Right Back Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water.  He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive.  Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.

Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham.  Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).

What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense.  Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution.  The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering.  We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return.  We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start.  Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before.  We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.

Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away.  He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).  Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.

May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

“This Perverse Generation”

Neal Pollard

What was life like in the first century?  One historian writes, “It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practiced, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description” (Edersheim, Book 2, Chapter 11, p. 179).  Thus described the culture of the dominant world power of the day, Rome.

Those descriptions, almost without exception, could be applied to the current culture.  So many specific examples could be, and often are, set forth to depict life in our world today that mirror Edersheim’s chronicle of the world into which Christianity was born.  Not surprisingly, New Testament writers are prone to speak of the world in stark terms and with specific admonitions.  What they said then apply to us today, and they contain counsel that will help us to spiritual success in our slimy setting.

You can save yourself from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40). That was the final recorded appeal of the first recorded gospel sermon.  The message is one of hope and faith.  There is escape from the pollutions of the world (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20).  There is forgiveness of the sins like the ones described above as well as any and all others.  The promise of the gospel message is, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).  Those who gladly received that word did just that (Acts 2:41).

You can shine yourself to this perverse generation (Phil. 2:15).  Paul urges the Philippian Christians to prove themselves blameless and harmless in such an environment. He’s calling for distinctive Christian living, a life that would stand out in such deplorable circumstances.  We’re not trying to be oddball misfits, but faithful Christian living is detectable in the crowds we find ourselves in.  That example is the first step to helping someone else save themselves from this perverse generation.

You can share your Savior with this perverse generation (Mark 8:38). Jesus warns those whom He calls “ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation.”  He tells us that a true disciple’s life is one of obedience, self-denial, sacrifice, and courage (cf. Mark 8:36-38).  If we never share the saving message of Christ with the people we meet and know each day, why don’t we? Could it be that we are ashamed to share His distinctive message to a world that pressures us to conform to and go along with it.  If we do not tell them about Him, how are they going to find out? What hope will they have to discard the perverse life for the pure one?

It is a scary, sinful world out there!  But God rescues us from its guilt through Christ’s sacrifice, then sends us back out there to tell them they can be rescued, too.  Live it and then share it, no matter what, until your end or the end—which ever comes first!

“Let Them Alone”

Neal Pollard

It is a commendable mixture of righteous indignation, conviction, and affection for the Lord and His church to want to answer all the critics, rebut all the troublemakers, defend all the reputations, and fight all the false teaching out there.  Knowing how best to deal with the pot-stirrers or the novel-doctrine-peddlers can cause quite the consternation.  Do we answer every allegation and oppose every little quibble?  Are there times where the best answer is to simply ignore “one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19) or those who attempt to “preach any other gospel” (Gal. 1:9)?  That requires great wisdom and judgment as to the specific situations which arise, but it is clear that the Bible has given disciples the counsel to just let some things lie.

A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE: The Pharisees Of Matthew 15.  These religious leaders elevated human traditions (1-2,6,9), made their own rules they bound others to follow or else (3-6), had heart problems (7-9), and spoke defiling words (11).  They intimidated the disciples, who were concerned that Jesus offended the Pharisees (12). Jesus pointed ahead to the judgment that would determine the nature of their work (13), but counseled His followers to “let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (14).  So often, those who strive and divide, as well as those swayed by them, experience the fruit of their work in this life.  Others, unheeding of cautions and pleadings to the contrary, find out in the end (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24-25).  While the Pharisees ultimately nailed Jesus to the cross, His view of their divisive tactics was to simply “let them alone.”

A POSITIVE EXAMPLE: Peter And John In Acts 5.  Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the Law and member of the Sanhedrin Council, weighed in on the work of Peter and John, two faithful gospel preachers. He looked at past movements of those claiming to be someone, Theudas and Judas, and compared them to these followers of Christ. His advice, “stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-40).  While we have no indication that Gamaliel’s advice is inspired, as Caiaphas did (John 11:49ff), it is hard to find fault with his logic.  In the case of the apostles in Acts five, their plan and action was of God. In the case of the other two “leaders,” it was of men.  Time typically tells.  Inspect the fruit.  Listen to the words.  Watch the attitudes.  Discern the actions demanded and urged. Examine it all in the light of carefully studied Scripture.

Apathy and indifference can lull us to sleep.  The antagonistic or the agents of unscriptural change can both serve to wake us up, get us to reexamine our stand, get into our Bibles, and work to ensure our message and our methods are “by the book.”  But do we have to accept every challenge and dare?  Jesus once drew in the dirt in the face of those who demanded an answer from Him.  There are some times when the best answer is silence.  As for those who make demands of us? Sometimes, we’re best to just “let them alone.”

