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crucifixion redemption salvation Uncategorized

BLACK FRIDAY

Neal Pollard

It was September 24, 1869. The Civll War was barely an excruciating national memory and the nation was rebuilding. That specific day was a Friday, the day a cruel scheme by two Wall Street investors was discovered and led to an implosion of the Stock Market. It was referred to as “Black Friday.” The tie of this term to the Christmas shopping season is also surprising. In the 1950s, the Philadelphia police department used the phrase to describe the mayhem brought by the combination of suburban shoppers, tourists, attendees of the Army-Navy football game, and increased shoplifting in stores. They would have to work extra-long shifts this day after Thanksgiving. It was a derogatory term until relatively recently, when retailers in the late 1980s co-opted the expression to depict the day as the day retailers were trying to take their businesses from the “red” to the “black.” This meant bargains for shoppers, the best day to get out and shop and spend. While the advent of online shopping and retail promotions have created new and additional days of holiday shopping deals, “Black Friday” still symbolizes the happy time of “the most wonderful time of the year” (information from Sarah Pruitt, History Channel). 

For the Christian, black Friday was the day darkness fell over the whole land of Palestine around 30 A.D. (Mat. 27:45). It had to take place to save humanity who were sitting in the darkness of sin (Mat. 4:16) facing the grim prospect of eternal, outer darkness (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). It was a horrible day. It was a day of seeming loss, with Jesus’ followers sensing total defeat. Jesus was undergoing six hours of horrific torture before succumbing to death. Satan seemed victorious. But God, according to His eternal, humbling, and essential plan, took that day of darkness and defeat and used it to bring the only profit that ultimately matters. It was actually a day of triumph (Col. 2:15). It became a day of victory for us (1 John 5:4). What turned that day from sorrow to joy was the Sunday that followed that Friday. That Friday death was God’s gift to the whole world, and it profits anyone who responds to it by obedient faith (Rom. 6). 

This Sunday (and every Sunday), we get to celebrate this gift and what it means to us when we take the Lord’s Supper. We think back on those dark events, thank God for what they mean to us now, and look ahead with hope and assurance to what it means for our eternal destiny. It was a day of defeat, but God transformed it into the day of victory! 

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aging death Judgment Day mortality Uncategorized

Mbah Gotho, Methusaleh, And Mortality

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Neal Pollard

Incredibly, his residency card and his nation’s official documents, state his birthday as December 31, 1870 (The Guardian). For clarification, that was almost three weeks before Germany became an official nation, only five years after the end of the Civil War (reconstruction was just underway and Ulysses Grant was president), 28 years before the Spanish-American war, 33 years before the airplane was invented, 44 years before the start of World War I, and America was less than 100 years old. Mbah Gotho died in 2017, making him 146 years old at the time. The only reason it is questioned is because his native Indonesia did not begin recording births until 1900. Officials stand firm that it is accurate. Can you imagine? What was it like to live almost a century and a half? To see almost all of 15 decades? 

To put it in perspective, the ancient Methuselah lived almost seven times longer than Mbah. He died at almost 1,000 years old.  Genesis 5:27 faithfully records, “So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.” Methuselah was contemporary with Adam and Shem, a gap of over 1,600 years. In a day of pristine gene pools and a water canopy-covered atmosphere, everyone and every thing lived much longer. But God determined a general rule of thumb to which humanity has almost universally submitted, saying, “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). Thus, an Mbah Gotho is an almost singular oddity. The official oldest age in modern times was reached by Jeanne Calment, who was 122 when she succumbed in 1997. 

Average life expectancy throughout much of recorded time falls more closely in line with what Moses states, in Psalm 90:10, somewhere between 70-80 years of age. War, disease, famine, poverty, and the like sometimes curtail those numbers, but what is true of those who die at birth or who make it 122, 146, or even 969 years is that they do die. Hebrews 9:27 affirms the inevitability of it barring only the second coming of Christ in one’s lifetime (1 Cor. 15:52).

Most people make decisions as though they will live forever. People who know better put off obedience to the gospel, put other things before Christ in their priorities, serve sin, and neglect their reason for existence. While too many do this in ignorance, how tragic for the untold number who know how they ought to spend their lives but either deny or delay doing it. The moment of surrender will come. The body and spirit separate (Jas. 2:26). The body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God (Ecc. 12:7). At death, one’s eternal existence begins (Mat. 25:46). God gives one only the moments between birth and death to prepare for that existence, but He does not tell any of us how long that is. He simply tells us to be ready (Mat. 24:42,44). May we all get ready and stay ready for that day!

