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aging death Judgment Day mortality Uncategorized

Mbah Gotho, Methusaleh, And Mortality

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Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

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Jesus Jesus Christ Judgment Judgment Day Second Coming Uncategorized

ARE YOU ON THE LIST?

Neal Pollard

I recently heard D.C. Brown, illustrating proper conduct, mention a list I’ve seen at times in my adult life. The list he mentioned was of people whose personal checks the cashier was not to take. The offenders apparently wrote “bad checks,” checks they did not have sufficient funds to cover. The names, as is typical, were bold and legible to the customer as well as the employee. Multiple purposes are achieved through such a list—warning, shaming, identifying, and the like. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that someone’s name might accidentally land on the list.

Throughout our lives, we may find ourselves looking to see if we are on this list or that. When I was in school, they would publish the honor roll list, depth charts in sports, casts for plays and who was chosen for what part, and those who were selected for the Beta Club or Honor Society. The advent of the internet has slowly replaced paper lists with electronic ones, but the concept is still intact.

The Bible talks about a “list.” It is a list every thinking and feeling person should yearn to have their name written on.  The setting is the great day of judgment, recorded by John in Revelation 20:11-15. Jesus is sitting in all His majesty on His throne. Everyone, great and small, stood before that throne. They were judged by God’s Word and what they did with it. In a sobering text, here is the climax: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was throne into the lake of fire” (15). Jesus preached on earth that the majority of all people will not be on that list (Mat. 7:13-14). They will have neglected or rejected the will revealed in the Bible (cf. John 12:48). If never before that moment, at that threshold of eternity they will have never wanted anything like they will want to have their name on that list. But, then it will be too late. Now is the time to submit ourselves and our lives to that divine will and, by grace through faith, have our name written there.

Some lists we would wish to avoid in this life. The list, in Revelation 20:12, is not one of them. What a joy it will be to hear our name “when the roll is called up yonder”!

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Current Events Judgment Judgment Day Uncategorized

Do You Believe In Goats?

Neal Pollard

With the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908, which year was near the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s second presidential term when there were only 46 United States and the first that Mother’s Day was celebrated in America, diehard fans believe a World War II-era “curse” has been lifted. Chicago tavern owner, Billy Sianis, “put” the curse on the Cubs when he and his goat were asked to leave game four of the 1945 World Series against the Tigers (imagine a goat even getting into a Major League park today). Fans point to strange, “inexplicable” events through time—most famously Steve Bartman in 2003—to support the “fact” of that curse (see more here: http://www.billygoattavern.com/legend/curse/).

For most of us, this is a fun and playful distraction that makes sports, particularly baseball, that much more fun. Superstition is a nuance that shows up in so many places: pitchers stepping over the foul line going back to the dugout, players not washing and re-wearing underclothes and uniforms, pre-game and post-game meals, etc. I would guess precious few actually believe there is real power in these rituals (on a personal note, my continuous practice of having to wake up wearing UGA apparel on football game days—begun in 1980—was once and for all broken in the midst of a bad 2016 season).

All joking aside, goats get negative attention in a place much more important than Wrigley Field. In Scripture, Jesus, in the last of five parables of preparation in Matthew 24-25, likens the lost to goats (Mat. 25:32-33). Commentators tell us that “their normal dirty state, it might even have been considered wise to leave it to the skilled shepherd to distinguish with confidence the sheep from the goats” (Nolland, NIGTC, np). In fact, throughout the Old Testament, sheep and goats were mostly interchangeable for milk, meat, sacrifice, and general use (ibid.). But, for the purpose of Judgment, Jesus is skillful and discerning enough to know with perfect discernment whether every individual is “goat” or “sheep.” No one is inadvertently mislabeled or misplaced. He will perfectly divide the saved from the lost.  Placement at Judgment will not be influenced by looks, wealth, popularity, education, or any other criteria the world embraces as success. Jesus tells us who both the goat and sheep are (Mat. 25:31-46).

Billy’s goat was not responsible for a “Cubs curse.” Yet, we should understand in a day when the world and even the religious are less inclined to label any activity goat-like, i.e., soul-condemning, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus has not lost any such ability to discern. In fact, He tells us most will be placed in the goat column (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). Let us love and respect God’s Word enough to avoid the curse He came to undo (Gal. 3:13; Rev. 22:3).

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Judgment Judgment Day Uncategorized

WHEN GOD PAID A VISIT TO ISRAEL

Neal Pollard

The Bible tells the beautiful story about the day God visited earth as a human being, coming as a baby by way of the virgin Mary (John 1:14). Because He came here, we can hope to go to His home (John 14:1-3). But one day, He’s going to pay another visit, a visit that will be welcomed by the saved but horrific for the lost (2 Thess. 1:7-10). But, there have been times when God has come in judgment of people on earth, and Amos’ day was one of them (3:14). The prophet wrote, “That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.”  Some versions have the word “punish” instead of “visit.” Punishment was the purpose or nature of the visit.  Why did God pay a visit to Israel?

