The Struggles Of The Righteous

The Struggles Of The Righteous

(Pinch Hitting For Brent, Who Is Sick)

(This is from today’s Lehman Learner)

Neal Pollard

Perhaps Jeremiah seemed to be mean, harsh, even unloving, to his brethren. His message is certainly what we could categorize as negative, but we remind ourselves that its source was God. What may get lost in Jeremiah’s challenging message is how it affected him to share it. Chapter nine is full of the struggles he endured in being God’s spokesman with a message of divine judgment.

Jeremiah endured mourning (1). While Judah would be hypercritical and threatening toward Jeremiah for his message, they had him all wrong. He did not relish his unpleasant message. He would have preferred to have kept his mouth closed (20:9). They had no idea of how his mission was wearing on him. He writes, “Oh that my head were waters And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people!” He knew that they were hurting themselves by their lifestyle, and he wanted them to escape judgment. It can be heartbreaking work to share God’s word on any number of unpleasant, unpopular subjects. No rational preacher, elder, or teacher is excited to share such a message, but it must be done (2 Tim. 4:2).  Jeremiah is rightly called the “weeping prophet” (8:18; 13:17; Lam. 2:18). Revealing this was an emotional struggle.

Jeremiah endured isolation  (2). The pressures of sharing a message nobody wanted to hear created inevitable isolation. He felt alone and like nobody understood or cared. He longs to escape such disappointing, unrighteous behavior. He wanted to run like Jonah. He felt alone like Elijah. It can go with the business of declaring God’s message. There are times when you may feel like you are standing all alone, but you never will if you are sharing God’s word God’s way. He will never leave you (Mat. 28:20; Heb. 13:6). 

Jeremiah endured disillusionment (3-6). He expected more and better from his brethren. They knew better, but they were guilty of treachery and adultery (2), lies and deceit (3,5-6), ignorance (3), violence (4), slander (5), and general iniquity (5). Have you ever overheard someone you looked up to use foul language or stumbled upon someone doing something sinful? It’s like a punch in the gut. But imagine a congregation full of people doing what God through Jeremiah reports. It had to have been discouraging and caused feelings of hopelessness. 

Jeremiah endured a sinking realization (7-11). What was the cost of this? Sin is not without consequences (Gal. 6:7-8; Hos. 8:7; Prov. 6:26). At the heart of God’s message was this rhetorical question: “Shall I not punish them for these things?” (9). Jeremiah knew what was coming. There would be weeping, wailing, and dirges (funeral songs)(10).  Judah would be ruined and desolate (11). Jeremiah knew this ahead of time. Whatever normalcy he witnessed each morning and evening, he knew that would ultimately change. The fact of judgment looms over the horizon of time. It will be a day of rejoicing for the righteous and prepared, but not for the rest of humanity. The people of Judah were not ready for this judgment, and Jeremiah knew that. 

Jeremiah endured being overwhelmed (12-16). The message gets specific about the nature of what was coming. It was going to be more devastating than any of them had experienced. Because of their stubborn rebellion, they would be scattered and annihilated. Hope belongs to the penitent, but there’s just no good news for those who are determined to oppose God’s way.  

Jeremiah endured unpleasant duty (17-22). God tells Jeremiah to call for mourning, wailing, and tears (17-19). He is help them focus on their shame (19).  The heart of the message was death (20-22). Don’t you think Jeremiah would have loved to have spoken of grace, mercy, lovingkindness, and blessings? But the circumstances did not call for that. Jeremiah had to be faithful to God’s message. Like Micaiah, every faithful spokesman for God should say, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I shall speak” (1 Ki. 22:14). 

There is a ray of hope starting in 9:23. Amid the folly of idolatry, there will be a reminder of the wonderful, perfect character of God in chapter ten. But even here, there is encouragement for God’s faithful servant. It was a message for the worldly wise, for the mighty man, and for the wealthy (23) not to trust in those things, but to trust in Him. Everyone should boast of knowing and understanding God, that He is “the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things” (24). Punishment was for the spiritually uncircumcised (25-26). It was not for the faithful, like His man Jeremiah. Whatever we have to struggle through for the Savior, may we know that God will be with us through thick and thin. He has not left us alone. He will always be with us, help us, and strengthen us! Declaring His word is right, and He will not let us lose for being unswervingly loyal to it and Him! 

