Why Travel The Road Less Taken?

Neal Pollard

Gunnar Garfors is the youngest “hobby traveler” to have visited every country in the world. He’s written a book about it, entitled 198: How I Ran Out Of Countries. I have not read the book, but his website offers a very interesting article on The 25 Least Visited Countries in the Whole Wide World. Guess which one is least visited. He tells us, statistically, it is Nauru, a Pacific island country with no capital and no armed forces. It is 8.1 square miles in size, having only 10,000 inhabitants. They have the world’s highest level of type 2 diabetes and the highest obesity rate in the world (97% of men and 93% of women are overweight or obese). It has no seaport and no daily news publications. Perhaps some or all of these factors lead this country to be most frequently avoided by travelers, but somebody has to own that distinction (read more here: Independent UK, BBC, and Gunnar Garfors).  Perhaps none of these facts inspire you to work to help Nauru lose its notorious tourism distinction.

Robert Frost wrote his famous poem about the two roads which diverged in a yellow wood. He took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.  It appears he may have actually stood before such a fork, but he used the experience to speak metaphorically. We can all appreciate this figurative choice. We must choose a path in life, and the one we choose does make all the difference!

Jesus uses such a metaphor to describe the way of life we choose on this earth. He says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mat. 7:13-14). In this familiar passage, He gives us multiple reasons why we should take His way.

  • Its aim (“leads to life”).
  • Its alternative (“leads to destruction”).
  • Its autonomy (it is a road each one chooses to “enter through”; it is not arbitrarily chosen for us).
  • Its assumption (one must choose between these two, and no other, ways).
  • Its accessibility (it can be “entered” and “found”).
  • Its attainability (Jesus says “few” find it and not “none” find it).
  • Its associability (one is not absolutely alone, for there are “few” rather than “none”).

Jesus compares our brief time on this earth with a road trip. We are not fated to stay on the broad way, but we are not unconditionally guaranteed a spot on the narrow road. As Frost surveyed the two paths and made his choice, so must we. Jesus says we make this decision daily (cf. Lk. 9:23). And our choices determine which path we are traveling. Be deliberate and prepared for this arduous journey that terminates all too quickly. The right choice is the one less taken and most avoided, but take it anyway!

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That’s the whole country of Nauru

The REAL Terry Symansky Can’t Stand Up

Neal Pollard

There is a famous line from the longstanding game show, To Tell The Truth, that is so apropos here. On the show three people would all claim to be someone and make their pitch to “prove” it, then at the end the host would ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?” Recently, a real-life version of this game surfaced in Pasco County, Florida, regarding a seemingly harmless man with a normal life in Zephyr Hills. He was a husband, father, landlord, pilot, and upstanding citizen, and he carried off the ruse for over 20 years! But the real Terry Symansky drowned in 1991.

Richard Hoagland, who had once boarded with Terry’s dad in Palm Beach, Florida, learned of Terry’s death, stole the death certificate to get his birth certificate from Ohio, which he used to obtain an Alabama’s driver’s license in order to obtain a Florida’s driver’s license! He also married Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995, with whom he has a teenage son. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Hoagland has a wife and four children whom he abandoned with a story that the FBI was after him for embezzling millions of dollars (The Washington Post, “He Left A Family And Started A New One Using A Dead Man’s Identity, Police Say,” Peter Holley, 7/24/16). Think of the carnage for at least three families: the real Symanskys, the fake, Florida Symanskys, and the Indiana Hoaglands. Untangling this mess will not be easy, all because a man decided to try and be someone he obviously wasn’t. A professor who studies identity theft summed it up rightly, saying, “It will all catch up with you” (Holley).

Sure, this is outrageous and despicable. But, have we stopped to consider that something far worse than this happens, spiritually, more times than can be counted? Whenever a Christian behaves one way among the saints but another way away from that fellowship and environment, a similar phenomenon unfolds. Some would be blown away to learn that their co-worker, fellow team parent, neighbor, classmate, and the like, is actually a Christian. Were they to see them participating in worship, they would be baffled, using God’s name in a reverent, respectful way. To know that they, perhaps, were a church leader would be beyond the pale. In this way, it can be quite easy to assume an identity. All it requires is keeping “Group A” (the church) separated, as much as possible, from “Group B” (worldly associations). But, persisting in such a life will, sooner or later, catch up with the perpetrator (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24).

