“Freedom Is Not A Luxury. It Is A Necessity”

Neal Pollard

Earlier today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint-session of the United States Congress. It was an impassioned plea, from beginning to end, as he spoke in his broken English about the trials his people have endured for many months now.  He gave poignant examples of brave men who were killed for their courageous stand against ruthless enemies.  One of his imploring calls for help invoked our own past path as a nation and our pursuit of liberty.  It was about then that he exclaimed, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

Poroshenko was speaking not of the Ukrainians but of the Russian people, who he believed had been fed the idea that freedom is a luxury that they should not necessarily expect to enjoy.  He rebutted such a view.  We have such a hard time in our nation comprehending life in a land where freedom is such an elusive commodity. But, for those people, it is a daily battle!

In the spiritual sense, this stated idea is most true and important. Sin is a horrible dictator and master, brutalizing and bringing death to those who are under its power. Eternity is in the balance for us.  Will we leave this life as free men and women or as slaves?  What makes this so much more paramount is that it is harder to discern spiritual bondage than physical bondage.  We may think ourselves perfectly free all while toiling in the chains of darkness!

Paul made his own impassioned plea to the saints at Galatia.  He wrote them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1).  Can you imagine a nation or even an individual who had endured torture and seen loved ones murdered now enjoying the rights and privileges of freedom but volunteering to return to that former way of life?  It is unthinkable, unless we speak in the spiritual sense.  People continue to run toward and embrace the enslaver of souls.  To any one, we would implore, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

MR. OBAMA’S EXAMPLE OF LEADERSHIP

Neal Pollard

As one who grows less political each day, I have hesitated to write anything that would look partisan or otherwise politically divisive.  The answer to man’s biggest problems starts with neither “R” nor “D” but rather “J” and “C.”  However, as one who loves our country, I am concerned at our president’s seeming and increasing aloofness, inattention, disengagement, and unconcern with international and domestic crises. The latest Rasmussen poll reveals that 45% of likely voters consider the president a poor leader (www.rasmussenreports.com). Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that more Americans (53%) than not (41%) believe our president is not respected “on the world stage” (www.gallup.com). This may stem from the fact that he lacks, as Doug Mataconis suggests, “executive experience…” (Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/14). Even prominent people within the president’s party, like former AOL Time Warner CEO, describe themselves as “beyond disillusioned” at the chief executive’s “hugging and hobnobbing” rather than appearing more engaged in the various, volatile current situations.  Taken together, the growing disapproval of Barak Obama’s leadership stems from such things as apparent disinterest, failure to listen, inexperience, and blind adherence to an ideology without examining the specifics of a situation.

In every context, leadership is seen as an essential cog in the proper function of any organization.  If a church, a home, a company, a school, or a nation seem to be failing and floundering, look at leadership.  In a church, that includes especially elders but also preachers and deacons.  In a home, it is the father and husband. In a company, it’s the president or CEO.  In a school, it’s the principal, president, or director. Whatever the organization, it is fair to look at the example of the leadership.  Typically, everyone else in the organization has to live with the decisions and is effected by the direction of the leadership.

The church’s leaders will give an account (Heb. 13:17). The man of the home is likewise accountable (Eph. 5:22-6:4).  This holds true for leaders all the way up to the leaders of nations (Psa. 82:1; 110:5).  We all find ourselves in positions of responsibility and most of us serve in some leadership capacity.  Let us take seriously the accountability that we have to lead, be it children, the lost, neighbors, friends, or entire groups of people.

 

 

Our Brethren Are Suffering

Neal Pollard

The United Nations’ very conservative estimate is that well over 2,000 people have died in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine in fighting between that nation’s government have clashed with separatists.  So many of the towns and cities in the region have congregations of God’s people, many of their preachers trained in our foreign extension school that for years was in Kramatorsk and of late has been in Gorlovka. One of our graduates reports that two gospel preachers have been kidnapped this month, though one of them has since been released.  Our brethren in Ukraine have been facing the terror of daily bombing and shooting as well as fear for their safety when they assemble.

The ebola outbreak is an ongoing health concern and it is not yet contained.  Nations affected include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even Nigeria.  One of two Americans on medical missions in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly, is a member of the church.  While its not clear whether any of our native brethren in these African nations have gotten sick or died, they certainly feel the threat and concern of a disease that claims between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it. 

Around the world at any given time, we have brothers and sisters who face health scares, hunger, harm, and hatred.  Persecution, natural disaster, famine, and war are no respecter of persons, and “our people” are often affected.  How they need our constant prayers as well as whatever assistance we can prudently provide.

On our pews in the local church, though without the drama and press coverage, there are always those who are struggling with hurts, heartaches, health, home, and hardship.  They may not trumpet their complaints or even publicly ask for encouragement, silently suffering.  As we interact with each other, let us keep in mind the potential hidden concerns and burdens being borne.  

