Disturbed

Neal Pollard

The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider.  If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity.  The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.

Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ?  It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established.  We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts.  We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11).  Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment.  Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2).  He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14).  Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).

The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith.  Consider a few highlights:

  • We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
  • Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
  • Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
  • Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
  • It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
  • It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
  • We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
  • The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).

I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances.  Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials.  Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).

Our Brethren Are Suffering

Neal Pollard

The United Nations’ very conservative estimate is that well over 2,000 people have died in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine in fighting between that nation’s government have clashed with separatists.  So many of the towns and cities in the region have congregations of God’s people, many of their preachers trained in our foreign extension school that for years was in Kramatorsk and of late has been in Gorlovka. One of our graduates reports that two gospel preachers have been kidnapped this month, though one of them has since been released.  Our brethren in Ukraine have been facing the terror of daily bombing and shooting as well as fear for their safety when they assemble.

The ebola outbreak is an ongoing health concern and it is not yet contained.  Nations affected include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even Nigeria.  One of two Americans on medical missions in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly, is a member of the church.  While its not clear whether any of our native brethren in these African nations have gotten sick or died, they certainly feel the threat and concern of a disease that claims between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it. 

Around the world at any given time, we have brothers and sisters who face health scares, hunger, harm, and hatred.  Persecution, natural disaster, famine, and war are no respecter of persons, and “our people” are often affected.  How they need our constant prayers as well as whatever assistance we can prudently provide.

On our pews in the local church, though without the drama and press coverage, there are always those who are struggling with hurts, heartaches, health, home, and hardship.  They may not trumpet their complaints or even publicly ask for encouragement, silently suffering.  As we interact with each other, let us keep in mind the potential hidden concerns and burdens being borne.  

Paul encourages us, in the spirit of unity, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Co. 12:25). He tells Colosse, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). He tells Philippi to to look out “for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:4).  Are we busy and bothered by our own concerns? Certainly! But may we ever cultivate greater sensitivity toward the silent suffering of our spiritual family, both near and far.

Members of the Slavyansk church of Christ (including a BVBIU graduate from our first class) holding bomb shrapnel that exploded near the church building. Photo Credit: Jeff Abrams.

“I THINK I UNDERSTAND”

Neal Pollard

As part of the personal evangelism class I just taught in Cambodia, I had the students engage in role-playing for a couple of days.  It was wonderful and memorable.  Some of the students are brand new Christians and have no experience doing personal work.  All of them got into it wholeheartedly. Perhaps the most poignant moment came about purely accidentally.  We had a table set up, with a teacher, silent partner, and student.  The “student” was to come up with the issue or dilemma for the “teacher” to solve. In one particular scenario, the “student” hit the teacher with his true background.  He said, “When I was born, I did not even get to see my parents. They died and I am an orphan. If there is a God, why did this happen?”  His teacher gently and unassumingly said, “I think I understand. I lost my parents when I was young, too, and I am an orphan.” There followed a beautiful lesson on God’s love and pretty good insights on why there is suffering in this world. But the fact his teacher not only comprehended, but experienced his situation made a huge impact on everyone in the room.

We will suffer in a great many ways throughout our short sojourn on this earth.  At times, we may think that not another soul on earth understands.  Perhaps, there will come a time when that is actually true.  However, we will never encounter a single trial but that someone will always understand.  He may not be on earth, but He is ever-present. He is actually omnipresent.  The Hebrews writer says of Him, “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. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).  As we bring our biggest, most debilitating issues into His presence, He gently says, “I think I understand.” Praise God!

What The Blood Of Christ Meant

Neal Pollard

  • To Christ, an expression of love (John 15:13)
  • To God, an appeasement of His wrath (Rom. 5:9).
  • To the Devil, the scribes, and Pharisees, a sign of their supposed victory (Heb. 2:14; John 19:6ff).
  • To the mob, apparent weakness (Mat. 27:42).
  • To the disciples, seeming defeat (John 21:3).
  • To those who lived rebelliously, nothing (1 Cor. 1:17).
  • To those who died in disobedience, an essential but missing element (cf. John 6:53).
  • To those who lived obediently, atonement (Eph. 1:7).
  • To those who died having walked in the light, everything (1 Jn. 1:7).

Untold millions are unaware of the value of the blood of Jesus. You and I must decide what the blood of Jesus means to us. Interestingly, in four different ways, the Bible tells us that what the blood does for us we obtain the benefit of through baptism.
—The blood of Christ sanctifies (Heb. 13:12). We are sanctified by baptism (Eph. 5:25-27).
—The blood of Christ washes away sins (Rev. 1:5-6). Sins are washed away at baptism (Acts 22:16).
—The blood of Christ remits sins (Mat. 26:28). Sins are remitted through baptism (Acts 2:38).
—Jesus shed His blood in His death (John 19:34). We contact the dead of Jesus at baptism (Romans 6:3-4).
The Bible makes clear not just what the blood of Christ means to our souls, but also how we get the benefit of that blood. May we do what God says do to receive the benefits of Jesus’ blood and continue to walk in the light of Christ in order to have that blood continually cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:7).

THE INNER STRUGGLES

Neal Pollard

Marilyn J. Abraham revealed something remarkable that a forest ranger told her about how trees protect themselves.  The ranger said that when a tree’s life is threatened, stressed by fire, drought, disease, or whatever, it twists beneath its bark to make itself stronger. You cannot see this new inner strength on the surface. The bark often looks the same.  It is when the exterior is stripped away or the tree is felled that its inner struggles are revealed.

