CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

Neal Pollard

On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket.  It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris.  If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program.  Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.

When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement.  James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction.  The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.

To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church.  It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.

Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).  In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting.  It is no longer sin and self, but God.  What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”

Selling What You Don’t Own

Neal Pollard

One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star.  For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one.  The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate.  I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.

When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars.  Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer.  They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing.  Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace.  Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin.  The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give.  Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

The same things occurs with worship.  People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God.  They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).  Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.

When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that.  Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18).  He makes the rules and determines right and wrong.  Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).

A Physician Not Afflicted With The Disease He’s Fighting

Neal Pollard

Buried in the headlines today is news that the doctor in charge of fighting an outbreak of Ebola in his country has contracted the disease himself.  The health minister of Sierre Leone said that Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan has a confirmed case of the deadly virus that has killed over 600 of his fellow-countrymen in 2014.  Three of the nurses working alongside Khan recently died trying to treat this disease for which there is no known cure or vaccine. Despite meticulous precautions, Khan could not evade contracting Ebola.

It is an unappealing prospect to consider having a job like Khan’s.  Exposing yourself to something utterly deadly (at times, Ebola has as high as a 90% mortality rate) to try and save your fellow-citizens is about as great a risk as a person can assume on this earth.  Not surprisingly, Khan has been hailed as a hero for using his expertise as a virologist to combat this frightful killer.  Now, his own life hangs in the balance (via news.yahoo.com).

The writer of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the Levitical priests under the Old Law.  They were “sick” with the very sin they were appointed to “treat” among the nation of Israel (Heb. 7:27).  The writer says that Jesus had no need to do this for Himself because He was “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners…” (Heb. 7:26).  In other words, though thoroughly exposed to the deadly malady of sin, Jesus never succumbed to it.  Earlier, the epistle says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:16).

Simply put, the One God sent to provide a cure for the deadliest condition ever known was fully exposed to it but did not fall prey to it.  He did, however, die because of it.  Incredibly, that was God’s intention from eternity. Yet, His ultimate sacrifice makes it possible for us to be cured of this otherwise hopeless and eternally fatal condition!  No wonder we praise Jesus as the “Great Physician.”

A GLOBAL EPIDEMIC

Neal Pollard

MERS is the latest pathogen to seize the world’s attention, and this middle-eastern sprung virus, having a 30% mortality rate, is cause for some concern.  Yet, it is the latest in a long line of alarming diseases that have struck fear in people—AIDs, Asian Flu, Spanish Flu, smallpox, bubonic plague, and leprosy, just to name a few.  Whether the horrific presentation, swift action, or painfulness of these conditions, just the names of these diseases raise the shudders of those informed about how deadly they are.  An ailment that commonly brings about mortality gets our attention.

Sin, however, often does its work on the individual without the dramatic presentation and many times in a way that feels painless to the “sufferer” until it is too late.  But, nothing is deadlier or more serious.  That is why God made it a prominent subject in the only book He ever wrote.  He identifies it in its every form, reveals the symptoms, warns of the potentially deadliness of it, and provides the cure.

The majority do not recognize it for what it is, they incorrectly identify it, offer the wrong cures for it, and a great many just ignore what it is doing to them.  They call it by other names, thinking that by doing that they are eradicating it from themselves.  While that may numb them through this life, it will not serve them well in eternity.

Variously, the Bible says “sin is exceedingly grave” (Gen. 18:20), “sin is unhealthy” (Psa. 38:3), “sin is a disgrace” (Prov. 14:34), “sin brings guilt” (Mark 3:29), “sin brings spiritual death” (Rom. 6:23; Jas. 1:15), “sin enslaves” (Rom. 7:14,23), “sin is deceitful” (Heb. 3:13), “sin entangles” (Heb. 12:1), “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), “sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and “sin is unrighteousness” (1 John 5:17).  Yet, despite this, we know “fools mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9).  A vicious disease is at work in them and, unresolved and untreated, it will lead them to eternal pain, but because it afflicts the unseen part of a person they cannot see the damage to their souls.  They often see its effects in their own lives and in others’.