Paul encourages us, in the spirit of unity, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Co. 12:25). He tells Colosse, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). He tells Philippi to to look out “for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:4).  Are we busy and bothered by our own concerns? Certainly! But may we ever cultivate greater sensitivity toward the silent suffering of our spiritual family, both near and far.

Members of the Slavyansk church of Christ (including a BVBIU graduate from our first class) holding bomb shrapnel that exploded near the church building. Photo Credit: Jeff Abrams.

Giving Up Ground To the Enemy

Neal Pollard

On at least three fronts, there are major battles occurring—ISIS and the existing governments in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and Ukraine and Russian-led rebels. In each of these conflicts, both sides are trying to gain ground or at least hold onto what they already have. They are trying not only to win the actual battles they are fighting, but they also seek to win the battle of public opinion.  With the money and lives invested, neither side in any of the conflicts can bear the thought of losing.

While “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) and “we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3), we face a deadly adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  He is the enemy, though he has a great many who have “been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:26). They are fighting his battles for him of their own free will (Js. 1:13-15), and they are more than willing to engage those of us who would steadfastly resist him (1 Pet. 5:9).

In this media age, the devil’s soldiers have used means previous generations did not have at their disposal to spread his ideas across the nation and all over the globe.  But because there have been people willing to battle him, he has not gained ground all at once. The moral erosion has happened slowly over time, attitudes about foul language, alcohol, modesty, sex outside of marriage and living together, adultery, homosexuality, and much more.  Doctrinal erosion also occurs subtly and gradually, but denominationalism has given way to modernism, post-modernism, and emergent theologies.  The Lord’s church is impacted by assaults on its distinctiveness, and elderships, pulpits, classrooms, and memberships can gradually lose their militancy, courage, and resolve to stand up for God’s revealed will.  It is easy to be cowered by charges of extremism, hatred, or sanctimoniousness, especially when there are examples of such to be found.

Yet, we cannot forget that we are in a battle.  God needs us to stand in the gap and continue fighting for His truth, even in the face of opposition and resistance.  Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons in our left and right hands is righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7).  We press on in spiritual armor (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11ff).  When each of us as soldiers in the Lord’s Army arrive at the time when we must lay down our armor, may it be said that we gained ground and served the Lord’s cause successfully. May it never be that we gave up ground to the enemy!

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!

 

Neal Pollard

Ask George Dawson!  This Texas grandson of a slave, born in 1898, worked from the age of twelve on a ranch tending livestock.  He married at the age of twenty-eight, becoming a father the next year.  What is so noteworthy about this man?  Well, for 98 years he did not know how to read.  In 1996, ten years after the death of his spouse, a young man working for an organization designed to teach adults how to read knocked on Dawson’s door.  He was able to achieve a fourth-grade reading level and even read the Bible aloud at church services.  He summed up his remarkable story by saying, “I just figured if everybody else can learn to read, I could too” (Bingham, Reader’s Digest, June 1998, p. 156).

Ask Medzhid Agayev, who was the oldest resident in Azerbaijan in 1976.   He decided to retire—after 120 years as a shepherd at the age of 139!  The Russian press agency in Novosti said, “He is in good health.  He is thin, active and has excellent eyesight.”  Perhaps he quit his job to enjoy as many of his 150 children and generations of grandchildren as he could.  He was a tribute not only to longevity, but also to changing one’s life even after such a period of time as Agayev had lived.  Yet, he was a baby compared to a 165-year-old man named Shirali Muslimov and a 195-year-old woman named Ashura Omarova, both reported by the Novosti press agency in 1970 as living in the Soviet Union republics of Caucasus (what today is Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia)( The Centenarian Question: Old-Age Mortality in the Soviet Union, 1897 to 1970, Lea Keil Garson,Population Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Jul., 1991), p. 265).

Many Bible characters, Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:11-15), Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27ff), Jacob (Heb. 11:21), Anna (Lk. 2:36), and others teach by their lives that it is nevertoo late to be servant of God.  The foolish may set aside the counsel of the “gray heads” (cf. 1 Kgs. 12:6ff), but the Lord’s church today will carefully consider the wisdom of her senior saints!  Age may bring limitations, but the aged are among the most precious resources we have for spiritual strength and progress!  It is never too late for an elderly Christian to be a viable contributor to the life and work of the church.  In fact, Paul puts such on a high pedestal (Ti. 2:1-10).

It is also never too late to become a Christian!  This is true, whether one is eighteen, eighty, or any time before, between, or after.  Almost is after (Acts 26:28), later is a lie (Acts 24:25), and waiting is a wager few win (Prov. 27:1).