  • Life had become very cheap (2:6). Two different classes of people were viewed cheaply by Israel—the righteous (spiritually rich) and the needy (physically poor).  This could refer to those who were innocent of crimes who were found guilty through bribery and corruption. Apparently, a ridiculously small amount was required to purchase the poor. Throughout the history of mankind, evil people have found ways to devalue human life (slavery, abortion, euthanasia, prostitution, pornography, etc.). When God pays a visit and sees such an attitude toward life, He is not pleased (cf. Prov. 6:16-17). I should ask, “Do my everyday dealings with others reflect my high regard for human life? Do I see others as pawns in my hand to be manipulated, as those I can take advantage of for my selfish gain, or as those who can meet my needs?” This applies to fellow-Christians, too. Do I value them or devalue them (cf. Phil. 2:1-4)?
  • There was immorality (2:7).  God did not hesitate to enter the bedroom when He paid a visit. It was God who created sexuality, and what He made was good. Since the fourth chapter of the Bible, people have tampered with His design. By the time God visits Israel in Amos’ day, the condition of things in this area of life was disgusting and perverse. It violated the Law of Moses (Lev. 18:8). But it also violated the laws of common decency. It was that way in New Testament times in the church of Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1). Woe unto the people who, when God visits, He finds full of immorality. God created human sexuality and He lays the ground rules for it (Heb. 13:4).
  • There was ingratitude (2:9-10). It’s not clear whether the feasts in Amos 2:8 were legitimate and therefore abused worship to Jehovah or if these were pagan practices to idols. We know there was drunkenness and probably fornication during the course of these festivities, whatever the intended object of worship. But the root of the problem was a failure to acknowledge God’s hand in their protection and deliverance. These people failed to give God the credit for their success. They had been so blessed by God, but they ignored Him. It’s the problem of the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17:11-19. They appealed directly to God, He healed them, then they forgot Him. I believe that in our land of plenty, we must guard against ingratitude and even a sense of entitlement. We have running water on demand, clean water, hot water, air conditioning, dental plans or at least dentists, clean hospitals with the world’s best doctors and nurses, no malaria, cholera, or typhoid epidemics, retirement plans, and more. But we’re the most ungrateful people on the planet. As a Christian, I have even more than that. Am I grateful for it?
  • They closed the mouths of the prophets (2:12). They had aready tempted the Nazarites to break their vows (11). They were hard at work on the prophets, too, trying to stop them. When God visits a people, He had better find faithful messengers. Later, in Ezekiel’s day, God was hard pressed to find them (cf. Ezek. 22:30). Paul warned about this (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Woe to the preacher who has a price, who markets his message to the highest bidders. A man who sells out to his paycheck and a people who love to have it so will neither one fare well when God pays a visit.

These weren’t the only things God saw when He paid Israel a visit. They were out of step with God (3:3). Their women lost their spirituality (4:1). They corrupted their worship (4:4). They were rebellious (4:6). They had divorced religion from righteous living (5:21). They were at ease at Zion when they should have grieved over it (6:1). At the judgment seat of Christ, many people’s works will go up in flames. We must be ready when Christ pays a visit.

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death hope Judgment Judgment Day perseverance Uncategorized

Confident And Unafraid

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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priorities

Grappling Over Grass?

Neal Pollard

I heard about the guy last week who tried to choke his neighbor’s lawn service worker for failing to weed the neighbor’s flower bed.  The worker explained he had been hired to cut and trim the grass, but not the beds.  This apparently unsatisfactory answer led to the “choker” leaving visible marks on his victim and ultimately being charged with a count of felony battery.  The irate neighbor was convinced that the lack of weeding was causing him to now be fighting weeds in his own lawn.  The attacking neighbor tried to pull the victim off his riding mower and grabbed him by the neck.

If these are all the facts, what an extreme case of mixed up priorities.  Hurting another person over how unkempt or manicured his or their lawn is?  It seems unthinkable. But many of us know “that” neighbor.  Some of us may wrestle with being “that” neighbor.  If we could step back, we might see how silly excessive obsession with such things is.

In speaking about worry, Jesus reminds us that the grass of the field is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace (Mat. 6:30). Peter adds that the grass withers (1 Pe. 1:24). James similarly speaks of withering, fading, and expiring grass (1:10ff).  These men said this to make a spiritual point about worrying, the Word, and wisdom, but the fact remains that grass is numbered among those things that will be burned up at the end of the world (2 Pe. 3:10).  Yet, the souls of men will continue somewhere everlastingly (cf. Mat. 25:46).

Are we spending too much time grappling over grass, fretting over finances, or wrapped up in the world?  Are we giving the best part of ourselves for that which in the end matters least?  Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27).  Maybe it’s not food or grass for you.  Whatever earthly thing it may be, put it in its proper place.  And put Him in His proper place (cf. Mat. 6:33).