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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Is The Church Broken?

Neal Pollard

You hear comments in Bible classes that amount to what’s wrong with the church, what we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing, and what it’s doing to us, our children, and the world. You read people’s minds through their social media rants, raves, and ramblings, and the bottom line message is that the church is inept, irrelevant, irresponsible, or, worse, insidious. To hear some tell it, the church is not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful.  I know that we can be prone to say things out of hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness, but the words themselves are no less potent even if influenced by such emotions.

Is the contention, as one Christian sister put it, that “the church is broken,” true? Another way to put that is, “Are elders, preachers, deacons, Bible class teachers, and every other Christian broken?” Perhaps we impersonalize it and overly-institutionalize it with a nameless, faceless designation of “church.” But the church is, as we were taught as children, “the people.” People who are prone to say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and, sadly, the wrong thing at the wrong time. We disappoint, we mishandle, we poorly execute, we unfairly judge and criticize, and we simply blow it. That is definitely not an excuse or a permission slip for bad behavior. Yet, it is not likely to ever change.

Because the church is made up of sinners saved by grace, the church is broken. We who are quick to condemn the church as broken need to face that we ourselves, as those placed by Christ into that church when we were saved, are broken, too. Show me the perfect person who never mishandles a situation, never sins with tongue, attitude, or deed, and I’ll show you someone who will stand before Christ at the Judgment saved on the basis of their own merit and goodness. That won’t happen.

Let’s be reminded of what the church is.  It is the precious, beloved bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-25; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). It is that institution purchased by His very life’s blood (Acts 20:28). It is that which was thought up by God from the eternity before time as is the expression of His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:9-11). It is the place where Christ is glorified (Eph. 3:21; 5:27). It is the present the Son will present to His Father when time is no more (1 Cor. 15:24). It is that and truly so much more.

God designed the church. Reckless criticism of it is reckless criticism of Him. All of us should be determined to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, to be for others what we need to be, to conquer faults and sins in our lives. We should also extend to others the grace we intensely desire to receive when we stand before the King at the last day! Yes, the church is broken, but not in the sense that it cannot help, serve, minister, love, and encourage. Let each of us strive to be the church we want the church to be. Model and exemplify it. Emit the fragrance of Christ. That way, the broken church can help mend the broken lives that make it up.

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Let’s Not Mistake What Some Mean By “Tolerance”

Neal Pollard

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian declared war on establishments which wished to decline services to those of the LGBT community. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes bakery, were driven out of business by a lawsuit in the wake of their refusal to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. According to Todd Starnes,

They faced boycotts and picket lines and other wedding vendors were threatened with similar action if they did business with Sweet Cakes. The family’s young children received death threats and the store’s  social networking platforms were overrun by militant LGBT activists posting obscene and profane messages (read here).

On top of that, they were ordered by the court to pay the couple $135,000 in emotional damages.

The Kleins refused on the grounds that it violated their “deeply-held religious beliefs” (ibid.). Anyone familiar with the Bible could understand the roots of their conviction, even if those ones don’t agree with the Bible (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Unfortunately for the Kleins, “tolerance” was not extended to them. Freedom of religion did not cover their attempt to freely practice their religion in their daily lives.

We have seen forces within our country, in politics, education, the media, and the like, pushing a moral agenda that is often cloaked under the guise of creating tolerance for absolutely everyone. But such is a logical impossibility. For those who see the Bible as their unalterable, unchanging guide, there are moral, ethical, and doctrinal absolutes. Nothing, be it culture, situations, or moral shifts, can alter and change God’s commands. In other words, killing the unborn does not become morally acceptable just because our nation passed a law. We do not want our money to fund what we deem sinful. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and any other sexual relationship the Bible identifies as sinful does not cease to be so just because the culture embraces it. We don’t want to be forced to accept what we believe, from Scripture, to be unacceptable to God. Yet, the very articulation of such conviction is increasingly rejected. That seat at the table of civil discourse has been removed and stuck in the corner (if not thrown into the yard).

For some, tolerance has come to mean acceptance of their world view and philosophy. It is not extended to those who disagree or who advocate a divergent point of view (isn’t that what tolerance means?). But, such is inevitable. There is no such thing as absolute tolerance. Immorality and morality, biblically defined, cannot peacefully coexist. Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:11-13). It is a struggle against powers and forces. It requires a firm stand and a resistance. Not a physical, literal fight (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). It’s a battle of the mind. It depends on the rank and file of people having properly trained, sharpened consciences, formed and spurred by God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.

