THE WHOLE LETTER

THE WHOLE LETTER

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

I Peter

This is from Peter. I am one of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus Christ. I’m writing to all you Christians who were kicked out of your homes and are living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. It was God’s plan, with special intent, for you to follow Jesus and enjoy grace because of his blood. I hope you enjoy a lot of grace and peace! 

God, the father of our master Jesus Christ, is incredible! Because he wants what’s best for us, he gave us new life and the best kind of hope. This hope is alive because Jesus came back to life after he died. This new life is being guarded in heaven for all of us! It’s a new life that can’t run down, it’s brand new, and it’ll last forever. 

We’re protected by God’s power. How? Our faith gives us protection, because we expect to be rescued at the end of our lives. This is exciting for us, even though we’re going through hard times right now. They’re hitting us from every side. 

These hard times have a purpose: we can prove our faith. Our faith is more valuable than gold, which doesn’t last forever. Even gold has to be refined with fire, right? When Jesus comes back, our suffering will gain us praise, recognition, credit, and status! None of you have seen Jesus, but you love him anyway. None of you can seen him right now, but you believe in him anyway. Because you believe and love him, you’re excited beyond words! Your faith will lead to rescue when it’s all finished. 

The prophets who told us about this rescue were very curious about it. They investigated and obsessed over the identity and timing of the rescuer Christ’s spirit was telling them about. He told the prophets that he would suffer at first, but would gain everything after. He told the prophets that their writings were for people in the future, not for them. You are those people in the future! Through God’s influence, people told you about our hope for rescue. By the way, even angels are deeply interested in the hope you have right now! 

Since you have this hope for rescue, don’t ever let it go. Everything you do must be influenced by this hope. Make sure you’re mentally preparing yourself for spiritual combat. Make sure you have self-control going into this. We’ll be rescued when we see Jesus, so hang on tight to hope. 

Don’t go back to your old lives. You had those old, unhealthy desires before you knew any better. Instead, you must live like God wants you to. Jesus did! God’s word said, “You have to be morally pure, just like I am.” You know that God will judge everyone without bias. Live like you know this, and let that give you a healthy dose of fear. He didn’t use an unstable asset like money to secure your rescue. He used the most valuable thing in existence: his own flawless blood. 

Jesus’ plan was in motion before we were even created! He recently made his appearance just for us. Because of him, we believe in God, who brought Jesus back to life and gave him recognition and power. We believe in him. We have hope because of God. 

Since we’ve decided to follow God, we have to love each other unconditionally. We have to love each other without ulterior motives. We do this because we’ve cleaned up our lives. We weren’t born into a new life through natural means (like babies). Jesus gave us new life, and he’s never going to die. You’ve read this before, “Everything alive is like grass. Its impressive qualities are like the flowers that show up in grass. Grass dies, along with its flowers, but God’s word will live forever.” This is what you were taught already. 

Since you know we’re on borrowed time, sustain yourself with God’s words. Babies instinctively crave what they need to stay alive. We must do the same with God’s words. If we decide that God’s words are good for us, we’ll be rescued when we “grow up.” Before we get to this point, we have to get rid of bad qualities. There’s no room for hate, dishonesty, hypocrisy, jealousy, or attacking character. 

We’ve been a nation-in-the-making for a while, a group of people who serve God the right way through Jesus. We’re only in a good place with God because of Jesus. He was the first brick in this house, but no one on earth wanted him. God saw him as the most valuable! Each of us are also bricks being built into a special house by God and for God. You’ve read, “Look, I’m building a perfect foundation with a special stone. If you believe him, you won’t ever be disappointed.” If you believe him, he’s the most valuable thing in the world. For everyone else, “He’s the stone none of the builders wanted to use, but he became the foundation of the house anyway. They tripped over him and couldn’t stand him.” They couldn’t stand him because they didn’t follow his words. They are destined to die. 

