Jeremiah, The Persecuted Preacher

Neal Pollard

It was hard being a preacher in Jeremiah’s day. As thanks for his work, the weeping prophet endured the following:

  • He was led as a lamb to the slaughter (11:18ff)
  • His brethren dealt treacherously w/him (12:6)
  • He was confronted by false prophets (14:13)
  • His brethren cursed him (15:10)
  • He was hit, put in stocks and condemned (20:1ff)
  • His heart was broken (23:9)
  • He was seized and threatened w/death (26:8,24)
  • His teaching was opposed (28,29)
  • He was put in prison (32:2,3)
  • He was pursued (36:26)
  • He was beaten and imprisoned (37:15)
  • He was thrown into the dungeon (38:6)
  • He was bound in chains (40:1)
  • He was falsely accused (43:2)
  • He was taken to Egypt (43:6,7)

Remember, God called him to this work. Jeremiah was doing nothing wrong in his ministry; in fact, all of those things that happened to him came in “the line of duty.” The people, on the whole, never changed for the better after all the effort Jeremiah put forth in his ministry. Jeremiah never speaks of his work as enjoyable or rewarding, but it was essential and vital. Some estimate that his ministry spanned more than six decades! Whatever we call him, we do not use adjectives like “weak” or “wimpy.”

The life of preaching is a wonderful work. The preacher works with the best people in the world fulfilling the most profound purpose possible while working, ultimately, for the best Employer there is. The retirement plan is unbeatable! Helping people connect with salvation and helping the saved better connect with their Savior is extremely fulfilling. But, if there are job hazards (the minority of brethren who are difficult to deal with, sporadic job insecurity, being misunderstood, being subjected or having your family subjected to closer scrutiny, etc.), there is a reminder from Hilkiah’s son from Anathoth. Out of our own devotion to God, we will stay at it through thick and thin. Jeremiah wrote, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long” (20:7-8). This man thought about quitting, but he couldn’t! He says, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones;

and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (9). I have watched my father, who has preached the gospel 53 years, have some “Jeremiah moments.” I have known so many gospel preachers who have walked in that prophet’s sandals. I have even experienced a few of the lighter trials Jeremiah records as happening to him.  But Jeremiah and his modern counterparts whom I have watched serve him faithfully provide a sterling example to me of what the man of God who preaches “looks like.” He’s tough, but tender-hearted. He’s loyal and loving. He’s gritty, but gracious. He’s courageous, yet caring. He will be fallible, but he must be faithful.

Preaching is, in my opinion, the best work in the world. For whatever bumps unique to the preacher traveling the narrow way, there are ten times the blessings. To my fellow friends in this fantastic fraternity, keep the tenacity of the tearful teacher of Judah! Stoke the fire in your bones (cf. 2 Tim. 1:6).

Dad in '64 an '16
My dad preaching in Artesia, MS, in 1964 (left) and preaching in Andrews, NC, in 2016 (right). 

THE PATIENCE OF A FARMER 

Neal Pollard

James uses a variety of examples throughout his short epistle. In James 5:7-8, he writes, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” As we analyze these verses, we see at least three things.

Patience instructed.  It’s interesting that James is urging us to be patient with each other as fellow Christians. Just read the rest of the chapter and it reads like an instruction manual for dealing with the internal problems we can have as a congregation of God’s people. This patience has a duration—until the coming of the Lord. Stay patient as long as you live or until Christ comes again, whichever comes first.

Patience illustrated. Patience is illustrated by the farmer. Notice:

  • The farmer waits. Patience almost always involves waiting. Delayed gratification without the delay is something completely different. Sometimes waiting is necessary and it helps us develop character, if we let it.  We have to fight that part of human nature that makes us impatient. These brethren in verse seven were being mistreated by rich, unfair brethren, and it apparently was hard on them to wait for justice to be served. But James says, “You just need to wait. God will ultimately make things right.” That is sage counsel for us in so many areas of life, to “hang on and let God work in His time.”
  • The farmer waits for the harvest. When you put seed in the ground, you’re still a long way from harvest. Different crops take a different amount of time to come to fruition. Different conditions, like weather, effect the time of harvest. But harvest is always the goal. Why do you keep planting seed, the seed of Scripture in the fields of evangelism or the seed of service in others’ lives or the seed of spiritual fruit in sometimes infertile fields? Because harvest time is coming and the Lord will sort things out then (Mat. 13:30, 39).
  • The farmer waits for what brings harvest. There are necessary conditions. James mentions the early and latter rains. In Palestine, farmers counted on the autumn and spring rains. Both were essential. There are going to be necessary conditions throughout our Christian lives. In the short-term and long-term, we will endure and experience things that help get us to harvest.  See the blessings and the challenges of life as necessities which can help us go to heaven.

