It’s Not Too Far Away  

It’s Not Too Far Away  

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

The farthest anybody has ever run on foot happened back in 1929. A trans-continental race was set from New York to California and it spanned 3,653 miles in total. It’s difficult to imagine that anybody would be willing to sign up for this race but there were. The winning place went to a man named Johnny Salo and he accomplished something spectacular and historic in just 79 days. 

In 1 Peter 2.11-12 the Christian is compared to a “sojourner” and that paints a picture of someone temporarily staying, but always on the move. Many other passages, like James 1.12, 2 Timothy 4.7, Galatians 5, and 2 Corinthians 9, all reference the race of life. 

It’s been noted that the race is one of endurance and not a sprint. While few people will ever cover the amount of physical ground that Johnny Salo did, there are many faithful Christians who have shown themselves to have incredible endurance of a different kind. Through trials, heartbreak, and severe loss there are Christians who hold fast to their faith and push on. They inspire us to keep going when the going gets tough, and we should encourage these spiritual athletes to look towards the finish line— it’s not too far away. 

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

Life Illustrated 

Life Illustrated 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Contentment In Life 

As a young boy I can clearly remember the feelings I had in school. I was ready to be done with text books, math, science, and all the other trials and tribulations that I felt were too much for me to bear. I longed for the day when I could set my own bedtime, go where I wanted to go, spend money on whatever I wanted, and be looked at as an adult. I wish there was still a once-hated nap time scheduled in my daily life. My life, like many others, consisted of school and play, yet I looked forward to a future life that my young heart deemed better. It’s not better and it’s not worse— rather I’m just faced with new challenges that come with a new stage in life. We look forward to the future, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as we are content with the present. Older couples will often state how fast the time has gone! Parents will look back on the years that flew by and always seem to ask the question, “Where did the time go?” Every hour was sixty seconds, every day was twenty four hours, and every year was a full three hundred and sixty five days. Our bodies run down, our hair turns gray, and our problems don’t end– they just differ from chapter to chapter. We are all living a vapor of a life, then off to eternity! When the dust settles over our caskets, when friends and family leave the cemetery, when they move on with their lives, what is left behind is our legacy and the impact we made. If life is a vapor and eternity is endless, our focus should be on the latter.

Endurance In Life 

Wilbur Wright was playing ice hockey as a young man when one of the players struck him in the mouth with his hockey stick. Wilbur Wright, who was known for being outgoing and articulate, had plans to teach at Yale college. The complications with his injury made him give up that dream and go into a depression. The man that gave him the injury was known as the neighborhood bully, and it is speculated that he did this to Wilbur on purpose. That bully later on became addicted to cocaine and eventually he was discovered to be a mass murderer. He killed sixteen people after reading the book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because he related to Mr. Hyde. Wilbur, despite an unfair and unplanned accident, went on to invent the first motorized airplane and change the world forever. Bad things happen to good people, but we have a choice on how we respond and what we chose to do next.

The Last Blink 

God created the world in 6 days. 144 hours. 8,640 minutes. 518,400 seconds. But He’ll come back and end it all in the blink of an eye. Just like that time is gone and everybody is sent into eternity. Though it’s a figure of speech, the average human can blink in 3/10ths of a second. God made “the blink” that quick so you could close your eye quickly enough to protect it from debris, bright bright light, and to illustrate for us the way He’ll return.

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Wilbur Wright (right)

Spiritual Maintenance

Spiritual Maintenance

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Since being mainly confined to home, we’ve had a lot more time to do outdoor activities. One of those activities (besides mowing and building a chicken house) has been target practice and clay shooting. Not only has it been an enjoyable activity, it has also been a great way to spend time with family and engage in some friendly competition.
After the range is cold and we’re ready to stop, the process of cleaning our guns begins. Some don’t require as much cleaning as others, but all of them get a brush, cleaning rod, and some lubricant. This helps to prevent wear and tear in the long term, but it also prevents build-up from causing malfunctions or damage next time. It’s not always the most enjoyable activity but is necessary anyway.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the concerns of life (especially now!), to the neglect of our spiritual maintenance. Most of us are currently unable to worship physically with our spiritual family. We have had to cancel many of our church events and get-togethers. We are more-or-less confined to our homes. Financial and health concerns are at the front line of our minds.
If we don’t stay on top of our spiritual maintenance while this craziness is going on, all kinds of nastiness will build up in our lives. While the world is more or less halted, are we continuing to be tools for good? Have we used some of this time to inspect our spiritual well-being? This is such a great opportunity to do a self-checkup using scripture to clean parts of our lives that need to be removed.
As stated earlier, cleaning guns is not exactly exhilarating. It can be painstaking, monotonous, dirty, and time consuming. If it isn’t done, though, it will lead to premature wear and tear and malfunctions.
Breaking sinful behaviors, leaving our uncertainties in God’s hands, confronting our spiritual struggles, resolving doubts in our faith, repairing relationships that we have damaged, and working towards tangible growth in our spiritual lives can be far from exciting or fun. These things require effort, discomfort, confrontation, and dedication. While not the most pleasant in the moment, they will help us to be the best that we can be.
When we do our spiritual maintenance we become better encouragers, better soul-winners, better friends/family, and we develop strong endurance. Our goal in all of this is to reduce the wear and tear of our spiritual lives by living like Jesus. This kind of maintenance will allow us to do more than last a while – properly maintaining our spiritual lives and relying on God’s grace will cause us to last for eternity with Him.
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Your Favorite Pair Of Shoes?

