Sailors, Subs, Shipwrecks, Sharks, Sinners, And Salvation

Sailors, Subs, Shipwrecks, Sharks, Sinners, And Salvation

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Only 11 survivors outlived him, as he died on November 4, 2019, at the age of 95. When the USS Indianapolis went down in late July, 1945, Art Leenerman was a 21-year-old radarman. After five nights and four days in the Pacific Ocean, where many initial survivors of a catastrophic torpedo attack were eaten by sharks or succumbed to the elements, rescuers arrived. A Dumbo Catalina patrol bomber rescue plane snatched 56 survivors out of the water, thanks to a heroic pilot, Lt. Adrian Marks. Marks’ aircrew saw Leenerman’s “lifeless body in the raft and attached it by a line to the plane. At least they could return his body to his family” (Indianapolis, Vincent and Vladic, 266). They did not want to take up precious space inside the plane and on the wings of the plane, but they did not want to leave him behind. The USS Doyle ultimately raced to the area to pick up survivors, and one by one the survivors were lifted topside from Marks’ plane to the ship.

“The last Indy sailor to be pulled up was Art Leenerman, whose corpse Marks had been towing behind the Dumbo in a raft. Just as the canvas sling crossed Doyle‘s rails, Leenerman sputtered awake, shocking his rescuers. No one was more shocked than Leenerman, who had passed out lost at sea and woke up wrapped in canvas and flying across the fantail of an unknown ship” (270-271).

Sadly, the dead were left behind in many cases, but this choice to bring back Leenerman’s body was life-altering for many. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds inflicted during the sinking and his ordeal in the sea. He married in his 40s, had a son, four grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. But it only happened because someone took interest in him even when he appeared beyond hope.

Every day, we encounter those whom Scripture describes as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and “dead in transgressions” (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13). Struggling in a sea of sin, they need to be rescued–from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4), from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13), and from the wrath to come (1 Th. 1:10). The idea is of pulling from danger and delivering from peril. Soul-winning depicts such a dramatic mission.

When we take the time and interest to share the gospel, we do something more improbable than Marks and his crew did for Leenerman. We “save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). One of the most beautiful things to behold is the transforming power of the gospel. Many of those who went from “death to life” not only survived, but they brought others to safety themselves. Heaven’s shore will be filled with those whom God’s people helped deliver from the deep! 

The USS Indianapolis before its sinking.
Motivations For Teaching Difficult Things

Motivations For Teaching Difficult Things

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

It becomes clear from reading the second letter to the Corinthians that Paul feels the need to defend himself and his actions among his readers. He feared that he had been misunderstood in his previous work among them (cf. 1:12-14). In fact, it seems as though this is the purpose of the letter (look also at 5:11-12). If you remember from the first letter, he had some pretty challenging and unpopular things to say about how they were behaving. It’s not far-fetched to think that some of them not only would not appreciate what he said, but would attack him as the messenger for saying it. Sometimes, however lovingly and kindly we share the truth, it will offend the hearer who, instead of repenting, tries to undermine the one who said it.  As we read this section, think of Paul as a man, just like his audience, who has feelings, struggles, difficulties, and temptations, too. He also needed them to know that it was because he cared so much about them that he would not “shrink from declaring to [them] anything that was profitable” (cf. Acts 20:20). What drove Paul to minister to the Corinthians? Notice several things he says in 2 Corinthians one.

THE GRACE OF GOD (12)

He would not boast in himself, whether his abilities or knowledge or influence. Those are empty and unsatisfying. His motives were pure and he was helped by a grace he wanted them to appreciate, too. When we understand our need of God’s grace, it will move us to give Him our all in response. 

THE JUDGMENT DAY OF GOD (13-14)

Paul wanted them to be able to legitimately boast together and of one another at “the day of the Lord” (cf. 5:10). The word “boast” in modern English has negative connotations–bragging, arrogance, and sinful pride. Paul wanted to have confidence in them as they faced this Day, as confident as he hoped they were of him in view of it. We should share the whole counsel of God to make sure people are ready for the most important day of all. 

THE PROMISES OF GOD (20)

He shared the positive and negative, the promises and the warnings, because he knew God meant what He said. He would not equivocate or talk out of both sides of his mouth. He was going to give them “the whole purpose of God” (cf. Acts 20:27). He knew God was the supreme promise-keeper (2 Tim. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:11-14). 

