Thursday, June 20, 2019

Time to Sharpen the Axhead

   One of Lincoln's more humorous quotes, but on deeper reflection, one of his more insightful sayings is this one:  "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax." At first inspection it would seem like a waste of four hours.  We need to remind ourselves of the fact that Lincoln had much experience as a rail splitter.  He knew what it took to efficiently chop wood.  A dull ax head may take twice as long to down a tree than a razor sharp one.  So to Lincoln, wise preparation before undertaking a difficult task was time well spent.

The same can be said of the difficult task of reaching our World with the message of Jesus Christ.  The truth be told, this current generation of Americans is moving further and further away from a firsthand knowledge of what the Bible teaches.  Where in generations past there was at least a nominal exposure to the Gospel through our great grandparents and grandparents, sadly we are becoming a Nation of Biblical illiterates.  Because there is less and less a common ground for discussion among a skeptical Bible questioning public, the need for Christians to be better equipped to share their faith has never been greater.  Many, many verses of Scripture exhort us of the need to prepare ourselves to share the Gospel.  "Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, so you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, stand firm.... having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." Ephesians 6:13, 15

In the Apostle Paul's day the mission of taking the message of Jesus Christ to not only a hostile World, but to a Pagan one, was filled with challenges for the Infant Church.  The audience that these new believers were encountering in a pagan Roman empire had no common background with the Jewish Scriptures.  The Early Church had its work cut out for them, and so do we.  Grandma's faith is fast becoming a distant memory to her now Unchurched grandchildren.  We have work to do Church, and that work requires us like never before to know what we believe, why we believe it, and how to effectively communicate it.

The Apostle Peter also saw the need for preparation; "Be ready always to give an answer to every man of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear."  1 Peter 3:15
The wisdom of Lincoln's ax head quote was echoed long before in the Book of Ecclesiastes; "If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success."

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Unity, But at What Cost?

    Twenty years before the Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln was warning of the dangers of an America divided over the issue of slavery.   In a speech in 1838 he said; "Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow?  Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.  At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected?  I answer.  If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad.  If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.  As a nation of free men we must live through all time or die by suicide." 

Two years before he was elected as President of the United States, his speeches became even more emphatic. "A house divided against itself, cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free."  Of course, the phrase,  "A house divided against itself, cannot stand" are the words of Jesus found in the Gospels. 
 It was abundantly clear to Lincoln that the downfall of this Nation could only come from a collapse from within, not from a defeat by a foreign power.  He believed that the core value that was needed to keep America free was freedom for all Americans, even if took war.  What had started out as a conflict over keeping the Union together had finally centered on the real problem, slavery.  There could be no compromise.

So what is the point I am attempting to communicate with this book?  The point is simply, but seriously this, the greatest danger to the Church is not from outside forces.  The Church itself is losing its way.  We are slowly forgetting why we exist as the Church.  We are in danger of drifting away from our core values, our bedrock foundation. Our foundation is Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the One and Only Savior of the World.  Churches across America fiercely argue over things like: music style, building architecture, stage lighting, which Bible versions are the best (King James vs. New American Standard, just to name a few).  Yet many churches are willing to compromise on the core issue, Jesus Christ, and who He is.  He is the Rock of the Church.  The Gospel of John says it in the most powerful, uncompromising terms, "I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, no man comes to the Father except through me."  John 14:6

The World is asking the Church to compromise and accept the belief that there are many other gods and many different ways to heaven.  There are even some Christians who would say for the sake of World Religious Unity to make this small concession.  This we cannot do.  The words of John's Gospel are clear, " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."  John 1:1,14

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

No Place to Hide, but We Don't Need To Hide

  How many of us have dreamt of escaping to a place where the cares and troubles of our day cannot touch us?  The more I see and read about our world in turmoil, l find myself daydreaming more often of such a refuge. My childhood and adulthood has been filled with war. I was born just after World War 2 and have lived through Korea, Vietnam, and the endless Gulf wars. What family of this world has not been touched by war and violence?  One man during the American Civil War tried to find such a place.

Wilmer McLean was an American farmer from Virginia. His house near Manassas, Virginia, was involved in the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.  The initial engagement on July 21, 1861, which would become known as the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), took place on McLean's farm. A Union Army artillery battery fired at McLean's house which was being used as a headquarters for Confederate Brigadier General Beauregard, and the cannonball dropped through the kitchen fireplace. Hoping to escape the war Mr. McLean and his family moved about 120 miles south to Appomattox County, Virginia, near a dusty, crossroads community called Appomattox Court House.

