Good Out Of Tragedy

Good Out Of Tragedy

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Up the road in Ohio County, Kentucky, Beaver Dam native Ray Chapman grew up to be a great baseball player. He was so good, in fact, that he was able to play nine seasons as the Cleveland Indians shortstop. He was renowned at the time for his defense, bunt singles, batting average, and stolen bases, but he is remembered as the only Major League baseball player to be killed on the field in a game. When he played, the baseball could be scuffed and sullied with everything from dirt to licorice to tobacco juice. This not only made it harder to see, but more erratic out of the pitcher’s hand. On August 16, 1920, near twilight at Yankee Stadium in New York City, Yankee pitcher Carl May hit Chapman in the side of the head with a fastball. The errant throw caused fatal brain damage, and Chapman died the next morning. It shook the baseball world.

This tragedy brought both immediate and eventual change to the game. It was because of this incident that umpires began a practice that continues over a century later of replacing a baseball when it becomes scuffed and dirty. The “spit ball” pitch was banned, for similar reasons. While it would take a few decades, the implementation of the baseball helmet is traced back to Chapman’s untimely death. While it would have been better for Chapman, a newly wed and newly expectant father, to have avoided this devastating end, it has likely saved several lives. It’s impossible to know how many might have been harmed by dirty baseballs through the years, but one can find sports articles detailing the likes of Kirby Puckett, Sammy Sosa, Chris Dickerson, and others who may have been spared a worse result by having on the protective helmet.

It is so easy to view tragic circumstances in isolation, especially those that happen to us personally. In light of the many tragedies that can happen in life, I say this with fear and trepidation. But, Scripture has already made that point. Out of various, fiery trials, these can “result in praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). James said to consider your various trails as a cause for all joy, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Js. 1:2-3). James even says of the ultimate Old Testament sufferer, “We count those blessed who have endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). To make such an application of a man who endured such tragedy is startling! Why does he mention Job? So that we can learn, adjust, and overcome!

Make no mistake about it, we all prefer to avoid heartache, sorrow, and loss. But, when those things come to us, Scripture urges us to adopt a heavenly mindset. See the produce in the pain, the hope on the other side of the hurt. Sometimes, it may be that others witness our faith in the midst of our trial and it may help them in their own walk of faith (Phil. 1:14). Whatever the case, even our own greatest adversity can result in someone else’s advantage. That’s an unintended benefit of suffering.

2 Peter (Part 2)

2 Peter (Part 2)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

I’ll be repeating the book of II Peter in present-day terminology. It’s not a true translation of the book, as I am not qualified to do so. It will be based on an exegetical study of the book and will lean heavily on the SBL and UBS Greek New Testaments, as well as comparisons with other translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, ERV, NLT). My goal is to reflect the text accurately, and to highlight the intent of the author using concepts and vocabulary in common use today. 

This is not an essentially literal translation, and should be read as something of a commentary. 

Message is Credible

Family, you have to make sure you’re in a good place when it comes to your relationship with Jesus. If you’re practicing all those qualities we just talked about, you’ll be ok. You’ll make it to eternal life. You know this stuff already, but it’s always a good idea to remind you. You’re already in a good place, but as long as I’m alive, I’ll keep reminding you. I’m going to die soon. Jesus made that clear to me. Because of this, I want to make sure you’ll remember everything I taught you. What we taught you originally is still valid. Jesus is powerful and he’s coming back to us. We weren’t duped into believing an intricate lie. We were firsthand witnesses to his superior nature! One time, the ultimate power – God – validated this by saying, “This is my son. I love him and I think very highly of him.” He said that right in front of us while we were with Jesus on a mountain. His voice came from the sky. This made us confident that we have the right message. Since we’re confident in this message, you should be, too! Focus on what we’ve told you like you’d focus on a light source in a dark room. Hang onto this until the end, when everything will be light and darkness won’t exist. It’s very important that you understand something: we don’t get to decide what a prophecy means. No human has ever produced a legitimate prophecy. Those came from men who were influenced by God’s spirit. 

1 Peter–Part IX

1 Peter–Part IX

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

For the next several weeks, I’ll be repeating the book of I Peter in present-day terminology. It’s not a true translation of the book, as I am not qualified to do so. It will be based on an exegetical study of the book and will lean heavily on the SBL and UBS Greek New Testaments, as well as comparisons with other translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, ERV, NLT). My goal is to reflect the text accurately, and to highlight the intent of the author using concepts and vocabulary in common use today. 