That isn’t you, though. Y’all are a select group. You’re valuable servants. You’re a distinct nation. You’re destined to be God’s. We tell everyone about how perfect he is because he pulled us out of darkness. We exist in his awesome light now! We used to be nobodies, but now we’re his people. We used to be hopelessly lost, but he forgave everything. 

I say this because I love you: stay far away from unhealthy desires. They’re the sworn enemies of your souls, and they attack without mercy. Remember, this isn’t your permanent home. You’re strangers and outsiders on this earth. Remember this when you’re around earthly people. Make sure you behave like you’re supposed to. They’ll treat you badly and say horrible things about you since you don’t act like everyone else. Maybe they’ll notice your awesome morality and follow God themselves! 

Speaking of people on earth, God wants us to obey whoever’s in charge of us (as long as it isn’t sinful). If it’s your president, obey him. Anyone acting on the president’s behalf is just as in charge. God uses them to punish bad people and praise good people. By doing what they tell us, we’re doing what God wants. Maybe we’ll even shut down the ignorant things others say about us! 

We’re independent of any human government, but don’t use that as an excuse to disobey your governments. You have to see every person as valuable. You have to love each other. You have to obey your government. Employees must listen to their employers. Be respectful to them, even when they aren’t good to you. We don’t do this for them, we do it for God. He thinks very highly of us when – because we love him – we act like we should, even when we’re being mistreated. You don’t get credit for putting up with mistreatment if you bring it on yourself with bad behavior. If you’re mistreated because you’re trying to do the right thing, though, it makes God happy. 

This is why God called us in the first place! Jesus suffered to benefit us. He intended for that to be example we could follow. He never did anything wrong, he never said anything wrong, he didn’t fire back at people who said hurtful things. He never threatened anyone who put him through suffering. He constantly trusted God, knowing that God judges perfectly. He voluntarily took the punishment for our sin when he physically suffered on the cross. He did that to give us the chance to kill our old lifestyles and live morally pure lives. His injuries healed us. We had no direction, aimlessly wondering around like a sheep. Now we follow the one who leads us and protects us. 

While we’re on this topic, wives must listen to their own husbands. If your husband doesn’t have faith, maybe you’ll win him just through your great example! You wouldn’t even have to say anything. Pure and respectful behavior speaks volumes. Don’t obsess over your physical appearance or fashion. Show off who you are inside! A gentle, easy-going demeanor is timeless; it’s also extremely valuable to God. Remember the women who lived a long time ago? They were considered special because God was their hope, just like he’s your hope. They also expressed their beauty by deferring to their husbands. Sarah did that for Abraham – she considered him to be her leader. You are just like her when you do the right thing without being afraid of anything. 

Husbands, you’re not off the hook. You share a living space with your wife, so you have to be a student of her needs and wants. Don’t treat her like one of the guys. Remember the differences between men and women. Don’t be rough with her. Make sure you show her how valuable she is! She has just as much a claim to God’s promise as you do. If you aren’t good to her, God will block your prayers. 

Finally, you all need to work together. Show sympathy to each other. Be kind to each other. Don’t think too highly of yourselves. Don’t insult people who insult you. Don’t get even with people who hurt you. Do something good for them instead! That’s actually why God called us, and he wants to do good for us, too. You’ve read, “Anyone who wants to live a good life should watch their mouth. They should avoid evil and do good things. They should look for peace and chase it. God watches out for good people and listens to their prayers, but he’s against people who practice evil.” 

Who’s going to hurt you if you’re obsessed with being good to people? Even if someone hurts you because of your faith, you’re ok! Don’t be afraid of their threats, don’t let it shake you up. Put Jesus in the center of your heart at all times. Have a logical answer handy whenever you’re interrogated for your faith. Tell them about your hope, but make sure you’re gentle and respectful. Make sure your moral lives are good so they can’t legitimately attack your character. If you’re doing the right thing, they’ll answer for how they treat you. It’s better to be attacked for doing the right thing than for doing the wrong thing. 

