The Ambition Of A Burmese Python In The Everglades

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 that Paul included Christ in the equation (Phil. 4:13), so he was ready to take on the biggest challenges. He evangelized the then-known world (Col. 1:23). He stood before the leaders of the greatest nation on earth, men like Festus, Felix, Agrippa, and ultimately Caesar, and he preached Jesus to them (Acts 24-28; Phil. 4:22; Luke 21:12). He traveled perilous seas, enduring multiple harsh treatment (see 2 Cor. 11), and credible history says he was beheaded for his Lord. Paul, through God’s strength, felt he could change the world with Christ’s saving grace. Even though his wonderful ambition put him in the same ultimate position of that dislocated constrictor, what a memorable way to go. Unlike the snake’s, Paul’s efforts yielded everlasting benefits.

What are you ready to do for Christ? How far are you willing to go? What have you done to get started?

Maybe we shouldn’t apply the cliche, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” to Christian aspirations. In fact, chomp away!

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Almost And Armistice Day

Neal Pollard

War historians have given notice to it. It is a tragic subplot to a war tragic beyond most all comparison. World War I was a senseless, repeated exercise in the mass killing of young men from around the globe. This went on from August, 1914, up to the cease fire ordered for the eleventh month, the eleventh day, and the eleventh hour of 1918. Offensives on especially the western front meant men from several nations either were ordered to attack or were put in the position to defend against them. Men from many nations woke up on 11/11/18, but as casualties of war never saw the end of that day. People were celebrating the end of the war in Paris, Berlin, London, Washington, and elsewhere while men, most having heard the rumor about the armistice, fought on and died. George Edwin Allison died at 9:30 AM, the last official British casualty. Augustin Trebuchon, a message runner, was killed by a single shot at 10:50 AM, the last French casualty. George Lawrence Price was the last official Canadian casualty, dying at 10:58 AM. The last American to die was Henry Gunter, who if he understood German would have heard the machine gunners of that nation plead for his division to stop their offensive. His time of death was 10:59, and divisional records indicate, “Almost as he (Gunter) fell, the gunfire fell away and an appalling silence prevailed.” If possible, one story is even more tragic. While historians cannot be absolutely certain, they believe the last casualty of this tragic war was a German officer named Tomas. Allegedly, he told Americans approaching a house that he and his men occupied that they could have the house since the war was over. No one had told the Americans who, not trusting the officer, shot him as he walked toward them right after 11:00 AM. Official records indicate over 10,000 dead, wounded, and missing men on the last day of World War I. Historians have found letters, interviewed fellow soldiers of these unfortunate men, and through such correspondence give chilling insights. These men were optimistic. Many felt charmed to have cheated death, some of them veterans whose service had spanned the entire length of a war that exacted staggering, daily death tolls. Others had a strong sense of foreboding, a fatalistic resignation that somehow, despite the cheerful optimism of comrades, they would not survive the day (much historical information gleaned from www.historylearningsite.co.uk).


It is extremely difficult to read this legacy from World War I of men doing their duty to the end, to come so close to escaping the clutches of death, only to be felled in the final hours. Armistice Day and the ending of World War I are the roots of one of our greatest National Holidays and observances, Veterans Day. We honor those living and dead who fought to keep us free from tyranny and evil. Even in that first world war, where war prosecution is much questioned and debated, mothers, fathers, family and friends are beholden to the men and women who risked everything to defend our beloved country.
With that in mind, please allow me to draw this spiritual parallel. How tragic for a child of God to follow for so much of the way only to fall away later in life (2 Peter 2:20-22). How tragic for one to come so close to the cross of Calvary and salvation, only to die short of that goal (cf. Mark 10:22). Jesus spoke of one not far from the Kingdom (Mark 12:34). Agrippa was “almost persuaded” (Acts 26:28). Only eternity and the Judgment Day will reveal the stories of those battling with themselves on the battlefield of Ephesians six, maybe close to obedience, who died outside of Christ. What a tragedy for anyone to die lost. Especially tragic are the examples of those who knew the truth, were convicted about it, but who died without having resolved the greatest problem known to man.
We honor the soldiers who fought and died, even in the “11th hour.” We pray for the souls who are living but will die, who have yet to come to the Captain of the Lord of hosts.