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death Lord's Supper Uncategorized

“She Had Difficulty Accepting Death”

Neal Pollard

Each death marks a transition and passing of an era. The recent death of Doris Day certainly represents this well. The 97-year-old had a stipulation in her will that she not have a funeral, memorial service, or grave marker. She did not want a lot of time spent memorializing her death. She didn’t like death, and, as her manager and friend, Bob Bashara, told reporters, “She had difficulty accepting death” (Tyler McCarthy, FoxNews.com).

Most of us won’t refuse a burial plot and funeral service, but few of us enjoy imagining the process or moment of death in our lives. There is something sobering and precious to us about at least our own lives and mortality. We think it is unhealthy and unusual for someone to have little or no regard for their lives.

Sometimes, we struggle to accept the death of someone else. For how many years have people been in denial about Elvis Presley’s death, thinking him to be living in hiding somewhere. Though she would be dead of natural causes today, many, for years, chose to believe that Amelia Earhart did not die but rather landed on some deserted island or similar conspiracy. Don’t even get me started on Jimmy Hoffa. No compelling evidence was enough to convince ardent fans that these notorious people were actually dead.

Did you know that some people have tried to say that Jesus did not actually die, but only “swooned” on the cross? It’s even called the “Swoon Theory.” The Koran says that he feigned death (Surah IV: 157) and others say Jesus was drugged and only appeared dead (Geisler 347). But, as Geisler notes, there were experienced Roman soldiers there, there was significant blood loss from many wounds that bled for hours, there was an outpouring of blood and water when Jesus’ side was pierced, the governor, Pilate, inquired into the fact of His death before He turned over the body to Joseph of Arimathea, and much more sufficiently prove that Jesus actually died on the cross (ibid 347-348).

Each Sunday, we readily embrace the fact that Jesus died. In fact, we base our entire lives upon the truth of that death. We understand that it was necessary for Jesus to die, in our place and for our sins (Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:18). Though it breaks our heart that it was necessary for Jesus to die, we do not have difficulty accepting it. We’re counting on it! As you memorialize the Lord in the Supper today, be grateful for that substitutionary death. He was able to do for us what we could not do for ourselves (2 Cor. 5:21). Of course, what makes the difference in our eternity is that He did not stay dead. He arose (1 Cor. 15)! But, He wants us to embrace His death and let us change who we are and what we do.

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communion Lord's Supper Uncategorized

Keeping Our Thoughts On The Lord During The Lord’s Supper

Neal Pollard

“Three babies are crying across the auditorium… Somebody dropped a songbook… Everybody has a cough today… Oh, good… brother So ‘N So sure prayers nice prayers… My big toe sure is bother me… I think I forgot to write out the check for the giving again… Better do… Wow! Are we done already?”

That scenario probably happens in many a mind more frequently than we care to admit. The greatest memorial of all time can also provide one of the greatest mountains to climb– concentration and distraction. The Lord’s Supper is a congregational activity, but it is participated in by individuals. What does it take to maintain concentration on the significance of this feast?

Examination. See 1 Corinthians 11:28. We should examine our state of mind, taking care to dwell on Christ’s suffering sacrifice, His triumphant resurrection, our debt to Him, the depth of heaven’s love shown in this sacrifice, and the joyful hope we have through His act. We should examine our lives and see where we can live better and eliminate sin–checking our motives, morals, and mindset. Self-examination should mark this time.

Forgetting. We should forget the daily, mundane affairs of life. We are focusing on something of much greater and eternal significance. Other things should be shut out of the mind. This is the Lord’s time.

Fellowship. We take the Supper with every other saint present. This is a special moment of fellowship (Acts 2:42). In a sense, we are also taking it with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The communion provides a bond of fellowship that has special meaning and ties together all baptized believers in fellowship with Christ.

One. We commemorate the Lord in the one body according to the instructions of the one Spirit with the one hope that Christ’s atonement saves us and gives us access to the Father. We honor that one Lord and follow the one faith in obedience to the will of the one God. the Supper unites us with God as well as each other (Eph. 4:4-6).

