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.”

Diversions, Distractions, Or Deviations?

Neal Pollard

All the following are legitimate outlets, kept in proper perspective:

  • Social causes and needs.
  • Politics.
  • Sports, recreation, leisure and fitness.
  • Wholesome forms of entertainment.
  • Family events.
  • Social media.
  • Socializing and fellowship with fellow Christians.
  • Church buildings.
  • Addressing controversial issues and false teaching.
  • Material possessions.
  • Hobbies.

But our common struggle is allowing these to eclipse our purpose on this earth as Christians.  Interestingly, they all can be utilized as part of our mission, but none were ever meant to replace it.  These activities can easily hinder our faithfulness and usefulness to the cause.  Will you pray for me to keep seeking and saving the lost at the top of my “to do” list of life?  I will do the same for you, if you let me know.  Let’s pray for courage, focus, discernment, resolve, and encouragement to take the gospel as we go about each day.  This is what energized the church in its infancy (cf. Acts 8:4).  They had access to the same distractions and diversions we do, but they could not be diverted from the prime objective. Consequently, we read throughout Acts of their exponential, if unlikely, growth.  May we help each other imitate their spirit and service!

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WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

Remember I Am Dust (Poem)

Neal Pollard

I read the words of David today
They were so full of hope and trust
They spoke of God’s merciful way
That He is mindful we’re but dust.

He knows that transgressions we commit
That His forgiveness is a must
His lovingkindness He gives those who try to quit
Because He knows that we are dust.

Like David, I’m glad God has not dealt
Just with justice toward my anger, sin, and lust
As exalted His nature, so His tender heart will melt
Because He’s mindful we are but dust.

Like a father pities his erring child,
He reacts with compassion, not disgust,
When we fear Him, we learn He’s tender and mild.
He is mindful that we are but dust.

So as I embark on this unique day,
I know God is holy, perfect, and just,
But He balances this with a most merciful way
As He dwells on the fact that we’re but dust.

How should I treat you, my fellow pilgrim
Who’s also driven by imperfection’s fierce gust?
May I see you as I’m seen by Him,
And remember that you are but dust.

Extend you grace and excuse your stumbles,
Be willing to forgive, forget, adjust,
Because David’s inspired truth forever humbles,
He is mindful that we are but dust!

THE DOG AT CHURCH

Neal Pollard

The interesting visitor at our devotional last night, a chocolate lab named Bear that someone dropped off with Aaron and Kylee Melton as she dealt with a personal crisis, reminded me of another “dog at church” story from my youth.  Back in the mid-’70s, when my dad was the preacher at the Rockmart, Georgia, church of Christ, there was a Collie dog that apparently knew our schedule of services.  Faithfully, rain or shine, summer or winter, she would be out on the front steps greeting all the members and visitors.  She wasn’t allowed inside the building, but she’d dutifully lay on those steps until we were finished with services. Then, she would cheerfully bid us all goodbye.  When the building was locked up and everyone had left, this convicted canine would make her way back home.  I don’t know how many years this went on for, but the notoriety of the “church of Christ” dog was seemingly known throughout the community.

One Sunday, my dad preached a sermon about this dog.  His application was brilliant and uncanny.  She was always “at church,” no matter what.  Surely she was mistreated or had a cross word hurled at her at some point, since, incredibly, not everyone is a dog person. Her faithful presence was a great example to the community.  She greeted everyone freely, not just a select few. She didn’t seem to distinguish by age, gender, race, or income status. If she was not there, as it apparently was on an occasion or two, everyone noticed and was concerned. He probably said more, but that I remember this much nearly 40 years later indicates how impressive the object lesson was.

Paul told the Colossian Christians that their faith and love was renowned and well-reported (Col. 1:4). The Jerusalem church very quickly had favor among all the people (Acts 2:47). The Thessalonians were a notable example throughout their region of the world (1 Th. 1:7).  As we line up our goals and resolutions for this new year, why not determine, as the whole body and as individual members of it, to make that clear and deep an impression on the people in our lives and those who chance to encounter us.  Dogs are renowned for their faithfulness.  So should Christians be (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2).

