My First Sermon

Neal Pollard

My dad was holding a gospel meeting somewhere in the Carolinas and he asked me to preach the Sunday evening sermon of the week he was gone. It was April 12, 1987, and I was a Junior at Bradwell Institute (high school) in Hinesville, Georgia. He gave me one of his sermons and I basically, with little change, got up and preached it. I remember being scared out of my mind. I had no formal training (which is obvious from the grammar and pronunciation). Afterward, the congregation flooded me with compliments, which says everything about them and nothing about my abilities. But, it encouraged me. It helped solidify my desire to preach and became the foundation for my willingness to go preach around the area over the next year-plus (preaching in such places as Glennville, Jesup, and Brunswick, GA). It led me to choose Faulkner University, to major in Bible and meet great preachers and teachers like Wendell Winkler, Ken Randolph, Carl Cheatham, Leonard Johnson, Eris Benson, Donnie Hilliard, and others. My family led me to believe that gospel preaching was an honorable, important occupation. So did the Hinesville church of Christ, on that occasion and subsequent ones. So did brethren in those places where I filled in.

What an important lesson for families and congregations today! Paul asks some questions of eternal consequence: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:14-15).  I pray that more adults will send a clear message to young men: preaching is important, respectable, and valuable! It should be considered as an option exercised by normal and even talented and intelligent individuals.

We’ve been engaged in full-time ministry for 28-plus years, and it has blessed our lives tremendously! It’s thrilling to watch our three sons giving themselves to that life, too. Let’s send more preachers!

(It’s hard for me to listen to, but it should encourage anyone who says, “I don’t have any talent for preaching!”)

Lessons From Adversity (1): Let Go and Let God

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

We find God not in an anxious mind, but a still heart. God exhorts us in Psalm 46.10a, “Be still, and know that I am God” (KJV). Contextually, this statement occurs amid the possibility of much turmoil. We admit sometimes we must move forward to receive God’s deliverance, as the Israelites did when pressed by pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14.13-16). Yet, there are also times when we can do nothing. For those times, we’re to be still.

 

What do we mean by “still?” Without trying to sound like a Hebrew scholar which I’m not, allow me to suggest by using this word God is saying, “Drop your arms!” In other words, quit fighting or putting up a resistance. The New American Standard states in Psalm 46.10a we are to “cease striving.” Each of us reach a point in our life when the time for our struggle ends and we must enter the vestibule of God’s Providence.

 

What do we do, for example, when the doctor says we have cancer? The Kubler-Ross model of grief puts anger as third on its list of seven stages. We all experience grief differently, so anger may come either sooner or later for you than at stage three. However, I can tell you from experience, anger is something you feel dealing with cancer. “Why me? Why not this sinner over here? I never smoked. I never drank. I’ve been chaste.” Yet, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” He has shown us through His Word, His grace is enough (2 Corinthians 12.8-10). And for any lingering anxiety, there’s prayer. What does prayer do? It grants peace we cannot even comprehend (Philippians 4.6-7).

 

Though an entire lesson can be given about Providence, let me briefly suggest why it’s more awesome than the miracles for which people beg when they hear “cancer.” For a miracle, God instantaneously suspends natural law, and directly intervenes. It’s amazing, I admit. It shows His power in a way one cannot ignore (e.g. parting the Red Sea). Yet, it’s also not the thing to which He must resort to heal one’s body of a disease like cancer. His Providence is there to use the immune system which He placed within us. Providence is quiet. It requires that we be still to observe it. When we do, we see God in a thousand different things. Like a domino stacking champion, God aligns the bits and pieces that, when struck, fall into place revealing the beautiful mosaic He planned for us all along.

 

The more still you make yourself throughout life, the more you see His Providence. Through prayer comes peace, yes, but so, too, the wisdom to know when to move and when to be still (James 1.4-6). So, let go and let God. Live faithfully and trust Him do the rest.

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view from Pike’s Peak

Lessons From Adversity: An Introduction

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020
Brent is a 1998 graduate of Faulkner Univ. He’s done full-time ministry  in AL, TN, VA, and NC.

Brent Pollard

Without delving into the minutiae of my medical history, suffice it to say I’ve been through a lot. Consequently, I could not accomplish all I hoped and dreamed to do in life. If you were to ask others about my legacy, you might well hear expressions of admiration about how I deal with adversity. Had I the righteousness of Job and could imagine my plight the consequence of a conversation between God and the adversary, in which God allowed the latter to test me, then I might find a little bit of solace in the thought. Stripping away the complimentary aspect of those words, though, people are telling me I suffer well. Nevertheless, I suppose it permits me a small measure of wisdom, rooted in Scripture, I can share with others.

Jesus calls us to complete submission. As gracious as His invitation is (Matthew 11:28-30), it requires acceptance of a yoke. Though ours is not an agrarian society, we remain familiar with a yoke’s purpose. Yokes enable control over beasts of burden. Agriculturally-engaged animals experience harm, despite benevolent masters, only when fighting the guidance of said masters. (Consider Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus about kicking against the goads in Acts 9:5; 26:14.)

How many realize that with acceptance of a celestial yoke, one agrees to give up any pretense of control he had over his life? I am not referring to self-control, in which we govern our passions. We should discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27). Yet, we’ve been told it is hubris to make plans with disregard to Divine will (James 4:13-15). Hence, Robert Burns’ maxim: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” There are too many factors beyond our purview to speak confidently of anything aside from that established in God’s word. Sadly, because of false confidence, it takes only tragedy to remind us of reality.