Remembrance. The Lord’s Supper is a time to reflect on the cross with its manifold significance. Until He comes again, the Lord’s Supper is an appointed, weekly, and mental trip back to His death (1 Cor. 11:26). One remembers, with the help of the gospel writers, the body wounded on the tree and the saving blood flowing from the body of God in the flesh.

Thanksgiving. The Lord’s Supper is a time for deep appreciation and gratitude. Because He suffered, we can have peace. Because He died, we can have eternal life. Because He arose, we can rise from sin to newness of life.

Paul had to remind Corinth that the Lord’s Supper was not just another meal (1 Cor. 11:20-34). Modern Christians, too, need always to keep that fact in mind when we lose focus and concentration or forget why we’re partaking. What we need, despite the distractions, is EFFORT! May the Lord’s Supper never grow old for any of us!

communion

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death poetry Uncategorized

If Today Was My Last Day On Earth (Poem)

Neal Pollard

[NEAL’S NOTE: This poem was from the conclusion to the sermon I preached on this subject from Psalm 90]

If today was my last day and tomorrow found me gone
How would life be different, if that unknown somehow was known

Would I be a better person, would I live a better life
How much would I feed resentment, envy, bitterness and strife?

How would I choose to live, and what would be my emphasis
Being a blessing or a burden, full of service or selfishness?

Where would God be in my life, what place would He occupy,
If today was my last day, and before tomorrow I would die.

If today was my last day, and second chances all were through
And I stood before my judge and my eternal fate I knew

I would mourn and fall before Him, if I had not done what’s right
If I had chosen self and sin, if I had chosen eternal night.

But there’s no reason for apprehension, I can die w/head held high
If I die to self & live to Him, it won’t matter when I die.

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life purpose Uncategorized

Why We Are Here

Neal Pollard

It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.

The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!

Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.

If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.

If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.

But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”

—NP

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Categories
speech tongue Uncategorized

THE POWER OF THE TONGUE

Neal Pollard

One of the leading stories in today’s news concerns a young woman, Michelle Carter, facing manslaughter charges for allegedly coercing her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. He was 18 and she was 17. While at earlier points in their relationship she tried to dissuade his talk of suicide (he had attempted suicide before meeting her), by the end she was insistent and even steered him onto the subject of taking his own life. The night he succeeded in killing himself by carbon monoxide poisoning, she even urged him at one point to get back into the truck. The hundreds of text messages she wrote are disturbingly callous and malicious, and she faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Her words are at the heart of this case, and prosecutors say she is complicit in his death because of all that she said (The Washington Post online, 6/7/17, Kristine Phillips and Swati Sharma).

It is incredible to consider that this young woman used her words to so discourage and deflate another human being, to even actively push him to die. Yet, Scripture tells each of us that, spiritually, we all are exercising the power to either promote life or death through our words. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.…”  This is why Paul urges us to give thought about the character and nature of our speech, saying, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6). Our speech can kill in many ways:

  • Vulgar, coarse speech that can encourage others to think of the unwholesome and sinful
  • Hypercritical speech that can deflate and discourage people’s good works
  • Gossipy speech that can cause people to be divided and distanced from undeserving victims
  • Dishonest speech that can lead people astray from the truth
  • Railing, sinfully angry speech that can be self-destructive to the speaker
  • Hypocritical speech that can cause people to be turned off by Christianity

We may be prone to excuse our words as harmless when in fact they can be a matter of spiritual life and death for ourselves or someone else. Our prayer should mirror that of the psalmist, who pleads, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). We possess such power! Let us harness it and use it for life, not death (cf. Jas. 3:2-12).

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brotherly love church church function grief Uncategorized

The Holiday Blues

Neal Pollard

It is amazing how many people lose loved ones around the holidays. If you consider that there are about six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, you realize the statistical probability. But, for one who loses a mate, child, or parent, the situation is not remotely clinical. It is deeply personal. It hurts more because a season of great memories and happiness is upended by grief and loss. An ominous anniversary now wedges itself into “the most wonderful time of the year.” Our congregations are filled with people who are struggling with such dark days, and they find coping particularly hard. They don’t begrudge the festive mood of their friends and brethren, but they may often feel on the outside looking in at such mirth. Scripture urges us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What can we do to help despondent brothers and sisters?