“Nomophobia” 

Neal Pollard

That’s not a typo for another popularly-used term.  It’s actually a “thing,” at least according to a 2010 study by the UK Post Office.  It is short for “no-mobile-phone phobia” (Tim Elmore, psychologytoday.com). There’s even a website called nomophobia.com, and they identify “the four fears of Nomophobia”—broken, lost, stolen, or useless smartphones. While that site operates “tongue in cheek,” there are a bevy of experts more than ready to talk about how this is an epidemic impacting especially youth in our culture.  University of Connecticut School of Medicine’s Dr. David Greenfield has done much work in this study. He points to the problem of a dysregulation of dopamine, “meaning that it motivates people to do things they think will be rewarded for doing” (clever, cutting, or flamboyant Tweets, posts, pics, etc.) and that it can foster people’s addiction to the internet and technology (Madeline Stone, businessinsider.com). Greenfield adds, “That feeling you’re going to miss something if you’re not constantly checking is an illusion — most parts of our lives are not relevant to our smartphones. What happens on our devices is not reflective of what happens in real life” (ibid.).  There are even digital detox programs, in the United States as well as other countries around the world.  Psychiatrist Dale Archer gives this advice, “Stop texting while you’re driving. Don’t take it into the bathroom with you. Have a rule not to use your phone when you’re with your friends. If you’re on a date, make a rule that you’ll both check your phone for a maximum of 5 minutes every 90 minutes. It’s all about setting simple rules that you can follow” (ibid.).

Amateur psychiatrists and specialists everywhere can quickly diagnose this condition in their spouses and significant others, their children, and their friends, but they may be myopic to their own inordinate practice (see every airport, doctor’s office, restaurant, etc.).  Addiction to, or at least habitual abuse of, smartphones and similar technology is simply the latest and a more obvious example of a long-standing human tendency.  Paul told Corinth, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). In context, Paul is beginning a discussion of the sin of fornication after having talked about Corinth’s generally sinful past from which they had been forgiven.  Paul’s desire was not to be “mastered” (ruled, reigned over, Louw 37.48) by anything.  He later writes about the self-mastery and discipline necessary to live the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Cell phones are just one possible impediment to this.  There are so many other possibilities we must keep aware of, things which can derail us from our purpose and focus in this life.  So many of them are fine in balance and moderation, but we can allow them to consume and even overtake us.  A fear of being without those things is only one of the attending problems.  Being ruled by anything or anyone other than Christ is the overriding concern.  We are all served well by looking carefully at the things in our lives and make sure we have no master other than Christ.

Bible Classes, Special Services, And P.M. Worship Services

Neal Pollard

  • I attend because I want to honor God in the special way that occurs when the church assembles to worship Him
  • I attend because I want to encourage others and be with them every opportunity I can
  • I attend because I find the acts of worship so meaningful
  • I attend because there’s so much of the Bible I have yet to master, and I want to hear what the teacher and the other students may have to say about it
  • I attend because what I do know and have learned I feel compelled to share when given the opportunity occasioned by the assemblies
  • I attend because I often meet those searching for truth, those new to the area, and those brothers and sisters visiting from out of town during those times
  • I attend because I think it sets a good example for my family, friends, and neighbors
  • I attend because the very exercise of what’s done in assembling, if my heart is engaged, helps me grow in my Christian walk and strengthens me for the week ahead.
  • I attend because I want to rise above the bare minimum expectations

Certainly there are many more and probably better answers regarding the motivation for attending every time the local saints are assembled.  But these are enough to move me, when I am able, to join my spiritual family in both study and worship.  I try to prioritize the assemblies above the unnecessary things and the things that will not endure beyond this life.  The same reasons will draw me to come when we have seminars, gospel meetings, Vacation Bible School, lectureships, and the like.  When I can attend, I want to attend and will attend!  I’m thankful that so many others must feel the same way.  There’s always room for more!

I Have Learned…

  • That some people are not happy unless they’re in a fight with someone.
  • That there are still lost people hungry for to know God’s will for their lives.
  • That it is so easy to make excuses and so hard to make the effort.
  • That I still have so much to learn, so far to go, and so little time to do it.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the right.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the left.
  • That some people get “preach the truth” but not “in love.”
  • That some people know how to be loving, but are unwilling to preach the truth.
  • That there are some who believe they are judge, jury, and executioner.
  • That some preachers decide what to preach based more on popular opinion and felt needs than honestly, courageously seeking to preach the whole counsel of God.
  • That some run roughshod over others while hypersensitive to their own rights.
  • That some can tell you what the preachers’, elders’, and deacons’ jobs are, but think their only job is to tell you that.
  • That many of God’s people are striving to live right every day, often at great personal sacrifice and despite great opposition.
  • That there are some who do good all the time, and would be mortified for others to know it.
  • That some make sure others know every good thing they do.
  • That everybody is extremely busy, but some are better time managers than others.
  • That with some people you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent, and you may still be guilty in their minds.
  • That no one can hand you success, prosperity, or discipline.  God gives you the tools, but neither He nor anyone else can make you develop and sustain them.
  • That elders and preachers who work together create a bond that holds the local church together.
  • That we have overemphasized specialization (evangelism training, youth workers, Bible class teachers) to the point that many feel unqualified and “opt out.”
  • That every one of us that gets to heaven will get there with much help from God and brethren.

