Friday, November 1, 2019

State of the Union

    On December 3, 1861, President Lincoln made his annual address (at that time just a letter) to Congress. We now, in current times, refer to it as, the President's State of the Union address.  In that address, he touches on various themes: foreign affairs with Britain, preventing further secession, compensated emancipation, colonization, the retirement of Gen. Winfield Scott, among other topics.  Lincoln's letter dealt with the most pressing concerns weighing on Congress, and of course the whole Nation.  However, it was the secession of the Southern states, and the war that followed (already in it's 8th month), that were at the forefront of the Country's psyche.  Many politicians from the North, and the common people alike, were not convinced of the prudence for a struggle to preserve the Union, or the immediate need to abolish slavery.  They debated whether it was worth the terrible imagined cost in both blood and resources.
    Of the many convincing statements contained in his letter to Congress, it is the closing of the address that
I find the most moving, if not prophetic, "The struggle of today is not altogether for today; but it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us."   Abraham Lincoln
  Lincoln perceived better than most, that the issues to be resolved, either by victory or defeat, would change the course of history in America. Which it did.
    He saw it as a President's responsibility and Congresses obligation to posterity, to make the hard decisions now, and not conveniently pass them off to some future generation.  It was for them, now, to settle these grave issues, and not another Administration.  I suppose every politician prefers the easy road, to enact the popular policies, but some decisions cannot be ignored, even when it means a difficult road ahead.  Lincoln chose the hard road. The right road, for his time, as well as ours.
    Paul in his epistle to the church in Corinth, compares the Christians life to an Olympic runner preparing for a race.  "To win the contest an athlete must deny himself those things which would keep him from doing his best...training the body to do what it should, not what it wants to do."   1 Cor. 9:24-27
  Doing the right things, even when it might hurt, and pushing through the pain, with a future goal in mind, is what Paul and Lincoln were talking about.  From the Word of God's point of view: self-denial, not giving into self-interest, and not choosing the easy path, is as much the responsibility of the Believer, than what would be expected of any elected officials to their public.
  Lincoln saw the importance of winning the war, ending slavery, and keeping the Union undivided, as his God given assignment.  It was his race to run, not some future leader, it was his.  I am reminded of what was said in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Since we have such a huge crowd of witnesses watching us, let us strip off the things that hold us back...and let us run the particular race God has set before us."  Heb. 12:1
  Like ripples in a pond, when a stone has been cast in, that expands out until they reach the far shore, so did Lincoln's decisions effect us even 150 years later.  May our individual part in the Christian race make a difference in our world today, and a positive impact for Christ in generations to come.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Blood and Treasure

    It is a well know fact by those who study the main characters of the Civil War, how brilliant a academic scholar Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was.  History also tells of his military brilliance during the war.    We can read of his bravery and leadership on the battlefield, those are well documented, especially at Gettysburg.  But what can be over looked, are some of the personal sacrifices he made before his first taste of combat.  Before Col. Chamberlain was inspiring young soldiers in his regiment to remember their duty to their Army, Professor Chamberlain was inspiring young students to remember their duty to their Country.    He spoke freely and often of his patriotic convictions to his class, and even wrote to the Governor of Maine these strong words, "I fear this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest of personal interests, to rescue our country from desolation, and defend the national interest against treachery."
    What an incredible paragraph of prose.  That in a few short lines, he could sum up what it would take to win that terrible war.  He chose words like: "Until"   "Willing"   "Leave"   "Sacrifice."  These are words used when an action is required or a decision must be made.  They are words normally used when a person is not compelled by another, but decides of their own free will.  Chamberlain goes even further in his letter to qualify what is needed, "Willing to leave good positions" and "Sacrifice the dearest personal interests."  To win this unprecedented war, on our own soil, with brother against brother, fighting to save an enslaved people who they had never met, would be costly.  To win it would mean a willingness to love others, more than themselves, a willing sacrifice of position, property, peacefulness and personal protection.  Our mission for the Kingdom of God requires the same commitment.
   The examples of men and women recorded in Scripture who willing left all and sacrificed: position, power, privilege and possessions to follow God would fill bookshelves.
  Moses- "Choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God then enjoy the passing pleasures of sin for a season."  Heb. 11:25
  Ruth- " Where you go, I will go, where you live, I will live, and your people will be my people, your God will be my God."  Ruth 1:16
  Daniel- "But Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself with the king's choice food."  Dan. 1:8
  Matthew- "And Jesus said to him, 'Follow me' and he left everything behind, and began to follow Him."  Lk. 5:27
  Peter- "Behold we have left everything and followed You." " We have left our homes and followed You." Mk. 10:28  Lk. 18:28
  Paul- "What ever I once thought very worthwhile, I now have thrown away, so I can put my hope and trust in Christ alone."  Phil. 3:7
  What are you and I, willing to sacrifice for His Cause?  The Bible exhorts Christians to, "Count the Cost", of our commitment to follow Christ.  This urgent call to for us to fulfill our duty, comes not from a patriotic college professor, but the Commander in Chief of heaven Himself.
 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Unlikely Heroes