  • Take note. Whenever someone’s loved one, especially a spouse, passes away, keep a record of that and send a card or otherwise let them know you know the significance of the day. What an overt expression of love and concern!
  • Go out of our way. Seek them out and actively console them. You’re not trying to dredge up emotion, but you are desiring to acknowledge it.
  • Go to God for them. Whether or not you tell them, include them and their grief specifically in your prayers. Or, better yet, take a moment and pray with them on the spot.
  • Lend an ear and shed a tear. They may want to talk about their memories, the funeral, the songs that they sang at the funeral, their traditions, or the like. Open your heart and feel for them. It is such good emotional medicine for them and you will be a good servant of Christ.
  • Bring them in. Invite them for a meal, visit them, or ask them to come along on an outing. Take them out to see Christmas lights. They may refuse your invitation, but they’ll know you wanted to help.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Peter urged the Christians to be, among other things, “sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted…” (1 Pet. 3:8). Part of our own personal spiritual growth should be to grow more aware of and concerned about the feelings of others. It is an active mental exercise, but seeking to think about how such a grieving one must feel helps us help them but also helps us.
  • Rope in others. We don’t usually encourage talking about people behind their backs, but this is a significant exception. Inform the potentially unsuspecting of such a difficult anniversary so others can join you in this ministry of consolation. This is a triumphant take on “misery loves company.” Their misery is mitigated by more caring family reaching out to comfort them.

We love our Christian family. We should be quick to express it in ways that can make such a difference. Look out into the congregation and find those hurting hearts. Of course, this is needful even if their loss was in May or August, too. But, minister to minds with these mental millstones. Help them carry their load. Such is an active imitation of our soothing Savior!

holiday-grief

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death Judgment Judgment Day Uncategorized

The Appointment We Cannot Escape

Neal Pollard

William T. Turner was captain of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a german U-boat in May, 1915. He was one of the few officers saved (Montreal Gazette, 6/24/33, obituary). The Atlantic writes in an article that Turner was “relieving captain” of the SS Ivernia when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on New Year’s Day, 1917, and he once again survived (James Gould, 5/7/15). Turner was a man renowned for heroics and not a coward, which makes a captain surviving the sinking of two ships all the more incredible. But in 1933, after three, bed-ridden months, Turner succumbed to intestinal cancer (Gazette).

A few years ago, I wrote about Roy Sullivan, the park ranger who had survived seven lightning strikes (Preacher Pollard Blog). What an incredible tale of survival, but Sullivan insured his own mortality when he committed suicide in 1983 (ibid.). The man was incredible, but not invincible.

Jeanne Louise Calment is thought to be the world’s longest living person in modern times. She was born in 1875 in France, met Vincent Van Gogh as a young teenager, but eventually died in a nursing home in 1997, 122 years old! She took up fencing at 85, rode a bicycle until she was 100, ate two pounds of chocolate each week and quit smoking at 119 (http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~wang/calment.html). Back in the antediluvian period, in a purer world closer to creation, several lived over 900 years. But in each case, scripture punctuates their earthly existence by saying, “…and he died” (Gen. 5:5).

I have been involved in so many funerals as a preacher, from the first I assisted with Gary Hampton in Gainesville, Alabama, in 1992, until as recently as a couple of weeks ago. What strikes me as much as anything, whether in preparation for it visiting with the family or during slide shows during the service, is watching the progression of life unfolded in photos. Usually they are arranged chronologically, so that the fresh faces of the baby becomes the look of vitality found in children and young adults gives way to the robust strength of early to middle adulthood. Signs of aging subtly appear as the photos fade in and out, the added pounds or gray hairs or the advent of wrinkles. Pictures eventually show frailty and signs of physical deterioration. Then, one in attendance simply needs to gaze at the casket, if present, to see that this once fresh, new physical life does not go on forever.

The writer of Hebrews speaks in hopeful, positive terms to Christians as he proclaims the superiority and potency of Jesus, our great High Priest. At the cross, He offered His own life to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26). Having a human body, Jesus was destined for death “inasmuch as it appointed for men to die once…” (9:27). Death is unavoidable, but it does not have to be unhinging. Death is followed by judgment, but that day can be the day of salvation realized and eager anticipation (9:28). What happens on the other side of death depends on what we do with Jesus on this side of it.  Whatever we decide, we will make the appointment Turner, Sullivan, Calment, Adam, and billions of others have already made. We must decide if we will meet it prepared.

