“Let’s Go Throw Rocks At The Campbellite Preacher!”

Neal Pollard

That one statement was what introduced my great grandfather to the gospel and is a big reason why my mom was raised in the church and why I was, too.  A “Campbellite preacher” (so named because of Alexander Campbell, a leading figure of the 19th Century who pleaded with people to throw off the division of denominationalism and restore simple New Testament Christianity) was in their Mississippi community, preaching at the local school house.  Several teenage boys, including my then 19-year-old great-grandfather, conspired together to stand outside and throw rocks at the preacher.  The big talk apparently came to nothing harmful, but standing out there my grandfather was convicted by the preaching.  As the result, he studied more deeply and carefully the Scriptures and found that the denomination he was a part of did not teach the same plan of salvation he read in the New Testament.

Plain, New Testament teaching and preaching, which faithfully and accurately handles the Scripture, has a profound effect on an honest heart.  One who is already persuaded that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, who is convicted that it was faithfully transmitted through time, can see from gospel preaching what God’s will is for “matters of life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).  Such allow the powerful Word to operate skillfully upon their hearts, being persuaded of its penetrating truths (Heb. 4:12).  Even one who may start out angry at the messenger but who is “fair-minded” (cf. Acts 17:11) will “receive the word with all readiness, and [search] the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [are] so.”  Such an unprejudiced, open-minded attitude will serve such individuals well not only in learning how to become a Christian, but also in how to live the Christian life.  We must keep an honest and good heart if we will be the “good soil” Jesus praises in His parable of the soils (Luke 8:15).

Whatever your age, position in life, race, education level, or physical address, are you teachable? Do you receive the word in humility (Jas. 1:21)?  James says that your soul’s salvation is ultimately at stake.  Whether it regards becoming a Christian or living the Christian life, keep an open and tender heart!  You’ll be eternally grateful that you did.  So may many of your descendants!

What Do We Make Of God’s Second Chances?

Neal Pollard

We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.”  A kid kicked it hard and I caught it.  As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain.  Something wasn’t right.  My parents took me that week to see the local doctor.  He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver.  My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital.  Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was.  Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.

Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view.  I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go.  With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.

All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation.  We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us.  Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.”  We passed from death to life.  More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10).  You may have messed things up badly in your life.  You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you.  Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God is the God of the second chance!  His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts!  Trust in the Great Physician.  He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!

Picture of me (2nd from left) about a year after the surgery.

Do You Love Your Country?

Neal Pollard

Are you one who looks back with affection,
Reminiscing about days of yore?
Waving flags and praying for protection,
For your nation from shore to shore.
There are songs and celebrations sweet
Speeches that rouse the emotion
Fierce loyalty for the land beneath your feet
That inspires a most patriotic notion

But what about the better land beyond,
The place you can truly call your own?
Is that yearning great, is that hope fond,
To live in the land of the Risen Son?
If so, are you packing and preparing
For the journey that will reach beyond time?
Down here do you feel alien and wayfaring?
Is citizenship there of importance most prime?

Join a people most ancient whose love was great
For a better, a heavenly country
Who felt like exiles here, were the object of hate
By earthly counterparts who put their scorn bluntly
Fix your eyes on a grand immigration
Made possible by the Great Emancipator
Make sure you’re a member of the holy nation
And your eternal home will be infinitely greater.

Ft. McHenry (Maryland)

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.”