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WE ARE RACING UP A MOUNTAIN

Neal Pollard
Ueli Steck was the world’s greatest free-soloist climbing. He was routinely snatching up new records in the part of the sport of mountain climbing that is most dangerous. It was not unusual for him to attempt dangerous routes without ropes and other safety gear. The Swiss alpinist was, as you would imagine, about as fit as a human being can be, and he attempted what most cannot (and would not). He was described by friends and fellow competitors as focused, deliberate, and thoughtful. He did not climb for the beauty of the nature around him–which he often only briefly glimpsed. No, he was a mountain marathoner. Speed climbing, as it is considered, was something Steck wanted to apply to higher mountains in the Himalayas–the final frontier for mountain climbers. He did, setting several records in the loftiest part of the world. The 2015 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year died earlier this year doing a climb on one of the western routes up Mount Everest, without supplemental oxygen, falling 1,000 meters during an early morning climb.

While you and I would not consider ourselves world class athletes, we are in a race (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7). How often does it seem not only like a steep race course, but a perilous one, too? Many times, it will seem tempting to simply give up the trek toward heaven. What it takes for us to succeed comes right out of Steck’s “playbook”–focus, deliberation, and thoughtfulness. It is easy to forget why we are climbing. Or, we fail to properly plan or execute our plans. Or, maybe we just do not think about what the purpose of our rapid climb up this mountain is. We are not climbing for earthly recognition or monetary reward. Of course, we are not going solo, either. We have each other for support. Even when we feel alone in our meteoric ascent, we will safely and triumphantly summit as we rely on our Savior! God has given us the tools, resources, and make up to endure exceedingly difficult and complicated turns in the course upon which we find ourselves. Time is going by so quickly, but the way does not get less steep or challenging. Let us keep our resolve to race up the mountain until we get there and not put ourselves into a position to fall! We can, like others before us (Heb. 12:1), succeed!

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Photo of the late Euli Steak

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARTYRDOM AND A MARTYR COMPLEX

Neal Pollard

Will the day come when government attempts to shut down our Bible study and worship services? Looking back at history, particularly the books of Acts and Revelation, we know this can occur. Certainly, the current environment in our society reveals a trend toward greater intolerance of the biblical worldview. We are growing more secular and more sensual as a nation. Public symbols of Christian religion are disappearing from the public square, while public expressions of Christian religion have long since disappeared from public education. That said, we do not do service to Christ by manufacturing problems where they do not exist.

Isn’t it interesting that back when Christians were experiencing mistreatment, the Holy Spirit guided men and women to have a different attitude than that of a victim. From a prison cell he would never leave alive simply because he was preaching Christ, Paul sought to bolster a young preacher’s faith by saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according tot he power of God” (2 Tim. 1:7-8). When Peter and John were beaten for their faith, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When they were mistreated and released earlier in this episode, the church gathered to worship and pray (Acts 4:24ff). Peter urged readiness (1 Pet. 3:15). John urged faithfulness (Rev. 2:10). Stephen showed endurance, boldness, and compassion as he became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7).

It is an incongruous idea to imagine the early Christians wasting precious time organizing email campaigns, seeking to draw sympathy from the media, picketing, and playing the victim. Instead, driven by their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they committed their lives to Jesus while they spent their days trying to spread the good news of Christ (Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23). Even as Christians were martyred (Stephen, James, those assaulted by Saul of Tarsus’ efforts, and those during the time of the book of Revelation and shortly thereafter), there is no hint of any of them roaming around with a martyr complex. Let us emulate their great example!

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What To Expect When You Build 

Neal Pollard

The old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” seems applicable to time, place, and action. Though the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day stretches back 2500 years and occurred in a totally different culture about 7000 miles from here, it is amazing how what they faced and how they faced it is similar to our world and work right now. What can we learn from the physical building of Nehemiah to help in our spiritual building in the church today? Let’s look at Nehemiah four for the answers.

  • There will be opposition. Then, the opposition was from unbelievers who are introduced to us as those who “mocked and despised” (2:19). They will be driven by emotion (4:1,7). They will actively work to undermine and upset the work (4:8). They will actively work through verbal assault (4:2-3). They will succeed in striking fear in the hearts of some of God’s workers (4:11ff). If we can settle it in our hearts that the devil will never be satisfied until he defeats every faithful work for God, we will expect opposition to exist. The key is not to put the focus on the opposition.
  • There must be devotion. Nehemiah, who narrates much of this Bible book, shows us how you defeat opposition. You depend on God through prayer (4:4-5,8). You trust that God is at work in answer to prayer (4:15,20). You keep the focus on His power (4:14). If we can remind ourselves that “our [great and awesome] God will fight for us,” we can keep going through the most frustrating failures along the way.
  • There must be direction. Someone has to lead people to focus on God rather than His enemies. Nehemiah exemplifies godly leadership. As noted, he led the people to rely on God when doing His work. Notice that he also communicated to the leaders and workers (4:14). He reminded them of their motivation (4:14) and gave them a tangible plan (4:19-20). He also led by example (4:21-23), rolling up his sleeves along with the rest of the people. Such servant-leaders inspire and encourage success.
  • There must be action. Though their success ultimately came about because of God’s power, this did not nullify their need to work. They built because “the people had a mind to work” (4:6). The late Wendell Winkler was known to say, “Programs don’t work. People do!” Walk through Nehemiah four and observe the action verbs. You see them “each one to his work” (15), “carrying on the work” (16, 21), and “doing the work” (17). So it is today.