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Jeanne later in life
Categories
death hope Judgment Judgment Day perseverance Uncategorized

Confident And Unafraid

Neal Pollard

Some are afraid of death because they’re uncertain of where they are going, but others are afraid of death because they are certain of where they are going! Paul was confident even in the face of death (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He could see his end coming but he embraced it. While it is possible to have a false hope and confidence about eternity (cf. Mat. 7:21-23), the faithful New Testament Christian should be confident and unafraid of death. By looking at the last words we have from Paul, we can learn from him how to face death. How could he be so confident even in the face of death?

He was going to face Jesus as judge (1). Our relationship with Christ makes the difference. If I don’t know Jesus and haven’t made Him Lord, I don’t want to face Him in the judgment. But if I’m in Christ, there are several reasons why I long to face Him there.

  • He understands us (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15). Even before Christ came to earth, God was “mindful that we are but dust” (Psa. 103:14). When I stand before Christ, He will know what it was like to be me. He will have experienced temptation and be sympathetic and merciful.
  • He will be fair (2 Tim. 4:8—He’s the righteous judge). This means in accordance with what God requires. That means He won’t be more lenient than He’s promised, so I can’t expect to disobey His will in this life and hear Him say, “Claim your eternal inheritance in My Father’s house.” If I never obey the gospel, when I face Christ at the judgment He’ll be fair. If I obey the gospel but become unfaithful, when I face Him at the judgment He’ll be fair. But if I’ve tried to walk in His light, though I sometimes fell short, He’s going to be fair (1 Jn. 1:7-9). He knows I’ll be struggling with sin up until the day I die, but if He sees me struggling, He’s going to be fair. More than that, He’ll be merciful and faithful to atone for my sins!
  • He’s told us by what we’ll be judged (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s why we must faithfully present it in spirit and in truth “with great patience and instruction.” Jesus said His word will judge us in the last day (John 12:48).

I can face death confidently because it won’t be just any man judging me. Like you, I’ve had some people judge my actions and motives pretty harshly and unfairly. They may have thought they knew my heart or every fact, and they were ready and seemingly eager to pronounce me guilty. That’s not going to happen with Jesus! He’ll be consummately fair!

He spent his life doing good (5). This verse is the measuring stick of every gospel preacher, who asks, “Was my mind, endurance, work, and ministry as God wanted it to be?” No preacher wants to go through life and have these answers to be no. But in a broader sense, that’s a question every Christian needs to ask. Paul could look at his life with spiritual confidence (7). Three times, Paul, in essence, says, “I have” lived a faithful Christian life. You’ll remember that the first part of Paul’s life was spent not doing good, but from his conversion to his death he did good. Think about his missionary journeys in Acts. Think about all he went through for Christ that we read about in 2 Corinthians 11. What about the trials he mentions in Philippians 1? You may have a past you are ashamed of. Even as a Christian, you may have some regrets and things you wish you could change. But, if you’ve tried to walk in the light of Christ, you can face death and the judgment with blessed assurance.

He knew that he had a crown waiting (8). When we stop to think about death, it contains many variables that tend to make us anxious if not fearful. But Paul could look to death with the idea of its reward. The crown Paul speaks of is described in many ways in the New Testament:

  • It’s perfect (2 Tim. 4:8).
  • It’s permanent (1 Cor. 9:25).
  • It’s payment (Jas. 1:12).
  • It’s preeminent (1 Pet. 5:4).
  • It’s personal (Rev. 3:11).

But there’s not just one crown or a few crowns available. There’s one for “all who have loved his appearing.” If you sincerely desire it, you can receive it.

He knew that God would be with him (16-18). At the time he wrote, Paul knew betrayal and abandonment. Good friends had left him (10). At times, he had no one to stand with him. But he knew that One was always there (17). He was even confident of the future. Being delivered didn’t mean escaping physical death, but it meant rescue in the eternal sense.

You and I can live with the same blessed assurance of Paul. We’ll never go through anything alone (cf. Mat. 28:20). We may be pilgrims and strangers on earth (1 Pet. 2:11), but we aren’t one this journey by ourselves. The Lord will preserve and deliver us, as He did Paul.

I want to remain on this earth to enjoy family, friends, and brethren. I want to be as useful as I can be for as long as I can. But, like Paul, I can look forward to dying (cf. Phil. 1:21-24). We can be confident, even in the face of death!

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