Is There No Balm In Gilead?

Neal Pollard

Jeremiah asks that question rhetorically? It comes at the end of an oracle God gave this prophet to share with his people, Judah. He had asked if the people had turned to idolatry because God was not in Zion (Jer. 8:19). He then ends by saying, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?” (8:22). In context, the people were sin-sick, but the cure was available. It was not because God was unable to restore them that they were ailing, but because they refused to seek the cure.

Certainly, today’s society mirrors this attitude of Jeremiah’s contemporaries, but this, in context, was spoken to those who had been healed in the past. These were God’s people. Now, they were spiritually sick and not getting better. The logical question is the one Jeremiah asked—“Why not?” When we are sick with sinful habits, lifestyles, attitudes, and speech, why don’t we turn to God for the cure?

  • Sometimes, we are oblivious to our symptoms.  Paul speaks of some who are “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). We can become callous to our condition and rationalize it. As long as we persist in that state, it is as if there is no balm.
  • Sometimes, we look elsewhere for the cure. Judah had her idols, and so can we. People struggling with life turn to so many poor substitutes to numb, deaden, and try to eliminate the pain. Nothing can substitute for the Balm of Gilead (cf. Jer. 3:23).
  • Sometimes, we feel ourselves to be a hopeless case. As we struggle with our temptations and sins, we can get to the point where we feel we’ve gone too far or been too often to reverse the problem. This is not God’s message. He provides hope to every one who will come to Him for help (Heb. 6:9-12).
  • Sometimes, we underestimate God’s power. Jeremiah’s predecessor, Isaiah, shares God’s message regarding this, saying, “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (59:1). Jeremiah would echo this idea, writing, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (32:17; keep reading in context for more beautiful truth along this line). Though we should know better, sometimes we forget God’s power to save.
  • Sometimes, we neglect our support system. God gave the church as a hospital where all of us, sick with sin, can not only receive healing from Him but help each other. In a sense, we’re a leper colony that has found the One who will keep us from dying. But we need each other for help to survive this spiritual sickness (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Sometimes, we don’t avail ourselves of God’s medicine. How tragic to die from spiritual disease when God has the means to heal us. We have His Word as a divine prescription. We have prayer. We have the confidence of faith. We have the trust in His providence. He has armed us sufficiently with the cure, if we accept it (cf. Luke 5:31).

While they await the cure for cancer, cystic fibrosis, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and the like, our greatest illness has already been remedied. This illness carries with it the greatest repercussions. We cannot neglect the cure. But if we spiritually die, it will not be because there is no balm and no Physician. It will be because we would not come to Him for healing. May we not let this be the reason.

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Celebrating Independence Day

Neal Pollard

Scores of people from virtually every nation on earth make the journey by land, sea, and air to come to the United States, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  The day in American history, marked by the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the Revolutionary War with Britain, is considered the birthday of America.  “Independence Day” symbolizes not merely a day, but a way of life and the blessings of living in a free nation.

Mark’s gospel begins with the life of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.  In the passage, Mark tells about the many people from Jerusalem and all the land of Judah who came to be baptized by him.  This immersion, though not the one to which all believers must submit today for salvation (cf. Mark 16:16), was an important precursor to Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Apollos (Acts 18:25) and certain men of Ephesus (Acts 19:1ff) were among those even in the Christian age who had previously undergone it.  The baptism bears a remarkable resemblance to the water baptism of the Great Commission.  It was a baptism involving repentance (Mark 1:4), as is baptism under Christ’s covenant (Acts 2:38).  It was a baptism resulting in the remission of sins (Mark 1:4), as is baptism into Christ today (Acts 2:38).  It was a baptism done in much water (Mark 1:5; cf. John 3:23).  So it is with baptism into Christ (Acts 8:38-39; Romans 6:3-4).  It was a baptism properly submitted to only by those understanding its importance in light of their sin problem (Mark 1:5).  So it is with baptism into Christ (Acts 22:16).

Both the baptism of John and the baptism of the Great Commission share this, too.  Both brought freedom and independence from sin, each in its proper dispensation.  Freedom to vote, own property, and pursue happiness are wonderful, but nothing compares to the Independence Day we celebrate when we are baptized into Christ.

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He Can Carry What’s Too Heavy For You

Poem inspired by this beautiful new song by Jeff Wiant, member at Bear Valley.  Click on the link below to hear it:

CLICK HERE: Jeff Wiant’s “Won’t You Come”

Neal Pollard

We struggle and strain to carry our load
We buckle as it gets heavier on our backs
We fall and hurt on this rough, rocky road
The weight makes us stop in our tracks

Looking around with a face full of pleading
We wonder who is observing our pain
We’re wounded, weary, broken and bleeding
Set to surrender from the stress and strain

Tears flow freely, we have been here before
We know how the journey seems endless
Certain we can’t make it alone to the door
We feel solitude, helpless and friendless

It’s bigger than us, crushing and enormous
And the contents shameful and unsightly
We’ve borne it so long it’s begun to conform us
To a stooped struggler holding on tightly

A voice calling gently, “Bring it over to Me,
I can help you and give you My best,
Your burden is heavy, I know you are weary,
Come to Me and I will give you rest.”