Our lifestyles were hostile to God, but he died for us anyway! Moral perfection died to save morally imperfect people. He wanted to bring us to God! He was killed physically, but his spirit was brought back to life. This is the form he had back in Noah’s day. Even then he wanted to save people who were about to face total destruction! God waited patiently for them to change, giving them chance after chance while Noah was building the ark. They died; in fact, only eight people survived that flood. 

Water saved Noah and his family from those evil people, and water saves us from evil, too. We don’t bury ourselves in water to take a bath. We submerge ourselves in water to ask God for a clean slate. We can only do that because Jesus was brought back to life, sat next to God, and was given total control of every supernatural force. 

Mentally prepare yourself to suffer. Jesus suffered while he was human! When we suffer physically, it’s because we stopped doing bad things. As long as we’re alive, we’re not chasing the unhealthy passions humans have. We do what God wants. You used to chase those unhealthy passions! You craved all things bad, got drunk, partied without restraint, and practiced horrible things while worshipping fake gods. Since you used to do this, your old friends are shocked that you don’t anymore. They hate you and mistreat you now, but they’ll have to answer to God. He’s going to judge everyone who’s ever lived. Remember, the hope for rescue that Jesus gave us was offered to people who aren’t alive anymore. Since everyone’s going to face God, everyone is given the chance to live like God wants. 

Everything’s about to come to an end. You have to be reasonable and self-controlled for the sake of your prayers. Most importantly, don’t ever lose your love for each other. Love hides all kinds of mistakes. Take care of each other without complaining. Use your assets to help each other, since God helps us in so many ways. If your talent is speaking, speak as if you’re talking for God. If helping others is your talent, do it with limitless energy. This way every aspect of our lives gives credit to God by our dedication to Jesus. He gets all recognition and authority forever! 

Family, don’t let these hard times shock you. Don’t feel like you’ve been targeted. You are suffering like Jesus did, so let that keep your spirits up! When he comes back, we’re going to be indescribably happy! If people insult you because you love Jesus, you’re lucky! The full weight of God’s spirit and power is with you. Just make sure none of you suffer because of something you’ve done wrong, like murder, stealing, practicing morally bad things, or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. If you suffer because of your faith, though, don’t feel bad! Instead, give all the credit to God. 

We’re about to be judged by God. Since we’re going to be judged first, how do you think it’s going to be for people who rejected God? It’s hard enough for a morally good person to be saved, so what’s going to happen to morally bad people who don’t follow God? Since we’re about to suffer, we have to trust God with our lives. He’s going to take care of us if we’re doing the right thing! 

Since we’re about to face difficulties, it’s very important that your elders lead you carefully. I’m an elder, too, and also look forward to sharing in the recognition we have coming to us. Elders, don’t lead people because you feel like you have to. Do it because it’s what God wants! Don’t lead because you want to get something financially out of it. Don’t abuse your power, but lead by example. When the ultimate leader shows up, your reward will be indestructible! 

Younger people, listen to the leaders. Every one of you should think of each other as being more important than yourselves. God stands against prideful people, but he’s very patient with humble people. Stay humble under God’s power and he’ll lift you up when it’s time. He cares about you, so you should always let him handle your anxieties. 

Exercise self-control, and make sure you’re watching carefully. Your enemy (the devil) is on a determined path – like a hungry lion – looking for someone to kill. Fight him with determined faith, he’s not targeting just you. Everyone in God’s family is experiencing the same kind of suffering all over the world. After you’ve suffered for a short period of time, the God who gives so much grace will personally make you strong, give you confidence, restore you, and give you security. He has eternal power. 

I’m sending this short letter to you through Silvanus, my faithful brother. This is all true, and it’s extremely important for you to understand God’s timeless kindness and let it keep you strong. The woman at Babylon sends her greeting; she is chosen, just like you. Mark, my son, says hi. Make sure you greet and affirm each other. I hope all of you who follow Christ enjoy peace. 