Losing A Shoe, Winning The Race

Losing A Shoe, Winning The Race

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Before a track meet in Omaha, Nebraska, the first Saturday of this month, Terence “Bud” Crawford was most renowned for his perfect 38-0 record as a professional boxer. His unblemished record includes 29 knockouts, but he, then later millions more, saw his seven-year-old daughter deliver the most unlikely knockout blow many of us have seen. Little Talaya ran out of her shoe at the starting block, then fell behind the rest of the pack by 20 meters in this 200 meter race while she put it back on. Not only did she not give up, she stormed back and won the race with seconds to spare. She has aptly with words like grit, determination, and undaunted. Heroic and inspiring have also been bandied about. Perhaps her drive not to lose comes from her father, but she certainly reflected well on him (ESPN report here).

The Bible refers to life as running a race (Heb. 12:1). Paul urges us to run in order to win (1 Cor. 9:24). He was concerned about running in vain (Gal. 2:2). He was determined to finish the course (2 Tim. 4:7). While Paul and the writer of Hebrews describe a race that sounds more like a marathon than a couple hundred yards, it will require all the more grit and determination to successfully complete. There will be encumbrances and entanglements. Whether problems or pressures, things will happen that can bring us to a standstill. In those moments, we may be tempted to quit. Those are the times we can remember our Father and reflect His ways! In our case, He’s not just watching! He can help us win.

Are you discouraged? Do you feel defeated? Maybe it’s something someone has done to you. Maybe it’s something you have done. Whatever it is, perhaps you feel it’s useless to go on. By getting back on track, you may not only win the race yourself but inspire so many others through your successful finish! Don’t give up! The reward is worth the effort. “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

Lilah’s Life’s Lessons

Lilah’s Life’s Lessons

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Sometimes, preachers will tell other preachers, “Here’s an outline. Take it and make a good lesson out of it.” Last Sunday morning, I preached a sermon from 2 Corinthians 4 I entitled, “When Life Deals You A Blow!” After overviewing what the chapter is about, I told the story of an elderly bank robber and then had five points that when life deals you a blow…

I. FOCUS ON YOUR PURPOSE (1-6)
II. RECOGNIZE YOUR POWER SOURCE (7)
III. PROPERLY VIEW YOUR PROBLEMS (8-12)
IV. MAINTAIN YOUR PRINCIPLES (13-15)
V. KEEP YOUR PERSPECTIVE (16-5:1)

It always warms my heart when our young people give me a copy of their notes. It tells me they are engaged, listening, and thinking about the sermon. I always treasure these and keep these. I definitely will be doing that with Lilah’s notes from the lesson, which her dad, Josh, gave me. She has his sense of humor. It lets me know she was really thinking.

In bullet points, she wrote…

  • When life deals you a blow, blow back.
  • When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
  • Stuff that is important, take care of it and do it.
  • Be a good sport.
  • Don’t be a loser. Be kind.
  • Don’t rob banks.

The late Cleon Lyles once wrote a book entitled, Wish I’d Said That. I couldn’t have said better what Lilah said in her “retelling” of my lesson. While she took her thoughts a little different direction, think of the nuggets of wisdom from her good young mind.

First, don’t cave in and give up when you face trials. Fight back! We have God on our side (Rom. 8:31). We will gain the victory (1 John 5:4). Resist the devil (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8). “Blow back!”

Second, make the best of your trials. Don’t feel sorry for yourself or dwell on the negative. Find the positives in your difficulties. Trials train us, and that’s God’s doing (Heb. 12:11). We can even rejoice even in our distressing trials (1 Pet. 1:6). “Make lemonade.”

Third, take care of important stuff. Don’t fret over it, worry about it, neglect it, or dismiss it. Deal with it (Mat. 6:33)! If you’re not a Christian, become one! If you’re not a faithful Christ, be one! “Do it!”

Fourth, be a good sport. When it comes to our trials, it’s tempting to be a bad sport. We complain about how unfair it is. We ask, “Why me?!” We allow our trials to cause us to sin. Attitude determines altitude! Paul defines a “good sport” in passages like Philippians 4:11-12.

Fifth, don’t be a loser. The world has its own idea about what makes one a loser. We must forget their point of view in favor of God’s. He says if you gain the whole world but lose your soul, you’re the biggest loser of all (Mat. 16:26)!

