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