This is not an essentially literal translation, and should be read as something of a commentary. 

Everything’s about to come to an end. You have to be reasonable and self-controlled for the sake of your prayers. Most importantly, don’t ever lose your love for each other. Love hides all kinds of mistakes. Take care of each other without complaining. Use your assets to help each other, since God helps us in so many ways. If your talent is speaking, speak as if you’re talking for God. If helping others is your talent, do it with limitless energy. This way every aspect of our lives gives credit to God by our dedication to Jesus. He gets all recognition and authority forever! 

Family, don’t let these hard times shock you. Don’t feel like you’ve been targeted. You are suffering like Jesus did, so let that keep your spirits up! When he comes back, we’re going to be indescribably happy! If people insult you because you love Jesus, you’re lucky! The full weight of God’s spirit and power is with you. Just make sure none of you suffer because of something you’ve done wrong, like murder, stealing, practicing morally bad things, or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. If you suffer because of your faith, though, don’t feel bad! Instead, give all the credit to God. 

We’re about to be judged by God. Since we’re going to be judged first, how do you think it’s going to be for people who rejected God? It’s hard enough for a morally good person to be saved, so what’s going to happen to morally bad people who don’t follow God? Since we’re about to suffer, we have to trust God with our lives. He’s going to take care of us if we’re doing the right thing! 

Since we’re about to face difficulties, it’s very important that your elders lead you carefully. I’m an elder, too, and also look forward to sharing in the recognition we have coming to us. Elders, don’t lead people because you feel like you have to. Do it because it’s what God wants! Don’t lead because you want to get something financially out of it. Don’t abuse your power, but lead by example. When the ultimate leader shows up, your reward will be indestructible! 

Bodmer Papyrus of Peter’s epistles
1 Peter–Part VI

1 Peter–Part VI

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

For the next several weeks, I’ll be repeating the book of I Peter in present-day terminology. It’s not a true translation of the book, as I am not qualified to do so. It will be based on an exegetical study of the book and will lean heavily on the SBL and UBS Greek New Testaments, as well as comparisons with other translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, ERV, NLT). My goal is to reflect the text accurately, and to highlight the intent of the author using concepts and vocabulary in common use today. 

This is not an essentially literal translation, and should be read as something of a commentary.

I Peter – Part VI

We’re independent of any human government, but don’t use that as an excuse to disobey your governments. You have to see every person as valuable. You have to love each other. You have to obey your government. Employees must listen to their employers. Be respectful to them, even when they aren’t good to you. We don’t do this for them, we do it for God. He thinks very highly of us when – because we love him – we act like we should, even when we’re being mistreated. You don’t get credit for putting up with mistreatment if you bring it on yourself with bad behavior. If you’re mistreated because you’re trying to do the right thing, though, it makes God happy. 

This is why God called us in the first place! Jesus suffered to benefit us. He intended for that to be the example we could follow. He never did anything wrong, he never said anything wrong, he didn’t fire back at people who said hurtful things. He never threatened anyone who put him through suffering. He constantly trusted God, knowing that God judges perfectly. He voluntarily took the punishment for our sin when he physically suffered on the cross. He did that to give us the chance to kill our old lifestyles and live morally pure lives. His injuries healed us. We had no direction, aimlessly wondering around like a sheep. Now we follow the one who leads us and protects us. 

Will You Serve God For Nothing?

Will You Serve God For Nothing?

Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

Dave Eubank

Recently at the suggestion of some teachers and podcasts I listen to, I took some time and in one setting read through whole books in the Bible. If you haven’t done this I would highly recommend it. Just read through the book not looking for anything or zeroing in on any specific point; just read through the book and let it teach you its main themes and allow it to speak for itself. One of the books I recently read through and want to briefly discuss is the book of JOB. We are very familiar with this book and story and can learn a lot of things from it including sufferings, patience, steadfastness, God’s perspectives, and others. However, I would like to share with you what really stood out and stayed with me as I read through the 42 chapters of this book. Job 1:8-9 says,

Then the Lord said to Satan “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So, Satan answered the LORD and said, Does Job fear God for nothing?