Sixth, don’t rob banks. That one is pretty self-explanatory!

Here’s what I know about Lilah. She was not only listening to the sermon, she was thinking about it. She was applying it. She seems like the person James calls us all to be in James one, humbly receiving the implanted, saving Word (21), proving herself an effectual doer of the Word (22,25), and one who wants to abide in it (25). Sweet Lilah preached to me, and she challenges me to be better when trials come my way! Thanks for your improved take on my lesson. Keep them coming!

“Trust The Process”

“Trust The Process”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

In the lead up to the College Football Playoff National Championship, I have read a few articles about tonight’s game. More than once, the players and coaches have talked about the need to “trust the process.” That idea applies to the entire program, to the season, to preparing for every game including this last one, to both sides of the ball, down to the individual player’s preparation for this game. “The process” is comprised of every fundamental principle intended to bring about the highest success. There will be trying moments and setbacks, even failures. But when the tendency to doubt is the greatest, it is then that you most need to “trust the process.”

They say that athletics are a metaphor for life. The inspired apostle Paul thought so. Long before Nick Saban or Kirby Smart and their players used the mantra, the first-century native of Tarsus was teaching the idea in the Bible. Here is how he put it, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:3-6). No, he does not say, “Trust the process.” He gives it instead: Endure, focus, follow the rules, and work hard. Just as coaches use metaphors, making comparisons to chopping wood, flying the plane, rowing the boat, etc., Paul refers to the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer to illustrate principles in the process of living the Christian life.

Our goal is the enjoy ultimate success. The Bible defines that as overcoming the world (Jn. 16:33; 1 Jn. 4:4; 5:4; Re. 2:7,11,17, etc.). There are times this is very difficult, but at all times we must “trust the process.” Trust the process…

  • When you are encountering various trials (Js. 1:2ff). 
  • When you are aiming at church growth (Acts 2:42-47).
  • When you are combatting temptation (Js. 4:7-8).
  • When you are offended or have offended (Mt. 5:23-24; 18:15-17).
  • When you are trying to win back a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1-2). 
  • When you are seeking to follow Jesus (Lk. 9:23-26).
  • When you are working on your marriage (Eph. 5:22-33).
  • When you are running the marathon of childrearing (Eph. 6:1-4; Dt. 6:4-9).
  • When you are building your relationship with God (Ps. 1; Col. 3:1ff).
  • When you are shepherding the flock (1 Pt. 5:1-4; Acts 20:28).
  • When you are dealing with prosperity (1 Ti. 6:17-19) or poverty (Js. 1:9-12).
  • When you are struggling with sins of the tongue (Js. 3:1-12).
  • When you are wondering if it’s worth it to keep going (2 Tim. 4:1-8).
  • When you are being persecuted for your faith or for no good reason at all (Mt. 5:38-48).

In other words, whatever our specific struggle, problem, difficulty, or trial, God has given us a proven process. How many, through the ages, have overcome and won simply because they trusted it? As a loyal, long-suffering fan of the guys in red and black, I am hoping their overall process ends a 41-year drought. If it doesn’t, life will go on. As you follow Jesus, I am hoping that by trusting the process found throughout Scripture you win the crown of eternal life (Js. 1:12). When all is said and done, that is all that matters! 

What I am hoping, not predicting.
Macaroni And Ketchup

Macaroni And Ketchup

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing passages that help me in some way. Our faith is a lifelong work-in- progress. It can be high maintenance. The Bible helps us maintain a healthy faith in any circumstance. It counsels us, convicts us, excites us, scares us, and gives us hope for a perfect future.

I once thought I was the only person who liked ketchup on macaroni. Turns out, there’re like four other people on earth who like it, too. Finding out that we aren’t alone in something is super cool!

Maybe we’ve thought, “Man, I don’t know if other Christians struggle as much as I do.” I’ve used these passages in an article before, but they’re very powerful. We aren’t alone in our struggles!

“So I have learned this rule: when I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body. That law makes war against the law that my mind accepts.

That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and that law makes me its prisoner. What a miserable person I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death?

I thank God for his salvation through Jesus Christ our lord! So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful self I am a slave to the law of sin.

So now anyone who is in Christ Jesus is not judged guilty. That is because in Christ Jesus the law of the spirit that brings life made you free” (Rom 7.21-8.2).

