“The Island Where Men Are Disappearing”

Neal Pollard

About one quarter of the men on Old Providence Island are gone, and in many cases their families have no idea where they are. They are not vanishing into thin air. These Caribbean islanders are excellent mariners, and, being technically part of the country of Colombia and lying off the coast of Nicaragua, they have been swept into the net of drug trafficking. Very often, they are hired as pilots of “narco-speedboats.” If they successfully deliver their load, they make thousands of dollars. If they fail, they go to jail.  Old Providence veteran journalist, Ampara Ponton, says, “There are families where the great-grandfather, grandfather, father and son are imprisoned” (via BBC.COM).

The impact of these “vanishing” husbands and fathers is incalculable. Children grow up without having a daddy to train, guide, and provide an example for them. Wives are deprived of helpmeets.

This mirrors a figurative epidemic that has been in place in many cultures, not only in our day but in days gone by.  One derogatory term for this is “deadbeat dads,” those who sire children but are uninvolved, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially, in their lives. This dysfunctional model spreads its influence in society causing further dysfunction.

Yet, too many homes have men who are physically present but spiritually absent.  They do not provide spiritual guidance, do not study or model the Bible, never pray in their family’s hearing, show no interest in or commitment to the way of the Lord, and prioritize one or several things before the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  These have not technically disappeared, but they are spiritually invisible.

We cannot forget who God holds most responsible for the direction of the home.  Asaph says God told the fathers to tell their children about God and His work (Psalm 78). Fathers are to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). In both testaments, God commands fathers’ presence, making right and lasting impressions upon their families.  Husbands and fathers, let’s do our best to be present and impactful in the lives of our families as faithful stewards of this charge. Eternity hinges upon it!


Neal Pollard

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.


Neal Pollard

  • Try to spend 5 minutes of prayer in which you do nothing but praise Him.
  • Do something for Him that requires you to step out of your comfort zone—initiate a conversation with a stranger, give a tract to a co-worker you’ve been talking with, etc.
  • Have a devotional with your family.
  • Call a shut-in or stop by and visit a widow(er).
  • Write a missionary, expressing appreciation and giving encouragement.
  • Anonymously give a sacrificial amount of money for a family in need or someone dependent upon support (school of preaching student or teacher, missionary, etc.).
  • Contact an elder, asking him something you could do to help them in their work.
  • Make a list of at least 20 blessings God has given specifically to you.
  • Speak to someone at church services you have never spoken to before.
  • Invite a family from church you don’t know well over for dinner.
  • Put a packet with bottled water and granola bar, along with a tract, into a Ziplock bag to give to the person at the intersection asking for assistance.
  • Pick out a Bible book you are unfamiliar with and start breaking it down, looking for key words, purpose statement, and other clues to better understanding it. Take copious notes.
  • Pray for someone you are having problems with, an enemy, critic, or one who has offended you.
  • Alone or with your spouse and/or children, sing several songs of praise and admonition.
  • Carry a meal to a young mother who has had a difficult day.
  • Give a big smile and warm greeting to a fellow shopper or employee at a store or restaurant.
  • Ask the secretary for a list of last Sunday’s visitors and send them each a warm, brief note.
  • Think of an area for spiritual improvement in your life and ask God to help you focus on it, being transparent and sincere as you petition Him.
  • Ask the person closest to you (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) something they need for you to pray for on their behalf.

Can you think of additional ways?


Neal Pollard

The hope of finding survivors on the cargo ship El Faro has severely dwindled, as one of two lifeboats, severely damaged, has been discovered as well as one body.  While the other lifeboat from the ship, with a capacity for 43 persons, has not been found in the ocean waters off the Bahamas, the 735 foot long ship sent a distress signal Thursday from near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin as it battled 20-30 foot waves.  The Coast Guard is hopeful, but the realistic expectation is that this will soon be a recovery rather than rescue mission (info from cbsnews.com and reuters.com). Out of all the frightening ways to face death, being lost at sea has to be near the top.  There’s the foreboding strength of battering waves, the immense, liquid darkness of the deep, the mystery of what lies beneath the surface, the horrific experience of drowning, and the overall helplessness in the face of a fierce overwhelming force.  Since maritime history goes back for millennia, people both ancient and modern have faced the terrors of shipwreck. Dating at least as far back as the ship found off Dokos, Greece, dating back to 2700-2200 B.C. carrying a cargo of pottery (read more at http://www.mhargolid.nl/data/webb1992.pdf), mankind has experienced the sinking of ships.

