Hazards of Firefighting

Neal Pollard

343 on 9/11/2001 in New York City. 86 in 1910 across Washington, Idaho and Montana. 29 in 1933 in Los Angeles. 27 in April, 1947, in Texas City, Texas. 21 on December 22, 1910, in Chicago. 19 on June 30, 2013, near Yarnell, Arizona (Firefighter Tragedies).  Those are the deadliest incidents for firefighters in American history, in number of fatalities. Firefighting is deadly, if heroic, business. Those answering the call know that each response, however simple or innocuous it may seem, masks many dangers. Firefighting is hazardous business.

The same is certainly true in the firefighting business Jesus calls us to perform. The Bible clearly indicates that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels will be eternally shared by those who know not God and do not obey His gospel (Mat. 25:41ff; 2 Th. 1:8-9). As Christians, then, we are God’s firefighters (Jude 23). We should do this job out of a sincere concern and love for souls and a desire to be working for and serving the One who rescued us from so great a death (2 Co. 1:10). But, by stepping into that arena, we should realize the risks and dangers involved.

  • We can be ill-equipped.  Firefighters can’t hope to do their work with old, shoddy, or faulty equipment. The best equipment available is ineffective when not put into use. In our spiritual battle, we know that our “equipment” (2 Tim. 3:17) is perfect for every situation. But, we have to know it (2 Ti. 2:15). We also need to know how to use it. We need to make sure our approach to people is not shoddy or faulty (cf. Gal. 6:1). To be boisterous or bullying with God’s Word not only further harms the one in danger, but also endangers us!
  • We can get too close to the fire. Firefighters can be the victim of their proximity to the conflagration. It’s often difficult to judge how close is too close, but it is an ever-present hazard. In our spiritual firefighting, we can get too close to the fire through compromising God’s Word, conforming to the world, committing sins of attitude, morality, ethics, or the like in our outreach. We must avoid behaving in a worldly way when trying to help save those out in the world. In trying to help a struggling soul, we can sin with our tongues or gossip about the one whose troubles we’ve been made aware of.
  • We can ignore the dangers. It’s true in firefighting as in all professions that one may occasionally choose not to practice what he has been trained to know, see and think. In the heat of the moment, one may not focus on certain warning signs. Buildings collapse, air runs out, black draft areas are entered and serious results follow. Spiritually, we must be careful in how we go about this “business.” Going alone when we need another with us, trying to help someone when we are too emotionally invested, or responding out of hurt and anger instead of “cooling off” are all ways we can ignore the dangers we might face.

Let us be aware of the risks we take in reaching out to those who are in spiritual danger, but let us be eager to respond to the need. Despite the ever-present risks firefighters take, they still are faithful and dedicated to the job. God needs us on the front line, too. May we simply factor in the perils of firefighting, then do it!

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Why Travel The Road Less Taken?

Neal Pollard

Gunnar Garfors is the youngest “hobby traveler” to have visited every country in the world. He’s written a book about it, entitled 198: How I Ran Out Of Countries. I have not read the book, but his website offers a very interesting article on The 25 Least Visited Countries in the Whole Wide World. Guess which one is least visited. He tells us, statistically, it is Nauru, a Pacific island country with no capital and no armed forces. It is 8.1 square miles in size, having only 10,000 inhabitants. They have the world’s highest level of type 2 diabetes and the highest obesity rate in the world (97% of men and 93% of women are overweight or obese). It has no seaport and no daily news publications. Perhaps some or all of these factors lead this country to be most frequently avoided by travelers, but somebody has to own that distinction (read more here: Independent UK, BBC, and Gunnar Garfors).  Perhaps none of these facts inspire you to work to help Nauru lose its notorious tourism distinction.

Robert Frost wrote his famous poem about the two roads which diverged in a yellow wood. He took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.  It appears he may have actually stood before such a fork, but he used the experience to speak metaphorically. We can all appreciate this figurative choice. We must choose a path in life, and the one we choose does make all the difference!

Jesus uses such a metaphor to describe the way of life we choose on this earth. He says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mat. 7:13-14). In this familiar passage, He gives us multiple reasons why we should take His way.

  • Its aim (“leads to life”).
  • Its alternative (“leads to destruction”).
  • Its autonomy (it is a road each one chooses to “enter through”; it is not arbitrarily chosen for us).
  • Its assumption (one must choose between these two, and no other, ways).
  • Its accessibility (it can be “entered” and “found”).
  • Its attainability (Jesus says “few” find it and not “none” find it).
  • Its associability (one is not absolutely alone, for there are “few” rather than “none”).

