Monday, April 24, 2023

Pausing The Pain


    In the autumn of 1864 Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew wrote to President Lincoln asking him to express condolences to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War.  

Lincoln could relate because he had lost a son during the war. I'm sure he wrote with a heavy heart as he penned these words, "I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom." Nov. 21, 1864 

Life can be filled with unwelcome distractions, like those annoying TV commercials that suddenly, abruptly, increase in volume. It is at times like that when I hunt for the mute button. I confess I'm a hopeless channel surfer. In a day where the average person has hundreds of programs to choose from, my fingers are constantly switching from channel to channel. If I see something I don't like, I just quickly remove it from my view. I don't like to watch or listen to anything that makes me feel too sad or uncomfortable. 

Wouldn't it be great if we had a mute, pause, or change channel button for life. If such a button existed, we could simply avoid some of the pains and uncomfortable situations that suddenly pop up in life. I believe one of the saddest moments in life are connected to this phrase, good-bye! That word pops up in so many heart wrenching events in life.   Can I change channels, please?

Today, I again said the word good-bye with a big lump in my throat. This was our last day visiting with our son, daughter, and grandchildren in Arizona.  With hugs and kisses, we said our goodbyes at the airport. I will not see them again until Christmas. Goodbyes can stink sometimes. 

Where is that pause button?

Life is filled with good-byes: Good-bye to our childhood, Good-bye to our parents, Good-bye to college friends, Good-bye to our children, Good-bye to our health, and ultimately, Good-bye to our lives. As I have stated good-bye is a depressing word.

Praise be to God, there is a day coming when the phrase good-bye will no longer be needed. The Scripture in Revelation 22:4 says when we are in heaven, "He will wipe away all our tears." To me, that means no more good-byes. Every day with Jesus will be an eternal Hello. Hello to God in person. Hello to eternal health. Hello to eternal youth. Hello to eternal relationships. No more good-byes, only everlasting Hello's. 

Heaven is the ultimate Pause Button!


Higher Authority



     When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, he was certainly not thought of as a man given to religious fervor. But over the next 4½ years, when thousands of Americans were dying in the Civil War, the 16th president began to evolve, using the language and concepts of the Bible to reflect on the war’s larger meaning.

Lincoln frequently used the Bible as his moral compass with respect to contemporary issues. He applied its principles to any political issue he could, often citing the Bible's teachings as support for his positions.

Why, for instance, did Lincoln begin the Gettysburg Address with the words “fourscore and seven years ago?” It wasn't because he usually spoke that way. He knew that his audience was deeply familiar with the King James Bible and would recognize the language of the Psalms: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years.”

 Abraham Lincoln grew up in a highly religious Baptist family. He never joined any Church, and was a skeptic as a young man and sometimes ridiculed revivalists. He frequently referred to God and had a deep knowledge of the Bible often quoting it. Lincoln attended Protestant church services with his wife and children. After the death of his young son Willie in 1862, Lincoln seemed to have moved away from his earlier religious skepticism.

Throughout the war, in his letters and speeches Lincoln would plead with a divided Nation to remember, honor, and be guided by the principles and laws written in the Constitution.  These were his words, "Let us then turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it."  July 10, 1858

But we can see by his many other writings that he saw the need to direct people’s hearts and minds to a higher authority, The Bible.  His country, his administration, his people, needed a moral compass to redirect a divided nation. What was needed were truths far greater than any skillfully worded human document, or any eloquent speech writer’s flowery words.  In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the power of the Word of God to penetrate men’s hearts is boldly stated.

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Lincoln used the Scripture as a spiritual mirror so the Nation would hopefully take a closer look at what true righteousness is for a Nation and a People.  The admonitions of the Apostle James hammer home this powerful point, But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does. James1:22-25


Lost in plain sight

    Commands and instructions on the Civil War battlefield took many forms: flags were waved, torches lit at night, telegraph messages were transmitted. However, the most common way orders were communicated to the waiting soldiers were by voice. A horseback messenger would ride up and say, "General Lee's compliments, sir. He commands you advance your command and engage the enemy in your front, sir." It was essential during the war to hear and obey the voice of your commanders.

How do you learn to hear the voice of God? How do you learn to recognize the Presence of God's Spirit in (your day to day life?) I think one way to be assured God is speaking, is by getting to know His voice through His Word. Let me explain.
God's character is displayed and described in His dealings with men and women throughout Scripture. We are shown His attributes: His Love, Patience, Holiness, Power, etc. The more we read and study the Word, the easier it becomes to recognize Him in this confusing world. A picture of The Lord and how He works begins to develop more clearly in our minds.

Another way to become familiar with Him, is by prayer and quiet time. When we spent regular alone time in the quiet place of prayer, His divine interventions more clearly stand out in the everyday. 
Maybe this story will help illustrate my point.
One week while visiting family out in Phoenix, Arizona, a group of us borrowed my son's car to do some shopping. Thank God for GPS to help navigate around in this strange city. We parked in the outdoor Mall lot and went into the stores. After a successful shopping excursion, we quickly raced back to find our vehicle to escape the 105 degree heat. You can probably guess what happened next, we couldn't find the car. I was sure I parked it in the row where we stood, but I can't see it there. "What did it look like again?", I asked? Our friend replied, "I'm sure it was a black car with gray interior.", but none looking anything like that is anywhere to be seen. "No!" I say. "It was silver, not black, I'm sure.", I confidently stated.  As we stood scanning a sea of multi-colored steel, melting in the heat, I began to panic inside, "maybe it was stolen" I said to myself. How did the, 'Mystery Of the Missing Car' end? Where is it? Where did it disappear to? Crazy as this may sound, we were standing right next to it. I mean, we were literally RIGHT next to it! There it sat, the lost Blue car with Beige interior. How was that possible? 

