What Are You Living For?

Neal Pollard

A man had the good fortune and insight to take a chance with a credit card company in the Baltimore area several decades ago. He retired a wealthy, high ranking executive. In the course of his career, he put together a streak so impressive–35 years in which he never missed a day of work–that “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr., wrote him a letter commending him for it. When he retired, the company gave him a classic car as well as many other lavish gifts. He had a great many benefits and perks, the admiration of peers and competitors, resort townhouses, and considerable wealth. But, one day very soon after he retired his life was dramatically changed after a visit to the doctor. He had an aggressive form of cancer. A few months later he was dead.

This is not a commentary on the morality or priorities of the man. I know nothing about either. His story points out that his well-laid plans and successful career could not forestall the inevitable end result common to every man.

It should also provoke a question. What are we living for? Is our identity tied to our career? Do we want to be known as the life of the party? Is it all about travel and adventure? Does life revolve around going to the river, campground, fishing hole, beach, or mountains? Is it sports, shopping, spending, or spirituality? Of necessity, all of us have a central focus. It is the thing that forms the bull’s eye we repeatedly find ourselves aiming at. Too many times, some thing becomes the thing in “first place” over Christianity. Colossians 1:18 reminds us Christ must come to have first place. When it comes to our jobs, Jesus must take first place. When it comes to our recreation, same thing. When it comes to relationships, He deserves primary position. Whatever we say or do, Jesus must be at the forefront.

He warns that we may invest in the wrong kind of treasure rather than the true riches (Mat. 6:19-21). He admonishes us to seek the kingdom first over “things” (Mat. 6:33). He warns against choosing family members over Himself (Mat. 10:37).

When life draws to a close, one will be confronted by the reality of what he or she made first place. Certainly, when we cross the sea of time to eternity, there will be no denying, rationalizing, debating, or arguing what our “bull’s eye” was. But, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all know what’s most important to us right now? It’s what occupies the greatest amount of our interest, time, energy, emotion, and effort. It is what we live for. When we die, will what we live for help us live eternally or be the cause of eternal death (cf. Rev. 21:8)? Let’s hear Paul’s encouragement to “set your affection on things above and not on things of the earth” (Col. 3:2).

Spofforth Church Grounds

Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

Copperopolis, California

Neal Pollard

It boomed when “copper was king” and owed its thriving existence to shell casings made for the Union Army in the far-away Civil War.  Fittingly, her downtown streets were Union, Grant, Lincoln, and Sherman. There were 90 businesses in “Copper City” from 1865-1867. The extraction and production of copper ore found in such strikes as at Gopher Ridge, Quail Hill, and Hog Hill made Copperopolis a boom town for a short time.  A huge fire in the center of town, in 1867, coupled with the enormous drop in demand for copper following the end of the Civil War, left the community a virtual ghost town. So, despite a few modest copper mining rebounds periodically through World War II, Copperopolis, which yielded $12 million in copper from 1861 to 1946, is a shell of its former self. It is a resort and recreation area today, a modest little town who  once entertained the likes of Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and “Black Bart” (Charles Boles)(mymotherlode.com,  calaverashistory.org/copperopolis).

History is fascinating, with its “rags to riches,” “riches to rags,” and even “rags to riches to rags” stories.  Family histories play out the same way.  So can the rise and fall of nations.  The history of the church, wherever she has existed, may follow the same trajectory.  The Jerusalem church of Christ, where it all began, once boasted thousands of members.  In time, due to persecution and the introduction of false doctrines, the church there faded from view.  Today, it has only a modest presence. The same could be said of other congregations we read about in the New Testament.  Our congregation is somewhere on its course from the past to the future.  Where will it be in 10 years? 50 years?

Then, I look at my own life.  I have been a Christian for over 30 years.  I have preached for over 25 years. There have been Bible studies with non-Christians and new Christians. There have been efforts to try and influence others with the gospel.  My three sons are all nearly grown and on their own.  My wife and I have labored together to serve Christ.  But, each day, I must look and sincerely investigate what my spiritual trajectory is.  Am I growing nearer to Christ, acting more like Christ? Am I bearing more or less fruit? Are my best days in His kingdom behind me or in front of me? The good news is that, to a great degree, that lies within the scope of my free will and deliberate choices. With God’s help and to His glory, I can make today, tomorrow, and beyond the brightest days of service to Him.

Look at your life.  What legacy are you building? You will help determine that by what you do today.  Paul says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

Photograph taken of ruins in Copperopolis, California.

