow and mature in the Words of truth.
  • Each of us must see the mandate to save souls, repeated throughout the New Testament, as a personal responsibility for which God holds us all accountable.

Isn’t it exciting to think about how much stronger the body of Christ where we are might be this time next year? If each of us will allow God’s inspired word to be the beacon and guide of our lives, His body is going to be powerful, noticeable, and desirable. We will draw men to Christ. We will be the picture of spiritual health. As you make your resolutions, won’t you determine to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you (Col. 3:16).

Working out

Doing It Our Way Instead Of God’s Way

Neal Pollard

I have pondered lately about why there is such a growing tendency to overlook the plainly revealed will and mind of God in favor of what either lacks authority or violates His Word. It would be impossible to be exhaustive, lacking the ability to read the mind, judge the motives, and know the heart. However, in a general way, here are a few observations.

  • Feelings have taken priority over reason. Personal preference and one’s inner voice becomes the guiding star for one’s behavior and concepts, and truth gets dethroned. Hearts are hardened against revealed truth and decisions are made based on personal sentiment. In an attempt to avoid hurting feelings, escape ostracism, preserve an image with the world, and have its good will, individuals become their own judges, juries, and pardoners.
  • We have witnessed people of influence “get away with it.” For years, our national heroes and leaders, athletes, politicians, and celebrities, have “gotten away with it” (see both presidential candidates). If society’s elite and influential can do wrong and get away with it, why shouldn’t everyone else?
  • God does not practice instant retribution in the Christian Age. God does not execute immediate punishment upon the wicked or wrongdoer today. “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness…” (Acts 17:31). The fact that some do not get “caught” in sin in this life does not mean God won’t exact justice upon the impenitent ultimately, but because He does not immediately execute sentence against an evil work we can conclude He will not at all (cf. Ecc. 8:11).
  • Man has developed an insatiable hunger for instant gratification. Pleasure and passion, for many, have become stronger determining influences than eternity and judgment. When the flesh is in control, spiritual things are crowded out of the mind. Jesus says that one can only submit to one master, never two (Mat. 6:24). Flesh and spirit are warring parties (Rom. 8:4-8). Gratifying the flesh can kill concern over the consequence of misdeeds.

We cannot do it alone, without God. The fact is, we must totally surrender to Him. His guidance must be embraced. His will must rule. His strength must be accepted. Truly making Him Lord means making His Word the governing influence of our hearts and lives. Such a humble, honest, and heartfelt submission will help us defeat a mindset set on minding our thoughts and ways over His (see Isa. 55:8-9).

Grandpas' Bibles
My grandpas’ Bibles (Mom’s Dad’s on the left, Dad’s Dad’s on the right). 

 

 

 

What It Takes To Grow The Church In Our Culture

Neal Pollard

It was such a treat to be among the hearty, faithful Christian men of central Wyoming and the Bighorn Basin. By Bible-belt comparison, they come from small congregations. But their passion and desire to grow the church is humongous. Near the end of their men’s retreat, they divided into groups to discuss the obstacles to growth and suggestions for growth. What they came up with was incredibly insightful, helpful to especially anyone living in the current, western culture.

Among the obstacles they listed were:

  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear
  • Political correctness
  • Biblical ignorance
  • Sin
  • Apathy/indifference
  • Misplaced priorities
  • Lack of adequate leadership

For those in Alabama, Oklahoma, and California who would say, “Those are our obstacles!”, isn’t it interesting how common our struggle is.  The same factors are holding back our growth all over the nation.

Yet, I love the suggestions they came up with. I think they are key to tapping into our growth potential throughout the country and, to a great extent, throughout the world. They suggested the following:

  • Increase fellowship—The key to growth is being in each others’ lives more
  • Emphasize and empower Bible study—There can be no spiritual or numerical growth without growing our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
  • Think outside the box—Staying faithful to truth, get out of method ruts and overcome fear of rejecting a different, scriptural method just because it is new
  • Challenge greater application of biblical truth—Every class and sermon must have a viable “so what”
  • Be intentional in our relationships—Realize that our jobs, community involvements, friendships, etc., are means to an end rather than an end of themselves. They all exist as opportunities to evangelize.

Our brethren in the deep south, the north, the Atlantic region, the upper midwest, the southwest, the far west, the northwest, and, in short, any recognizable region of the country share a desire to be relevant and meaningful in our communities. We want to honor Christ and grow His body. But it will take measurable steps. It won’t happen incidentally! We must act on our hopes and desires. We must personally engage ourselves in enacting these suggestions daily! In so doing, we’ll not only avoid being part of the problem but we’ll be part of the solution.

13118907_10153650222335922_7374883366678402046_n

The Difference Between Unity And Union

Neal Pollard

When I was a little boy, I heard my dad contrast these two ideas, union and unity, with an interesting illustration.  He said, “You can tie two cats’ tails together and hang them over a clothes line. You may have union, but you do not have unity.”  Recently, political pundits have been making a somewhat similar contrast concerning the European Union. They are bound together economically, socially, and geographically, but there is at times a lack of unity.  These ties have not led to effective communication and information sharing in dealing with terrorist threats. Distrust, the ambitions of individual EU countries, and autonomous business dealings with nations outside its union all contribute to an uneasy synthesis between themselves.

