Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Rocks of Ages

    During any war, there are countless unknown heroes.  These are men and women who because of their courage and determination stood firm even in hopeless situations.  Two such examples are recorded in history during the Civil War.  On July 21, 1861, during the First Battle of Bull Run, the Confederate lines were beginning to crumble under an intense Union Army assault.  With the Rebels being pushed back, and it looked like as if the battle would be lost, Brigadier General Barnard Bee, pointed up to General T. J. Jackson and shouted out to his demoralized troops, "There is Jackson, like a stone wall... Rally behind the Virginians."  Jackson's determined stand and refusal to retreat, even in the midst of certain defeat, inspired and rallied the fleeing men.  What was surely going to be certain defeat, turned into a Confederate victory.  Therefore, Jackson's Brigade became known as the Stonewall Brigade.  

Another such exploit comes from the Union side of the conflict.  On September 19, 1863, in what would be called the Battle of Chickamauga, General George Henry Thomas found himself in a hopeless situation.  The right flank of the Union line had collapsed, and rebel soldiers were pouring through.  The entire Union Army was in mad retreat and running toward the Tennessee River with no way across.  What had begun as a retreat was fast becoming a disorganized rout.  Thomas refused to give up his key position on the field, knowing if he did it was certain to be a bloodbath.  Rallying scattered and broken units, he made a stand on what was called Horseshoe Ridge.  Against overwhelming odds, he stemmed the rebel onslaught, this allowed time for the other retreating units to reform and stabilize the situation.  The survival that day, of those units, led to the Union victory at the Battles for Chattanooga one month later.  Thomas earned himself the nickname 'The Rock of Chickamauga', because it was said of him, "He stood like a rock" that day.

The Bible is filled with heroes who stood firm at key moments:  Moses, Joshua and Caleb, David, Esther, Paul, and the list goes on in Scripture.  But, let it be known that the list still continues to go on.  In your life and mine, we will be faced with numerous opportunities to make a stand for righteousness and our Faith.  The day will come and is now here when we will be challenged, and sometimes outnumbered by the anti-Christian culture of our generation.  We at times will be tempted to retreat from our Christian beliefs and Biblical values.  The pressure is not only felt by us personally, but by other believers around us.  Sometimes it takes seeing another brother or sister in Christ, standing firm like a rock. They help us recover our commitment and renew our zeal for the work of the Lord and push back.  When Peter made his bold profession that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, our Lord said this of him, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."  Matthew 16:18

The Lord is looking for more "Stonewalls" that will say to the Enemy's forces, "This is God's possession!  You cannot have it."  We will not easily give up our country, its universities, our children, or our churches to the flanking maneuvers of the Enemy.  Rally the retreating troops my Christian brethren, and say along with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Forever Changed


     A new era in naval warfare began on March 9th, 1862, between two armored warships referred to during the Civil War as Ironclads.  Months earlier, Confederate forces had begun to repair and refit a captured Union warship abandoned in Norfolk harbor, formerly called the USS Merrimack.  The Confederate Navy proudly christened their new vessel the CSS Virginia.  She was covered with heavy iron plating and bristling with large cannons.  
On March 8th, the newly equipped Virginia steamed into the waters off Hampton Roads and had its first taste of battle.  It was an overwhelming victory.  Within a few short hours, the Virginia had sunk the wood-hulled Union USS Cumberland, forced the frigate USS Congress to surrender, and drove a heavily damaged USS Minnesota to run aground. As evening fell, the Virginia retired to make repairs and ready itself for the morning when it would complete the destruction of the Minnesota.  Little did the North or South realize that a historical event would occur that next day.

In the early morning light, a newly, but hastily designed, Federal warship appeared on the horizon.  It was called the USS Monitor and looked like a flatiron with a round cheese wheel on top.  It had only two guns in a revolving turret, but was also completely clad with solid iron plating.  Within the hour, the two ships were engaged. After hours of pounding away at each other, mostly at close range, neither side could overcome the other.  History has now determined that this first battle between these two ironclad juggernauts was inconclusive.   However, one fact did come out of the battle.  Almost overnight, every wooden ship in every navy around the globe was now obsolete.

