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).

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.

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).