Jesus says this is to be expected (John 15:19). Peter (1 Pet. 4:12) and John (1 Jn. 3:13) echo it.  Our task is to find the honest hearts and minds (Luke 8:15) who are seeking truth amid the cacophony of cultural noise. And, no matter what it costs us, hold onto truth and teach it to our children (cf. Deut. 6:1ff) which every way the cultural wind blows. Jesus did not call us to be tolerant (Rev. 2:2,20), but rather teachers of truth in love (Eph. 4:15). May we never lose sight of that.

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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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Who Is Behind This “Race War”?

Neal Pollard

I’m a child of the ‘80s, which, in south Georgia, seemed to be “post-racist.” Maybe it was the naivety of youth, but one of my closest friends, Greg Gwyn, was black. We were “Bird” and “Magic” (on the basketball court, at least in our minds). We were “Crockett” and “Tubbs.” We both rejected, out of hand, the notion of being “Wonder” and “McCartney” (too cheesy). While our High School had cliques, a timeless problem, they were determined more by interest than race. Sure, there was prejudice, as that is also timeless. But it was not the mainstream attitude.

I have preached full-time for three congregations, in Alabama, Virginia, and Colorado. All three are integrated, having not only “white-collar” (forgive the adage) professionals but also inner city representation among our African-American members. But, all three have wealthy and poor caucasians, too. Individuals in all three congregations probably struggled with making all kinds of arbitrary distinctions, including on the basis of race, but such attitudes have not been fostered. If uncovered, they are addressed with the power and authority of Scriptures like “God is not one to show partiality…” (Acts 10:34), “He made from one man every nation of mankind…” (Acts 17:26), “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), “Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1; and, if you do, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives,” vs. 4), etc. Our elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, and general leaders in these congregations, men like Kevin Turner, Ron Herman, Bill Burton, Jimmy Reynolds, Ron Thompkins, Joe Cook, King Taylor, and Ronnie Royster, would not be thought of in terms of their race if not for the point of this article.

So, as we see fiery debate, protests, wagon-encircling, hatred, and acerbic rhetoric, scratching our heads as to how all-consuming it has become, do we stop to ask who would be behind such division and strife? No, I don’t mean Republicans or Democrats, protest groups or activists, or hobby horse riders among brethren.  I think it is more sinister and serious. Who is ever behind separating not just mankind, but the Lord’s bride? Who benefits from people building walls to keep out others on any arbitrary basis? Who wins in the face of such crushing losses? Maybe we need to be asking that question and focusing on that issue more!

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Avoiding A Ride On An Ancient Cycle

Neal Pollard

It has been called “The Dark Ages Of The Old Testament.” During the period of the judges, there was moral, economic, social, political and religious decline. We often read that, during this time, the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.

History keeps repeating itself in the book of Judges. The people do evil, God allows and oppressor to persecute them, the people turn back to God and plead for deliverance, and God raises up a deliverer to defeat the oppressor and deliver Israel. Here, we speak of the “cycle” of Judges: sin, servitude, sorrow, supplication, and salvation.

Their enemy invaders came from the East (Mesopotamia), the Southeast (Moab), the North (Canaan), the East (Midian and Ammon), and the Southwest (Philistia). It is interesting that Israel overcame Canaan in the militarily brilliant strategy orchestrated by God (Central Canaan—Josh. 7-8, Southern Canaan—Josh. 9-10, and then Northern Canaan—Josh. 11-12). As a result of Israel’s failure to utterly destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, the six oppressions came from the central, south, and north—each places where God had given them victory. What a reminder that when we don’t defeat the enemy, he will return! The enemy was sin!

