Which Black Lives Matter?

Neal Pollard

My dad was once fired for converting a black woman (sister Perry).  Dad studied with her and baptized her, but there was a contingency in the congregation that suggested she attend a predominantly black church. Dad rebuffed that suggestion, and for this he was fired. I know of another gospel preacher who at about the same time, in a neighboring state, was handed the same fate the weekend he baptized a black couple. Thankfully, as the decades have wore on, this mentality has changed and, in many places, disappeared. For several years, I preached in a congregation wherein of the five elders three were white and two were black. The most noteworthy thing about our racially diverse congregation is that race was an utter non-factor.  We just didn’t think about it or talk about it. Such was my personal background, and such has been my experience as an adult.

To say that racial tension is mounting and emotion about race-related matters runs high is perhaps to understate the current state of things.  The last 12 months has given rise to such slogans as “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter.”  Racial oppression and racial prejudice are part of our nation’s (and at times the church’s) past, and sadly, like lying, stealing, and murder, prejudice is a sin that will never be fully eradicated—by whatever race toward whatever race.

Among certain extreme radicals, however, who seem to come to the forefront to foment and agitate racial strife through such provocative slogans as the aforementioned ones, there is an utter hypocrisy that we should not ignore. As Christians, we must understand that all lives of every race matter.  While the activists focus narrowly on one specific situation in our society, they have chosen to ignore so many others.

  • Do the lives of unborn black children matter? Have you read the history of Margaret Sanger, the mother of the “Planned Parenthood” organization? She and her colleagues advocated abortion particularly as a means of racial eugenics (deliberate efforts meant to control the population growth of specific ethnicities)(Sanger, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” Birth Control Review, Oct., 1921; “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,” ibid., Feb., 1919; et al). “An African-American woman is almost five times likelier to have an abortion than a white woman, and a Latina more than twice as likely” (Zoe Dutton, The Atlantic, 9/22/14, via http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5808a1.htm?s_cid=ss5808a1_e).
  • Do the lives of kidnapped African girls matter?  The media has largely been silent and organized protests in any of our racial communities conspicuously absent regarding the wanton kidnapping and abuse of female students from Chibok, Nigeria, in April, 2014. Boko Haram, Muslim terrorists, took these children from what were recognized as “Christian” schools and populations (Marie Arana, “Why Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls are worth more than gold,” The Washington Post, 5/15/14).
  • Do the eternal lives of blacks (red, yellow, whites, etc.) matter? The greatest threat to a person, regardless of race, is eternal separation from God! Yet, every day without fail, there are those of every race who die unprepared to meet Him in the judgment.  Where is the outcry and outrage?  We should be less concerned with social justice than we are with spiritual grace!

Mistreatment of people because of the color of their skin is deplorable and unconscionable.  But, we need to make sure that we approach the issue without a myopic view.  We need the eyes of Christ and the mind of Christ in this and every other matter!

No Fans?

Neal Pollard

Baltimore was the host of history yesterday.  Never, in nearly 150 years of professional baseball in America, has a regular season baseball game between two Major League teams been closed to the public.  I estimated the crowd inside Camden Yard to have been exactly zero fans in the stands, breaking Baltimore’s old record-low attendance of 655 on August 17, 1972, also against the White Sox.  There were fans behind the stadium gates in left-field and a small group gathered on the balcony of the Baltimore Hilton yesterday who could somewhat see the action, but their reaction as the home team won was muffled and faint as far as the players were concerned. The game was played this way because of the ongoing Baltimore riots, for the safety of fans and players.  The latter, when interviewed, talked about how eery and bizarre it was to play a game in front of no fans.