—Neal Pollard

Coping With The Loss Of A Child

Neal Pollard

I have never lost a child and pray that I will precede them all in death.  Imagining the difficulty of that situation in no way equips me to feel the grief involved in such a loss.  Yet, the Bible is the answer book on this, as with any, situation.

In 2 Samuel 12:18-24, the Bible says, “And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?   But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.  Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.   Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.  And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?   But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. And David comforted Bathsheba his wife….”

The occasion of the death o a pre-born, newborn, infant, or young child must be a peculiarly difficult burden to bear.  It is untimely.  It is filled with the most painful of mysteries.  It is a most intense reminder of the ultimate end of all humanity (Hebrews 9:27).  Yet, it offers a ray of hope and comfort like no other funeral can.  Even as tears stain the cheek, there can be rejoicing in knowing the child is eternally safe.  It will never know the heartache, pain, disappointment, shame, guilt, fear or betrayl through which we routinely go simply by virtue of earthly life.

The Bible says that other parents lost small children.  An unnamed woman lost a son to death at the age of three days old (1 Kings 3:16-27).  1 Kings 14 tells of the death of Abijah, son of Ahab and Jezebel.  All we can tell from the term “child” in that text is that he was anywhere between infancy and adolescence; thus, a small child.  In the New Testament, Jairus lost a “little daughter” (Mark 5).  From ancient Job to the New Testament widow of Nain to today, parents have endured the difficult, unnatural task of burying their children.  Yet, there are special lessons to be learned in the account of David and Bathsheba’s little boy.  Consider four things, from the above text, to be gained when dealing with the loss of a little child.

Do not forget your relationship with God (20).  When David hears news of the child’s death, what is the first thing he does?  He arises from the dust of dejection and goes to church!  He had been praying to God all the time the child was dying.  It is natural that David continued his relationship with God.

It must have been a test of David’s faith.  Read the Psalms and you find the man after God’s own heart (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14) often asking God “why?”.   In Psalm 10:1, he said, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  He later says, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.  O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2, NASU).   Remember that David cried seven days and nights over the child he lost.  Certainly, he knew that God was near, God cared, and God loved him, but he was hurting and things surely seemed unfair.

You may very well feel the same way when you lose a child.  Remember that this is natural, but do not forget your relationship to God.  Know that God is near, cares for you and loves you, too.  An oft-quoted but appropriate saying goes, “Where was God when my child died?”  “Exactly where He was when His Son died.”  Tragedy and suffering can always serve to build spiritual strength.  It can cause us to realize our dependence upon God.  It can help us sharpen our focus on heaven.  It can lead us to count our blessings and remember what we do have.

Remember that your lives must resume (20-22).  No, not today… or tomorrow.  In an unavoidable way, life could never be exactly the same.  Grief is natural and necessary, and it has no exact timetable.

Yet, look to David.  He got back to daily life.  When he received news of his baby’s death, he got up, went to worship, ate a meal, and resumed his work affairs.  As painful as such a loss has to be, one can be thankful and mindful of all that remains that is to be lived for and the many loved ones with whom one has left to live.  As hard as it is to imagine in the midst of grieving such a peculiar loss, you will laugh again and enjoy life again when the time is right.

Let a heavenly reunion motivate you (23).  To me, these are the most impressive words of the story.  David says, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”  We know where the baby was, so we know where David wanted to go.

Those who lose a little child have an extremely powerful motivation to go to heaven.  Not just that heaven is infinitely better than the awful alternative.  Not just the excitement of seeing God “face to face.”  There is a little child up there waiting for the arrival of his/her parents.  Imagine what a sweet reunion that will be, to see it there.  Each time such parents sing, “Won’t it be wonderful there…?,” they will have an extra measure of appreciation of those words.  Parents grieving this loss can live the remainder of their lives determined to “go to him.”

Find comfort in one another (24).  There is something in the text easy to overlook.  David goes and comforts his wife, Bathsheba.  Didn’t David need comforted, too?  Yes, but Bathsheba had a bond and relationship with the child that David did not.  Her emotional makeup and needs, in such loss, were different from his own.

There is a special need for a wife and mother at such a time as this.  As this tragedy can bring parents closer to God, it can also bring mutually aggrieved mates closer to one another.  It is a time when you can better appreciate Ecclessiastes 4:9, that “two are better than one….”  Thessalonica was going through tremendous heartache and even loss, and you will notice that at least seven different times Paul admonishes them to “comfort one another.”  God knew there would be times when we would need support.  There is special support available from one’s help-meet and companion.

When a little child dies, there is grief because of that tragedy.  There is also cause for rejoicing because of the assurance that can be had concerning the baby’s soul.  The sun will shine again through the clouds of sorrow.  The brightness of God’s love will break visibly before the dewy gaze once more.  Thank God for the comfort possible only in Christ.