That’s where Christians come in, Physician’s assistants for the Great Healer.  We are to get healing to as many as are willing to take the cure.  We may be treated hostilely by some of those eternally ill, but we must risk sharing it for their good.  We face a terrible epidemic but we have a cure that is 100% effective when properly applied!

Avalanche Season

Neal Pollard

They are calling it an historic avalanche season in Colorado.  With snowpack at well over 100% due to massive amounts of mountain snowfall, conditions are prime for avalanches to breakout all over the backcountry. Already, six have died in avalanches this winter.  In fact, there have been three deadly slides just in the past week.  Warnings continue to come in from The Colorado Avalanche Information Center about dangerous conditions following two weeks of heavy snow.  Others have escaped death, but have harrowing tales of survival and, in some cases, broken bones.  Avalanches travel at the rate of a speeding car and hit with the force of a freight train. Typically, those buried in an avalanche lie beneath a ton of snow and the most common killer is either suffocation or blunt force trauma.  The head of the CAIF says the three most important tools are the beacon, probe, and shovel. The first is worn by the potential victim, while the other two are used by the rescuer.  Though these events can happen and be over in a matter of seconds, they can bring permanent consequences (information via FoxNews and Time’s Science And Space).

How often do we face overwhelming circumstances which we might liken to an avalanche?  They happen suddenly and seriously, and the aftermath can feel almost suffocating.  Though with different images, Bible writers speak of the feeling of burdens and sins being heavy and over their head (Ps. 38:4; Lam. 3:54).  David says similar things about trouble (Ps. 119:143) and iniquity (Ps. 40:12) overtaking him so that he cannot look up.  Maybe you can relate to such feelings, whether brought on by the guilt of sin or the difficulties of life. Both can threaten to bury us.  These things have even led to spiritual death.

May I suggest that we need the same three tools for our spiritual escape.  We have a beacon (Ps. 119:105), yet it also serves as a probe (Heb. 4:12) and a shovel (cf. Ps. 107:20; 147:16ff).  He also blesses us through prayer and providence.  Through all He does, God provides us a way of escape (1 Co. 10:13)!   We can survive, even in those times when problems crowd into our lives and threaten to bury us!  God is greater and stronger.  When swept up, hold on! Help is on the way.

The Blood of Christ

Neal Pollard

The topic above should cause one’s mind to focus on some precise areas. Naturally, the blood of Christ implies thoughts of the “incarnation” of Christ (that Christ took on the form of man, while all God, and thus had blood coursing through His veins; Philippians 2:8). The blood of Christ further induces from one’s thoughts the atonement Christ made for all mankind through the shedding of His blood on the cross (cf. Hebrews 9:12-14). The blood of Christ also elicits reflection upon the suffering and death of the sinless man from Nazareth (1 Peter 2:24). And on one might reflect.

The phrase, the blood of Christ, appears verbatim in the New Testament in four verses. With each reference one finds important lessons about the function and significance of His blood. Christ’s blood is central in the Father’s plan of salvation and life within His favor. What does the blood of Christ bring to needy man?

The Blood of Christ Brings Redemption (1 Peter 1:19)
In 1 Peter 1, one sees the inspired apostle speaking to persecuted (1), predestined (2), purified (2), and pliant (2) people of God. What would cause a Christian to suffer wrong for doing right? What would cause a Christian to search out from the Scriptures the term of election, accept the terms of pardon, and follow the terms of Christian living? Simply, an understanding of redemption.

Perhaps the verse most loved and quoted is John 3:16. Yet, so be known and familiar, this verse is sorely misunderstood and under applied. Jesus, the speaker of the words recorded in this verse, foretells the act of redemption. With His divine foreknowledge, Christ understood that the gift of the Father’s only begotten Son (Himself) meant the shedding of His blood at Calvary. The purpose of that shed blood, He knew, was to redeem the lost race of man from the power and hopelessness of sin. Paul says, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4,5). By inspiration, Paul reinforces this with Titus (Titus 2:14).