Your Favorite Pair Of Shoes?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Growing up, I heard my dad preach a sermon comparing different type of shoes to various people’s religious attitudes. You can imagine the application of such shoe types as the slipper, the loafer, the work boot, the Sunday shoe, the combat boot, etc. It was a clever illustration to encourage everyone to live a faithful Christian life and avoid a mentality that hurts the church.

Do you have a favorite kind of shoe? I’d venture to guess that you even have a favorite pair or couple of pairs of shoes. Usually, you’ll find me either in a pair of cowboy boots or in a pair of running shoes. What goes into why you favor a pair of shoes? Quality? Style? Comfort? 

To make a spiritual point by referring to footwear is more ancient than my dad’s efforts to do so. No less than the apostle Paul referred to “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Indirectly, Isaiah and Paul give attention to this very idea by complimenting the “beautiful feet” of those who bring good news of good things (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15). 

You would think, to borrow dad’s analogy, that some “shoes,” figuratively, shouldn’t be adorned as part of our Christian armor. Flip-flops aren’t good (Jas. 1:8). Neither are skate shoes (Rom. 12:11; Col. 3:23). Camouflage boots can be a liability (Rom. 12:2). It would seem counterproductive for a preacher or teacher to favor tap dancing shoes (2 Tim. 4:3), since our responsibility is to stand firm (Eph. 6:11,13,14). 

Staying with the analogy, some shoes are excellent if used according to their design. Running shoes are essential to running the Christian race (1 Cor. 9:24,26; Heb. 12:1), but not to run in vain (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16), run with sinners to sin (1 Pet. 4:4), or run after false teachers (Luke 17:23). Work boots can be misused in prioritizing occupation and career over the kingdom, but when used in the exercise of our talents and resources to grow the kingdom they are worn well (Mat. 5:16; 9:37-38). 

You get the idea, and you can no doubt add to the analogy with your own ideas. But, spiritually, what is your favorite pair of shoes? John the Baptist suggests that Jesus, like most all others of His day, wore sandals (Mark 1:7). John felt unworthy to even untie them. Yet, Peter, later on, would say “follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Jesus’ shoes carried Him to Samaria to minister to the woman at the well. They presumably walked on water. They took Him to Lazarus’ tomb. He doubtless wore them as He ascended the mountain to preach the greatest sermon ever delivered. Was He permitted to wear them as He carried His cross to Calvary? 

We aren’t qualified and worthy to be in His shoes, but, as the song suggests, we must be “trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.” Another hymn avers, “Where He leads me, I will follow.” Our favorite shoes should be the ones revealing the footsteps of Jesus. We follow Him and anyone can follow us (1 Cor. 11:1). They will help us walk in good works (Eph. 2:10), in a worthy manner (Eph. 4:1), in love (Eph. 5:2), and carefully (Eph. 5:15). 

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HOW I SHOULD WEAR OUT MY KNEES

HOW I SHOULD WEAR OUT MY KNEES

Neal Pollard

This past May, I began my twenty-second year of running. In that time, I’ve logged thousands of miles. At 49, I am happy to say that my knees are doing fine but time may change that. One of the risks of running, to listen to some, is wearing out places like knees and hips. But, I’m hoping I’m prolonging my life and helping vital organs through exercise.