The words of John the Baptist were the warning shots to the World that something was about to change,  "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World." John 1:29.  The Apostle Paul reemphasized the fact,  "In Whom we have redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His Glory." Ephesians 1:7

Even more profound, are the words of Christ uttered from the Cross, "It is finished.", as He shed His blood for the sins of the World.  At that moment things changed forever!  Up until that time, Mankind's way of reaching up to God, and atoning for their own sinfulness was by their own weak, hopeless efforts, and sacrifices.  Like the battle of the first ironclads, which changed the world forever, so Christ's atoning Death, changed man's way of finding forgiveness forever.  "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He has saved us...which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior."  Titus 3:5

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Unconditional Surrender

    On February 1865, at Hampton Roads, Virginia, Peace Declarations from North and South met abroad the Union Steamship, River Queen.  President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward sat across the table from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and his party to discuss terms to end the War.  The wording in the South's peace proposal made it very clear they were not ready to give into the North's demands.  One phrase that the Confederate Delegation continued to use were the words, "Our two countries." Lincoln made it very clear, that there was not two countries, but only one country, a country at war with itself.  The demands from the Union President were plain.  For there to be peace and an end to the bloodshed, three things would need to happen. The Rebel States must agree to come back into the Union and pledge allegiance to the United States of America.  All Rebel States must acknowledge and agree to an immediate end of hostilities and lay down their arms.  Lastly, all Slave States are to accept that Slavery is now and forever gone as an institution in this Nation.  The terms of the end of the Civil War could not have been stated more concisely.  The South must surrender! Nothing less than complete, unconditional surrender would be accepted by the Union.  This, the Confederacy, the Rebellious States refused to do, so the War continued and more men died.

If you have never given your life to Jesus Christ, and made him your Lord, you are a spiritual rebel in your heart.  God's terms are the same as Lincoln's.  Return to the God who created you.  Be reunited with the Father who wants to have fellowship with you. Quit fighting Him. The Holy Spirit is wooing you, quit resisting His Voice. Lastly, be willing to give up the things in your life that have made you a slave, and are ruining your life.  In other words, we are being asked to 'Unconditionally Surrender', without any of our own selfish terms.  The longer we wait to surrender our lives to the God who loves and died for us, the longer we suffer a hopeless spiritual war we cannot win.  We must all someday stand before the throne of a victorious Jesus Christ.  "At the Name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and everything in heaven, and everything on earth, and everything under the earth, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father."  Phil. 2:10

I don't know about you, but I have decided to willingly bow my knee and surrender to Jesus now, here on earth.  For a day is coming for those who will not unconditionally surrender here on earth, will be forced to bow and surrender in heaven.

Friday, July 19, 2019

What's In Your Wallet?


    On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln while attending a play with his wife, was shot in the back of his head by a rebel sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth.  The doctors could do nothing but wait for the inevitable.  At 7:22 a.m. Of the next day, Lincoln succumbed to his wound.  The whole Nation fell into shock.  For years afterward, people could tell you where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt at the moment they heard the news.  Not unlike when many of us heard of John F. Kennedy's assassination.  

One of the stranger details passed down to us, were the contents found in Lincoln's pockets.  His coat and pant pockets contained two pairs of spectacles, a pocket knife, a linen handkerchief, and a wallet.  Within the wallet were nine newspaper clippings and a Confederate five dollar bill.  What is striking to my mind is the ordinariness of the items he was carrying.  Obviously, some were needed for their daily practical purposes: the glasses, knife, and handkerchief, for example.  It is the contents of the wallet that give me pause.  Why newspaper clippings?  Why keep a worthless Confederate note?  Maybe they were there as gentle reminders of some event, or were touchstones to the great sacrifices of the War, or maybe of stunning victories.  Only Lincoln knows for sure.  We may ask him someday.  

These simple, ordinary items speak of Lincoln, the man.  Before he was President of the United States or Commander and Chief of the Union Army, he was just a man:  a son, a husband, a father, a lawyer, just an ordinary person.  He was a man of two worlds. He had his duties as a husband, father, and friend.  Yet, it is by his service to this Nation that he is best remembered.  It is because of that service his life continues to bear fruit.  When Lincoln passed away, Secretary Of War Edwin Stanton spoke this epitaph of the president, "Now he belongs to the ages." It is not the ordinary things we remember about Lincoln's life, but it was the extraordinary.