How then should we act? Obviously, we cannot be like the Thessalonians who seemingly gave up on life as they awaited the perceived imminent return of Christ. There are responsibilities that are ours alone. For example, a man must work to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Outside of what is our concern alone, though, everything falls to the Will of God. Even the politics over which we too often become preoccupied is a matter of God’s will for the nations of the earth (Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:6-7; Romans 13:1). And what of life’s length? Barring our Lord’s return, we even have an upcoming appointment with death we cannot change (Hebrews 9:27). These truths drive home Solomon’s inspired observation:

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NASB)

Thus, despite how glib it may sound, lesson one is: “Let go and let God.”

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A picture of my family in 1990 (Brent, far left). 

P.A.I.N.

Neal Pollard

Problems aren’t inherently negative.  Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.

How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.

Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.

Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.

Problems aren’t inherently negativeThank God for this.

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DEALING WITH STRESS

Neal Pollard

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association named Denver the city with the most stressed out people in America. 75% of Denver residents are too stressed out about job and money, with half of Denverites saying their stress had significantly increased over the past year. Doctors and researchers have long connected a variety of health problems to stress, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The Harris Interactive polling group conducted this survey on behalf of the APA. Maybe the high stress levels are why so many Denver-area folks have such high octane workout routines, to counteract all of this.

In response, the Colorado Psychological Association provided some tips for coping with stress: (1) Set limits, (2) Tap into your support system, (3) Make one health-related commitment (cut back on caffeine, exercise, get more sleep, etc), (4) Strive for a positive outlook, and (5) Seek additional help. These tips are wise and useful, and especially is this true when we consider a “spiritual twist” on them. While I have found living in this area to be peaceful and enjoyable, I also know that life in America in general is stressful. There are so many uncertainties and that alone is a stressor.

Christians are best-equipped to deal with stress. Matthew 6:33 helps us properly prioritize so that we have a spiritual basis to determine what needs to be eliminated and what is more valuable. Further, we have the greatest support system possible through the church (cf. Rom. 12:15; 1 Thess. 5:11; Eph. 4:13-16; Heb. 13:1; etc.). Living the Christian life properly is a prime way to a healthier lifestyle, so long as we remember such principles as are found in 1 Timothy 4:8, Proverbs 23:2, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (I’d recommend your reading those). Who has a more positive outlook than one who can say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21-24). That is essentially saying, “I’ve got it great, and it will only get better.” Finally, there is no better help than that which we have available in Christ. Having the help of heaven to cope with life’s uncertainties is the greatest stress-buster there is.

Whether you live in Denver or even Small Town U.S.A., you are not immune from potential stress. Yet, wherever you live, if you are a Christian you have the best coping tools imaginable. Being in Christ eliminates many of the worries so many face. May we not take this for granted. Even more, let us not neglect to take advantage of the peace found only in Jesus (cf. John 14:27).

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The Ankgor Wat Dinosaur

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

“What Ever Happened To Toasters?” (*)

Neal Pollard

That’s what Tidewater resident Laila Cheikh might want to know.  She made a cash withdrawal for her cab company drivers from her Newport News, Virginia, Bank of America branch and got an unexpected “gift.”  Someone accidentally included a dye pack, like those given to bank robbers, in her bag of cash.  It exploded, leaving a huge mess and a foul smell.  That was on August 14, 2008.  In March, 2009, she sued Bank of America for bodily injuries from the dye (via USA Today Online, 8/14/08; Janie Bryant, The Virginian-Pilot, 3/14/09).  It’s unclear if the case has ever been solved.

I imagine you have had a day or two when you were delivered a less than pleasant surprise.  It may have been a dose of bad news.  Perhaps it was that person whose apparent color-blindness regarding the red light roped you into a fender bender that changed your morning plans.  It might have been a pink slip from a company you’ve faithfully served for years.  So many things can happen unexpectedly which alter your course or have a negative impact on you.

Though it will not compare to the day Job had (Job 1-2), it will test your character, your attitude, and your Christian example.  What you do when the unexpected and unpleasant “blows up in your face” is crucial!  You can be a light or you could cross over to the “dark side” (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; 1 Th. 5:8-10).  It’s up to you.  You never know what might be in the “bag of life.”  Be ready!

 

(*) They used to give new customers a toaster when they opened a bank account (before my time).

 

“No Doubt You Are The People, And Wisdom Will Die With You!”

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Neal Pollard

This is, in my estimation, the most withering of Job’s comebacks to those miserable comforters introduced to us as his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (2:11).  The statement is made by Job in Job 12:2 at the end of the first cycle of speeches by these friends, in all of which are accusations and insinuations that Job was suffering due to sins he had committed.  They were wrong, but they were certain they were right.

Aren’t there more than a few Eliphazes, Bildads, and Zophars today?  There are those who act as though they believe civilization has been holding its collective, bated breath in great anticipation of their arrival.  So many complexities, mysteries, and intellectual quagmires have sat stubbornly, mystifying their forebears, but pliably come forward as mere child’s play for them.  Or perhaps they purport themselves to be experts, demonstrating academic or professional credentials in support of such.  They may even move or speak with the air of unmistakeable confidence.  It might be that they have substantial followings and impressive venues to spout their philosophical triumphs.  

But, as the case was for Job, the proof is in the pudding.  God’s Word proved these men wrong.  Job 42 shows that their claims and theories, however confidently asserted, were at odds with His mind.  They spoke words of man’s wisdom.  It may have sounded right on the surface, but it wasn’t right.  

Consider Paul’s message to Corinth.  He speaks of preaching, the foolishness of God, coming in the wake of men’s inability to grasp His wisdom.  Then he writes, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,  so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:25-29).

Humility, teachability, and submission are three indispensable quality traits we must possess when it comes to the Bible.  Our theology must be formed by the latter (the Bible) and our character is formed by the former (the quality traits).  Let us forever be less concerned with being judged right by others and be consumed with a desire to be right with God.