The Blood of Christ Brings Removal (Hebrews 9:14)

The King James Version uses, in this verse, the word “purge” in translating the effect of the blood of Christ upon the conscience of one to whom that blood is applied. Purge means “to purify, especially of sin, guilt, or defilement” (The American Heritage Concise Dictionary, 1994). Thayer shows the original word translated “purge” in this verse means “free from the guilt of sin” (The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, 312). Clearly, the Spirit-guided writer of Hebrews speaks of the effect of the applied blood of the Savior. The audience of Hebrews, of which modern man is a part, needs some agent to remove the guilt of sin (dead works) from their lives. The blood of Christ is that agent. For the agent to be effective (to do the job as it was intended to do), one must come in contact with it. Where does one come in contact with the blood?

Jesus shed His blood when He died (John 19:34). Paul writes “that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). One cannot literally go over to Jerusalem to a hill called Mt. Calvary and find the man Jesus bleeding to death on a cross. Furthermore, because one cannot do this, one cannot in some literal way reach up to Him and take some of His shed blood and apply it to himself. Thus, there is no literal, physical way for today’s man or woman to contact the actual, shed blood of our Lord.

Yet, Revelation 1:5 reveals that Christ, on His cross, washed us from our sins in His shed blood. God would not allow His Son to shed His life-blood and then provide no means for mankind to contact that blood in some way. And, there is a way and only one way. In identifi[cal] terminology, Acts 22:16 says that baptism washes away sins. In summation, Christ shed His blood in His death. We are buried with Christ in baptism. Christ washed our sins with His blood. We wash away our sins in the act of baptism. The blood of Christ and baptism, inseparably joined, remove the sins of those who recognize and submit to the authority of Christ in being baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21).

The Blood of Christ Brings Return (Ephesians 2:13)
At the creation of man, there was no need for means whereby man could return to a right relationship with Jehovah. The idea in Ephesians 2 that, specifically here, the Gentiles were “far off” implies the need to return. How could they come back to God? Paul stresses the fact that Christ’s blood was the only means whereby reconciliation could be made. Thus, Paul penned the glorious fact that Christ “made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself” (Colossians 1:20). As if an inseparable gulf was crossed by Adam and Even through their sinning at Eden, that gap of sin separated man from God (cf. Isaiah 59:1, 2; Note: This is not to suggest that all inherit Adam’s sin – the false idea of Hereditary Depravity – but rather that through Adam sin entered the world, Romans 5:17; and, consequently, all have sinned, Romans 3:23). Not with acts of goodness or meritorious works could man ever earn his salvation (Titus 3:5). Yet, there are conditions that God expects man to meet in order to have past sins forgiven and the restoration of a right relationship with the Father (Titus 2:12; Hebrews 5:9; Ephesians 2:8). By shedding His blood, Christ paved a road of return (i.e., the “narrow road” of Matthew 7:13, 13) to take us back to God. There was no access before and without Him and after sin was in the world (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6). How did Christ affect this return with His blood?

He took the first, old covenant God made with Moses and Israel out of the way by dying on the cross (Ephesians 2:12, 14-15). He placed all believers in the faith into one body [the church] (Ephesians 2:14, 15, 16; 4:4). He provided the message of reconciliation in commissioning the preached word to all men (Ephesians 2:17; Acts 1:8). He opened the avenue of prayer by His death on the cross, encouraging petitioning the Father to enhance our relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:18). He sets aside a place in the Kingdom [the church] for all the faithful obedient into which all spiritual blessings flow (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1:3; Matthew 16:18-19). To all who obey the commandments of God relative to entrance into His church, reconciliation and return to God are provided.