Spiritually, I put my “knees” to the test, too. The challenge to protect my knees is a daily struggle that I confess I am still working on. I do not want to wear those knees out through:

  • “Knee-Jerk Reactions.” This one is hard for me. I’m prone to these when I’m subjected to frivolous or petty criticisms. I’m equally prone when I’m undisciplined enough to act impulsively through impatience or my own misunderstanding. When I fail to think through things, prayerfully and deliberately, I can unleash something that can be hard to unsay or undo. Usually, it means I have not studied, prayed, and reflected enough before spouting off. I can really wear my knees out that way. I benefit from principles like those found in Proverbs 15:2, 25:28, 26:4-5, and a multitude of similar passages. 
  • “Feeble Knees.” As a child of God whom He loves, I will undergo discipline at His omnipotent, but omni-benevolent hands. It can be unpleasant, but it is always beneficial (Heb. 12:11). But, when I’m in the midst of it, it can cause my knees to buckle. The writer of Hebrews follows up this discussion about divine discipline, saying, “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble…” (12:12). When I’m tempted to give up, discouraged, worried, afraid, or lonely, I need to double up on my spiritual conditioning to strengthen those tested knees. I must trust God’s guidance and love, especially in adverse conditions.

So, then, how should I wear out those knees?

  • In prayer (Dan. 6:10; Acts 7:60; 21:5; Eph. 3:14). It’s not about the posture of the body, but of the heart. I can always be praying more (1 Th. 5:17). I can never pray enough. 
  • In worship (Psalm 95:6). Again, it’s not that I need to show off that posture in the assemblies or in my private devotions, but even the very definition of worship includes the idea, at least figuratively, of falling down before and prostrating oneself. It’s a big reason I try to never miss a single service of the church. I owe Him my all, and I love Him for all He is and has done. He wants me in the assembly, and I want to do what He wants. 
  • In submission to God’s will (Luke 22:42). When Jesus knelt to pray, He was also actively submitting to the Father’s will. He faced something dreadful and that He did not want to do, but His attitude was of total surrender to what God wanted. Oh, what a challenge to me! How often do I put my knees to the test by giving up what I want for what He wants. But, I must!

Paul says we’re running a race that we must win (1 Cor. 9:24-27). I’m going to need healthy knees to do that. That may mean wearing them out in ways like those just mentioned while avoiding behaviors like those mentioned before them. At times, spiritually, I’ve needed not knee replacement but a replacement of what I do with those knees. May I never forget to brace those knees with the resources God has given to me!

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Spiritual Olympics

Spiritual Olympics

Neal Pollard

Well, as the Olympics pervade our attention and national and individual stories of overcoming odds and working hard to achieve greatness make the news over the coming weeks, I want to remind you that Scripture, in many places, encourages us as we are writing our stories which will someday be known by all. Paul, especially, draws on imagery that would have described the Greek Games that were popular in his time. They had been played for hundreds of years by the time of the first century.

  • We run a race that’s winnable, competitive, won by discipline, meaningful, purposeful, but also losable (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
  • We vie for that which requires forgetting the past, pressing in the present, and reaching for the prospective prize (Phil. 3:12-14).
  • We flex our discipline for godliness by exercising our godliness to help us here and hereafter (1 Tim. 4:7-8).
  • We must compete according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).
  • We can fight a good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, and if we do we will be honored by the greatest giver of all (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Your race may not be run in a huge stadium, be billed as an international event, be recorded in the history books of this life, or be seen all over TV and the internet, but the All-Seeing-Eye is watching. More people than you know are watching you run, both Christians and non-Christians. The stakes exceed that of these or any other earthly games and the reward is immeasurable! Best of all, whatever your physical shape, you can win this race! God is rooting for you!

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The Palaestra 

ATTACKING THOSE WHO SAVE OTHERS

ATTACKING THOSE WHO SAVE OTHERS

Neal Pollard

It’s an unconscionable thought! Who would try to hurt and oppose those dedicated to saving lives? Places like Afghanistan seem more than a world away from us, where this week a yet-to-be-identified terrorist group conducted a suicide attack in Jalalabad that killed two and injured 14. While that sadly is a relatively small and minor attack in this war-torn region, it was the target that was so outrageously newsworthy. It was perpetrated against the international Save The Children organization. Volunteers and workers were there to provide aid and assistance to that society’s most vulnerable members, and they were attacked. How does this happen?

In Matthew 23:35 (cf. Luke 11:51), Jesus condemns the Pharisees as the murderers of God’s godly men from Abel to Zechariah. Essentially, Jesus was presenting a roll call of the righteous who were attacked because of their faithfulness. In one of Stephen’s final moments, he preached, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become” (Acts 7:52). Both Old and New Testaments reveal the Maker’s messengers who were attacked while trying to save others. The proverbial response of the hearers was to “shoot the messenger” (cf. Heb. 11:36-38).

Growing up a preacher’s kid, I saw my dad encounter some who attacked the messenger. Dad has always been a model of courage for me, willing to teach and preach even unpopular, but needed, subjects. Consequently, he endured both frontal and sneak attacks. Everyone who has sought to declare “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) has some appreciation for Paul’s warning that some “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

How one responds to such attacks is crucial! In the words to Timothy, Paul contrasts the attacker with the faithful proclaimer. He says, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). We’re taught “patient enduring” (2 Cor. 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:24), “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult” (1 Pet. 3:9), “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14; cf. 12:17-21), and “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Mat. 5:39).