No wonder New Testament writers seize on this common situation of life. Luke records (Acts 27:14) and Paul looks back on (2 Cor. 11:25) literal shipwrecks the apostle survived.  How fitting that he is the one who describes those who lose their faith as those who have “suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). Preventing shipwreck, according to Paul, necessitates.

  • A fighting (1:18). Just as crew members must strain at their tasks on deck, despite weathering difficult winds and choppy seas, we cannot be passive and yielding in spiritual storms. Paul warns Ephesus against being “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (4:14).  Faith is vital to equipping one for the spiritual fight.
  • A keeping (1:19). You can imagine someone clinging to ropes and rails or staying at the helm or rudder as they weather the storms of life. But the lifelines to which we must cling in such torrents is faith and a good conscience (see 1:5). Our spiritual constitution and fortitude spell the difference between survival and lostness.
  • A teaching (1:18-20).  Training often spells the difference in surviving out at sea.  Certainly, keeping a cool head and being able to use, when needed, that which has been previously learned is vital!  Paul says as much regarding the survival of spiritual shipwreck.  He mentions an entrusted command (1:18), prophesies (1:18), and being taught (1:20). The best teaching may not help the literal sailor in storm-tossed seas, but heavenly teaching is guaranteed to rescue those so equipped even in the face of the most seemingly insurmountable difficulties of life.

We had the feeling of finality of those lost at sea.  Thankfully, as long as one lives, he or she can be recovered from spiritual shipwreck. But, they must come back from such depths and take hold of God’s life preserver, His Son Jesus Christ! Let us do our part to rescue the perishing, snatching them with pity from sin and the grave (2 Pet. 3:9).

Take Time To Be Holy

Neal Pollard

In 1 Peter 1:13-19, there are three commands that relate to something that must be done regardless of how much time it takes to complete.  They are, “fix your hope completely on grace” (13), “be holy in all your behavior” (15), and “conduct yourselves in fear” (17). There’s a fourth command of this type in verse 22: “Love one another from the heart.” All of these are done as the result of a salvation taught by the prophets and revealed to us. Because we’ve been saved, we should fix our hope on grace, be holy in behavior, conduct ourselves in fear, and love one another from the heart. Considering what God has done for us, we should be eager to do what He tells us to do. At the heart of the discussion, Peter calls for holiness. “Holy” is found 10 times in 1 Peter, but there are synonyms in the book, too (“behavior” or “manner of life”—7 times; “do good” or “right”—13 times).  We want to be holy, do good, and behave, and this letter says a whole lot about how that looks. It’s faithfulness in suffering, distinctiveness in daily living, and keeping heavenly in focus. It’s captured in Peter’s petition (2:11). Our world places more emphasis on happiness than holiness, and if you have to choose one the world says choose happiness. But, God calls us to choose holiness. How do we do that?

  • Look within (13). Moral behavior begins in the heart.  So, he says to keep sober in spirit and fix your hope on grace. These are both heart matters.
  • Look out (14,17). Sanctification and obedience appear together in three different verses in chapter one (2,14,22). Holiness is a matter of obeying the truth. This has a negative aspect (14—“Don’t be conformed”) and a positive aspect (17—“Conduct yourselves in fear”). To be holy, we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled and be vigilant. We’re going to look out for the traps and tricks of this world because we know we’re only strangers here.
  • Look up (15-16). This letter is about our need of God’s help to be holy. There’s a wide gap between our holiness and God’s holiness, and we can never forget that. Peter says to be holy like He is holy.  That is an endless aspiration, a goal we’ll never achieve but must constantly work at.
  • Look ahead (17). God is going to impartially judge according to each one’s work. We should be holy now because we will stand before the Perfect Judge some day.
  • Look back (18-19). I love the way Peter ends the paragraph. It gives us such hope! The way to take time to be holy is to turn around and look back—at our salvation (1:4) and at our Savior (1:2,21). I can’t look at sin in my life and glorify it, rationalize it, defend it, hide it, or minimize it. Peter reminds us why He had to die (2:24-25).

We take the time for what is most important to us—sports, social media, hobbies, work, shopping, and the like. None of that ultimately matters. As we do anything, these or other things, we must make sure that we are holy in heart and conduct. It’s worth the time and will be worth it when there is no longer time.