God sent Jeremiah to stand at the “front door” of the “church building” (so to speak) and tell the people entering for worship, “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place” (7:2-3). He specifies, “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the Lord” (7:9-11).  They thought a day of worship substituted for six days of ungodly living, but the last word is most chilling. God says, “I, even I, have seen it.” Whoever else we may fool with a double-life, we cannot fool God.

Integrity requires honesty and strong, moral character. There must be genuineness, wherever we are and whoever we are with. May God help us to be the genuine article, all the time.

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Hoagland (L) and Symansky (R)

The Appointment We Cannot Escape

Neal Pollard

William T. Turner was captain of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a german U-boat in May, 1915. He was one of the few officers saved (Montreal Gazette, 6/24/33, obituary). The Atlantic writes in an article that Turner was “relieving captain” of the SS Ivernia when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on New Year’s Day, 1917, and he once again survived (James Gould, 5/7/15). Turner was a man renowned for heroics and not a coward, which makes a captain surviving the sinking of two ships all the more incredible. But in 1933, after three, bed-ridden months, Turner succumbed to intestinal cancer (Gazette).

A few years ago, I wrote about Roy Sullivan, the park ranger who had survived seven lightning strikes (Preacher Pollard Blog). What an incredible tale of survival, but Sullivan insured his own mortality when he committed suicide in 1983 (ibid.). The man was incredible, but not invincible.

Jeanne Louise Calment is thought to be the world’s longest living person in modern times. She was born in 1875 in France, met Vincent Van Gogh as a young teenager, but eventually died in a nursing home in 1997, 122 years old! She took up fencing at 85, rode a bicycle until she was 100, ate two pounds of chocolate each week and quit smoking at 119 (http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~wang/calment.html). Back in the antediluvian period, in a purer world closer to creation, several lived over 900 years. But in each case, scripture punctuates their earthly existence by saying, “…and he died” (Gen. 5:5).

I have been involved in so many funerals as a preacher, from the first I assisted with Gary Hampton in Gainesville, Alabama, in 1992, until as recently as a couple of weeks ago. What strikes me as much as anything, whether in preparation for it visiting with the family or during slide shows during the service, is watching the progression of life unfolded in photos. Usually they are arranged chronologically, so that the fresh faces of the baby becomes the look of vitality found in children and young adults gives way to the robust strength of early to middle adulthood. Signs of aging subtly appear as the photos fade in and out, the added pounds or gray hairs or the advent of wrinkles. Pictures eventually show frailty and signs of physical deterioration. Then, one in attendance simply needs to gaze at the casket, if present, to see that this once fresh, new physical life does not go on forever.

The writer of Hebrews speaks in hopeful, positive terms to Christians as he proclaims the superiority and potency of Jesus, our great High Priest. At the cross, He offered His own life to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26). Having a human body, Jesus was destined for death “inasmuch as it appointed for men to die once…” (9:27). Death is unavoidable, but it does not have to be unhinging. Death is followed by judgment, but that day can be the day of salvation realized and eager anticipation (9:28). What happens on the other side of death depends on what we do with Jesus on this side of it.  Whatever we decide, we will make the appointment Turner, Sullivan, Calment, Adam, and billions of others have already made. We must decide if we will meet it prepared.

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Jeanne later in life

DIVIDING OVER POLITICS

Neal Pollard

“Rancor” is synonymous with hostility, bitterness, spite, and vitriol. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul warns the Christian against “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice.” While it didn’t seem possible that this election cycle could produce more heat and saber-rattling than the last couple, it has already exceeded it. It is almost painful to watch the cable news networks, but we should expect the world to behave like the world. Yet, when I see brethren so vehemently defending their candidate and excoriating those who disagree with them, I am truly disheartened. Social media continues to pour gasoline on this already potent fire.