   The Civil War produced many unlikely heroes, some from the most unlikely backgrounds.  One of those persons was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  Encouraged by his mother to become a preacher, while his father desired him to pursue a military career, Joshua instead became a teacher at Bowdoin College Brunswick, Maine.  Even though he struggled with a speech impediment, he eventually became a professor of rhetoric, and was fluent in nine other languages besides English.  Although he did not want a military career, he believed the country needed to be supported again the Confederacy by all those who were able, he surrendered to the convictions of his heart.  Granted a leave of absence to further his studies abroad, and unbeknownst to the the college, Joshua instead enlisted in the 20th Maine Regiment as a Lieutenant Colonel.  He had been offered a higher rank, but he declined, saying he preferred, "to start a little lower and learn the business first."
    Two important, and significant events during the war Chamberlain played a key role.  During Day Two of the Battle of Gettysburg, on the Union Army's extreme left, stood a small hill called the Little Round top, defended by less then 400 men of the 20th Maine. Under assault by five Confederate Regiments, Col. Chamberlain ordered the most brave and extraordinary maneuver.  He ordered a bayonet charge down the hill straight into the oncoming enemy. It worked!  The Rebels who did not break and run, were quickly captured.  The Battle for Little Round Top was over, and by most military strategists accounts, it was the turning point for the Union victory at Gettysburg, and to Civil War historians, the determining point of the entire War.  Amazingly, a professor of rhetoric was used to win the war.
    The other compelling event in which Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain took part in, was the surrender of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.  He had been selected by Union Headquarters to preside over the official surrender of the Confederate troops as they laid down their arms and battle flags.  It was Chamberlain's decision and order, although unpopular, to have his men come to attention and "carry arms" as a sign of respect as the defeated Rebels marched by.  It was a poignant display of honor from one soldier to another.  Some historians believe that small, act helped to speed the healing between those who witnessed the moment.  Amazingly, a professor of rhetoric was used to help heal a nation.
     Moments that change the course of nations.  Small decisions that determine a brighter future.  Unlikely, seemingly ill equipped people, who are used to make history.  The Civil War was full of such men and women.  The Bible records name upon name of such World-changers.  Names like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and lest we forget, Queen Esther. She is reminded by Mordecai that she had a purpose to fulfill to save her people, "You have come to your royal position for such a time as this." Est. 4:14  She did not neglect her opportunity, and her People and her Nation, exist till this day.  Remember it was just a small band of uneducated fishermen who, "Turned the world upside down."  Ac. 17:6
  They, like Joshua Chamberlain, had limited experience in the task that was required, but they did not let that stop them. What do you think God could do with you and I, if we would just but charge bravely into our next, "for such a time as this" moment?
 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Turning Enemies into Friends