BENAIAH’S BRAVADO

Neal Pollard

In December, 2003, Dave Young, Sr., Jim Dalton, Keith and Kim Kasarjian, Cy Stafford, Kathy and I all stopped for lunch at a picnic area in Tarangire National Park south of Arusha, Tanzania. We stood a short distance from our vehicles, and I prayed for the food.  About midway through the prayer, a lion roared.  The sound felt as if it went straight through us, and every eye popped open to see exactly where the big cat was.  Afterward, Cy told us it could have been a mile away.  The roar was so powerful, it felt like he was spitting (eating?) distance away from us.

Since then, every time I read about a particular conquest of Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men, I think back to that hot African day.

2 Samuel 23:20 so nonchalantly reports, “…He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.”  Notice three things about this exploit.  First, the foe was ferocious. It was a lion, one of nature’s fiercest predators.  It is likely to be an aggressor when confronted by a man.  Second, the field of battle was foreboding.  Try to put yourself in Benaiah’s position.  You are down in a pit facing the king of the jungle.  It is very unlikely one can outrun a lion on flat ground in ideal circumstances, but where do you run down in a pit? Finally, the forecast was definitely a factor!  What was the traction and footing like for David’s mighty man in this battle? Yet, the outcome, incredibly, was that Benaiah faced this foe and won!

Have you ever found yourself in a seemingly impossible circumstance?  Maybe a powerful temptation, a chronic illness, a perpetual enemy, a prolonged financial crisis, a wayward loved one, or other thorn in the flesh or spirit?  Maybe you felt like giving up.  Maybe you have given up.  I urge you to be a Benaiah, fighting valiantly adorned with the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10ff).  Realize that you do not fight alone, that God will aid you (1 Cor. 10:13) and lead you to victory every time (1 Jo. 5:4).  Your lion, pit, or snowy day may be figurative, but that makes God’s aid no less likely.  You keep fighting, and He will give you victory!

Giving Away Your Wedding Ring

Neal Pollard

Brooklin Yazzle, a Mesa, Arizona, wife and mother, apparently handed out her wedding ring with the Halloween candy last week.  She had taken off her ring and put it in a candy jar to help her children carve pumpkins.  Later, things got hectic and she absentmindedly dumped her ring along with the candy into a candy bag to give to children.  Complicating things, among her treats were plastic rings.  She has made an appeal through the news to get it back, stating that while it isn’t worth much monetarily it has great sentimental value (FOX News).

Many of us can relate to such a mindless blunder.  To my everlasting chagrin, I lost my wife’s High School class ring back while we were dating (she married me anyway!).  It is not uncommon for a person to remove their wedding ring to work or play, but removing it in such cases is to protect it from harm or loss.

The American Community Survey and the Daily Beast collaborated to provide a list of the “Divorce Capitals of the U.S.”  The ignominious top ten list, from “top” to bottom, is: (1) Panama City, FL, (2) Sierra Vista, AZ, (3) Charleston, WV, (4) Medford, OR, (5) Reno, NV, (6) Deltona, FL, (7) Pueblo, CO, (8) Palm Bay, FL, (9) Jacksonville, FL, and (10) Grand Junction, CO. In six states, the divorce rate is between 12.64-14.35% per 1,000 people, age 15 and older (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Oklahoma). Yet, the best of states still average 6.05-7.65% (Ashley Reich, The Huffington Post, 11/4/13).

This survey is but an example of a trend that is only tempered by a falling marriage rate, as more and more couples are living together without the sanctity of marriage. It shows that the dissolution of marriage is not confined to one area of the country, or more like in a “Red” or “Blue” state.  Are there steps we can take to keep our wedding rings?

  • Spend time together.
  • Have shared interests.
  • Focus on pleasing your spouse more than being pleased by him/her.
  • Make marriage a priority, not an afterthought or a “no thought.”
  • Make spiritual investments together (devotions, prayer, serving, etc.).
  • Spend time with couples whose marriages are healthy and happy.
  • Practice hospitality together.
  • Keep romance alive.
  • Keep Christ King of your home.
  • Avoid pettiness.

This list is not exhaustive, but it already gives all of us areas to work on and improve in.  We should remember God’s feelings, who said, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Let’s hold on to our wedding rings!