Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Lesson on Providence at Shiloh

The beautiful woman in the picture to the left is my wife, Rachelle Burleson. The story I'm about to tell you is personal, one that I have researched for a few years. The reason I think you will benefit from reading it is because it revolves around God and His sovereignty over all His creation, particularly His people.  I believe in a personal God. I believe "the Lord Almighty has a purpose, and nobody can change his plans" (Isaiah 14:27). The Psalmist proclaims "God has established His throne in the heavens and His Kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19) and I concur wholeheartedly. Creation is either the product of random chaos or the plan of a reigning Creator, and to affirm the former is to live a fearful, hopeless life. To believe the latter is to live a life filled with hope, strength, and purpose. 

On Sunday afternoon, April 6, 1862, two men died not more than 100 yards apart from each other during the Battle of Shiloh. They both died in the woods just west of the Tennessee River. Both died of gunshot wounds. Both died in the arms of friends. Both men were Christians. Both places where they died have had markers placed at Shiloh to identify the spot. The first man who died (pictured) was the highest ranking officer to be killed on the battlefield during the Civil War. His name was General Sydney Albert Johnston. He had led the army of the Confederate States of America into the Battle of Shiloh. About 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon Johnston had been found sitting on his horse, losing consciousness as he bled out from a gunshot wound to the back of his right knee. He had come to the front lines a few minutes earlier to rally Confederate troops, including the Arkansas 6th Infantry Regiment, as they attacked the Union left flank to drive the Union army into the Tennessee River. Isham G. Harris, the man who discovered the wounded General and carried him to the safety of a nearby ravine and cared for him until Johnston died, would later became the governor of Tennessee. As word of the death of General Sydney Albert Johnston spread among the troops, the CSA solders became demoralized. Some scholars believe General Johnston's absence on the battlefield eventually led to the Confederates losing the Battle of Shiloh.

That same Sunday afternoon not more than 100 yards away from where General Johnston lay dying in the ravine, the other man in this story also died. His name was Jesse Mock. Unlike General Johnston, Jesse was a private. Unlike General Johnston, Jesse was a Union soldier, not a Confederate. Unlike General Johnston, not very many people noticed when Union Private Jesse Mock died. Jesse and his fellow Illinois volunteers had been firing at General Johnston and the Confederate troops when Jesse was shot in the chest. Unlike General Johnston, the man who cared for Jesse after he was wounded would not become a future governor. The man who cradled Jesse Mock as he died was his brother, William Mock. The Mock brothers were attached to the 9th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Of all the regiments in the Union army at Shiloh, the Illinois 9th Regiment lost more men than any other. Jesse Mock was one of those men. Nobody knows who shot General Johnston. Nobody knows who shot Jesse Mock. Everyone knows they died on the same woods, within the same hour, during the same battle, under similar circumstances.

Jesse Mock is my wife's great-great uncle. Jesse's brother on the battlefield at Shiloh, William
Mock, is my wife's great-great grandfather. William survived the Civil War, and in honor of his dead brother, William named his first born son Jesse. Jesse then had a son named Charles (Rachelle's grandfather) and Charles had a son he named Don (Rachelle's father). As Rachelle and I walked yesterday to the monument where the 9th Illinois engaged General Johnston and the CSA troops, to the very place where private Jesse Mock and many more Union solders of the Illinois 9th were killed and buried during the Battle of Shiloh, I couldn't help but wonder what my world would be like today if just one or two things had been different on that April Sunday afternoon in 1862. What if General Johnston had not been killed?  What if the Confederates have won the Battle of Shiloh? What if William Mock had died and Jesse Mock had lived? What if ....?