Let us now speak of us.  As a Christian, what are the things you hold dear?  What are the gentle, yet powerful memories that you use to spur you on to greater service for your Lord?  As God's people, we are of two worlds.  There is our life of: eating, sleeping, earning a living, loving and raising a family, being a good friend and neighbor, and then there is the life which will count for the ages.  A well known TV commercial asks the question, "What's in your wallet?"  What are the past victories for Jesus in your wallet?  Let them spur you on.  What are the past sacrifices you joyfully gave for the King?  Are you willing to make new spiritual news clippings for the Kingdom of God?  What are you willing to hold onto for God's Glory, even though the world thinks it is worthless?  The Word of God reminds us that the things the World believes are of value, are quite different to what God knows are valuable.  God knows what has permanent, everlasting worth.  Scripture states, "Each man's work will become evident, for in the day of judgment it will be tested...if any man's work remains after being judged, then he will receive a reward."  1 Corinthians 3:13, 14

Let me end with a line from a famous poem by C.T. Studd, "Only one life, 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last.  And when I am dying, how happy I'll be, if the lamp of my life has been burnt out for Thee."

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My Enemy, My Brother

    I believe it is worth noting how many of Abraham Lincoln's quotes reflect the influence the Word Of God had on his thinking, and how it would ultimately shape his leadership.  He once counseled, "If you look for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will."  That is a truth that transcends every generation.  It speaks more to the attitude of the person doing the judging than to the person being judged.  Jesus said it first like this, "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye...you hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Matthew 7:3-5 What Jesus was saying, and what Lincoln was repeating, was this fact.  We all have flaws.  If we look hard enough, we will surely maximize their shortcomings and minimize our own.

Lincoln decided early in his dealing with the South not to view them as just traitorous rebels, but as a people who would again one day be fruitful members of the United States.  He knew there were good qualities in the citizenry of the South.  He believed those qualities would blossom when freed from the system of slavery. Lincoln chose to look with eyes of mercy and see the positive.  That attitude is seen in this Lincoln quote, "I don't like that man.  I must get to know him better."

The Word of God gives us a practical first step to guard against a harsh judgmental heart.  How can we see clearly to help our brother with the speck mentioned in Matthew 7:5  Jesus gives us the guidance we need at the beginning of the chapter, "For in the way you judge, you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." Matthew 7:2 What then is to be our standard of measure? Showing mercy is to be our standard.  It is impossible to justly deal with the flaws of our brethren with an eye that lacks mercy.

I have often pondered on how I would desire for God to look upon me and my many sins.  My hope would be that He would look on me with mercy.  If that is what I would desire, and I am sure all of us desire the same thing, then God has already
Spoken His last word on the matter. "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Battle Weary

    There is a simple formula in military strategy.  Resources x Will = Victory.  If a Nation has more Resources (men and material) than their enemy, and they have the Will (determination to keep fighting no matter the cost) then they will be victorious.

At the start of the Civil War, the leadership of the South knew they could never match the industrial might and larger population of the Northern states.  They were outnumbered three to one on the Battlefield, sometimes much more than that.  So how did they hope to win against the Union's superior industrial and numerical advantage?  General Robert E. Lee's strategy was this, make the war so costly for the North in blood and money, that the Union's Will to keep fighting would have to break.  The Confederate states knew that after every Northern defeat, and there were many, the Union's will to keep fighting decreased.   The Northern press was screaming for a peace settlement.  Even Lincoln's own Republican Party was divided on the issue of giving into the South's demands.  The demand was simple.  Let the South keep their slaves.  The war was wearing out the country.  The Will of the North was bending.  The spirit of compromise was growing in Lincoln's Administration.  BUT IT DID NOT BREAK.  Lincoln and many, many people in the North believed that the blood, sweat, and tears needed to win the war were worth it.  Slavery must end!

The spiritual parallels of the Civil War and what the Church is facing today are remarkably the same.   We have all the supernatural supplies we need for the spiritual war we are waging.  Just like the North, the Church of Jesus Christ has overwhelming resources and power.  Paul writes, "We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us." Romans 8:37  "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of spiritual strongholds."  2 Corinthians 10:4  "I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me."  "My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches..." Philippians 4:13, 19

Our enemy the devil, knows he cannot win.  He wants to keep men and women in slavery, the slavery of sin.  The devil knows he cannot match the power of the Holy Spirit working within the Body of Christ.  So he is employing the same last ditch strategy that the Rebel leaders employed.  He is determined to break the Will of the Church, to wear out the saints.  "He will attempt to wear out the saints of the Most High."  Daniel 7:25 
Our enemy believes by making the cost to follow Christ so high, and by discouraging us by the hardships of constant spiritual battles in our culture, we will just give up.  The devil wants us to shut our mouths and stop telling people about the freedom waiting for them through the Blood of Jesus Christ.