On April 9, 1865, the war again revisited Wilmer McLean. Robert E. Lee was about to surrender to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. He sent a messenger to Appomattox Court House to find a place to meet. On April 8, 1865, the messenger knocked on McLean's door and requested the use of his home, to which McLean reluctantly agreed. Lee surrendered to Grant in the parlor of McLean's house, effectively ending the Civil War. Later, McLean is supposed to have said "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor."

Try as he would Wilmer McLean could not outrun the war.  And as much as we Christians would love to have God tuck us away from the World's problems, it is not His plan for us.  Jesus prayed for His Disciples just before his arrest with these words, "I do not pray that you take them out of the World, but you keep them from the evil one."  John 17:15 
 As frightening as these times are becoming, our Lord's plan for His people is not to run and hide, nor to beg God to rescue us. We are to be brave and trust that even if the World seems out of control, God is still in control.
Mark 13:7 reminds us, " When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not terrified, for such things must happen."
  My job and your job is to make an impact in this World for Christ. Don't run, don't hide, use the time, talents, and influence you have to and make a difference for the Kingdom of God. Yes, we will have troubles, Jesus already told us that, "In this World you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the World." John 16:33

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Five Legged Dogs

  We are currently living in a confusing or what some would call a Troubling Age. I could not agree more wholeheartedly.  Now I am sure that people of every past generation felt the times they lived in were full of problems unique only to their time. However, I believe there has arisen an attitude that is more accepted and more widely held among a greater span of age groups and societal backgrounds than ever in times past. The attitude I am referring to is the changing definitions of what the words really mean. Truth and common sense have lost their age-old moorings.  People are now left to decide arbitrarily on what is right or wrong based on their own personal preferences. Just because we want it to be true, no matter how passionately we believe it to be true, does not make it true.
Old Abe Lincoln made a statement over 150 years ago that desperately needs repeating in this Troubling Age, "How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? Four! Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."  In the South, during the Civil War, the Confederate States labeled the conflict as an invasion, and an attack upon States Rights, not a War to keep the Union intact. Among the Slave holding States, the issue was framed as an infringement upon personal property, not a matter of withholding a Human Being's personal right to freedom. Just referring to a person as personal property rather than a slave did not change the truth, not matter what sanitized words are used. 

Nowadays, if a person disagrees with someone else's position or opinion on an issue they are often labeled as "Uninformed, Old Fashioned, Uneducated ",or sometimes even referred to as a "Hater." As a Christian and a believer in the inerrant Word of God, I believe the Bible does and continues to give clear guidance and wisdom to help Mankind navigate and make wise choices, even in the most difficult of times. If, and this is a big 'IF', we will allow the Word of God be our guide, and let the words within the Scriptures say what they clearly mean, instead of twisting them to mean what we want, only then can a Nation hope to find the truth of a matter.

The Apostle Peter wrote, "They have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of the Scripture-and the result is disaster for them." 
2 Peter 3:16

The Prophet Isaiah, 2600 years ago, under the Inspiration of the Spirit of God penned these words,
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! " Isaiah 5:20-21

"Just because you call a tail a leg, does not make it a leg."  Amen to that, Uncle Abe. AMEN!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Two Sides to Every Battle

  In the summer of 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee converged on Vicksburg by
The Mississippi River.  There they soon surrounded the city and trapped an entire Confederate army commanded by Lt. General John Pemberton. On May 25th, Grant decided to besiege the city. With no hope of reinforcements, with food and supplies nearly gone, after holding out for more than forty days, Pemberton finally surrendered on July 4th.  For the rest of the Country, the Fourth of July was a time of celebration and joyful remembrance among the former Colonies.  But for the Confederate States and the citizens of Vicksburg in particular, it had now become a time of bitter remembrance of a great defeat.

So bitter were the feelings and memories of the people of Vicksburg afterward that they did not officially observe the Independence Day holiday for the next 81 years, not returning to its observance until 1945. There were no fireworks, no picnics, no days off work. The post office didn’t even close on the Fourth of July in Vicksburg for decades. All of that indifference was solely because July 4th was the day General Pemberton of the South chose to surrender the city to General Grant of the North.

In every great battle, as in all terrible wars, there are always winners and losers, the victorious and the defeated. When those dates in history are recounted you will find strong emotions on both sides of the outcome, to the Victorious comes peace and jubilation, but to the Defeated comes bitter resentment and confusion.  The same parallel is seen in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Believers in Jesus know His death on the Cross for what it was, a great victory!  His death and His resurrection three days later, is a time of celebration for the Church. We as His followers even wear the instrument of His death around our necks (the Cross) and adorn our church buildings with the image from Sanctuary to Steeple. We rejoice in the Cross on Good Friday and we celebrate a triumphant Easter Sunday.  The Battle that was fought on Calvary and won at the open Tomb, spelled defeat for Sin, Death and the Devil. What they had imagined as a great victory, became in fact a complete defeat.