It is probably a waste of time to think such thoughts about stray bullets and battlefield chance. The Bible declares that God "works all things after the counsel of His own will." Our God is either running the entire universe today, or as some of my friends believe, it has slipped out from under Him. I reject their view that God is not in charge because it not only violates the teaching of Scripture, it destroys all hope in the human soul. Providence is the unseen rudder on the ship of state. God is the pilot at the wheel during the night watch. As J. Vernon McGee said, "God makes great doors swing on little hinges." He brought together a little baby's cry and a woman's heart down by the River Nile when Pharaoh's daughter went to bathe. The Lord pinched little Moses and he let out a yell. The cry reached the heart of the princess, and God used it to change the destiny of a people. That was providence.

Likewise, God orchestrated all events at Shiloh so that one day I would eventually meet the beautiful woman whose great-great grandfather survived wounds in both thighs while his own brother died and was buried in the fields of Shiloh. I am grateful that our God sits on His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all. So are my kids.

"Sovereign Ruler of the skies,
Ever gracious, ever wise;
All my times are in Thy hand,
All events at Thy command.
He who formed me in the womb,
He will guide me to the tomb.
Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till He bids I shall not die."
For those who wish to "curse God and die" when bad things happen to God's people, I simply remind you of Job's words when he lost his job, his home, his family, his land, and his wife told him to do that very thing. Job responded,  "What? Shall we receive good things from God and not affliction? The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."  Amen.

The Bear Is Growling

Why would Syrian President Assad use chemical weapons on his own people, particularly after President Obama proclaimed in the summer of 2012 that Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and necessitate a military action from the United States? One reason. Assad WANTS military action from the United States against Syria. Russia will respond. the U.S. Is too weak to be involved in a protracted war. Syria NEEDS Russia to intevene. Russia is Assad's strongest ally against the radical Muslims attacking Syria. Russia hates Muslim radicals (i.e. Chechnya radicals), and all they need is an excuse to intervene in Syria. Two lessons Americans ought never forget in these perilous Middle East times: (1). Nothing is as it seems, and (2). America seems now to be the ally of radical Muslims. Go figure.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Deadly Malady of Overconfidence

After General Grant led Union forces in February 1862 in overtaking Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, two Confederate forts that were blocking Union access into Tennessee via the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River respectively, commanders for the Union army became confident that the Civil War would end by July of 1862, a little more than a year after it had started.

Secretary of War Stanton was so optimistic about Union military prospects and victory over the south that on Thursday, April 3, 1862 he issued General Order No. 33, which stated that “the recruiting service for volunteers will be discontinued in every state from this date" (Eugene Murdock, Ohio’s Bounty System in the Civil War, Columbus: Ohio State).

Three days later, on the beautiful Sunday morning of April 6, 1862, the Confederates surprisingly and ferociously attacked the Union army encamped at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River, near a little Methodist Episcopal Chapel called Shiloh. The ensuing two day Battle of Shiloh killed more American soldiers than the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American-Mexican War combined. The intense fighting spirit of the Rebels shocked Union commanders, and Shiloh was the beginning of the North's realization that the Civil War would neither be civil nor short. Reversing General Order No. 33, the United States continued the recruiting service for volunteer soldiers for an additional three years. By the end of the Civil War in 1865 over 620,000 soldiers had died.

Today I stood at the Shiloh battlefield and reflected on the great battle that occurred here on April 6 and 7, 1862 and I was reminded that of all the deadly maladies we face as human beings, overconfidence might be the worst. Confidence in God sounds like "If it be His will," but confidence in ourselves sounds a great deal like Stanton's General Order No. 33.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Heartfelt Apology to the People of Australia for Chris Lane's Death

I have lived in Oklahoma since my college days. I am a graduate of East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. I am fifty-one years old, have been married to my wife for over thirty years and am the father of four grown children. My wife and I have traveled throughout your lovely country of Australia, and it was my privilege to speak at the Sydney Opera House in 2004 during a concert of Oklahoma musicians, extending to you our gratefulness for your hospitality. I am no stranger to Oklahoma or Australia.

Our hearts are broken over the tragic, senseless murder of your native son, Christopher Lane, this past Friday afternoon, August 16, 2013, at 3:00 p.m. in Duncan, Oklahoma. As you know, he was shot in the back and killed by three teenagers while he was jogging down the street from his girlfriend's house. These three young men allegedly shot Chris, a stranger to them, because "they were bored." I beg to differ. These three men shot Chris because they are evil.