These were ordinary folks. They faced fear, doubt, and discouragement. They had limitations. But they “built the wall” (4:6). In other words, they succeeded in the task God gave them to do. We are not inferior to them in any way unless it is in execution. We have opposition. We can defeat it with proper devotion, direction, and action. The work God has given us in His church today must be done, but it can be done! Let’s do more than believe that. Let’s embody it!

New Horizons humanitarian assistance in Haiti

WHY WE KEEP FAITHFULLY SERVING AND LEADING

Neal Pollard

It took the Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland, 17 years and 23 days to complete the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 2900 feet away from the eroding Atlantic Ocean beach on the North Carolina Outer Banks location where it had been standing. They started in 1982 and finished in 1999. Little things may get done quickly, but big things take time.  Someone once said, “Most people tend to overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” Paul was in a position to look back over his life and see, if his humility allowed it, a lifetime just since his conversion to Christ that was marked by much fruitful labor.  Luke chronicles some of that work from Acts 11-28. Paul reflects back on some of it in 2 Corinthians 11. But in what is firmly believed to be his last inspired writing, 2 Timothy, he has a brightly lit torch in his condemned hand. He is ready to hand it off to the young preacher, Timothy.

I imagine most of you are blessed to lay claim to someone, either still living or now dead, who was a Paul to you. Having a mentor or mentors to help us grow and develop, spiritually, is priceless. When Paul tells Timothy what he does in 2 Timothy 4:1-8, a passage we typically use to encourage preachers, he is urging a precise attitude and precise teaching. The reasons why he wanted that for Timothy are reasons that should motivate us to live faithfully and to encourage our own Timothys to persevere until the current pressures. Here are three reasons why Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful:

  • BECAUSE PROBLEMS ARE COMING (3-4). It was a fourfold problem (you’ll notice it by reading these two verses). Paul told Timothy to handle it with great patience and teaching. You cannot always anticipate what the problem is going to be, but as long as you come in contact with people there will be problems. You cannot hope to be an influence on them if you do not cultivate the attitude of patience. When problems arise, be patient and stick to the doctrine of Christ.
  • BECAUSE YOU ARE DIFFERENT (5). No matter how you are treated (or mistreated), you cannot stoop to the level of unethical, immoral, or unscrupulous people. These false teachers Paul references were willing to discard truth, and many wanted that kind of teacher. We will encounter people who don’t play by the Lord’s rules, but we must be different. We must be sober in all things, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry. We are to have a better character, and we have a better message. We aim higher because we are the people of God.
  • BECAUSE JUDGMENT IS COMING (6-8). Paul looks ahead to the very end of all things. Because he was faithful, he anticipated the crown of righteousness. Why do you want to serve the Lord? Is it for prominence, popularity, or influence? To successfully endure, do what you do in view of the Judgment. God won’t forget your faithfulness (see Heb. 6:10)!

Your faith will be tested. You may be resisted, rejected, ignored, disbelieved, and debated. The question is, “How are you going to handle it?” Will it make you better or better. It will try your patience, but will you be found guilty or not guilty? If you will be patient and faithful to God’s Word, you will be an example to more than you’ll ever know. Keep your eyes open for your own Timothys to train and members to mentor. The more we have who listen to and follow the advice of this passage, the greater the influence of Christ will be in this dark, sinful world.

