The Ambition Of A Burmese Python In The Everglades

Neal Pollard

No, I have not gone geographically goofy!

It’ll take more than a sack lunch to go from Florida to southern Asia, but because some pet owners have deposited their no-longer-wanted pythons into the Everglade Swamp there have arisen some interesting ecological dilemmas. The most spectacular one I have seen had pictorial documentation to prove itself. There, in the black and white of the newspaper, was a Burmese python that had burst in its attempt to swallow…an alligator!

What about you? Do you have big goals and dreams? Where do you see yourself this time next year? By retirement time? In eternity? What tangible things are you “biting off” to make those goals reality? Do you have soul-winning and other spiritual goals? Would you like to be a “lighthouse Christian” whose example motivates many to be like Jesus?

How big are you thinking? How big can you think?

Remember that Paul included Christ in the equation (Phil. 4:13), so he was ready to take on the biggest challenges. He evangelized the then-known world (Col. 1:23). He stood before the leaders of the greatest nation on earth, men like Festus, Felix, Agrippa, and ultimately Caesar, and he preached Jesus to them (Acts 24-28; Phil. 4:22; Luke 21:12). He traveled perilous seas, enduring multiple harsh treatment (see 2 Cor. 11), and credible history says he was beheaded for his Lord. Paul, through God’s strength, felt he could change the world with Christ’s saving grace. Even though his wonderful ambition put him in the same ultimate position of that dislocated constrictor, what a memorable way to go. Unlike the snake’s, Paul’s efforts yielded everlasting benefits.

What are you ready to do for Christ? How far are you willing to go? What have you done to get started?

Maybe we shouldn’t apply the cliche, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” to Christian aspirations. In fact, chomp away!

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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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WE ARE RACING UP A MOUNTAIN

Neal Pollard
Ueli Steck was the world’s greatest free-soloist climbing. He was routinely snatching up new records in the part of the sport of mountain climbing that is most dangerous. It was not unusual for him to attempt dangerous routes without ropes and other safety gear. The Swiss alpinist was, as you would imagine, about as fit as a human being can be, and he attempted what most cannot (and would not). He was described by friends and fellow competitors as focused, deliberate, and thoughtful. He did not climb for the beauty of the nature around him–which he often only briefly glimpsed. No, he was a mountain marathoner. Speed climbing, as it is considered, was something Steck wanted to apply to higher mountains in the Himalayas–the final frontier for mountain climbers. He did, setting several records in the loftiest part of the world. The 2015 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year died earlier this year doing a climb on one of the western routes up Mount Everest, without supplemental oxygen, falling 1,000 meters during an early morning climb.

While you and I would not consider ourselves world class athletes, we are in a race (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7). How often does it seem not only like a steep race course, but a perilous one, too? Many times, it will seem tempting to simply give up the trek toward heaven. What it takes for us to succeed comes right out of Steck’s “playbook”–focus, deliberation, and thoughtfulness. It is easy to forget why we are climbing. Or, we fail to properly plan or execute our plans. Or, maybe we just do not think about what the purpose of our rapid climb up this mountain is. We are not climbing for earthly recognition or monetary reward. Of course, we are not going solo, either. We have each other for support. Even when we feel alone in our meteoric ascent, we will safely and triumphantly summit as we rely on our Savior! God has given us the tools, resources, and make up to endure exceedingly difficult and complicated turns in the course upon which we find ourselves. Time is going by so quickly, but the way does not get less steep or challenging. Let us keep our resolve to race up the mountain until we get there and not put ourselves into a position to fall! We can, like others before us (Heb. 12:1), succeed!

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Photo of the late Euli Steak

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARTYRDOM AND A MARTYR COMPLEX

Neal Pollard

Will the day come when government attempts to shut down our Bible study and worship services? Looking back at history, particularly the books of Acts and Revelation, we know this can occur. Certainly, the current environment in our society reveals a trend toward greater intolerance of the biblical worldview. We are growing more secular and more sensual as a nation. Public symbols of Christian religion are disappearing from the public square, while public expressions of Christian religion have long since disappeared from public education. That said, we do not do service to Christ by manufacturing problems where they do not exist.

Isn’t it interesting that back when Christians were experiencing mistreatment, the Holy Spirit guided men and women to have a different attitude than that of a victim. From a prison cell he would never leave alive simply because he was preaching Christ, Paul sought to bolster a young preacher’s faith by saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according tot he power of God” (2 Tim. 1:7-8). When Peter and John were beaten for their faith, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When they were mistreated and released earlier in this episode, the church gathered to worship and pray (Acts 4:24ff). Peter urged readiness (1 Pet. 3:15). John urged faithfulness (Rev. 2:10). Stephen showed endurance, boldness, and compassion as he became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7).