Tim Fischer, your former deputy Prime Minister in Australia, has said, "there is deep seated anger at this time" due to this senseless capital crime. Australians need to know there is deep seated anger in all Oklahomans at this time as well. Tim has called for Australians to "boycott"  the United States because of this shooting. Your former deputy Prime Minister has gone on our national television shows and blamed the "lack of gun control" for the murder. Though I disagree with Tim, my purpose for writing this post is not to defend our Constitution or our 2nd Amendment. There is a time for such a discussion and I've done it elsewhere. Now is not that time.

The purpose of this post is to give a heartfelt apology to the people of Australia.

(1). I apologize that some of America's young people, including these three teenage boys, have grown desensitized to the sanctity of human life. They choose to live in an imaginary culture that creates an illusion that murder is exciting and fun. From video games that make it a sport to shoot innocent bystanders, to films that romanticize murder and mayhem, to music that honors the violent and the criminal, the culture these boys are familiar with produced within them the ability to laugh at the prospect of killing others.

However, not all of America's young people are like these three men. I would go even further; very, very few young people in Oklahoma are like these three young men. In fact, every weekend I am around hundreds of young people who celebrate life, give of themselves to meet the needs of others, and do their part in making the world a better place.  These wonderful young people I know will continue to combat the culture of death that has crept into the entertainment industry, our homes, and our schools. Most Oklahoma young people choose to not live in this imaginary culture that glorifies murder, mayhem and death. Unfortunately, a few who do get the headlines. They should, and they will, be punished.

(2). I apologize that these demons of death have grown up in absent families. From fathers who have abandoned their homes, to mothers who have abdicated their role of giving moral guidance to their sons by completely turning them over to the care of an amoral public school system, these young men who senselessly murdered "for the fun of it" have grown up in families who seem to have shirked their God-given responsibilities of moral training for their children. Some of us believe the mothers and fathers of these boys be should be placed on trial. Western civilization was built on the principle that parents take responsibility for the actions of their underage children. If the state refuses to prosecute the parents, then the state should treat the boys as men, follow the Oklahoma laws of punishment for adults who commit murder, and put the boys to death.  Until everyone in America awakens to our moral responsibilities within the home, America will continue to produce a few demons of death.

(3). I apologize that your view of Oklahoma is now tainted by a tragic, senseless murder of Chris Lane. I may not be able to help change your views about Oklahoma, but I'm going to try. I know Australia. I know Oklahoma. I attended the same Oklahoma university Chris attended.  I know you love your country of Australia. My wife and I do too! We love the beauty, we love the people, we love the cleanliness, we love the society. I also know you may know little of Oklahoma, so I would like to enlighten you. Our state is filled with wonderful people. The citizens of our state take seriously our responsibility to make the world a better place. We take as much pride in our state as you do your country. When Chris died, a portion of all of us died. You will find very few places where people are more kind, more open, more friendly, and more generous than the state of Oklahoma!

I am unable to get in touch with Chris' family to offer help, so this post serves as an open letter. There are people in my community in Oklahoma (due north of Duncan on Highway 81) who will help Chris' family with expenses associated with Chris' funeral and transportation back to Australia. We Oklahomans hurt over Chris' death as much as Australians.

One of my ancestors lived in London, England. He was pastor of St. Paul's, appointed by King James. His name was John Donne. John became sick himself during an outbreak of the plague. There was a tradition in his day that when a parish member died, the bells of his church would toll the exact number of years that the person had lived. One day, sick in bed, he heard the bells tolling. He tried to get up and find out who it was that had died so he could minister to the family, but his illness prevented him. As the bells continued to toll, he reached for quill and parchment and wrote his Meditation 17.
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
Chris  Lane's death has diminished all of us in Oklahoma. On behalf of all Oklahomans, I apologize to the people of Australia, and particularly to the family of Chris Lane. Try not to judge an entire state for the senseless actions of three thugs.