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Jeremiah, The Persecuted Preacher

Neal Pollard

It was hard being a preacher in Jeremiah’s day. As thanks for his work, the weeping prophet endured the following:

  • He was led as a lamb to the slaughter (11:18ff)
  • His brethren dealt treacherously w/him (12:6)
  • He was confronted by false prophets (14:13)
  • His brethren cursed him (15:10)
  • He was hit, put in stocks and condemned (20:1ff)
  • His heart was broken (23:9)
  • He was seized and threatened w/death (26:8,24)
  • His teaching was opposed (28,29)
  • He was put in prison (32:2,3)
  • He was pursued (36:26)
  • He was beaten and imprisoned (37:15)
  • He was thrown into the dungeon (38:6)
  • He was bound in chains (40:1)
  • He was falsely accused (43:2)
  • He was taken to Egypt (43:6,7)

Remember, God called him to this work. Jeremiah was doing nothing wrong in his ministry; in fact, all of those things that happened to him came in “the line of duty.” The people, on the whole, never changed for the better after all the effort Jeremiah put forth in his ministry. Jeremiah never speaks of his work as enjoyable or rewarding, but it was essential and vital. Some estimate that his ministry spanned more than six decades! Whatever we call him, we do not use adjectives like “weak” or “wimpy.”

The life of preaching is a wonderful work. The preacher works with the best people in the world fulfilling the most profound purpose possible while working, ultimately, for the best Employer there is. The retirement plan is unbeatable! Helping people connect with salvation and helping the saved better connect with their Savior is extremely fulfilling. But, if there are job hazards (the minority of brethren who are difficult to deal with, sporadic job insecurity, being misunderstood, being subjected or having your family subjected to closer scrutiny, etc.), there is a reminder from Hilkiah’s son from Anathoth. Out of our own devotion to God, we will stay at it through thick and thin. Jeremiah wrote, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long” (20:7-8). This man thought about quitting, but he couldn’t! He says, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones;

and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (9). I have watched my father, who has preached the gospel 53 years, have some “Jeremiah moments.” I have known so many gospel preachers who have walked in that prophet’s sandals. I have even experienced a few of the lighter trials Jeremiah records as happening to him.  But Jeremiah and his modern counterparts whom I have watched serve him faithfully provide a sterling example to me of what the man of God who preaches “looks like.” He’s tough, but tender-hearted. He’s loyal and loving. He’s gritty, but gracious. He’s courageous, yet caring. He will be fallible, but he must be faithful.

Preaching is, in my opinion, the best work in the world. For whatever bumps unique to the preacher traveling the narrow way, there are ten times the blessings. To my fellow friends in this fantastic fraternity, keep the tenacity of the tearful teacher of Judah! Stoke the fire in your bones (cf. 2 Tim. 1:6).

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My dad preaching in Artesia, MS, in 1964 (left) and preaching in Andrews, NC, in 2016 (right). 

THE PATIENCE OF A FARMER 

Neal Pollard

James uses a variety of examples throughout his short epistle. In James 5:7-8, he writes, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” As we analyze these verses, we see at least three things.

Patience instructed.  It’s interesting that James is urging us to be patient with each other as fellow Christians. Just read the rest of the chapter and it reads like an instruction manual for dealing with the internal problems we can have as a congregation of God’s people. This patience has a duration—until the coming of the Lord. Stay patient as long as you live or until Christ comes again, whichever comes first.

Patience illustrated. Patience is illustrated by the farmer. Notice:

  • The farmer waits. Patience almost always involves waiting. Delayed gratification without the delay is something completely different. Sometimes waiting is necessary and it helps us develop character, if we let it.  We have to fight that part of human nature that makes us impatient. These brethren in verse seven were being mistreated by rich, unfair brethren, and it apparently was hard on them to wait for justice to be served. But James says, “You just need to wait. God will ultimately make things right.” That is sage counsel for us in so many areas of life, to “hang on and let God work in His time.”
  • The farmer waits for the harvest. When you put seed in the ground, you’re still a long way from harvest. Different crops take a different amount of time to come to fruition. Different conditions, like weather, effect the time of harvest. But harvest is always the goal. Why do you keep planting seed, the seed of Scripture in the fields of evangelism or the seed of service in others’ lives or the seed of spiritual fruit in sometimes infertile fields? Because harvest time is coming and the Lord will sort things out then (Mat. 13:30, 39).
  • The farmer waits for what brings harvest. There are necessary conditions. James mentions the early and latter rains. In Palestine, farmers counted on the autumn and spring rains. Both were essential. There are going to be necessary conditions throughout our Christian lives. In the short-term and long-term, we will endure and experience things that help get us to harvest.  See the blessings and the challenges of life as necessities which can help us go to heaven.