Could you double down, wincing and worn,
Grit your teeth and ignore His free aid?
Eventually, it will bury you after making you mourn
You know an exorbitant price must be paid.

He is able and willing, but waiting for you
To seek what He offers you without reservation
Let Him do for you what only He can do
Give your burdens to Christ with no hesitation.

Think of the journey, partnered with One
Without limits in power, purity and pity
Who’ll stay with you until your journey is done
As together you arrive at His heavenly city.

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Carelessness And Ignorance

Neal Pollard

Of course it happens on a week where you are already running a little late, and it contributes to an improper decision.  Sunday morning, en route to teach my Bible class, I approached the red light at Ken Caryl and Wadsworth to turn right and head up to the church building.  However, I did not execute a clean stop but rolled through it (since I could see that no cars were close enough to overtake me).  Unfamiliar with the mandatory use of the acceleration lane, I pulled on into the right lane of northbound traffic.  It was about fifteen seconds later that I noticed the State Trooper inviting me to pull over and chat about it. Truthfully, I did not realize I had rolled rather than stopped and I did not realize that I had to use the acceleration lane first. The extremely polite officer let me know that my ignorance and relative indifference did not make my actions lawful. Only because of his kindness and the validity of my insurance and registration did he let me go with just a warning. But, I was “dead to rights.”  It would have been an expensive lesson for a man who has been driving for 30 years as of this year. Oh, and I was 30 seconds late to my Bible class, too.

I will claim that I am a courteous and ordinarily lawful driver with a clean MVR (motor vehicle record), but that did not make me exempt from Colorado driving laws.

It is sobering to contemplate the great day of judgment. “All nations will be gathered before [Christ]” (Mat. 25:31). “Each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12; cf.  2 Cor. 5:10). “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16). “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). While every child of God will be the benefactor of amazing grace available to all who walk in the light (Ti. 3:7; 1 Jn. 1:7), there will be moral, upright people lost for eternity (Mat. 7:21-24). God will deal out fiery retribution to “those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Th. 1:8). Despite this, they will pay the penalty of eternal destruction (2 Th. 1:9; cf. Mat. 25:46).

I cannot help but think of how many people will stand before the kind, beneficent Christ and claim ignorance or carelessness. He will have demonstrated great patience and doled out so many “second chances” (2 Pet. 3:9), but His long-suffering will have been exhausted in that day “when He comes to be glorified in His saints” (2 Th. 1:10). May we “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pe. 3:15) and make sure we are in compliance with His reasonable expectations.

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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).

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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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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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Devil Anse: A Sinner Redeemed?

devil-anseNeal Pollard

I just finished reading best-selling author Lisa Alther’s book, Blood Feud: The Hatfields & The McCoys, The Epic Story of Murder & Vengeance. It chronicles the often-confusing causes and effects, crimes and consequences between these two families. While it was neither the longest-standing nor bloodiest feud of its kind in 19th-Century America, it, probably thanks to T.C. Crawford’s stereotyping, contemporary book about the hillbilly feud, is by far the most famous. Alther, related by an ancestor’s marriage to the McCoys, includes a great many fascinating facts concerning the feud and its aftermath. None interested me more than something she mentions several times throughout the book. Long after the feud, an elderly Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the Hatfield side of the fight, was baptized by Dyke Garrett, a former Civil War chaplain, and Devil “went on to found a Church of Christ congregation in West Virginia” (142; cf. Hatfield and Spence, Tale of the Devil, 97).  I do know that a member of the church where I preached in Virginia, transplanted from West Virginia, was a direct descendent of Devil Anse, but I did not know about his baptism.

The Christian Chronicle did a feature on this in 2012, authored by Bobby Ross, Jr.  Ross interviewed Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, who seemed doubtful that the Hatfields were anything other than primitive Baptists. However, Foster confirmed that Garrett was a member of the church of Christ. A genealogical site managed by Charles Douglass Brown echoes Alther’s report that Hatfield helped establish a church of Christ in an unspecified West Virginia location (https://www.geni.com/people/William-Anderson-Devil-Anse-Hatfield/6000000006903464087). A man taught by Alexander Campbell, Alexander M. Lunsford, is said to have converted Dyke Garrett in the 1870s. “Garrett began his ministry near Crooked Creek in Logan County on December 14, 1878” (http://blueridgecountry.com/blogging/hatfields-mccoys-revisited-blog/hatfields-and-mccoys-revisited-week-4religion/). One year soon thereafter there were nearly 100 conversions in Logan and Boone Counties, and growth continued to occur in the area built on the foundation of their work (ibid.).

All of this lends credence to the multiple reports that Hatfield, goad of so many McCoy murders, responded to the gospel call about a decade before his death. How sincere he was at the time or how faithful he was thereafter is difficult to tell. But, if he was, there is truth to Ms. Alther’s tongue-in-cheek designation of Hatfield as “a sinner redeemed” (p. 171). What Scripture makes clear is, that a sinner who sincerely turns from sin and obeys from the heart (cf. Rom. 6:17) follows Paul’s example. The apostle wrote, “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). If so, what a redeeming end to a tragic, tragic tale. Certainly, whatever our past, obedience to the gospel brings triumph where there was once tragedy! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).