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 led 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.

This important leader was born Hiram Ulysses Grant, on April 27, 1822. However, when he was enrolled at West Point Military Academy at age 17, 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, Brigadier General, 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 according to Ephesians 6:12.  These enemies do not want to surrender to Jesus.  Nevertheless, 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."  Philippians 2: 10-11

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Evolving Lincoln

     The natural process for all living things is to grow.  Growth and change are normal parts 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." Romans 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."  Ephesians 4:15 
"Therefore, leaving behind the elementary teachings of Christ let us press on to maturity."  Hebrews 6:1

We see that process of growth and change in the political life of Abraham Lincoln, also.  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 seceded 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 different at the end of the conflict, than 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." Psalm 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 types of moral decisions.  As Christians we should strive to 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 Corinthians 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 touched on various themes: foreign affairs with Britain, preventing further secession, compensated emancipation, colonization, the retirement of General 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 its 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 was 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 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 the Congress's 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 in order 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 Corinthians 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 as would be expected of elected officials to their constituency.

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.  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."  Hebrews 12:1

Like ripples in a pond, when a stone has been cast, that expands out until they reach the far shore, so did Lincoln's decisions affect 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 known fact by those who study the main characters of the Civil War, how brilliant an 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, which 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 Colonel 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. Chamberlain with a few short lines, could sum up what it would take to win that terrible war.  He chose words like: "Until" "Willing" "Leave" "Sacrifice."  These are the 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 whom 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 willingly left all and sacrificed positions of 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."  Hebrews 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."  
Daniel 1:8
       Matthew- "And Jesus said to him, 'Follow me' and he left everything behind, and began to follow Him."  Luke 5:27
       Peter- "Behold we have left everything and followed You." " We have left our homes and followed You." Mark. 10:28  Luke 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."  Philippians 3:7

What are you and I, willing to sacrifice for His Cause?  The Bible exhorts Christians, "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 from the most unlikely backgrounds.  One of those 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 in 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 against the Confederacy.  Therefore, he surrendered to the convictions of his heart.  Granted a leave of absence to further his studies abroad, and unbeknownst to 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." 

During the war, Chamberlain played a key role in two important and significant events on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain was positioned on the Union Army's extreme left, on a small hill called the Little Round top, weakly defended by less than 400 men of the 20th Maine.  Under assault by five Confederate Regiments, Colonel 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 change the course of the war.

The surrender of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House was another compelling event in which Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain took part. 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 when 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.

History records those moments that changed the course of nations.  Many times it's the small decisions that determine a brighter future.  God uses unlikely, seemingly ill equipped people to mightily impact history.  The Civil War was full of such men and women.  The Bible also 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." Esther 4:14  She did not neglect her opportunity nor her People nor her Nation.  Remember it was just a small band of uneducated fishermen who, "Turned the world upside down."  Acts 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 me, 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 forgone 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 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 of each of the former Confederate States with the right to renew their own state government elections.  It was an uncommon attitude of grace, forgiveness, and mercy on behalf of the leader of the victorious Union.
Lincoln's benevolent attitude toward his defeated countrymen was revealed in these words, "Do I not destroy my enemies, when I make them my friends?"

His philosophy of compassion toward 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 Peter.3:9
       "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles."  Proverbs 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."  Leviticus.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 from 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 its 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 who would never 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 be required to disband and would not be taken as prisoners, then would immediately return back to their homes and families.  If just 10 percent of each former Confederate States' 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 into 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 not only a formula to heal a Nation, it was 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."  James 2:12, 13
"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins."  1 Peter 4:8
"... it is kindness that leads to repentance."  Romans 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 than 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 with 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 a 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. He believed in a religion that impacted for good all peoples from all walks of life.  What is interesting is their use of the treatment of animals as an example of a noble type of religion.  The Scriptures also exhort 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."  Proverbs12:10

 Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount gets to the very heart of the matter that 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."  Matthew 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."  James 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."  James 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... "  Psalms 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 hearts 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.  Nevertheless, 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 was just 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."  Hebrews 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 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 in order to move 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 Corinthians 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 others?  Hopefully, we will all be able to say,  "Yes", to those questions before we finally,  ''Strike the Tent."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The War is Over, But it is Not Over

     On April 9th, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  The war was over, but it was not over.  It was not until April 12th, that The Army of the Tennessee under Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his 90,000 men.  The war was over, but it was not over.  It took another several days before Rebel Calvary Commander Nathan Bedford Forrest decided it was hopeless to continue fighting, and he too surrendered his command.  The war was over, but it was not over.  Near Brownsville, Texas, on May 12th a small force of 350 Rebels defeated 800 Union troops for what became the last shots of the Civil War. The war was over, but it was not over.  

