The Power Of One

I’ve had two theories about the fall of the Confederate government. One was failure to take action after the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. The federal troops were overconfident and ill-prepared. It was a route. Gen. Thomas Jackson, who earned his nickname, “Stonewall,” in that battle, urged President Jefferson Davis to press forward and force the evacuation of Washington, thus ending the war early. But Davis preferred his own counsel. He wanted a defensive war, not an offensive one.

My second theory is Gettysburg in July 1863. Visitors to the national park today stand at what is called the “copse” of trees overseeing the site of Pickett’s Charge. Gen. Lee tried to take the hill with a left flanking maneuver one day, and a right flanking maneuver the second day, then he inexplicably decided on a full-frontal assault. Thousands of confederates appeared from the forest a mile away, lined up should-to-shoulder and began their charge over the open ground. It was a turkey shoot. Hundreds of rebels died from cannon fire and musket. The few who got to the copse of trees were easily taken prisoner. This site is called the “high water mark” of the Confederacy since it’s the northern-most penetration of the army.

I carried on a good-natured argument with a Selma friend about this battle. He insists Lee ordered the attack at dawn, and Gen. Longstreet dallied until 2 in the afternoon. But I counter that the charge was ill-conceived no matter the time of day.

After Gettysburg, it was apparent the South was doomed.

Bill O’Reilly in his book, “Legends and Lies—the Civil War,” gave me new insight in his chapter on Jackson. Gen. Jackson was shot in May 1863 and died eight days later. Thus Gen. Lee was deprived of his “strong right arm” as he called Jackson. O’Reilly wrote, “Replacing Jackson was impossible. And on that fact the war turned.”

His point is that Jackson wasn’t at Gettysburg and his tactical expertise could have conceivably turned the battle.

I was struck by this idea. We might call it “the power of one.” Yes, there is strength and encouragement in numbers, but many great movements begin with one person of conviction and skill. The church remembers this month the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest that brought about the Protestant Reformation—a movement brought about primarily through the convictions of a single man.

A physically-handicapped student came forward during the invitation period in his church. “Can God use half a man like me?” he plaintively asked the minister. The minister replied, “Oh, yes! God has been waiting to do great things with a man like you!”

Should A Christian Celebrate Halloween?

Bob Harrington, the former "Chaplain of Bourbon Street," preached one night and advertised his sermon title in the local newspaper: "Three Places Where There's No Problem with Racism." This was in the civil rights era and our nation was fixated on this problem.

Hundreds came that night to hear Harrington. He touched on his announced theme only in the first paragraph of his sermon: "The three places where there's no problem with racism are heaven, hell and the heart of a Christian." Then Harrington preached a gun barrel-straight message about repentance!

"Should A Christian Celebrate Halloween?" is, likewise, poised to draw a crowd, but there’s no easy answer.

Some say Halloween is the "devil's night" and refuse to participate or let their children participate. Others say it's a harmless night of fun and see no problem with it.

I remember a boyhood Sunday School teacher who used to rail against race car driving. "It's just like the Roman coliseum," he often told us. "People go there to see drivers crash and die!"

A little harsh, to be sure, but race car driving is as popular as ever. We even have a block of conservatives called "NASCAR voters." And at Talladega and other racetracks, Christians set up booths, give away bottles of water and serve as chaplains.

There was a local pastor when I was in high school who came back from a Bible conference with new enthusiasm, telling his congregation that he'd thrown his TV out the back door and that they had to do this, too, if they really loved Jesus. A few weeks later they threw him out the door!

TV is still here. There are vile things on it, to be sure, but there are also Christian programs sponsored by Billy Graham and local churches and entire Christian networks, too.

If we can’t stop racing or TV, we probably aren't going to stop Halloween. So, how can we respond effectively?

Some churches have used the so-called "Judgment House" drama which tries to communicate the truth about death and eternity. Other churches provide on-site festivals or distribute printed gospel summaries or worship invitations that homeowners can give away with their Halloween treats. I've known some Christians who've designed nice Halloween gift packages and included a simple "God loves you" note. For some trick-or-treaters, this might be the only time they hear such a positive message.

