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.