While we could chase the political and cultural rabbits stirred by the fact of those teams playing that game yesterday, let’s think about the players.  How hard is it to concentrate when you are on the field and can hear the sportswriters typing or the two scouts in the stands talking?  What’s it like to have success at the plate or on the mound and the appreciation be the deafening silence of the empty seats?  These guys make a whole lot of money, but, as Chris Davis said after the game, “When you’re rounding the bases, and the only cheers you hear were from outside the stadium, it’s a weird feeling. I’ll take any home run I can get at any time I can get it, but it’s definitely more fun when there are fans in the stands” (info via Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun online, 4/30/15, and baseball-almanac.com).  I think any of us could imagine how surreal and distracting that would be.

We are not running the Christian race to glorify self, for earthly accolades and recognition.  In fact, Jesus condemns such an approach to religion in Matthew six.  Yet, God knows how we are made, that we thrive on encouragement.  He tells wavering saints in Hebrews about the “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1).  He mentions the crowd in the midst of the metaphor of running the race. While we cannot hear or see those referenced there, we can be audible and visible support for each other—strengthening weak hands, feeble knees, and heal others (12:12-13).  We must cheer each other on and “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).  The world will not applaud us for standing up for what’s right and living the way God instructs. But, we have each other.  It’s not the size of the crowd, but the vociferousness of the cheering, that will make the difference.  Let’s be fans of one another, today and every day.

On The Other Side Of Security

Neal Pollard

Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability.  He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established.  He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together.  I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.

Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded.  Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way.  At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15).  Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.

There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design.  Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you.  Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was.  I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm.  However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me.  I’m anxious to see them!  They are my family, even if we’ve never met.

As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family!  The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!

Protect Yourself


Neal Pollard

Helmets, seat belts, bullet proof vests, insurance, handguns, and home security systems are all means we use to protect ourselves.  The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” has proven itself worthy time and time again.  We want our homes, families, and health preserved, shielded from potential danger.  What about our inward selves?

It’s possible for us to become a spiritual casualty.  We can fall away.  Peter urges us as Christians to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves in 1 Peter 2:11-12.  One is negative and the other is positive, but both are necessary!

Abstain from fleshly lusts (11)!

We must do this because of who we are (“pilgrims and strangers”).  We must realize where we’re from and where our home is (cf. Heb. 11:13-16).  In a moral and spiritual sense, we have a higher law.  We don’t see right and wrong, fair and unfair, the way the world does.  Our ethics, morals, and our principles are derived from God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

We must do this because of what they are (“fleshly lusts”).  Peter is addressing base physical desires, things like he discusses in 1 Peter 4:3.  These are things the world engages in that can do physical damage, but they certainly lead us away from God.  They are morally wrong in God’s eyes and are destructive desires.  God knows there are things that harm us, hurt our influence, and are hated by His holy heart.

We must do this because of what they do to you (“wage war against your soul”).  Just as desiring the sincere milk of the word (2:1-2) gives you a taste for God’s kindness, satisfying fleshly lusts will destroy your soul.

What a valuable guidelines God gives us as we evaluate an activity, a means of entertainment, who to befriend, an indugence—whatever it is.  We should ask, “Where is this thing or person leading me, toward God or away from Him?”  Instead of debating our Christian liberty or looking for loopholes to pursue something we crave or desire, we would do well to analyze it through the prism of Peter’s petition in verse 11.

Keep your behavior excellent (12)!

Moral and holy behavior does more than just protect our souls.  It reaches others.  You are being watched on the job, at school, and everywhere you go.  More people are guided by your influence than you realize.  How many measure right and wrong by your example?  They may not the Bible, but they know you.  By your wise and righteous conduct, who knows how many you may lead to Christ?  Ultimately, there will be people who stand on the Lord’s right hand at the judgment because you led them there by excellent behavior.  So many people are looking for the purpose and meaning of life, and as Christians we know what it is. As we consistently live it out before them, they will want to know more about that way.

Mission Accomplished

Neal Pollard

Reader’s Digest tells the story of Walter Wyatt, Jr., an amateur pilot whose plane goes down in the Atlantic between the Bahamas and Miami, Florida.  He’s in the deep all night, fighting off bull sharks and feeling he will not survive.  He does live and a ship, the Cape York, rescues him after sunrise the next day.  He wearily climbs on board and kisses the deck.  He is saved, but he needed outside help to save him from the depths and from certain death.