The Blood of Christ Brings Remembrance (1 Corinthians 10:16)

As Eden shows the importance God stressed in mankind before the cross to anticipate that great event, this verse shows the importance God stresses in mankind after the cross remembering it. Those washed in the blood of Christ, contacted in baptism, are added to the church (Acts 2:41-47). Therein, those added (Christians) are governed by the Word of God in worship and conduct. A vital part of New Testament worship is the weekly participation in the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). Why has God authorized that Christians do so, and with such frequency?

The answer is “communion.” In connection with the Lord’s Supper, this word is translated “communion” only once in the New Testament. Yet, the original word from which it is translated is koinonia, among the most recognized of all Greek words even among those who have little knowledge of that language. Most often, koinonia is translated as “fellowship.” “Fellowship” is also employed by the inspired New Testament writers to make reference to the “Memorial Feast.” The apostles and early Christians continued steadfastly in the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). The fellowship of the Lord’s Supper was not to be defiled by the presence of idolatry at Corinth (1 Corinthians 10:20), but rather the communion was to be exclusively with the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul stresses that there is communion. That fellowship is with the blood of Christ, which suggests a multitude of things. First, the blood of Christ places one into the one body (the church – Colossians 1:18; Acts 20:28). Therefore, the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper involves corporate (collective) activity. Together, children of God are drawn closer to one another remembering the Savior whose blood purchased them from sin. This communion, then, is a means of expressing encouragement and thanksgiving together as the redeemed. The Lord’s Supper cannot, then, have significance to those not members of the body as there is no celebration and fellowship with Christians. Also, the Lord’s Supper provides a communion between the individual Christian and his Lord. Thus, Paul instructs each to “examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28). None other can obey the command of self-examination and remembrance for another in the Lord’s Supper or in any spiritual matter. Yet, the Lord’s Supper is special because of both the sharing with others and the individual responsibility. As an institution, the Lord’s Supper is, in both regards, a crucial means whereby Christians remember the sacrifice, suffering, and death of Christ in shedding His blood on the tree.

The blood of Christ purchased man’s pardon (1 Peter 1:19). The blood of Christ purges man’s conscience (Hebrews 9:14). The blood of Christ propels man closer to God (Ephesians 2:13). The blood of Christ provides recollection of atonement (1 Corinthians 10:16). His blood was important in prophesy (Isaiah 53:3-5). His blood was important [physically] (John 19:34). His blood is important in perusal (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:28).

Is Your Life “Award Winning”?

Neal Pollard

CBS News reports on 19-year-old Chris Strickland, a very ordinary young man who seems unaware of how heroic his split-second action was. In his first job, Chris, working at a Home Depot in Anchorage, Alaska, happened to turn around and face a shopping cart at the moment an unattended baby fell out of a baby seat sitting atop it.  Store surveillance video captures the whole thing, as Strickland rushes over and reaches out to catch the falling infant.  For this simple, profoundly important act, Strickland will receive the Home Depot Angel Award, “reserved for those who perform exceptional acts of heroism” (via http://www.cbsnews.com/news/quick-thinking-home-depot-employee-saves-falling-baby/).

If all goes well, some day that baby will grow up, maybe get married and have children, and, optimists might say, do some great thing—become president, save an entire burning building full of people, or, better yet, become a faithful Christian responsible for scores of folks getting to heaven.  No matter what happens with the child, it will not diminish the heroism of this young man who, at the right place and right time, chose to save another human being and one literally helpless.

In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul speaks of Christ giving an unequaled reward on the Judgment Day.  It will be for those heros and heroines who loved His coming and appearance, who fought, finished, and kept the faith (7).  In a parable about the Judgment, Jesus speaks of the award winning “sheep” who will enter heaven.  What did they do?  Cared for those who had needs.  James 1:12 speaks of a reward Christ will personally give to those who persevere under trial.

You didn’t consider yourself a “hero,” did you?  Passages like those above speak of how ordinary folks like us can receive the highest honor of all time and eternity.  How?  By faithful endurance, service, and response to Jesus, the Lord!  Congratulations!