There is great misunderstanding in the religious world and, at times, in the Lord’s church about what biblical unity is.  While there are those who believe that unity demands agreement on matters that ultimately are not established and determined in Scripture (how/if Bible classes are divided, whether to extend an invitation after a sermon, whether or not to meet on Sunday night, order of worship services—i.e., Lord’s Supper or sermon first, etc.), there are many others who believe that unity is possible where union is really what is attempted.

Scripture is the basis of unity! Jesus defined the oneness He wanted His followers to have as reflective of the unity He shares with the Father (John 17:20-21). Through His inspired writer, Paul, He emphasizes the importance of unity, saying that we are to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Unity is clearly defined as existing within a diligence to preserve the truth of “one body…one spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:4-6). The New Testament tells us in specific terms what’s involved in each of these. Attempting to be tied and bound to those who reject or attempt to change what Scripture says about these is not biblical unity. It amounts to tying together what’s incompatible and incongruous. That’s just inconceivable!

2000px-eu_member_states_and_candidate_countries_map-svg

The Ankgor Wat Dinosaur

Neal Pollard

I have been to the Ankgor Wat temple complex, near Siem Reap, four times. It’s a fascinating tourist attraction, but there is one carving, among literally thousands, that stands out above the rest. It is found at Ta Prohm Temple. The temple was built between the late-1100s to early-1200s by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his mother. Today, it is “shrouded in dense jungle” and “fig, banyan, and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over stones, probing walls and terraces” (tourismcambodia.com). “It took 79,365 people to maintain the temple including 18 great priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants, and 615 dancers” (ibid.). But it’s that stone carving that it most unforgettable.  One particular trip, which I made in 2009 with two elders, three deacons, and my oldest son, Gary, stands out in my mind.

I asked our guide, hired out by the Kazna Hotel in Siem Reap and of the Buddhist faith, what he thought this particular creature was. He said he had no idea what it was and added, “They must have had a really good imagination.”  The question such a response raises is, “How did they know to imagine that?!”

Well, a group from Canada was following close behind our group of seven from Denver, Colorado.  A son asked his father for an explanation of the carvings on the pillar, and dad replied with some authority, “Son, that was their version of a geological timetable.”  Of course, it begs the follow up, “How did 12th-Century Khmer people, well before Darwin and others planted their geological seeds, know of such a timetable?”  Furthermore, this “timetable” looks nothing like anything you will ever see in a textbook–a man above it and a monkey below it.  Based upon what fossil evidence did they create their carving?  There must have been hundreds of fellow “explorers” viewing these temple ruins with us in the few hours we were there.  Some of the fascinated people spoke in languages I cannot understand, but body language was pretty telling.  Others, Americans, British, Australians, and Canadians, all seemed to see that carving for what it most apparently was.  No one said, “That’s a rhino or pig.”  They called it a Stegosaurus.

How many other similar discoveries await reclamation from jungle vegetation, archaeological excavation, and geographic exploration?  In the different disciplines of science and history, man uncovers gems like Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm from time to time.  Such clear, incontrovertible evidence from a time before our modern “war” between evolutionists and creationists begs to be examined with unprejudiced eyes.  While some may never change their mind regardless of how many items are offered into evidence, I believe that there are a great number of people out there who are honestly, objectively looking for truth.  The Stegosaurus at Ta Prohm near Siem Reap, Cambodia, might be the item that convinces many!

1937409_160820505921_3751983_n
Gary standing next to the column. Notice what/who else is in the carving with the Stegosaurus.

“Weapons Of Mass Instruction”

Neal Pollard

The Department of Homeland Security has a fact sheet about the threat of chemical, radioactive, and biological weapons, euphemistically referred to as “weapons of mass destruction.” The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director, Yukiya Amano, spoke recently about the potential harm terrorists could inflict if they get their hands on such materials (cf. dhs.gov; iaea.org). A self-defining term, such weapons, bombs equipped with such agents as smallpox or ricin, could tear through populated areas and cause havoc in communities. Weapon implies something aggressive and powerful. Mass suggests an untold, large number. Destruction means done away or undone. The prospect of such is unnerving.

Yet, the Bible calls itself a weapon. It’s a sword (Eph. 6:17). It is a precise, sharp sword (Heb. 4:12). God says His “word” is “like fire…and like a hammer which shatters a rock” (Jer. 23:29). The word of God fights and destroys evil. It tears down prejudice. It melts away stubborn disobedience. It slaughters the old man. Everyone who does not yield to it now will ultimately do so (Phil. 2:10-11).

This weapon is intended for the masses. As the gospel is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16) and the gospel must be preached to save (Rom. 10:10-17), the Great Commission—“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:16)—entails taking the weapon out of hiding and applying it is “all the word” by preaching it. We’re not permitted to conceal it. If the weapon is appropriately received, it elevates man in his plight here (John 10:10) while it cuts away the spiritual dross (Ps. 119:119), circumcises the heart (Col. 2:11-12), and surgically removes the sin that will keep a soul from heaven (cf. Jer. 4:4). There is not a soul on the globe that can do without exposure to this weapon.