Jesus compares our brief time on this earth with a road trip. We are not fated to stay on the broad way, but we are not unconditionally guaranteed a spot on the narrow road. As Frost surveyed the two paths and made his choice, so must we. Jesus says we make this decision daily (cf. Lk. 9:23). And our choices determine which path we are traveling. Be deliberate and prepared for this arduous journey that terminates all too quickly. The right choice is the one less taken and most avoided, but take it anyway!

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That’s the whole country of Nauru

What Keeps People From Salvation?

Neal Pollard

  • Ignorance: They have not learned how to be saved
  • Fear: They know the potential cost of being saved
  • Pride: They do not want to admit they are not saved
  • Loyalty: They fear that they will be tacitly condemning those they care for if they are saved
  • Comfort: They do not want to do what it takes to be saved
  • Emotion: They feel they are saved
  • Guilt: They do not believe they can be saved
  • Prejudice: They cannot see the necessity of following what certain scriptures say they must do to be saved
  • Sin: They enjoy something(s) too much to surrender in order to be saved
  • Self: They want to follow their own terms to be saved
  • Blindness: They cannot see through their religious traditions and doctrines in order to be saved
  • Responsibilities: They are too busy with life to be saved

So many more excuses might be given by someone who refuses to do what God says to do in order to be saved, but whatever excuse is given overlooks the fact that God allowed no excuse to keep Him from sending His Son, that Christ allowed no excuse to keep Him from going to the cross, that the Holy Spirit allowed no excuse to keep Him from revealing to us through the Bible how to be saved, that the apostles and early Christians allowed no excuse to keep them from sharing and doing God’s will for salvation (even at the cost of their lives), and that so many throughout time have not allowed these same excuses to keep them from obeying the gospel to be saved. Salvation is so important, eternity is so long, the soul is so precious, sin is so destructive, the devil is so ravenous, and the world is so wrong that we must remove every barrier that might stand in our way. If we were to write down our reason for not being saved and keep it until the day of judgment, how valid and reasonable would it sound as we conveyed it to Christ? If we would not want to tell Him then, let’s not let it keep us from Him now.  “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).

South Fork Church of Christ baptistry mural looking in from the

Devon Allen’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

I will preface this by saying I cannot determine anything specific about the religion of Devon Allen, a remarkable college student-athlete at the University of Oregon. He is in the headlines now as a starting football player who qualified for the Olympics in track and field.  It was during his training and competition for the latter that he decided the time was right to be baptized. So he was, in the Willamette River in Eugene last Friday before the watchful gaze of family and teammates from his track and football teams. No less than ESPN reported on his religious quest alongside his impressive athletic achievements. The article ended with the proper sentiment, particularly if Allen was baptized in the right way for the right reason. It reads, “It was the right starting line for two different races” (Chantel Jennings, espn.com).

I am encouraged that Jennings found this newsworthy. I am encouraged that Allen thought baptism to be so important. I am encouraged that his friends and family showed up in impressive numbers to witness this act.

When even so many in Christendom go the extra mile in denying the importance and significance of baptism, Devon troubled himself to do it. We do not know, but he might have said what the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). As he studied with Oregon football team chaplain, could he have been taught the New Testament truth that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), baptism reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptism buries one with Christ (Colossians 2:12), and baptism saves one (1 Peter 3:21)? If he was taught baptism from the New Testament, these are the kinds of things he would have heard.

Regardless of Allen’s understanding about baptism’s function in God’s plan to save us, one who is taught in accordance with the several passages above and who has a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15) will want to be baptized without delay (cf. Acts 22:16). Like the jailor at Philippi, they will submit to baptism even if it is the middle of the night (Acts 16:33). Like the 3,000 on Pentecost, they will demonstrate gladly receiving the word by being baptized (Acts 2:41). Thus, they will be saved.

My prayer is that Devon Allen understand these Bible facts and responded the way he did because he humbly accepted their truth. More than that, my prayer is that those who need to make the decision to be baptized will not let anything hinder them from doing what Jesus died to make possible for us all. May we ignore all rationalization that leads us to resist the act which, from a believing, penitent heart, washes our sins away.