So it was with us.  As the song suggests, we were sinking deep in sin and far from the peaceful shore.  Jesus lifted us, and He did so through Calvary.  Yet, He saved us from a fate infinitely worse than death by a physical predator.  Each Lord’s Day, we have the opportunity to remember this as well as He who rescued us.  As Paul once said, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:9).  In Hebrews two, we consider three important truths about the Man who saved us from death.

First, He is over us (Hebrews 2:1-10).  He is our Lord and Master.  He is over us by right of accountability (1-3).  In other words, we are reminded that each of us are accountable to Him.  We cannot escape if we neglect so great a salvation!  He is also over us by right of approval (4), namely God’s approval (cf. Matthew 17:5).  During His ministry, Jesus demonstrated His power to prove His identity (cf. Acts 2:22-24).  Further, He is over us by right of authority (5-8).  We read, “For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.”  Then, He is over us by right of arrangement (10).  He is our Creator.  He made us.  He knows us.  Finally, He is over us by right of affliction.  By virtue of His passion, Christ has compassion.  For all these reasons, we see Jesus as One who is on a par with none.  Before He was in a manger or up on a cross, He was in the beginning with God and as God (cf. John 1:2).

Second, He is like us (Hebrews 2:11-14).   No matter how much we like or dislike a king or president, we may feel like he or she is unreal or unlike us.  We cannot relate to their lives, and we are certain they can relate to ours.  Yet, Jesus, though King of kings, is a Savior who is like us.  We are of the same family, the human family (11).  He associates Himself with us (11-12).  Then, He shared in our humanity to the fullest, to the point of experiencing death for us (14).  Nobody can rightfully say to God, “You don’t know what it is like!  You don’t understand!”  He is fully divine and became fully human, making Him uniquely able to relate to both the Father and humanity.

Finally, He is for us (Hebrews 2:15-18).  The last few verses serve as final pieces of evidence proving how Jesus is on our side.  He has done His part to take the fear out of death (15; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20).  Of all created beings, He gives His aid to us (16).  He longs to be our High Priest (17).  He wants to help us when we are tempted (18).  Of all the Great Cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), who do you think is leading the cheers for those of us trying to make our way through this world and up to heaven?

A decade ago, I said a sentimental goodbye to the “Black Bullet,” my 1985 Chevy Custom Deluxe pickup which I traded in on a “new” 1992 Dodge Dakota.  I had to go to the DMV and transfer my tag and title.  They did not charge much for vanity plates, so I chose “PRCHNG1.”  This seemed clear enough to me.  As I picked up a number at the front counter,  I had my tags in hand and the receptionist saw them.  She said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try that. I bet that’s so fun. Is it scary?” I was confused. She said, “Your tags. How long have you been parachuting?” PRCHNG1 stands for “Preaching One.” I thought it was clear, but apparently my fellow motorists had been concluding that I was in some airborne division or maybe purchased hand guns. This dear lady misunderstood me, my work, and my interests.

Let us not make that mistake with the Savior we pause to commemorate each Sunday.  He is over us—He’s our King!  He is like us—He’s our brother!  He is for us—He’s our friend!

A BLIND SPOT TO MY BALD SPOT

Neal Pollard

Positively traumatic.  I don’t know another way to describe it.  Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.”  Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top.  I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting.  There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium.  OK. My bald spot.  I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.

That blind spot was more vain than dangerous.  There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious.  Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there.  But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.

It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action.  We marvel that they seem oblivious to them.  After all, we see it all so clearly.  Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly.  We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others.  Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them.  After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.

Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).  The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23).  As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better.  How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill!  This is about more than vanity.  This has more serious far-reaching implications.  May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.

There it is on the fella in the sweater in the far left seat of the front row.