The Art of Excuses (Jeremiah 1)

The Art of Excuses (Jeremiah 1)

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” 

Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to proclaim God’s Word to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return. 

First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is God speaking to Jeremiah, and notice what He says, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses. He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so. 

Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on a lack of talent. They say that it isn’t natural to them, that there are others more suited for the job. But God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.  

As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the task. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. He has promised that He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that. 

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What To See When False Prophets Speak

What To See When False Prophets Speak

Neal Pollard

Peter has a sobering warning for the church, writing, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Pet. 2:1). He warns them about the model, the methods, and the message of these men. The counterparts of these modern messengers is the false prophets of old.

Jeremiah lived at a time when such prophets flourished, and the result of their work was the destruction of the people. Jeremiah 23 is a graphic depiction of what God helped Jeremiah see as he looked at and listened to these sinful seers. Notice that in Jeremiah 23:9-40), he saw:

  • Tears (9-10)–Jeremiah was heartbroken, trembling, and overcome, because he knew their message was different from God’s Word and it was taking people off course. 
  • Pollution (11-12)–The Lord found their way wickedness, and this pollution made for a slippery path that would make them fall in calamity and punishment. 
  • Offensiveness (13-14)–They looked to the wrong spiritual source and it led the people of God to commit horrible depravity. 
  • Tragedy (15)–Their message was going to cause their own spiritual sickness and death.
  • Emptiness (16-18)–The message is from their own imagination and not from the Lord’s mouth, so they tell those who hate God they’ll have peace and those who walk in stubbornness that everything will be fine.
  • Storms (19-20)–The storm is the tempest of God’s wrath upon the heads of these false messengers. 
  • Audacity (21-25)–They ran, but God didn’t send them; They prophesied, but God didn’t speak to them; God was right there listening when they said, “I had a dream, I had a dream!”
  • Heart Trouble (26-27)–The prophets had spiritual heart trouble, and their message was loved by people with heart trouble. It resulted in both of them forgetting God. 
  • Straw (28)–Just as straw and grain are totally different things, so is God’s message and their false message. 
  • Judgment (29-40)–God’s Word is like fire and a hammer. He is against their Word and against them for misusing their speaking abilities and leading His people astray. They don’t furnish the people with “the slightest benefit.” They cause the people to forget what truth is.  The end result is tragedy. 

So many can have a message that sounds good, makes one feel good, but does no good! In fact, their message contradicts what God said in His Word. As we grow our Bible knowledge, it will help us see these messengers and their messages for what they are. God’s Word is a blessing to us, both now and eternally. But, measure their message against the Master’s. Embrace only the words that are from Him! Reject the words that come from them!

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Destroying What God Loves

Destroying What God Loves

Neal Pollard

God encouraged and comforted Jeremiah, a man He had delegated for a difficult task, with these intimate words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (1:5). This knowledge is intimate knowledge, spoken of God’s intimate acquaintance with Moses (Dt. 34:10) and even Adam’s sexual knowing of Eve (Gen. 4:1). This consecration is “that which belongs to the sphere of the sacred” (TWOT, 786). This appointment is an intentional act of giving something or someone based on the value of the gift. God was sending Jeremiah to the people because of how highly He regarded this one who would become His prophet. Taken together, Jeremiah the fetus was cherished and beloved by God. He recognized Jeremiah as totally human in the womb as out of it.

How startling to read, then, that God “hates…hands that shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:16,17).  This echoes what is said elsewhere in the Old Testament (Dt. 19:10; Prov. 28:17; Isa. 59:7). Certainly, the unborn are as innocent as can be. Judah’s punishment (70 years of Babylonian Captivity) was sealed because King Manasseh’s sanctioned and encouraged the killing of the nation’s children (2 Ki. 24:3-4; Jer. 15:4). The people paid the price for destroying God’s precious children, known, consecrated, and appointed by Him for work only He knows. 

It is not newsworthy for me to tell you how many abortions have been committed in our nation just since January, 1973. Those facts are frequently shared. However, it is helpful for us to ask what influence we have in trying to turn people’s hearts toward righteousness.

  • Focus more on soul-winning. Converting men and women to Christ will persuade more to sensitivity to God’s will on everything that matters, including this.
  • Thoughtfully examine the positions and voting records of every person seeking political office. Forget party affiliation. Investigate and use your constitutional rights. The lines in the sand on this issue are already horrific, yet they still keep moving.
  • Pray for national leaders to care for the precious unborn and courageous defend them.
  • Stand with and encourage groups who fight for the rights of unborn children.

Only God knows how full America’s wine vat is with the grapes of His wrath. Perhaps, like Judah and Manasseh, it is too late to save this nation. That is a matter for constant prayer. Let’s be infinitely more concerned with saving the precious life within the womb than we are the personal comforts, freedoms, and privileges we enjoy in this nation.

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So You Have A Sinful Past? (POEM)

So You Have A Sinful Past? (POEM)

 

Neal Pollard

Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a liar,
David was an adulterer and to murder he did conspire,
Gideon and Timothy were timid, Peter a confirmed denier,
Paul wrecked havoc on the church, so full of hate and ire.

God, from time immemorial, has used the earthen vessel,
Sons of thunder or deceivers– like Jacob, who an angel did wrestle.
Just like Abraham and Isaac, very human if chosen and special
Barak, Samson, Jephthah, who with flaws their faith did nestle

From cover to cover, Scripture shows that God works through sinners
Preachers, prophets, kings and elders, saints and great soul-winners
It helps us who would serve today, to be better enders than beginners
To not let sin defeat us, to go from offenders to God defenders

Perhaps you have a sinful past or there’s guilt here in your today
A habit, sin, or weakness, crimes of deeds, thoughts, or what you say
Look back to men and women of old, they willed for they knew The Way
Conquer through Christ your old man, get busy, trust in God and obey!