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Identifying The Source Of Trouble In The Congregation

Neal Pollard

One of my dad’s most memorable sermons, which he preached in more than one location, was actually a two-parter.  The first part was preached Sunday morning. Dad warned that he was going to identify the source of the problems in the congregation. He used a wipe board or chalkboard, and only put the first initial of each one up there as he preached. He said that everyone should come back that night and he would disclose the full names that went with the initials.  At one congregation, after the morning sermon, a large number of people came forward in response to the invitation.  Sure enough, that evening dad put the full names next to the initials:

  • Accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10)
  • Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24)
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
  • Devil (Heb. 2:14)
  • Enemy (Mat. 13:39)
  • Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Prince… (Eph. 2:2; John 12:31)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Satan (Mat. 4:10)
  • Spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
  • Tempter (Mat. 4:3)

Now, in no way am I discounting the free will choices people make. James 1:13-15 very clearly places the blame of sin on the individuals choosing to act on their lusts and desires. One is not possessed or overtaken by the devil to do his will any more than a person is overtaken by God and made to do what’s right. But Jesus calls the devil the “father” of sinful behavior (John 8:44). John tells us that the one who practices sin is “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Those who sin are doing his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan is at the heart of national, congregation, familial, and individual sin.  We’re told to resist him (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The hopeful fact is that, with God’s help, we can always successfully do so.  Let’s be aware that the devil does not want God’s children or His work to succeed. If he can thwart our efforts as a church to be united, faithful to God’s Word, evangelistic, and productive, he will do so. Knowing this, we should be more determined not to let him win!

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In Awe Of The Greatest Freedom

 

Neal Pollard

I once was without representation,
Not a citizen of that chosen nation,
Enslaved and oppressed,
Deprived of the best,
And discouraged by my lowly station,

But my freedom was bought at a price,
With the one ransom that would suffice,
Sweet liberty was bought,
And my freedom I sought,
When I opted for virtue instead of vice.

Independence is becoming and sweet,
It is found when I fall at His feet,
And make Him my Master,
I avoid pain and disaster,
He offers me victory for my defeat.

I celebrate privileged position,
Embrace His heavenly mission,
Knowing the blessings He gives,
Is because He still lives,
He hears the faithful disciple’s petition.

As we celebrate the blessings in this land,
Bestowed by a Providential hand,
Let us never forget,
That He paid our great debt,
He’s preparing what’s infinitely more grand.

Whatever may become of our dear country,
I pray that our eyes will always see,
That no earthly place is home,
We are strangers who will roam,
’Til we reach the Great City across the sea.

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The Danger Of Being Swept Away

Neal Pollard

You may have heard that I was caught in a rip tide during Carl’s senior trip. We were at St. Pete’s Beach in the Tampa-area, swimming and playing in the water not far from a fishing pier. Somehow, I was pulled into a riptide and quickly pulled out toward the Gulf. The shore quickly grew distant and my subpar swimming abilities were tellingly useless. A couple of fishermen told me I was caught in it and my best hope was to try and move parallel to the waves and angle for a point about a half-mile up from where I was. That was a painfully slow process, and the water kept taking me where it wished.  I was on the other side of the pier, moving generally toward that point but still in the grips of the tide, when Dale swam out and helped pull me out of the current until I could finally get to shallower water and make my way back onto the beach. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe Dale saved my life.

Only after this did I learn that, according to the CDC, there was an annual average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States from 2005 to 2014. That’s about ten deaths per day. Nearly 80% of all people who die from drowning are male. A lack of swimming ability is the greatest risk factor in drowning, and 57% of all people, age 15 and over, who drown do so in “natural water settings” (like the ocean)(cdc.gov).  I also was reminded, from the Pandora playlist Dale piped through our van’s sound system, that he has an interesting sense of humor—playing “Under the Sea,” “The Ocean,” “High Tide, Low Tide,” “In Too Deep,” “Riptide,” “Drowing,” and “How To Save A Life” (plus a bunch more).

But I also have a different perspective toward some of the songs in our songbook:

  • “Soul you are drifting along on the tide, out on life’s ocean so boundless and wide…”
  • “Some poor fainting, struggle seaman, you may rescue, you may save…”
  • “Throw out the lifeline, someone is drifting away…”
  • “While on the sea hear the terrible roaring…”

As I look back, the currents were strong but the force was subtle. It did not take long for me to be moved away from the shore and taken away. Making the right efforts played a part in my staying afloat. Ultimately, however, I needed outside help to come back to shore.

The writer of Hebrews says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). A.T. Robertson says of the word “drift”: “Here the metaphor is that ‘of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach’ (Westcott), a vivid picture of peril for all” (342). BDAG says it is an imagery of flowing water and means “be washed away” or “drift away” (770). The Greek Old Testament uses the word in Proverbs 3:21, where Solomon urges his son to not let wisdom “vanish from [his] sight.” The epistle’s nautical metaphor pictures vividly what can happen in our spiritual lives. We can  lose sight of where we are, and we may begin to struggle and start to succumb to the pull of the current. We must continue to make the effort to pull away and we should accept the attempts of those who seek to rescue us.