The bells are tolling.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Plato, Aristotle, and the Bible on Laughter

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" Proverbs 17:22.

I sometimes hear Christians wrongly interpret the verse above as "Laughter is a good medicine." This is not what Proverbs 17:22 is saying.  It is a "heart" which is cheerful (an inward state) that is good medicine, not a mouth which is laughing (an outward expression).  I recently heard a church staff member say, "What we need in the church is for people to laugh." Not necessarily so.

Richard Wiseman, Ph.D., in his book Quirkology, provided empirical support for the old adage about the difference between comedy and tragedy: "If you fall down an open manhole, that's comedy. But if I fall down the same hole, that's tragedy."

Dr. Wiseman spent years researching to find the world's funniest joke--the joke that produces the most laughter. He established a website and received tens of thousands of submissions. He allowed readers of his website to rate the jokes on a scale of 1 to 5 from "not very funny" to "very funny." Dr. Wiseman's research led him and his scientific team to conclude:

(1). The jokes voted "the funniest" were those that created a sense of superiority in the reader.
Illustration: "Did you hear about the man who was proud when he completed the jigsaw within thirty minutes, because it said '5-6 years' on the box?"

(2). The jokes voted "the funniest" were those which pulled down pomposity with even greater pomposity.

Illustration: University of Texas graduate: "Where are you from?" Harvard graduate: "I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions." University of Texas graduate: "Okay--where are you from, jackass?"

(3). The jokes voted "the funniest" were those that made someone else look foolish or stupid.

Illustration: A teacher said to her class "Can everyone who thinks they're stupid stand up!" After a few seconds, just one child slowly stood up. The teacher turned to the child and said, "Do you think you're stupid?"  "No," replied the child, "but I hate to see you standing there all by yourself."

Dr. Wiseman concluded that most people laugh when they feel superior to others. His conclusions correspond to what Plato wrote in The Republic: "Laughter is the roar of triumph in the ancient jungle duel." Plato did not like laughter (the showing of teeth in open mouth laughter) because he felt it had more in common with the animalistic "baring of teeth" that comes from an attempt to conquer another. Laughter, felt Plato, made people seem "less than human." It wasn't the act of laughing that bothered Plato, it was the philosophy behind the laughter. Plato, one of the early philosophers of the human condition, observed most people laugh at others.  Plato believed it so wrong to laugh at other people that he urged the citizens of Greece to limit their attendance at comedies and never to appear on stage in "this lowest form of the dramatic arts."

Aristotle felt the same way. Aristotle argued that many successful clowns and comedians make people laugh by eliciting a sense of superiority. Dwarves, hunchbacks, and physical deformities caused merriment in others during the Middle Ages. Words like "fat, stupid, poor, ugly" seem to be picture words that draw people to laugh today. Could it be that one of the evidences of moral decay in our culture is our increase of laughter at others?

The Bible has a handful of verses regarding laughter. Here is one:

"Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them'" (Psalm 126:2).

Interesting, is it not, that the laughter prescribed by the Bible is a laughter of joy and excitement for the good that comes to other people. If we took laughter as seriously as we should, then we might refuse to laugh when:

(1). A joke is told and the punch line revolves around someone else's ethnicity, personal appearance, or physical deformity.
(2). A joke is told and the punch line revolves around someone else's misfortune or problems in life.
(3). A joke is told and the punch line revolves around someone else's perceived stupidity or foolishness.

May I always be on my guard to laugh with joy at the good fortune of others and to refrain from laughing at others.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Abusers

Over a decade ago an eighteen-year-old southern Oklahoma girl became engaged to her high school sweetheart. During the engagement there were signs of trouble, but this young Christian lady didn’t wish to disappoint her family and friends by breaking the now public promise to marry. Everyone seemed to love her fiancĂ©. Though he hid from others his tendency to dominate and control everything about her, she excused his crass behavior with the thought that  “at least he isn’t physically abusive.”