Here is my summary of the book of Judges, as seen in Judges 2:16-19:

  • The rulers—“Judges”
  • The role—“Delivered”
  • The rescued—“Them” (Israel)
  • The rivals—“Those” (God’s enemies)
  • The ruination—“Plundered them” (oppression)
  • The refusal—“They did not listen to their judges”
  • The reveling—“Played the harlot after other gods”
  • The retreat—“Turned said quickly”
  • The right road—“In which their fathers had walked”
  • The role models—“Father, obeying the commands of the Lord”
  • The resolution—“They did not so”
  • The raising—“The Lord raised them up judges”
  • The relationship—“The Lord was with the judges”
  • The restoration—“Delivered them from the hand of their enemies”
  • The repentance—“The Lord was moved to pity” (KJV—“It repented the Lord because of their groanings…”)
  • The return—“When their judge died, they would turn back”
  • The retrogression—“Acted more corruptly than their fathers”
  • The resilience—“Didn’t abandon their practice or stubborn ways”

The judge was the savior of the people. Time and time again, the people put themselves in a position to need some serious rescue, and our long-suffering God was willing to soften His heart to their cries. Eventually, His patience ran out and even in this time period there were severe consequences. How often do we need the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of the Father? Often, we need forgiveness for the same sins repeatedly. We wonder how Israel could fall into the same traps, but we do well to identify and avoid them in our own times. We have the benefit of both Old and New Testament Scripture, and they would have only had the writings of Moses and Joshua when they lived. May we learn from these ancient lessons (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11) and stay off that ancient cycle.

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Identifying The Source Of Trouble In The Congregation

Neal Pollard

One of my dad’s most memorable sermons, which he preached in more than one location, was actually a two-parter.  The first part was preached Sunday morning. Dad warned that he was going to identify the source of the problems in the congregation. He used a wipe board or chalkboard, and only put the first initial of each one up there as he preached. He said that everyone should come back that night and he would disclose the full names that went with the initials.  At one congregation, after the morning sermon, a large number of people came forward in response to the invitation.  Sure enough, that evening dad put the full names next to the initials:

  • Accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10)
  • Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24)
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
  • Devil (Heb. 2:14)
  • Enemy (Mat. 13:39)
  • Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Prince… (Eph. 2:2; John 12:31)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Satan (Mat. 4:10)
  • Spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
  • Tempter (Mat. 4:3)

Now, in no way am I discounting the free will choices people make. James 1:13-15 very clearly places the blame of sin on the individuals choosing to act on their lusts and desires. One is not possessed or overtaken by the devil to do his will any more than a person is overtaken by God and made to do what’s right. But Jesus calls the devil the “father” of sinful behavior (John 8:44). John tells us that the one who practices sin is “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Those who sin are doing his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan is at the heart of national, congregation, familial, and individual sin.  We’re told to resist him (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The hopeful fact is that, with God’s help, we can always successfully do so.  Let’s be aware that the devil does not want God’s children or His work to succeed. If he can thwart our efforts as a church to be united, faithful to God’s Word, evangelistic, and productive, he will do so. Knowing this, we should be more determined not to let him win!

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Tony Robbins And Proverbs Six

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you heard about the 30 “followers of motivational speaker Tony Robbins” who “were burned while walking on hot coals” in Dallas, Texas, over the weekend (nbcnews.com). Now, nearly 7,000 others were not injured, but when nearly three dozen were it became a national news story. The firewalk is “a symbolic experience that proves if you can make it through the fire, you can make it through anything” (ibid.).  But, there is a catch. Don’t run, have wet feet, or try to go across a firebed that is too long (the Guiness Book of World Records says the longest firewalk was just shy of 600 feet in Calgary in 2007).  No one seems to disagree that one cannot indefinitely walk on hot coals. God, who created fire and feet, moved Solomon to say, “Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov. 6:28).

This statement comes as part of Solomon’s warning about “the evil woman” and the “adulteress” (cf. 6:24).  He warns about her alluring beauty and ways (25), showing the consequences that one may miss when driven by lust rather than law: one is reduced (26), destroyed (32), wounded and disgraced (33), reproached (33), and repaid with revenge (34). One of Solomon’s two metaphors to depict adultery’s repercussions is feet being burned by walking on hot coals (the other is taking fire in his bosom and his clothes being burned).

Countless men and women have been deceived by the seemingly harmless effects of allowing attraction for someone other than their mate to grow in their hearts and minds. One may let admiration and attraction for this other person to take root in their hearts. Defenses are lowered and lines begin to be crossed. The thrill and excitement of the prospective relationship can come to eclipse rational thoughts, negative consequences, and the fallout in the lives of all the people affected. When David gazed at Bathsheba from his rooftop, he saw a beautiful, naked woman rather than murder, death, humiliation, dysfunction, loss of influence, and agonizing heartbreak. His unlawful desire for her prevented him from seeing past what he wanted in the moment.