THE GLORY OF GOD (20)

Paul taught them for the glory of God. The Word is God’s. The promises are God’s. The salvation is from God. How silly for the fragile pottery to brag (4:7); the glory belongs to the Potter. Anything worthwhile we accomplish is always because of God. 

THE WORKING OF GOD (21-22)

Paul was moved by the knowledge that God is the one who establishes men (21), sets us apart (21), and gives us His Spirit (22). Knowing this, we should share Him with people so that God can accomplish His work in their lives. 

THE WITNESS OF GOD (23-24)

Wise teachers and preachers will remember that God is watching their work. He can see where no one else can–our hearts and motives. Knowing He knows me inside and out, I will check myself and do His work to bring the joy and strength of the hearers (23-24). 

THE PEOPLE OF GOD (2:1-4)

We should be moved by genuine love and concern for people. Those who share the word should share life with those who receive the word from them. Building relationships, being together in all the ups and downs of life, is what it is all about. It’s hard to imagine staying motivated to share the gospel with people we isolate ourselves from. 

Perhaps there are some preachers and teachers who just love beating up on their listeners (or readers). Motivation is individual to each one (Phil. 1:15-17). I have to believe that every faithful proclaimer wants not only to please God but also help as many people as possible go to heaven. There are so many great reasons why Christians should want to share God’s Word with others. Paul gives us a handful of them here. 

What Motivates Us To Share Christ

What Motivates Us To Share Christ

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

If we will ever share Christ with anyone, it will be the product of some motivator. It may be romantic love, if we are trying to win a potential mate. It could be a sense of Christian duty. It might be a profound sense of love and gratitude for our own salvation. Bible writers are often trying to guide us to appreciate the value of being motivated to share the good news. That is what Paul does in 2 Corinthians 5. Paul, who has been defending the work he and his fellow-laborers have been doing as servants of Christ, moves to the broader consideration of what should move us to share Him with others. Motivation is key to involvement. Often, when I see the importance of my personal involvement in spreading Christ to others, it will touch my heart and open my lips.  What motives should move us?

THE TERROR OF THE LORD (11)

This actually connects back to verse 10. There’s a great day coming, and all of us will be judged. If one is unprepared for that day, he or she should rightfully feel terrified. Knowing the terror facing those not ready to face Jesus, we persuade men. 

PERSONAL INTEGRITY (12-13)

Paul saw his involvement in reaching souls as a matter of personal integrity and honor. These spiritual servants shared Christ for God and for them (13). Soul-winning is our responsibility, and we should realize our character is at stake. 

THE LOVE OF CHRIST (14-16)

One of the most important and transforming truths is that Christ loves everyone. In fact, Paul says “the love of Christ controls us” (14). He proved that love by dying for all so that all could be reconciled (see 17-19). All are dead outside of Christ, but He can make men spiritually alive. That love for us and them should move us. 

THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF RECONCILIATION (17-19)

Anyone in Christ is a new creation (17). He reconciled us to Himself, and then gave us the ministry of reconciliation (18). He entrusted us with the message of reconciliation (19). We are offering people the ability to restore their relationship with God. Think of the peace, relief, and joy we can bring into people’s lives by offering them the hope of Christ!

OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS AMBASSADORS OF CHRIST (20)

God has given us the job of representing Him to men. He makes His appeal through us. We implore others on behalf of Christ to be reconciled. That doesn’t make us important, but it does mean our job could not be more important!

THE FACT THAT WE ARE MADE RIGHTEOUS IN HIM (21)

Christ is our substitute sacrifice, as He is for the people we need to reach. He makes us righteous through Himself. Knowing that God looks at a saved soul and sees purity and righteousness is powerful! That’s what He sees when He looks at us, covered in Christ. It’s what He sees when He looks at everyone covered in Christ. I want for others what I myself have been given!

This isn’t the totality of our motivation, but if this was an exhaustive list it would be enough! Suffice it to say that I don’t lack reasons for sharing my faith. The reasons are diverse, but each is significant by itself. Let’s pray for wisdom, courage, and tenderness of heart to be God’s voice and hands in reconciling the world to Him. 

The Volunteer Fire Department

The Volunteer Fire Department

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire departments received 36,416,000 calls to respond in 2020. That included over 23 million for medical aid, 1,388,500 for fires, 750,000 for hazardous materials, and 5,938,500 for other hazardous conditions (NFPA Study). While a relatively small percentage of calls are actually to fires, firefighters leave with a mindset to save a life every time they respond to a call. A study by Hylton Haynes finished in November 2017 for NFPA research, there are 29,067 fire departments in the United States (NFPA Study II). With the total U.S. population above 330,000,000, that’s over 11,000 people for every fire department. But, no community would feel safe without trained firefighters living there. If we could pick the way we died, I can’t imagine any of us would choose death by fire. 