That changed after marriage. Without going into details, the last straw for her was a threat involving a gun. Literal fear of death shook the abused wife into action. She left her husband of less than two years, enduring the shame of an early divorce. At least there were no children; at least there were no serious crimes committed; at least there was time to start over again. She dared to dream the God of all grace would somehow find a way to provide for her a future family.

 A few years later the subject of our story met the love of her life. He was everything her first husband was not -- gentle, funny, self-effacing, humble, and most of all, a lover of Christ and a practitioner of God’s grace. After a delightful courtship, they were married. The young couple moved to Fort Worth, Texas so that the husband could obtain his post-graduate degrees from Southwestern Theological Seminary. God blessed their marital union with a child, a girl, and then a couple of years later He gave the couple their second child, a boy.

Life for our Oklahoma mother of two was joyous in Texas. She had a husband who loved her, a growing family, and a positive outlook on life. She and her husband became involved in church ministry on weekends while he studied and went to school and she cared for the home and kids during the week.  

Her husband had a tenor voice that enabled him to sing like an angel and he conducted and played the piano with great passion and proficiency. One day he was asked to fill in at the last-minute for a sick seminary faculty member who was to lead the campus chapel services. As he led worship and sang a solo for the chapel service,  those in attendance were captivated by his voice and demeanor. One person super impressed by the young man was Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The President began calling  him “my favorite tenor.” He became the only student during his time at Southwestern Theological Seminary asked to regularly lead worship during the seminary chapel services. After graduation with his Master’s Degree, our subject's husband continued on with his doctorate at SWBTS, at which time President Patterson sought him out and personally offered him a faculty position at Southwestern as soon as he could finish his coursework.

Dr. Patterson asked the young man to do all he could to expedite the doctoral process. Other leadership in the music department confirmed their support and excitement for having him on the faculty. This excited our Oklahoma girl. She was proud of her husband. He worked even harder to finish his doctorate  sooner, and he continued to work as a bi-vocational minister of worship on weekends in addition to taking the role of Doctoral Teaching Assistant in several seminary classes.

God was good. Life was good. Ministry was good. Our Oklahoma girl's heart was knit to her husband's heart. She was happy how God had graciously answered her prayers and given to her a loving husband and a beautiful family.

Then, tragedy struck.

This young mother of two became the victim of abuse for a second time.

Here’s how it happened.

It seems that about a year into her husband's pursuit of his doctorate--several months after being told that a faculty position awaited him--her husband felt led to write a blog post about how God had delivered him from Gothardism and the legalism in which he had been raised. During the course of sharing his testimony on his blog, he briefly mentioned some of the abuse his wife had endured in her first marriage. He then beautifully articulated how God had begun restoring his wife's shattered life before they even met,  and he wrote with passion how the grace of God had allowed for continued healing in his wife after their marriage. God was restoring her trust in men.

Several months after writing this blog post, just as he was nearing the completion of his doctoral coursework, the job offer at Southwestern was taken off the table. After several attempts at trying to arrange a meeting with Dr. Patterson for an explanation, the day finally arrived when "the golden boy" of the music department at Southwestern received an explanation for why he was no longer welcome on the faculty. He was standing before the President in the President's office.

“I believe you made a mistake, son. You married a divorced woman. I know you’ve never been married before, but you married a divorced woman.  You received bad counsel from the pastor that agreed to marry you. You should have never married her. The faculty at my school must present a seamless picture of marriage, and your marriage does not do that.”

The shocked future professor of music reminded the President that it was his first marriage, and gave more details about the abuse suffered by his wife in her first marriage.  Dr. Patterson interrupted him and continued:

“I don’t believe it matters, son. I know 90% of the Southern Baptist Convention would disagree with me on this issue, but I’ve never hired a divorced person on my faculty or anyone who has been married to a divorced person in my 50 years of ministry, and I can’t do so now.”

