Saturday, November 23, 2019

Forced to Surrender

    General of the Entire Union Army,  Ulysses S. Grant earned a reputation as a tenacious and determined leader.  Although he had his ups and downs on the battlefield, and struggled with alcohol throughout his military career, it was his doggedness in the face of the enemy that won him the support of his Commander in Chief.  When his critics suggested to Lincoln that he be removed from command, Lincoln responded, "I can't spare this man. he fights."  Grant lead a series of brilliant, but costly campaigns against the South, that ultimately wore down the Confederate Army, and helped bring the bloody Civil War to a close.
   Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, on April 27,1822. At age 17 when he was enrolled at West Point Military Academy he was incorrectly recorded as Ulysses S. Grant.  He never bothered to correct them.  His fellow cadets called him Sam, taken from the initials U.S.  They saw it as a humorous reference to Uncle Sam.  Soon those initials would take on an entirely new and historic meaning.
    On February 6, 1862, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant poised for an attack on a key Confederate position in Tennessee named Fort Donelson, situated along the Cumberland River.  By the 13th, Grant had surrounded the fort with over 25,000 men.  By the 16th, the Rebel Commander, General Simon Buckner, (a pre-war friend of Grant's) realized the defense of the fort was untenable. Therefore, the Rebel General asked for conditions for surrender, hoping to get favorable terms from Grant.  Grant replied that there would be no terms "except unconditional and immediate surrender."   More than 12,000 Confederate soldiers were captured that day.  This earned him a new nickname to go along with his initials "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.
    The Apostle Paul tells us in the Book of Ephesians, that the Church does not just battle against natural enemies, but supernatural enemies as well.  They are referred to in Scripture as Spiritual authorities, World rulers, Powers of darkness, and Invisible forces working behind the scenes.  Eph. 6:12  These enemies do not want to surrender Jesus.  However, just like the Rebels in Fort Donelson did not want to surrender, yet had no choice, so it is with the devil's forces.  They will be forced to unconditionally surrender.  The day is coming when all the forces of darkness, and all who refuse to surrender to the love of God offered through Christ, will fulfill this verse,  "As it is written, that at the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue shall confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father."  Phil. 2: 10-11

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Evolving Lincoln

    The natural process for all living things is to grow.  Growth and change is a normal part of life.  The goal of a Christian is to grow, change, and mature.  We are called to mature and become more like our Master, Jesus Christ.  The Bible describes this process in many passages, "Be not conformed to the image of this world, but be ye transformed, by the renewing of your mind." Ro.12:2   "Follow the Truth at all times...and so become more and more like Christ, who is the Head of His body, the Church."  Eph. 4:15
"Therefore, leaving behind the elementary teachings of Christ let us press on to maturity."  Heb. 6:1
   We see that process of growth and change in the political life of Abraham Lincoln too.  Lincoln's position on the issue of slavery evolved over a long period of time. Early in his political life he opposed slavery on moral grounds, but did not believe the Federal government should force the Southern States to end it. When the Rebel states succeeded from the Union, Lincoln did not require them to abolish slavery as a condition for returning.  For President Lincoln, keeping the Union together took precedent over ending slavery.  Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the rebelling states, not the states that had not entered the Confederacy. Later, he even proposed a preposterous plan that would ship the freed slaves off to live in colonies outside of the United States.  Finally, after much debate and soul searching, President Lincoln, the bold leader we admire today stood up, and made the hard, costly, but right decision.  Slavery must end, everywhere, now and forever.  Lincoln's final word to the South was this. You must give up your immoral culture of slavery, and if not willingly, it will be by force of arms decided for you.
    Abraham Lincoln's political platform was far far different at the end of the conflict, then it had been at the beginning of the Civil War.  Thank God he evolved  into the kind of leader that the Country needed.    David said it best like this, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Ps. 51:10   Lincoln developed into the type of leader who was not afraid, prideful or just too stubborn to make the hard choices, even if it meant admitting he had been wrong.
    All of us will face those type of moral decisions.  Hopefully, as a Christian we will continue to grow and mature.  Hopefully, we can learn to humble ourselves, even as the Spirit of God deals with our hearts."
Lincoln changed.  What he thought was wise policy early in his career, he found to be unacceptable later on.  Lincoln evolved, he matured.  Paul gets to the same point with this verse of Scripture, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man , I put away childish things." 1 Cor. 13:11  Are you willing to change?

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 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."