Jesus Didn’t Retire

Jesus Didn’t Retire

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

garyandme521

Gary N. Pollard III

Satan tried to trip Jesus with a killer deal: “I’ll give you every nation in the world if you worship me” (Matt 4.8-10). This wouldn’t have been a temptation if he couldn’t deliver. What might Jesus have gained by having Satan give up control of every nation on earth? It would have made his job a lot easier! He wouldn’t have to fight with Pharisees or other hostiles. He wouldn’t have to disappear after teaching or healing. He could avoid the kind of rejection that broke his heart (Luke 19.41). 

Sometime after this encounter, Jesus started to recruit followers. He may have had Satan’s offer on his mind as he was calling Peter (Matt 4.18ff). He knew Peter would be so ashamed of him that he’d deny any connection to him (Matt 26.69-75). He knew that every one of his followers would abandon him when he most needed them (Matt 26.56). 

He still lived his life, he still taught, he still sacrificed himself for everyone. How many of us would still pursue something if we knew how painful or difficult the outcome would be? How many of us would continue to pursue something if we were given the option to take an easier path? 

Jesus didn’t even retire once his mission was accomplished! He faced homelessness, assault, rejection, betrayal, injustice, torture, and execution. I would have retired after that in a heartbeat, and I would feel that I had more than earned that retirement. 

After he went back to be with the father, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He’s a full-time mediator (I Jn 2.1-2). He’s making sure the natural universe operates as it should (Heb 1.3; Col 1.17). He’s keeping evil in check (Phil 3.21; I Cor 15.27). When the end comes, he’ll destroy the universe and judge every human who’s ever lived (Heb 9.27; II Pet 3.7-10; Rev 20.12, 21.1-2). 

Whew. He still loves us (Rom 8.35; II Cor 5.14; Gal 2.20; Rev 1.5)! He still gives grace with generosity (I Jn 1.7; Rom 5.15-21, 6.14). We serve a tireless God who invested everything in us and will do so until the end of time. Life gets us down and we ask, “Why?” Just remember who’s watching our backs and won’t ever let us down! 

The wilderness of Judea
The Art Of Excuses

The Art Of Excuses

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

carl-pic

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 be a preacher to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return.
 
First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” God 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” (Jer. 1:5).  Notice what God says to Jeremiah: “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 lack of talent. They say that it isn’t a natural talent 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. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. God has promised He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that.
Christianity: A Top Five List

Christianity: A Top Five List

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

Life has been found in some of the most uninhabitable spots on earth. Bacterial life thrives in Lake Vostok in Antarctica, for example. Thiolava veneris was found thriving in the aftermath of a violent submarine volcanic eruption near the Canary Islands. Organisms that thrive in extreme environments are called “extremophiles” (noaa.gov). We’re always amazed when life thrives in extremely hostile environments.

The moral climate of our planet makes it extremely difficult to thrive. Humanity has created a moral environment consisting of self-interest, violence, apathy, and general dysfunction. In terms of population, they have the clear advantage. Christians are, by definition, extremophiles. We defy all expectations by thriving in an overwhelmingly hostile environment.

That said, we are studied by those who make up our environment. Many will come to the conclusion that we’re strange and warrant no further interest. Many will consider our loyalty to a supernatural morality to be hostile (II Tim. 3.12; Rom. 5.3,4). Few will wonder how we’re able to have hope, purpose, direction, resilience, and happiness in any condition.

Why would anyone want to be an extremophile? Why would anyone willingly assume a lifestyle that automatically puts them at odds with their own environment? Here’s why:

1. Everyone is going to live forever (Jn. 5.28,29). We want to live with the creator in a perfect world (II Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1,2; Rom. 8.18-25), not in an even worse world (Matt. 25; Rev. 21.8; II Thess. 1).

2. We didn’t make up the moral code we follow. Human error is not a factor in our worldview because it came from the creator (II Tim. 3; Jer. 31.31ff). This system can’t be corrupted and doesn’t take advantage of its constituents (unlike many human laws). We’re secure and confident because of this.

3. The creator went to extreme lengths to make sure we could easily have access to a perfect eternity (I Jn. 5.3; Heb. 9.11ff). Who wouldn’t want to follow a perfectly selfless leader?

4. We enjoy peace and existential purpose because our worldview isn’t from around here (I Pet. 1.1-10). It doesn’t matter what happens to us, we’re more than fine.