Jude paints a dramatic picture in verse 24 of his short epistle, calling on Christians to “save others, snatching them out of the fire.” That fire is “the punishment of eternal fire” (7). We are talking about a fire which God prepared for the devil and his angels (Mat. 25:41), but will use to punish the spiritually ignorant and the disobedient (2 Th. 1:7-8). It is unquenchable (Mark 9:43). It is a lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15) that burns (Rev. 21:8). While it is hard to imagine that any would choose that fate, Scripture says the majority will (cf. Mat. 7:13-14; 25:46). So, God enlists you and me as volunteer firefighters. The thing with this fire is that people do not experience tangible warnings of it through their skin or lungs, telling them that this fire is encroaching. The only way to perceive this is with the heart, mind, and the eyes of faith. God is counting on us to appeal to those in danger through these means. God has given us the firefighting equipment we need through His Word and our lives as living examples of that Word. Though many incredibly do not want to be rescued, others do! The exhortation is to “snatch” those in danger of fire, to “grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control; to snatch or take away” (BDAG 134). We cannot forcibly rescue anyone, but we must remain vigilant to pull out of the fire all who would welcome our intervention. 

Society still holds firefighters in high regard and few if any argue against the need for their existence. It is good for us to remember how God regards His children who are firefighters and how much He is relying on us to stay at that job (Dan. 12:3; 1 Cor. 1:21; Jas. 5:19-20)! Let’s keep working on our skills and improving our abilities to “save others, snatching them out of the fire.” Those rescued will be eternally grateful! 

via PxHere (Creative Common)
Loving The Lost

Loving The Lost

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Pollard

What if someone were to offer you a thousand dollars for every soul you would earnestly try to lead to Christ? Would you try harder to lead more souls to Him than you are endeavoring to do now? Is it possible that we would attempt to do for money what we sometimes hesitate or shrink from doing now in obedience to God’s command? Is money a stronger motivator than our love for God? 
What hinders us from thinking about other people? Many times we will make excuses and say, “that person won’t listen,” or “they’re too far gone.” We are called to plant the seed of the gospel, not examine the soil and determine if it’ll take the seed. We share the gospel message no matter what soil it lands on. It may be rocky, it may fall among thorns, it may land on the road and never take root, or it may land on good soil. 
We love the lost because it is a command (Phil. 2:3; Rom. 13:8-10), it imitates Christ’s example (1 Jn. 4:16,19), and it is our calling as Christians (Jn. 13:34-35, Eph. 4:32). 
So how can we show our love to the lost? What does it mean for us to love others? It means suffering with those who suffer. Hurting with those who are hurting. Helping those who need a hand. Picking up someone when they are down. Being a friend to the lonely. Writing a card to the grieving. Making a meal for those who are mourning. Bringing the good news of salvation to the lost. 
As God’s children, let’s show Who we belong to by loving the souls that are around us. 

What I Saw On Sunday

What I Saw On Sunday

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

 

Neal Pollard

It was our largest crowd since before the Pandemic. It was a targeted effort to fill the building. The building was full! I asked several how many non-members were present and the most conservative answer was dozens, perhaps fifty. While we know that filling the pews is only one factor in encouraging people to follow Jesus (discipleship), it is a pretty fundamental and important one. Let me share a few exciting things I saw.

I saw the power of an invitation. The elders laid out a challenge to us to invite every non-member we could think of, coworkers, family members, friends, classmates, acquaintances, etc. That’s not revolutionary. Perhaps it was the sheer volume of invitations so many members issued. Such seeds were spread far and wide, and Sunday was an indication that some will come if asked. I am confident that many who were invited will come in the future, if we continue to ask. Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see” (John 1:46), and it changed Nathanael’s life! Andrew told his brother, Peter, “We have found the Christ” (John 1:41)! It changed not just Peter’s life, but the thousands of lives Peter eventually touched. Who knows the eternal impact made by all the invitations issued this weekend, but it shows that there’s still power in a simple invitation!

