The Rasputin Rule

Neal Pollard

Very little good can be said of Gregory Rasputin. Robert Goldston, in The Russian Revolution, writes that he “was, like his father before him, essentially a rowdy peasant. He soon developed a reputation in his hometown as a horse thief, drunkard, seducer of young girls, and general good for nothing. He had no education and remained largely illiterate all his life. His one apparent attribute was great physical strength. He was a coarse-featured man with a heavy black beard and strangely piercing eye” (82). Because times in Russia circa 1905 were desperate and grim, a rascal like Rasputin could rise. He went to Saint Petersburg, weaseled his way up the ranks of nobility, and eventually rose to become the most intimate advisor of Czar Nicolas II and especially the superstitious Czarina Alix. Many historians believe that, in the fateful, final years of the Romanov dynasty, Rasputin was the unofficial, yet undisputed, ruler of Russia.

He was grossly immoral and unscrupulous. At his words, jobs and even lives were spared or taken. Though he had abandoned his wife and children, Rasputin made his way as a self-professed prophet and “holy beggar.” The Czarina, in all her correspondence, simply called Rasputin “the Friend.” The royal family implicitly trusted Rasputin. Rasputin, in turn, urged the royal family to rule by absolute despotism. Many thought Rasputin to possess powers of hypnotism and the ability to do magic. Giving him the control of hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives, the Czar contributed to his own murder and that of the entire royal family in the revolution of 1917. For Rasputin’s part, he was murdered in 1914 by a small group of conspiring nobles who lured him to one of their houses and shot him repeatedly after poisoned food and wine did not do the trick.

The most amazing part of this story involves the irony of it all. A ne’er-do-well essentially becomes head of the largest country in the world. A grossly immoral man is viewed as a “holy man.” The head of a dynasty that had lasted hundreds of years put all its trust and hope in such a one. What incredible folly!

However, the majority of humanity has done the same thing from time immemorial. The prince of darkness, the king of ne’er-do-well, is their spiritual advisor. As foolish as it is, people stake their eternal destiny on his wholly corrupt guidance. They risk it all, mesmerized by his wiles. Consequently, they are duped into calling “evil good and good evil…who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isa. 5:20-21). Yet, it is not a revolution but The Judgment that will undo them. They stand to lose more than physical life; they will lose their souls (Mat. 10:28). Beware of the pied piper of souls! Be careful who you make your spiritual counselor. It matters!

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Almost And Armistice Day

Neal Pollard

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


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

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EVERY NAME IMPORTANT

Neal Pollard

Today marks 16 years since the most infamous and iconic attack rocked our collective consciousness. Each year, there is a solemn ceremony conceived in such wisdom and executed with a poignancy that never abates. That is the reading of the names of those who died in the 911 Attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The soft music playing behind the readers accents the mood, punctuated by every reader mentioning the name of a family member they lost that fateful day. September 11th resonates with us so deeply because it was an attack on our country, but also because of the death of each and every individual who perished that day. Behind each name are family members, memories, joy and sorrow. Each person, in such a dramatic, untimely way, was taken from time into eternity. God loved and loves each one with an infinite, eternal love and wanted each one to be saved. Christ gave His life to provide salvation for each one. The Bible was written for the benefit of each one. The Lord’s church was meant to pursue and teach each one.

Though each individual is numbered among such a large group, around 3,000 of them, each one means more than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). This touching memorial is a tribute to the overall value of human life. It reminds us that we are surrounded by individuals all possessing an eternal soul.  Everyone you see today is heading toward eternity. Each one will either hear “well done” or “depart from me” (cf. Mat. 25:31ff). What is said about God’s attitude toward those victims specially remembered today is true of every person we meet and see today.

May we have our hearts stirred by the sobriety of that truth. May we never lose sight of our urgent responsibility to share the message of Christ with the people in our lives. As moving as the ceremony that occurs each year in New York City on September 11th, we really cannot imagine what the Day of Judgment will be like. Each person who ever lived, including you and me, will hear our name called (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). As important as our own name is, every name is important. Let us pray that this realization will propel us to tell the best news of human history and help someone find the only way, truth, and life.