Neal Pollard

Saving for retirement. Exercising and losing weight. Mending a broken relationship. Daily Bible reading.  Many are the objectives, goals, and needs we all have in this life, but just as many are the excuses we often give for not addressing them.  We fall back on lack of time, how we feel, whose fault it is, and generally why we cannot do what we know we should be doing.  It seems that until we are convicted of our need to do something, we will always find ready excuses.

But, when we are motivated to do something, we will not let anything stop us.  We find the time, muster the will, and channel the discipline necessary to keep plugging away until the objective is achieved.

Living for Christ is the greatest objective there is.  It fulfills the very purpose for our existence. It benefits everyone around us. It is imperative to gaining heaven as home.  It positively influences those closest to us.  But, when it is not our greatest priority, we will come up with a bevy of excuses. These run the gamut from sports activities to work to hypocrites to personal weakness to whatever else may come to mind.  Until we are motivated, we will find excuses.  So, what should motivate us to live for Jesus?

  • His sacrificial love (Gal. 2:20).
  • Fear of judgment and eternal punishment (Mat. 25:31-46).
  • The debt we owe (Rom. 1:14-17).
  • The love we have for Him (2 Cor. 5:14).
  • Our love for our family and others close to us (Ti. 2:3-4; Eph. 5:25).
  • An understanding of our purpose (Phil. 1:21-24).
  • The hope of heaven (John 14:1ff).
  • A sense of obligation to our spiritual family (1 Th. 5:11; Mat. 18:12ff).
  • A desire to do what is right and serve Jesus as our Master (1 Pe. 2:20; Mat. 7:21).

All of these (and more) are excellent motivation for enduring the difficult in order to successfully overcome in this life. They will help us to eliminate every impediment that stands in our way.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).


Neal Pollard

There was a disappearance and a murder confession.  So, the last thing police expected when they stopped at “Mrs. Schneider’s” apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, was to find the 1984 murder victim, Petra Pazsitka, talking to them.  Thus began the unraveling of an elaborate plot by Ms. Pazskitka to disappear and reemerge with a new identity.  She was successful for 31 years, living in several West German cities without a passport, driver’s license, and social security card. She supported herself by “living off illicit cash-in-hand work” (via uk.news.yahoo.com). Why did the college student who had just completed her thesis on computer languages leave the grid and go into hiding? So far, there has been no explanation given. Perhaps there will eventually be more details and insight into this bizarre situation, but for now a grief-stricken family can take some measure of comfort in knowing their loved one they thought was dead is alive.

Spiritually, we are surrounded by the living dead.  It is the result of choices they’ve made.  This is even true for some who have abandoned God’s family and reemerged in the world having cast off the privileges and position of that honorable name they took on when they were baptized into Christ.

Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). He tells Timothy, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). God diagnosed an entire church, Sardis, “having a reputation of being alive” as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Of course, nothing illustrates the point better than Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  The younger son was off in the “far country,” and through that lifestyle he reached the point of desperation and despair. He repented and came home, where his father declared “my son was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).

Sometimes, it makes no sense to us why a brother or sister leaves God’s family, abandoning spiritual life, hope, and heaven for spiritual death, hopelessness, and hell.  Yet, we must continue to search for them.  Let us pray that we can find those long since declared dead and encourage them so that we “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). Search for them. Appeal to them. Help them reclaim the blessed identity they had when they had “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).


Neal Pollard

I’ve known individuals whose sole purpose in the assemblies has seemed to be to critique those who lead the worship or show up to engage in it, from their appearance to their aptitude.  While we certainly need to avoid having someone blatantly engaging in sin and error (that’s an article for a different occasion), if that is one extreme then hypercriticism of the worship and worshipper can be another.  If you or someone you love is tempted to play this deflating part, consider the following.