 Dr. Patterson then reiterated that the man standing in front of him was one of the most talented composers, vocalists, and conductors he had ever met, but he was sorry that things would not work out for him to be on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The promised faculty position was being revoked because of the damage his marriage would give to the seminary's image of purity.  

Since that meeting in 2011, Dr. Patterson has not spoken with the young doctoral student to whom he broke his promise. The young man graduated last December (2012) with his doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary. He’s gifted. He’s now experiencing his dream of teaching music at the collegiate level in Southeast Houston. He’ll be fine. His career will soar. He, however, is not the focus of our tale.

His wife is.

She has been abused again.

Nobody at SWBTS, especially the President, seemed to give even one thought about what the revocation of the faculty position might communicate to the musician's wife.  I wish Dr. Patterson and the men around him had been forced to watch as the young man gave the bad news to his family. I wish they'd had to endure the emotional and gut-wrenching agony that the husband and the two children experienced as they watched mom cry her tears of pain.

Even though her husband tried to break the news gently, the message from the President’s office was clear -- she was the problem; she wasn’t good enough; she was worthless; she was a mistake. Her husband’s problems were all her fault.

Those were the messages given and received. Were they abusive messages? Absolutely. They were the SAME messages the woman's first husband gave her when he was abusing her.

I must ask the question, “Which abuser bears the most guilt?” Is it the first husband or is it the President of Southwestern Seminary? What amazes me is the number of  Christians who would have a hard time identifying the actions of the President as abusive. Worse, some Southern Baptists might even defend him. If one wonders why the Southern Baptist Convention is in a period of decline, one needs to look no further than this story.

Our young Oklahoma girl is strong. She’ll make it. Her kids are getting older. Her husband has kept his sense of humor. Most of all, her God is able to work all things for good.

Remember the blog post that her husband wrote in which he briefly mentioned his wife's first marriage, abuse, and divorce? That post struck a chord in hundreds of people who have been on their own journey out of legalism, abusive authority and into grace? Some of those people who've been helped by his post have joined together to start a blog called Recovering Grace. This blog is bringing hope and healing to thousands of Christians around the world.  God does indeed work all things for ultimate good.

My Tale of Two Abusers is a story with an ending not yet fully written, but it contains a promise of God’s faithfulness. For your listening pleasure I close with a video entitledYou Raise Me Up,  sung by the gifted man who received his doctoral degree from Southwestern Theological Seminary last December and the one who is married to our Oklahoma girl at the center of the Tale of Two Abusers. Godspeed.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Outside the Camp

"Let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Hebrews 13:13).

The sacrifices in the Old Testament foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah like a shadow protruding from a corner on a sunny day portends the coming of a person. The Old Covenant practice of sacrificing lambs, goats, and bulls foretell in picture form the coming of "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. It was called the Sabbath of Sabbaths by the Hebrews. Two goats were brought into the camp for the Yom Kippur sacrifice. The first goat brought into the camp on the Day of Atonement was killed. The blood of this goat was sprinkled seven times before the altar, and then a basin of its blood was taken through the curtain into the holy of holies and sprinkled seven times before the ark of the covenant (Leviticus 16). Peace with God is foreshadowed through this Yom Kippur ritual, for "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus Christ's blood "cleanses us from all sin" and through our faith in Christ we have peace with God (Romans 8:1). The body of this goat was taken by the priest outside the camp and burned.

The second goat, called the scapegoat, had a scarlet ribbon tied around its neck. The high priest would lay his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confess the sins of Israel. The scapegoat would then be taken by the priest outside the camp  and lost in the desert. The scapegoat foreshadows how Christ would bear the sins of His people and separate their sins from them "as far as the east is from the west."  The Messiah was named Jesus because "He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). God sees no sin in His people because our Scapegoat has carried them away. They are taken outside the camp and lost forever.

