Monday, November 04, 2013

Dixie (The Hastings College Choir)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Possum Living: More than just a book - a fabulous way of life.

I bought the book "Possum Living" by Dolly Freed when it first came out in the late 1970s and devoured it. Although that was during a period when I had a great career and an income to match, I have always had a strong frugal side. This book provided a wealth of great ideas, but even more it was a tremendous source of inspiration. I loved the book, read it 3 or 4 times, and then lost it, along with many other books, in the process of a move.

Most of the books I lost were not worth replacing, and I couldn't even remember what many of them were. But Possum Living was special. I missed it and lamented the loss - even more so when I learned the book was out of print and I could not find another copy. I had wondered what became of Dolly Freed and had tried vainly to find her by searching the internet.

After many years, I'm absolutely delighted to learn that Possum Living has been reprinted and is available once again. I've ordered another copy, and this time I intend to hold on to it. I trust a whole new generation will discover not only this book, but the lifestyle which it champions. With today's worsening economy, the message of Possum Living is needed more now than ever.

Order your copy now.  It could change your life - or save it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Conservative Vs. Liberal

The annonymous author of this piece gives much food for thought.


If a conservative doesn’t like guns, they don’t buy one.
If a liberal doesn’t like guns, then no one should have one.

If a conservative is a vegetarian, they don’t eat meat.
If a liberal is, they want to ban all meat products for everyone.

If a conservative is homosexual, they quietly enjoy their life.
If a liberal is homosexual, they loudly demand legislated respect.

If a black man or Hispanic is conservative, they see themselves as independently successful.
Their liberal counterparts see themselves as victims in need of government protection..

If a conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.
A liberal wonders who is going to take care of him.

If a conservative doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.
Liberals demand that those they don’t like be shut down.

If a conservative is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.
A liberal wants any mention of God or religion silenced.

If a conservative needs health care, he shops for it, or chooses a job that provides it.
A liberal demands that his neighbors pay for his health care.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Developing a Philosophy of Ministry

What is your philosophy of ministry?

It was 25 years after I began preaching before anyone ever asked me that question. It caught me totally off guard.

It was at my alma mater, Lee University, in Tennessee. I had been named an “Outstanding Alumnus,” and as such was invited to give a series of lectures on the practical aspects of pastoral ministry.

At the close of my first talk, that was the first question. I wasn’t sure I even knew what a philosophy of ministry was. The term hadn’t been invented yet when I was in school, but I had to give an answer. It went something like this:

God calls men and women to ministry and that calling is irrevocable. A person who is truly called of God has no real choice. He will be utterly miserable if his life is not devoted to Christian service.

If God calls a person, then usually some legitimate ordaining body will recognize and confirm that call. If no one accepts your ministry, you should question your calling. Ministers are accountable to God, to their congregations, and to each other.

Some folks who are not called still choose the ministry as a career. These people may or may not be effective ministers. God always honors his word, regardless of who proclaims it. If a preacher ever gets to the place he can quit the ministry and still be happy, then quitting is an honorable thing to do.

No one should ever preach for money, but preachers should be paid well. One’s attitude toward receiving compensation should never be that the money is owed for services rendered; rather it should be that the people to whom he ministers provide his living expenses so he will be able to devote full time and energy to his calling.

God is not the accomplice of the minister’s work. God is the work. We are merely his instruments in getting it done. Therefore, ministers should never take themselves too seriously. The ministry is a job that never gets done. One should work hard, but also learn to relax just as hard to avoid burnout.

Those who don’t share your calling will never fully understand it. A lot of junk goes with the ministry. You will survive if you just wade though it and keep your mind on eternal things.

The ideal is that the church should minister to all the needs of all the people all the time. No ministry will ever achieve this, but it should always be the goal. No preacher has all the gifts required to meet every need, so all members of the church should be encouraged to recognize their own personal priesthood, and exercise their own unique gifts.

God gives each of his children individual talents. In this sense all Christians are ministers. Just a few are chosen to devote their lives as full time clergy.

The pastor must always seek the delicate balance of being both a leader and a servant. He is not above the church, but is a fellow pilgrim. He doesn’t do all the work. His position is that of a player/coach who oversees the work of the local assembly.

Your ministry to your own household (wife and children) should always have top priority. To paraphrase a scripture, "What does it profit a man to win the whole world and lose his own sons and daughters?

The church should be the easiest organization on earth to join and the hardest to leave. Accept anyone who comes, just as they are, upon their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Never let anyone go without exhausting every effort to retain them.

Christians are not to be judgmental, critical or legalistic, but forgiving, tolerant, and loving. If we can agree that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is his word, that is basis enough for fellowship. From there each person should be allowed to work out his/her own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Congressman Jack Kemp served God and Country

Jack Kemp, former pro football quarterback, United States Congressman, and Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States has died at the age of 73. Like millions of Americans, I was sad to hear the news of the passing of this great leader. It was my privilege to interview Congressman Kemp in Washington, D.C. in 1988, when I was writing a syndicated newspaper column. As a tribute, I am reprinting that column below.

What about Christian involvement in politics? I posed that question to Congressman Jack Kemp while in Washington, D.C., recently. His answer was more than I expected.

“People ask me how can you be a Christian and involved in politics?” said the representative from New York. The question should be, ‘How can you be a Christian and not be involved in politics?’”

In addressing a meeting of the Board of Governors of the American Coalition for Traditional Values, Kemp stated, “The country cannot survive without the recognition of those Judeo-Christian values upon which America was founded.” He called it a moral, philosophical, spiritual and economic statement of profound import that “The only safe repository for human freedom is in self-government – and the only way to ultimately have self-government is to have a nation under the laws of God.”

In his book An American Renaissance written several years ago, Kemp called for a rebirth of economic and political freedom. He said the two are inextricably linked together – that our freedoms cannot be separated.

Today Kemp says he looks at freedom and realizes a third dimension must be added when considering economic and political freedom. The three form a triangle. He says, “The foundation of this triangle, the basis of our whole economic and political freedom, is a spiritual and biblical value system.”

The conservative lawmaker spoke forcefully and explicitly: “America can only have a rebirth of freedom, and a rebirth of opportunity, and a rebirth of true peace as we experience spiritual renaissance. The roots of freedom are grounded in the Judeo-Christian idea of one God. He is the source of our inalienable rights.”

For those who fear Jack Kemp’s voice is that of just one more radical from the religious right, he pointed out a recent study sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It concluded that Americans are more religious today than they were a century ago. The same study demonstrated that as Americans have become more religious they have become more tolerant. It is not the other way around, as some so-called intellectuals and elitists have been saying. The truth has been revealed. The more secular a society becomes the less tolerant it is.

“It’s one thing to say that we are a nation under God,” Kemp continued, “but quite another to say that we’re a nation with an established religion. The first is true; the second is not true.”

He said our founding fathers and mothers would be astonished at the current popular idea against public prayer. They did not consider invoking God’s blessing a violation of the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of a national religion.

Kemp quoted Thomas Jefferson, who fought against established religion all his life. Jefferson asked “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis – the conviction in the minds of the people that their liberties are the gift of God.”

Kemp expressed sympathy for teachers and children in schools today who are given “inalienable rights” by their Creator but are not allowed to praise or pray to that creator. To him it is unthinkable that a judge has ruled the Ten Commandments “unconstitutional” when posted on a school bulletin board. By that reasoning even our Declaration of Independence might be interpreted as unconstitutional because of its references to God.