PREACHER, DON’T BE DISCOURAGED

PREACHER, DON’T BE DISCOURAGED

Neal Pollard

Recently, a young woman present to hear me speak in Kentucky asked me if I was related to a “Neal Pollard” who preached in Missouri in the 1960s. She had just attended her father’s funeral, and in going through his things after his death she found his baptismal certificate. I was elated to hear these details. Her dad and his mother, her grandmother, were baptized on October 13, 1963, by a young Freed-Hardeman student. This young man who was baptized would go on to serve for many years as an elder in the Lord’s church. Later that night, I called my dad and found out that Charles Eddy was one of 15 people who was baptized when he preached his “tryout” sermon at Kewanee. He had only preached four times in his life and this was his only sermon at that point. It was on the judgment and entitled, “What Will The End Be?” He had no idea what had happened with any of these men and women he baptized when only 19 years old. That was 55 years ago.

I have seen my dad go through some trials as a gospel preacher. There have even been times when he has been mistreated, but he has faithfully preached the gospel for well over half a century. In that time, he has done countless Bible studies, counseled Christians and non-Christians over literally tens of thousands of hours, ministered to young and old, healthy and sick, preached “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2) and even occasionally “endured hardship” while fulfilling his ministry (2 Tim. 4:5). He is a man of great faith and prayer, but I’ve seen him discouraged. He has wondered if his efforts mattered very much. That is often a side-effect of service.  But, I reveled to hear his excitement as we relived that memorable day and talked about that first work–of course, he was hired after having 15 baptisms in his “tryout” sermon! Dad also has done local work in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia for those five-plus decades. Now that he’s retired, he still preaches every week for the church in Andrews, North Carolina. At 74-years-old, he’s still studying with and baptizing people and helping to build the faith of all different kinds of people. My dad has always been very evangelistic, but I don’t know how many have been baptized under the influence of his preaching. But, he’s also helped so many stay faithful and encouraged their growth and development. Occasionally, I still get to hear from them in person or through social media.

There are so many men through the years who have labored, like my dad, in anonymity–not considered “big names in the brotherhood.” Yet, many, many people will be in heaven because of their work. May every one, including but not limited to preachers, be encouraged in doing the Lord’s great work!  “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good” (2 Th. 3:13).

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The first of many, many times my dad would fill out one of these. 

“GM”

“GM”

Neal Pollard

I make a notation “GM” along with the date and place on the paper copy of my sermons to indicate that I preached that sermon in a gospel meeting. It is one of my homemade preacher shorthand notations. Growing up a “PK” (“preacher’s kid,” of course), I’ve got a lot of GM memories. I would not trade anything for them, especially the indelible imprint they made on me in shaping the adult I have become. Let me encourage you to bring your children and yourselves to our gospel meetings for what they will mean to your faith and for the part of you they will forever become. To me, the GM of gospel meeting stands for a few other things, too.

Great Memories. When James Watkins held a meeting for us in 1984 in Franklin, Ga., I led singing that Sunday night. I was 14, and this participation was a big deal to me. I led, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” and in verse three mistakenly bellowed out, “All ye fruitless trees and cedars.” Once when the air conditioner was out, we opened the side doors on either side of the pulpit for relief in that muggy July, west Georgia heat. This was an open invitation for the horse fly that landed on the calf of my leg during the chorus of “the song before our opening prayer,” which bit mercilessly until I could swat it during said prayer (which was by no means a quiet slap).

I remember attending a meeting in Carrollton, Georgia, and being jolted by Bobby Duncan’s dramatic cries of “the boy is home!” in his powerful telling of the story of the prodigal son. I remember, though, I was no more than 5 or 6, the smell of hay and watching members set up a portable baptistery for a tent meeting my dad preached in Aragon, Ga. I remember the family car rides when we rode to others’ meetings. I remember the baptisms, restorations, preaching, and fellowship so much a part of these special times.