In the Indian Territory, Native American General Stand Watie kept his troops in the field ready to fight, until he finally acknowledged defeat, and surrendered his unit of the Confederate Cherokee on June 23rd. The war was over, but it was not over.  The CSS Shenandoah, a Confederate raider was still terrorizing Union shipping up until August 1865, until it finally received definitive word of the South's surrender. The war was over, but it was not over.

The shooting on the battlefields of the Civil War may have ended, but the fight to unite and heal a fragmented Nation was far from over.  Bitter hatred between the peoples of the North and South still remained.  Anger over the destroyed towns and ruined economy of the Southern states would not be quickly forgiven.  The loss of friends and family members, that now filled to overflowing our Nation's cemeteries remained a constant gnawing bitter reminder.  The deep rooted prejudice of whites toward the newly freed slaves did not end when the last shots were fired, or with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.   Bitterness, prejudice, selfishness, unforgiveness, and resistance to change, these still  stubbornly remained on the fields of America's landscape.  The Civil War of cannon fire and musket blast was over, yet man's warring hearts do not so easily surrender.

The last words Christ breathed out on the Cross were these, "It is Finished."  John 19:30  What was He saying?  What did He mean?  Clearly, Jesus was saying, the battle had been won.  The payment for the sin of the World had been paid.  John the Baptist said of Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, that takes away, the sin of the World."  John 1:29   The Scriptures go on to say, Jesus completely defeated the devil and death by His sacrifice on the Cross.  "He cancelled the certificate of debt against us, having taken it away, and nailed it to the Cross.  He disarmed principalities and powers. God made a public display of them, triumphing over them through Jesus."  Colossians 2:14,15. Paul further pressed home this point in the book of Romans,  "We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus."  Romans 8:37

The war is over, but it is not over.  The Christian life in many ways mirrors those years that followed the end of the Civil War.  The armies of the Confederate states had been defeated, the South had been beaten, yet open resistance and deadly battles still continued.  Likewise, the devil has been defeated, but even so, he continues to terrorize and attempts to thwart the work of God.   Even so, The Church will keep battling his forces until the King returns.  BUT WE HAVE ALREADY WON!   Let us be very clear on this next fact, the payment for our sins has been paid.  Paid in full. However, there are many people, still out in the fields, who have not yet heard that Christ has won a victory for them.  They have not yet received the Good News.  The war against sin, death, and the devil has been won.  We are the couriers to take that message.
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us to triumph in Christ."  2 Corinthians 2:14

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Art of Deception

       After the devastating defeat by the Rebel Army at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, the Federal Army was in disarray.  Something needed to be done to boost morale, and turn an ill equipped, under trained mob, called the Army of the Potomac, into an effective fighting force.  In stepped George McClellan.  McClellan was a genius at organization, training, and morale building.  He was just what the fledgling Union Army needed.  However, General McClellan, now commander of the entire Army of the Potomac, had one major, fatal flaw.   He was easily intimidated by the Rebel Army.  As the General in Chief of all the Union armies, the forces under his command rarely possessed less than a 2 to 1 advantage, sometimes numbering as many as 5 to 1 advantage over the Confederate forces he faced.  In spite of such overwhelming military superiority on the battlefield, McClellan's leadership style was marked by excessive caution, timidity, and a  reluctance to take initiative.

 During the Peninsular Campaign, McClellan refused to attack a much smaller Confederate force at Yorktown, even though his men and equipment vastly outnumbered the enemy.  He always wildly imagined the enemy as having three times the superiority of his own troops.  One of his fellow officers once commented on his commander's decision making during such battles said, "he is either a coward or a traitor."

Rebel commanders, knowing of McClellan's fearful nature took full tactical advantage.  Outside of Yorktown, Confederate General John B. Magruder had his small force of men march around in a circle, in and out of a clearing, creating the impression to McClellan of a mighty Rebel host.  McClellan in line with his nature, panicked and refused to attack.  Many a man and many a battle were lost because of his paralyzing fear.   Most Civil War historians believe the war could have ended much earlier had it not been for McClellan's lack of bold, brave initiative.