Conquered The World And Left It With Empty Hand

Neal Pollard

Somehow, it has come down through the ages that Alexander the Great made this dying request, that he should be buried with his hands outside his coffin so that all his subjects could see that despite all the riches he had accumulated in life that he left the world empty-handed.  Artists through time have famously depicted this posture. It has been retold repeatedly.  Whether or not Alexander requested it, the sentiment reflects divine truth.  Paul told Timothy, “For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim. 6:7).  Similarly, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon similarly states of the wealthy, “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecc. 5:15).

While even world conquerors cannot transport their treasures from time to eternity as they make the transition, everyone will exit the world having left so many things behind us.  We leave behind so much more than our financial assets.  We leave behind memories of ourselves, encouragements either given or withheld, speech either edifying or destructive, deeds which brought others closer to or further from Christ, family members influenced either to follow Christ or abandon Him, and similarly impactful matters.  When we leave earth, our hands are empty.  We have bequeathed all that we are and have for those whose lives we touched and influenced.  They pick up our habits, worldview, pleasures, interests, and priorities.  Some day, they will die and leave empty-handed, too, passing along what in some way we gave them to give.

You may never be a world conqueror, but here is how you conquer the world.  It takes faith and spiritual rebirth (1 Jn. 5:4).  But do not simply possess it.  Be sure to pass it along.

What Is Your Name Associated With?

Neal Pollard

Some names ring not just with familiarity, but downright notoriety.  Walenda is a name synonymous with daring, high wire acts.  Falcone is associated with mobsters and organized crime.  The Hearst family has long been connected with newspaper publication, Forbes with finance and fortune, Morgan with banking, and Bronte with literature.  Hilton and Kardashian? Well… Certainly, we could make a long list of surnames synonymous with particular endeavors bringing either fame or infamy.  In the Lord’s church, the name Nichols, Jenkins, Winkler, and others evoke an even more positive image of souls reached through a shared legacy of full-time service to the Lord.

Each of us has been endowed with a precious commodity, the name bequeathed to us by our forbearers.  Often, they have worked hard to polish and protect that name, to honor it and leave it as a legacy of character rather than shame.  It does not take much for us to tarnish that name and leave behind a name our descendants must live down.  All it takes is one person to leave a notability which embarrasses.  Just ask the Hitlers, O’Hares, Ingersolls, Bordens, Stalins, and Kevorkians.

Of course, the most important thing about our name is spiritual.  Do I wear the name of Christ?  If I claim to wear His name, what do I do to honor, glorify, and spread the good influence of His name?  When people see my name, do they associate it with Christ and all good attributes that should go along with that?  We want to live so that when we stand before Christ, we will hear our names called with those who spend eternity with Him in heaven!  How you are doing with your name? How are you doing with His name?

The Munchkin’s Legacy

 

Neal Pollard

Ruth Duccini died in January at the age of 95, the last surviving female munchkin from the Wizard of Oz leaving only Jerry Maren left of the original 124 little people from the film.  All her life she was associated with the classic and made numerous appearances at festivals celebrating the movie. Given her stature, at 4 feet, 4 inches, and the fact that she lived in Santa Monica, she likely had someone remind her of her starry past each day.  But if you asked her what she was most proud of and what she wanted to be remembered for, she would give one answer.  She would say that it was her role as “Rosie the Riveter.” She worked on airplanes at a defense plant during World War II.  She helped her nation through this patriotic work.  Whenever her name is mentioned by the press or her picture is seen in a book or on a website, it will likely be associated with her brief work in that cinematic effort.  But she preferred to be known for her service (http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2014/01/16/wizard-of-oz-munchin-dies/4542745/).

I find that more than patriotic.  It is both admirable and exemplary.  Rather than longing to be “seen” and “out front,” Ruth wanted to be behind the scenes working hard.  Her preference was a few years of difference-making work rather than decades of recognition.

This is a reminder that none of us can choose how we will be remembered.  We know that our decisions and actions collect together like raindrops to form the pool of our legacy.  Looking down, we can see a reflection of who we really are.  But others look at our lives and form their own impressions.  Usually, whatever we desire to be most known for is exactly what we become most known for.  Yet for what do we want to be most known?  Our looks?  Our wit?  Our wealth? Our talents?  Our notoriety?  Or, do we desire to be known for our godliness, service, encouraging, courageous, loving, faithful, persevering, or similar spiritual quality?

Whether or not we log 95 years on this earth, we are leaving daily impressions.  May we leave the kind that help people go to heaven and that keep us on the path that leads there, too.  Make yours a legacy of love for the Lord!