I try to imagine the apostles and early Christians, were they to have such an outlet, tying into one another and beating their chest as they debated each other over the merits of Claudius over Nero, devoting so much time arguing their points about which candidate would better favor the cause of Christianity.  Inspired writers had every opportunity to show such a participation and bias, but they are conspicuously silent. While I do not agree with the extreme that David Lipscomb took in his book On Civil Government, can we not, if we are not careful, veer toward the other extreme through blind allegiance to rulers who, when dispassionately and objectively viewed, honor and demonstrate evil over godliness? Whether it is foul language, deceit and dishonesty, and glorifying sexual immorality (a la Playboy!) or lying, pro-abortion, and criminal behavior, I am baffled as to why a Christian should get so invested in one candidate or exorcised at the other.  May we never prioritize America over our dear brotherhood or our heavenly goal. We gauge that priority by our thoughts, speech, attitude, and actions regardless of what we claim.

As a husband and father for whom the prospect of grandchildren may not be many years hence, I grasp with such personal investment the gravity of this year’s election and the current world situation. Yet, I can let the fear of that eclipse the infinitely bigger picture. What a glorious day it would be if we could steer our consuming passion toward Jesus and the mission He left us!

You may have a decided leaning toward the Republican or Democratic offering in this year’s election. Given this year’s choice, I don’t believe you can cling to either without your hands being very dirty. That being said, may we all be prayerful and imminently restrained in our interchange especially with our brethren and before the eyes of the world. Our unity in truth, our common mission, and our Christian example are eternally more important than politics. Period!

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Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

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Peace, Perfect Peace

(Sunday’s church bulletin article)

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, yet another terrorist attack rocked the world. Last week, five uniformed officers sworn to enforce the law and protect citizens, were gunned down by a disturbed individual. Through social media and more traditional media, we have a pipeline to distribute fear and uncertainty as we take it all in. The people we see and talk to daily give growing indication that they don’t know what to think, feel, or do. What a golden opportunity for you and me to give them what they desperately need!

Jesus was telling His disciples that He would soon be leaving them. That was disturbing news for them. So, Jesus gives assurances to them. He tells them the Father was going to send the Holy Spirit to help them. Then, He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). Let us consider what we possess and are in a position to share.

  • This peace is delivered—“I leave with you”; “I give to you”
  • This peace is divine—“My peace”
  • This peace is distinct—“Not as the world gives”
  • This peace is durable—Prevents us from being “troubled” and “fearful”

These qualities are vital in a world which is ever-changing and increasingly unstable. The world has no anchor or foundation that can adequately address one’s disturbance and distress.  Yet, we have Christ. What He offers the world cannot take away!  Let the vilest do their worst and we can still have peace.

How could Stephen maintain such calm as his killers were literally taking his life? Peace, perfect peace! How could the early Christians relentlessly share Jesus even as they were being scattered from their homes? Peace, perfect peace! How could the New Testament church thrive amidst persecution? Peace, perfect peace!

So, what about us today? It appears that terror and violence are on the rise. Dark clouds seem to be gathering to threaten comfort, calm, and physical and economic security. We would never welcome such a circumstance, but we can certainly weather it! How? Peace, perfect peace!

Consider the lyrics of a few verses of Edward Bickersteth’s beautiful hymn:  “Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin? The blood of Jesus whispers peace within. Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown? Jesus we know, and He is on the throne. It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease, And Jesus calls us to Heav’n’s perfect peace.” Do you have this peace?

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Characteristics of Hope

Neal Pollard

An epistle centering around the superiority of Christi as our all-sufficient One would certainly be expected to contain a message of hope. While some had apparently given up Jesus as their hope (6:4-6), the writer of Hebrews had a higher estimation of those to whom he writes. for one thing, they had a legacy of good works and brotherly love and benevolence (6:10). His desire was that they would continue to stay strong. In expressing this, the writer suggests hope as an integral tool to keep them hanging onto their faith in Christ. In these final ten verses of Hebrews six, he mentions three qualities of hope that would help them–and will help us–hang onto our hope in Christ no matter what.