  • It’s unwarranted.  Who earns the right to be the official analyst of the worship?  How does one properly and fruitfully engage himself and herself in John 4:24 worship while assuming this presumptuous activity?  The Bible nowhere portrays such a one in a positive light.  One critic of another’s worship we do read about is unflatteringly presented and unfavorably analyzed by God in Luke 18:9-14. We should ask why we feel it necessary that we grade and rate others present with us before the Great I Am.
  • It’s unscriptural. This can be the case in many possible ways.  First, if we gossip or speak about someone rather than addressing it with them, that’s wrong (1 Pet. 2:1; Mat. 18:15). Second, if our tone is biting, sarcastic, and unloving, that’s wrong (2 Tim. 2:24; Eph. 4:15).  Third, if in being critical we ourselves are not properly engaged in worship, that’s wrong (John 4:24).
  • It’s unwise. It is so easy to undermine and squander one’s own influence who reduces himself or herself to nitpicking others in the assemblies.  It can cause others to lose respect for us and even seek to avoid us.  This is especially important to remember if, in a close and final analysis, what we criticize does not rise to the level of meriting such criticism.
  • It’s untenable.  The critic is exposed as doing what he or she is condemning others for—i.e., not offering acceptable worship.  It’s somewhat like the child who sees a sibling with eyes open during the prayer and who tattles to mom and dad, who promptly ask, “How do you know?”
  • It’s unwelcome. The chronic complainer, sooner or later, develops a reputation for such.  It causes others to avoid them for fear of the carnage it could create.  The Corinthians were urged to be edifiers in their assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12,26). The worship critic works against that ever-present need.
  • It’s unbelievable.  How incredible that one would misuse the assemblies to nitpick minutia when the Creator, the Savior, and the Revealer are present and expecting worship from all present!  What a gross misunderstanding of our role as Christians to abuse the time in such a way. In fact, it is utter audacity.

There may be a bit of the critic in all of us.  Certainly, we should be striving to make worship better in every practical way we can. That involves teaching and training. It involves singing songs with words we actually use and understand. It involves probably 1,000 other things, but let’s not get so lost in the pursuit of “improving” that we forget to do what we assembled to do:  worship God!

Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

Attributing Work To The Holy Spirit

Neal Pollard

Inquiring minds want to know.  How does God work through providence? How does He answer our prayers to strengthen, help, lead, and endow us with wisdom? We are without doubt that God is active, interested, and involved in our lives today. Deism denies this, saying that a Creator set things in motion and then permanently stepped out of the picture on planet earth. Theism affirms His present involvement and interest in the affairs of men today. The dogmatic at either extreme purport to speak for God, absolutely affirming or denying what He does or does not do. There is an area in which we cannot say how God operates or whether it is the Father, Son, or Spirit who is at work simply because it has not been revealed and we are not in a position to observe what is transpiring in the heavenly realm. Moses once said, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).  Moses told Israel that some things aren’t revealed to us, but he also said some things are revealed. We are obligated to observe what is revealed.  We are on dangerous ground when we affirm what Scripture does not reveal.

Scripture does not reveal that the Spirit is involved in our decision-making in a direct way apart from the Word. It does not indicate that He is stirring inside our hearts, influencing us to think, speak, or act in a given way for a given purpose or moment.  He does not give us our words in the miraculous way He did for the apostles, who had no need to prepare or study for a given moment (cf. Matt. 10:19-20).  When we boldly assert such things, we stand without the foundation of revealed truth beneath us and, at best, stand upon dangerous conjecture.

The Spirit’s work in written revelation informs my heart and mind, and it (Scripture) awakens me to appreciate and depend upon the power of God through that word and its promises.  The Bible says we are strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man (Eph. 3:16).  We do not know the full implication of that promise, though we are thrilled by it. What a leap it is to go from acknowledging the Spirit strengthens us to claiming He gives us thoughts, ideas, or direct guidance in addition to His Word.  If we say, “The Spirit led me to take this job” or “The Spirit told me to speak to that person” or “The Spirit told me I’m saved,” we speak from ignorance (i.e., lack of knowledge or information). Kathy once studied with a woman and showed her the multitude of passages proving the essentiality of baptism, but she replied, “But the Spirit told me I’m saved.” We know that it was her own will and desire in her heart that she attributed to God. That is the danger of such reckless assertions. We easily confuse what we desire and prefer with “the will of God” or even “the Spirit’s work.” God repeatedly warns that our hearts can deceive us, that we can credit God for what, in reality, is our will (Prov. 14:12; 16:25; Jer. 10:23).

We do need to study the personality, the work, and the Deity of the Holy Spirit more. It is obvious, hearing and reading after even some brothers and sisters in Christ, that we have neglected studying about Him. Let us handle each other without suspicion, in a spirit of love and kindness and without attacking people and personalities. Let us also always be careful not to “exceed what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6), never adding to or taking away from what is revealed (Rev. 22:18-19). Yet, let us be grateful that our great God is interested and involved in our lives, being content to affirm only what Scripture reveals.