Giant Men. Through this venue I first became acquainted with men who became my heroes: Frank Chesser, Perry Cotham, Howard Swann, James Watkins, Bobby Duncan, Truman Cobb, Franklin Camp, Winfred Clark, Wendell Winkler, Glen Posey, Ken Thomas, V.P. Black and others. I remember playing basketball with Ken Thomas, who had to play in his socks and still took us all to school (he also demolished me in a game of “punt, pass, and kick”). I recall having me heart stirred and being convicted of sin by the penetrating preaching of Frank Chesser.

I vividly recall being amazed by Perry Cotham, who seemed to me even three decades ago to be a very old preacher (I saw him preach in California when he was in his late 90s). I will never forget being touched by Franklin Camp’s tender heart as he told the story of Christ’s crucifixion. I was wowed by J.J. Turner’s ability to turn a phrase. There was the time when I walked by James Watkins’ hotel room and saw him diligently studying his Bible in the middle of the afternoon. These men were spiritual giants to me.

Gospel Message. Even as a child, I learned so much from the sermons I heard. I saw things in a new way because every preacher has his own unique style, history of study, and method of delivery. I was challenged by the Bible-centered approach these men faithfully took. I got my first glimpse at sermon organization, taking crude notes and main points from sermonic masterpieces. Meeting after meeting, year after year turned my heart and mind more and more to the Bible. Even then, I saw, at least to a juvenile degree, the effectiveness of this method of evangelism and edification.

Give your children, your mate, your non-Christian friends and neighbors, and yourself the pleasure of experiencing these unparalleled joys. The Godhead and the heavenly host pay particular interest to each service of every gospel meeting. Let us join them there and grow from hearing anew the wonderful story of love. It will stay with you for a lifetime.

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Jeremiah, The Persecuted Preacher

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).

Dad in '64 an '16
My dad preaching in Artesia, MS, in 1964 (left) and preaching in Andrews, NC, in 2016 (right). 

A Wonderful Legacy

A Wonderful Legacy

Neal Pollard

It is a blessing to be in a family of preachers.  Though the men in my personal heritage have not necessarily been well-known to our entire brotherhood, their faithfulness and steadiness has proven exemplary to me.    Three uncles are or have been gospel preachers for several decades.  A cousin is a Bible professor in one of our Christian colleges.  His father was a preacher in the Atlanta area for many years.  My brother, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all preach.

My father, who has been preaching the gospel for 50 years, has started a program called “Carolina Outreach” to try and help struggling congregations in the Carolinas.  There are scores of congregations in both states doing all they can to keep open their doors.  Of course, like so many works, he is in great need of financial help to aid his ability to do this (the work is overseen by the North Charleston congregation in Charleston, South Carolina).

What is ironic in the most wonderful way is that my dad is standing on the shoulders of another man in our family.  My great-grandfather, Gilbert F. Gibbs, worked with T.H. Burton to establish the “first congregation of present churches of Christ in South Carolina” and “directly or indirectly had part in most now there” (from a tract published about him in Lawrenceburg, TN, in 1970).  A 1918 graduate of David Lipscomb, Grandpa Gibbs went to Union, South Carolina, with brother Burton to establish the work there.  In 1921, they went and held a tent meeting in Greenville and planted the church there.  In both cases, Christians converted in other places moved to South Carolina and found that the church was not in existence in their communities.  Grandpa Gibbs did local work in Tennessee and Indiana and did foreign missions in Canada, Puerto Rico, St. Croix and on the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  But perhaps his greatest evangelistic legacy may have been in the Carolinas throughout most of the 1920s.

We don’t think of the Carolinas as a mission field, but it is certainly not part of the Bible belt as we think of it.  The need continues to be great to evangelize and edify the church of this part of the world.  I can think of no one more capable than my dad.  We do not have very many wealthy or famous relatives, but I could not want a better family legacy than I have.  Please pray for “Carolina Outreach” and help if you can!