Spiritually, none of us want to become a casualty. We do not want to perish. May we realize that falling away from God is not usually sudden or dramatic. It is often subtle and gradual. Let’s pay much closer attention to what we have heard! It’s our lifeline.

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PREVENTING A POST-ANTIBIOTIC APOCALYPSE

Neal Pollard

Economist Jim O’Neill had readied a report about drug-resistant infections, “bacteria and other microbes that have become impervious to antibiotics” (The Atlantic, Ed Yong, 5/19/16). O’Neill’s prognostication is grim and macabre. On our current trajectory, 10 million will die every year by the year 2050 and that doesn’t include those undergoing procedures only safe because of antibiotics (surgeries, transplants, and chemotherapy, for example). No doubt, this report is no fodder for a bedtime story, but it is not without suggestions of what can be done to prevent such an ominous occurrence. O’Neill gives a nice, round ten suggestions to avert this potential “plague” on humanity.  They include: improve sanitation, a global surveillance network, a public-awareness campaign, better diagnostic tools, avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture, promote effective alternatives, improve incentives for workers, rewards those working on the problem, adequately fund those working, and build a global coalition (ibid.). All in all, this seems like a practical, workable solution.

I read this in light of the global epidemic you and I are engaged in to fight together. It is the most dangerous threat any of us will face and it will be with us, if the world continues, in 2050 and beyond. What I find interesting is that many of O’Neill’s suggestions for fighting these microbes are the marching orders God has given us to fight our plaguing antagonist—sin.  Holiness, unity, improved evangelism, Bible study, avoid unnecessary fights, example, focusing more on eternity, better giving, and increased mission efforts all factor in saving more souls! It’s a system that will work locally, nationally, and globally.

Frankly, we don’t know that O’Neill’s prediction will come to pass. But, the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and then the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The majority will be lost (cf. Mat. 7:13-14)! God is counting on us, Christians, stemming that tide as much as possible (Mark 16:15-16).  Every individual you and I reach with the gospel is one less who will succumb to this eternally fatal threat!

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Facts Deduced About Baptism From The Eunuch

Neal Pollard

The book of Acts is wonderful for teaching the history of the church as well as providing examples of how people became Christians. From the first gospel sermon (Acts 2), baptism is central and essential to God’s plan of salvation. The emphasis is even found through facts implied from these statements and examples. Consider some facts deduced about baptism from the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.

  • First, baptism is part of preaching Jesus. In Acts 8:35, Philip began with the eunuch from the passage the eunuch had been reading (Isaiah 53), and “he preached Jesus to him.” Consequently, the eunuch, when they came past a body of water, said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Why would this man ask such a question unless preaching Jesus included preaching the necessity of baptism?
  • Second, baptism is part of believing (Acts 8:37). Philip ties his request for baptism to the essentiality of faith preceding baptism. The eunuch confesses belief “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Jesus had sent His disciples with this understanding, that “he who has believed and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).
  • Third, baptism involves urgency (Acts 8:38). The eunuch ordered the chariot to stop. Why? Why not wait until he was back in Africa? Why not wait until Philip collected several others and then have a baptismal service for them all at once? When the Eunuch saw water, for some reason he wanted to submit to baptism right then and there.
  • Fourth, baptism involves immersion (Acts 8:39). We primarily know this because the word “baptism” means “strictly dip, immerse in water (Friberg & Miller, 87). However, the fact that Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water indicates that baptism must involve more than sprinkling or even pouring. This man  (and Philip) went to the trouble of getting wet by going down into the water.
  • Fifth, baptism produces rejoicing (Acts 8:39). The first evidence of joy comes after the eunuch comes up out of the water, not when Philip preached Jesus or when the eunuch confessed belief in Jesus. There was something important and necessary about the act of baptism.

Despite a religious world filled with groups who resist, argue against, and deny the importance of baptism, that one example (and there are several others–Acts 2:36-47; 8:12-13; 9:18+22:16; 16:15; 16:30-33; etc.) leaves no doubt about the indispensable part baptism plays in God’s plan to redeem humanity. Thank God for this conversion example in Acts 8. May our hearts be open to accept what the Word says to us (Luke 8:15).

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Megan Meeks was baptized this past Thursday, 4/21/16, in Denver, CO. The plan has not changed since Acts 8.

We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)