Don’t Preach!

Neal Pollard

What an odd thing to say, especially when our Lord (Mark 16:15; Acts 10:42) and Paul (2 Tim. 4:2) say to preach!  I’m not saying don’t preach at all, but there’s too much “preaching” that is not really preaching.  We must not preach that way.

  • Don’t preach self!  No matter how funny, folksy, charismatic, creative, good-looking, glamorous, smart, or suave I might be, it’s not about me.  I am no Savior. I am a sinner proclaiming the Savior.
  • Don’t preach doubt!  People already wrestle mightily with doubts.  Don’t reinforce them.  Clear away such cobwebs with the definitive, hopeful, concrete message of truth.
  • Don’t preach man-made doctrine!  It’s a foundation of sand.  It will land countless people on the Lord’s left hand at the day of reckoning.  If a doctrine is at odds with the gospel, keep it from the message.
  • Don’t preach unprepared!  Every hearer deserves a well-planned, well-thought-out, and well-practiced sermon.  They are giving their time.  Make sure you have put in yours.
  • Don’t preach in a pandering way!  Audience analysis is helpful, but don’t “play to the crowd.” It seems insincere and disingenuous. Don’t carry the standard down to the people. Call the people up to the standard.
  • Don’t preach philosophy!  Philosophers prefer questions without answers more than answering questions.  “What ifs” may be fun with sports teams and political elections, but they too often tear down rather than build up faith.
  • Don’t preach arrogantly!  The preacher, George Bailey, would often say, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package.”  How many times have people echoed the sentiments of the Greeks, “Sir, we want to see Jesus!” (cf. John 12:21).
  • Don’t preach timidly!  Should we apologize for the Lord’s message?  We never want to be harsh, antagonistic, or in any way present an obstacle with negativity or our presentation, but we must have the courage to share what the Lord said. If the Lord commands it, we must convey it, even if it’s difficult to do so.
  • Don’t preach indistinctly!  Truth stands out. We must let it.  We cannot hide the parts that may make the church or the preacher seem in the minority or at odds with prevailing views.  We must be Micaiahs, intently committed to preach with this philosophy: “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that shall I speak” (1 Kin. 22:14).

Instead, preach the Word!  Saturate your message with His message.  The late Wendell Winkler would say, “Fill your lesson with Scripture. At least that much of it will be right!  Let God get a word in edgewise!”  Some have convinced themselves that they know better than God does what makes sermons effective.  The old song, “None of Self and all of Thee,” is in order here.  Hide behind the cross and lift Him up.  Being thoroughly biblical, applicable, and practical, we will grow the church and we will grow people.  If one is prone to veer from His pattern and example of New Testament preaching, may we ask such a one is genuine, loving candor, “Don’t preach!”

(Carl preaching the word in Cambodia last month)

Posted in preaching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Did James Bartley Live To Tell Being Swallowed By A Sperm Whale?

Neal Pollard

On his tombstone in Gloucester, England, James Bartley had written “A Modern Jonah.”  Bartley was allegedly swallowed by a sperm whale while helping to hunt and kill the giant in 1891.  The whale, as the tale goes, was ultimately subdued and conquered, and when its stomach was hoisted on deck two days later, an unconscious and crazed Bartley was found inside. He was a member of a party sent out to harpoon the beast, and in the melee that ensued Bartley was said to be accidentally ingested.  By the mid-1890s, the story was published and circulated as fact on both sides of the Atlantic.  For over 100 years, the Bartley story has been told by eager apologists to defend the veracity of the biblical account of Jonah.  It has served as a theological pingpong ball vollied back and forth between believers and unbelievers.  Research, particularly by a Bible-believing professor named Edward Davis (http://asa.calvin.edu:80/asa/pscf.html | 19:53:53 Mar 16, 2003), ultimately shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the story is a hoax.  Too many aspects of the story do not stand up to scrutiny.  The alleged ship, “Star of the East,” was not a whaler. There was no fishing off the Falkland Islands in 1891. Bartley’s name never appeared on a manifest of the aforementioned ship. The captain’s wife said that her husband never lost anyone overboard in all their years of marriage, and they were married in 1891.  Atheists and skeptics have rejoiced in such findings, using them to discredit the Bible’s account of the Jonah incident.  Apparently, some less than scrupulous (or, at best, sloppy researching) “Christian Apologists” have taken the Bartley story and run with it in an effort to substantiate that ancient account.  Yet, opponents of Scripture have been as out of bounds in their response, making the nonsensical jump from the fraudulent Bartley story to try to discredit the validity of the book of Jonah.  Because modern man fabricated a story about a man being swallowed by a whale does not mean that the account in Scripture should be rejected.

