Friday, March 27, 2020

Let Your Yea be Yea

   There are many, many quotes taken from the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, some more well-known than others.  Some more thought provoking than others.  His Gettysburg's address would undoubtedly be the most famous.  I suppose the same can be said of any person.  If it were possible to record every conversation throughout our entire lifetimes, some words would be more noteworthy than others.  Who can say which conversation, whether out of the mouth of Lincoln, or from the most obscure person, would stir the heart of a person generations later.

 Here is one of those Lincoln quotes from an address he made before Congress in Dec. 1, 1862. It is definitely not as well known as his address at Gettysburg, but no less insightful. "In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."

  Oh, that every politician would take that admonition to heart.  And not only government officials, but every public figure that has a forum to speak from, social media influencers and Hollywood personalities alike.  We live in a time like never before, where technology has allowed for the average man, woman, and teen to have their musings, opinions, and rants recorded for time and eternity. Not only recorded, but transmitted to the masses in the flash of a keystroke.  I'm quite sure many a person has experienced the misery and regret of hitting the 'Send' button without first taking pause to reflect on what they had just typed.  Then, there are the individuals who make bold pronouncements and affirm their unwavering commitment in support of some ideal, only to backtrack from it when the wind of public opinion shifts.  Paul warned his fledgling church at Ephesus about this dangerous tendency.  "We should no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different."  Ephesians 4:14

I find it interesting that this quote from Lincoln hammers home two timeless pieces of wisdom found in the Word of God.
  First, choose your words carefully, for you will have to account for them at some point in time.  If not in this life, then in the life to come.  "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment."  Matthew 12:36
  Second, own up to your words, and stay committed to your values and beliefs, even in a value shifting, increasingly hostile social environment.  "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No' be 'No'..."  Matthew 5:37
  "It is foolish and rash to make a promise before the Lord without counting the cost."  Proverbs 20:25
  Think before you speak.  Speak what you believe.  Stand behind what you say.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Your Deeds are Not Forgotten

    It is human nature I suppose, that history usually gives the credit and glory to the big names in wars.  The Civil War is no different.  The most prominent names most often repeated in the history books from that time are: Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Sherman, Jackson, Sheridan, Forrest, and Stuart. Of course there are many more, but these are the personages that receive the lion's share of the press.  These figures were undoubtedly instrumental when it came to their leadership decisions throughout the conflict.  However, battles are not solely won by careful planning over a battle map. Nor is victory assured by an order dispatched to the front lines, or a command shouted from a horseback. The fighting is done and victories are won by countless, unnamed common soldiers.  Those key figures probably will remain forever unknown to future generations.

Take for instance the well-known story that took place during the Battle of Gettysburg.  On July 2nd, the second day of the battle, the Union's extreme left flank was in danger of being overrun by a large force from the 15th and 47th Alabama Regiments.  Many Civil War military historians agree that if this had occurred, the Union would have lost the battle and might even have lost the war.

Tasked with defending this strategically important position, called Little Round Top, was the 20th Maine, under the command of Lt. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.  Low on ammunition after over an hour and a half of continuous fighting, Chamberlain ordered his remaining men to fix bayonets and had them charge down the hill toward the advancing Rebels.  The maneuver so surprised and scattered the now retreating Confederate force which ended the threat on the Union flank, not only winning the day, but ultimately the battle.

Who really was responsible for that hilltop victory at Gettysburg?  Was it the commanding general, Major General George Meade?  He was the one who issued the order for the 20th Maine to be placed on Little Round Top.  Or was it Lt. Colonel Chamberlain?  Was it not he, who correctly recognized the perilous situation, and ordered the daring, yet some would say, suicidal bayonet charge?  Are not their names the ones immortalized by history books, and credited with that glorious victory.  My thoughts go in a deeper direction.  True, battle plans were drawn up and orders were issued from Headquarters.  Yes, commands in the heat of battle were shouted and officers yelled, Charge!  Nevertheless, it was the lowly trooper, the common soldier, that scared unknown son, who obeyed that order, and charged down that hill.  It was they that ran headlong into a wall of musket lead, some charging to their doom.  It was they that won the battle.  Yet, they are not the names recorded in the annals of military glory.

The same holds true for the Church.  The Mega churches across the world are the ones well known. The popular, successful pastors, conference speakers, and Christian writers have become the household names in Christendom.  I think we need reminded from time to time why the Church is referred to in Scripture as a Body. For sure, God uses leaders to direct and mature the Church, but it is the whole Body, and may I say, the foot soldiers of the Cross that carry out His orders.  The Christian World may not know our names by heart, nor will Church Historians remember much of the common believer's victorious exploits for Christ.  Man may not remember most of us, or the things we did for Christ... And that does not really matter for there is one who remembers us and what we do.
"The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who esteemed the Lord and feared His Name."  Malachi 3:16

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Recognition Versus Being Recognized

    We live in a time where more and more people crave attention.  Beginning with radio, the film industry, then television, and finally with the advent of social media, the cult of celebrity was fully birthed.   Now social media allows for the common citizen to display their lives, no matter how mundane, to the logged on masses.  Words such as: likes, subscribers, views, followers, are terms that some use as proof of their self worth and social standing.  To be recognized by a larger audience builds self esteem for the attention seeker.  The definition or at very least the standards, by which one would qualify as a quote "celebrity", have most certainly been lowered.  Nowadays, certain people are referred to as celebrities, not because of any outstanding talent they possess, or  any worthwhile social contributions, but are called such, simply because they are recognized.

