Categories
faith faithfulness hope persecution

Hope In A Hopeless Situation

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

 

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Neal Pollard

Nadezhda Khazina was born in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century. She met and married the famous poet, Osip Mandelstam, in Kiev, Ukraine, after the Russian Revolution and establishment of communism. The couple saw enough of that system of government to conclude it was destructive and harmful, so they railed against it as they had opportunity. Mandelstam had a wide audience through his poetry, and his 1934 epigram about Joseph Stalin was a work he called “his suicide note” and that has been described as his “sixteen line death sentence.” He was arrested, exiled, and died of exposure and neglect four years later. Nadezhda became even more active in crusading against the tactics used in the Soviet Union, then near the end of her life she wrote a two volume autobiography of her life and work: Hope Against Hope (1970) and Hope Abandoned (1974)(https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSkhazina.htm). What’s interesting is looking up the name “Nadezhda” or the more familiar form “Nadia”; the name means “hope.” In fact, Lois Fisher-Ruge wrote a book by that title in 1989.

Do you see the irony? Her name meant hope, but her life was full of hopes dashed and hopelessness in the midst of her struggle. But, she kept on working because of the hope she felt. 

Peter writes 1 Peter to Christians who were going to see some seemingly hopeless situations in their lives. Some of them lived in Bithynia, a region whose governor, Pliny, famously bragged to the emperor Trajan at the turn of the second century about his pogrom of executing professed Christians for their faith. This was just about half a century after Peter writes this epistle warning of persecution. 

Despite Peter’s warning about the testing of their faith in unfavorable circumstances, he frequently mentions not just the ultimate reward we see for faithfully serving Christ but also “hope.” Five times in the first three chapters, Peter mentions this hope. It’s a living hope caused by Christ’s resurrection (1:3), a complete hope (1:13), a hope in God (1:21; 3:5), and a reasonable hope (3:15). The world around them was hopeless; they lived without hope. They wanted to drag the Christians into that hopeless state, but Peter urges them to hold onto hope. 

Our hopes are tested by times like these, by a world full of sin and iniquity. It’s easy to restrict our focus to this earth and this life. Peter’s words are for us, too! Do not be hopeless! You have Christ. Only those in Him have legitimate hope! 

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Drone photo from Nick Dubree of our drive in service at our new property. 
Categories
Christian living Christianity purpose

The World Is Desperate (Part Two)

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Last week we looked at how the world is desperate for guidance. They look in every direction for someone or something to tell them what to do. Most of the time they look to themselves for guidance and that leaves many things unsolved. Psalm 119 tells us what our guide should be. God’s word is what tells us how to live, how to act, and how to react in every situation. The world is desperate not only for guidance, but also for purpose (2 Pt. 1:3-8).

As Christians we can confidently say that we have purpose. There’s a reason to everything we do; but what about the world? Why do they wake up every day? For most, they wake up to go to work, to make money, serve self, and go to sleep.

To illustrate this, imagine going to the store without a grocery list. Without a list you end up forgetting most of the stuff you needed in the first place. You come back home and realize you forgot the milk. Without a purpose in life humans are lost. We go day to day knowing that there’s something we’re missing, but we don’t know what it is.

In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing to them to encourage these Christians to confirm their Christianity. To be confident in their calling. Starting in verse 3 he says this,

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Because of God, we have a purpose in life. We have become partakers in eternal life. Because of this we must live a certain way. We have a goal. Peter gives us a list to build on: virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If we are seeking for a purpose to life, work on this list and the end result is a knowledge of Christ that leads to eternal life.

We have escaped the corruption of the world, and now we have purpose. Peter was one who struggled with his purpose at first, he was unsure of Christ’s plan when he was on earth, and he didn’t even want to be associated with Christ after he was lead away to be crucified. He denied Christ, but after this we see his commitment and purpose in the book of Acts. His purpose is exactly like ours, he went around proclaiming Jesus and baptizing in His name. Not sure what your purpose is? Just look at how Peter lived his life, how he was committed to serving God.