 I wonder, how many Christians have likewise been so intimated by the World and the Enemy of our souls?  How many victorious opportunities have we missed, because we like McClellan, were deceived by the Enemy?  Have you and I also been guilty of imagining the devil as a much greater, more formidable force than our Lord?  Yes, it is true that we battle strong, wicked, spiritual enemies. "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."  1 Peter 5:8
But we must not forget that we don't just serve a little God, but we serve the Lord God Almighty, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is the LION of Judah, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.  "And at His name, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord."... Even the devil.  Romans 14:11

We are members of a mighty host, never forget that.   We, without question, far out gun any demonic force that is sent against the Church.  God is looking for more bold and brave sons and daughters, to run fearlessly into the Kingdom of Darkness with the bright banner of Christ.  Let not the timidity and lack of initiative that plagued McClellan become the trademark of this generation of believers.  For our Heavenly Commander in Chief has given us this battle cry, "The wicked flee when no man pursues him, but the righteous are bold as a lion."  Proverbs 28:1

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Peace Without Compromise

      At the start of the Civil War and throughout both sides, the North and South claimed to be in the right.  Both sides prayed for God's help and providence to secure victory.  Abraham Lincoln commented on this paradox with these words, "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the Will of God.  Both may be, but one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time."  He later added these words, "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.  It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask for a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces... The prayers of both cannot be answered." 

 In this day and age, just as in previous times, certain words come into vogue.  Some of those so called 'buzz' words are words like: tolerance, inclusion, acceptance.  Such words are meant to communicate to the general public the notion that truth is relative, and everyone's beliefs and behaviors are just as right and true as anyone else's.  It has been argued by some, that all religions are at their core fundamentally the same and only superficially different from Christianity.   However, the Bible would clearly show the exact opposite.
The Teachings of Christ and who Christ is, are at their core, fundamentally different from the other religions, and only superficially the same compared to the other faiths.

 Lincoln at the beginning of his presidency attempted to placate and compromise with the demands of the South. However, there came a point in the conflict where the slavery issue could no longer be ignored, compromise was no longer an option.  The end of Slavery was one of those fundamental truths that could not be accepted, tolerated, or included in a Free United States.  As much as Lincoln wanted to keep the peace between North and South, he could not compromise what he knew was right.  He tried, but the conflict still came.

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts, "Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."  Romans 12:17,18  We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are called to love and pursue peace with all men. However, loving and pursuing peace does not mean abandoning the Truth of who Jesus is, nor compromising the message of His Gospel,  "I am the way, the truth, the life, no man comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6   As much as the World would want the Church to accept, tolerate, and include every type of behavior and every religious doctrine... We cannot. Sadly, because of our determined stand for Christ, conflict comes.
When Jesus asked His disciples if they were going to stop following Him, our hearts echo Peter's response to Jesus, "Master, where will we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to know and believe, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  John 6:68, 69

Friday, September 6, 2019

Acoustic Shadows

   During the Civil War, commanders communicated orders to their troops by various means: oral commands, dispatches carried by couriers on horseback, and the sounding of different bugle calls.  It was common for armies to be spread out over large distances and timely communication between these separated units was crucial to an army's success.  Military commanders needed to make decisions based on the current situation surrounding them.  One indicator of battlefield conditions was the very sounds of the battle itself.  The roar of cannons or musket fire, helped tell a commander where an attack was taking place, and was often used as the signal for his unit to join in a predetermined, coordinated attack.  Sounds from the battle field could alert an opposing army to the fact that the enemy was now on the move, even before they could be physically seen. 

 A strange phenomenon has been recorded during several battles of the Civil War.  The phenomenon is called an "Acoustic Shadow."  Sometimes referred to as a 'Silent Battle', where sound is unheard by those close by, but can be heard a very far distance away from the source.  When an Acoustic Shadow occurs, it hides the sounds of a battlefield from being heard, therefore communication has been lost and dire consequences may follow.  Timely responses by leadership is often the difference between victory or defeat. Battles where this Acoustic Shadow phenomenon occurred were: the battles of Fort Donelson, the Five Forks, Perryville, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.  In the case of Gettysburg, the cannon blasts were heard by people as far away as Pittsburgh, over one hundred and fifty miles away, yet was not heard by troops less than two miles from the fighting.

So what causes this randomly weird acoustic event?   Sound Engineers have since discovered, when there are unique combinations of wind, weather, temperature, forests, and topography (hills and valleys), sound waves skip silently over those low lying areas.  The battle can be raging, cannons booming, muskets firing, thousands of men shouting, yet there is a peaceful quiet just over in the next valley.