Right there is the true question: “Will you fear and serve God for nothing.” It is not only a question that Satan asks the Lord referring to Job, but it is also for us today. Satan was assuming that Job would have a transactional relationship with God, that as long as he was doing what was righteous that Job would assume that he has earned his blessings or somehow God is obligated to bless him. Do we fall into this mindset that Satan is stating her is verse 9? Is it easy to fear and serve God while things are going good in our life or for fear of punishment? Do we have this transactional relationship that says I have done all these righteous X’s so I deserve these Y’s (blessings)? Would we serve God if everything (wealth, family, health) in an extremely short period of time was taken from us and we were in the situation Job found himself in? Satan is saying that taking comforts of this life away will push even the strongest to curse God to his face. Satan states this in Ch 1:11 and notice that as early as 2:9 Job’s wife actually uses the same language when she tells Job, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Sometimes bad things happen because we make bad decisions and we must deal with those consequences. However, Job shows us that sometimes bad things happen outside of our decisions and we do not know all like our Creator GOD. God lays this out in his answer to Job out of the whirlwind in Chapters 38-42 basically stating that, “I created everything and have it all under My control, I AM GOD, even when you don’t realize it and so you must trust Me no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.” In chapter 42 we read exactly what Job did in response to God’s challenge to Job. Now as he repents and fears God he is in dust and ashes. This is the definition of serving God for nothing. Every worldly comfort had been taken from him and he had nothing, not even physical health, and nothing as of yet had been restored to him. But he through great tribulation feared God for nothing except he is God the creator and sustainer of everything.

We do need to serve God just because he is God and the creator of all things but the good news is we don’t serve him for nothing. Read Job 19:25: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and he shall stand at last on the earth; Just as we read Job and see his longing for a mediator between him and God, we now have that through Jesus. God gives us eternal life that can be found in Christ our mediator, not because we deserve it like a transactional agreement but because He is a benevolent, gracious and loving God.

Remembering

Remembering

https://www.wetrainpreachers.com/extension-news/2022/3/1/breaking-news-from-ukraine

Remembering:

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

My first foreign mission trip was to eastern Ukraine in the Spring of 2002. I returned in 2003, and each time we flew in and out of Kharkiv (which is under siege as I type). We worked with the Bear Valley Bible Institute’s first foreign extension school, but also worked with brethren in the village of Slavyanogorsk.

I took this picture of Slavyanogorsk from the monastery overlook.

We held Bible studies and taught English using the book of Mark and enjoyed success especially with young people and young adults. The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church was strong among the locals, but there was a congregation of about 30 there.

Russian Orthodox monk at the monastery in Slavyanogorsk.
Having fellowship with the brethren at Slavyanogorsk. The local preacher at the time, Victor Semikoz, is barely in view (right). Terry Harmon, at the time the director of the Bear Valley extension, is wearing the tie.

On my second trip, Kathy was able to go with me along with several other members of the Cold Harbor Road congregation in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where I preached at the time.

Members of the Cold Harbor and Pikeville, KY, congregations at the Kharkiv airport. Do you see Kathy?

The memories we made together and with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine have left a lasting impression on my mind and my faith. Though I had always known that the church existed in places outside the United States, this was my first tangible experience with them. While we were separated by language and cultural barriers, we were drawn together by our common faith and hope. These first few trips increased my desire to teach and evangelize not only those in other nations, but also motivated me to try harder to do so locally. Those travels to Ukraine were extremely faith-building.

Right now, those brethren are displaced, distressed, and disturbed by the Russian invasion well underway. Their relatively modest houses and apartments have been at the center of fighting between Ukrainians and Russian separatists, with many of the cities in that region controlled by those separatists. They are in the crosshairs of danger, facing an uncertain future.

As I read the New Testament, inspired writers addressed congregations and asked them to care about, pray for, and provide the needs of brethren who faced various crises. There were the poor and needy saints of Jerusalem, whom Paul tells Rome that Macedonia and Achaia had financially supported (Rom. 15:26; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1). The writer of Hebrews told his audience, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (13:3). He praised them earlier in the letter for showing sympathy to the prisoners (10:34). We never know when similar circumstances might befall us. As Paul told Thessalonica, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Th. 2:14-16). While their suffering was primarily spiritual persecution, Paul urged empathy and endurance.

What can we do for our brethren who are at ground zero of this awful conflict? We can better inform ourselves of the specifics there (https://christianchronicle.org/ukraineexplainer/). We can pray, congregationally and individually (daily!). We can listen for opportunities to assist our brethren. Heaven will be filled with saints from every nation (Rev. 7:9). These brethren are part of our “household”; let us stand ready to do good for them (Gal. 6:10). Remember them as they suffer!

