Copperopolis, California

Neal Pollard

It boomed when “copper was king” and owed its thriving existence to shell casings made for the Union Army in the far-away Civil War.  Fittingly, her downtown streets were Union, Grant, Lincoln, and Sherman. There were 90 businesses in “Copper City” from 1865-1867. The extraction and production of copper ore found in such strikes as at Gopher Ridge, Quail Hill, and Hog Hill made Copperopolis a boom town for a short time.  A huge fire in the center of town, in 1867, coupled with the enormous drop in demand for copper following the end of the Civil War, left the community a virtual ghost town. So, despite a few modest copper mining rebounds periodically through World War II, Copperopolis, which yielded $12 million in copper from 1861 to 1946, is a shell of its former self. It is a resort and recreation area today, a modest little town who  once entertained the likes of Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and “Black Bart” (Charles Boles)(mymotherlode.com,  calaverashistory.org/copperopolis).

History is fascinating, with its “rags to riches,” “riches to rags,” and even “rags to riches to rags” stories.  Family histories play out the same way.  So can the rise and fall of nations.  The history of the church, wherever she has existed, may follow the same trajectory.  The Jerusalem church of Christ, where it all began, once boasted thousands of members.  In time, due to persecution and the introduction of false doctrines, the church there faded from view.  Today, it has only a modest presence. The same could be said of other congregations we read about in the New Testament.  Our congregation is somewhere on its course from the past to the future.  Where will it be in 10 years? 50 years?

Then, I look at my own life.  I have been a Christian for over 30 years.  I have preached for over 25 years. There have been Bible studies with non-Christians and new Christians. There have been efforts to try and influence others with the gospel.  My three sons are all nearly grown and on their own.  My wife and I have labored together to serve Christ.  But, each day, I must look and sincerely investigate what my spiritual trajectory is.  Am I growing nearer to Christ, acting more like Christ? Am I bearing more or less fruit? Are my best days in His kingdom behind me or in front of me? The good news is that, to a great degree, that lies within the scope of my free will and deliberate choices. With God’s help and to His glory, I can make today, tomorrow, and beyond the brightest days of service to Him.

Look at your life.  What legacy are you building? You will help determine that by what you do today.  Paul says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

Photograph taken of ruins in Copperopolis, California.

The Word Is “Relationship”

Neal Pollard

Soon, we’ll have lived in our current home for two years.  We are enjoying the house, the location, the neighborhood, and most of the neighbors. However, one that lives pretty nearby has proven less than pleasant.  His wife is an officer in our neighborhood HOA, and each month’s newsletter is a new posting of the hierarchy’s “95 theses.”  Hardly anyone can keep from committing at least one infraction—certainly not us.  They’ve had very little communication with us except when the husband complained that our compost pile was too close to the fence (on the other side of which were his garbage cans).  Recently, while seeking our permission to re-paint their house, he took the opportunity to inspect the state of cleanliness of our garage.  I share his desire that we keep our homes and yards in good shape, as property values are riding on our collective interest in such.  The problem for them is that they have spurned our efforts at a relationship and they have done nothing to create one themselves.  Thus, we tolerate and peacefully co-exist.  But, there is no relationship.

Have you thought about how vital relationships are to our lives?  Think about how ineffective we are with people without them.  At best, we are mere associates. At worst, we become antagonists.  Think of how vital the entity of relationship is to:

  • Marriage (1 Pet. 3:7).
  • Parenting (Deu. 6:1ff).
  • A congregation (1 Th. 5:11).
  • Shepherding (John 10:4-5).
  • Church discipline (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
  • Restoring the erring (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Preaching (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2).
  • Church works (Eph. 4:16).
  • Deacons’ work (Acts 6:7).
  • Soul-winning (Col. 4:2-6).
  • Friendship (Prov. 18:24b).

Taking the time to build rapport may be mentally and emotionally exhausting at times.  The best of relationships will have their downs as well as their ups.  But God created us social beings not meant for isolation (Gen. 2:18).  Joel O’Steen is shallow and superficial in his “preaching,” but tens of thousands of people are drawn to him because they find him relatable. His message is deadly, but his method is engaging.  Some who consider themselves the staunchest “defenders of the faith” are virtual porcupines with their quills primed to stick those in their proximity.  Surely those of us striving to follow New Testament Christianity can strive to build relationships while we steadfastly teach and follow the truth.  How much more effective will we be as we conquer this principle every day?

Oise-Aigne American Cemetery Plot E

Neal Pollard

My brother and fellow preacher, Brent Pollard, finds the most interesting historical facts—an ability which makes his preaching illustrations most interesting.  He sent me an article about the Oise-Aigne Cemetery in northern France.  Though I have actually visited that cemetery, I had no idea about the existence of an auxiliary burial plot known as “Plot E.”  While the 6012 military personnel buried in the four main burial plots lost their lives in World War I, the 94 interred in Plot E are infamous, disgraced soldiers who died for their crimes during or after World War II.  These men either murdered fellow soldiers or raped and/or murdered 71 people in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Algeria.  “No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road” (warhistoryonline.com).