 These 'Acoustic Shadows' or 'Silent Battles' are not just the domain of the battlegrounds of earth.  They are also experienced in the invisible battlegrounds of the Kingdom of God.  In his Epistle to the church at Ephesus, Paul describes the forces of the Kingdom of Darkness in military like language.  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12
It is of the utmost importance that we stay aware of the Enemy's movements in the World today. "So no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not to be ignorant of his schemes." 
2 Corinthians 2:11

So how do we keep out of those 'Acoustic Shadows'?  How do we stay aware and alert to the enemy's movements?  As we have learned, those acoustic deaf spots were caused by obstacles blocking the sound.  Could it be possible that we have allowed obstacles like: sin, bitterness, unforgiveness, unhealthy habits and influences to blind us, even deafen us to the deceptive schemes of the devil?   We need to remove those things that block us from seeing the Enemy's subtle movements.  How do we stay alert to God's bugle call, so we can move with the battle plan of God?   When He calls us to move it is hard to hear Him when we are deep in the valley of worldly confusion.  Some of the more prudent Civil War commanders stationed watchmen on the high ridges to survey the enemy below.  Therefore, when the enemy moved to attack, the commander was quickly made aware by these lookouts, and took action.

The Word of God is our watchman on the mountain.  Scripture speaks exhortation and warning to God's people, even when we find ourselves in those deceptively silent valleys.  When we spend disciplined time in the Word of God, it is like setting a watchman over our souls. "For thus has the Lord God said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees." Isaiah 21:6

Friday, August 30, 2019

What Are You Fighting For?

      If you asked a Northern Congressman why he believed the Civil War should be fought, he would surely answer, "to restore and uphold the Union."  If you asked any Abolitionist why the war was being fought, they would loudly answer, "to free the slaves of course!"  And I am sure that a few unscrupulous business men would cynically respond with their stilted logic, "because wars are good for business and spark the economy."

The South would have their own versions of why they were fighting the War.  The Confederate Government would undoubtedly say the war was being fought to preserve individual States Rights.  If you asked a Plantation owner, his reply would be, "to protect our economy from ruin."  If you asked General Robert E. Lee, why he resigned from the Federal Army to fight for the Confederate Cause, with misplaced loyalty he would nobly say, "I am honor bound to defend the sacred soil of Virginia."  Lastly, among the common folk of the South, the reason was as simple as this, to keep their culture and way of life without Yankee interference.

In 1862, a young, undernourished rebel soldier was captured in the wilderness of Tennessee.  Most of the fighting men of the Confederate Army at that time were young, poor and probably did not even own slaves. Like most soldiers of the Civil War, there was a good chance it was this young man's first time to be away from home as well.  Most people of early America had not even ventured more than fifty miles from home their entire lives.  But here, in the woods of Tennessee, was found a young hungry soldier, fighting for a cause he probably did not fully understand.  When asked by his inquiring Northern captors why he was fighting this war? He calmly replied, "I am fighting because you are down here." It was a perfect reply, I'm sure, by his reckoning.

Why do we fight for the cause of Christ?  Why do we enter the spiritual battle to proclaim and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Surely our lives would be less complicated if we did not choose sides, and quietly kept our Christian message and convictions to ourselves.  Do the Scriptures not warn us, that to make a stand for Christ can mean ridicule, hardships, and even death?  Did not Jesus tell us, "I send you out as sheep among wolves."  Matthew 10:16

Did not Paul say the same? "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,...or peril, or sword... For thy sake we are killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."  Romans 8:35, 36
Just as the Civil War separated North from South, and brother from brother, to choose for Christ, may require the same. Some of the saddest words of Jesus are these, "And a man's foe shall be they of his own household."   Matthew 10:36

 So why do we battle for the Lord?  Actually, our reasons are not that much different from those who fought in the Civil war.  Like the North, we fight so lost men and women can be set free, and back in Union with their Creator again.  We boldly speak out, to hopefully inspire action in others, and rekindle a spark in our timid brothers again.  And like the South, we fearlessly proclaim the Gospel, because it is our right to do so. We speak because we will not let the Forces of Darkness keep us quiet, or interfere with what His Word has said is the right way to live. We battle because we see it as our sacred duty to honor the Lord.
 And lastly, we have joined the fight, a journey that has taken many of us to places far from home, as well as seeking the lost right here in my country, my town, my world.  That's why Christ came here, and that's good enough reason for me.  "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost."  Luke 19:10

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Was It Worth It?