As eternal aid workers, we operate by a different, higher set of rules (2 Cor. 10:4). We entrust ourselves to the One who will give us ultimate victory. Meanwhile, we cannot give up our cause—no matter what the threat or danger. Like Jesus, let us keep entrusting ourselves to Him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23)!

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The Tender Tears Of The Timeworn Travelers

The Tender Tears Of The Timeworn Travelers

Neal Pollard

I suppose I have met more than a few elderly people, including some professing to be Christians, who could be described as “crusty,” “crotchety,” “contrary,” and “curmudgeonly.” These no doubt spent decades developing such a winning personality. But one of the greatest blessings I have received as a member of the church and minister of the gospel is my association and friendship with “senior saints.” Through the years, I have discussed with them the subject of worship. The most frequent topic of that is how precious that public time of communing is to them.

A godly widow recently told me she has spent the last two years focusing more intently on concentrating more on the song service, reflecting on the words and their meaning. Songs she has sung for decades, through this exercise, have become almost like new songs to her. Another older woman, married to an elder, talked about how she finds herself much more apt to be tearful in worship these days. She’s almost embarrassed at how emotional the experience of worship is making her. An elderly man who was a longtime elder and recently passed on to paradise, struggled to pray, sing, or publicly speak in worship without being choked with emotion. I could fill pages of writing about other godly Golden Agers who treasure assembling to worship God. Their hearts are full and their emotions engaged. Their voices may be softened and broken by age, but their spirits are stronger than ever.

When I think of these faithful, aged Christians, I am reminded of Paul’s words: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  Sometimes, the elderly are made scapegoats of alleged “lifeless” or habitual, but heartless worship. No doubt, there are likely Christians in that age range who struggle with and even fall prey to such (as there is in every other age category). But on the whole, these Christians have walked longer with God, know Him better, and value Him more than their younger counterparts. They are closer on the journey to the Father’s house and are anxious to see His face.

We are heirs of a heartfelt heritage handed to us by these holy hoary heads. To our seasoned brothers and sisters, we thank you for showing us how to walk with and love God as years turns into decades and the shadow of the grave looms larger. As we narrow the gap between our age and yours, we want worship and life in Christ to grow more precious to us, too. Thank you for your trembling lips, your tear-stained cheeks, and your tender hearts. They look great on you!

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Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Neal Pollard

1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. It is obvious that Peter’s readers would have seen or at least heard about these kings of the jungle for the analogy to make sense and be practical.  Lions lurk, longing for lunch.

In the savannas of East Africa, their meal of choice is usually either the wildebeest or zebra. Despite this, these two animals continue to graze and migrate together. In fact, because they are chief prey of the lion (and other big cats), they need to stick together. Various observers and experts give different explanations for why. Zebras have great farsightedness and the wildebeests have excellent peripheral vision, but each are poor at seeing what the other sees well. Others explain that wildebeests have mouths better suited for short grass while zebras’ are made for the long grass that grow intermittently together on the plains. Still others point to the zebras superior memories, recalling the safety routes of the previous year, and the wildebeests uncanny ability to find water even when such is scarce. Probably, it is the combination of these facts that cause the symbiotic relationship between these two large mammals. They do not all survive, but the vast majority do. The reason is because they utilize their own abilities but also because they rely on the abilities of others.

In a letter where Peter is addressing a people who were at times spiritual prey, he does more than use the simba simile. He urges Christians to stick together and look out for one another. He calls for sincere, fervent, from the heart love for one another (1:22; 4:8). He urges complaint-free hospitality toward one another (4:9). He commands serving one another (4:10). He teaches there to be mutual humility displayed toward one another (5:5). He ends the letter exhorting an affectionate, loving greeting of one another (5:14). As much as anything, this is a recognition of mutual dependence.

If we understand that we are not at home in this world (2:11) and are living and longing for the inheritance in heaven (1:4), we should come to understand our mutual need of each other. That does not just mean looking for others’ help, but also giving it. This is by God’s design. Notice, for example, the proactive protection we provide each other by being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…” (3:8-9a). Right before the lion passage, Peter talks about different groups looking out for and helping each other (5:1-6).

Any of us, through suffering, temptation, doubt, or some other factor, could drift away from the safety and security of the fold. Let us be more than mindful of each other. Let us depend on each other to survive the hunt and make it to eternal safety.  I will face the lion many times in this life, and I depend on you to help me survive.

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