Patience imitated. James says, “You also be patient.” He says for Christians to be like those farmers.  How? “Establish your hearts.” James focuses on the heart throughout this short epistle. Deception (1:26), jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14), impurity (4:8), and worldly pleasure (5:5) fattened and sickened their hearts. James is still working on their hearts at the end and connects patience with spiritual heart health.  Why? “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” The harvest idea is wonderful for those who are prepared, but if we allow our hearts to stray and lose patience, the Lord’s coming won’t be a joyful occasion for us. Be ready for harvest by being patient whatever adversity arises.

If you are struggling with patience, look at the farmer. Both my grandfathers farmed, my mom’s dad for a living. They had to persevere. There are bumper crops and there are droughts. You keep farming whatever the conditions. Let’s approach the most important harvest with the same determination!

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A Daring Escape

Neal Pollard

Before Arthur Turner “Bud” Morris died at home on December 15, 2012, following service to our country in the army in World War II and a 35-year career as a truck driver for Carolina Freight (see more here), he granted an interview for Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, WXIA, in which he not only claimed to be the cousin of famous Alcatraz escapee Frank Morris but more boldly that he helped him escape. In the interview (WXIA), he tells the reporter about giving multiple payoffs to prison guards presumably to get them to look the other way.  Frank Morris, said to have had an IQ of 133, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin of Lee County, Georgia, disappeared and were thought drowned in the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay.  However, anecdotal evidence and alleged sightings are offered to suggest these men actually did escape from the infamous Alcatraz Prison.

Whether or not they escaped from a place formerly thought impregnable and impossible, you and I have the opportunity to escape something far more imposing.  Peter writes the scattered saints in his second epistle, reminding them of those exceeding great and precious promises that they came to possess “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (1:4).  The way to complete that escape is listed out, starting in verse five: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  I have lived long enough to see those young, middle-aged, and old, caught in the trap of the world.  They started or became faithless, without virtue, spiritually ignorant, undisciplined, without endurance, ungodly, unkind, and unloving.  They didn’t just slip up and find themselves guilty of these things from time to time. They allowed themselves to be imprisoned to such things because of their “lust,” their desire for the world.  Their view of past and future were distorted, and it hurt them in their present, day to day lives (cf. 1:9).

For Morris and the Anglins, the promise was freedom from a dank prison and the hopelessness of their sentence there.  For you and me, it is the exceeding great and precious promises that should cause us to sharpen our view of the past we’ve escaped and the future we trust in.  Don’t give up!  Continue your daring escape!

The Lightning March

Neal Pollard

It was unusual for foot soldiers to play a major role in the Middle Ages. Harold II of England’s 7000 infantrymen were an exception. He marched them from London to York, about 216 miles, in a week. The rate of the march was 30 miles per day for an entire week!  “A sustained rate of thirty miles per day for seven days was in most circumstances unheard of. A sustained twenty miles per day would have been considered extraordinary.”  The army moved faster than news of its approach. This helped turn the Battle of Stamford Bride in 1066, known as “Harold’s Lightning March”  (Hackett, Jeremiah.  World Eras, Vol. 4: Medieval Europe, 814-1350, p. 128). What seems lost to history is how Harold motivated such rapid movement.  To build such resolve and determination in so many people, in unified purpose, must speak to Harold’s leadership ability.

All of us are marching with rapid pace toward the end of life and eternity.  Hasn’t it been going by so quickly?  It truly is a “lightning march.”  At the end of the march, will we have won the battle?  The church of every generation, and not just individuals, are making this march.  What impression are we leaving on the world around us, what battles of significance will have been won?  Think of the first-century church.  They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  They “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23).  They permeated their immediate communities, surrounding communities, and the remotest communities (cf. Acts 1:8-11).  Think of those brave, sacrificial Christians during the 19th Century who rallied together around the principle of restoring New Testament Christianity.  With a great reverence for the pattern of Scripture, they sought to imitate the faith and practice of that first-century church.  In their wake was growth and influence.

In both cases, profound as their influence was, they rapidly left the scenes of time.  Their influence remained, but succeeding generations of the Lord’s Army—for whatever reasons—slowed their pace considerably.  We may glorify the church of the 1950s, at one time known as the fastest growing religious group in our country.  But most of them have gone and those who remain have grown slower in their pace. What about the church of the early 21st Century?  How will we be remembered?  Never forget that, in part, this is influenced by what you and I are doing as soldiers under the Lord’s direction.  We could not want for better guidance and a better Commander.  We should have ample motivation.  It is high time we pick up the pace!  Victory awaits (1 Cor. 15:54-58).