     Throughout the Civil War, there were constant outcries against continuing the war, from both Democrats and Republicans.  The voices to bring an immediate end to the hostilities became louder as the casualty lists grew longer.  During the four year conflict, over 620,000 men were killed, which amounted to 2.5 percent of the entire population of the country.  Another 500,000 were wounded in battle, many never to fully recover.  By 1861, the first year of the war, the North was spending 1.5 million dollars every day on the war.  Heading into 1865, the last year of the war, the Federal government was expending 3.5 million dollars a day.  It is estimated that the war cost the country well over 6 billion dollars, an astronomical sum for its time.  The economy of the South was in ruins.  The North, to pay for the war, was in terrible national debt.  But the toll the war took on the lives of men with broken bodies, along with the nation's orphaned and widowed households was incalculable.  As these ghastly numbers multiplied throughout 1861-1865, the same question was asked from Statehouse to farmhouse, "Was it worth it?"  Was all the shed blood, the sweat, the countless tears, and the lost future generations, really worth it?

The best answer to that question would be to ask it of those for whom the war had the most profound effect, such as the slaves.  Ask the men or women, who were taken from their homeland, who were sold like cattle, and treated no better than property. Ask the enslaved if the war was worth it.   Ask the black children of the South, who were denied the right to learn to read or write.  Ask those same children, who faced the real probability of being sold to another slave owner, and never seeing their parents again.  Ask them if they feel the war was worth it.  Ask all the slaves of the Confederate States, whose life expectancy, because of their horrendous living conditions and diet, who only lived half as long as the white population, ask them if they think the war was worth it.  I think we know the answer.

 Maybe we should ask the Founding Fathers, who fought and died to create the United Sates of America.  Ask them if the cost of keeping the Union together was worth the price?  Was not their core passion for a United States, not separate colonies?  Was not their heart-felt goal expressed in the motto, "E Pluribus Unum", which in Latin means, "Out of the many one"?  Ask those patriots what their choice would be, to dissolve the Union, or fight to preserve it?  No matter what the cost.  I think we know the answer.

When the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit looked down upon this lost, broken and rebellious world, they counted the cost to save it.  Before the world was created, before the first rebellious sin of Adam, before you and I were born, God had already decided you and I were worth it.  " He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world."  Revelation 13:8

God the Father, had calculated the tremendous cost to win the war for our sinful souls, the sacrifice of His Son, and He decided you and I were worth it. "For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son."  Romans 5:10
Jesus counted the cost of saving this broken world, and He decided it was worth it. "Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross, for the joy He knew awaited Him."  Hebrews 12:2

Some things in life are worth fighting for, not matter what the cost.  Giving our life to Jesus Christ and living it to honor and please Him, is one of those things worth the price.  Moses taught us that.  "By faith, when Moses was grown up, he refused to be called the son of pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin."  Hebrews 11:24, 25
Ask us Christians if we think the sacrifices we have endured for Christ were worth it.  I think you know the answer.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Sound of Victory

      In January, 1863, Brigadier General Daniel Ullman was sent by Lincoln to Louisiana to enlist African Americans as soldiers for the Union Army.  In his general order to the officers tasked with enlisting ex-slaves he included this memorable statement,  "The first gun that was fired at Fort Sumter sounded the death-knell of slavery.

They who fired it were the greatest practical Abolitionists this nation has produced.  The decree went forth from that hour, that slavery should quickly cease to exist on this North American Continent." Quickly afterward he raised five regiments of colored soldiers.

For decades Abolitionists in the North and South had fought by voice, pen, and sometimes the sword for slavery to be abolished.  The cannonballs that fell on Fort Sumter did more to further the anti-slavery cause than the most eloquent arguments of any orator of that day.  The Confederate states believed that military force would secure their right to own slaves. They were mistaken.  The exact opposite happened.  Those cannon blasts did as General Ullman predicted, "Sounded the death-knell of slavery."

How ironic it is that the same miscalculations were also in the hearts of the enemies of Christ.  When they arrested Jesus, tried and condemned Him to death on the cross, they must have believed they had, by force, rid themselves of that troublemaker.  They were mistaken.  The exact opposite happened.
 The Scriptures reveal their folly, "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
Wicked men sought to stop the message of Jesus.  The spiritual forces of darkness thought they had foiled God's plan. They were mistaken.  The sound of clanging metal, hammered against iron nails in Christ's hands and feet, sounded the death-knell of the power of sin and death.
"O Death where is your victory? O Death where is your sting?  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57

I am sure there was a great celebration by the Southern troops when the white flag was raised by the Federal troops within the fort.  I am also sure there was that same sense of satisfaction among the Roman guards who gambled for Christ's clothing and heard Him say, "It is finished."