My first job I ever had was when I was 13 years old. I built fences for a member at the Bear Valley Church of Christ. And talk about having no idea what you’re doing. For the longest time I’d show up every morning and have to ask how to do everything. I didn’t know how to mix concrete, how deep a fence post hole had to be dug, how to install gate hinges. I was clueless. For the average person, this is how they feel without Christ. They’re unsure, they have no purpose. Our job is to show them what life is about. This life is about getting ready for the next that is to come. Without this, we have nothing.

The world is desperate for purpose, so let’s show them the Truth.

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Categories
false teachers false teaching truth Uncategorized

What To See When False Prophets Speak

Neal Pollard

Peter has a sobering warning for the church, writing, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Pet. 2:1). He warns them about the model, the methods, and the message of these men. The counterparts of these modern messengers is the false prophets of old.

Jeremiah lived at a time when such prophets flourished, and the result of their work was the destruction of the people. Jeremiah 23 is a graphic depiction of what God helped Jeremiah see as he looked at and listened to these sinful seers. Notice that in Jeremiah 23:9-40), he saw:

  • Tears (9-10)–Jeremiah was heartbroken, trembling, and overcome, because he knew their message was different from God’s Word and it was taking people off course. 
  • Pollution (11-12)–The Lord found their way wickedness, and this pollution made for a slippery path that would make them fall in calamity and punishment. 
  • Offensiveness (13-14)–They looked to the wrong spiritual source and it led the people of God to commit horrible depravity. 
  • Tragedy (15)–Their message was going to cause their own spiritual sickness and death.
  • Emptiness (16-18)–The message is from their own imagination and not from the Lord’s mouth, so they tell those who hate God they’ll have peace and those who walk in stubbornness that everything will be fine.
  • Storms (19-20)–The storm is the tempest of God’s wrath upon the heads of these false messengers. 
  • Audacity (21-25)–They ran, but God didn’t send them; They prophesied, but God didn’t speak to them; God was right there listening when they said, “I had a dream, I had a dream!”
  • Heart Trouble (26-27)–The prophets had spiritual heart trouble, and their message was loved by people with heart trouble. It resulted in both of them forgetting God. 
  • Straw (28)–Just as straw and grain are totally different things, so is God’s message and their false message. 
  • Judgment (29-40)–God’s Word is like fire and a hammer. He is against their Word and against them for misusing their speaking abilities and leading His people astray. They don’t furnish the people with “the slightest benefit.” They cause the people to forget what truth is.  The end result is tragedy. 

So many can have a message that sounds good, makes one feel good, but does no good! In fact, their message contradicts what God said in His Word. As we grow our Bible knowledge, it will help us see these messengers and their messages for what they are. God’s Word is a blessing to us, both now and eternally. But, measure their message against the Master’s. Embrace only the words that are from Him! Reject the words that come from them!

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Categories
conversion poetry sin transformation Uncategorized

So You Have A Sinful Past? (POEM)

 

Neal Pollard

Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a liar,
David was an adulterer and to murder he did conspire,
Gideon and Timothy were timid, Peter a confirmed denier,
Paul wrecked havoc on the church, so full of hate and ire.

God, from time immemorial, has used the earthen vessel,
Sons of thunder or deceivers– like Jacob, who an angel did wrestle.
Just like Abraham and Isaac, very human if chosen and special
Barak, Samson, Jephthah, who with flaws their faith did nestle

From cover to cover, Scripture shows that God works through sinners
Preachers, prophets, kings and elders, saints and great soul-winners
It helps us who would serve today, to be better enders than beginners
To not let sin defeat us, to go from offenders to God defenders

Perhaps you have a sinful past or there’s guilt here in your today
A habit, sin, or weakness, crimes of deeds, thoughts, or what you say
Look back to men and women of old, they willed for they knew The Way
Conquer through Christ your old man, get busy, trust in God and obey!

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Peter denying Christ
Categories
eldership leaders leadership Uncategorized

WHERE ARE THE ELDERS?