It is an incongruous idea to imagine the early Christians wasting precious time organizing email campaigns, seeking to draw sympathy from the media, picketing, and playing the victim. Instead, driven by their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they committed their lives to Jesus while they spent their days trying to spread the good news of Christ (Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23). Even as Christians were martyred (Stephen, James, those assaulted by Saul of Tarsus’ efforts, and those during the time of the book of Revelation and shortly thereafter), there is no hint of any of them roaming around with a martyr complex. Let us emulate their great example!

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“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

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Wanting To Want To

 

Neal Pollard

Do you want your marriage to flourish and grow?
Do you want to read through the Bible this year?
Do you want to lead someone the Savior to know?
Do you want to live life without worry and fear?
Do you want to lose weight and be healthy and fit?
Do you want to attain to more financial discipline?
Do you want self-confidence, courage, and grit?
Do you want to get better at caring and listening?
Do you want a closer place near the heart of God?
Do you want to trust Him when trouble finds you?
Do you want to have heaven after earth you’ve trod?
Then it all must begin with you wanting to want to! —NP

Call it desire, motivation, or willpower.  Whatever you call it, it is central to succeeding at whatever your goals are. What does it take to become a Christian? Wanting to! What does it take to defeat the sin in your life? Wanting to! What does it take to break bad habits and repeated blown judgment calls? Wanting to! What does it take to be a stronger, more faithful Christian? Wanting to! That is not to minimize or ignore our dependence on God and the strength He provides. But He is not going to overwhelm or overtake our will and make us do or be something. He did not operate that way in the age of miracles.

What will be your motivation? There are so many potential incentives. There’s the love God has shown us (2 Cor. 5:14). There’s the fear of hell (Mat. 10:28). There’s the yearning for heaven (John 14:1-3). There’s the concern about how we influence other’s destiny (Mat. 5:14-16). There’s the love we have for God (1 Jn. 4:19). There’s the longing to be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). For each of us, some motivations are more powerful than others. Whatever it takes to be more for God in this needy world, latch onto it and pursue it. You can do it because you won’t be doing it alone. God gave you the church, His Word, prayer, and a personal will to help arrive at the ultimate goal. Don’t let up. Don’t look back. Don’t lose hope. Want to want to!

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4 people have motivated me to run over the past 19 years: Kathy, Joe, Bob, and Wes. Today was a 6 miler in the snow when it felt like 4 degrees. 

FOURTEEN SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING YOUR DEVOTIONAL LIFE

Neal Pollard

Maybe you have resolved repeatedly to become a better, more faithful Bible student, person of prayer, or simply one who truly desires to build a closer relationship with God. While a lot of that will be personal and peculiar to you as an individual, you may lack direction about how to get started or give yourself the best chance to succeed in that goal. Perhaps these few suggestions can prove helpful to strengthening your daily connection with your Creator.

  • Adjust your wake up time. 15 to 30 minutes head start will prove the most vital moments of your day.
  • Find a quiet, solitary place. Distraction can equal detraction.
  • Study and pray with pen and paper or computer nearby. This will aid specificity and memory.
  • Do not rush. Better a paragraph or chapter pored over than ten chapters glossed over.
  • Take advantage of the commute. Pray through it or play the Bible on audio, if you can.
  • Pick a book or topic of interest and drill down.  Pick it for its relevance to your weakness, need, ignorance, or curiosity. Drink it in deliberately and carefully.
  • Be specific and transparent in your prayers. In the solitude of prayer, drop all pretense, denial, and pride. He knows it all anyway.
  • Always seek application in the Bible text you are reading. This is not a history lesson or academic exercise. This is spiritual food, armor, and survival.
  • Create a list of ways you can enact the principles you read from Scripture. See yourself in the text of Scripture, and challenge yourself to think, say, do, and be what God desires of you.
  • Ask questions of the text. Don’t pass over what you don’t understand. Don’t skim the surface. Mine for meaning.
  • Build a prayer list. Challenge yourself and add people that many others may overlook in your local circle—widows, little children, new Christians, struggling folks, those facing an anniversary of loss, leadership, missionaries, non-Christians where you work and play, the poor, etc. This ever-expanding prayer list will bless lives in ways you won’t know here on earth.
  • Mean what you say. When you tell someone you’ll pray for them, have integrity. Make an honest effort (write it down, put it in your phone) and honor your word. Ask the people you encounter how you might pray for them, then do it.
  • Review. Revisit prayer lists or notes from Bible study periodically. Make it live on through reflection.
  • Pray for what to study and study prayer. You will find that these two spiritual strength-building exercises are interconnected. This is about relationship with God. Spare no exertion.

Consider these “jump starters.” You will come up with more and far better ways to help yourself to a closer walk with God. These days, we’re being pulled in every direction and most lead away from Him. You will have to be deliberate to swim against the tide. May God bless you as you let Him bless you through a vibrant devotional life!