History tells us that the same hand that raised the flag of surrender at Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, four years later, again at Sumter, he raised the flag of a United States of America. The Word of God declares something even more powerful than that. That the same Jesus, who had His clothing ripped from Him, and had His Hands wounded by cruel nails, would someday come again, this time dressed in new garments and armed with a sword and rod of iron.
"And on His robe and thigh was written this title: King of Kings and Lord of Lords... and from His mouth came forth a sword and He shall rule the nations." Revelations 19:15, 16

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Better Angels of Our Nature

     In Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, he makes an impassioned appeal to the Southern States, which had already seceded from the Union.  At its heart, the speech was a call for reconciliation.  The tender emotions of a father figure can be felt in his words.   "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection... all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

What a beautiful, poetic phrase, "the better angels of our nature." What did Lincoln mean by those words?  I feel he is saying, that if they looked deep inside, they, both North and South would find the path that would lead back to unity and righteous freedom for every American, both slave and free.  His appeal was for the South to look beyond their familiar culture, beyond their prejudice, beyond their fears, and see something bigger, something greater, something more noble, freedom and unity and common good for all men.  Lincoln believed it was there, in the heart, if they would just be willing to search for it, the better angels of our nature.  Lincoln had a vision of an America united.  He saw the enormous potential of an America with its immense resources, when coupled with a people undivided by race or region.  Lincoln saw a bright future for the Nation, if it would let go of the things that weakened it, slavery and disunity.

 Sam Houston, Governor of Texas gave his opinion on how the North would respond to the South's secession. "They are not a fiery impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.  But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche."

 The Bible has the same sentiment when it speaks of the power and influence of the Church.  The Church is a mighty spiritual avalanche, when its people are unified, and choose to move in the same direction.  However, this mighty Church is divided over such things as: worship style, building architecture, types of church government, Bible version choices, and even still, the color of one's skin.  How I long for the fulfillment of this passage in the Psalms, "How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity." Psalms 133:1

 Of course, we need to unite around the major uncompromising truths such as: The Trinity, Deity of Christ, Inerrancy, and moral guidance of the Bible, and the Atoning death of Jesus, Salvation through Christ alone, and a final judgement of all mankind.  There will always be differences among believers, but can you imagine the Body of Christ united under the banner of these truths?  What a powerful force we could be in this world, instead of a weak, divided Church. This is not the Church God intended, nor the Church the World needs.

The Word of God exhorts us, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Name our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgement." 1 Corinthians 1:10
    The Apostle Paul believed that if we are willing to search deep within our hearts, and look with the right attitude, the Church can discover those, 'better angels of our nature'. "In whatever you do, don't let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble, and honor others more than yourselves." Philippians 2:3

To paraphrase the words of Sam Houston for us today, "When we (The Church) begin to move in the same given direction (Making Christ and His Gospel the centerpiece), we will move with the steady momentum and perseverance of an avalanche."  When that happens, then we will truly experience the reality of these words, "If God be for us, who can stand against us... Yes, we are more than conquerors through Christ who died for us." Romans 8:31, 37

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Bless the Lord

     President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of Civil War.  The proclamation declared, "that all persons held as slaves, within the rebellious states are, and henceforward, shall be free."  At a Washington D.C. contraband slave camp, former slaves testified of what this monumental moment meant to them.  One former slave remembered the sale of his daughter, "Now, no more of that he said. They can't sell my wife and children anymore. Bless the Lord."

The most moving part of that ex slave's testimony were his last three words, "Bless the Lord."  What makes them so moving, so powerful, were the words spoken beforehand. His slave-owner master had sold his daughter.  Imagine that for a moment, if you can.   He had experienced his own child ripped out of his life.  Quite possibly he had seen his wife taken from him, as many male slaves had seen happen.  And also quite possibly, if the war had not been won by the North, he would have seen his other children sold away.  Like other slaves, he had probably been whipped for some infraction, overworked, underfed, disrespected, and treated no better than a piece of property.  Yet, amazingly he still could say, "Bless the Lord."