Neal Pollard

  • At the hospital, attending a surgery
  • At home, hosting a family or families and getting closer to the sheep
  • Hosting and attending church activities
  • In private meetings with hurting, needy members
  • In meetings together, praying over and discussing the needs of the sheep
  • Spending time with their wives and children, nurturing that needed part of their lives
  • On their knees and in their Bibles, strengthening their walk with the Good Shepherd
  • Teaching our Bible classes, leading our worship, and even preaching as needed
  • On the job, exemplifying Christ before the world in a superlative way
  • Weeping with the weepers at funerals
  • Found among our graduates, parents of newborns, celebrating newlyweds, and other happy moments experienced within the flock
  • In Bible studies with non-Christians or Christians wrestling with some Bible matter
  • Looking for visitors and new faces in our assemblies
  • Working, sleeves rolled up, on workdays and other occasions where they can serve
  • Enjoying fellowship, their very actions reminding us they’re normal and one of us
  • Watching and listening carefully, especially at the teaching and preaching that is done, ensuring the spiritual food their sheep ingest is healthy and nourishing
  • Holding up the hand of faithful gospel preaching, having their hands help up by their preachers
  • Touching base with the deacons, encouraging and aiding their success in ministry
  • Attentive to little children, the elderly, the alone, and others that many might unintentionally overlook
  • Ensuring the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, rooting out divisiveness
  • On the phone and in the homes with erring sheep, striving to retrieve them and, sadly, if necessary, leading the flock to withdraw fellowship from the irretrievable
  • Setting the spiritual tone, emphasis, and direction of the flock

Our elders, like faithful elders everywhere, do a lot that is unseen by the majority.  It is hard to quantify the time and effort each of these godly men put into their work, but God sees it. What is more, God rewards it. My prayer is that righteous elders everywhere will take heart at what an inspired elder once wrote: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

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Bear Valley elders among our 2016 High School graduates
Categories
humility service spirituality Uncategorized

Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Categories
Christian living Christianity example hypocrisy influence self-examination Uncategorized

I Don’t Want To Know!

Neal Pollard

Too often, it’s a great disappointment to learn about the personal lives of politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and other professional entertainers. Their public persona and abilities may attract, inspire, and move us, but the aforementioned details are all too sordid. What might look wholesome on closer examination has a very seedy side.  Perhaps this says as much about any of us who place them on a pedestal, but that doesn’t lessen the chagrin.

Hypocrisy is something that can occur among “normal” people like Christians, too. Sadly, we can appear to be one thing around those of “like, precious faith” but have a different side that we show away from them. This is a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, preachers, elders, deacons, and their families included. It can have such a devastating effect. To think that our poor example could cause a new, a weak, or any other Christian to stumble and fall should fill us with dread.  The precious influence we build by our talents and positions must never be squandered by defects of character or even bowing to pressures in specific circumstances.

Peter preached the first and second recorded gospel sermons. He was an apostle and one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. Yet, Paul recalls an occasion where Peter succumbed to his flesh and sinned in a way that hurt his influence. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul says,

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain
men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they
came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the
party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy,
with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the
gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel
the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was driven by fear and favoritism. His action was devastating, dragging even “the son of encouragement” to follow his discouraging behavior. Thankfully, Paul loved Peter (and the Lord) enough to challenge the hypocrisy.

Friends, none of us will ever be perfect. We’re continually susceptible to sinful words and deeds. But let us guard against secret, double, or insincere lives knowing that such can totally destroy the faith of those who look to us to show them what Christlikeness looks like. In other words, let us be what we tell others that we are and that they should be. Consistency and integrity are some of the Lord’s most potent tools in our lives to bring others to Him.  Take care of His tools!