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Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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Wisdom Is Vindicated By All Her Children

Neal Pollard

Jesus said, “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35). He said this in response to the hypercriticism and unrighteous judgment of those who condemned both John the Baptist and Him. They said John was too conservative and Jesus was too liberal. They hacked at the methods and message of both, without justification or legitimacy. They were libelous name-callers, but Jesus simply responded with a proverb. What a good one! It’s a needed one today, especially in the face of those who sit and snipe at the works of others. For those who get gun shy at the prospect of such snipers, please remember Jesus’ words and Jesus’ reward for those who keep at the good work.  This principle applies to:

  • Elders and preachers
  • Missionaries
  • Worship leaders
  • Young parents
  • Bible teachers
  • Deacons and ministry leaders
  • Christian Colleges and schools of preaching
  • Soul winners
  • Youth ministers
  • Lectureship and workshop directors
  • Church program organizers
  • Christians in the workplace
  • Teenagers
  • Students in their various schools
  • Camp directors
  • Writers and authors
  • Publishers

There are undoubtedly other categories of people who fall under the purview of Jesus’ saying, but they share the burden of having their works criticized by naysayers, ne’er-do-wells, nitpickers, and needlers. In Luke 7, Jesus took the magnifying glass and turned it on the critics. We can take heart this idea: “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet. 1:17). We have a responsibility to conduct ourselves righteously, but we can rest in the confidence that we will be judged impartially by the perfect, righteous Judge. Let us commend our efforts to His eyes. He will get it perfectly right!

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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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THE KIND OF LIFE WE SHOULD LIVE

Neal Pollard

Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!

We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).

We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.

We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:

  • Focus on the Father’s house (2). Long for heaven.
  • Focus on the Son’s coming (3). Anticipate His return. We know death is an appointment followed by the Judgment (Heb. 9:27).
  • Focus on God’s fellowship (4). Long to be where God is and to follow where He leads. Let that desire lead you to fellowship with Him and His saints publicly and privately in your personal devotional life.

We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.

We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.

Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.

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Examining Our Positions

Neal Pollard

Hans Kaltenborn was an ardent admirer and defender of Adolf Hitler and the “new Germany” ushered in with the Nazi regime. Despite diplomatic warnings of assaults upon Americans, Kaltenborn, an influential American commentator for CBS and NBC and of German descent, dismissed it as flawed and skewed information gathering by biased personnel. About to return home to the states to speak against such reports and warnings, his family went to downtown Berlin to do some last minute shopping. While out, the family found themselves in the middle of one of the endless S.A. parades. When his family refused to offer the Nazi salute, his son was physically assaulted and injured. Finally, someone intervened and the incident ended with no further harm. However, the transformed Kaltenborn was apoplectic. He made a report with the American Consulate in Berlin, but no charges were filed. As Eric Larsen writes, “the senior Kaltenborn ‘could remember neither the name nor the number of the Party identification card of the culprit, and as no other clues which might be useful in the investigation could be found’” (In The Garden of Beasts, 164). Despite this, Kaltenborn was now of a different mind!

There are many ways in which life can do the same thing to us.  We may be dead certain about marriage when we are single, about childrearing “pre-kids,” about our career when still in the classroom, about home ownership when in our parents’ home, dorm room, or apartment, and so on. But, life so often has a way of rudely awakening us from some well-meaning beliefs.

Sometimes, this can happen to us in the all-important area of religion. As we stay in our Bibles and gain wisdom and experience life, we may reaffirm but also clarify and even change certain positions we have long held. This can certainly be a dangerous affair, and some have allowed life to change their positions from what is true to what is false (what Jesus says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage because of a family situation, unscriptural changes in worship because of children attending church who have adopted such, etc.). But few of us will go all the way through life without reconsidering especially some conscience or judgment matters.

There are also a great many of our friends who have been taught religious error on God’s plan of salvation, the singular, undenominational nature of the church, what God wants in worship, women’s role in church and worship leadership, and the list goes on. This can be such a difficult challenge for anyone, to revisit long-held and deeply-believed positions in light of what the Bible says.

For all of us, there must be an abiding humility that approaches scripture without the blinders of prejudices, preconceived notions, and influences like family, friends, church, and so on. That is uncomfortable, but essential—for all of us!  We may come to find that something we’ve clung to so tenaciously must be rejected or that something we rejected must be embraced. If we ever get to that place, may we have the kind of heart that puts the will of God above our own will. Without such, we cannot hope to make heaven our home.

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Hans Kaltenborn

Who Is The Greatest?

Neal Pollard

  • The preacher who dazzles with his insight, personality, influence, popularity, or following?
  • The teacher who is the students’ favorite?
  • The member who is “balling” (making a lot of money and having a lot of success in business)?
  • The family with the biggest house and nicest automobiles?
  • The one with the best academic pedigree, with the proverbial alphabet soup behind their name?
  • The folks who are best known and most influential in our community?
  • The ones who are incredibly fit and attractive?
  • The greatest debater, philosopher, and reasoner we know?
  • The elder who is most successful in his career?
  • One who seems to combine a great many or even all of these attributes?