The account of Jonah is believable for at least these reasons.  First, the Bible does not call Jonah’s captor a whale.  It was a fish (Jonah 1:17). The NAS has “sea monster” in Matthew 12:40, but it is better translated “big fish, huge fish” (Louw-Nida, np). Second, this fish was “prepared” (appointed, NAS) by God for the occasion. We have no record of this “species” prior to or after this special occasion meant by God to persuade His pekid prophet.  Finally, Jesus validates the historicity of the Jonah incident. In the aforementioned gospel account, Jesus refers to Jonah as fact rather than fable. If it was a fairy tale, Christ gives no hint of it.  In fact, He says, “…just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of…” this creature (emph., NP).

Have creationists and “fundamentalists” ever overreached to try and prove their point? Undoubtedly!  Have skeptics and atheists ever overreacted to try and protect their non-theistic bubble? Absolutely!  When such battles as these are being waged, I find my confidence in going back and reading the text.  Seeing what the Bible actually says is powerful in keeping us away from either extreme.

Posted in Christian Evidences | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh Brother’s Second Album–Goldfish Dreams!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/goldfish-dreams/id904360437

Finalcover

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Vulcan The Iron Man

Neal Pollard
I took an hour to go over to see one of the iconic figures of the south, Birmingham’s cast iron statue of “Vulcan.” Built 110 years ago for the World’s Fair in St. Louis, it is the largest cast iron statue in the world. This is a nod to the iron industry that put Birmingham, Alabama, on the map starting in the 19th century. I remember this imposing figure from when I was a little boy and our family visited this “big city.” At that time, Vulcan’s torch would shine red if there was a traffic fatality and green if a traffic accident wasn’t fatal. It was, and is, a fascinating icon and landmark.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this unique statue is the prominent place it occupies in the skyline as you approach the city from several points of origin. If you had no other clue, you would know you were in Birmingham as soon as you saw Vulcan. The city takes understandable pride in the distinctiveness he lends it.

Other cities in our nation’s history and in other nations throughout time have had landmarks that set it apart and are even synonymous with it. In Jesus’ day, Egypt had the sphinx and the pyramids, Greece had the acropolis, Italy had the Colosseum, and nearer to Palestine was Petra (in modern Jordan) and the lion of Babylon (in modern Iraq). The Romans had their iconic statues and buildings that often towered over the cities within its empire.

Jesus may have fired the imagination of the first-century disciples with His picturesque imagery, calling us a city set on a hill or a light of the world (Mat. 5:14-16). Our distinctiveness is not based on physical prominence, not our church buildings or having famous members. It centers on how well we reflect the mission and character of Christ as a congregation and as individual members of it. When people hear about the church of Christ, they should know who we are and, while they may try and say evil against us (cf. Ti. 2:8), the charge of wrongdoing should not stick. Instead, they should look at us and see a reflection of Christ. A community could have no better landmark! May we work to provide it.
vulcan

Posted in distinctiveness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Up And Comer In A Different Profession

Neal Pollard

How many human cannonballs at the circus can call themselves “Oxford-trained”?  30-year-old Gary Stocker, with law degree in tow, left a six figure income working as an academic law writer and legal recruitment officer and “ran away with Chaplin’s Circus” (Lizzy Buchan, Cambridge News Online, 7/11/14).  He actually is starting up the circus with a buddy he worked with as a street performer as a teenager, and he actually had continuing various performances while a student at the prestigious British university.  While many would be baffled to think of one leaving a comfortable, white-collar occupation for one that has been for the more common, blue-collar person since ancient Roman times, Stocker is choosing what he loves over what others thought more suitable for him.