I saw the strength of teamwork. That was on display in so many ways. There was a huge team of people greeting those who entered our doors. Anticipating a lot of visitors, this was organized beyond the ordinary measure. It was exciting to see so many doing this, and it seemed to be infectious. Others joined in. It was evident in the efforts of multiple deacons and vision groups coordinating various works. It extended to members in the auditorium warmly welcoming unfamiliar faces and making our visitors feel at home. It continued on to the potluck after Bible class with the scores of people bringing an abundance of food, serving, assisting, and cleaning up. We were a finely-tuned machine of coordination. I could not help but think of Paul’s words, to Philippi (“make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose,” 2:2) and Colosse (“beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity,” 3:14). Sure, he had more in mind that one event on one day, but this is a key way such overall unity is built. 

I saw the example of leadership. This began with the eldership. They not only challenged us to invite, they led the way. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the four of them invited hundreds of people by text, phone, and face-to-face. They invited friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers! True leadership shows the way! This included those who led in worship. There was forethought, effort, and coordination from the greeting to the announcements and every act of worship in between them. This involved the membership who enthusiastically engaged in the worship. It also takes in every one that helped people find bathrooms and classrooms. Leadership always breeds more leadership. The writer of Hebrews says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (13:7). 

I saw the hope of tomorrow. The effects of the last 18-plus months have been deflating and demoralizing. We have lost members to Covid, physically and spiritually. It has derailed plans. It has distracted us. But Sunday showed that by faith in God and by following His plan, the best is yet to be! As we were reminded at the end of the day yesterday afternoon, we have worship every Sunday so let’s keep inviting. How many Bible studies will result from inviting others to church? How many future preachers, elders, deacons, soul-winners, and Bible class teachers are represented in those who walked through our doors yesterday, some for the first time ever? To some degree, we’ve got to be like Paul and say, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14). 

There’s more to do! There’s more inviting to do. There’s more follow up to do. But I see more than a special event in what occurred on Sunday! I see a culture change and a purposed people. Think what God can do with that!

The Art Of Excuses

The Art Of Excuses

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

carl-pic

Carl Pollard

 
Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
 
Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to be a preacher to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return.
 
First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).  Notice what God says to Jeremiah: “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses; He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so.
 
Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on lack of talent. They say that it isn’t a natural talent to them, that there are others more suited for the job; but God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
 
As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. God has promised He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that.
THE WAY AROMAS HIT PEOPLE 

THE WAY AROMAS HIT PEOPLE 

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

I was originally going to call this, “The way we smell to others,” but thought that might be misleading or inaccurate. Paul uses a very unusual illustration to make an important point in 2 Corinthians 2:12-17. The backdrop of the illustration was when he came to Troas to take advantage of an open door to preach the gospel. It was a trying experience, as he couldn’t find Titus there. He left them for Macedonia (12-13). 

In chapter three, he is going to change metaphors. But, first, he describes their work of sharing the gospel as like God sending His fragrance through them which others evaluate or judge (14-15). The same message “smells” differently to the recipients, based on the receptivity and spiritual condition of those hearers (16). But Paul makes clear that their motives and message are not “rotten,” but if it is rejected it is because the listeners are perishing (17). Think about how so many could hear the Son of God Himself teach and preach, and thoroughly reject it to the degree that they even took Him and nailed Him to a cross! 

When you share Jesus and the message of His saving grace with others, there will be those who find that “fragrance of Christ” (15) a “sweet aroma” (14). It will be so appealing to them that they leave their old life and follow Him, much as the men God chose to follow Him during His ministry. It’s attractive and satisfying. There are still so many with good, receptive hearts out there. We see that when we share Him.

However, be prepared for some to find that same message repulsive. It’s not what they want and not what they are after. Have you ever been sick in such a way that even your favorite foods nauseated you to smell them cooking? There is no more savory and appealing message than the Bible’s story of grace, but many will reject it anyway! It can leave us feeling so inadequate (16), but we must remember that it is not our message. It is Christ’s message. Our job is simply to spread it with personal integrity, honesty, and righteous motivation. His word will work its power on those who seek their satisfaction in Him.  

Fresh baked, homemade sour dough bread from Kathy’s kitchen!
We Can All Use Some Help

We Can All Use Some Help

Friday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

candela

Steve Candela

Fun fact about myself…  I would be a whole lot more comfortable running into a burning building than I am standing up here speaking.  But just like any situation on a fire ground, the job will get done. 