These men were supposed to be fighting for the freedoms and rights of American citizens, but instead they were most dramatically undermining the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the unfortunate ones who crossed their paths.  For their crimes, they not only paid the ultimate penalty but were buried in disgrace and immortalized with infamy. They are remembered as “the dishonorable dead.”

The book of Revelation refers to the “book of life” (20:12), implying that it is possible for one’s name to be blotted out of it (3:5).  However, those whose names are not found in that book will be “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). Those who take away from the words of this revelation—and by application any other (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)—“God shall take away his part of out of the book of life” (22:19).  More specifically, John says, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).  For the ungodly and disobedient, John lays out in apocalyptic terms how unthinkably horrible it will be to die unfaithful to Christ.  He says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (14:10-11a).

Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).  The faithful will receive glory and honor and reward (Mat. 25:34-40).  The unrighteous, however, will go away into everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46).  No one will deserve heaven, but will go there thanks to God’s amazing grace and his or her conscious effort to walk in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Those who know not and obey not the gospel will endure something eternally worse than a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, or blameworthy burial (2 Th. 1:8-9).  Though the world may believe less and less in the reality of hell, the Bible’s position on the matter has not changed. Knowing the terror of the Lord, may we persuade others and, ourselves, be persuaded (2 Cor. 5:11).

The Lightning March

Neal Pollard

It was unusual for foot soldiers to play a major role in the Middle Ages. Harold II of England’s 7000 infantrymen were an exception. He marched them from London to York, about 216 miles, in a week. The rate of the march was 30 miles per day for an entire week!  “A sustained rate of thirty miles per day for seven days was in most circumstances unheard of. A sustained twenty miles per day would have been considered extraordinary.”  The army moved faster than news of its approach. This helped turn the Battle of Stamford Bride in 1066, known as “Harold’s Lightning March”  (Hackett, Jeremiah.  World Eras, Vol. 4: Medieval Europe, 814-1350, p. 128). What seems lost to history is how Harold motivated such rapid movement.  To build such resolve and determination in so many people, in unified purpose, must speak to Harold’s leadership ability.

All of us are marching with rapid pace toward the end of life and eternity.  Hasn’t it been going by so quickly?  It truly is a “lightning march.”  At the end of the march, will we have won the battle?  The church of every generation, and not just individuals, are making this march.  What impression are we leaving on the world around us, what battles of significance will have been won?  Think of the first-century church.  They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  They “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23).  They permeated their immediate communities, surrounding communities, and the remotest communities (cf. Acts 1:8-11).  Think of those brave, sacrificial Christians during the 19th Century who rallied together around the principle of restoring New Testament Christianity.  With a great reverence for the pattern of Scripture, they sought to imitate the faith and practice of that first-century church.  In their wake was growth and influence.

In both cases, profound as their influence was, they rapidly left the scenes of time.  Their influence remained, but succeeding generations of the Lord’s Army—for whatever reasons—slowed their pace considerably.  We may glorify the church of the 1950s, at one time known as the fastest growing religious group in our country.  But most of them have gone and those who remain have grown slower in their pace. What about the church of the early 21st Century?  How will we be remembered?  Never forget that, in part, this is influenced by what you and I are doing as soldiers under the Lord’s direction.  We could not want for better guidance and a better Commander.  We should have ample motivation.  It is high time we pick up the pace!  Victory awaits (1 Cor. 15:54-58).

The Holocaust: What Can Be In Men’s Hearts

Neal Pollard

Though mankind can construct a fantasy to explain our origin and propagate it in places like The Natural History Museum, we have a harder time skirting around our moral outrage at the atrocities committed by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945.  I made my third ever visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and, more than ever, I was dumbfounded at how anyone could perpetrate torture and treatment like the European Jews received at their hands.  Words like “wrong,” “immoral,” “evil,” “wicked,” and “barbaric” flow freely from the mouths of the visitors who see pictures or watch videos of the organized pogroms and the aftermath of the death cities they called concentration camps. Witnessing such depravity makes it easier to understand how men could take an innocent man like Jesus and be hardened enough to have Him crucified.  It also helps us appreciate how necessary that sacrifice was.

Hitler, if he worshipped anything, worshipped the occult.  He seemed not to truly acknowledge the existence of God, using His name only as a shield to defend his dictatorial policies.  His regime is an extreme example of what men, apart from God, are capable of doing.  With no sovereign standard to submit to and no transcendent truth to believe in, men become their own gods and write their own laws.  They so often do so without regard for the welfare and lives of other people.  They do as they please and what pleases them so often destroys them but also others.

Jesus warned of such a mindset in Luke 16, speaking to the Pharisees, saying, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (15).  He warned on another occasion that “what comes out of a man defiles a man” (Mark 7:20), including “evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, theft, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, [and] foolishness” (21-22).  When men try to negate the nature of God and escape the existence of God, it leads to the perishing of people and the harm of humanity.  The answer is simple, if demanding: “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13).  Either way, it’s a matter of the heart! May our hearts get right and stay right.

Imposters!