Even after suffering all those terrible things, he had kept his faith.  Even after experiencing such horrible, humiliating offences, he still had loving words of praise toward his God.  How was he able to do that?  Obviously, he believed in the God of the Bible.  The stories of the hardships of the Children of Israel in Egypt were very familiar to the oppressed of the American South.  I'm sure he also believed in a God who can see all things, and a God who was keenly aware of his, and his fellow slave's suffering, just as God had been for Israel.  "The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them."  Exodus 3:7,8

So again, the question remains. How was this ex slave able to keep his faith, and beyond that, still have a heart of praise even after such a long wait for deliverance?  The answer is reflected in the lives of some prominent  Biblical figures, who also endured unfair and harsh treatment.  Like this man, they were able to separate who God is, and God's Character, from the evil actions of sinful man.  An unjustly enslaved Joseph proclaimed to his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, in order to bring about His purposes." Genesis 50:19,20
Suffering Job expressed the same sentiment, "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord." Job 1:21

Like those Bible personages, this former slave was able to patiently trust and wait on the Lord for God's strength, provision, and His ultimate intervention.  He knew, and believed that God was a good and gracious Father, no matter how the World or man treated him.  He waited patiently for God to answer his prayers, and would not let evil rob him of his praise back to God.  The gospel of Luke records a similar story.  A righteous man named Simeon sat daily at the entrance of the temple in Jerusalem, waiting for God to deliver Israel from the oppression of Rome.  Did you catch that?  He waited patiently, daily, for God's deliverance in a repressive situation.  And when the baby Jesus finally is brought to the temple by His parents, "He takes the child in his arms and begins to praise God." Luke 2:25-28

Did you notice Simeon does not complain to God  concerning all his past hurts, nor for the long wait, but he is moved to praise God instead. I think it is safe to say, that in this day and age, our children are not being sold away from us to become slaves in some far away household.  That type of pain I'm sure far exceeds any of the everyday minor complaints we argue with God about.  Where is your faith today?  Where is your Trust in Him?  When was the last time, in your times of trouble, that these words came forth from your mouth, "Bless the Lord!"?

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Rebel Yell

   If the blasts of cannon shells and a hailstorm of bullets fired by the thousands
were not enough to make a battle terrifying, there was the added banshee cry of the advancing Southern infantry. It was with this battle cry the Confederate Army charged the Union lines, the blood-curdling howl was given the legendary name, 'The Rebel Yell'.

 Since there were no audio recordings during the Civil War, we only have eyewitness descriptions of what it may have sounded like. Some accounts described it similar to the Scottish Highlander battle cry. This seems plausible since many Celtic people made up the Southern Army.  Others said it sounded more like an imitation Native American war cry, which also seems logical from the time period.  Still others believed it was more like the sound of a pack of hunting hounds chasing their prey.  Whatever the exact sound was, those who heard it said it caused a, "tingling sensation to go up one's spine". There is a
 story of an old Confederate veteran many years after the war being asked for a demonstration of the rebel yell.  He politely refused on the grounds that it could only be done "at a run", and couldn't be done anyway with "a mouth full of false teeth and a stomach full of food".  In other words, some experiences that occurred during intense moments of desperation can't be replicated during times of peace and calm. I suppose that old soldier could have replied, "You needed to be there."

After reading that quote from that Southern veteran, I could not help but see a parallel  between his reasoning and the Christian believer.  He found it difficult to pull up the true battle cry, when not in battle.  He found it impossible to give a true rendition of something that takes a real hunger to replicate. There is a passion that wells up in a person that can only come in the heat and pressure of battle.  Have we lost that sense of desperation in our pursuit of God?  The Psalmist describes that kind of desperation, "As the deer pants after the water brook, so my soul pants for you, O Lord."  Psalms 42:1

When all is well and quiet in our life.  When we are in a place of comfort and ease.  When we find ourselves needing nothing, there is no need to desperately press into God.  Jesus spoke a parable of a person in that condition, "A rich man had such a good harvest that he decided to stop working, build bigger barns to store his produce and from that day forward to just eat, drink and make merry.  Not knowing that his life would soon come to an end, and his laziness would not be looked on fondly by his Maker."  Luke 12:16-21

 I suppose that old Rebel veteran could have given a half-hearted attempt to please the gathered group of admirers, but his heart would not have been in it.  For the true rebel yell, he needed to be running, passionately toward the enemy and victory.  It was difficult to do that at a sedate women's luncheon.  Have we lost our way?  Do we wander away from the Battle lines instead of toward them.  It is hard to pull up a passionate cry for God when we no longer hunger and thirst?
"They that hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be satisfied."  Matthew 5:6

Are you still excited about your Savior? Are you still looking for new ways to serve Him, or have you already emotionally retired from the labor of the Kingdom?  One way to judge is by your Battle Cry.  Fervent
 prayer and exuberant praise are our "Rebel Yell".  Are you still able to bring it forth?