A thought occurred to me as a new class is about to embark on their studies at the Bear Valley Bible Institute next week.  There is an analogy here, as men come to us not only from High School but more often from medical, business, agricultural, mechanical, military, law enforcement, and other professions. For 50 years, men have been leaving jobs, often well-paying, respectable ones, to pursue “the foolishness of preaching” (cf. 1 Co. 1:18-21).  Some, even close friends, brethren, and family, may question their thinking for undertaking such a pursuit and even offer resistance and dissuasion.  When they graduate and go into full-time ministry, they may never regain the income or have the notoriety they would have enjoyed in the secular world.  However, it can be argued they will be entering the most noble, worthwhile profession there is.  To work with the people of God and to bring the lost to God provides endless, invigorating opportunity and excitement. Each day is new, exciting, and rewarding.  Though it has its pressures, disappointments, and trials, it is a work that is easy to love!

There are men who may be successfully toiling in some other field, but they leave it for a love of preaching.  Thank God for these men.  Let us encourage them and ever have a hand in helping these “up and comers” in their new profession!

Posted in preaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Physician Not Afflicted With The Disease He’s Fighting

Neal Pollard

Buried in the headlines today is news that the doctor in charge of fighting an outbreak of Ebola in his country has contracted the disease himself.  The health minister of Sierre Leone said that Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan has a confirmed case of the deadly virus that has killed over 600 of his fellow-countrymen in 2014.  Three of the nurses working alongside Khan recently died trying to treat this disease for which there is no known cure or vaccine. Despite meticulous precautions, Khan could not evade contracting Ebola.

It is an unappealing prospect to consider having a job like Khan’s.  Exposing yourself to something utterly deadly (at times, Ebola has as high as a 90% mortality rate) to try and save your fellow-citizens is about as great a risk as a person can assume on this earth.  Not surprisingly, Khan has been hailed as a hero for using his expertise as a virologist to combat this frightful killer.  Now, his own life hangs in the balance (via news.yahoo.com).

The writer of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the Levitical priests under the Old Law.  They were “sick” with the very sin they were appointed to “treat” among the nation of Israel (Heb. 7:27).  The writer says that Jesus had no need to do this for Himself because He was “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners…” (Heb. 7:26).  In other words, though thoroughly exposed to the deadly malady of sin, Jesus never succumbed to it.  Earlier, the epistle says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:16).

Simply put, the One God sent to provide a cure for the deadliest condition ever known was fully exposed to it but did not fall prey to it.  He did, however, die because of it.  Incredibly, that was God’s intention from eternity. Yet, His ultimate sacrifice makes it possible for us to be cured of this otherwise hopeless and eternally fatal condition!  No wonder we praise Jesus as the “Great Physician.”

Posted in atonement, Christ, sin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

Neal Pollard

While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way.  By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul.  The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.

James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26).  This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer.  In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue.  But, the principle applies much more broadly.  One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion.  Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.

James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27).  In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word.  This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture.  James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence.  Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.

I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am.  I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds.  That determines what kind of religion I have.

Posted in religion, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving Up Ground To the Enemy

Neal Pollard

On at least three fronts, there are major battles occurring—ISIS and the existing governments in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and Ukraine and Russian-led rebels. In each of these conflicts, both sides are trying to gain ground or at least hold onto what they already have. They are trying not only to win the actual battles they are fighting, but they also seek to win the battle of public opinion.  With the money and lives invested, neither side in any of the conflicts can bear the thought of losing.

While “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) and “we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3), we face a deadly adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  He is the enemy, though he has a great many who have “been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:26). They are fighting his battles for him of their own free will (Js. 1:13-15), and they are more than willing to engage those of us who would steadfastly resist him (1 Pet. 5:9).

In this media age, the devil’s soldiers have used means previous generations did not have at their disposal to spread his ideas across the nation and all over the globe.  But because there have been people willing to battle him, he has not gained ground all at once. The moral erosion has happened slowly over time, attitudes about foul language, alcohol, modesty, sex outside of marriage and living together, adultery, homosexuality, and much more.  Doctrinal erosion also occurs subtly and gradually, but denominationalism has given way to modernism, post-modernism, and emergent theologies.  The Lord’s church is impacted by assaults on its distinctiveness, and elderships, pulpits, classrooms, and memberships can gradually lose their militancy, courage, and resolve to stand up for God’s revealed will.  It is easy to be cowered by charges of extremism, hatred, or sanctimoniousness, especially when there are examples of such to be found.