James 5:19 says,  “My Brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

There have been countless times in my life where help was not only desired or needed, but necessary.  As a Fireman I’d like to tell you that I’m made of iron, nothing can hurt me and I don’t need help from anyone, “I got this”. Problem is, this would be the furthest thing from the truth. In order to get the job done it takes a team. We have guys that fight fire, guys that search for victims, guys that drive the trucks, pump the water, we have guys in charge of the operational strategy, and so on.  We even have guys that their only job on a fireground is to go in and save a fellow firefighter in trouble if they get stuck, disoriented or hurt. This is called a RIT team.  We as Christians work in a similar fashion. Ok, so we don’t have the ranking system, but we all have duties. We all have jobs and responsibilities, right? 

Robert Muszynski was a fire chief in Chicago Ridge, Illinois. He had worked at multiple fire departments throughout his career but this is where he finally decided to retire in 2014 at the age of 58. I do not know specifically if he was a follower of Christ. I do, however, know of his dedication to his work and his firefighters. He was recognized several times in magazines and various fire department-related web articles for his encouraging quotes and respectable works in the fire service. I’d like to share with you a couple of his quotes and how I’ve related it not only to my job but my spiritual life as well. 

 Bob said, “Always stay hungry for the job, and you will never get full.” Complacency causes you to become bored, disengaged, and think that you know it all.  Keeping interest and staying engaged is very important.  You could say for us as Christians to always stay hungry for the word of God, read as often as you can and you’ll never get full. There is always more to learn from scripture. Create discussion among your friends or host a Bible study. Always Stay Hungry for the word. 

He also said, “Good firefighters will know their job. Great Firefighters will also know the job of the person above them as well as teach their job to the people below them.”  As an Engineer I am in between the ranks of firefighter and captain. I have a great relationship with my captain. He’s been a fantastic guide, teacher, mentor, and leader of our crew. I know his job and what it entails, and I strive to be in that position someday. As with the firefighters below me I try to be that role model that teaches them everything it takes to become an engineer and give them ample opportunities to come to me for guidance. A good Christian will know what it takes to be a good Christian, but is that where it stops? No. To be great Christians we need to be aware of what our elders and deacons have in the works. They do so much for us already; maybe there’s something you can help with? Take a task off their plate so they can work on the next important project. What about the people who need saving? You might not see yourself as a great teacher, but there is something inside every one of us that we have to offer to someone else. By creating conversation with our visitors you might reveal their needs. You could be the one to lead them to where they need to be and teach them something along the way. 

As hard as it is to admit, sometimes a Fireman can use a little help.  Christians can too.  Leading up to the scripture reading above, James has been talking to fellow believers in Christ, encouraging them to never give up faith. It’s so easy today for us to stumble and fall. We have people and priorities tugging and pulling us in every direction away from God. James knew this. He makes it clear that we are to help our fellow Christians who may wander from the truth and become worldly. It’s our job to help them get reconnected with God. Like addressing and correcting poor behavior in the firehouse this can be a difficult assignment. We need to be careful in how we complete this task so we don’t fall into the same sin or come across as too “high and mighty” (Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”) This means be tactful not attacking. Genuine love and care must be the tactic. 

Steve interviewed last year by NBC about the walk to honor firefighters who died on 9/11.
We Are Not Doing Right” (2 Kings 7)

We Are Not Doing Right” (2 Kings 7)

Monday Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard 

There was a famine in Samaria and everyone was desperate. The need for food was more pressing than the danger they faced in looking for it. Elisha predicted the end of the famine but Jehoram’s right hand man refused to believe it could happen so quickly. The prophet tells him he’d see it happen but that he would not eat of it (2).

Four lepers decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Arameans, but God caused the besieging army to hear the sound of enemy armies. They imagine the worst and leave their camp in pursuit. So, when the lepers arrived at the camp, it was abandoned. They found food and riches beyond their wildest imagination. They start to hoard and gorge themselves, then had second thoughts. They say to each other, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household” (9). Several things stand out here.

THESE MEN HAD GOOD NEWS.

IT WAS WRONG FOR THEM TO KEEP SILENT ABOUT IT.

THEY EXPECTED PUNISHMENT IF THEY DIDN’T URGENTLY SHARE IT.

THEY ADMONISHED EACH OTHER TO TELL IT.

They did and they helped save the nation. God caused it to happen but He worked through these four lepers. The famine ended (and the royal officer was trampled at the gate—he saw the famine end but died before it could benefit him).

I am reminded of my task as a Christian, one spiritually sick with sin but in a similar situation. I have found good news. It is wrong for me to keep silent. I must not just share it but do so urgently! I also need to admonish you to realize you are in the same predicament as me. You cannot afford to keep silent! A feast awaits!