Outside the camp. This is an Old Covenant principle. Sin and shame are outside the camp in the Old Covenant. Lepers and the outcasts of Israel lived outside the camp. Outside the camp was an unclean place for unclean people. The priest who carried the body of the goat to be burned outside the camp had to go through purification rituals before he was even allowed back inside the camp (Leviticus 16:28). Nobody went outside the camp in the Old Covenant during Yom Kippur unless the Hebrews cast them out as unworthy, unwanted, and unwelcome.

Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law--"every jot and tittle"--and died for us outside the camp. It is a known historical fact that Jesus Christ was crucified, bearing our sin "outside the gate" of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12). "So, let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Hebrews 13:13).

Whereas the Hebrews in the Old Covenant were never to go outside the gate, the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews calls for us to "go to Him outside the gate." The New Covenant turns the Old Covenant principle of "outside the camp" on its head. In the Old Covenant, sin and shame were outside the camp and no Hebrew dared go outside the camp. In the New Covenant, Christ died outside the gate and followers of Christ are called to "go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."

What does this mean?

(1). A New Covenant believer is not afraid to call himself "the chief of sinners" (I Timothy 1:15). A church that does not understand the New Covenant and lives by Old Covenant principles points a finger at those "outside the camp" and considers them vile and horrible. Old Covenant churches have an "us vs. them" mentality. "Those people out there" are vile and wicked, but we who are "in the camp" are not. Truth is, when a sinner goes outside the camp to embrace Christ, bearing His reproach, he identifies himself as one of the least, the last, the little and the lost - the outcast.

(2). A New Covenant believer is more concerned with relationships than religion.   "Let us go to Him outside the gate." Churches who have a camp mentality are designed to make life comfortable for those inside the camp.  Songs are sung because those singing enjoy others praising them for their voices. Messages are preached because those preaching enjoy the accolades of hearers. Programs and ministries are funded and staffed because those involved feel good about themselves for what they are doing. Churches based on Old Covenant principles are more interested in people in the camp feeling good about themselves than they are identifying with the least, the last, the little and the lost outside the camp and taking them to Christ. I've said it before, but its worth saying again, "The measure of greatness for any church is not how many it sits but how many it sends." Anything in a church that gives an "us vs. them" impression to the outside world is a church based on Old Covenant principles. The truth is, we ARE them; the only difference is we have come to Him.

(3). A New Covenant believer lives in freedom and pays little attention to what those in the camp think.  When a sinner comes to faith in Christ, the truth of what Christ has done sets the sinner free. The full forgiveness from God and the immeasurable love of God causes the believer to live life in an abundant fashion. Rather than living in bondage to expectations, perceptions, and demands of others, the New Covenant believer follows the Spirit and lives in real freedom.

In addition, for the sinner who meets Christ outside the camp, there is no longer any desire to put roots down in any city, organization or camp that will not last (Hebrews 13:14), for there is only a desire for "the city with foundations" whose Builder and Maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).

I am greatly encouraged from the Word of God to realize that my job is to not make people comfortable "in the camp" but to stretch us all to go "outside the camp" and identify with the least, the last, the little and the lost in order to lead them to the only One who takes away that which will truly destroy and gives to us that which we can eternally enjoy.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

H.U.G. - The Transformation of U.S. Grant

Everywhere you go in the United States you find high schools, particularly in urban areas, named U.S. Grant High School. Oklahoma City has one. So does Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego and a many other cities. Kids attending one of those schools have no idea how close their school came to being named H.U.G. High School. Ulysses S. Grant, the man after whom these high schools were named, was a Civil War Union General, the 18th President of the United States, and the man credited, along with President Abraham Lincoln, of ultimately preserving the Union. Few people know that Ulysses S. Grant was not his given birth name. In a day when most people were known by their initials or nicknames, H.U.G. was the given name of the man who would become our President.

On April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, Hannah Simpson Grant gave birth to our future 18th President. Hannah's husband, Jesse Grant, was a self-educated leather producer (tanner) who suggested they draw names from a hat. Having taught himself the classics - and proud of his knowledge - Jesse wrote down several names from ancient Greek history and Latin literature: names like Ulysses, Heracles, Perseus, and many more. Jesse Grant pulled out the name Ulysses from the hat.

