Friday, March 27, 2020

Let Your Yea be Yea

   There are many, many quotes taken from the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, some more well known than others.  Some more thought provoking than others.  His Gettysburg's address would undoubtedly be the most famous.  I suppose the same can be said of any person.  If it were possible to record every conversation from throughout our entire lifetimes, some words would be more noteworthy than others.  Who can say which conversation, whether out of the mouth of Lincoln, or from the most obscure person, which words would stir the heart of a person generations later.
    Here is one of those Lincoln quotes,  from an address he made before Congress in Dec. 1, 1862.  Definitely not as well known as his address at Gettysburg's, but no less insightful.
 "In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."
  Oh, that every politician would take that admonition to heart.  And not only government officials, but every public figure that has a forum to speak from, social media Influencers or Hollywood personalities alike.  We live in a time like never before, where technology has allowed for the average man, woman, and teen to have their musings, opinions, and rants recorded for time and eternity. Not only recorded, but transmitted to the masses in the flash of a keystroke.  I'm quite sure many a person has experienced the misery and regret of hitting the 'Send' button without first taking pause to reflect on what they had just typed.  Then, there are the individuals who make bold pronouncements and affirm their unwavering commitment in support of some ideal, only to backtrack from it when the wind of public opinion shifts.  Paul warned his fledgling church at Ephesus about this dangerous tendency.  "We should no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different."  Eph. 4:14
   I find it interesting that this quote from Lincoln hammers home two timeless pieces of wisdom found in the Word of God.
  First, Choose your words carefully, for you will have to account for them at some point in time.  If not in this life, but the life to come.  "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment.'  Matt. 12:36
  Second, Own up to your words, and stay committed to your values and beliefs,  even in a value shifting, increasingly hostile, social environment.  "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No" be 'No' ..."  Matt. 5:37
  "It is foolish and rash to make a promise before the Lord without counting the cost."  Pro. 20:25
  Think before you speak.  Speak what you believe.  Stand behind what you say.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Your Deeds are Not Forgotten

    It is human nature I suppose, that history usually gives the credit and glory to the big names in wars.  The Civil War is no different.  The most prominent names oft repeated in the history books from that time are: Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Sherman, Jackson, Sheridan, Forrest, and Stuart. Of course there are many more, but these are the personages that receive the lion's share of the press.  These figures were undoubtedly instrumental when it came to their leadership decisions throughout the conflict.  However, battles are not solely won by careful planning over a battle map. Nor is victory assured by an order dispatched to the front lines, or a command shouted from a horseback. The fighting is done and victorys are won by countless, unnamed common soldiers.  Those key figures, probably will remain forever unknown to future generations.
   Take for instance the well known story that took place during the Battle of Gettysburg.  On July 2nd, the second day of the battle. The Union extreme left flank was in danger of being overrun by a large force from the 15th and 47th Alabama Regiments.  Many Civil War military historians agree that if this had occurred the Union would have lost the battle and might even have lost the war.
  Tasked with defending this strategically important position, called Little Round Top, was the 20th Maine, under the command of Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain.  Low on ammunition after over an hour and half of continuous fighting, Chamberlain ordered his remaining men to fix bayonets and had them charge down the hill toward the advancing Rebels.  The maneuver so surprised and scattered the now retreating Confederate force, thus ending the threat on the Union flank, not only winning the day, but ultimately the battle.
   So who really was responsible for that hilltop victory at Gettysburg?  Was it the commanding general, Major General George Meade?  He was the one who issued the order for the 20th Maine to be placed on Little Round Top.  Or was it Lt. Col. Chamberlain?  Was it not he, who correctly recognized the perilous situation, and ordered the daring, yet some would say, suicidal bayonet charge?  Are not their names the ones immortalized by history books, and credited with that glorious victory.  My thoughts go in a deeper direction.  True, battle plans were drawn up and orders were issued from Headquarters.  Yes, commands in the heat of battle were shouted and officers yelled, Charge!  Never the less, it was the lowly trooper, the common soldier, that scared unknown son, who obeyed that order, and charged down that hill.  It was they that ran headlong into a wall of musket lead, some charging  to their doom.  It was they that won the battle.  Yet, they are not the names recorded in the annals of military glory.
   The same holds true for the Church.  The Mega churches across the world are the ones well known.  The popular, successful pastors, conference speakers, and christian writers, they have become the household names in Christendom.  I think we need reminded from time to time why the Church is referred to in Scripture as a Body. For sure, God uses leaders to direct the mature the Church, without a doubt.  But, it is the whole Body, and may I say, the foot soldiers of the Cross, that carry out the directions.  The Christian World may not know our names by heart, nor will Church Historians remember much of the common believer's victorious exploits for Christ.  Man may not remember most of us, or the things we did for Christ... and that does not really matter.  For there is one who remembers us and what we do.
"The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who esteemed the Lord and feared His Name."  Mal. 3:16