Rather than turning our lights off or scowling at eager boys and girls that we don't celebrate Halloween, why not give a little treat--the equivalent of a cup of cold water in Jesus' name (Matthew 10:42)--and simply say, "God bless you"?

There Is A Balm In Gilead

A few years ago, good news-bad news jokes were popular. One had to do with the pilot announcing over the intercom: “My co-pilot is drunk, an engine it out and we have no more fuel. We’re hundreds of miles from our destination, but the good news is we have plenty of peanuts.”

The ancient prophet Jeremiah likewise had good news and bad news for the nation of Judah. The bad news was that the enemy was “at the gates.” Babylon rose as the great power intent on world conquest. A cruel ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, came to the throne in 604 B.C., and he took pleasure when he saw captives, naked and chained, being lead into the capital city.

Jeremiah wrote, “The whole land trembles at the approach of the terrible army, for the enemy is coming, and is devouring the land and everything in it” (Jeremiah 8:16).

Our nation has known this kind of dread a few times. The young nation was again threatened by Great Britain in 1812. The British burned the nation’s capital and then moved to Baltimore to attack Ft. McHenry. An American lawyer was detained on a British warship and had a front-row seat to the attack. The next morning Frances Scott Key saw the “star-spangled banner” yet waving “over the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

And the present generation shared collective dread on 9/11. No one had ever thought about evil men using airplanes as missiles, but that day 3,000 Americans died.

The Jews thought they were safe because the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was understood to be the throne of God. They even sang a little chorus: “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these” (Jeremiah 7:4). Dr. Dale Moody used to say this was the first praise chorus in the Bible! The point was that the people treated the temple like a good luck charm, thinking they could live wayward lives and be protected by the Lord.

But Jeremiah had some good news. He said there was a balm in Gilead and physicians there (Jeremiah 8:22). Gilead was famous for a healing ointment and a medical community, much as we’d refer to the Mayo Clinic today. Times were tough, but healing was available for the sin-sick nation of Judah.

In his memoirs, “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush wrote about an encounter with Billy Graham who encouraged him to ask God’s help in overcoming his drinking. Bush came to Christ and said now he feels a special connection to the testimony of John Newton: “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

On Revenge

I’d not really planned on reading it, but the bookstore I was in last weekend had a special price on the new Hillary Clinton book, “What Happened?” I’ve found it hard to put down. Clinton admits to numbers of mistakes during her presidential campaign, but she doesn’t stop there! She proceeds to settle scores with many people she considers impediments, including Vladimir Putin, Franklin Graham, Bernie Sanders, Fox News, Jim Comey and the Republican Party.

In contrast, I remember failed candidate Mitt Romney talking with Jay Leno on television. The only negative thing he said about the Obama administration was “I’m not a fan.”

But Mrs. Clinton uses her book to speak, and write, the last word!

Of course, hers isn’t the first memoir to settle scores. My generation remembers Don Regan who served as treasury secretary and White House chief of staff in the Reagan White House. He allegedly angered Nancy Reagan who urged her husband to dismiss him. In his memoirs, Regan wrote on page one about Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer who controlled the president’s schedule! Later the astrologer, Joan Quigley, wrote her own book and tried to explain how she gave some assurance to Mrs. Reagan after the attempted assassination.

Most of us can’t write books to settle scores. Thus, we find other ways.

One way we seek revenge is to tell others about our injustices in order to garner support. If I can convince you my enemy is evil, then it makes me feel better to have reinforcements. Of course, we’re good at telling our own version of the particular offense, and in such a way as to make us seem virtuous.

Another way we seek revenge is to bide our time to say a negative word at an opportune time in someone’s life. I’ve known a few people who’ve taken job reference calls, for example, and used these to hurt someone’s opportunity for advancement because of some earlier slight against them or someone they love.

The phrase, “revenge is sweet,” goes back to Homer. But God’s word has a different exhortation: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12).

Gen. Robert E. Lee had it right. It was known that Gen. Joe Johnston disliked Lee. His officers were surprised when Lee said nice things about Johnston.

"General Lee," an officer said, "I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you."

"I know," answered Lee. "But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me."