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Devil's Den

      Twenty five years before the fighting took place at a spot called the Devil's Den at the Battle of Gettysburg, there was a different spot Lincoln referred to as a devil's den.  Before Abraham Lincoln held any elected office, he was already making a name for himself in political circles.  In a speech made on December 20, 1839, to the House of Representatives, you can see the beginning embers that would eventually grow into a blaze during his Presidency.  He viewed the infighting, compromises, and weaknesses of Washington politics as spiritual corruption at its roots.  In that speech, he says, "I know that the great volcano at Washington is aroused and directed by that evil spirit that reigns there.  Like demons on the waves of hell, the imps of that evil spirit fiendishly taunt all those who dare resist its destroying course."  Sounds a lot like the political climate of today.

At the beginning, and throughout, till even the last year of the Civil War, powerful men continued to pressure Lincoln to give into the South's demands on slavery.  Lincoln saw Slavery not just as a flawed economic system, but as an inherently wicked system.  He believed there was no way to compromise, and let it remain as an institution of the United States.  It had to be abolished, once and for all.  Even when the war was going badly for the North, and there was a real possibility Lincoln might lose the war, he would not waver.  When the press, public opinion, and even his own party turned against him, still he would not give in.

 His words ring as truth now as they did then, "The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me... Here without contemplating consequences, before heaven and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause."

 We, the Church, one hundred and fifty years after those words were penned, must be as dedicated.  Has anything really changed when it comes to challenges and choices?  It does not take much spiritual insight to see that it's a spiritual battle we are in.  Lincoln understood the deeper root of the conflict was spiritual in nature.  The same can be said of what is currently taking place in America.  Sadly, many of the laws of the Land conflict with our long held and cherished Biblical truths.  Many of today's accepted cultural trends stand in harsh contrast to our Christian worldview.  The temptations for us today are the same that confronted Lincoln:  abandon the cause, give into the majority, and accept their point of view as right.  This we cannot do.  This we will not do. Peer pressure is a powerful force to be sure, but the Holy Spirit within us is more than up to the task.

     "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but those who put their trust in the Lord will be kept safe."  Proverbs 29:25
    "You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, don't be swayed by the mood of the majority that surrounds you."   Exodus 23:2
    "Do not be conformed to the image of this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, so you can prove what the good and perfect Will of God is."  Romans 12:2

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Name as a Weapon


  During the Battle of Gettysburg, the Federal troops shouted the name, "Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!" Over and over as the Confederate Brigades marched forward to their doom on July 3rd, 1863.  Clearly, what the Northern soldiers were referring to was the Battle of Fredericksburg, which had taken place six months earlier.  It was at that battle that the North had suffered a devastating defeat, suffering over 13,000 causalities.  Now the Union troops shouted the name, "Fredericksburg" like it was cannon blast, to remind the Rebels it was now payback time.  A similar series of events took place one month after Gettysburg.  At the Battle of Chickamauga, on September 18-20, the Union Army suffered another crippling defeat by the Confederates when the Federal troops were forced to retreat  back into the town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Only a few weeks later, the same Northern Army defeated the same Rebels who had just the month before beaten them so badly.  As the Union soldiers assaulted the Rebel positions on Lookout Mountain they shouted again a name, "Chickamauga, Chickamauga!"  Just like what happened at Gettysburg, they again shouted, as if the very word itself was a weapon to assure victory.  The Union won that day, too.

 God's People shouting, speaking, and declaring the Name of the Lord is recorded throughout the Scriptures.  "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run in to it and are safe."  Proverbs 18:10

 In the Book of Acts 19:12, 13, demons are cast out of the afflicted by, 'The Name of Jesus'.
Paul writes to the Philippian church, "That at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, in heaven and on earth, that Jesus is Lord." Philippians 2:9,10.  The Book of Isaiah proclaims that some day even the mountains, the hills, and the trees themselves will rejoice at the Name of the Lord.  Isaiah 55:12,13

We Christians, speak, shout, proclaim, and lift of the Name of Jesus.  Which when spoken, truly becomes a weapon.  The devil, the fallen angels, and the gates of Hell hate when Believers use His Name as a weapon in prayer, and a weapon in worship. It has been said that the devil likes to remind us of our defeats.  By shouting the Name of Jesus in our dark times, we remind the devil of his defeat.  As the old gospel song says,
"in the Name of Jesus, in the Name of Jesus we have the victory.  In the Name of Jesus, In the Name of Jesus demons will have to flee..."  Amen