Having tea in our sister, Luba’s, apartment on a rain-soaked evening in Slavyanogorsk.
“Charakter”

“Charakter”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Safari 2017

Neal Pollard

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual and involves a person’s good reputation. The Greek word “charakter” first referred to the die used in minting coins, then came to include the sense of an image, stamp, seal, or copy. The Greeks used the word to speak of the typical features of an individual or nation, from which came the idea of “moral character” and then “the “distinctiveness” of a language, the “style” of a writer, or a “type” of philosophy (Kittel and Bromiley, TDNT, 1308). Arndt tells us the word means something produced as a representation or reproduction, and that human beings are formed by God as a representation of His own identity (1078).

The word is only found in the Bible in Hebrews 1:3. The epistle’s writer is describing Jesus, saying, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” It is an absolutely amazing truth that we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), but the writer of Hebrews is saying something even more powerful about Jesus in Hebrews 1:3. He was not created by God as a reflection of God’s identity. The writer uses this specific word in Hebrews as part of His explanation that the Son is God! The NASB and NIV translate χαρακτήρ (CHARAKTER) as “exact representation.” The ESV has “exact imprint,” the NKJV has “express image,” the NLT says “expresses the very character of God,” and the ASV puts “the very image of His substance.” 

The author of this epistle leads out in his overall theme that Jesus is better by establishing the most important reason why. He is God. The writer uses Old Testament Scripture to prove it, citing Psalm 45 and Isaiah 61 to call Him God (Heb. 1:8-9). He then quotes Psalm 102:25 to say of Jesus, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth….” Then, in Hebrews 1:13, he quotes Psalm 110:1, which begins, “The LORD (Yahweh) said to my Lord (Adonai)….”

Let’s not miss the initial point of the letter driven home by the unknown writer. With a multitude of Old Testament passages, he proves this point about the essential character of Jesus Christ. He is God. He is as much God as Father and Holy Spirit. He is as powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, perfect, sovereign, transcendent, self-existent, eternal–He is as Divine as Deity can be. 

That makes His willingness to be made a little while lower than the angels to taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9) and to call us His brethren (2:11ff) all the more incredible. God lowered Himself not only to save us but to make us part of His family. We could spend the rest of the day meditating on that profound truth and still not fully grasp it. 

Here’s the question. God made us, became  one of us, died for us, and then opened the door to us to be His brother. What does that say about His character? As we try to fathom and appreciate that, it should give rise to another question? How should that affect  our character?

Salvation

Salvation

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

gary and chelsea

Gary Pollard

We don’t typically associate salvation with death. Normally the opposite is true! In the New Testament salvation normally describes forgiveness of sins (Acts 4.12, for example). Escaping spiritual death is how the word is primarily used. The exception to this rule is fascinating and sobering. 

Human instinct compels us to avoid unpleasantness, suffering, and death. When faced with danger or difficulty, our default response is avoidance at all cost. This was a great temptation for many in the early church. 

Peter wrote to Christians who were about to face some awful hardships. He encouraged them by promising salvation, but it was a hard message to swallow. In the following examples, Peter used “salvation” to mean something different (it would have been understood to mean this because of context): 

  1. I Peter 1.5 – Death
  2. I Peter 1.8ff – Death
  3. I Peter 2.2ff – Death

How is death the same thing as salvation? For those who were suffering and stayed faithful, death was the ultimate salvation. For those whose lives were upended because of persecution, being with God forever was salvation. For those who lost their family members, salvation meant reunion. The ultimate result of faith is eternal life with God. 

How do we view difficulty? Do we compromise faith to avoid suffering? At worst, suffering leads to death. At best, suffering leads to death. Nothing can slow a faithful Christian down! We have salvation in this life (guilt does not weigh us down), and the end of this life is salvation. We have an awesome God. 