Church, Hear Me!  The battle is hard.  The War is long.  The Commitment of our blood, sweat, and tears is costly.  We may be tempted to stop and let the devil keep his enslaved souls.  BUT OUR WILL, SHALL NOT BE BROKEN!  We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.   "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for we in due season will reap a harvest, if we don't give up."  Galatians 6:9

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Devotion to the Cause

    On November 17, 1863, four and half months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln arrived at the battlefield to give a speech.  He had been invited to dedicate a new national cemetery for the fallen soldiers of that battle.  The speech was only 269 words long and took less than two minutes to deliver.  Yet, it became one of the best known speeches in American history.

There are two sentences in that speech that demand further comment.  An impassioned Lincoln spoke, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here." With all due respect to the president, Mr. Lincoln was mistaken. The world did hear and continues to remember the words spoken that day.  His words have not drifted off into forgetfulness; and, amazingly over 150 years later the speech still has not been forgotten.  Why? We may ask.  The answer is plain. When great events are backed up by great words, they last forever.  "The world... it can never forget what they did here."  The cause of Liberty, and the men who fought for it, took a stand and won.

At the time of this speech, the Civil War was already in its second year of fighting, and there were still two more bloody years of fighting to come.  I'm sure Lincoln had that thought in his mind when he penned these words, "It is for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause...we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain."  Lincoln was emphasizing to the future soldiers and to the Nation as a whole, the need to take up the cause for which these fallen has given, "the last full measure of devotion".  He was challenging the North to recommit to picking up the banner of Liberty that these honored dead had fought and died for.  The great task is now for the Living to carry it on.

The Church has a long heritage of great events and powerful words recorded in the Bible.  The stories of the exploits of the Saints of old and their devotion to the cause of Christ still speaks to every new generation of Believers.  The Saints of the past have done their duty and have now passed on.  Their words and sacrifices are not forgotten.  The Scriptures describes them with these words, "We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses...".  The Dead in Christ are cheering and exhorting us on. The baton of the work of the Gospel is being handed off to us today.  This is our time!  Will we take it and run with it?  The writer in Hebrews proclaims, "Therefore, since we have such great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."  Hebrews 12:1

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Payment in Blood

     The Civil War was in its fourth year in March of 1865.  The South had not yet been defeated.  Hundreds of Thousands of men had died on both sides and more were sure to come.  The end of the War was not yet in sight. The War, that was to ultimately end slavery in America, had gone on far longer than any had predicted.  Some naive generals had boasted that the conflict would be over in 90 days.  They were gravely wrong.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln hints at what he felt could be the reason why the war had taken so long.  In front of a large crowd of spectators, he spoke these somber words, "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword...so still it must be said, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
What Lincoln was saying was this, our sins as a nation that tolerated and benefited from slavery was now being paid by those who had allowed it.  There was a price for slavery to be paid.  The blood of  the lash was now being required as payment by the blood being shed on the battlefield.

Sin requires payment.  The sinful policy of Slavery brought on the horrors of the Civil War.  In the same way, there are consequences for our own personal sins.  The Epistle to the Romans says it like this, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  Romans 3:23  Paul goes on to write, "For the wages of sin is death."  Romans 6:23  Who will pay for our sins?  The book of Hebrews answers that question, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."  Hebrews 9:22
Unlike the blood shed by soldiers to end slavery, we cannot ourselves win freedom from the slavery of our own sins.  Someone much greater than Man must pay that price.  Thanks be to God, who won that battle for us.  "For our sake God agreed that Jesus, who was not a sinner, would take our sins on himself, so that in Him we would become righteous before God."  2 Corinthians 5:21
    As the beautiful hymn proclaims it, so do we. "What can take away my sin? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus."

Never too Young to Serve

     At the start of the Civil War, the Union Army numbered less than 17,000 men.  Three days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln sent out a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve.  Many more would be needed as the war dragged on, many more.  The average age of a Northern soldier was 25 years old.  The minimum age requirement to enlist was 18, but desperate recruiting officers were not particular.  Before the war ended, there were over 100,000 young boys under the age of 15 serving on the bloody battlefields.  Records show some were not yet 12 years of age when they enlisted.

The chances of being killed in combat were 1 in 65.  The likelihood of being wounded was 1 in 10; and because of poor sanitary conditions, the reality of dying of disease was 1 in 13.  Even though these boys were exempt from service, they answered the call by the thousands.  These boy soldiers usually were recruited as drummers, musicians, messengers, or to assist the nurses in field hospitals.  Yet, during the heat of battle many of these boys put their duties aside and joined the troops in combat.