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Recognition Versus Being Recognized

    We live in a time where more and more people crave attention.  Beginning with radio, and later with the film industry, and finally with the advent of television, the cult of celebrity was fully birthed.   Now social media allows for the most common citizen to display their lives, no matter how mundane, to the logged on masses.  Words such as: likes, subscribers, views, followers, these terms for some are proof of their self worth and social standing.  To be recognized by a larger audience builds self esteem for the attention seeker.  The definition or at very least the standards, by which one would qualify as a quote 'celebrity', have most certainly been lowered.  Nowadays, certain people are referred to as celebrities, not because of any outstanding talent they possess, or  any worthwhile social contributions, but are called such, simply because they are recognized.
   There is an old saying that goes like this, "Don't put the cart before the horse."  My take from that bit of ageless wisdom is this.  For things to make sense, and to work correctly, they should be in a proper, commonsense order.  My question to the world of the attention seekers would be this.  What is more important, to feel important, or to do something of importance?  Shouldn't it be our positive accomplishments that receive the recognition, instead of our names?
    Abraham Lincoln said it in these words, "Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition?"  Another old adage counsels, "Let your actions speak louder than your words."  What I think the President was exhorting, was for people to live a life that uplifts others, rather than a life of self promotion and attention seeking.
    Lincoln's admonition most definitely came from his knowledge of what the Bible teaches.  Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul.
  "This is the plan I follow, I try to please everyone, in everything I do, not doing what I like, or what is best for me, but what is best for them, so they may be saved."  1 Cor. 11:33
  "You can see I am not trying to please you by sweet talk or flattery, no, I am trying to please God.  If I was still trying to please men I could not be Christ's servant."  Gal. 1:10
  "As for praise we never asked it from you, or anyone else, although as apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to some honor from you."  1 Thess. 2:6
  "Let no man deceive himself, any man among you thinks he is wise, let him become humble that he may prove himself wise.  So let no one boast in men."  1 Cor. 3:18,21
   Some much more important questions to honestly ask ourselves would be these.  What is more important, to have a million followers on social media or be a single follower of Christ?  Or, to have a million people recognize name and face, or to have Christ say at the last judgement, "I never knew you."  You decide.
   Short quiz. Do you know the name of the person in the picture?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Operation Anti-Conda