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Peter denying Christ
“Good That Comes From Bad”

“Good That Comes From Bad”

Neal Pollard

With a name like “Lamentations,” you know it isn’t a joke book. It’s not lighthearted or jovial. It’s the inspired record of Jeremiah’s tears and troubled spirit over the punishment of Judah for her idolatry and abandonment of God. It is graphic (see 2:20-21; 4:4-10; 5:11-14). Conditions became terrible for the nation (cf. 1:9-10). The book is filled with apocalyptic language and hyperbole (3:1-16).

In the middle of the prophesy, though, Jeremiah expresses the hopeful effect of all this calamity and reaping. The desired effect of captivity was three-fold, according to Lamentations 3:40. First, it was for self-examination–“Let us search out and examine our ways.” Second, it was for repentance–“and turn back to the Lord.” Finally, it was for spiritual development–“Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”

When we sin or even are caught in some long-term transgression, there will very often be consequences. If we fail to overcome it, the consequences will be unending and most serious. Yet, if we “come to ourselves” (cf. Luke 15:17) and let go of what is keeping us from being right with God, it can have those same three positive impacts on us. It cause cause us to engage in proper self-examination. It will hopefully lead us to repent. Then, this paves the road for us to grow close to God through proper spiritual development.

The ideal is to avoid spiritually spiraling out of control or into some sin problem. Yet, if or when we do, let us remember Lamentations 3:40. Good can come from bad.

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Is There No Balm In Gilead?

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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STUBBORN TRUTHS

STUBBORN TRUTHS

Neal Pollard

—And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mat. 19:9).
—Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
—For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom. 1:26-27).
—And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all…There is one body (Eph.1:22-23; 4:4).
—And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
—A woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-14).

Passages like these are hotly debated, denied, and derided by those who either cast them against other Scripture or subjugate them to current cultural expectations. Those who desire to accept verses like those above as simple truth are often thought to be ignorant or, worse, dangerous.

The same book reveals the person and sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals the nature and attributes of God. It tells us where we came from and where we are going. It speaks of grace and faith. We accept these truths at face value. But when we come to passages that go against the grain of popular opinion (in or out of religion), cultural mores, or religious orthodoxy, we somehow attempt to say they do not say what they say they say. Jehoiakim’s scribe’s knife and his brazier fire did not eliminate truth (Jer. 36:23). It actually intensified the message against him (36:29ff). The number of academic degrees, religious followers, or oratorical skill will not change the truth of Scripture. It is what it is. Our role is to humbly submit to it or forever beat ourselves against it. May we love and revere God enough to always do the former.

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The “Nothings”

The “Nothings”

Neal Pollard

What the child is always doing, despite evidence to the contrary (“nothing”). What is wrong with one’s spouse who sits nearby, quietly and tightlippedly fuming (“nothing”). What the interrupted person was going to say (“nothing”). The word which defines itself is “nothing.” The Bible teaches, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:4).

Those low in self-esteem think of themselves as nothing. Children and spouses who are constantly told so think of themselves as nothing. Those not as wealthy as their friends or neighbors often conclude themselves to be nothing. Those unrecognized for their accomplishments can feel like they are nothing. But the inspired apostle refers to some who think themselves to be something who are actually “nothing.” The Bible makes mention of that arrogant family, The “Nothings.” They are a haughty, proud, self-involved, earthly-minded crew.

Meet The Nothings.

There Are The “Good For Nothings.” Jeremiah introduces them. He says, “This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” (Jer. 13:10). They were unaware of problems they had. They were evil, spiritually deaf, selfish, and idolatrous. He compares them to a good for nothing, straight from a hole in the ground, dirt-soiled belt!

No one is inherently worthless, but we can choose a lifestyle that is wicked, lukewarm, or indistinct (cf. Mat. 5:13). Christians, by our distinctive nature, are of great value to God (1 Pet. 2:9). Yet, by surrendering our Christian influence, we can become “good for nothing.”

There Are The “Brought To Nothings.” After referring to the danger of making decisions based solely on human reasoning, Jeremiah prays that God will not bring him to nothing (Jer. 10:23-24). God will rename some the Brought to Nothings, those who believe man’s ideas over God’s facts. Paul warns that God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14). The wisest and most scholarly man who discounts God’s Word will be a regretful member of the Brought To Nothings someday.

There Are The “Need Of Nothings.” These are the overly comfortable, spiritually out of shape members of the Nothings clan. They live their lives saying, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and they do not know that they “are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They aren’t really bad people, but they aren’t all that good either. They’re just quite satisfied with what they have done for Christ, which isn’t all that great and not too bad. They merely yawn through their spiritually lives, only occasionally stirring from spiritual sleep (cf. Eph. 5:14). They half-heartedly do just enough to deceive themselves into thinking they’re pleasing the Lord.

Unrelated to these Nothings are some good folks, like the Ashamed In Nothings (Phil. 1:20), Terrified By Nothings (Phil. 1:28), Anxious For Nothings (Phil. 4:6), and the Wavering In Nothings (Jas. 1:6, KJV). But the Nothings family mentioned above are black sheep in God’s family. No one should want to “take after” them.

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