They fought like men, but were still children, missing their homes like any boy.  After the Battle of Shiloh, a 16 year old child soldier shared these thoughts, "I passed the corpse of a beautiful boy in gray who lay with his blond curls scattered about his face and his hand folded peacefully across his breast.  He was clad in a bright and neat uniform, well garnished with gold, which seemed to tell the story of a loving mother and his sisters."  It is easy to hear the heart of a boy missing his own mother in those words.

At the end of the Civil War 48 young men, all under the age of 18 had been awarded our nation's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Our Lord and Savior has made the same appeal for troops to serve in His Army.  "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Pray to the Lord of the Harvest that He send forth more laborers into the field."  Matthew 9:37,38  It is up to us to answer the call. There is no minimum or maximum age limits at God's recruiting office. He is just looking for a willing heart who will answer, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, here I am Lord, send me." Isaiah 6:8

Friday, July 5, 2019

Home is Over There

   On July 3rd 1863, General Robert E. Lee ordered an attack on the Union Army defending a shallow crest just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Confederate General George Picket ordered his 12,500 Confederate soldiers to march bravely toward the waiting Union lines.  The battle took place on open ground with the rebels needing to march almost a mile under intense musket and artillery fire.  When the smoke cleared, the rebels had suffered nearly 50% casualties and were forced to retreat in defeat.

Many historians believe that this defeat was not only a lost battle for the Confederacy, but marked the ultimate loss of the War.  The Rebel Army would never again invade the North.  There was an interesting moment recorded during this battle referred to as Picket's Charge.  As shells were bursting, as many as ten men at a time fell like many stalks of wheat.  A Confederate Lieutenant cried out to his troops, pointing to the hilltop, "Home boys home, remember home is over beyond those hills."  To the Southern troops his words made perfect sense.  If we win this battle, we can surely win the war, and then go back to our real home.

That same sentiment has been shouted by the soldiers of the Living God for millennia.  The Church also marches daily on spiritual battlefields, this earthly ground is an open target for the enemy.  It, at times, seems like we march forward in battle only to experience disappointment, resistance, and hardships.  Each day we continue to suffer heartbreaking spiritual casualties in our Christian service.  Paul expressed it like this. "For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." Romans 8:36

In spite of the danger, Paul marched on, pressing toward the mark.   Paul understood, just as that Confederate Lieutenant understood, "home is over those hills."  We fight on for the Lord, and His Kingdom, knowing that our real home is not here.  The battles we endure in this life move us closer to our ultimate home, our ultimate rest, and ultimate victory.  "We look forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God....Admitting we are aliens and strangers on earth..."We long for a better country, a heavenly one." Hebrews 11:10,13,16
    When you and I next face the heat of battle, and the enemy's spiritual guns are blazing, listen for these words above the battle's tumult, "On boys on, home is just over those hills."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Get Back Up

    It is a true statement that the real character of a person is seen not by how they handle victories, but how they handle defeats. A prime example of a person pushing on through adversity is definitely Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln's personal life he faced the death of a child.  In his business life he had failures.  In his pursuit of a law degree, he was rejected from law school.  In his political life he was defeated again and again in his runs for office.  Most people would have sunk into permanent depression and lost any ambition to better themselves; not Lincoln.  He pressed on to become the sixteenth President of the United States.

Lincoln's determined character is clearly heard in this quote, "My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failures."
   We all fail, we all fall.  The important thing is this, are you willing to get back up and try again?  That is what Lincoln was saying.  That's what Lincoln's life was displaying.  Never give up!  Proverbs 24:16 says, "For though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets back up."
    Lincoln reiterated the same thought again in another speech, "I am not concerned that you have fallen. I am concerned that you arise."

Jesus told a parable about two sons.  One son was asked to go work in the field by his father.  The son said to his father that he would go, but disobeyed and did not go. The second son told his father flatly that he would not go, but later felt guilty and headed off to work in obedience to his father.  Truly, the second son failed his father in his first response.  The son could have said to himself, "I have already disappointed my father, so what's done is done." However, he got up. Yes, he initially had failed, BUT HE GOT UP.

My brothers and sisters, you will face adversity in your walk with God.  Keep going! You will face disappointments.  Keep going!  You will experience failures.  Keep going! We all will fall many times before we reach the Promised land. Get back up!  Don't lay crippled by failure.  You have no idea what God wants to do with your life, don't stay down.  A righteous man falls seven times, but he GETS BACK UP.