    Early in the first years of the Civil War, both sides saw the need to control certain key strategic areas.  The Confederate states saw the importance for its port cities to remain open.  The Southern economy was extremely dependent on its supply line from Europe staying unimpeded.  The Mississippi River was another lifeline for the Rebel states.  If navigation on that river did not remain fully in control by the South, the Confederacy would quite literally be cut in two.
    The Northern military leadership came to the same obvious strategies for them to successfully win the war.  The Union, with it's much larger navy, quickly established a naval blockade along the Atlantic coastline.  The strategy was called, 'the Anaconda plan'.  The blockade stretched from the port towns of Virginia, all the way down and around the Gulf of Mexico, even extending to the port cities of Texas.  This would effectively, like a snake, strangle the commerce of the South.  When it came to the Mississippi River, the Union Army's plan involved sending an amphibious flotilla up from New Orleans, and simultaneously sailing another force down from the Tennessee River, capturing or destroying the Rebel forts along the way.  This would be followed by a land force of 80,000 men marching down the banks of this watery highway.  
    Port cities like Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans would be given special attention as targets. They were extremely valuable for the Confederate war effort.  Important Rebel forts like Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee, and Vicksburg on the Mississippi, were key strong-points that needed to fall before the North's strategy could succeed.   On the other hand, these same key places had to be held if the South was to have any hope of survival.
    In the Spiritual realm there is a similar style of warfare taking place.  The Enemy of our souls has his own strategic ideas on which important key places need attacked.  The great serpent of old has a plan to strangle the influence of the Church in the world.  Those crucial key places have names too.  Names like: Family, Children, Marriage, Education, and Biblical Truth, just to name a few of the important ports the devil wants to cut off or capture.   These are the areas that the Church, and by Church, I don't just mean the institutional Church, but am referring to every individual Believer need to win at all cost.  We are called to stand up and defend those key spiritual strong-points.  We cannot let them be strangled, captured, and fall to the lies of the Enemy.  We, the Church, have a strategy too.  Our goal is to win the World for Jesus Christ, every man, woman, and child.  No place is to being given over to the enemy.  Our plan is to strangle the lies of the enemy and resupply the starving with Truth.  No Bible verse shouts it any clearer than this...
"Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil. For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places."  Eph. 6:11-12

Friday, March 20, 2020

Standing Your Ground

    Warfare has dramatically changed since the Civil War.  The weapons on the modern battlefield now allow for the war fighters to engage the enemy without even physically seeing their opponent. Rockets and powerful artillery shells can hit troops many miles away.  Pilots can shoot down other aircraft beyond their horizon.  Ballistic missiles can destroy cities across continents.  The modern foot soldier's rifle can accurately hit targets thousands of yards away and shoot multiple times without reloading.  Soldiers even have equipment that allows them to spot the enemy in total darkness while they themselves remain hidden in the night.  On top of all that, their remains horrible silent weapons, unmanned drones, hovering above the battlefields, ready to unleash death from above with the touch of a button.  Often that button is pushed from an air conditioned control room half a world away.  Yes, clearly the way the world does battle has changed since 1861. 

    Now, for a moment try to imagine what it was like for the common soldier, whether Union or Confederate, during the Civil War.  Each side would march across open fields toward one another.  These lines of troops could often be hundreds of yards long.  At the Battle at Gettysburg, the Confederate line during Pickett's Charge was almost a mile and a half long, and numbering 15000 men.  These brave souls marched on, shells bursting around them, smoke, noise and confusion abounding.  They stopped at times only to fire in mass and as quick as possible reload their muskets (no automatic muzzle-loaders yet) and then continue to advance into the face of an enemy doing exactly the same thing.  These men stood face to face to their foes, ferociously shooting, at times as close as 50 yard away, until finally one side broke and ran away.  How did they do it?  Where did they get the strength, bravery, and commitment to keep going forward into such a hellish situation?
    The only answers that come to my mind are these.  1.) They believed in what they were fighting for was right and worth the sacrifice.
2.) They trusted their leaders had plan, and in what they were individually being asked to do would make a difference.
3.) Lastly, they were spurred on, inspired to keep going, by seeing their brothers in arm's bravery, marching there beside them.
    When we are tempted to give up, run from the battle, retreat to the comfort of compromise in the midst of the smoke and confusion of our Enemy's onslaught, what is the Church to do?   I cannot help but believe that the same qualities seen in those Civil War combatants are exactly what is needed to remain steadfast in our service to Christ.  Ask yourself these questions?  Do you still believe the cause you are fighting for is true?  "Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life, no man comes to the Father except through HIM."  Do you believe that showing the Love of Christ in your life and boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, and your fervent prayers make a difference in this World?  Do you  believe that your words, and faithful commitment to the Lord, even in difficult times, help a weaker, frightened brother or sister in Christ keep going?  If your answers are yes, then keep marching forward.  Victory is ours!
    "Don't be frightened by your enemies, this is a clear sign to them that they will be defeated, and it shows them your confidence in the saving power of your God."  Phil. 1:28

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?