This hope is durable (11). Look at the language he uses. This hope was tied to an assurance that would endure “until the end.” It was a hope that would lead them to “inherit the promises” (12), just as Abraham’s hope in God led him to his inheritance (13-17). God desires to show us, as heirs of the promise through Christ, His unchanging purpose (17), so He guarantees that promise through an oath build upon the foundation of Himself. Hope which is guaranteed by the very nature and character of God is hope that will outlast anything! Nations rise and fall. Presidents serve only one or two terms. Supreme court justices, at most, can serve only a lifetime. Our hope transcends time.

This hope is tangible (18). These Christians needed to count on a refuge in difficult times (see 12:4), and we desire the same thing in our lives! Knowing that God is so trustworthy, we are encouraged to “take hold of hope” that is found only in Christ. To say that we can take hold of hope and that it is set before us means that it has substance. In a world where nothing seems certain, evidence from scripture, nature, order and design of the universe, and so much more allows us, by faith, to grab this hope. He had already told them to hold onto that hope in Christ earlier in the letter (3:6) and to encourage this response he points them to scripture (cf. 3:7-11; Psa. 95:7-11). Scripture helps us see the solid hope we have in Jesus.

This hope is stable (19). It is an anchor. Anchors keep a vessel from drifting, an appropriate illustration since the Christians were tempted to drift from Christ (2:1). By maintaining their hope, they could anticipate three blessings: (1) sureness, (2) steadfastness, and (3) the service of the sacrificial Savior (19-20). All three of these descriptions of this Almighty anchor underline the security found in keeping ourselves anchored in Christ. Those who keep Jesus as their hope are able to weather the most horrific storms of life!

As Christians, we may find ourselves ready to abandon Jesus as our hope. So many things attempt to pull us from Him. Let us draw encouragement from this inspired writer, as surely these first Christians did, and rejoice in these changeless characteristics of hope!

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What Keeps People From Salvation?

Neal Pollard

  • Ignorance: They have not learned how to be saved
  • Fear: They know the potential cost of being saved
  • Pride: They do not want to admit they are not saved
  • Loyalty: They fear that they will be tacitly condemning those they care for if they are saved
  • Comfort: They do not want to do what it takes to be saved
  • Emotion: They feel they are saved
  • Guilt: They do not believe they can be saved
  • Prejudice: They cannot see the necessity of following what certain scriptures say they must do to be saved
  • Sin: They enjoy something(s) too much to surrender in order to be saved
  • Self: They want to follow their own terms to be saved
  • Blindness: They cannot see through their religious traditions and doctrines in order to be saved
  • Responsibilities: They are too busy with life to be saved

So many more excuses might be given by someone who refuses to do what God says to do in order to be saved, but whatever excuse is given overlooks the fact that God allowed no excuse to keep Him from sending His Son, that Christ allowed no excuse to keep Him from going to the cross, that the Holy Spirit allowed no excuse to keep Him from revealing to us through the Bible how to be saved, that the apostles and early Christians allowed no excuse to keep them from sharing and doing God’s will for salvation (even at the cost of their lives), and that so many throughout time have not allowed these same excuses to keep them from obeying the gospel to be saved. Salvation is so important, eternity is so long, the soul is so precious, sin is so destructive, the devil is so ravenous, and the world is so wrong that we must remove every barrier that might stand in our way. If we were to write down our reason for not being saved and keep it until the day of judgment, how valid and reasonable would it sound as we conveyed it to Christ? If we would not want to tell Him then, let’s not let it keep us from Him now.  “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).

South Fork Church of Christ baptistry mural looking in from the

Devon Allen’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

I will preface this by saying I cannot determine anything specific about the religion of Devon Allen, a remarkable college student-athlete at the University of Oregon. He is in the headlines now as a starting football player who qualified for the Olympics in track and field.  It was during his training and competition for the latter that he decided the time was right to be baptized. So he was, in the Willamette River in Eugene last Friday before the watchful gaze of family and teammates from his track and football teams. No less than ESPN reported on his religious quest alongside his impressive athletic achievements. The article ended with the proper sentiment, particularly if Allen was baptized in the right way for the right reason. It reads, “It was the right starting line for two different races” (Chantel Jennings, espn.com).