    When it became a forgo conclusion that the Civil War would end in a Union victory, leadership in the North began to discuss what the requirements should be for the South's return to the Union.  Many wanted to to see all the rebels tried as criminals: politicians, generals and common soldiers alike.  A loud public outcry was calling for the South to pay, for years to come, the huge financial cost of the war.  Some angry northerners wanted to confiscate all southern private property and leave the civilian population homeless and broke.  Fortunately for the Country, President Lincoln tempered that sort of extreme outrage, and guided the Nation toward a more gracious course.
    The War would be won, but the work of rebuilding a divided Nation would take more time, much more.  Four years of Civil War hatred, North toward South and Rebel toward Yankee, definitely would not be healed by such punitive measures.  The President's plans for reconciliation allowed for a full pardon and complete restoration of personal property to all those who had engaged in the Rebellion.  It also made plans for restoration to each of the former Confederate States the right to renew their own state government elections.  It was an uncommon attitude of grace, forgiveness, and mercy on behave of the leader of the victorious Union.
    Lincoln's benevolent attitude toward his defeated countrymen is revealed in these words, "Do I not destroy my enemies, when I make them my friends?"
   His philosophy of compassion to those who opposed him, is woven throughout the Word of God.
  "Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may receive a blessing."  1 Pet. 3:9
  "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles."  Pro. 24:17
  "You shall not take vengeance, or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Lev.19:18
  "Have I rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me, or lifted myself up when evil betook him? No, I have not allowed my mouth to sin, by asking for him to be cursed."  Job 31:29-30
    Abraham Lincoln took the wiser, higher, gentler road, when it came to restoring the Union.  He chose to temper his words in a forbearing voice and his policies with kinder actions.  Who knows if those harsher requirements had been laid upon a wounded South, how long healing may have taken.  It is a lesson to be learned by warring neighbors as much as by warring nations.  " Do I not destroy my enemies, when I make them my friends"

Friday, September 27, 2019

Mercy Triumphs over Justice

    By the Spring of 1865, the Civil War was winding down to it's inevitable conclusion.  The South would lose the War. The Union would prevail, but victory had come at a terrible price.  The economy on both sides had been damaged, much more in the South, where towns, factories, and farms lay in ruins across all the Southern states.   However, the North had incurred terrible debt to finance its immense war machine.  And then, there was the cost in lives, with well over six hundred thousand men would never to see their families again.  Needless to say, there was intense anger and resentment on both sides.  Yet the losing side no longer possessed the power to carry out any vengeance, but the North did.  As the ancient proverb says, "To the victor belongs the spoils."
   Reconstruction and Reuniting a divided Nation was now the heated topic of discussion in Washington.  When the war finally ends, who should pay for the War?  When should the Rebel States be allowed to to rejoin the Union?
What should the punishment be for the Confederate generals, officers, and soldiers who took up arms against the North?  In the hearts of many Northern politicians and lawmakers, the answers to those questions were obvious, punish all the rebels harshly.  Make them pay so severely, and humble them so completely, till the North's cry for revenge is satisfied., then and only then, will they be accepted grudgingly back into the Union.
   Lincoln's plan for reunification and reconstruction was much more lenient.  The Rebel soldiers would disband, and not become prisoners, then they could immediately return to back their homes and families.  If just 10 percent of each former Confederate States's white male population, would swear alliance again to the Union, and accept the rights of the now freed slaves, that state would be fully welcomed back in to the Union.  Many in Congress were outraged at Lincoln's generous offer to the South.  This was the President's answer back to those who were pushing for harsher measures.  "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."   
     I cannot help but believe that Lincoln's regular reading of the Bible, planted those seeds, that later blossomed into his policies on what would best heal the Nation.  That generous, forgiving spirit was no only a formula to heal a Nation, it is the path to the healing and reuniting of human hearts.
"So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy, mercy triumphs over judgment."  Ja. 2:12,13
"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins."  1 Pet. 4:8
"... it is kindness that leads to repentance."  Ro. 2:4
 Lincoln's plan may not have been perfect, but it prepared the ground for a quicker, richer harvest in becoming again, "One Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

    

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A Religion for Man and Beast

