“Snodgrass’s Muff”

Neal Pollard

It happened on October 16, 1912, the eighth (*) and deciding game of the World Series. In the bottom of the 10th, with his New York Giants winning by a run, Clyde Engle sent a lazy pop fly to centerfield.  Fred Snodgrass, an average hitter and dependable fielder, settled under it and ultimately dropped it.  A lot of other things happened. Snodgrass made a spectacular catch on the next play.  Hall of Fame pitcher walked the next batter.  Tris Speaker, before driving in the winning run with a single, hit a pop foul that both Fred Merkle (aka “Bonehead Merkle,” but that’s a story for another day) and Chief Meyers failed to catch.  Snodgrass’ blunder was the scapegoat for the Giants’ series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Fred would go on to be successful in business as a banker, an appliance merchant, and a rancher, was elected mayor of Oxnard, California, and served on the City Council for three terms.  There was so much more to Fred Snodgrass than a single unfortunate moment in time, but even his obituary read: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” In a 1940 interview, Fred spoke of how that fated fly ball would come up as he met or spoke with people (info via sabr.org and history.com).

Isn’t it interesting how a mistake or sin committed in a moment can have such lasting implications, bringing infamy and an enormous challenge of trying to live it down?  But doesn’t Snodgrass also prove that we do not have to be defined by our failures? Maybe our blunder is not played out with such renown and infamy, but it can still stay with us and dog our continued steps.

Have you dropped the ball with something?  Maybe you let down somebody you loved or somebody that was really counting on you.  Maybe you hurt someone special to you.  It might have been a foolish or ungodly word or deed when someone was watching.  The bigger the blunder, the heavier that burden of guilt might be in your heart.  There’s no excusing it. But what will you do now?  Will you let it keep you down or will you refuse to be defined by it?  The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The focal point must be what’s before us, not what’s behind us.  So said Paul (Phil. 3:13).

Dust yourself off. Regroup. Get ready for what’s next! Focus on what’s next, not on what’s over and done.

(*) Game 2 was called on account of “impending darkness”

Laying Aside “Every Weight”

Neal Pollard

I try to write very seldom about my favorite hobby, running, which I picked up when our baby, who Pooh Duke has dubbed “Carlnormous,” was still in the womb (This is Carlnormous).  Running produces so many wonderful benefits, physically, psychologically, and mentally.  Yet, as I have heard said, exercise is only about 20% of weight management.  Therefore, until I have recently begun beefing up my “push back” exercises from the dinner table, I have been running at over 200 pounds for much of those 17 years.  I am 15 pounds lighter than I was this time last month, and Strava does not lie.  Today, I logged a 10K at a pace of 8:19/mile (Strava is cool), while listening to a mellow “Fleet Foxes And More” playlist from Amazon Music (Will Fleet Foxes reunite?)—not exactly heart-pumping exercise music.  This time last month, I was about a full minute slower per mile.  Since today I’m inevitably older than I’ve ever been, the difference has to be the fewer pounds I’m dragging around.  Hopefully, I’ll drop more weight, and if I do I anticipate that my pace may quicken and I’ll feel even better doing it.

New Testament writers use the running analogy on several occasions, but consider what the writer of Hebrews says:  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:1-3). The NASB says “encumbrance” (NKJV, “weight”), and the word means “that which serves to hinder or prevent someone from doing something—‘hindrance, impediment’ (Louw-Nida, 13.149). While the implication is “of an athlete stripping himself of clothing which would impede his performance” (Ellingworth, NIGTC, np), how much more does something like 15 pounds “impede”?

This passage encourages endurance with at least three ideas.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Meaningful. It helps one with endurance as it helps eliminate obstacles to a successful run.  It shows up in a better quality of life. It impacts more than just the run you are on that day.  The effects are enduring and they impact such vital areas as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.  So it is spiritually.  This is about defeating sin, staying faithful, endurance, and overcoming.  In line with the thrust of the whole letter of Hebrews, it is about not falling away and leaving Christ!  We do not want to hang on to anything that interferes with that eternal prospect.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Measurable. I can tell the difference in myself when I have or have not lost that extra weight.  Certainly, the same is true spiritually.  When something is weighing me down, distracting, depressing, deceiving, or drawing me away, I can tell.  I can see it in my devotional life, it shows up in my speech, my attitude, my ethics, and countless similar ways. Other people can see it, too.  I know that God sees every bit of it!

Laying Aside The Weight Is Motivational.  By laying aside the encumbrances and entanglements, I feel better and improve my physical quality of life. The Hebrews’ writer tells us about a transcendent motivation which follows lightening our spiritual loads of sin problems.  Removing the impediments, I am better able to fix my eyes on Jesus and His example while not growing weary or losing heart.

Past experience tells me that weight can be picked up even easier than it can be laid aside.  This is an ongoing discipline.  But it is so worthwhile!  Oh, that I can remember that as I run the course of earth toward eternity.

Burying Your Resentment

Neal Pollard

Linda Sides, wife of one of the preachers at Sixth Avenue church of Christ in Jasper, Alabama, shared a startling picture with me that she took in a West Virginia cemetery.  The backstory, as much as is known, is interesting.  Apparently, a mother did not want to be cremated but her two daughters went against her wishes.  Another child, a son, had a gravestone made with this epitaph:  “IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER IVA PRITT WHO PASSED AWAY JANUARY 1, 1978, AND TO HER TWO DAUGHTERS WHO WENT AGAINST HER WISHES. MAY THEY BURN IN HELL. ALWAYS THINKING OF YOU. D.”  We don’t know what kind of relationship the siblings had with each other or with their mother prior to the matriarch’s death.  What we know is that the grudge held by the son has been memorialized for at least 37 years through the engraving on that marker.  By this time, perhaps all the children have died, too.  Where they went for eternity is unknown, but it’s quite possible this man went to his own grave carrying the burden of bitterness and resentment.