This weapon, meant for the masses, builds up and enlivens (John 6:63). It bears fruit (Luke 8:15). It gives spiritual health (Prov. 4:22). It is an aid and help (Psa. 119:147) At least 48 times, God’s word is called instructions. The word is said to be profitable because it instructs (2 Tim. 3:16). It instructs us on how to walk and please God (1 Th. 4:1), how to have fruitful discussion (1 Tim. 1:5), and how to have wisdom and understanding (cf. Prov. 23:23). It is a weapon which, when used, can save a life for eternity.

Are we working as agents to disseminate this weapon of mass instruction? We do not want to be guilty of far worse than war crimes as we stand before the heavenly tribunal! Eternity demand that we use this weapon!

6891372851_bddcc8d834_o

19 WAYS TO TANGIBLY IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TODAY

Neal Pollard

  • Try to spend 5 minutes of prayer in which you do nothing but praise Him.
  • Do something for Him that requires you to step out of your comfort zone—initiate a conversation with a stranger, give a tract to a co-worker you’ve been talking with, etc.
  • Have a devotional with your family.
  • Call a shut-in or stop by and visit a widow(er).
  • Write a missionary, expressing appreciation and giving encouragement.
  • Anonymously give a sacrificial amount of money for a family in need or someone dependent upon support (school of preaching student or teacher, missionary, etc.).
  • Contact an elder, asking him something you could do to help them in their work.
  • Make a list of at least 20 blessings God has given specifically to you.
  • Speak to someone at church services you have never spoken to before.
  • Invite a family from church you don’t know well over for dinner.
  • Put a packet with bottled water and granola bar, along with a tract, into a Ziplock bag to give to the person at the intersection asking for assistance.
  • Pick out a Bible book you are unfamiliar with and start breaking it down, looking for key words, purpose statement, and other clues to better understanding it. Take copious notes.
  • Pray for someone you are having problems with, an enemy, critic, or one who has offended you.
  • Alone or with your spouse and/or children, sing several songs of praise and admonition.
  • Carry a meal to a young mother who has had a difficult day.
  • Give a big smile and warm greeting to a fellow shopper or employee at a store or restaurant.
  • Ask the secretary for a list of last Sunday’s visitors and send them each a warm, brief note.
  • Think of an area for spiritual improvement in your life and ask God to help you focus on it, being transparent and sincere as you petition Him.
  • Ask the person closest to you (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) something they need for you to pray for on their behalf.

Can you think of additional ways?

Launch Out Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

When Jesus met Peter, it may have seemed like an ordinary day to the Galilean fisherman. Simon Peter and his partners had just spent a long night fishing with no results.  You can imagine they were irritated and frustrated, maybe even feeling sorry for themselves. Then, Jesus commandeered Simon’s boat and used it to teach. This presumably would have been Peter’s first impression of Christ, though we do not know how closely he was paying attention to the Lord.  In Luke 5:4, Jesus stops preaching to the crowd and addresses Peter. He says, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus has ulterior motives, but the command is for Peter to literally cast his nets to try to make a literal catch of fish. Immediately, though, Peter is exposed to something far greater than anything earthly or material. Notice how this account illustrates the call of scripture in which Christ tells us, like Peter to launch out into the deep in faith to do great things for Him.

Launch out into the deep…even if, despite great effort, you have failed in the past (Luke 5:5). Simon explained that he and his associates had struck out overnight. Jesus was telling him not to worry about the past. He tells us the same things today. If you have failed in trying to do right or have succeeded in doing wrong, don’t give up hope. Launch out again!

Launch out into the deep…at the prompting of God’s Word (Luke 5:5). Simon was willing. What a great character trait. He tells Jesus, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” Simon says, “I value and respect your word enough to try again where I failed in the past.” Do we trust God’s promises and revere God’s commands enough to keep trying and biting off big things for the Lord?

Launch out into the deep…and involve others with you (Luke 5:7). Of course, with the Lord’s help, Simon became a success. In fact, the disciple knew immediately that he was not big enough to tackle his opportunities alone. He got his partners involved. In the Lord’s church today, each of us as Christians are partners and associates together with Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-6:1). Launching out into the deep requires involving as many as possible, for the task is so great and too much for one alone.

Launch out into the deep…and astonishing things can happen (Luke 5:9-11). First, the catch of fish is astonishing to them. Then, Jesus’ commissioning of them is astonishing (to turn from fish to men). Finally, their response is astonishing. They get to land, leave their boats and all they have, and follow Jesus. Eventually, they change the entire world! Launch out into the deep.  Who knows what you can do through Christ (cf. Phil. 4:13), but it will be astonishingly amazing.

Obviously, this was about men and not about fish.  Jesus was not interested in making them rich fishermen in Galilee.  He was looking to enrich the people of Galilee and far beyond through these fishermen. All it took was for some men who believed in God’s power to launch out into the deep.