There is an old saying that goes like this, "Don't put the cart before the horse."  My take from that bit of ageless wisdom is this.  For things to make sense, and to work correctly, they should be in a proper, commonsense order.  My question to the world of the attention seekers would be this.  What is more important, to feel important, or to do something of importance?  Shouldn't it be our positive accomplishments that receive the recognition, instead of our names?  Abraham Lincoln said it in these words, "Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition."  Another old adage counsels, "Let your actions speak louder than your words."  I'm sure the President's goal was simply to exhort the nation to live a life that uplifted others, rather than a life of self-promotion and attention seeking.

Lincoln's admonition most definitely came from his knowledge of what the Bible teaches.  Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul.
    "This is the plan I follow, I try to please everyone, in everything I do, not doing what I like, or    what is best for me, but what is best for them, so they may be saved." 1 Corinthians 11:33
   "You can see I am not trying to please you by sweet talk or flattery, no, I am trying to please God.  If I was still trying to please men I could not be Christ's servant."  Galatians 1:10
    "As for praise we never asked it from you, or anyone else, although as apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to some honor from you."  1 Thessalonians 2:6
"Let no man deceive himself, any man among you thinks he is wise, let him become humble that he may prove himself wise.  So let no one boast in men."  1 Corinthians 3:18, 21

Some much more important questions to honestly ask ourselves would be these.  What is more important, to have a million followers on social media or be a single follower of Christ?  Or, to have a million people recognize name and face, or to have Christ say at the last judgement, "I never knew you?"  You decide.
   Short quiz. Do you know the name of the person in the picture?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Operation Anaconda

    Early in the first years of the Civil War, both sides saw the need to control certain key strategic areas.  The Confederate states saw the importance of its port cities to remain open.  The Southern economy was extremely dependent on its supply line from Europe staying unimpeded.  The Mississippi River was another lifeline for the Rebel states.  If navigation on that river did not remain fully in control of the South, the Confederacy would quite literally be cut in two.

The Northern military leadership came to the same obvious strategies for them to successfully win the war.  The Union, with its much larger navy, quickly established a naval blockade along the Atlantic coastline.  The strategy was called, "the Anaconda plan."  The blockade stretched from the port towns of Virginia, all the way down and around the Gulf of Mexico, even extending to the port cities of Texas.  This would effectively, like a snake, strangle the commerce of the South.  When it came to the Mississippi River, the Union Army's plan involved sending an amphibious flotilla up from New Orleans, and simultaneously sailing another force, down from the Tennessee River, capturing or destroying the Rebel forts along the way.  This would be followed by a land force of 80,000 men marching down the banks of this watery highway.
Port cities like Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans would be given special attention as targets. They were extremely valuable for the Confederate war effort.  Important Rebel forts like Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Vicksburg on the Mississippi were key strong-points that needed to fall before the North's strategy could succeed.   On the other hand, these same key places had to be held if the South was to have any hope of survival.

 In the Spiritual realm there is a similar style of warfare taking place.  The Enemy of our souls has his own strategic ideas on which important key places need to attack.  The great serpent of old has a plan to strangle the influence of the Church in the world.  Those crucial key places have names too.  Names like: Family, Children, Marriage, Education, and Biblical Truth, just to name a few of the important ports the devil wants to cut off or capture.   These are the areas that the Church, and by the Church, I don't just mean the institutional Church, but am referring to every individual Believer need to win at all cost.  We are called to stand up and defend those key spiritual strong-points.  We cannot let them be strangled, captured, and fall for the lies of the Enemy. 
We, the Church, have a strategy too.  Our goal is to win the World for Jesus Christ, every man, woman, and child.  No place is to be given over to the Enemy.  Our plan is to strangle the lies of the Enemy and resupply the starving with Truth.  No Bible verse shouts it any clearer than this...
"Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil. For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places."  Ephesians 6:11-12

Friday, March 20, 2020

Standing Your Ground

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

Now, for a moment try to imagine what it was like for the common soldier, whether Union or Confederate, during the Civil War.  Each side would march across open fields toward one another.  These lines of troops could often be hundreds of yards long.  At the Battle at Gettysburg, the Confederate line during Pickett's Charge was almost a mile and a half long, and numbering fifteen thousand men.  These brave souls marched on, shells bursting around them, smoke, noise and confusion abounding.  They stopped at times only to fire in mass and as quickly as possible reload their muskets (no automatic muzzle-loaders yet) and then continued to advance into the face of an enemy doing exactly the same thing.  These men stood face to face to their foes, ferociously shooting, at times as close as fifty yards away, until finally one side broke and ran away.  How did they do it?  Where did they get the strength, bravery, and commitment to keep going forward into such a hellish situation?  The only answers that come to my mind are these. 

    1) They believed in what they were fighting for was right and worth the sacrifice.
    2) They trusted that their leaders had a plan, and in what they were individually being asked to do would make a difference.
    3) Lastly, they were spurred on and inspired by seeing their brothers in arm's bravery, marching alongside.

When we are tempted to give up, run from the battle, retreat to the comfort of compromise in the midst of the smoke and confusion of our Enemy's onslaught, what is the Church to do?   I cannot help but believe that the same qualities seen in those Civil War combatants are exactly what is needed to remain steadfast in our service to Christ.  Ask yourself these questions?  Do you still believe the cause you are fighting for is true?  "Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life, no man comes to the Father except through HIM." John 14:6   Do you believe that showing the Love of Christ in your life and boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, and your fervent prayers make a difference in this World?  Do you  believe that your words and faithful commitment to the Lord, even in difficult times, can help a weaker, frightened brother or sister in Christ keep going?  If your answers are yes, then keep marching forward.  Victory is ours!
    "Don't be frightened by your enemies, this is a clear sign to them that they will be defeated, and it shows them your confidence in the saving power of your God."  Philippians 1:28