   One of Lincoln's less known quotes, but one I find to have deeper meaning then at first reading, is this one, "I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not better for it." Lincoln's sentiment toward animals came to him quite naturally.  Historians record our Sixteenth President as owning many pets in his lifetime: dogs, cats, pigs, goats, and one dog in particular on which he showered extra affection.  That dog's name was Fido, a mixed-breed, yellow hued, extra friendly, family dog.  Fido slept inside with the Lincoln's, and was allowed to eat scraps from the table, served to him by the President himself, no less.  His favorite sleeping area was a custom made couch, designed for Lincoln's tall frame.  It eventually became Fido's permanent bed when the Lincoln's moved to Washington.  The President even had the dog sit for a photographic portrait.  The name Fido by the way, means 'faithful' in Latin.  Tragically, and ironically, the dog's life was cut short, just like his master's.
   As I said before, there are some depths of insight in Lincoln's simple sounding quote.  One thing I believe Lincoln was alluding to was this, a  person's religious Faith should have positive expression beyond their own private communion with God.  A man's faith needs to make the world a better place.  Not just a better place in the Church world, but better in all arenas of life.  Lincoln is envisioning a Faith, that improves the condition of the free and the enslaved, the widow and the orphan, the poor and the outcast, a religion that impacted for good all peoples from all walks of life.  What is interesting is his use of the treatment of animals as an example of a noble type of religion.  The Scriptures also exhorts Christians to better treatment of all God's creatures.  "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel."  Pro. 12:10
    Jesus in His sermon on the Mount gets to the very heart of the matter, Lincoln was arguing.  Our Savior said it plain when speaking to Believers, "You are the salt of the earth, if you lose your saltiness, you are good for nothing... You are to be a light on a hill, a light on a lamp stand, if you cover it, it does not benefit those in darkness... It is your good works toward people that will bring glory to your Father."  Matt. 5:14-16   The Apostle James, hammers home the same point as Jesus and Lincoln. "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit the widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."  Ja. 1:27    Later in the same epistle James writes, "If you see your brethren in need, naked, destitute, hungry, and do not help, what good is that type of faith.... if you have faith alone and no works, it is a dead faith."  Ja. 2:14-20
   "One of the Psalms used in churches during worship goes like this, "I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His courts with praise... "  Ps. 100:4   A question to ask ourselves might be this one.  Is our walk with the Lord only seen in the invisible courts of Heaven, but remains invisible in the courtyards of men?  Lincoln imagined a Faith that shook both Heaven and Earth.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Strike the Tent

    Historians love to record the last words of famous individuals at the moment of their deaths.  Many times those last words carry powerful significance.  I suppose the witnesses of those words or phrases see them as a window into the heart of the person.  It is probably believed there are lessons to be learned from those experiencing the visitation of death.  I would be one of those who believes there is something to be learned from those 'famous last words'.
    Some would say that words spoken, or the visions that the person is seeing during their dying moments, are just the delirium of the human body shutting down.  Maybe so. However, I would argue this point, "Why those particular words, and why those particular images?"  I would hold to the belief, as do others, that what is being spoken and seen, does give us a look into the heart of those individuals.
   The last recorded words of General Stonewall Jackson before he passed were, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."  Jackson was known to be a deeply religious man.  He was also deeply flawed in his views on slavery and hatred toward the North.  Never the less, could it be that in his fleeing passage from life into death, the promises of the Word of God were awakened in his mind?  After two horrible years of war, and countless dead, maybe Jackson's soul just was longing for a place of peaceful rest.  A Bible verse I am sure he knew says,  "There remains a rest for the people of God, for he that enters into his rest, ceases from his labors."  Heb. 4: 9,10
    Then there are the last words of General Robert E. Lee, who was also a man of profound faith.  His passing was on Oct. 12, 1870 at age of 63.  His final words are not surprisingly, a military term, "Strike the Tent."  The meaning of the phrase is a command, 'to take down the tent, pack up and get ready to move', either to a new location, or make ready for battle.  It was undoubtedly a command General Lee had given to his officers many times over the course of the War.  Or, could he have been thinking of his earthly body at that moment?  It could have just as easily been his last goodbye to the earthly life he had known, to move on to the life to come.  The promises in the Bible of a Believers resurrection, would have been well known to a pious man such as Lee.  Even the metaphor referring to our earthly body as a 'Tent'', is used in the Scriptures.  "For we know that if this earthly tent, which is our house, is torn down, we have a building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens... we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven." 2 Cor. 5:1, 2
    I would be remiss if I did not add the last words of one more person, although he is not a Civil War personage, but his last words are a window into a heart filled with thoughts of his Savior.  His name is Stephen, the Church's first martyr. Recorded in the Book of Acts, as Stephen is about to be stoned to death for his witness for Christ, he looked up, and spoke of what he was viewing.  "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.... and as they stoned Stephen, he called upon God, and said: "Lord Jesus receive my spirit.". Then, crying out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."  Acts 7:55-60
    I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is this: ''What would be our last words?''  Would they come from a heart filled with thoughts of God?  Would our mind be consumed with the images of the rest and peace, we had so deeply longed for since childhood?  Would we be moved in those last moments to speak out words of grace and forgiveness toward other?  Hopefully, we will all be able to say,  "Yes" to those questions before we finally,  ''Strike the Tent."