THE ADVANTAGES OF ADVERSITY 

THE ADVANTAGES OF ADVERSITY 

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Safari 2017

Neal Pollard

Since March Madness begins later this week, I was reading about all the teams to help me fill out my brackets. I came across the incredible story of Damian Chong Qui, a guard for the Mount St. Mary’s basketball team that won the Northeast Conference tournament and will play Texas Southern for the right to play against Michigan. The odds of Mount St. Mary’s winning the NCAA tournament are so astronomical that the team is more likely to be hit by an asteroid in their team bus going to the arena to play, but Chong Qui symbolizes the team’s grit, determination, and uncanny ability to defy the odds. His story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Born and raised in crime-riddled East Baltimore, his father and mother were shot in separate incidents less than two months apart in 2002, when he was only four. His father recovered, but his mother was murdered. Eight years later, his father was shot again and paralyzed from the waist down. Damian has been his father’s most consistent caregiver since then, dressing him and helping him into his wheelchair. Damian found an outlet in basketball, starting on his High School basketball team as a freshman. He was only 4 feet, 9 inches tall. A growth spurt helped him reach his current height of 5 feet, 8 inches tall. No Division One teams showed interest, so he walked on with the Mountaineers. Not only did he go on to earn a scholarship, but he is a star and the heart and soul of this scrappy squad. From his father to coaches and teammates, Damian is called dependable, hardworking, and focused (much biographical data from a 1/17/20 Baltimore Sun article by Edward Lee: “…Damian Chong Qui has overcome tragedy to shine at Mount St. Mary’s”). 

There is no one who would want to go through what this young man has endured. Many might use such tragedy as an excuse or a crutch to let life defeat them, but Chong Qui shows the resiliency and resolve which is in mankind. While the Chong Quis do not sound especially devout, Damian’s father, Edward, said of him, “I feel like God has been working things out for him” (ibid.). 

God does not cause evil (Jas. 1:13), but God is able to bring about good in the worst of circumstances. It is evidence of His omnipotence and omniscience. Do you remember Job’s wise and righteous assessment, even as he was in the dark about the cause of his pain and suffering? He tells God, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (42:2). As James assesses Job’s situation, he writes, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). Paul experienced this, too. He speaks of his “thorn in the flesh,” which God saw fit to allow him to retain. Why? Paul explains, “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). 

Maybe you are struggling with some thorn in the flesh, some pain and suffering, some adverse circumstance that looms over you and seems poised to undo you. How will you respond? Will you see it as an advantage? A chance for God’s power to be perfected in weakness? For the power of Christ to dwell in you? As the means of strength in weakness? Do not forget that there is no force, earthly or spiritual, that can withstand the advantages that God can bring into your life even in times of greatest adversity! His purpose cannot be thwarted. And if our lives are being lived according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), that is confidence that can propel us through the worst of situations! 

Damian Chong Qui

Christ’s Focus On Getting Rid Of Sin

Christ’s Focus On Getting Rid Of Sin

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

 

 

 

Gary Pollard

This week we will do a brief study of I Peter 3.17-22. 

In verse 17, the emphasis in the original text is “doing good.” If it is God’s desire (this is emphasized) that we suffer, it is better (stronger, more prominent, more advantageous) that we suffer for doing good works than evil works. How much more powerful a message do we send when we come under fire for doing something that benefits others? If we suffer for doing something bad, we’re just another criminal. But to suffer in the act of doing something good – in context – is a far more powerful evangelistic tool. 

In the following verses, Peter gives a powerful example of Christ’s focus on getting rid of sin. He put everything into saving mankind – including giving His own life – so that we could all have the opportunity to come to God. Even before the destruction of the world through the flood He made sure everything had the opportunity to hear about their spiritual state. Whether this was done through Noah and his sons or whether He had a more direct hand in this is immaterial. The point of the text is that the message got out to those who are “now in prison.” His goal was to bring others to God, even when it caused Him suffering. 

Only those who did listen and obey – eight people – were rescued from evil by the waters of the flood. Notice that the Spirit does not record Noah’s ark as being what saved them! They were saved in the important sense by the destruction of evil. Our focus is not earthly. 

Just as water saved Noah and his family from evil, water saves us from spiritual death. Being immersed in water is how we make a formal appeal to God for a clear conscience! Some translations render this, “A promise to God from a good conscience,” as if baptism is some kind of outward sign of an inward faith. This is not reflected in Greek; it is a conscience cleared by an appeal to God, because of the resurrection of Jesus. He has all power, so He can clear our record when we submit to Him. 

Having all of this as a background, we have some motivation to keep our actions pure, suffer for doing good things, and understand that God’s power is what saves us. Peter gives many other phenomenal motivators for living a pure life, which we will look at in detail in the coming weeks.