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.”

“This Perverse Generation”

Neal Pollard

What was life like in the first century?  One historian writes, “It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practiced, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description” (Edersheim, Book 2, Chapter 11, p. 179).  Thus described the culture of the dominant world power of the day, Rome.

Those descriptions, almost without exception, could be applied to the current culture.  So many specific examples could be, and often are, set forth to depict life in our world today that mirror Edersheim’s chronicle of the world into which Christianity was born.  Not surprisingly, New Testament writers are prone to speak of the world in stark terms and with specific admonitions.  What they said then apply to us today, and they contain counsel that will help us to spiritual success in our slimy setting.

You can save yourself from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40). That was the final recorded appeal of the first recorded gospel sermon.  The message is one of hope and faith.  There is escape from the pollutions of the world (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20).  There is forgiveness of the sins like the ones described above as well as any and all others.  The promise of the gospel message is, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).  Those who gladly received that word did just that (Acts 2:41).

You can shine yourself to this perverse generation (Phil. 2:15).  Paul urges the Philippian Christians to prove themselves blameless and harmless in such an environment. He’s calling for distinctive Christian living, a life that would stand out in such deplorable circumstances.  We’re not trying to be oddball misfits, but faithful Christian living is detectable in the crowds we find ourselves in.  That example is the first step to helping someone else save themselves from this perverse generation.

You can share your Savior with this perverse generation (Mark 8:38). Jesus warns those whom He calls “ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation.”  He tells us that a true disciple’s life is one of obedience, self-denial, sacrifice, and courage (cf. Mark 8:36-38).  If we never share the saving message of Christ with the people we meet and know each day, why don’t we? Could it be that we are ashamed to share His distinctive message to a world that pressures us to conform to and go along with it.  If we do not tell them about Him, how are they going to find out? What hope will they have to discard the perverse life for the pure one?

It is a scary, sinful world out there!  But God rescues us from its guilt through Christ’s sacrifice, then sends us back out there to tell them they can be rescued, too.  Live it and then share it, no matter what, until your end or the end—which ever comes first!

Mission Accomplished

Neal Pollard

Reader’s Digest tells the story of Walter Wyatt, Jr., an amateur pilot whose plane goes down in the Atlantic between the Bahamas and Miami, Florida.  He’s in the deep all night, fighting off bull sharks and feeling he will not survive.  He does live and a ship, the Cape York, rescues him after sunrise the next day.  He wearily climbs on board and kisses the deck.  He is saved, but he needed outside help to save him from the depths and from certain death.

So it was with us.  As the song suggests, we were sinking deep in sin and far from the peaceful shore.  Jesus lifted us, and He did so through Calvary.  Yet, He saved us from a fate infinitely worse than death by a physical predator.  Each Lord’s Day, we have the opportunity to remember this as well as He who rescued us.  As Paul once said, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:9).  In Hebrews two, we consider three important truths about the Man who saved us from death.

First, He is over us (Hebrews 2:1-10).  He is our Lord and Master.  He is over us by right of accountability (1-3).  In other words, we are reminded that each of us are accountable to Him.  We cannot escape if we neglect so great a salvation!  He is also over us by right of approval (4), namely God’s approval (cf. Matthew 17:5).  During His ministry, Jesus demonstrated His power to prove His identity (cf. Acts 2:22-24).  Further, He is over us by right of authority (5-8).  We read, “For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.”  Then, He is over us by right of arrangement (10).  He is our Creator.  He made us.  He knows us.  Finally, He is over us by right of affliction.  By virtue of His passion, Christ has compassion.  For all these reasons, we see Jesus as One who is on a par with none.  Before He was in a manger or up on a cross, He was in the beginning with God and as God (cf. John 1:2).

Second, He is like us (Hebrews 2:11-14).   No matter how much we like or dislike a king or president, we may feel like he or she is unreal or unlike us.  We cannot relate to their lives, and we are certain they can relate to ours.  Yet, Jesus, though King of kings, is a Savior who is like us.  We are of the same family, the human family (11).  He associates Himself with us (11-12).  Then, He shared in our humanity to the fullest, to the point of experiencing death for us (14).  Nobody can rightfully say to God, “You don’t know what it is like!  You don’t understand!”  He is fully divine and became fully human, making Him uniquely able to relate to both the Father and humanity.

Finally, He is for us (Hebrews 2:15-18).  The last few verses serve as final pieces of evidence proving how Jesus is on our side.  He has done His part to take the fear out of death (15; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20).  Of all created beings, He gives His aid to us (16).  He longs to be our High Priest (17).  He wants to help us when we are tempted (18).  Of all the Great Cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), who do you think is leading the cheers for those of us trying to make our way through this world and up to heaven?

A decade ago, I said a sentimental goodbye to the “Black Bullet,” my 1985 Chevy Custom Deluxe pickup which I traded in on a “new” 1992 Dodge Dakota.  I had to go to the DMV and transfer my tag and title.  They did not charge much for vanity plates, so I chose “PRCHNG1.”  This seemed clear enough to me.  As I picked up a number at the front counter,  I had my tags in hand and the receptionist saw them.  She said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try that. I bet that’s so fun. Is it scary?” I was confused. She said, “Your tags. How long have you been parachuting?” PRCHNG1 stands for “Preaching One.” I thought it was clear, but apparently my fellow motorists had been concluding that I was in some airborne division or maybe purchased hand guns. This dear lady misunderstood me, my work, and my interests.

Let us not make that mistake with the Savior we pause to commemorate each Sunday.  He is over us—He’s our King!  He is like us—He’s our brother!  He is for us—He’s our friend!

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!