Neal Pollard

C.J. Schexnayer reports of the hilarious antics of some South Carolina football fans almost 54 years ago. It seems that a certain USC fraternity, Sigma Nu,  commandeered official-looking Clemson uniforms, chartered a bus and went to the Gamecocks’ stadium. They were able to fool the police, who let them go inside and run through the tunnel onto the football field. Clemson fans wildly cheered with enthusiasm as they welcomed “their team.”  Schexnayer writes, “On Nov. 11, 1961, with more than 47,000 spectators on hand in Colombia’s Carolina Stadium the group put their plan into action. As the bands warmed up for the game the Sigma Nus suddenly came streaming out the Southeast corner of the end zone as if they were the Clemson squad. They were accompanied by one prankster dressed as the Clemson’s folksy coach complete with a pillow under his shirt to approximate Howard’s girth…The Clemson band started playing the school’s fight song and the team’s fans began cheering for the group on the field they believed were their players. Everything seemed normal as the bogus Clemson squad assembled as if to do their warm ups. But after a few minutes, the group began to display some… problems.  The punter began kicking the ball behind him, running backs were doing somersaults at the line of scrimmage and everyone wearing orange seems incapable of holding onto the ball. The faux Frank Howard began spitting massive spurts of tobacco juice just about everywhere. Finally the whole group gathered in the end zone to perform ‘the most prissified dance you’ve ever seen’ according the participant’s accounts” (from http://www.footballstudyhall.com).  That story made me laugh, as I considered the creativity of those hijinxers! It got points for flamboyance, originality, and hilarity. Those poor Clemson fans!

Yet, something infinitely sobering takes place in our world today. There are people getting fooled into thinking that certain men who make out as though they are preaching the Bible who are teaching something different. It is false. They have ways to convince people who are otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, and undoubtedly sincere and committed. Paul says such preachers use “smooth and flattering speech” to “deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Rom. 16:18). Peter says that some would introduce destructive heresies. He warns, “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words…” (2 Pet. 2:3). He says they are really slaves, yet they promise others freedom (2 Pet. 2:18). Again, it was Paul who pleaded, “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (Eph. 5:6).  Everyday and everywhere, people are getting sold a raw bill of goods. When they ask what to do to be saved, how to worship, about the end of the world, and how to live morally, they are told lies (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2). There is more at stake than pride and embarrassment. Too many people will not know they were deceived until the repercussions are eternally serious!

Watch out for imposters.  Jesus says they will sneak into other “uniforms,” too (Mat. 7:15). Listen closely, watch, and observe. As you study diligently, you will be able to distinguish between the fakes and the genuine article!

Barsabas Was a Great Man, Too

Neal Pollard

Having fallen from grace, Judas soon thereafter fell headlong a corpse and a reminder of the depths to which sin will take an individual (Acts 1:17-20). Though he had a part in the ministry of God the Son, he chose a commission as henchman in the army of perdition.

His death, as an apostle, left a void in the ranks of the handpicked, special followers of Jesus (Acts 1:20). By divine guidance (Acts 1:24, 26), the apostles chose a man among men to pick up the armor vacated by the deserter. The man chosen, Matthias, was a great man. This is obvious, for his appointment was based on his spiritual character (Acts 1:21). However, what of the man Barsabas, about whom very little is spoken? Was he not also a great man?

He was faithful to Christ (Acts 1:22). Swete explains faithfulness to Christ (as in Revelation 2:10) as proving “…thyself loyal and true, to the extent of being ready to die [for Christ’s sake”] (The Apocalypse of St. John). Faithful suggests reliability and trustworthiness, as well as submissiveness. All of this describes Barsabas. From the ministry of the Baptizer to the ascension of the Savior, Barsabas was numbered among the disciples. Apparently, he withstood even the difficult teachings of Christ (see John 6:66-69). He did not turn away, even after the seeming defeat of Calvary (Acts 1:22). Faithfulness is, in God’s eyes, a sign of greatness.

He was recognized as a spiritual leader (Acts 1:23). This is very subjective. The author sees the appointment of Barsabas as the result of his spiritual excellence among the “company.” Assuming that, Barsabas would appear to have been perceived as a leader. Truly, fervent humble and obedient discipleship sets one apart (1 Peter 2:5, 9) as salt (Matthew 5:13) and light (Matthew 5:14) in this world.

He was willing (cf. Acts 1:22-23). Apparently, from the text, Barsabas did not shirk the call to duty. No excuses could have been uttered, for the apostles were left to “give forth their lots” (see McGarvey’s commentary on Acts, p. 22) to pick Judas’ successor. How seemingly rare to find men both qualified and eager to serve, men of Isaiah’s stripe who cry, “Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Willingness precedes work, and Barsabas appeared ready to “take part in his ministry and apostleship” (Acts 1:25a).

Faith, works and attitude all add up to greatness in God’s eyes, even if not in men’s blinded vision. Though not God’s choice to fill the shoes of an apostle, Barsabas was distinguished as his servant. How wonderful one day it will be to walk with Barsabas on the street of gold and thank him for his example of greatness in service to Jesus.