Patience imitated. James says, “You also be patient.” He says for Christians to be like those farmers.  How? “Establish your hearts.” James focuses on the heart throughout this short epistle. Deception (1:26), jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14), impurity (4:8), and worldly pleasure (5:5) fattened and sickened their hearts. James is still working on their hearts at the end and connects patience with spiritual heart health.  Why? “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” The harvest idea is wonderful for those who are prepared, but if we allow our hearts to stray and lose patience, the Lord’s coming won’t be a joyful occasion for us. Be ready for harvest by being patient whatever adversity arises.

If you are struggling with patience, look at the farmer. Both my grandfathers farmed, my mom’s dad for a living. They had to persevere. There are bumper crops and there are droughts. You keep farming whatever the conditions. Let’s approach the most important harvest with the same determination!

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Ignoring The Symptoms

Neal Pollard

“What is that smell in the kitchen sink?” “Ah, honey, I’ll look at it, uh, soon.” “When?” “Uh…soon.” “It’s been like this for six month now, honey…honey, are you listening to me? Agh! Look, the drain is bubbling…”

“Mr. Smith, when did you first notice the mole discoloring and becoming asymmetrical?” “Well, um, I think it was last fall.” “Why did you wait a year to get this checked out? I’m pretty sure it’s cancer. To be straight with you, Mr. Smith, I don’t know how this will turn out for you.”

“Brother Jones, have you noticed that sister Blue is acting withdrawn?” “Yea, she lost her job last month and her children are grown and gone.” “Brother Jones, I’ve noticed that she’s recently stopped coming on Sunday nights.” “Yea, Brother Jackson, we need to go visit her this week.” “I know. We’ve been saying that…every week.” “Well, we’ll get there.”

May I suggest that none of these three scenarios is likely to turn out pleasantly? Yet, damage and expense to our material things, or even the loss of physical life to a dreaded disease, are not as devastating or frightening as the loss of a soul. The tragedy is that there are normally symptoms that accompany apostasy (i.e., turning away from the Lord). It is not enough to see the symptoms. We must respond in a timely manner.

One symptom is a decrease in faithful attendance. When individuals who would not miss a service choose to do something else, an alarm has been sounded. Something is replacing their dedication and commitment to Christ. When it is odd or noteworthy that someone is missing services, we need to respond with a card, call, or visit. Somehow, let them know they are missed. Do not lay this solely at the doorstep of preachers and elders. These folks need to be inundated with our concern. Run the risk of offending them. Why should they get offended at genuine brotherly love?

Another symptom is a decrease in reliability in doing church work. The tasks they once did and were counted on to do they no longer do with consistency. Maybe they felt unappreciated or overly burdened. Maybe they needed relief or at least a break. Or, maybe spiritual struggles and worldly concerns have overwhelmed them. Whatever explains the cause, respond to the effect. Tell them how important and special they are. Praise their work. Help them. Encourage them.

Yet another symptom is a change in behavior and withdrawal. This is perhaps the most common precursor and symptom in a spiritual struggle. Distancing themselves from the rest of the church family, a loss of enthusiasm for the church, worship, and/or its programs, and a change in personality within the congregation are all telling signs something isn’t right. We are taught that individuals in a marriage are constantly changing. Those same individuals fill our pews and participate in the church’s work. Let us never take each other for granted or ignore this symptom.

Ultimately, it is not the church’s responsibility to stand for an individual in the judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). Yet, we have a mutual responsibility to each other (1 Pet. 3:8). To borrow from the medical analogy above, when one member of the body hurts, we should all respond to help him or her (1 Cor. 12:26). Please do not be blind to the symptoms of those around you. Ask them how you can help. Do not let them spiritually die because of our neglect.

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A LOOK AT SOME GREAT MEMBERS

Neal Pollard

Anything special, big and worthwhile a church attempts, be it a new program, evangelism, visitation, the Bible School, or a lectureship, will fail if it rests only on the shoulders of the elders, preachers, or select few. The late Wendell Winkler was fond of saying, “Programs do not work. People do.” Programs are only as effective as the people in the local church work to make them.  It is estimated that nearly a gazillion little things must be done for something of any magnitude to go smoothly, and the active, tireless labor of as many as possible makes all the difference.

Active members are so crucial to a church being successful, in God’s eyes. Here is a tribute to some very special members of a congregation:

The REMEMBERS: These are the folks who don’t “forget” events on the church’s calendar, who don’t say “Oh, was that this week?”  As you involve yourself in the church’s work, you take seriously the ever-relevant principle, “But you shall remember the LORD your God…” (Deut. 8:18). God does not like to be forgotten (Psa. 42:9; Jer. 2:32; Ezek. 22:12).

The DISMEMBERS: These are folks who are willing to sever themselves from their normal routines, preempting other events, to support an activity or event.  Such are living out Matthew 6:33 and Romans 12:1-2. God richly blesses Christians who make such decisions.  You are those who know it is better to “cut off” anything that keeps you from doing what you can for the Lord (cf. Heb. 12:1).

The EMBER MEMBERS: These are members who are involved, supporting the works and activities of the church. You have your fire lit. You want to be a better child of God. Keep the fires of enthusiasm, rededication, and determination burning brightly. We see your glow. It encourages all of us. You can help smoke out spiritual enemies even better through your faithful participation.

God bless every faithful member of His church. Your support for good works is overwhelming.  Let us use each event and opportunity to make the church, with its every member, stronger.

The Lightning March

Neal Pollard

It was unusual for foot soldiers to play a major role in the Middle Ages. Harold II of England’s 7000 infantrymen were an exception. He marched them from London to York, about 216 miles, in a week. The rate of the march was 30 miles per day for an entire week!  “A sustained rate of thirty miles per day for seven days was in most circumstances unheard of. A sustained twenty miles per day would have been considered extraordinary.”  The army moved faster than news of its approach. This helped turn the Battle of Stamford Bride in 1066, known as “Harold’s Lightning March”  (Hackett, Jeremiah.  World Eras, Vol. 4: Medieval Europe, 814-1350, p. 128). What seems lost to history is how Harold motivated such rapid movement.  To build such resolve and determination in so many people, in unified purpose, must speak to Harold’s leadership ability.

All of us are marching with rapid pace toward the end of life and eternity.  Hasn’t it been going by so quickly?  It truly is a “lightning march.”  At the end of the march, will we have won the battle?  The church of every generation, and not just individuals, are making this march.  What impression are we leaving on the world around us, what battles of significance will have been won?  Think of the first-century church.  They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  They “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23).  They permeated their immediate communities, surrounding communities, and the remotest communities (cf. Acts 1:8-11).  Think of those brave, sacrificial Christians during the 19th Century who rallied together around the principle of restoring New Testament Christianity.  With a great reverence for the pattern of Scripture, they sought to imitate the faith and practice of that first-century church.  In their wake was growth and influence.

In both cases, profound as their influence was, they rapidly left the scenes of time.  Their influence remained, but succeeding generations of the Lord’s Army—for whatever reasons—slowed their pace considerably.  We may glorify the church of the 1950s, at one time known as the fastest growing religious group in our country.  But most of them have gone and those who remain have grown slower in their pace. What about the church of the early 21st Century?  How will we be remembered?  Never forget that, in part, this is influenced by what you and I are doing as soldiers under the Lord’s direction.  We could not want for better guidance and a better Commander.  We should have ample motivation.  It is high time we pick up the pace!  Victory awaits (1 Cor. 15:54-58).

Barsabas Was a Great Man, Too

Neal Pollard

Having fallen from grace, Judas soon thereafter fell headlong a corpse and a reminder of the depths to which sin will take an individual (Acts 1:17-20). Though he had a part in the ministry of God the Son, he chose a commission as henchman in the army of perdition.

His death, as an apostle, left a void in the ranks of the handpicked, special followers of Jesus (Acts 1:20). By divine guidance (Acts 1:24, 26), the apostles chose a man among men to pick up the armor vacated by the deserter. The man chosen, Matthias, was a great man. This is obvious, for his appointment was based on his spiritual character (Acts 1:21). However, what of the man Barsabas, about whom very little is spoken? Was he not also a great man?

He was faithful to Christ (Acts 1:22). Swete explains faithfulness to Christ (as in Revelation 2:10) as proving “…thyself loyal and true, to the extent of being ready to die [for Christ’s sake”] (The Apocalypse of St. John). Faithful suggests reliability and trustworthiness, as well as submissiveness. All of this describes Barsabas. From the ministry of the Baptizer to the ascension of the Savior, Barsabas was numbered among the disciples. Apparently, he withstood even the difficult teachings of Christ (see John 6:66-69). He did not turn away, even after the seeming defeat of Calvary (Acts 1:22). Faithfulness is, in God’s eyes, a sign of greatness.

He was recognized as a spiritual leader (Acts 1:23). This is very subjective. The author sees the appointment of Barsabas as the result of his spiritual excellence among the “company.” Assuming that, Barsabas would appear to have been perceived as a leader. Truly, fervent humble and obedient discipleship sets one apart (1 Peter 2:5, 9) as salt (Matthew 5:13) and light (Matthew 5:14) in this world.

He was willing (cf. Acts 1:22-23). Apparently, from the text, Barsabas did not shirk the call to duty. No excuses could have been uttered, for the apostles were left to “give forth their lots” (see McGarvey’s commentary on Acts, p. 22) to pick Judas’ successor. How seemingly rare to find men both qualified and eager to serve, men of Isaiah’s stripe who cry, “Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Willingness precedes work, and Barsabas appeared ready to “take part in his ministry and apostleship” (Acts 1:25a).

Faith, works and attitude all add up to greatness in God’s eyes, even if not in men’s blinded vision. Though not God’s choice to fill the shoes of an apostle, Barsabas was distinguished as his servant. How wonderful one day it will be to walk with Barsabas on the street of gold and thank him for his example of greatness in service to Jesus.

Right Back Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water.  He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive.  Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.

Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham.  Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).

What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense.  Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution.  The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering.  We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return.  We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start.  Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before.  We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.

Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away.  He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).  Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.

May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

Diversions, Distractions, Or Deviations?

Neal Pollard

All the following are legitimate outlets, kept in proper perspective:

  • Social causes and needs.
  • Politics.
  • Sports, recreation, leisure and fitness.
  • Wholesome forms of entertainment.
  • Family events.
  • Social media.
  • Socializing and fellowship with fellow Christians.
  • Church buildings.
  • Addressing controversial issues and false teaching.
  • Material possessions.
  • Hobbies.

But our common struggle is allowing these to eclipse our purpose on this earth as Christians.  Interestingly, they all can be utilized as part of our mission, but none were ever meant to replace it.  These activities can easily hinder our faithfulness and usefulness to the cause.  Will you pray for me to keep seeking and saving the lost at the top of my “to do” list of life?  I will do the same for you, if you let me know.  Let’s pray for courage, focus, discernment, resolve, and encouragement to take the gospel as we go about each day.  This is what energized the church in its infancy (cf. Acts 8:4).  They had access to the same distractions and diversions we do, but they could not be diverted from the prime objective. Consequently, we read throughout Acts of their exponential, if unlikely, growth.  May we help each other imitate their spirit and service!

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WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

Remember I Am Dust (Poem)

Neal Pollard

I read the words of David today
They were so full of hope and trust
They spoke of God’s merciful way
That He is mindful we’re but dust.

He knows that transgressions we commit
That His forgiveness is a must
His lovingkindness He gives those who try to quit
Because He knows that we are dust.

Like David, I’m glad God has not dealt
Just with justice toward my anger, sin, and lust
As exalted His nature, so His tender heart will melt
Because He’s mindful we are but dust.

Like a father pities his erring child,
He reacts with compassion, not disgust,
When we fear Him, we learn He’s tender and mild.
He is mindful that we are but dust.

So as I embark on this unique day,
I know God is holy, perfect, and just,
But He balances this with a most merciful way
As He dwells on the fact that we’re but dust.

How should I treat you, my fellow pilgrim
Who’s also driven by imperfection’s fierce gust?
May I see you as I’m seen by Him,
And remember that you are but dust.

Extend you grace and excuse your stumbles,
Be willing to forgive, forget, adjust,
Because David’s inspired truth forever humbles,
He is mindful that we are but dust!