Monday, December 19, 2016

A Civil War General's Powerful Words to His Wife

Men, this is for us.  Ladies, you are welcome to read on if you like, but I have an an inspiration and an observation for my brothers.

I'm reading American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White Jr.  In it I am finding some powerful insights into the life of this giant of America's past.

As Grant continued to win victory after victory in the Civil War, his fame began to spread.  Not only did his troops admire him, he was widely admired among civilians in the North.  After pivotal victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, he was promoted to Lieutenant General, the second American to have held the highest (at that time) rank in the military.  The first was George Washington.

Julia Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant
Grant's affection for his wife Julia was deep and life-long, and fame took its toll on them both.  White paints one vignette of this:

"While in St. Louis {after Grant's promotion to Lt. General}, Julia, self-conscious now that her husband had become so famous, decided she needed to do something about her appearance. Long concerned by her strabismus, often referred to as cross-eyed, she would not face the camera when someone wanted to take her photograph. 

She turned to Dr. Charles A. Pope, dean of the St. Louis Medical College. Pope told her it was too late to perform an operation on her eyes. Devastated, she confessed to her husband her intention and disappointment. 

Ulysses, startled, replied, “What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?” 

“Why, you are getting to be such a great man and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain.” 

Ulysses drew her to him and said, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them.""

Brothers, whether we are married or single, there are important women in our lives: wives, daughters, sisters, girl friends, and others.  If our relationships with them are good, our words have great impact.  Grant's words telegraphed that he really, really saw her.....that his gaze reached into her soul, and that he saw the real beauty in her, not just surface beauty.  We can do that, too.

Grant's simple words to his beloved must have been powerfully important to her self image in those days.....days that were to become much more public for a country girl from the American mid-West.

We can do the same for the women that are around us.  We can focus on the gold that is within and when opportunities arise for honest praise, we can tell them about the gold we see.  It's easy to see imperfections and shortcomings.  Anyone can do that.  It is the work of the Kingdom, however, to see gold in others, and to help them see it in themselves.

Not only did Grant do this for his bride, but he did it even for his subordinates.  Most of his men loved and admired Grant, both because he was ending the war with superior skill, and because he treated them with respect and honor.  He even treated vanquished foes with honor.  This tells me that if the commander of all the armies of the Union can treat others with respect and honor, it's something that we can do as well.......first in our relationships with our families, and then with others around us.

Finally.....just an observation: we 21st century Americans are inundated with information about the personalities around us, more so than ever before.  It is a blessing and a problem.  It is a blessing to have access to so much information.  It's also a problem because men and women of earlier generations have much to say if we will only listen.....and sometimes it's hard to hear them with all the insistent voices of today.

With the telegraph, Civil War era Americans had better and more timely information than generations before.  Even then, however, literate Americans had a broad knowledge of the words  of the earlier giants of America and Europe, and even of Classical antiquity.  I wonder if these 19th century Americans were better educated than we.

As I have focused my attention on this Grant biography, I am reminded again of the richness of America's past and the giants that walked our land yesterday....giants whose words I want to hear to help me understand today and plan for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

On The Christian Duty to Honor the Emperors of Today

President Barack Obama
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor President Obama and President-elect Trump.

I exchanged the names of our current and incoming presidents for "emperor" to fit our day, but other than that, these words are scripture (1 Peter 2:17 NIV).

I stand convicted on this. I have too often missed the mark. I'm particularly struck by the last part: "Honor the emperor"......because I have not always honored our "emperor", Mr. Obama.

As Peter was writing this from Rome around 65 A.D. the current emperor would have been Nero, the mad tyrant who tortured Christians, and according to Church tradition, finally crucified the apostle. Clearly, Peter was not saying honor the emperor because he deserved it.

So.....with that in mind, what right do I or any of us have to dishonor President Obama or President-Elect Trump with our words or deeds?

That being so, the question for us is this: how do we Jesus followers honorably disagree with the policies and deeds of the "emperor" of our day, or express concerns about fitness for office, while still obeying the command of scripture?

Peter's apostolic colleague, Paul, also had something to say about this matter: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Prayer and intercession for those who lead in our communities, states and national government goes hand in hand with honoring these men and women.

We are clearly in a different situation than the first century Church.  For just one thing, in our system of government, we select the leaders of our land. Expressing our opinions is important.

Nevertheless, I believe the apostle Peter's words apply just as much in these days as they did for those who lived in his day. It seems to me that the issue is a matter of honoring the emperor in our hearts… when we do this our words will reflect that heart posture.

I have deep disagreements with much of Mr Obama's policies and deeds, and I have deeply questioned his fitness for office.  While I have great hope for Mr. Trump, at this point his policies, deeds and fitness can only be guessed at.  I do have great concerns about what I have read about his fitness for office and his past deeds.  Questioning and outright disagreeing with both of these men is my right as an American, and indeed, as a human.

Where I…..and any of us who are Christians go off the rails is when we attack the person, rather than his deeds, his policies, or his preparation for office.

We also go off the rails when we gossip. In the context of FaceBook and other social media, gossip also includes sharing information from others that we have not verified as truthful.  The amount of untruthful or questionable information being gossiped on FaceBook today is staggering.

I'm still unpacking the import of Peter's words as it relates to us today. I would be quite interested to hear what you think.

A Civil War General's Words Still Inspire Still Today

I'm currently reading American Ulysses by Ronald C. White,  a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant, the American Civil War general who more than any other made Union victory possible.  There are all kinds of fascinating insights into the life of this extraordinary American here; but I'll mention just three.

Grant captured Confederate forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.  This was an important victory for the Union both strategically and politically.  Two of the forts' commanders fled leaving CSA General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Grant's former West Point classmate, in command.

Buckner asked for terms of surrender, expecting a negotiation.  Grant, woken from a sound sleep by an aide bringing Buckner's surrender note, replied with a note of his own:  "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works {fortifications}."

Grant's words were telegraphed across country and widely reprinted.  They resonated strongly in Civil War era America, and still inspire today.  They earned him the nickname, "Unconditional Surrender Grant", a play on his name and initials.

In accepting Buckner's surrender, "as Grant smoked a cigar, they talked about the size of the opposing armies. Buckner expressed surprise at the small size of Grant’s force, the Confederates having believed the number to be fifty thousand. “If I had been in command,” he said, aggravated that Grant had been able to attack the fort with so few men, “you would not have reached the fort so easily.” “If you had {been in command instead of the other generals},” Grant said  smiling, “I would have waited for reinforcements."

As he did with Buckner, Grant consistently honored his opponents in gray.  Here's another example, when Grant was asked about the victory ceremony in which the confederates would stack their rifles and the commander's sword surrendered:

"The surrender is now a fact; we have the fort, the men, the guns. Why should we go through vain forms, and mortify and injure the spirit of brave men, who, after all are our own countrymen and brothers."

Honoring our opponents in business, politics and debate, is a good lesson for us all, perhaps summed up in the words of a more recent fighter, Col. Tim Collinsif you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ordinary Miracles and the Ineffable Goodness of God

Sometimes it's easy to forget that the trees rising from the dirt are  miracles…that rain wetting the dry ground is a mystery…that man and beast moving across the earth are complicated beyond complete understanding. That the stars that swing across the night sky are impossibly far; impressively large, incredibly diverse. That even our familiar moon is held together and in place by the miracle of order. 

We go about our lives engrossed in triumph and tragedy, in bursts of activity and times of rest. In the routine of life, it's easy to miss that we are surrounded by mystery and majesty, order and chaos. 

Life on earth is comprised of individual elements and molecules that are organized by the miracle of life into living beings smaller than a gnat to as huge as whales.  From single celled creatures to those that are able to leave the planet, we the living are fantastically diverse, and miraculous.

From what comes the miraculous spark of life?  Even if the universe and all within it and all life originated in single event, a "Big Bang"… came the "trigger" to be fueled and what was the "fuel" for that bang?  

And what is the universe?  Is it without border?  And if it is, how far from the center of it is matter distributed?  Are there endless, mind-numbing distances occupied by nothing…no light, no matter, no anything?  And if there is, what is the purpose of that infinite nothing?  

I have pondered these things for six decades.  

Today, I have an awareness that God made all and is in all, and that He saw that it was good. 
I revel in His good presence in every leaf, every animal, in every drop of rain, in the air I breathe. 

As a child I knew of God. As an adult I know God. 
As a dark-haired youth I demanded answers to "how" and "why". 
As a silver-haired man, I am content that He Is, and that He is love.....and ineffably good. 
And that He will whisper the "what".

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Dreams For America Are Not On Hillary Clinton's Path

I am going to mark my election ballot for Donald Trump.

I am going to do so in the belief that my dreams for my country, and for my family will be best realized on another path than that Hillary Clinton treads.  My vote will likely not decide the issue in a state that leans heavily towards her, but I will vote against her anyway.  Only one other candidate can possibly defeat her.

The future of our republic will in no small measure be decided by those the next president appoints to the Supreme Court.  A Clinton presidency will most likely appoint justices who believe the Constitution to be a “living document”, which seems to me to be a euphemism for “it can be interpreted to fit the needs of the current political climate.”  A Trump presidency will most likely appoint justices who respect the intents of the framers of the constitution and who believe that the constitution is a living document in that it can be changed by the amendment process.

Abraham Lincoln wrote of “a government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  Those words resonate in American dreams with the crystal clarity of a bugle call's pure note.  Yet today, it feels to me as if we are sleep walking toward “a people of the government, by the government, for the government.”  Certainly, no candidate perfectly embodies either one of these polar opposites.  But it feels to me as if Hillary Clinton is more about her and her government, and the people who can serve her and it.  That is not in my dreams for my country and my children.

I am not happy to vote for Donald Trump.  He has many failings.   But Hillary Clinton also has many failings.  Actually, I am unmoved by arguments that one has fewer failings or more.  It is for my dreams that I vote.

I considered voting for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.  California will likely vote heavily for Democratic party candidates as it has done consistently in recent decades….so my vote for Trump would probably not decide the issue, I reasoned.  I thought I wanted to be able to say that I didn’t vote for either.  But I finally realized that even if there is only a slight chance of defeating Hillary Clinton with my vote, I must appear on the electoral battlefield nonetheless.

People I love are staking out other positions.  While I might disagree, I still respect hearts that honestly seek the best for our country. Our different political views do not hinder my love.  I hope as this election passes into memory, we can rally in unity around the shared ideals of America and remember to earnestly pray “....for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Recently I emerged from the miasma of political chatter to remember again that the plans of God are not hindered by the election of a given president.  Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”  Even in the midst of the Babylonian captivity, God moved the heart of a pagan king to send Nehemiah to Jerusalem where he rebuilt the city and began the restoration of the nation of Israel.

This says to me that by short path or long, the purposes of God will prevail.  I will not fear the result of this election, because God is good.  He is for us and not against us.

That is the foundation on which all my dreams rest.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Love Broke Through

A recent love lesson in my life was a paradigm-shifting kind of lesson....the kind that takes me to a different place, the kind that demonstrates a perspective I never fully understood before.

In that love lesson, I saw love break through a tough shell that nothing else would have touched.  It left me humbled, grateful.....and more focused than ever on a life of demonstrated love.

The lesson began on a visit to San Francisco as I was walking on El Camino Real from our hotel to a nearby grocery.  Just ahead of me were two couples that had obviously been drinking.  The angry words and waving arms of one couple intensified as they walked.

I pretended to not hear or see them as I quickly walked around them.  Ten minutes later, purchases in hand, I started my return trip to the hotel.  At the door of the store, the couple was ending their fight by angrily separating.  The husband turned back in the direction I had first encountered them.

Because we were going the same way on the same sidewalk and I walk fairly fast, I was soon abreast him.....and fighting the war in my mind: "no I don't want to talk with him."  "He won't want to hear what I have for him."

But I knew I had something for him.  So, as I came abreast I slowed and told him that I saw his pain but saw also that his heart was good.

He was angry still!  He told me to keep moving, that it was none of my business, and that he didn't want Jesus.

So, I smiled at him and resumed my pace.

But then, a few seconds later, he said from behind me, "what have you got?"

I turned and let him catch up with me and we walked on together.  What I told him, in essence, was that I too was married, and marriage was hard sometimes.  I told him that I could see his heart was good.   As we so often say at Bethel, I "called out the gold" in him for several minutes.

Finally, we sat together for a while.  I continued to encourage him and tell him the good things in him that I saw.  He asked what church I was part of.   I told him that wasn't really so's not which Jesus community of which we are apart that is as important as who is our King.

When I felt our conversation had come to an end, I asked if I could pray with him.  I prophesied over him that the love that already was in his heart would grow and grow until if filled him and spattered out over his family and his marriage, and onto his friends who would wonder what had happened to him.

I did not speak about his obvious nearly drunken state, his cursing, or his vapes.  He did not need a list of problems in his life.  What he needed was to be loved.  What he needed was to hear that I could see that his heart was good and that he was loved right where he was ....... by the God of the universe, and by a brother.

After a bridge of love had been built, I gently offered some marriage advice from one brother to another.  I told him about some of my own life experiences, and about living an unoffended life.

When I stood up to go, he knew that God had spoken to him through me.  "God sent you to me!", he said.

We never exchanged more than first names, and the communities in which we lived, so I don't know the outcome in his life of this conversation.  Love had broken through a tough wall of hurt and anger, shame and guilt and brought with it hope and life.

While I have often seen the power of love in the lives of people, this was an important lesson about loving those we do not know.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Words Have Power

Your words are so weighty that
They have power to bring life or release death,
And the talkative person
Will reap the consequences.
-- Proverbs 18:21 The Passion Translation

A powerful example of the life-giving power of words occurred in our first year at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.  Our small group of men had gathered around our revival group pastor, Abi Stumvoll for time together.

After a few moments of small talk, Abi turned to me and began to tell me all the good things she saw in me. She went on and on, a few precious seconds turning into golden minutes that felt like warm liquid love cascading over and through my soul.

Life experience has taught me to expect first the honey and then the smackdown -- and really, it doesn't take very much looking to find some not-very-pretty places in me. But the smackdown never came. And in the almost four years I have known Abi, it never has. Always she tells me some new area of gold she sees in my life and calls me higher still.

She did the same for each man in her office that day. As we left, it seemed that we all looked a little taller and walked a little straighter.

Those golden words are a memory stone in my heart of the life-giving power of the tongue. Abi has the wonderful gift of being able to store up memories of the gold in others and play them back so as to build people up.

While Abi has an extraordinary gift in this area, the reality is we can all do this. Our words of love and affirmation are a medicine for the hurt places in others. They restore courage weakened by the vicissitudes of life. They help others to remember who they are.

Words can also release death. While we must sometimes speak painful truth to others, there is a way of doing so that brings life......and another that releases death. Words that bring life are the way of the Kingdom of God.

I am striving to eliminate from my tongue words that release death and replace them with words that bring life.

Words that bring life are a powerful gift of love.

What has been your experience?  Your thoughts are welcome, below.

Read more about our experience since 2012 with Bethel Church in Redding, CA

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Leadership in Christian Communities

Jesus told us how it should be with leaders among His followers. It's a way we can gauge those who lead in our Christian communities.....and a guide for our own leadership.

Here is what the Lord said: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Put another way:
  1. Christians don't lead as is the norm in our culture
  2. Christian leaders are servants
  3. Great Christian leaders are the best servants of all
As I look back over my own leadership history, I know that I have succeeded in this at times.  But I also know that I have often failed badly....even as I have led in the Church.

It's oh-so-easy to bring the top-down leadership patterns of the culture in which we live into our own personal leadership.  I know that because I have done that.

In the Kingdom of God, top-down leadership is a poor choice.  Good leaders in the Kingdom do the hard work of figuring out how to lead their community with love and service.