Is all of this talk by Jack Kemp just the political rhetoric of a man who would like to one day be President? I might be tempted to think so if he had not been saying the same things for so many years. Like Barbara Mandrell, who “was country when country wasn’t cool," Jack Kemp was an outspoken evangelical Christian long before it was politically expedient to be so. His stand goes all the way back to the days when, as a professional football player, he involved himself wholeheartedly in the National Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Kemp’s colleague in the Congress, the brilliant Newt Gingrich of Georgia, credits him with being “the man who first created the positive optimism which President Reagan articulates so well.”

To Jack Kemp, God is not just a political issue; He is an intimate personal friend. Kemp believes the most important thing in life is to realize mankind is God’s creation and none of us are here by accident. The Christian’s highest calling is not to vote Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, but to know God and be involved in fulfilling His higher purpose for our world.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Historical Sign that Changed my Life

When a person sets out to visit each of the 3,141 counties or their equivilents in the United States, as I am doing, he never knows what unexpected discoveries he may make.

This simple interpretative sign at Tannehill Historical State Park was a catalyst that made a deep and lasting impact on my life. When I first read it in December, 2004, I would never have imagined the quest for knowledge on which it would lead me.

I had read countless other such signs during my travels, but for some unknown reason this one particular one on that particular day resonated deeply with me - especially the simple description of actions taken by Union troops from Iowa who were here during the latter days of the War Between the States:

"... they torched all the adjacent factory buildings, slave cabins, a large gristmill and tannery and a storehouse for food and supplies. In the fire Tannehill’s workforce of over 500 slaves and white mechanics were scattered and displaced."

Whoa, I thought! The Yankees burned the slave cabins along with those of the white workers? Hundreds of people were left with no shelter, no food, and nowhere to go?

Although I grew up in the South, all my life I had been told that the Union troops marched south to free the slaves. If that were so, then why did the Northerners burn the slaves out, leaving them destitute, homeless and hungry. Elsewhere on the grounds of the Tannehill Historical State Park I saw a large patch of woods, marked as the site of scores of slave cabins which the Yankees had ransacked, plundered and then destroyed - cabins that would have been equal to those my own Irish and Cherokee ancestors lived in during the same era in Alabama and Georgia.

I began to make the connection to other discoveries I had made during my travels, such as a monument to black Confederate soldiers in Mississippi and an antebellum plantation in Louisiana owned by a black family who were slaveholders. I had dismissed these things as flukes, but now I saw there was a patteren which contradicted most of what I had always assumed I knew about the War Between the States.

It occurred to me that somebody was lying about what really happened during the so called Civil War, and I determined to find out the truth.

Since that fateful day I have spent thousands of hours studying about the Confederacy, the causes of secession, and the War Between the States. As I have read scores of books, I have continued to visit hundreds of historical sites, now looking for clues to the real story, unvarnished by political correctness. To say that the things I have learned have been an eyeopener is an understatement.

Okay, I don't have room on this post to get up on my soapbox and tell it all here in this description. Much more time and space would be required to do that. Some of the things I am learning I am now now sharing on a blog. I hope you'll check it out:

Friday, January 09, 2009

Taking on the Bank

When the biggest bank in town sends you a check for $5.87, and the check bounces, you know its gong to be a bad day.

The check was a refund for overpayment on a loan I had paid off. Nothing on the check indicated that it expired if not cashed within a certain time limit.

I carried the bounced check to the bank’s downtown office and presented it to a teller. “You own me $35.87,” I said, “including $30 for the bounced check fee.” The teller informed me that she was not authorized to pay the fee. She directed me to one of the bank’s vice presidents who was sitting behind a big desk on the other side of the lobby.

The vice president had an air about him that must be a requirement for someone in his position. He could smile, be polite, and put you down at the same time. “Mr. Conn,” he said, “We will be happy to pay you the $5.87, but where do you get the idea that we owe you an additional $30?

“Because your check bounced,” I replied. “And that’s my fee for a bounced check.”

"We can’t pay such a fee,” he protested, his face turning red. “It’s not our policy.”

“Mr. Vice President, once I wrote out a check to his bank, and because of a miscalculation in my arithmetic, the check was returned. You charged me a $30 fee. Why was that?” I asked.

Because that’s our policy,” he explained.

“That’s my policy, too.” I answered. “Give me the $30.”

The V.P. looked at the check carefully. “This isn’t even our check.” He said “It actually came from a bank in New York. You’ll have to see them.”

“Who’s name is n the check?” I asked.

“That’s our name,” he kept explaining. “But the account number shows the money actually came from a bank in New York, and we are only acting as their agent.”

“Your name’s on the check; the check bounced; you owe me $30,” I demanded.

“This is highly irregular,” the V.P. muttered. “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I can take this up with our board. Come back and see me next week.”

“Mr. V.P.,” I said, “I’m a very busy man. My time is valuable and I live 14 miles from this office. If I have to come back to collect later the amount you owe be will be considerably more than it is now. I’ll have to add my expenses and collection fees to what you already owe me, and I don’t think you want that.”

“I’m sorry,” he bluffed, “but I can’t help you.”

“Then perhaps I need to see the bank president,” I said. “Obviously you don’t have the authority to make a $30 decision.”

The V.P.’s face turned a brighter shade of red and the veins bulged from beneath his starched white collar. “I have all the authority I need,” he insisted.

“Then pay me what you owe me.”

“I’m very busy now. If you don’t mind just wait right over there,” He motioned me to a chair at the far end of the reception area.

I pulled my chair up closer to his desk. “I’m quite comfortable right here. I think I’ll just stay where you won’t forget me.”

For 10 or 12 uneasy minutes the V.P. shuffled some papers around his desk. He looked everywhere but in my direction. Finally he stood, “Mr. Conn, the bank closes in one hour. I have an important appointment so I must be going now, and I’m afraid you’ll have to go too.”

“I’m not leaving until I collect my fee.” I said.

“If you’re still here when we close I’ll call security to have you removed,” he threatened.

“Get some strong men,” I replied, “Because they’ll have to carry me out.” The V.P. turned and walked out briskly, leaving me sitting alone beside his desk.

Time passed slowly. Ten minutes, 20, then half an hour. I wondered if I was doing he right thing. There was no doubt in my mind that the bounced check fee I had demanded from the bank was justified. But I didn’t know how well it would sit with my congregation if I were arrested. I imagined the headline in tomorrow morning’s paper. “Local pastor arrested trying to collect bounced check fee from bank.”

Fifty minutes passed. I thought about justice – about big business taking advantage of the little consumer. And I thought about Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple.

It was time for the bank to close. I eyed the security guard as he watched me from across the lobby. Then, through a reflection in the plate glass I saw the V.P. coming toward me. A check was in his hand. “Okay,” he said, “here’s your $35.87. I hope you’re happy.”

“Oh, no,” I responded, “not a check. The last time this bank wrote me a check it bounced. I want cash.”

“The V.P. took the check over to a cashier and returned shortly with $35 in crisp new bills and 87 cents in change. Justice had prevailed.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Not Yours to Give

Davy Crockett

God give us people in Congress today with Davy Crockett's insight and integrity.

"Not Yours To Give"

By Col. David Crockett, US Representative from Tennessee

Originally published in "The Life of Colonel David Crockett," by Edward Sylvester Ellis.
Provided as a courtesy by US Rep. Ron Paul (

One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

"Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

"Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

Later, when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett gave this explanation:

"Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made houseless, and besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done.

"The next summer, when it began to be time to think about election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up. When riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came up, I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but as I thought, rather coldly.

"I began: 'Well friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates and---
"Yes I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine, I shall not vote for you again."

"This was a sockdolger...I begged him tell me what was the matter.

"Well Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting you or wounding you.'

"I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest.

But an understanding of the constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the honest he is.'

"'I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake. Though I live in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by fire in Georgetown. Is that true?

"Well my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just the same as I did.'

"It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means.

What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he.

If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give at all; and as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. 'No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity.'

"'Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this country as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have Thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.'

"The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from necessity of giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.'

"'So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.'

"I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go to talking and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I was so fully convinced that he was right, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:

"Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.'

"He laughingly replied; 'Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.'

"If I don't, said I, 'I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.'

"No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. 'This Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.

"'Well I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name."
"'My name is Bunce.'

"'Not Horatio Bunce?'


"'Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me, but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend.'
"It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence, and for a heart brim-full and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him, before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

"At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.

"Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before."

"I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him - no, that is not the word - I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if every one who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

"But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted - at least, they all knew me.

"In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered up around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:

"Fellow-citizens - I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only."

"I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

"And now, fellow-citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.

"It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit for it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.'
"He came up to the stand and said:

"Fellow-citizens - it affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.'

"He went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.'

"I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.'

"Now, sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday. "There is one thing which I will call your attention, "you remember that I proposed to give a week's pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men - men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased--a debt which could not be paid by money--and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it."
Col. Crockett later died defending liberty at the Battle of the Alamo, in the War for Texas Independence.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Happiness is a Journey

It is called the longest continuously marked footpath in the world. For over two thousand miles the Appalachian Trail winds its way over the ridgetops and mountains of Eastern America from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. It has been described as “remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, the trail leads not merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind and soul of man.”

The lure of the trail is almost irresistible to some people. I am one of them, fascinated by the mystique and challenge of the remote and rugged terrain.

I first started talking and dreaming about the trail when I was in high school. A few years later I took my first sixty-mile backpacking trip on the Trail with my brother Bruce. Now I have hiked about one thousand miles of the trail altogether. That’s a lot of steps. Still I have a very long way to go in completing my lifetime goal of walking the trail, by bits and pieces, end to end.

Of the many thousands who have sampled parts of the Appalachian Tail, a relatively small number – a few hundred – have ever finished it. Some of those who have accomplished the feat have commented on a sense of being let down after reaching their goal.

Perhaps at the end of the trail is the discovery that joy is found not in arriving but in striving. Happiness in life is not a destination; it is a journey.

That’s one of the great things about walking the Christian pathway. God offers His followers much more than eternal life in the by-and-by. He gives abundant life in the here and now. Getting to heaven is half the fun.

America is a Republic, not a Democracy

The United States of America is not a democracy; it is a Republic. And for that every freedom-loving American should be grateful.

In a true democracy one person gets one vote and the whim of the majority becomes law. If the majority happens to be unreasonable, greedy, bigoted or hostile, there is little those in the minority can do but suffer the consequences.

One of the most democratic meetings in recorded history took place in the Middle East almost 2,000 years ago an unpopular and falsely accused young Hebrew teacher stood before a judge. The young man had committed no crime and the court was unable to find fault in him.

If the scene had taken place in 21st century America the judge would have declared a mistrial and would have released the prisoner. Despite the fact that the young Hebrew was the leader of an unpopular minority group, his rights would have been guaranteed under our Constitution.

Even first century Roman law would have protected Jesus. But Judge Pontius Pilate was a cheap politician who was not above giving the populace wanted if it would curry their favor. In violation of his own government’s high principles, Pilate turned his courtroom into a complete democracy. Everyone got one vote – men, women, children masters, servants – everyone. The verdict came quickly and decisively. “Crucify Him!” Democracy turned to mob-ocracy, and a despised but innocent man was nailed to a cross.

Because the Founding Fathers of our country knew the majority is not always right, they established a republic. The late Chief Justice John Marshall, who presided over the United States Supreme Court for 34 years, was called “the second maker of the Constitution.” He said, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

The key word in Marshall’s statement is “balanced.” There are many republics in our world, and vast differences separate them. My travels have allowed me to see several of these firsthand. Consider the beautiful Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Occupying the western third of the island is the Republic of Haiti. Here in the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere the majority of the populace is illiterate and superstitious, and the average life expectancy is about 33 years. Although classed as a republic, Haiti has a long history of being ruled by a dictator who cared little about his people.

On the other end of the island, the Dominican Republic is also a poor country, but an elected president and legislature control the government. To travel from one end of the island o the other is to see two totally different worlds, the Dominican Republic having a vastly superior system.

To journey from the People’s Republic of China (Mainland) to the Republic of China (Taiwan) is to go from darkness into light. The People’s Republic of China is a republic in name only. Personal freedom is so limited in this communistic dictatorship that a person gets the feeling he is touring an immense prison camp. The contrast of Taiwan with its free enterprise system is startling to say the least.

So a republic is not necessarily a republic. The United States is distinguished from other republics of the world by our Constitution, which guards every citizen’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the Declaration of Independence, those inalienable rights are given to man not by the government, but by the Creator Himself.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution.”

So stand tall and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving the next time you pledge allegiance to our flag “and to the republic for which it stands, one nation. under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Honest Doubt Can Lead to Faith

As a believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I have tremendous respect and appreciation for honest doubters. There may be more hope for a sincere skeptic than for the shallow believer who is too easily swayed by any wind that blows.

It is not unusual to hear some preachers and Sunday School teachers criticizing the Apostle Thomas for his lack of faith. “Doubting Thomas,” they call him. On that first Easter following the resurrection of Christ, he was the one of Jesus’ disciples for whom the empty tomb was not proof enough of the resurrection.

But instead of being a worse doubter than the other disciples, perhaps Thomas was simply displaying more intellectual honesty. Earlier there had been occasions when he seemed to have a more courageous faith than the rest of the 12 apostles.

When Jesus was determined to go to Bethany where He would raise Lazarus from the dead, the other disciples were fearful that the trip would be too risky, considering the increasingly hostile sentiments against Jesus in the area. They tried desperately to dissuade Jesus from making the trip - but not Thomas. This sometimes doubter bravely challenged his brethren, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:16. That was real faith.

A short time later Jesus spoke to his disciples concerning the place in heaven He was going to prepare for them. Not a one of the 12 fully understood what Jesus was saying, but only Thomas was truthful enough to admit it. He responded, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

That wasn’t doubt; it was honesty. Because Thomas was willing to risk looking ignorant in order to ask an honest question, we have Jesus’ unforgettable answer, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.

On the evening of the resurrection Jesus presented himself to only 10 of his apostles. Judas was dead; Thomas was nowhere to be found. Wherever he was it is certain Thomas was confused, disillusioned, and demoralized – full of doubt.

Later Thomas told his fellow disciples he could not believe in the resurrection until he personally touched the wounds of the crucifixion. In eight days Thomas got that opportunity. With faith renewed he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” John 20:26-29.

For Thomas, a sincere questioning doubt became the foundation of an unshakable faith. He became a missionary and carried the gospel to Parthia, Persia (Iran), and finally to India. The indigenous Christian Church in India today can trace its beginnings to the ministry of Thomas in the first century. Mount St. Thomas, near Madras, memorializes his name.

The proof of Thomas’ faith came when as an old man in India he died a martyr’s death. His life was not taken because he shared the beauty and wisdom of Jesus. No one objected to that. But it was Thomas’ insistence upon the resurrection of Christ from the dead that incited his murder. So resolute was Thomas in his faith in the risen Lord that he would rather die than recant.

The transformation in Thomas and the other apostles is to me the greatest proof of the resurrection. With them Christians everywhere echo the prayer, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Monday, January 05, 2009

Church Hoppers are little help to the Kingdom of God

Surely one of the greatest frustrations of pastoring a church in our generation is that we live in the day of the roving church member.

When two Christian acquaintances meet on the street, after not having seen each other for a few months, the conversation often goes like this: “How are you? How’s your family? Where are you going to church now?” People are almost expected to switch places of worship every year or so.

Instead of becoming committed members, many are instead connoisseurs of churches. They taste one and another, becoming more acutely critical of any and all churches as time goes by. Often such roving Christians develop an attitude of spiritual superiority, sitting in judgment over the churches they visit and seeing themselves as somewhat above any of them.

Such shiftless souls are of little use to the kingdom of God. They vote for a building project, then walk away without paying for it. They demand programs, but can’t be counted on to implement them. They know exactly what the church should be like, but no such church exists. They shop for a place to worship much as they do a place to buy groceries – following the specials of the week or their own whims.

When I started pastoring, in the 1960s, things were very different. Most Christians seemed to be committed to a home church. They would rather fight than switch. Some of them did fight – literally. But even as they feuded and fussed they stayed true to their church. They might run the preacher off, but nobody was going to budge them.

That system had its drawbacks but such dogged commitment could be healthy. Sometimes it forced people to face up to their own problems.

We pastors have not necessarily caused the problem of the roving member, but all too often we have encouraged it by our spirit of competition. Perhaps we could remedy the situation by being more careful in the matter of transferring members.

Most churches still follow the practice of sending a letter of transfer when a parishioner moves from one local congregation to another. However, it is often an after-the-fact formality for the purpose of record keeping, rather than an actual recommendation.

The tradition dates back to the first century. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.”

But what if the person who is doing the church-hopping is not such a worthy saint? In all the 35 years I have been a pastor I do not recall ever having received a letter stating that the member coming my was is a self-serving, power-hungry, hypocritical trouble-maker. I’ve always had to discover those characteristics the hard way.

A man who once joined my congregation came to us from another church where he said he was rejected because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. It didn’t take me long to discover that this man’s spirit was something other than holy. He caused untold heartache before he finally moved on.

To my knowledge that man belonged to no less than eight different churches during the next six years after he left us. He was a contentious and divisive factor in all of them. Fortunately for the church, the last I heard of him he has not attended church regularly anywhere for many years now. The man says that none of the churches in his city meet his standards.

The apostle Paul also encountered such men. He did non just send them on down the line to another assembly with the attitude of “sheep stealer beware.” He wrote of a fellow churchman, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.”

What would happen if every pastor in a city would covenant together that one would not receive a member from another without such an honest recommendation? We could save ourselves a lot of grief.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Better Preaching Requires Better Listening

There will always be a place in our world for the person who can preach a better sermon. But there is also plenty of room for better listeners. God preaching, as with all forms of communication, is a two-way street.

It has long amazed me how four people sitting on the same pew on a Sunday morning can hear four distinctly different messages. It happens frequently.

After the service they come by to shake my hand and comment on the sermon. Each will say I spoke to his or her particular need. If I question them, I learn the needs to which they refer are entirely different.

When that happens, it means the listening was at least as good as the preaching. I attribute this phenomenon to the work of the Holy Spirit who anoints the ears and mind of each worshiper to receive God’s Word according to his or her deepest need of the moment.

The reactions of some people in church remind me of four men who climbed a mountain. The first didn’t enjoy a thing because of his aching feet. The second kept his eyes on the dark clouds and worried the whole trip about a storm which never came. The third looked down looked down at the lovely farms nestled in the valley below and was filled with envy because he didn’t have such a farm.

The fourth man, breathing deeply of the rare mountain air, lifted up his eyes with wonder and appreciation for the magnificent view. He forgot earthly cares for the moment as he allowed his spirit to soar with the summit. This man is the only one who had a true mountaintop experience.

What do you get out of church? It blesses many people, bores others, and may even cause some to become depressed or bitter.

If a person never gets anything good from the service it may mean he or she needs to change churches. But more than likely the problem is within the person. A Jewish proverb says that to a worm in horseradish the whole world is horseradish. The apostle Paul said, “to the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact both their minds and consciences are corrupted.”

Here’s how you can hear a great sermon this Lord’s Day. Don just drag your sour carcass into the church and plop it down on the back seat with an expression which says, “I’d rather not be here, and I dare you to bless me.” The best preacher in town will bore you to tears, or maybe make you angry.”

Instead, prepare yourself for worship with a pure heart. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise….”Psalm 100:4. Lift up holy hands before a loving Father and worship Him in spirit and in truth. Get your eyes off of the people around you and focus on Jesus.

The improvement in your pastor’s sermons will amaze you.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

God Governs - if we let Him

In the city of Key West, Florida, the local ministerial association refused to offer opening prayers at city commission meetings because “It does no good.” “Why pray for guidance,” one pastor reasoned, “when they (the commissioners) have already decided what they are going to do.?”

Those pastors have much in common with in common with some Marxist groups who would like to see all vestiges of religion erased from public life in America. Neither believes that prayer can make any difference. Thankfully, not everyone agrees.

In July 1983 the United State Supreme Court upheld the right of state legislatures to open their sessions with prayer. The court ruled that lawmakers in Nebraska did not violate the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of a state religion by hiring a chaplain. In most states, as well as the United States congress, each session of the House and Senate are opened with prayer.

In Michigan it is the legislatures themselves who usually provide the invocation. The prayers can range from the solemn to the sarcastic, and many are humorous.

State Rep. John Maynard prayed, “Give us wisdom and the patience to correct the Senate’s work.” Another pleaded, “Help us avoid adding to the perception that the state capital is an island of confusion surrounded by a sea of reality.” A prayer offered by a Republican representative was, “Teach us, Lord, that you are not a Republican. Comfort us with the knowledge that neither are You a Democrat.”

One of my favorites is the prayer of the Rev. Fred Holloman, chaplain of the Kansas state Senate. “Omniscient Father,” he intoned over the bowed heads of the senators, “help us to know who is telling the truth. One side tells us one thing and the other just the opposite. And if neither side is telling the truth, we would like to know that too. And if each side is telling half truth, give us the wisdom to put the right halves together. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

It has been my personal privilege to pray for the opening sessions of state legislatures, county commission meets, school board meetings and more. That the same custom is not allowed in our public schools is a shame. The tradition of such prayers before governing bodies in America is as old as our nation itself.

The Constitutional Convention had been in session in Philadelphia for more than a month in 1787. The debate had been heated and futile. George Washington earnestly reasoned with the delegates, “It is probable that no plan we propose will be adopted.” He said “If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God.

At that crucial moment an elderly statesman slowly rose to his feet. It was Benjamin Franklin, and his speech proved to be the turning point in the convention. Franklin reproved the delegates for their neglect of prayer, reminding them that during the dangerous struggle for independence “we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection.” He asked, “Have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?

“I have lived, Sir, a long time,” the elder statesman continued, “and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”

From that time on, each session of the convention was opened with a prayer led by a member of the clergy from the city of Philadelphia, imploring God’s assistance in the framing of the new Constitution.

Many people view public prayer before our governing bodies as just a meaningless form. I still believe, like Franklin, that “God governs in the affairs of men,” if we let Him.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Jesus Never Called Anyone a Sinner

“Jesus said, ‘If you don’t get born again you’re gonna split Hell wide open,’” The evangelist thundered as he slammed his clenched fist onto the pulpit. His large audience sat piously and nodded their affirmation as the sound of the preacher’s voice reverberated through the auditorium and into thousands of homes via a nationwide television hookup.

I cringed and sat uneasily in my easy chair. I thought, “This man preaches hell as though he can’t wait to see somebody sizzle.”

I call myself “born again;” I call the man on television “brother.” Yet at best he was giving an unbelievably bad paraphrase of Jesus’ words, and at worst he is grossly misquoting our Lord.

Jesus didn’t try to take the bad from our lives by threatening something worse, but by offering something better.

Having been reared in a church environment which provided plenty of “hell-fire-and-brimstone” preaching, one of the most startling discoveries I made as a young Christ was this: Jesus never called anyone a sinner!

Now the Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned and come short of the Glory of god. Jesus knew that. He was familiar with Old Testament texts such as Ecclesiastes 7:20, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”

In truth, Jesus did His share of angry red hot preaching. He didn’t mind calling people “white-washed tombs” and “generation of vipers.” But look carefully and you will notice that such messages were never directed at bald faced sinners – rather they were to self-righteous religious leaders – hypocrites.

To the sinner who knew he was a sinner Jesus had nothing to offer but love, mercy and forgiveness. He saw all human faults, yet he didn’t major in pointing them out. Instead, He specialized in telling everyone what good and wonderful people they could become through faith in Him.

One beautiful example is Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. When Jesus met that poor woman, He knew she had been married and divorced five times, and was now living with a man to whom she was not married. Jesus didn't comdemn her; he didn't have to. She already knew she was a sinner.

In essense, Jesus said to the woman, "I know who you are; I know where you have been; I know what you have done. Woman, wouldn't you rather have a drink from a fountain of living water that really satisfies?"

She answered “Yes,” and took one deep, everlasting guzzle. Immediately the woman dropped her water pot and ran all the way back to town carrying a well within her. She hit the city limits crying, “Come see a Man!” And the town of Sychar was never the same again.

That has always been Jesus’ style. It always will be. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hanukkah is not for Jews Only

Christian people everywhere should join with their Jewish friends in celebrating Hanukkah. Also called the “Feast of Lights” or the "Feast of Dedication," Perhaps most Christians lightly dismiss Hanukkah as if it were only a Jewish substitute for Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Hanukkah tradition was already 200 years old when Jesus went to Jerusalem in winter for the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah.

It is as much a part of our Judeo-Christian heritage as are the stories of Abraham, Moses and David.The full account is found in the apocryphal books of the Maccabees, which fill the historical gap between the Old and new Testaments of the Christian faith.

Antiochus IV sat on the Greco-Syrian throne and he was hell-bent on ridding the world of the Jewish monotheistic faith in Jehovah God. The atrocities and blasphemies he committed against the Jewish people were unthinkable. It was a holocaust.

All vestiges of Judaism were to be eradicated. Any Jewish practice or worship was a capital offense. Even Jewish mothers who circumcised their sons were put to death and their corpses raised on poles in public display, with their infants hanging around their necks. Worst of all, the temple in Jerusalem was polluted and called the temple of Jupiter Olympius. II Maccabees 6:4-5 says “the temple was filled with riot and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and had to do with women within the circuit of the holy places … The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbiddeth.”

Refusing to bow to the pagan Syrian idols, a few rebels fled to the Judean hills. From these a young warrior named Judas Maccabeus (The Hammer) arose as the leader of the first band of guerrilla warriors in history.

Israel’s tattered forces were few in number and ill equipped to wage war. After three years of fighting it looked as if they would soon be totally defeated. They faced the best equipped and most highly trained army then on the face of the earth, under General Lysias.For every half dozen Jewish guerrillas, there were a hundred Syrians, including well disciplined foot soldiers, mounted horsemen, and seemingly invincible spearmen astride armored elephants. The odds against Judas Maccabeus’ band were as great as they had been against the defenseless Hebrew nation when the Red Sea lay in front of them and Pharaoh’s army was in hot pursuit to their rear. They had no more of a fighting chance than did Joshua when he marched around the mighty walled city of Jericho. In comparison to General Lysias, Judah must have look like a shepherd boy with a sling facing a giant in armor.

Like David before him, Judas the Maccabee realized that “the battle is the Lord’s.” The Hammer cried out to this angry men, “Do not be afraid of them. In the sight of heaven there is no difference between the deliverance by many or by few.”

That day, the 25th day of Kislev, 165 B.C., will forever be remembered. It was a massacre. The Syrian forces were annihilated; the city of Jerusalem was recovered. Maccabeus and his company cleansed the temple and rebuilt the altar.According to the Hanukkah legend, only a one day supply of holy oil could be found to light the lampstand required in rededicating the altar. It would take eight days to prepare more. Miraculously, that one day’s supply of oil lasted the entire eight days. God had confirmed his people’s worship in a supernatural manner.

Christians, Jews and people everywhere who cherish the freedom of worship should never forget the story of Hanukkah.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Blanket and the Chandelier: Civil War Relics tell of Compassion and War Crimes

I have just returned from a road trip which took me through the beautiful little town of Litchfield, Minnesota, in my ongoing quest to visit every one of the 3,141 counties in the United States.

Such trips always turn up unexpected gems. One I discovered in Litchfield was the historic Grand Army of the Republic Hall, the only one of its kind remaining in the state of Minnesota and one of only three in the United States. The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization of men who were veterans of the Union army who fought in the War Between the States, 1861-1865.

Today the old hall still stands much as it did well over a century ago. It is now used as a museum to preserve relics and records of America's tragic and unnecessary conflict, often misnamed the Civil War.Being a history buff, and a descendent of several Confederate veterans, I have long had a special interest in the War Between the States, so I enjoyed visiting this historic old hall and exploring many of the exhibits.

When the nice lady at the GAR Museum learned that I was a grandson of Confederate veterans, she took me over to see this small case with a display of Confederate items. In it was obsolete Confederate currency, a saber which was like those used by both Union and Confederate soldiers, and a very interesting wool Confederate Blanket.

The blanket was brought back to Minnesota after the war by a Union Soldier, Sargent Marty, who was in the First Minnesota Volunteers. As Sargent Marty lay wounded on the battlefield at Gettysburg, an unknown Southern soldier came and covered the enemy with his own blanket.

Marty survived the War and brought the blanket back to Minnesota, where it was preserved for many generations by his family, before being donated to the museum.

Another very interesting artifact in the Grand Army of the Republic Museum is the ornate chandelier which hangs over the old meeting hall. There are two stories of the origin of the chandelier. One is that it was originally from a bordello in New Orleans, Louisiana. The other is that it was brought back to Minnesota from the South as a part of the "spoils of war." Perhaps both stories are true.

The War Between the States, was fought mostly on Southern soil by Northern aggressors. When Union soldiers captured a town or even a farm in the Confederate States it was very common for them to steal every item of value and destroy that which they could not carry away. Such plunder was clearly criminal according to the established rules of war, and a vile and evil act according to every standard of human decency. Yet the rape of the South was overlooked or even encouraged by Northern generals such as Sherman and Grant. Because the North won the war, such despicable actions were never punished.

Here is but one quote from a Union invader of Louisiana from the "Official Records: War of the Rebellion" published by the United States Government after their subjugation of the South: "No squad of men ... can live anywhere we have been. The people have neither seed, corn, nor bread, or mills to grind the corn if they had it, as I burned them wherever found.... I have taken from these people the mules with which they would raise a crop the coming year, and burned every surplus grain of corn...."

General William T. Sherman wrote from Vicksburg on January 31, 1864: "The Government of the United States has ... any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war - to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything .... To the persistent secessionist, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better."

The chandelier, which is a symbol of these heinious atrocities against innocent civilians, hangs in the GAR museum in Litchfield to their shame, and they don't even seem to realize it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Working for Eternal Rewards: The Byrd Family

Manns Choice, Pennsylvania – It’s Sunday evening and 184 people are crowded into the local Church of God. The pastor notes that that’s more than half the population of this small town in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania.

They’ve all come out to hear the Byrd Family, country gospel musicians and singers from Georgia. I’m traveling with the group this week, preaching after they play and sing.

After a hymn and a prayer, the pastor introduces Randy Byrd, who opens with a few rousing notes on the fiddle. It’s a foot stomping, hand clapping piece. “Let’s all go down to the river; there’s a man walking on the water….”

For the second verse of the song Randy switches from the fiddle to he five-sting banjo, and then on the third verse he plays the guitar. In a typical concert he will play five different string instruments and, and he’s master of them all.

Randy’s father, Darvin Byrd, plays rhythm guitar and sings lead for the group. In his younger years Darvin was manager for Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. Then in 1958, Darvin found the Lord. That’s when he left the Nashville scene and formed a family evangelistic team with his wife, who was a licensed Pentecostal evangelist.

Randy was only 7 when his family hit the road for Jesus. Today he jokingly says, “I wasn’t called into the ministry. I was yanked into the ministry. My parents said, ‘Get up there and play that fiddle, boy, or you won’t eat.’” Randy, who now manages the group, has been traveling full-time ever since.

Mama Byrd went on to her eternal reward in 1972. That was not before Randy married Mary, who he met at the University of Tennessee. Although Mary was a Catholic from Toledo, Ohio, she has a good voice and blends with the family perfectly. Today Randy and Mary’s two youngest children, Joseph and Sarah, fill out the group.

Joseph, who plays bass guitar and sings solos, became the youngest person ever (at age 4) to join the American Federation of Musicians. Sarah, a bubbly teenager, has a beautiful soprano voice. Her father teasingly calls her “The world’s only bluegrass percussionist.”

This morning the Byrd Family led the morning worship service at a church in Boonesboro, Maryland. Tomorrow night we will be in Hanover, Pennsylvania, then back south of the Mason-Dixon line into Maryland again for two more dates before returning to Georgia for a couple of days.

Last week the Byrd Family sang in Florida. Next week it will be on to South Carolina, and then back up into the eastern shore of Maryland and Delaware. Almost non-stop they criss-cross the eastern states from Maine to Florida, and as far west as the Kansas/Colorado border large and small of all denominations.

I wondered: What makes them keep pushing so hard? Could it be the romance of the road? Just one week of traveling with them makes me doubt it. The romance soon wears thin; sleeping on the bus in a Burger King parking lot, traveling long distances between churches, arriving early to set up, and then having to stay late to tear down the sound equipment. There is an element of excitement, but is mostly plain hard work.

Could it be they are in it for the money? That couldn’t be the case as Randy has turned down many offers to wok in secular music for many times his current earnings. The Byrd Family members do not see themselves as entertainers or professional musicians, but as ministers of the Gospel. They never set a price, but live only on the free-will love-offerings of the people to whom they minister.

On this tour five pastors in a row have apologized for the small offering. Each has said, “I’m sure the next church will make it up to you.” But the next church never does.

The Byrd Family completed their package of songs in Manns Choice and I preached. They returned to the platform for the altar call. While they sang and the pastor and I waited, more than a dozen souls came forward to seek the Saviour. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. Families were reunited; the whole community was blessed. God received the glory.

The Byrd Family barely received enough offering to get them to their next engagement, but it had been worth it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Biblical Answer to Terrorism

Few things in the world give mankind a greater sense of fear or helplessness than does international terrorism. According to one count, a major terrorist incident happens somewhere on our planet once every three hours. Terrorism unrestrained not only afflicts the innocent but has the potential to immobilize governments and wreak havoc on civilization itself.

Much of the terrorism making today’s headlines centers around the tiny nation of Israel. That’s nothing new, for satanically inspired terrorists have plagued Israel since ancient times. The remedy for terrorism then is still applicable today.

In the 13th century B.C., Israel was the brunt of severe terrorist activity by marauders from Midian, Amalek and other neighboring nations. The land of Israel was repeatedly plundered by these “hijackers” until the people were reduced to abject poverty and many fled to the mountains where they hid out in caves and dens.

At last the people of Israel began to cry out to God to deliver them. In answer to their prayers an angel appeared to one of the least likely persons imaginable, a man named Gideon, and gave him instructions on how to end the terrorism.

Gideon’s family was the poorest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and he was the least respected of the entire family. At the very moment the angel appeared to Gideon he was on his father’s farm threshing wheat while hiding in the bottom of a pit for fear of the Midianites.

God’s messenger instructed Gideon that the way to deal with terrorism was not to hide from his persecutors, but to recruit an army to fight them. Gideon did not take a defensive stance, but with a select hand-picked corps of 300 men he crept up on the main encampment of his enemies during the night. Just after midnight Gideon’s small band surprised the enemy with a piece of strategy which involved psychological warfare. The sleeping terrorists were so confused and frightened that they began fighting and killing one another in a mad frenzy. The Midianites who survived fled into the night. Gideon then called upon Israel’s allies to join in the chase.

During his pursuit of the Midianites, Gideon captured a young soldier from Succoth. Unlike the captured terrorists who we have recently seen freed to return to their diabolical activities, Gideon forced this young soldier to give him the names of all the 77 leaders of the mob. He then returned to the city of Succoth and rounded up the instigators of the terrorism. Although these hoodlums were disguised as political and religious leaders, they were arrested and promptly executed.

Gideon’s actions would cause some dovish souls to see him as a man of violence and bloodshed. Actually Gideon was a man who loved peace and respected human life. By destroying a few terrorists he was insuring the peace and safety of a far greater number of innocent people.

Gideon had no political aspirations. Other tribal leaders of Israel were jealous of his success but Gideon was quick to share the credit and glory, telling them that their actions at the end of the battle were more important than his at the beginning. When the people of Israel tried to make Gideon king he refused their offer. All he wanted to do was live out the rest of his life in peace.

After his victory Gideon lived for 40 years, during which time Midian never recovered and there was no terrorism in Israel.

Those who intercede for peace would do well to pray for another Gideon, bold enough to act decisively against the terrorism so rampant in our world today, without thought for political power or personal glory.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Four Brothers in a Three Man Tent

There we were, four guys huddled together in a three-man tent for 48 hours, waiting out a snowstorm. What’s worse, it was the middle of July. It’s not our usual idea of how to spend a summer vacation.

We were camping at 11,000 feet, high above the timberline in the Titcum Basin of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Crowned by Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming at 13,785 feet, these glacier-spangled mountains are the most alpine in the American Rockies outside of Alaska.

The first two days of our adventure passed in beautiful sunny weather. We backpacked away from civilization into the spectacular Bridger Wilderness area. We were 25 miles from the nearest forest service road when the storm hit. On a small patch of high mountain meadow, surrounded by rocks and snowfields, we pitched our tent to shelter ourselves from what we expected to be a brief summer shower.

Temperatures were in the 30s when the storm struck. It began to rain and hail, then turned to freezing rain, sleet and finally snow. The temperature dropped to 25 degrees. Winds gusting at 60 miles per hour made it seem much colder.

We sought warmth in our sleeping bags, Evening came, then morning, as the storm continued. A short break in the clouds around mid-day gave us hope, and we took the chance to stretch our legs. Then the sky turned black again; the wind increased; the storm worsened.

A sound almost like thunder echoed several times during the afternoon. We peered from our tent. Avalanches of rock and snow rumbled and crashed, as if in slow motion, down the vertical granite walls of Freemont Peak and the other mountains rising a half-mile above us.

The second night of the storm seemed longer than the first. Finally, on the afternoon of the third day it was over. The evening alpenglow on the peaks was especially glorious. The stars shone with an unusual brilliance through with an unusual brilliance through the rarefied mountain atmosphere. The next morning, fragile multicolored wildflowers poked their way through the melting snow and it looked like springtime.

Backpacking in Wyoming, and even a summer snowstorm, was fabulous.

The most memorable part, however, was spending two days and nights with four guys in a three-man tent. What made it even more special was the fact that we are all brothers.

While shivering and waiting out the storm we talked, laughed, prayed, sang, reminisced, debated theology and politics, got on each other’s nerves, let our hair down, and generally had a grand time. A week earlier I had sweltered in 99-degree heat with humidity to match at a church youth camp in Georgia. It hardly seemed possible.

My brothers and I grew up in Tennessee, as part of a family of 12 children, but our separate paths had scattered us. At the time of this adventure we lived in four different states. Bruce and Jeff were both university professors, Raymond a building contractor, and I a pastor. A three man tent in the mountains of western Wyoming reminded us how close we still are in spite of living very different lives.

I have thousands of acquaintances and a few good friends, but if four men are going to spend two days and nights in a three-man tent, it’s best if they are brothers. They’re special.

That’s the kind of relationship Jesus desires to have with us. He said “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

Sunday, June 18, 2006

You Can't Believe Your Eyes

How should a pastor react when he catches one of the deacons from his church out with another woman? My wife and I pondered that question over a candlelight dinner for two at a romantic restaurant on the riverfront.

I first saw them when the hostess seated the deacon and his lady friend at a table near the door. We were about halfway through our meal in the back of the darkened room. I was sure the deacon had not seen us.

I quietly asked my wife, “Isn’t that our deacon?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I’m sure it’s him, but who is that woman he’s with?” She didn’t look familiar to either of us.

“Maybe she’s just a business associate.” I suggested, “and they’re working late?” But that didn’t seem likely on a Saturday night, and in such an out-of-the-way place.

Then, as we watched, our deacon put his arm around the woman and gave her an all-too-friendly kiss on the cheek. “Perhaps she’s his sister,” I ventured.

“I know the man’s sister,” my wife replied, “and that woman is definitely not she.”

We both agreed the body language between the two seemed inappropriate for a married man out with another woman. And we told ourselves that surely there was a reasonable explanation.

We finished our dinner and lingered over coffee until it was time to go. The couple’s table sat between us and the exit. We considered detouring around it to avoid embarrassing them in a public place. Then we decided to just act normal and walk right past.

As we neared the table the deacon’s eyes caught mine. “Good evening, Stephen,” he greeted me cheerily.

“Hello,” I responded. Then turning to the woman a great sense of relief came over me. I saw his wife had cut and colored her hair and had lost several pounds. “You look lovely tonight,” I told her truthfully. “I hardly recognized you with your new hairstyle.”

As we walked out the front door I reminded myself of the old adage, “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.”

Some people may counter, “Seeing is believing.” But a person’s interpretation of what he sees can be totally wrong.


A minister friend shared with me the story of Mildred, a church gossip, and self-appointed monitor of the church's morals, who kept sticking her nose into other people's business. Several members did not approve of her extra curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence.

She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told George and several others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn't explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing.

Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred's house, walked home....and left it there all night.

Don't you just love old George?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Letter and Spirit of God’s Law

One of my little boys came into the house for the evening looking like any kid after a summer’s day of hard playing. I ordered him to go upstairs and get into the bathtub.

Thirty minutes later, my son reappeared in the den wearing clean pajamas, but his hands and feet obviously had not been washed. “Why didn’t you get in the tub?” I asked him.

“But, Daddy,” he protested. “I did get in the tub.”

He certainly had not had a bath, but his protest sounded sincere. I didn’t want to call my boy a liar. Then I remembered how it was when I was his age and said, “But you didn’t put any water in the tub, did you?”

“No, Sir,” he admitted. “You didn’t tell me I had to get wet.”

What was a father to do? Should I laugh? Should I punish my son for disobedience? Should I just be sure to remember next time to stipulate that water be in the tub? I asked him to sit down and told him it was about time I explained to him the differences between the letter and spirit of the law.

Regrettably, our American judicial system is one which does not balance the letter of the law with the spirit of it. The letter of the law, or legal technicalities, matter most. Because of this imbalance in our judicial system our newspapers are filled with reports of known murderers, thieves and admitted criminals who have been set free by our courts because they managed to come within the letter of the law, regardless of how much they violated the spirit of it.

In the courts of God we are judged both by the letter and the spirit of His law. Jesus’ sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is perhaps the best example on the subject ever given. Jesus made it clear that he had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He added a new spiritual dimension to the legalistic interpretation of the law given by the Pharisees.

As examples, Jesus pointed out that the letter of the law forbids murder, but the spirit of the law makes it just as wrong to hate. According to the letter of the law it is a sin to commit adultery, but the spirit of the law says that those who lust have committed the same sin in their hearts.

Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” but when it came to the legalistic religious people he could be very harsh. The Living Bible paraphrases His words: “Yes, woe unto you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders – hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but leave the more important things undone.” Matthew 21:23.

Once Jesus stopped for a drink of water at a well outside a village in Samaria. A woman there, one of the best known sinners in town, questioned Him concerning some legalities of God’s law. The answer Jesus gave her still applies to all God’s children everywhere: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Don't Worry; Be Happy!

That’s a simple sounding slogan but it’s a very tall order. Telling some people not to worry is like telling the sun not to shine.

Burdened by debt, Sir Walter Raleigh was once told by his physician to stop worrying or he would die. Raleigh replied, “I can’t stop worrying as long as that debt is over my head. It may kill me, but you might as well tell my cook to order the water in the kettle not to boil as to command my brain not to worry.

According to Dr. John A. Schindler, 50 percent of all people going to doctors in the United States are victims of one disease – worry. Out of 500 admissions to the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, fully 77 percent were sick of this same malady – worry.

Studies reveal that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. But worry may be then number one cause of heart disease.

Don’t worry; be happy,” is an idea at least as old as the Bible. King David, who had more reason to worry than most, said, “Do not fret because of evildoers.” Jesus admonished his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing….” All of this can be summed up as a command of God’s word, “Don’t worry; be happy.”

Anxiety is an insult to God. It demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s goodness and power. Here are four scriptural principles to help a person worry less and enjoy life more:

1. Invest time in working instead of fretting. Remember the Old Testament Prophet Elijah in his utter despair. God sent him back to work. Dr. Charles Mayo of the famed Mayo Clinic once said, “Worry effects the circulation – the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many have died from doubt.

2. Learn the difference between needs and wants. At the beginning of the 20th century sociologists reported that the average American wanted 72 things, 18 of which were necessary or important. When the 21st century dawned the want list had grown to 496 things, of which 96 are considered essential to happiness. In the first century the Apostle Paul listed only two absolute necessities, “… having food and clothing, let us be content.”

3. Concentrate on today. You can’t change the past, and most of the things we fear concerning the future never happen. Paul advised, “Forget those things which are past.” Matthew said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow … each day has trouble enough of its own.”

4. Focus on good things. Look to God instead of your circumstances. Sure you have problems, but God is greater. The prophet Isaiah said, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast.” Philippians 4:8 advises “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Despite all the good Scriptural and logical reasons not to worry, some people still insist on carrying around an unnecessary load of anxiety. They remind me of the fellow who set an elaborate scheme to keep the elephants out of his garden. When informed there were no elephants within a thousand miles he replied. “See, my system works.” His attitude was, “Don’t tell me that worry doesn’t do any good. I know better; the things I worry about don’t happen.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Song of the Shenandoah

The bear appeared an hour before sunset. When I first saw her she was more than one hundred yards away padding quietly through the deep mountain forest. She was a regal creature – a magnificent beast. I estimated her to be at least twice my two hundred pounds. Her twin cubs, less than a quarter her size, bumbled along behind like a pair of frisky puppies. After hiking almost one thousand miles solo along the Appalachian Trail, this black bear in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park was the first I had encountered.

The bruin walked self-assuredly, directly toward the log upon which I was sitting. My open backpack lay beside me. I stood to make sure she saw that a human was present. I had heard that a black bear would never make an unprovoked attack upon a human. I thought she would be frightened away upon sighting me. I was wrong on both counts.

She continued in my direction until not more than thirty feet away she stopped and sniffed the air. Her massive head bobbed slowly as she now paced deliberately back and forth in front of me. I nervously focused my camera and snapped a quick shot. Until that moment it did not occur to me that the brute might charge.

It happened with breathtaking suddenness. The powerful beast lowered her head, gave a deep “woof,” and hurled herself toward me like frightful black lightning. My mind screamed “Run!” but my body didn’t respond. I froze in horror.

As quickly as she had charged the bear skidded to an abrupt halt with only inches of empty space and my now-forgotten camera between us. Her wild ebony eyes fixed on mine and the stench of her breath was almost overpowering. She emitted a low grumbling sound so deep that it was more nearly felt than heard. The thought of what her knife-blade claws and dagger teeth could do sent a shudder through me and I felt the blood drain from my face. Every nerve ending of my body seemed charged as if by electricity.

Unwilling to accept the dark demon’s challenge, I slowly backed away. I dared not run for fear that any quick movement might provoke her. Silently I prayed that I would safely reach the nearest climbable tree some twenty yards distant.

From my perch I watched in semi-shock as the bruin buried her entire head into my open pack, lifted it, and snorted as she shook it violently. In a moment she emerged with a plastic bag of gorp (trail food) between her teeth and retreated to the base of a giant poplar nearby where she lay down, ripped the bag open with her sharp incisors, and began to eat. The cubs had disappeared either into the forest or up a tree. I did not see them again. The mama bear had my undivided attention.

As she lapped up the gorp, I cautiously returned to my pack. I didn’t want to be around if she came back for seconds. A hungry park bear who has lost all fear of humans, especially a mother with cubs, can be an extremely dangerous animal. With a watchful eye on the beast I threw my things together and hastily departed.

My original plan had been to spend the night in that spot, where I had met the bear. Now I thought it wise to hike another mile or two before setting up camp.

A light steady rain began as I trudged uphill for the final mile of what had become a very long day. In the gathering dusk this was a particularly good mile for wildlife viewing. I delighted in the sight of eight whitetail deer, including two spotted fawns and two young bucks, proudly sporting new velvet racks. Also, there was a striped skunk near the Elkwallow Wayside where the trail intersected the famous Skyline Drive. A fat raccoon crossed my path at one spot, and a wood thrush eyed me intently from her nest on a low-hanging branch not more than five feet from the trail. However, the preoccupation of my mind was the hungry bear which might be following my scent. After dozens of peaceful nights alone on the trail – this night I was afraid.

My trail guidebook indicated that the Range View Cabin should be just ahead of me. The cabin would be locked, unless it was occupied, but I hoped that the overhanging front porch might at least give me refuge from the rain.

Twilight had come in earnest when I broke into the clearing. Three brightly colored tents decorated the grassy area in front of the cabin. Six young men and women sat Indian fashion in a circle under the shelter provided by the cabin overhang. I noticed that in each of their laps was an opened book. They had not yet seen me. I paused at the edge of the clearing and listened.

Above the gentle whisper of the rain a beautiful melody floated from their lips. It sounded to me at the time like a choir of guardian angels. The words came from the Bibles in their laps, which were turned to Psalm 34:

“O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt his name together.”

I joined in, adding a seventh voice to the chorus:

“I sought the Lord, and he heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.”

God had provided me a safe refuge for the evening. And six members of my spiritual family were on hand to welcome me.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Night the Angels Sang

When the doctor entered my sister’s hospital room we suddenly knew from the expression on his face that something was terribly wrong. My wife, mother, and brother-in-law, Sarah’s husband, listened in disbelief as he informed us that her cancer was in the last stages. My sister was only 26; she had three adorable children; she was beautiful, bright and talented; and in a few weeks at most, she was going to die.

Sarah was dismissed from the hospital just in time to prepare for a last Christmas with her family. She went to the shop which sold her artwork near her home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, and bought back enough of her paintings to give one to each member of her family. Contrary to her doctor’s expectations, she stayed strong for the Holiday by sheer grit and determination.

Sarah’s boys, Charles and Mike, were delighted when they found new sleds under our tree on Christmas morning. Her baby daughter, Debbie, loved her new doll. As we sat around the breakfast table on that happy/sad day, Sarah gazed wistfully out the window and said, “This has been the perfect Christmas. The only thing that could make it better is if it would snow.”

As if the heavens were awaiting their cue, the snow began at that precise moment. Six inches covered the ground by the time the table was set for Christmas dinner.

As the New Year began, Sarah’s condition deteriorated rapidly. By mid-January she was re-admitted to the hospital. I did not know it would be her final evening when I took my turn at staying with her for the night.

Early in the evening Sarah asked if I would sing with her. Over and over throughout the night she would awaken and begin singing again a song which had been a favorite of hers since childhood,

Oh love of God, how rich and pure,
How measureless and strong,
It shall forevermore endure
The saints and angel’s song.

Interspersed with her singing, Sarah prayed. There was no petition – just a stream of praise flowed from her lips to the God she loved. Throughout the night nurses would stand silently in the doorway and listen. It was an unusual worship experience. A warm, strangely wonderful presence I had never sensed before seemed to fill the room.

The next day was more of the same. Between short naps, Sarah would sing and pray. At her request, the whole family came over, a few at a time, to sing with her.

Late that afternoon, Sarah called her husband down to her bedside and told him of her love. She smiled at me with a mischievous grin that spoke volumes without words. Then her eyes darted around the room and she gasped with excitement, “Listen! The angels are singing.”

I heard nothing, but a chill shot up my spine. Sarah sang a few exuberant notes, then stopped and chided, “Come on; can’t you hear the angels? Let’s sing with them.”

What happened during the next hour was not to be described. I felt as if I had been privileged to hold the hand of one who was already living in the supernatural realm beyond.

I thought the air could not be any more spiritually charged. That was before Sarah squealed, “There He is! There’s Jesus!” I looked in the direction toward which Sarah’s eyes were fixed and saw only an empty corner.

And now Sarah seemed to forget everyone and everything else around her, as she beheld her Lord. She weakly reached her arms upward and cried and laughed at once, “Oh Jesus. I love You, Jesus. I want to be with You, Jesus.”

Something rumbled deep down inside Sarah and she expelled her final breath. Her arms dropped; her eyes rolled back. All was silent. She had entered her rest.

I leaned my head against the wall and wept uncontrollably. I’m still not sure exactly why.

Sarah always loved the snow, and a fresh blanket covered the ground the day we buried her. As family and friends watched her casket being lowered into an East Tennessee hillside, I sensed that Sarah was standing there beside us, wearing her mischievous grin.