REDEMPTION AND PEARL HARBOR

Neal Pollard
Al Capone’s lawyer was nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was a slick, successful lawyer whose smooth, professional skills continually kept Capone from being imprisoned for his organized crime activities. For his skill, Easy Eddie was paid lavishly and protected like royalty. He lived the high life. He was likely a co-participant in illicit activity himself. Whatever his motivation, Eddie went to the authorities in 1931 and came clean about Scarface Capone, testifying against the mob. That decision most likely led to his losing his life, being gunned down on the streets of Chicago eight years after testifying against his former boss.

Eddie, also known as EJ, had a son. That son went to the Naval academy, graduated, and due to the attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was dispatched from the U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego, CA, on December 8, 1941, to join the fight in the Pacific Theatre. Butch O’Hare would go on to win the Medal of Honor and be killed in action, the victim of friendly fire, about two years later. Chicago’s main airport, O’Hare International, is named for Easy Eddie’s son. The O’Hare name no longer was inextricably linked to crime, but to valor instead.

While some have worked hard to build the case that Easy Eddie had a change of heart (among them, Frank J. Wilson, the Treasury Department investigator who called Eddie one of his best undercover men in bringing Capone down on tax evasion), it matters little concerning the moral of the story. It was Butch’s valor and patriotic service that redeemed the family name and led the “second city” to rename its airport “O’Hare.” Butch overcame the dubious shadow cast by his father’s activities to restore honor to his surname. Yet, it was the surprise attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, and the loss of 2,350 lives at Pearl Harbor mobilized Butch and so many others just like him.

Likewise, it was Jesus’ appearance as a man and vicarious death on the cross that redeemed mankind. As all are sinners (Rom. 3:23; 5:12), all needed the efforts made by Jesus to give us the opportunity to overcome the ignominy of our past. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son through the seed of woman to redeem us all (Gal. 4:4-5). His Son, though fully human (cf. Phil. 2:7-8), was unlike the rest of humanity in that He never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21). And when we take His name, the name of Christ, we can overcome whatever dark shadows hung over our past.

eddie-and-butch-ohare
Eddie and Butch

Another Heroic Sacrifice

Neal Pollard

Heather Christensen, a 33 year old music teacher from Spanish Fork, Utah, contributed the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of dozens of band students on October 10, 2009. The bus driver, bringing back the band competition winners from Idaho State University, slumped over in his seat and Christensen left her seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the bus from crashing. While there were still several injuries, there was only one fatality. The 44 students on board were treated but released from the hospital. The 50 year old driver also survived. Only Christensen, partially ejected in the bus’ rollover, died.

It melted the hearts of an entire community that Heather was willing to lose her life in an attempt to save and rescue everyone on the bus. A gymnasium full of people at American Fork High School honored her at a Sunday night vigil. She was hailed as a true heroine.

The future of 45 people was dramatically changed by Heather’s decision to act. The obvious reaction of these students’ friends and family was to honor her sacrifice. It would be shameful to ignore it!

Jesus Christ deliberately decided, from eternity, to die on a cross in an attempt to save all mankind. His was a completely selfless act, requiring Him to take the place not of one but of all. Tragically, the majority of humanity for whom He offered Himself ignore His sacrifice. It does not move or touch them, and it certainly does not motivate them to do what they should do. Yet, for those of us who have obeyed the gospel and are Christians, we come together–not once–but once every week to commemorate His sacrifice. Each day we live, we live mindful of what He did in our place and for our sins. May our hearts stay soft to this supreme act of heroism!

6713611_orig

Celebrating Independence Day

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

miamifireworks

Devil Anse: A Sinner Redeemed?

devil-anseNeal Pollard

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

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

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

WHO KILLED CUSTER?

Neal Pollard

There’s quite the controversy over who killed General George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana on June 25, 1876. There is even a book by the title, “Who Killed Custer?,” authored by Bruce Brown. There are so many mysterious and hard-to-document events that made up this notorious battle that symbolizes the “Indian Wars” of the late 1800s.  Brown, analyzing eye witness accounts, gives an interesting top three suspect list:  (1) an Oglala Sioux warrior named White Cow bull, shooting him near the beginning of the battle, (2) Custer himself, committing suicide as he dashed away from the battlefield near the battle’s end on his horse Victory, and (3) Brave Bear, a Southern Cheyenne warrior, given the honorary title of “Custer’s Killer” at an Indian council in 1909 (www.astonisher.com/archives).  About ten years ago, the Helena Independent Record revealed the long-circulated, but secret oral history of the Northern Cheyenne Indian storytellers, crediting a woman, Buffalo Calf Trail Woman, for striking the fatal blow (helenair.com).

It is fitting that a man surrounded by so much controversy and whose reputation and achievements are incredibly enigmatic would have such a mysterious cloud hanging over his death. His killer is upheld by many as a tangible standard-bearer of justice and righteous revenge. For others, it is simply a matter of historical fascination.  There are even those who lamented his death, as the brash and rash Custer was widely viewed as a “war hero” by his U.S. contemporaries in the years immediately following his death. Yet, one thing we know for sure.  Custer was killed.  Two fatal bullet wounds loudly testify.

There is another mystery, one with far weightier and eternal implications.  Who killed Jesus?  He is the most enigmatic figure in human history.  He was viewed contemptuously as a blasphemer and traitor by the religious leaders of His day. He was viewed with depraved indifference by the masses who switched from adoration to execration in a matter of days.  He is viewed even more diversely today, 2000 years after He died on the cross.  The power and proof of the resurrection is a matter to write about another day (see, for example, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/644-resurrection-literal-or-merely-symbolic).

But, there is another vital question surrounding the death of Jesus.  Who was really responsible?

  • Was it the devil? Yes!
  • Was it the Jewish leaders? Yes!
  • Was it the onlookers that day? Yes!
  • Was it Pilate? Yes!
  • Was it the Roman soldiers? Yes!
  • Was it God? Yes!
  • Was it you and me? Yes!

How could all of these be mutually responsible for the death of Christ? There is no controversy.  The devil desired Jesus’ death, through which he longed to defeat the Lord’s purpose (cf. Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:4ff). In this, he failed (Heb. 2:14). The people that day were instruments in the hands of God, who accomplished His eternal plan of salvation through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:23; 3:18; etc.). We are responsible because we sin (Rom. 4:25) and He had to be made sin for us (2 Co. 5:21). The good news is that the death of Jesus was not the defeat of God’s plan. It accomplished the plan.  However, for the plan to be effective, we must properly respond to it.  The fact of His death does nothing for us, if we do not respond to it the way Scripture tells us to.  Thus, there is a much more important question than, “Who killed Jesus?” It is, “Who will follow Jesus?”

“Redemption Is Tailor-Made For The Wretched”

Neal Pollard

If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it.  This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles.  Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison.  Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background.  It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.

The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online).  The New Testament uses the word twice.  Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25).  The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV).  The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption.  One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.

One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it.  Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption.  To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved.  To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background.  Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!