Yet, we cannot forget that we are in a battle.  God needs us to stand in the gap and continue fighting for His truth, even in the face of opposition and resistance.  Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons in our left and right hands is righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7).  We press on in spiritual armor (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11ff).  When each of us as soldiers in the Lord’s Army arrive at the time when we must lay down our armor, may it be said that we gained ground and served the Lord’s cause successfully. May it never be that we gave up ground to the enemy!

Posted in apostasy, courage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I THINK I UNDERSTAND”

Neal Pollard

As part of the personal evangelism class I just taught in Cambodia, I had the students engage in role-playing for a couple of days.  It was wonderful and memorable.  Some of the students are brand new Christians and have no experience doing personal work.  All of them got into it wholeheartedly. Perhaps the most poignant moment came about purely accidentally.  We had a table set up, with a teacher, silent partner, and student.  The “student” was to come up with the issue or dilemma for the “teacher” to solve. In one particular scenario, the “student” hit the teacher with his true background.  He said, “When I was born, I did not even get to see my parents. They died and I am an orphan. If there is a God, why did this happen?”  His teacher gently and unassumingly said, “I think I understand. I lost my parents when I was young, too, and I am an orphan.” There followed a beautiful lesson on God’s love and pretty good insights on why there is suffering in this world. But the fact his teacher not only comprehended, but experienced his situation made a huge impact on everyone in the room.

We will suffer in a great many ways throughout our short sojourn on this earth.  At times, we may think that not another soul on earth understands.  Perhaps, there will come a time when that is actually true.  However, we will never encounter a single trial but that someone will always understand.  He may not be on earth, but He is ever-present. He is actually omnipresent.  The Hebrews writer says of Him, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).  As we bring our biggest, most debilitating issues into His presence, He gently says, “I think I understand.” Praise God!

Posted in empathy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blown By Storms

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, several of us traveled from Siem Reap out to Tonle Sap Lake to visit two of the graduates from the first class at the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap, one of our Bear Valley extensions.  They live on a raft and operate a water filtration system capable of servicing dozens of locals each day.  The lake is over an hour from Siem Reap, and they have yet to establish a congregation so our visit was to encourage them.  After visiting, we were having a devotional—singing songs and having a short lesson.  During the lesson, the winds started to blow and the raft started to pull against the ropes tied to the dock.  Suddenly, hard and heavy tropical rains had replaced sunny skies and we were in a storm.  The dock was damaged by the raft tugging against it, and quickly we were tethered by only one rope.  Currents were moving downstream in this, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and the surge flow produced fast-moving water intensified by the rains.  In short, the visit could have ended much more dramatically and dangerously.

There were things that struck me about that storm—it was sudden, powerful, and intense.  It is hard to think of disciples in a boat during a storm without thinking of the events recorded in Matthew 8:23-27.  A storm arose, the boat was covered with waves, the seasoned fishermen and boatmen were frightened, and Jesus was asleep onboard.  They awake Him, He rebuked the wind and the water, and then He rebuked them.  Their faith was not as firm as the fracas.  After yesterday, I am even less critical of their reaction.  It’s easy to feel small and helpless when such a storm arises.

The Bible compares our trials and difficulties to storms.  Job and David, among others, call them “tempests” (Job 9:17; Psa. 55:8). Jesus calls them floods and torrents (Luke 6:47-49). Solomon likens them to storms (Pro. 1:27).  We appreciate the imagery!

These storms can blow us off course and can even make us drift. We can find ourselves barely hanging on and wondering how much more we can take.  Let us remember that Jesus is still with us (Mat. 28:20), so no matter how fierce the storm we will ultimately survive.  “Ultimately” may not mean being spared from physical death, but it does mean that we will preserve our spiritual lives.  May our faith be strong enough to remember that as long as our Lord is near, we are more than conquerors (cf. Rom. 8:31).

We were “fodder” for makeshift foreigners’ photography. Here’s how I’m getting even. :)

 

Saran is one of the men in the water trying to set poles to help tie down the raft.

Our ultimate “rescue.”

Posted in adversity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment