Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some Pre-Inaugural Thoughts

We are just days away from the inauguration of a new president and already the divisions within our nation are growing.  There has certainly not been this great a division within the past four or five decades that I can remember.  It is not just a division in ideology that is troubling, but it is the abject hatred that is demonstrated because of ideological differences. 

I have studied the years of the American Civil War and what is happening in 2016-17 is very similar to those events of 1860-61.  The battle cry in those days was, "If Lincoln is elected, then we will secede from the Union."  And secede they did upon his election.  The division became irreconcilable and it took a long, bloody, costly four-year war to restore the Union.  But the division was never truly healed.  Oh, the cause for the division was removed, namely slavery, but the strong feelings have never been healed.  We see evidence of them yet today, especially within our inner cities and urban communities. 

Secession is no longer an option, although some state leaders have threatened it.  The Civil War ended that threat.  The battle cry today is, "Be as disruptive over the course of the next four years as is possible."  Be belligerent.  Be hateful.  Be intolerant.  Spread false news and pretend it is truthful.  Mock our governmental leaders as much as you can.  We saw strong evidence of how this works with the remarks of several presenters and recipients at the Golden Globes Awards this past Sunday evening.  Vitriolic speech never brings people together; it only divides people further. 

(Just an example: I love visiting the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.  I would love working there as a volunteer someday.  But, as part of the museum is a long hallway that is covered with hundreds of political cartoons and editorials from newspapers of Lincoln's day - there were a lot more newspapers then there are today.  The hatred exhibited in those cartoons and editorials riles up my anger.  Seeing those cartoons reminds me of those I have seen in my own local paper and in online sources.  Perhaps someday there will be a long hallway in the Trump Presidential Museum that will be covered with those editorials and cartoons from today's media world.)

Did we elect the perfect president on November 8?  Absolutely not!  To my understanding, no perfect candidate was on the ballot.  Both were flawed with imperfections.  Both candidates did have a vision for what they thought America could be: one candidate saw America traveling down the same path it had for the past 8 years; the other candidate saw an America on a different pathway.  The electorate spoke on November 8 and said they preferred one direction over the other.  The vote was never on who was the perfect candidate either ethically or morally.  The vote was on which vision was best for our nation. 

So, now what should be our attitude as we are only a few days away from Donald Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States?  The Bible's admonition is this: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  God is not inviting us to necessarily like the new President, but He is commanding that we pray for our new President.  Prayer is a powerful tool that can overcome differences. 

Secondly, the Bible tells us: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1).  Again, God is not saying that we need to approve of everything our new President might decide, but, unless those decisions force us to choose between obeying God's degrees and the President's degrees, we are to submit to the President's authority.  Is this easy to do?  I am pretty sure that Paul struggled with many of the decisions handed down by Emperor Nero, but he submitted himself to that authority. 

January 20 will bring a new era of American history.  For the first time since the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, America will have a President who is neither a lawyer nor a politician.  If my memory serves me correctly, which, at my age, it sometimes doesn't, Donald Trump will be the first businessman to serve in the highest office of our land.  I am confident he is already discovering that being the head of the world's greatest nation is very different from heading one of the world's great companies.  Will he do well?  Only time will answer that question.  Will his vision for making "America Great Again" truly succeed?  Again, only time and his relationships with the men and women in Congress will answer that question.  Will his presidency begin to bring the healing our nation so desperately needs?  I believe the key to answering that question is whether the American people really want that healing to occur.  And, sadly, I do not believe that they do. 

I know most of us have formulated our opinions of the newly elected and soon to be inaugurated President.  You have your reasons for those opinions.  Because you and I know Jesus Christ, who is our King of kings and Lord of lords, let us be obedient to praying for President Trump and his leadership team.  He has invited some strong Christians to be part of that team - Mike Pence and Ben Carson, just to name two - who will pray with and for our new President.  How awesome it would be if God truly touched President Trump's heart and brought him to the cross where he would discover salvation through Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Lesson from the Past We Must Never Forget

I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year.  These are certainly days filled with lots of unrest and uncertainty.  Yet we enter it, as believers, with confidence because we know Who is on the throne.  Our anchor still holds to that Rock of Ages.  Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness - those words from the hymn writer are still true today.

As you know, if you have been following this blog for the past several years, I love history and I am a firm believer that if we do not learn the lessons from the past then, sadly, we are apt to repeat those lessons.  When I was born in 1947, the memories of World War 2 were still fresh in my parents' minds.  I remember them sharing stories of where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed and of how our nation rallied together in support of the war.  Then my Dad shared of his training in the Army Air Corp and how he was on standby-alert to go to Japan just as the war ended.  They knew of friends who had died in the war.  Today, however, that "greatest generation", as Tom Brokaw described them, is dying before our eyes.  Soon the World War 2 generation will only be a memory. 

Today's students do not spend much time learning about World War 2.  Few can even give the names of the Axis or Allied nations involved in the war.  Fewer yet can give the names of those war heroes who helped defeat the Fascist alliance in Japan, Germany, and Italy.  December 7 passes by almost unrecognized, yet it was called by President Roosevelt as "a day that will live in infamy." 

For Christmas I received from my bride a book titled, "All the Gallant Men: The First Memoir by a USS Arizona Survivor."  The author was Donald Stratton, one of only five remaining survivors from the USS Arizona.  The co-author was Ken Gire who did a masterful job of helping this 94-year old World War 2 sailor retell his story.  Donald Stratton grew up in Red Cloud, Nebraska and enlisted in the navy as a way of escaping the boredom of small town America.  After all, the government would pay him to see the world.  He was stationed on the battleship USS Arizona, one of the largest battleships in the US Navy.  He was on board that ship when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.  His description of the death and carnage that occurred during the two hours of the attack makes for difficult reading.  Over eleven hundred men are forever entombed within the bowels of the USS Arizona.  All told, over 2400 soldiers and sailors died that day, with thousands more being severely burned and injured.  Donald Stratton was one of those who survived, although his body was badly burned. 

As he tells his story, the author is incredibly grateful for those who aided his recovery.  Although he had been discharged from the Navy because of his wounds received at Pearl Harbor, Mr. Stratton, nonetheless, reenlisted in the Navy and was engaged in several battles in the Pacific in the closing days of the war. 

I would like to share a portion of a chapter of this book with you because I found it to grab my own heart.  I trust it will yours as well.

"Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president, carried a wallet that now resides in the Roosevelt Presidential Library.  It may seem hard to imagine why an insignificant accessory like that would have been deemed significant enough to be put on display so future generations could see it.

"What was so special about it?

"A wallet was a fairly common accessory for women in that time period, so it's not a rare item by any means.  Nothing in its external appearance stands out.  It wasn't made by a famous designer.  In fact, it's quite plain - rectangular in shape, red in color, made out of leather.

"Inside Eleanor's wallet there is a folded-up piece of paper, yellowed with age, its creases well worn, as if it had been unfolded often, then refolded and placed back in the wallet. 

"On the paper is a poem, the same one that opens this chapter.  It ends:
         Somehow out there/A man died for me today.
         As long as there be war,/ I must answer/ Am I worth dying for?

"Eleanor put it in her wallet after December 7, and she was determined to carry it with her until the war ended.  As it turned out, she kept it in that wallet for the rest of her life.  The poem is displayed near the Arizona Memorial, inscribed on a metal plaque that is embedded in a low, rectangular stone along a path that looks out to the sunken ship.

"If you were there on that path, looking out to the sunken remains of what was once the pride of the Pacific Fleet, it would be hard not to pray, not to realize how complacently we live our day-to-day lives, hard not to ask God for forgiveness for our forgetfulness.  We have forgotten so much, not just individually but as a nation.

"A man died for me today.  That sailor, soldier, or Marine was someone's son, brother, husband, perhaps, or someone's father, nephew, cousin, friend.

"A man died for me today.  Two thousand, four hundred and three men perished at Pearl Harbor, 1,177 from the Arizona alone.  Each of those individuals had a name, all of which are on display in the solemn shrine that stands above that ship.

"A man died for me today.  He was there, on that ship, scrubbing the decks, painting the steel, running the drills, and learning the skills to defend us, you and me.  This is what freedom costs.  And these are the men who helped pay for it.  Giving up their dreams so we could have a future.  Sacrificing their lives, so we could live.

"Of all the questions we could ask God in times of war - from the protection we ask for our loved ones to the clarification we ask as to the why of it all - there is one we should not direct to Him but to ourselves.  Am I worth dying for?

"Am I worth the sacrifice of who they were or someday would become?  I've reflected on this question every day since December 7, 1941.  Am I?"

What sobering words!  As I reflected upon those words, I was drawn back to the ultimate sacrifice that was ever made - that of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  Jesus died for me.  Was I worth dying for?  And God's response is a resounding, "Yes, my child!  You were worthy not because of who you were, but because of Who I Am!"  Oh how grateful I am.  Eternity shall not be long enough to render thanksgiving and praise.

Friends, I highly recommend this amazing book to you.  For some of you it will draw you back to memories of those days and times.  For most of you it will cause you to reflect upon an era of our nation's history that we MUST NEVER FORGET!  December 7, 1941 is one of those dates that we should never forget, just as September 11, 2001 will never be forgotten.  We become a nation imperiled if we ever forget.