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Categories
church church growth evangelism faith

Launch Out Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

When Jesus met Peter, it may have seemed like an ordinary day to the Galilean fisherman. Simon Peter and his partners had just spent a long night fishing with no results.  You can imagine they were irritated and frustrated, maybe even feeling sorry for themselves. Then, Jesus commandeered Simon’s boat and used it to teach. This presumably would have been Peter’s first impression of Christ, though we do not know how closely he was paying attention to the Lord.  In Luke 5:4, Jesus stops preaching to the crowd and addresses Peter. He says, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus has ulterior motives, but the command is for Peter to literally cast his nets to try to make a literal catch of fish. Immediately, though, Peter is exposed to something far greater than anything earthly or material. Notice how this account illustrates the call of scripture in which Christ tells us, like Peter to launch out into the deep in faith to do great things for Him.

Launch out into the deep…even if, despite great effort, you have failed in the past (Luke 5:5). Simon explained that he and his associates had struck out overnight. Jesus was telling him not to worry about the past. He tells us the same things today. If you have failed in trying to do right or have succeeded in doing wrong, don’t give up hope. Launch out again!

Launch out into the deep…at the prompting of God’s Word (Luke 5:5). Simon was willing. What a great character trait. He tells Jesus, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” Simon says, “I value and respect your word enough to try again where I failed in the past.” Do we trust God’s promises and revere God’s commands enough to keep trying and biting off big things for the Lord?

Launch out into the deep…and involve others with you (Luke 5:7). Of course, with the Lord’s help, Simon became a success. In fact, the disciple knew immediately that he was not big enough to tackle his opportunities alone. He got his partners involved. In the Lord’s church today, each of us as Christians are partners and associates together with Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-6:1). Launching out into the deep requires involving as many as possible, for the task is so great and too much for one alone.

Launch out into the deep…and astonishing things can happen (Luke 5:9-11). First, the catch of fish is astonishing to them. Then, Jesus’ commissioning of them is astonishing (to turn from fish to men). Finally, their response is astonishing. They get to land, leave their boats and all they have, and follow Jesus. Eventually, they change the entire world! Launch out into the deep.  Who knows what you can do through Christ (cf. Phil. 4:13), but it will be astonishingly amazing.

Obviously, this was about men and not about fish.  Jesus was not interested in making them rich fishermen in Galilee.  He was looking to enrich the people of Galilee and far beyond through these fishermen. All it took was for some men who believed in God’s power to launch out into the deep.

Categories
2 Peter salvation

A Daring Escape

Neal Pollard

Before Arthur Turner “Bud” Morris died at home on December 15, 2012, following service to our country in the army in World War II and a 35-year career as a truck driver for Carolina Freight (see more here), he granted an interview for Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, WXIA, in which he not only claimed to be the cousin of famous Alcatraz escapee Frank Morris but more boldly that he helped him escape. In the interview (WXIA), he tells the reporter about giving multiple payoffs to prison guards presumably to get them to look the other way.  Frank Morris, said to have had an IQ of 133, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin of Lee County, Georgia, disappeared and were thought drowned in the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay.  However, anecdotal evidence and alleged sightings are offered to suggest these men actually did escape from the infamous Alcatraz Prison.

Whether or not they escaped from a place formerly thought impregnable and impossible, you and I have the opportunity to escape something far more imposing.  Peter writes the scattered saints in his second epistle, reminding them of those exceeding great and precious promises that they came to possess “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (1:4).  The way to complete that escape is listed out, starting in verse five: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  I have lived long enough to see those young, middle-aged, and old, caught in the trap of the world.  They started or became faithless, without virtue, spiritually ignorant, undisciplined, without endurance, ungodly, unkind, and unloving.  They didn’t just slip up and find themselves guilty of these things from time to time. They allowed themselves to be imprisoned to such things because of their “lust,” their desire for the world.  Their view of past and future were distorted, and it hurt them in their present, day to day lives (cf. 1:9).

For Morris and the Anglins, the promise was freedom from a dank prison and the hopelessness of their sentence there.  For you and me, it is the exceeding great and precious promises that should cause us to sharpen our view of the past we’ve escaped and the future we trust in.  Don’t give up!  Continue your daring escape!