Jesse, in a concession to his devout Methodist wife who wanted a more biblical name for their son, agreed to make "Hiram" the first name of their boy. Hiram is the biblical name of the man who built Solomon's Temple. So, Hiram Ulysses Grant became the given name for the man we know today as Ulysses Simpson Grant.

In pre-Civil War America, people often used their initials as their name. If you look at any census prior to 1850 you will see many names written out with initials. For example, Josh Lee would be  J.L.; Fred Tinsley Cherry would be F.T.C.; and Hiram Ulysses Grant would be H.U.G.

That's right. H.U.G.

These initials caused a great deal of consternation for our nation's future President when he was a schoolboy in Ohio. "H.U.G. (and) stop it." "Give me (a) H.U.G." "Come here (and) H.U.G." -- The jokes were constant. The family was poor in those early days, and since Ulysses was the oldest child, everyone was unsure how H.U.G. could afford to continue his education after high school. Finally, with the help of an Ohio Senator, H.U.G. received an appointment to West Point, which was the best free education of the day, albeit with a military commitment. Jesse Grant was delighted his son was going to West Point to become a military man because "he will never amount to anything in business."

As Ulysses packed up his belongings to move to New York, the initials H.U.G. were placed on his suitcase. Knowing the razzing that would come his way from his classmates - young men who would later compose the infamous Class of 43 at West Point - Ulysses wiped the initials H.U.G. off his suitcase and never allowed them to be used again. It would simply be Ulysses Grant.

However, when he arrived at West Point and signed his papers Ulysses Grant, the enrollment officer told him that the Ohio Senator had nominated him as Ulysses S. Grant. "You either have to sign these papers as Ulysses S. Grant or go home." The "S." assigned young Ulysses by the Senator stood for "Simpson" - the maiden name of Ulysses' mother. The Simpsons were friends of the Senator. Ulysses signed his name Ulysses S. Grant, but shortly his classmates were calling him U.S. Grant, and later by a knick name they gave to him - "Uncle Sam" or "Sam" for short, a play on the U.S. in Grant's name.

The name U.S. Grant and the nickname "Sam" both stuck. U.S. Grant graduated 21st out of his 39 member Class of 43, but first in horsemanship. He went on to serve in the military with distinction during the Mexican War, and afterwards, as a quartermaster for the Army in California and Oregon. He was forced to resign from the Army on July 31, 1854 because of his struggle with alcohol, accused by his superior officer of being drunk while handing out paychecks.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, U.S. Grant was almost forty years old, out of the Army, financially broke because of multiple business failures, and considered a failure by most people. George McClellan, a classmate at West Point, refused to meet with Grant to discuss a possible readmission into the Army when the Civil War began. U.S. Grant's life as a soldier was over.

Dejected and depressed, U.S. Grant went back to farming and shop keeping in Illinois. It was only when the governor of Illinois asked Grant to get into military shape a ragtag group of state volunteers - many of whom were drunkards and former prison inmates - that U.S. Grant got back into the War. He advanced through the state militia ranks, becoming a state appointed General. After many initial, aggressive victories against the south, he came to the attention of President Lincoln. U.S. Grant would eventually become the General-in-Chief of the United States Army - promoted to the position by Lincoln - and the man Lincoln credited with singlehandedly bringing victory to the Union.

 U.S. Grant would later serve two terms as President of the United States  (1869-1877). If you were to compare all the Presidents when they were thirty-nine years of age, U.S. Grant would be the one most people would say had no chance of becoming President.

The fact that he did become President was a testament to timing, fortitude in the face of affliction (war and rejection), and of course, Providence. Two things strike me about the story of U.S. Grant:

(1). It is the man who makes the name, not the name that makes the man, and
(2). It is not nearly as important that a man start well as it is that he finishes well.