The Bible shows this difference by these verses, “Our words are wise because they are from God, telling of God's wise plan to bring us into the glories of heaven. This plan was hidden in former times, though it was made for our benefit before the world began.  But the great men of the world have not understood it; if they had, they never would have crucified the Lord of Glory.”  
1 Corinthians 2:7-8

 I am sure when Easter Sunday rolls around each year there is no celebration in Hell. The Devil and his hosts have chosen to keep silent, while the rest of Heaven and the Blood-Bought of Earth shout Hallelujah and praise the Victory that Christ has won.

   “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”  Galatians 6:14

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Onward Christian Soldiers

  One of the more humorous comments recorded of a soldier during the American Civil War was this one.
"You can tell a person's rank in the Union Army by looking at the seat of his pants. If he has no holes in his pants bottom, he is probably a Captain. If he has one hole he is a Lieutenant, and if he has two holes on his backside you can be sure he is a Private."

What was that enlisted man, (who was probably a private himself) trying to say? I believe the meaning was obvious.  What he was so eloquently insinuating was that it is the Enlisted Men that were doing most of the fighting. The common foot soldiers were the ones taking the brunt of the hardships in many most of the campaigns and on the endless battlefields. It was not the President, nor Congressmen, or even the high ranking Generals out on the front lines. It was the former farmers, store clerks, butchers, bakers, fishermen, blacksmiths, and a thousand other professions, young and old, plodding down muddy, deadly roads, in hopes of victory.

A Confederate soldier once wrote in a letter to his folks back home these words, " I never shoot at an Officer. I only shoot at Privates. I figure it's the Privates that are the ones I have to worry about. They're the only ones doing the fighting." Even President Abraham Lincoln had some fun joking about the importance of his generals. On hearing a report from the battlefield that one of his generals had been captured along with a hundred horses, he remarked, "I am sorry for the horses. I can make a Brigadier General in five minutes, but its not easy replacing a hundred horses."

Now I am not saying that high ranking leadership is not important in a conflict. Planners and Decision makers are a strategic element for any battle and they are men of courage too. But I am in agreement with those voices from both sides of the Civil War on this simple point.  It is the common, everyday warrior, no matter what his station or education in life that make the difference in the battle.

That powerful fact is clearly proclaimed over and over in the Scriptures.  Paul writing to the Church in Ephesus states, "God gave the Church Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers." These are the leadership of the Body of Christ, the generals, the officers (so to speak) for the churches. However, what do they exist for?  They are there to equip the foot soldiers and the front line troops, for the battles ahead.  Paul continues by saying, " they are for the perfecting, equipping of the saints for the work of service."  Ephesians 4:11, 12
To the Church at Corinth he wrote, "God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise, the weak things of the world to confound the things the world calls mighty." 1 Corinthians 1:27

The spiritual battles in this world will not be won solely from the pulpits of grand cathedrals, or from the pens of skilled Christian writers, nor from golden throated gospel singers, or even from the most celebrated television evangelists.  The strongholds of the enemy will be brought low by spirit equipped, fearless, uncompromising and determined Christian foot soldiers. The PRIVATES of Christ's Victorious Army.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Unfinished Dash

     Every Memorial Day in the United States, you can drive past any cemetery and observe a common sight.  There upon the manicured landscape, stand teary-eyed visitors, come to honor the fallen.  The names on the headstones are all different, but each one shares the same simple message. On the granite surface is carved for generations to read, are a date of birth, and the date of the loved one's death. There is also another chisel mark to acknowledge, there in a simple straight line between the two dates, is a dash. The date of our birth is important to be sure, as is the date of our departure from this life.  But the dash represents a person's life, from first breath to the last gasp. It is a silent mystery known partially to a few souls, but of course known completely by God.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough to say that the dash is the most important part of our existence. It's not the country of our birth, or the length of our days on Earth, not even the place of our death that really matter.  Here is the main question we all must answer.  What did we do with our life?  What noble, unselfish, merciful, loving, and sacrificial acts are going to be recorded silently within the Workman's stroke called, the Dash?  One of Abraham Lincoln's famous quotes was this, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."

For you and me, we need to take an honest inventory of our lives. The Bible cautions us with this truth, "Tomorrow belongs to no man."  How long is our DASH? No one knows, but God.  The wisdom of the Book of Psalms says it like this, "Lord, teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom." Psalms 90:12

It is never too late to start changing what is going to be written unseen by future generations within our dash.  We need to start today, now, this moment. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes said, "The person who keeps looking at the clouds will never sow, and never harvest." Ecclesiastes 11:4 
If you are reading this book, you still have a dash to fill up with a good life that blesses others and pleases God.