God’s laws are immutable. One cannot flout them without the fruit that follows. So many who have crossed that line have desperately wished they could go back to the other side of that firebed and taken the righteous path. May each of us have the wisdom to see these kinds of things from God’s eyes, which are pure, right, and perfect. Realize that pursuing a person who is not your lawful mate is like playing with fire! Don’t get burned.

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PREVENTING A POST-ANTIBIOTIC APOCALYPSE

Neal Pollard

Economist Jim O’Neill had readied a report about drug-resistant infections, “bacteria and other microbes that have become impervious to antibiotics” (The Atlantic, Ed Yong, 5/19/16). O’Neill’s prognostication is grim and macabre. On our current trajectory, 10 million will die every year by the year 2050 and that doesn’t include those undergoing procedures only safe because of antibiotics (surgeries, transplants, and chemotherapy, for example). No doubt, this report is no fodder for a bedtime story, but it is not without suggestions of what can be done to prevent such an ominous occurrence. O’Neill gives a nice, round ten suggestions to avert this potential “plague” on humanity.  They include: improve sanitation, a global surveillance network, a public-awareness campaign, better diagnostic tools, avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture, promote effective alternatives, improve incentives for workers, rewards those working on the problem, adequately fund those working, and build a global coalition (ibid.). All in all, this seems like a practical, workable solution.

I read this in light of the global epidemic you and I are engaged in to fight together. It is the most dangerous threat any of us will face and it will be with us, if the world continues, in 2050 and beyond. What I find interesting is that many of O’Neill’s suggestions for fighting these microbes are the marching orders God has given us to fight our plaguing antagonist—sin.  Holiness, unity, improved evangelism, Bible study, avoid unnecessary fights, example, focusing more on eternity, better giving, and increased mission efforts all factor in saving more souls! It’s a system that will work locally, nationally, and globally.

Frankly, we don’t know that O’Neill’s prediction will come to pass. But, the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and then the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The majority will be lost (cf. Mat. 7:13-14)! God is counting on us, Christians, stemming that tide as much as possible (Mark 16:15-16).  Every individual you and I reach with the gospel is one less who will succumb to this eternally fatal threat!

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Can You Imagine Being $53 Million In Personal Debt?

Neal Pollard

USA Today’s Maria Puente is reporting music star Kanye West’s tweet where he writes, “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt…Please pray we overcome…This is my true heart….” (USAToday.com).  Hearing that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla were going to give away some of their billions to philanthropic causes, West tweeted that he wanted to be a recipient of some of that charity.  Since most of us will probably not make a total of $53 million in our lifetimes, we have a hard time imagining how someone could accrue that amount in personal debt! Perhaps horrible investing, profligate lifestyle decisions, and the like might explain it, but the lack of restraint and wisdom seems appalling. How could one person be so foolish and wasteful? We wring our hands and shake our heads, maybe condescendingly.
Until we consider something.

In a spiritual sense, we all faced a debt infinitely greater. Jesus illustrates this in a parable regarding a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents (Mat. 18:23ff). Biola University business professor Philip Massey did some modern-day math equivalency with that figure and estimates in 21st Century dollars that debt would be $7.04 billion dollars, and according to the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires would need to be at least the 102nd most wealthy person on the entire planet just to be able to pay such a debt (chimes.biola.edu).  Jesus’ point in the parable is to show how utterly audacious it is not to forgive the relatively minuscule transgressions others commit against us in light of how great our spiritual debt is to God.  All the combined wealth of the world is not enough to pay for one sin (cf. Mic. 6:6-8; Mat. 16:26). Colossians 2:14 uses the term “debt” to describe our sin problem, but the same verse tells us that we had someone more powerful and capable than any earthly magnate or mogul to help us pay off our debt.  In fact, “having nailed it [the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us] to the cross,” He provided payment sufficient for the sin debt of every single person in this world.

Can you imagine anyone refusing help who faced such an insurmountable obligation? Yet, the majority of this world has done and will continue to do so. By refusing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, they continue to pile up their debt. When the Day of Accounting comes, they’ll stand bankrupt and unable to pay. The consequences will be eternal!

Without Christ, we all face a debt that cannot be sufficiently estimated.  We need His blood applied to our sins or our situations are hopeless! How Zuckerberg will respond is unclear. How Jesus will respond is ironclad! Reach out to Him.

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