In youth we anticipate the stability of adult life as the time when becoming a Christian will be easier.  With adulthood comes, marriage, children, and job concerns, and retirement becomes a more appealing time to obey the gospel.

Three potential tragedies await those who bank on the elusive capital of tomorrow.  First, old age may find one too distracted with golden year goals to make the commitment to Christ.  Second, death may stand between one and the time he or she hoped to be a baptized believer.  Third, Christ may come before one submits to the Lord’s plan.

However, now—being the accepted time (2 Cor. 6:2)—is not too late!  Are you still breathing in and out?  Is there still within you a heart soft enough to be touched by the power of the gospel?  If so, it is not too late!  As long as there is time and opportunity, it is never too late to do all the will of God!

Your eyes may be cloudy, a halt may slow your gait.
But as long as your soul is within you, it is never, no never too late.
The years you may have wasted, and in shame you might hesitate,
But though it be the eleventh hour, it is never, no never too late.
–NP

Unity In Ukraine

Neal Pollard

My first mission trip was to eastern Ukraine.  Ironically, years before coming to preach at the Bear Valley congregation, I was in attendance with many other American brethren at the first graduation of a Bear Valley Bible Institute extension in the city of Kramatorsk.  Despite mildly corrupt practices at the airport and in some local governments,  Ukraine was a seemingly peaceful country.

If you watch or read the news, you know that tension, violence, and instability is currently a daily occurrence in that nation. At least dozens of protesters were killed by ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and his security forces.  A new cabinet was elected, an interim president named, and asylum was granted to Yanukovych in Russia. Russian president Putin seems inclined to interfere, given that there is pro-Russian sentiment in parts of eastern Ukraine and pro-western sentiment in much of western Ukraine.  Now, there are dark clouds gathering in the Crimean region bordering southeastern Ukraine.  Russia and the European Union seem to be engaged in a tug-of-war over this nation that has tragedy draped like a pall over its storied history.

Despite all the friction and fighting, the citizens continue to speak of their desire that Ukraine remain one nation.  That may prove difficult (some facts gleaned from BBC.com and The Washington Post, Will England and William Booth, 2/27/14).

What a dramatic illustration of the need of unity and the external forces that threaten to undo it.  The Lord’s church has faced the threat of internal and external forces intent on trying to divide and hurt the body of Christ.  The devil has been a constant force to that end.  The early church faced Judaizers, gnosticism, and false teachings about the resurrection, the deity of Christ, and the second coming.  A few centuries was all it took for a new, false church to form.  Ultimately, protestant denominationalism was spawned from it.  Cults, world religions, skepticism, and unbelief challenge us.  So does worldliness and immorality.

We get to choose how we respond, both locally and on the whole.  We can splinter and divide, or we can rally around the supreme authority of Christ.  There will always be pressures seeking to push us apart from one another.  We must have even greater determination to stick together, bound by the banner of the Bible!

What We Learn From The Video Of The Fatal SUV-Semi Crash

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Neal Pollard

A relative sent me an inbox message earlier containing a 34-second video of an SUV that loses control and ultimately is destroyed by an oncoming semi-truck.  It is unquestionable that the driver dies instantly and the footage is incredibly disturbing.  While the details given were not accurate—this does not occur in the states nor is there evidence that it involves texting or distracted driving, the end result does not change.  The best information is that the driver in the February 24, 2012, crash was a 32-year-old Moscow resident named Alexander. Driving on the notoriously treacherous M-7 highway in Russia, he lost control of his Nissan Navara, collided with another vehicle, and then drifted into the path of an oncoming Freightliner big rig.  The much bigger semi obliterates the black Nissan into so many pieces and a young man races into eternity (information found and verified on snopes.com).  As I watched this tragedy, a flood of things went through my mind.

  • There can be but a breath between life and death, time and eternity.
  • Death is no respecter of persons, taking the very young, the very old, and every age in between.
  • Seeing something like this cannot but help one appreciate more deeply the value of life and the irreversible nature of death.
  • Statistically speaking, the chances Alexander died in a saved condition are very small.
  • A momentary loss of self-control can have permanent consequences.
  • Our mistakes and misdeeds impact others, too.

Perhaps there are other things to glean, but I would hope that the benefit we might derive from seeing or reading about something like this is to take some time to contemplate the reality of eternity.  Something about considering our mortality, which a video like this should cause, cuts away our rationalization, excuses, and pride.  It opens us up, if only momentarily, to our accountability and what is really true and truly real—that death is appointed and followed by judgment (Heb. 9:27), that we must each appear before Christ’s judgment seat and give an account of our lives (2 Cor. 5:10), and that life on earth is relatively brief (Job 14:1).  This life is about preparing for the next life.  Whether it is the return of Christ or the end of life, the time for preparation may end at any moment.  Let us live ready for that moment!