The ranger’s story tells us several helpful things.  Often, we do not know the depths and extremes of others’ suffering.  Too, usually, no one knows the depth and extreme of our suffering.  But, God is able to help make us stronger even through the struggles through which we go.

Asaph wrote, “My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; My soul refused to be comforted” (Psa. 77:1-3).  Asaph depicts a mighty inner struggle, one wallowing in the pit of despair.  When things seemed most hopeless, the struggler saw that His pain had changed His view of God.  He had focused on God’s anger and seeming rejection.  But, then, He remembered who God is.  He thought about God’s deeds, His power, His holiness, and His leadership.  Then, he had the help he needed to handle the hurts.

To those who are hurting, remember who God is and what He can do!  Think about the strength and growth God can produce in you through the trials you are enduring.  May all of us understand, as we deal with others, that we may not be able to tell how much others are hurting when we see them.  Let us deal gently with others, since we do not know their inner struggles.

What To Do When The Bull Takes You By The Horns

Neal Pollard

It’s one of those pictures where you are relieved to know that the people captured in a painful predicament survived and recovered just fine.  That way, you don’t feel guilty laughing at them.  In the October 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest (p. 109), there is an incredible picture from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.  What are the chances that one bull would be lucky enough to skewer brothers.  One either end of this bull’s rack are Americans that were, um, painfully caught.  The bull, literally, took them by his horns.  Even Hemingway would have to call this “poetic justice.”

It would be interesting to learn the etymology of the phrase, “take the bull by the horns.”  We know it is an encouragement to endure the risks in doing something bold, daring, and difficult.  It depicts bravery, bravado, and brazenness.

What happens when risk and daring backfire?  What about when you stick your neck out and your nearly lose it?  What about when your big dreams come to resemble a nightmare?

When the bull takes you by the horns, it hurts.  Though I don’t know this from first hand experience, I have seen the video footage and enough photos like the one in RD to believe it.  It hurts when you take that big risk (to invite a friend to church, to have a Bible study not end in baptism, to hand an olive branch to someone you’re at odds with and have the hand slapped, etc.).  Acknowledge that those who dare and do will sometimes know defeat.

When the bull takes you by the horns, it’s not usually fatal.  I have concluded it is the adrenaline rush of staring death in the face that gets these Type A’s into the narrow streets of Pamplona.  The dread of the goring is felt many more times often than the point of the horns.  If you’ve failed trying something big for the Lord, you may wrestle with being gun-shy.  Yet, ask yourself, “Did it kill me?”  If you are reading this, it obviously did not!  Try again!  Your next attempt may be your greatest.

When the bull takes you by the horns, learn from it!  When it comes to the running of the bulls, I’d say that the lesson to be learned is stay off the streets when angry bulls seeing a lot of red are turned loose there.  Perhaps another lesson is to run at least a step or two faster than the guy beside you.   But, when daring to do great things for God, learn from the mistakes and failures.  Let it instruct you.  Be wiser next time.  Try a different approach.  But, at all costs, do not stop doing your very best for Christ.

CHEER UP THE LONELY

Neal Pollard

July 11th is National Cheer Up The Lonely Day.  I know that some of these observances are unworthy and meritless–July is also the month for “Disobedience Day,” “World UFO Day,” “Video Games Day,” “Embrace Your Geekness Day” (that’s today for any wanting to broadcast their nerdiness), “Yellow Pig Day,” and “Take Your Pants For A Walk Day.”  Almost every day on the calendar is national something day.  Yet, I appreciate very much the sentiment behind “Cheer Up The Lonely Day.”

Francis Pesek of Detroit, Michigan, is apparently the founder of this holiday.  The “Holiday Insights” website only says that Mr. Pesek “was a quiet, kind, wonderful man who had a heart of gold. He got the idea as a way of promoting kindness toward others who were lonely or forgotten as shut-ins or in nursing homes with no relatives or friends to look in on them” (http://holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/July/cheeruplonely.htm).  Syndicated columnist Kerby Anderson writes, “The baby boom generation is headed for a crisis of loneliness.”  A Gallup study reported more than one in three Americans are lonely.  There are some more apt to suffer from long-term loneliness, such as those with chronic illness, the disabled, married people isolated from each other, widows and widowers, single adults, pessimists, and those who tend toward reclusiveness.  It leads to stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, negative relationships, and several health complications.

Most experts say that to a significant degree, the lonely person himself or herself plays the most key role in overcoming the loneliness.  Paying attention to others, serving and helping them, is key to defeating it.  There is also the need to focus, perhaps to an even greater degree, on faith and one’s relationship with God.  They may benefit from reading and other resources to improve relationship-building.

Yet, God has given us, as Christians, a responsibility to reach out to the lonely.  The Hebrews writer (12:12) quotes Isaiah, who urges God’s people to “encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble” (35:3).  Our task is to help those who are overcome by life’s troubles and temptations (cf. Gal. 6:1-2).  We are to visit those, like widows, in their “distress” (Js. 1:27).  Christ calls on those who wish to be saved to be engaged in visiting those having a variety of needs (Mt. 25:36).  Certainly, in principle, God calls on us to do what we can to ease the hurt and burden of loneliness.

It is encouraging to read how God feels about the lonely.  “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).  Jesus said He was sent to such as these (Lk. 4:18).  If God has such tender feelings for people such as the lonely, shouldn’t we?