Whoa, Whoa, Whoa Your Boat!

Neal Pollard

Unfortunately for folks in southwestern Colorado and several surrounding states, it’s more than a matter of staying out of the Los Animas River.  Due to a mishap by some federally-supervised workers in which there was a blowout in the Gold King Mine in the mountains above Silverton, millions of gallons of toxins that include mercury and arsenic are in downstream water supplies. It has contaminated domestic wells and endangered fish and livestock. It has negatively impacted tourist industries that rely on customers who raft, canoe, and fish in the river.  It has impacted irrigation and city water intake facilities.  All from a single incident in a mine hundreds of miles away from some of the affected areas.

Who knows how this will ultimately be resolved, but a lot of people and money will be thrown at the matter until it is finally resolved.  A problem that started in a relatively small, remote area has finally become a national story.  As the river continues to flow, the troubles continue to compound.

Have you considered the power of your influence?  A single conversation, an impulsive act in a moment’s time, or a thought unchecked and fed all can lead to outcomes that spill into a lot of lives and potentially do damage that could not be anticipated.  David learned this (2 Sam. 11:1-2).  The young lads from Bethel learned this (2 Ki. 2:23-24).  Judas learned this (Mat. 26:15).  So many others in Scripture, from thoughts to words to deeds, learned of the destructive power of negative spiritual influence.  It can cause spiritual babes to stumble (Mat. 18:6), the offender to stumble (Mat. 18:8), the world to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14), and so much more.  No amount of remorse, regret, and retreat can undo the toxic damage it does.

If you find yourself in the “clean up” stage, realize that with time and effort you can work to counteract the impact of poor influence.  There may be lingering consequences, but you can mitigate that through genuine repentance.  It doesn’t have to end catastrophically, as it did for Judas.  It can end triumphantly, as it did for Peter.

Keep in mind, too, that positive influence works the same way (Mat. 13:33).  A kind, righteous thought, word, or deed can trigger a powerful effect that leads the lost to be saved and those on the broad way to turn onto the narrow way.  You may never know it in this life or see the end result of it in your lifetime.  May the great power of our influence drive us to our knees and fill our thoughts with how we may use our lives to bless and help the lives of others, knowing that, for good or bad, our lives touch way more lives than we think.

“Snodgrass’s Muff”

Neal Pollard

It happened on October 16, 1912, the eighth (*) and deciding game of the World Series. In the bottom of the 10th, with his New York Giants winning by a run, Clyde Engle sent a lazy pop fly to centerfield.  Fred Snodgrass, an average hitter and dependable fielder, settled under it and ultimately dropped it.  A lot of other things happened. Snodgrass made a spectacular catch on the next play.  Hall of Fame pitcher walked the next batter.  Tris Speaker, before driving in the winning run with a single, hit a pop foul that both Fred Merkle (aka “Bonehead Merkle,” but that’s a story for another day) and Chief Meyers failed to catch.  Snodgrass’ blunder was the scapegoat for the Giants’ series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Fred would go on to be successful in business as a banker, an appliance merchant, and a rancher, was elected mayor of Oxnard, California, and served on the City Council for three terms.  There was so much more to Fred Snodgrass than a single unfortunate moment in time, but even his obituary read: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” In a 1940 interview, Fred spoke of how that fated fly ball would come up as he met or spoke with people (info via sabr.org and history.com).

Isn’t it interesting how a mistake or sin committed in a moment can have such lasting implications, bringing infamy and an enormous challenge of trying to live it down?  But doesn’t Snodgrass also prove that we do not have to be defined by our failures? Maybe our blunder is not played out with such renown and infamy, but it can still stay with us and dog our continued steps.

Have you dropped the ball with something?  Maybe you let down somebody you loved or somebody that was really counting on you.  Maybe you hurt someone special to you.  It might have been a foolish or ungodly word or deed when someone was watching.  The bigger the blunder, the heavier that burden of guilt might be in your heart.  There’s no excusing it. But what will you do now?  Will you let it keep you down or will you refuse to be defined by it?  The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The focal point must be what’s before us, not what’s behind us.  So said Paul (Phil. 3:13).

Dust yourself off. Regroup. Get ready for what’s next! Focus on what’s next, not on what’s over and done.

(*) Game 2 was called on account of “impending darkness”

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?

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 MASTER’S MATERIAL

Neal Pollard

A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.

JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.

JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).  Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!

JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.

Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!

Negligence Can Lead To Fire

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.  As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people.  Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire.  Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization.  I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89).  The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:

The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).

Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion.  A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.).  This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.

Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15).  Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff).  Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18).  All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.

However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff).  Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16).  Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.

A BLIND SPOT TO MY BALD SPOT

Neal Pollard

Positively traumatic.  I don’t know another way to describe it.  Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.”  Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top.  I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting.  There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium.  OK. My bald spot.  I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.

That blind spot was more vain than dangerous.  There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious.  Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there.  But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.

It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action.  We marvel that they seem oblivious to them.  After all, we see it all so clearly.  Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly.  We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others.  Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them.  After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.

Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).  The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23).  As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better.  How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill!  This is about more than vanity.  This has more serious far-reaching implications.  May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.

There it is on the fella in the sweater in the far left seat of the front row.