Perhaps few have carried their vendettas with such graphic vehemence as Iva’s son, but I have known quite a few whose verbal clues reveal as virulent a strain of visceral irritation.  In the Bible, Herodias was said to have “had a grudge against him (John) and wanted to put him to death…” (Mark 6:19).  She was living in sin and righteous John preached against it. Her response was to feel resentment for what he had done.  Sometimes, an accurate message is received with absolute acrimony. A different Greek word is used in James 3:14 “pertaining to feeling resentful” (Louw and Nida, 1996, n/p).  In reading James, this is a feeling that they may have had toward the world but more likely against their own brethren.  How many churches have had works stalled and stopped, have experienced an atmosphere of severe tension, or have even been split because of unresolved bitterness and resentment?

With resentment being so harmful to ourselves and others, how can we bury it?  First, let it go.  This is an intentional exercise and will not occur without conscious mental effort and energy. Read Ephesians 4:31-32.  Second, give it to God. Stop carrying it and hand it to Him.  All cares can be safely transferred to His capable hands (1 Pet. 5:7).  Finally, mend fences.  Remember Paul’s encouragement that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).  You are not accountable for the peace-breaking disposition of others, but you are “so far as it depends on you.”

Do you have any “headstones” to destroy?  Do you have hatchets to bury—including the handles?  Don’t waste any more time. Let it die and bury it!

“Every Way Of A Man Is Right In His Own Eyes”

Neal Pollard

I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly.  I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator.  I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it.  I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear.  I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways.  In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.

Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).  In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2).  Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world.  At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse.  However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says.  Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.”  Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation.  Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence.  But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.

Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us!  If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like.  When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores.  Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2.  “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.”  He never gets it wrong!

PINPOINTING THE PROBLEM

Neal Pollard

Terrorist madmen shoot up a school in Pakistan and kill over 100 people, mostly children.  A politically correct society is close to forbidding biblical teaching on matters that violates its bombastic code.  Pluralism (all religious paths are equally valid) and syncretism (blending two or more religious belief systems into a new system) seem to grow more popular in the religious philosophy of a great many.  An erosion of morality and ethics seems to daily redefine acceptable norms and boundaries so that things not long ago thought outrageous are now not just tolerated but celebrated.  The culture of unbelief and agnosticism spreads while the spirit of humble dependency upon God seems to shrink.  When we pause to consider all of this, our head can spin and we can begin to question how this happened and so quickly.

Paul often writes that we are engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:12). While we will witness violence, hatred, gross immorality, an anything goes mentality, and the like, lost sinners are not the enemy.  They embrace the thinking and values of the enemy, but Paul says such people are ensnared and held captive by the enemy (1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Tim. 2:26), “caught” (Gal. 6:1), and “subject to slavery” (Heb. 2:15).  New Testament writers pinpoint the source of this enormous problem as:

  • The ruler of this world (John 12:31; 16:11).
  • The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).
  • The prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).
  • World forces and spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12).
  • The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19).

Peter simply calls him our adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  In the gospel, Jesus often alludes to him as the enemy.  From Christ’s temptations in Matthew 4, we learn that he has been given the power over “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (8).  They are his to dispense and disperse (9).  New Testament writers pinpoint this domain with its unrighteous thinking simply as “the world” (Jas. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17).  All who submit to living according to the thinking and values of this world are submitting to this ruler, god, prince, force, and evil one. They are pledging allegiance to his way and being guided by his leadership.

We can see the devastating effect this is having on the peace and the practice of the masses.  Yet, we must resist it in our individual lives.  Perhaps Paul said it most concisely when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Many of the spiritual problems in our lives can be pinpointed to our following the wrong leader.  May God give us the wisdom and discernment to see through his destructive schemes!

What If There WAS An Ebola Outbreak In Your Town?

Neal Pollard

Kathy avoids any of the depressing news stories centered on the Ebola virus. She believes they heighten stress and fear. I admit to moderate fascination and monitoring of the latest developments. There’s no denying that there has been a growing hysteria in our nation since a Liberian man died and two of his nurses contracted it while treating him. Their travel plans and interactions have been chronicled in minute detail. Quarantines have occurred in multiple states, schools have been closed, and fear has escalated. The concern seems connected to what has been reported in villages throughout the west African nations where the outbreak began in the Spring.  The disease is horrific and deadly. It seems easily spread to others. Entire families have been wiped out by it. Yet, calm voices have tried to convince us no epidemic is occurring in our country.

But what if there was an outbreak where you and I live? Beyond the obvious fear, how would that change your life? Would you look differently at your spiritual life and eternal preparedness? How urgently would you reach out to repair broken relationships? Would you be more bold in trying to make disciples? Would you be more focused on leading and influencing your family to serve Christ?

Ebola is tangible and physical. We can see its effects. The damage it inflicts is completely visible. Sin does not present in the same, dramatic way, but its seriousness is infinitely greater. It is a global, daily threat and it’s already here in our communities. Somebody very close to each of us is almost certainly in the process of succumbing to it! May God give us eyes which see and hearts which feel, appreciating the dangers of sin and trusting the Great Physician to protect us.

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.”