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WHY WE KEEP FAITHFULLY SERVING AND LEADING

Neal Pollard

It took the Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland, 17 years and 23 days to complete the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 2900 feet away from the eroding Atlantic Ocean beach on the North Carolina Outer Banks location where it had been standing. They started in 1982 and finished in 1999. Little things may get done quickly, but big things take time.  Someone once said, “Most people tend to overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” Paul was in a position to look back over his life and see, if his humility allowed it, a lifetime just since his conversion to Christ that was marked by much fruitful labor.  Luke chronicles some of that work from Acts 11-28. Paul reflects back on some of it in 2 Corinthians 11. But in what is firmly believed to be his last inspired writing, 2 Timothy, he has a brightly lit torch in his condemned hand. He is ready to hand it off to the young preacher, Timothy.

I imagine most of you are blessed to lay claim to someone, either still living or now dead, who was a Paul to you. Having a mentor or mentors to help us grow and develop, spiritually, is priceless. When Paul tells Timothy what he does in 2 Timothy 4:1-8, a passage we typically use to encourage preachers, he is urging a precise attitude and precise teaching. The reasons why he wanted that for Timothy are reasons that should motivate us to live faithfully and to encourage our own Timothys to persevere until the current pressures. Here are three reasons why Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful:

  • BECAUSE PROBLEMS ARE COMING (3-4). It was a fourfold problem (you’ll notice it by reading these two verses). Paul told Timothy to handle it with great patience and teaching. You cannot always anticipate what the problem is going to be, but as long as you come in contact with people there will be problems. You cannot hope to be an influence on them if you do not cultivate the attitude of patience. When problems arise, be patient and stick to the doctrine of Christ.
  • BECAUSE YOU ARE DIFFERENT (5). No matter how you are treated (or mistreated), you cannot stoop to the level of unethical, immoral, or unscrupulous people. These false teachers Paul references were willing to discard truth, and many wanted that kind of teacher. We will encounter people who don’t play by the Lord’s rules, but we must be different. We must be sober in all things, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry. We are to have a better character, and we have a better message. We aim higher because we are the people of God.
  • BECAUSE JUDGMENT IS COMING (6-8). Paul looks ahead to the very end of all things. Because he was faithful, he anticipated the crown of righteousness. Why do you want to serve the Lord? Is it for prominence, popularity, or influence? To successfully endure, do what you do in view of the Judgment. God won’t forget your faithfulness (see Heb. 6:10)!

Your faith will be tested. You may be resisted, rejected, ignored, disbelieved, and debated. The question is, “How are you going to handle it?” Will it make you better or better. It will try your patience, but will you be found guilty or not guilty? If you will be patient and faithful to God’s Word, you will be an example to more than you’ll ever know. Keep your eyes open for your own Timothys to train and members to mentor. The more we have who listen to and follow the advice of this passage, the greater the influence of Christ will be in this dark, sinful world.

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How Determined Are You?

Neal Pollard

Karoly Takacs has one of the most interesting stories in Olympic History. The right-handed pistol marksman and sergeant in the Hungarian Army was a world-class shooter, but was denied an opportunity to compete in the 1936 games since only commissioned officers could compete. That prohibition was lifted after these games and Takacs anticipated competing in 1940, but a faulty grenade exploded in his right hand during army training in 1938. Unbeknownst to the Polish public, Karoly began practicing shooting with his left hand. He showed up at the 1939 Hungarian National Pistol Shooting Championship, and when other competitors came to offer condolences about his accident, he said, “I didn’t come to watch, I came to compete.” In fact, he won those games. But, he was unable to compete in the 1940 or 1944 Olympic Games because they were not held due to World War II. By the time of the 1948 games, held in London, Takacs was 38 years old. But, he qualified and won the Gold Medal there. Then, he turned around and did it again at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He barely missed qualifying in 1956!  For this, he holds a place as one of Poland’s greatest Olympic heroes of all time (information via Quora.com authors Ankur Singh and Swati Kadyan).

In the New Testament, God shows us how beautiful proper determination is. Starting with Jesus’ determination to save us from our sins, as we read about Him because of anticipated joy “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:1), we find the greatest example of resolve. But, then there was Paul. Before conversion, he was determined to exterminate the Christians (read Acts 26:9-11). After being won to Christ, he refocused his determination toward winning as many as possible to Christ (1 Cor. 2:2; 9:24-27) and he urged others to do the same (2 Tim. 2:1-6; Tit. 3:8; etc.). No one will make it to heaven without making a determined effort to do so. That does not mean that anyone will earn their salvation, but it just as true that no one accidentally goes to heaven. The way Jesus put it is, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). How badly do you want to go to heaven? What are you willing to give up in order to go there?

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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).

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My dad preaching in Artesia, MS, in 1964 (left) and preaching in Andrews, NC, in 2016 (right).