First, it was not my car. I had no personal history of purchasing it. Second, I had only driven this vehicle for the first time an hour before. My memory of its color, make, or model had not been reinforced from numerous driving experiences. That is how it is with our personal walk with the Lord. The more time you spend with Him, in prayer, in His Word, and in quiet meditation, the easier you recognize Him in the jumble of life's events. You establish an intimate relationship, reinforced over time. You build a history of experiences with Jesus Christ. "I am the Good Shepherd,.. My sheep listen to My Voice and they follow Me." John. 10:14, 27

A world forever changed

    The Civil War changed many things in the country. It led to the freedom of more than 4 million enslaved Americans. A more powerful centralized federal government was established. The Northern economy vastly developed its industrial production and expanded its railroads.  But more importantly the Civil War changed Lincoln too. He went from ambivalent, pragmatic, even conflicted on the issue of slavery saying "I am a little uneasy about the abolishment of slavery in this District, not but I would be glad to see it abolished, but as to the time and manner of doing it." March 24, 1862  

We see President Lincoln's opinion change definitively a year later in  pronouncing slavery as a an evil to be eradicated, "You dislike the emancipation proclamation; and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional -- I think differently." August 26, 1863 
Everything changed.

I am sure for those few astronauts who have launched into space the stars have forever changed in their sight. Those small twinkling points of light will never be the same. The planet they had tread upon just before their flight, now took on a glorious, new wonder from their lofty perch. I suppose all things take on fresh meaning when seen from a bigger view. When I decided to give Jesus my heart back in 1975, it was like being launched into a different orbit. Instead of circling Planet Bill, my new mission put me on a trajectory around Planet Jesus. 
Everything changed!

As a child in school, when I held a world globe for the first time, I was fascinated by all the weirdly shaped continents and the strange sounding countries. Now, as a believer, I instead see a world filled with people who need to know the Savior who loves them and died for their sins. 
Everything changed.

A few days ago, the world experienced a lunar eclipse and the moon turned red. Before I was born again, those heavenly wonders were seen by me as only just normal, regularly occurring astronomical events. Now, from my new perspective, that eclipse also stirred thoughts of prophetic signs concerning Jesus and His Return. 
Everything changed.

Before I became a Christian, the celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter had been just days to over-eat, open presents, and enjoy guilt free chocolate. But now, from my new, expanded view around Planet Jesus, my heart is consumed with thoughts of His Provision, His Humility, His Love and His Sacrifice. 
Everything changed.

Some NASA space missions send astronauts into orbit, and after a few orbits they return to earth. Other spacecraft are sent into the firmament to orbit strange, new worlds, never to return to the world they left behind. My desire is to stay in orbit around my Savior. I choose to stay in His orbit, forever. I was launched into the gravitational pull of His embrace those many years ago...And Everything Changed!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Christian Contrails

   During the war, both Union and Confederate artillery could fire multiple types of ammunition. Cannonballs were solid, round objects that would ricochet off the ground and kill assembled soldiers, as well as used to target fortifications and enemy artillery. As the enemy got closer, the gunners would switch to canister or grapeshot. The crew would load the gun with a coffee can-sized container filled with small metal balls. Once fired, the can would disintegrate, spreading the balls outward in a cone shape, essentially like a giant shotgun. Along with these deadly cannon munitions a variety of rockets were also used during the Civil War by both sides.

On July 3, 1862, Confederate forces under the command of Jeb Stuart fired rockets at Union troops during the Battle of Harrison’s Landing. What a terrifying sight it must have been for those soldiers to see those streaking trails of white smoke moving across the sky, knowing that in a few moments’ death would be raining down on them. Those white arcing lines obviously would have drawn every soldier’s attention.

We have all seen something similar, but of course less deadly in those white, straight, cloud like lines that crisscross the skies above. They are called Contrails. They are formed from the hot exhaust of passenger jets, which turns into water vapor at high altitude. Contrails definitely grab your attention. These cloud imposters are straight as an arrow, but have short life spans compared to their natural cloud cousins. Within a few minutes they begin to spread apart, fade and are soon gone. That is the two simple facts about Contrails, they get noticed, and they don't last for long. The similarities between the Christian witness in this life, and a Contrail are just as clear. 

The Gospel of Matthew says it like this, "You are the lights of the world, like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden..."Let your life so shine before men, that they will see your good works, and glorify God who is in heaven."  Matthew 5:14,16 

We need to shine for Jesus before this World. We need to do our best to live a life that catches people's attention, not attention to ourselves, but to the Savior of this world. We need to recognize, that like the fading Contrail, our time to shine for Christ is "limited", too.

Our task is to point the Lost, straight to the Lord. The passenger airliners that make those vaporous paths across the sky, are headed somewhere, they have a destination. So do we! Our hope is if people keep watching us long enough, and our course stays straight and true, maybe the curious will book a flight along with us.