5. We’re not afraid of death (Heb. 2.14f). Self-preservation is not our main priority – how many people have done horrible things out of self-preservation? Lots! We don’t have a death wish, we’re just not afraid of death.

That’s just a sample of why we voluntarily become extremophiles. Done correctly, ours is the best life possible! It makes this one better, it makes the next one perfect. We can’t lose!

Salvation

Salvation

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

gary and chelsea

Gary Pollard

We don’t typically associate salvation with death. Normally the opposite is true! In the New Testament salvation normally describes forgiveness of sins (Acts 4.12, for example). Escaping spiritual death is how the word is primarily used. The exception to this rule is fascinating and sobering. 

Human instinct compels us to avoid unpleasantness, suffering, and death. When faced with danger or difficulty, our default response is avoidance at all cost. This was a great temptation for many in the early church. 

Peter wrote to Christians who were about to face some awful hardships. He encouraged them by promising salvation, but it was a hard message to swallow. In the following examples, Peter used “salvation” to mean something different (it would have been understood to mean this because of context): 

  1. I Peter 1.5 – Death
  2. I Peter 1.8ff – Death
  3. I Peter 2.2ff – Death

How is death the same thing as salvation? For those who were suffering and stayed faithful, death was the ultimate salvation. For those whose lives were upended because of persecution, being with God forever was salvation. For those who lost their family members, salvation meant reunion. The ultimate result of faith is eternal life with God. 

How do we view difficulty? Do we compromise faith to avoid suffering? At worst, suffering leads to death. At best, suffering leads to death. Nothing can slow a faithful Christian down! We have salvation in this life (guilt does not weigh us down), and the end of this life is salvation. We have an awesome God. 

The Christian Decision

The Christian Decision

Carl Pollard

Our family used to hike a lot when we lived in Colorado. There were many hikes that I went on that were straight up miserable. Ive always been the chunky kid, but the worst part about this was that I  was surrounded by a healthy and very active family.. This meant that on every hike I was the one in the back feeling like I was about to pass away. Hiking was never really something I was the best at. There are several times I remember thinking, “I’m not going to make it.” 

We used to hike a trail called “Moffit Tunnel” It was an 11 mile hike that ended with a summit path that gained 3000 feet of elevation in under half a mile. As you can imagine the path was practically vertical, and filled with rocks, mud, snow, and sadness. 

When I think of “a hard path” this is what comes to my mind. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus describes the way to salvation as a path that isn’t for the faint hearted; it’s for the dedicated Christian that is determined to reach eternal life. There’s no denying that the Christian life can be tough. It is filled with persecution, especially for those who aren’t as fortunate to have the freedoms we enjoy in America. The Christian life is tough because we will face persecution, but we are more likely to face rejection in our society today for standing up for some very unpopular teachings. If we are devoted to teaching and standing with God’s Word this means we must defend God’s view on homosexuality, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, baptism, sin, hell, and many more divisive topics. If we are devoted to walking the difficult path we must remain faithful in the rejection, hatred and persecution we will face. 

But the rejection and hate from the world isn’t the only thing hard about this path.

As Christians we are commanded to put ourselves to death. Matt. 10:37-39 say,  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Walking the difficult path means we have put ourselves to death. In doing so we are saying we love Christ more than our parents, our children and ourselves. In order to walk the difficult path we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The cross is an instrument of death. The cross we pick up is the instrument of death that we have used to crucify ourselves on. Once we have taken up our cross we have made the decision to love Christ over anyone and everyone. We no longer serve ourselves because we have died to Christ. 

When we choose to walk the difficult path we are no longer living without purpose. We have a goal, a meaning for our lives. God uses us to spread His saving word to others. We have purpose in everything we do. We are here to encourage each other, to save souls, and to glorify God. One of humanity’s most asked question, “Why am I here?,”is answered by God. How we serve God will ultimately change someone else’s eternal destiny. We are given the true words of life that are able to save our most valuable possession, our souls. We also experience the blessing of having confidence in death. Death is scary. Why are so many scared of death? It’s the unknown, the end of our existence as we have known it. As Christians, when we choose to walk the difficult path, we are given the promise that when we face death we can be confident in knowing our soul is in the hands of almighty God. We know what is coming, and we can find hope in this. 

It was a hard climb, but what a payoff!