It could be one of these individuals, but despite and not because of the specifics just mentioned. But, we so easily fall into the trap that causes us to think that those criteria are what make one greatest.  Such can cause us to vest blind trust in them or put them in a higher place than is right. Worse, we can try to be motivated to define and promote ourselves as greatest through these means.

The tendency is so fundamental. Jesus warned against it in places like Matthew 20:25-28 and 23:12. His disciples, like James (4:6-10), Peter (1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5-6), Paul (2 Cor. 10:12-18), Jude (16), and the rest, at least implicitly, address the same trap. We all fight the desire to be seen so as to be admired. We may do so through our marriages, our children’s accomplishments, our economic status, our apparent importance, our having it all together, our professional prowess, or any other asset we feel responsible for having. If we use these things to place ourselves above and/or push others below, we are disqualifying ourselves for greatness in the only way that matters—God’s way. False modesty isn’t the answer, either.

We must look at ourselves as dependent creatures. It’s all His and without Him we’d have nothing!
We must look at ourselves as devoted stewards. It’s all His and He expects us to use it wisely, on His behalf!
We must look at ourselves as divine instruments. It’s all His and He works through us to do His will!
We must look at ourselves as dutiful slaves. It’s all His and so are we, living and serving at and for His pleasure!

The warning and disclaimer is that this transformation must happen at heart-level, rooting out thoughts and attitudes that, while fleshly, are so easy to embrace. If the weeds of pride aren’t dislodged from deep within, this effort will prove impossible. But, if it could not be done, God would not have spent so much time instructing us to live and walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh and mind. It is the old song, “None of self and all of Thee.” To the degree we adorn that mindset and make that transformation, to that degree we will achieve greatness God’s way!

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NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THOSE WHO FAVOR INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

Neal Pollard

People who have rejected the teaching that singing in worship must be without the addition of mechanical instrumental music have appealed to culture, to the permission of silence, to aesthetics, to emotion, to tradition, to preference, and the like. As we examine Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, seeing the imperatives in each place (“let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—Col. 3:16; “be filled with the Spirit”—Eph. 5:18) and the participles that reveal how to obey the imperatives (Eph.: “speaking…singing…making melody…giving thanks”; Col.: “teaching…admonishing…singing”), we rightly say that God specifies what He wants and through such excludes what does not fall within these categories. No one will successfully build a case for Divine authorization or approval, and church history will have turned centuries of pages before it is even found introduced in Christian worship.

Having said that, we have at times failed to step back and look at some of our own attitudes toward the music portion of our worship that may reveal some deficiency in our musical offering to God. As a musical instrument may drown out, overshadow, or become the central feature of worship music, so may our own minds and attitudes. How?

  • Being distracted by the age of the song (it’s too old or too new)
  • Being distracted by the pitch of the song (it’s too high or too low)
  • Being distracted by the pace of the song (it’s too fast or too slow)
  • Being distracted by the notes of the song (the song leader is leading it wrong)
  • Being distracted by who the song leader is or his appearance
  • Being distracted by how many verses are sung (too many or too few)
  • Being distracted by the aesthetics of the song (thinking about how it sounds more than what it says)
  • Being distracted by our own ability (proud of how good we sound or so embarrassed at how we think we sound that we keep quiet or fail to speak, teach, etc.)
  • Being distracted by the person/people next to us (concerned about what they think of us rather than what the message of the song is)
  • Being distracted by our familiarity with a song (frustrated that we don’t know it or knowing it so well that we sing from memory without engaging the heart)
  • Being distracted by matters outside the song (people-watching, thinking of other things, etc.)

Though I’ve never heard it said, have we constructed a theology that believes the only sin in our worship in song is adding an instrument to it? If we refuse to sing, sing with improper attitude, sing without heart and mind engaged, and the like, do we believe we are OK since we did not add to what God authorized.

In Matthew 15:9, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for worshipping God in vain due to their “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Context reveals the specifics of their wrongdoing. But that word vain means “pertaining to being without any result; to no avail” (Louw-Nida; “to no end,” BDAG). Review the examples of distraction above. Can those render worship in song with no result, avail, or end? Absolutely! Perhaps we need to emphasize within our own assemblies how equally necessary it is to be worshipping God “in spirit” as it is “in truth” (cf. John 4:24). The bottom line of this whole matter of church music is striving to please God in our worship. That is not limited to a single issue or somebody else’s issue. It is as individual and personal as each of our own relationship with God.

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