I am encouraged that Jennings found this newsworthy. I am encouraged that Allen thought baptism to be so important. I am encouraged that his friends and family showed up in impressive numbers to witness this act.

When even so many in Christendom go the extra mile in denying the importance and significance of baptism, Devon troubled himself to do it. We do not know, but he might have said what the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). As he studied with Oregon football team chaplain, could he have been taught the New Testament truth that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), baptism reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptism buries one with Christ (Colossians 2:12), and baptism saves one (1 Peter 3:21)? If he was taught baptism from the New Testament, these are the kinds of things he would have heard.

Regardless of Allen’s understanding about baptism’s function in God’s plan to save us, one who is taught in accordance with the several passages above and who has a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15) will want to be baptized without delay (cf. Acts 22:16). Like the jailor at Philippi, they will submit to baptism even if it is the middle of the night (Acts 16:33). Like the 3,000 on Pentecost, they will demonstrate gladly receiving the word by being baptized (Acts 2:41). Thus, they will be saved.

My prayer is that Devon Allen understand these Bible facts and responded the way he did because he humbly accepted their truth. More than that, my prayer is that those who need to make the decision to be baptized will not let anything hinder them from doing what Jesus died to make possible for us all. May we ignore all rationalization that leads us to resist the act which, from a believing, penitent heart, washes our sins away.

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DO WE HAVE CONFUSING MENU TERMS?

Neal Pollard

Open Table, a company that facilitates reservations at better restaurants, sent a quiz today to test my familiarity with some of the more sophisticated menu terms one encounters. I made 40%, and at least a few of my right answers were lucky guesses. Truly, I’ve never heard of “okonomiyaki,” “Harissa,” “gochujang,” or “crudo.” These and others were foreign words, in the literal and culinary sense. Certainly, chefs, maitre d’s, refined diners, and the otherwise alimentary literate folks know these terms, but most of us are proud to differentiate between la fork and la spoon. We also do not like to be made to feel less than intelligent by the more informed foodie.

The more we try to be soul-conscious and truly sensitive to the visitors who attend our services, the more thoughtfully we should consider especially the terms we use and even take for granted. We’ve used them so long that maybe we assume everybody knows them.  But, these visitors may be sitting there, despite their intelligence and capability, feeling ignorant or uninitiated as we pepper them with “expediency,” “hermeneutics,” “extend the invitation,” “conversion,” “denominational,” “redemption,” and other terms that require the context of our learned church culture. Other terms, not at all hard to define, are terms that mean something specific to us but that mean something else to those without our “background”: sin, salvation, repentance, worship, born again, holy, works, grace, etc.  On many occasions, I’ve looked at some of the lyrics in our songbook and have found, especially in older songs where words have inevitably changed or fallen into disuse, we press on without defining or explaining these words to our youth, new Christians, or non-Christian attendees. “Could my zeal no respite know?”  “His garment too were in cassia dipped?” “Heavenly portals loud with hosannas ring?” Many, many more examples of such lines could be produced!

My point is not to be critical. There is no way we can define every word a visitor or newcomer may encounter in our worship services, but we do have so many who do not have our grasp of our unique terms. We have a serious obligation to them (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25). If we took some time to define the words of our songs, sermons, and even prayers, we would be helping those several groups who may not “get” it otherwise—teens and pre-teens, some of our young adults, a lot of our first-generation Christians, new converts, and those valuable visitors who may be termed “unchurched.” It will help the rest of us, too, to break down our rote and memorized sentences and think about what some of those “ten-cent” theological terms really mean. God desires worship that involves our heart (cf. John 4:24), and clear comprehension is a key to achieving that. May we deliberate on this when we assemble together this Lord’s Day!

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Who knows what this is?