A CHILDLIKE FAITH

April 23, 2014

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

There’s a Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial in the works for the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but don’t expect to see it anytime soon.

Several memorials already grace the 1,000-acres of parkland, officially named the National Mall & Memorial Parks (NAMA), to other presidents (Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and wars (WWII, Korean War Veterans and Vietnam Veterans), plus statues, additional historical sites and memorials, gardens and parklands. So while the location is nailed down, the design is not.

Earlier this month, the National Capital Planning Commission—which oversees D.C. monuments—voted against the design by renowned architect Frank Gehry, because of issues related to the large stainless steel tapestries that are key components of the plan.  They are part of the backdrop depicting the Kansas plains, where Eisenhower grew up. Gehry’s proposal, selected in 2010 by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which is spearheading the project, shows Eisenhower as a youth gazing out at images of his adult achievements. Gehry says he was inspired by the general’s own depiction of himself as “a barefoot boy” in 1945, when he returned to Abilene after World War II.

And therein lies the memorial’s biggest problem. The Eisenhower family and others object to the display of him as a youngster or, as the New York Times put it, “a callow rustic who made good.”

“He was chief of staff of the Army; he was a two-term president of the United States,” granddaughter Susan Eisenhower is quoted as saying in the Times’ article. “It’s in those roles that American has gratitude for him, not as being a young boy with a great future in front of him.”

So while groundbreaking was scheduled for 2012, the project is again delayed as the Eisenhower Commission works with Gehry (or someone else, if he decides to wash his hands of the whole thing) on a design which will satisfy everyone.

I finally (it only took 2 months!) finished reading The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Monuments Officers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II by Ilaria Dagnini Brey (unless you’re familiar with great works of arts through the ages—which I’m not—you might find getting through the book hard going, as I did. This Smithsonian article, by the same author, is much more readable). One incident she relates is about Pisa’s Camposanto, a white marble edifice that serves as both a cemetery and museum, allegedly built around a courtyard sprinkled with earth from Golgotha, the mount where Jesus was crucified (John 19:17). During the campaign to liberate Italy, in July, 1944, the Camposanto (“sacred ground”) was hit by an Allied bomb fragment. The ensuing fire destroyed the roof, and its underlying lead sheets melted all over the inside. The medieval and Renaissance frescoes painted on the plaster interior walls detached and crumbled. The heat altered the colors of the paintings, and as it was nearly a month before the “Venus Fixers” got to the Camposanto, the damaged frescoes also baked in the summer sun.

What struck me about the floor-to-ceiling frescoes was the observation by Victorian art critic John Ruskin. They portrayed “the entire doctrine of Christianity, painted so that a child could understand it.” Then he added a parenthetical aside: “And what a child cannot understand of Christianity, no one need try to.”

Sometimes we Christians make the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ complicated. But really, it’s so simple that, as Ruskin noted, even a kid can comprehend it. Jesus Himself noted, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15). Jesus’ followers weren’t the scholars of the day—they were “uneducated and untrained” men and women who didn’t understand it all even after following Jesus for three years (John 14:9). They simply believed on the basis of what they did know.

And that’s still all we need today. Several Bible verses contain the gospel message in a nutshell, but I’ll mention just two phrases: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

I recognize why some don’t wish to see Eisenhower portrayed as a Kansas farm boy—and yet I like the concept of a humble youth envisioning with childlike wonder all that was yet to come.

And I strive to possess for myself and communicate to others a childlike belief that matures, inspires good works and looks forward to what lies ahead. Yep, that’s the kind of faith I’d like to be remembered for.

BRINGING US TO GOD

April 15, 2014

Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by His wounds you were healed. 1 Peter 2:24

 For Christ died for our sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God. 1 Peter 3:18

Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, two environmentally friendly initiatives have been launched in the national parks. (And just in time for National Park Week, April 19-27, with free admission to all parks this weekend).

A new initiative, part of the National Park Service Healthy Foods Healthy People program, is encouraging private companies who operate snack bars and restaurants within the parks to emphasize sustainability. Xanterra, a major park concessionaire, has switched to biodegradable utensils and banned the use of plastic straws (they apparently are one of the top ten marine debris items). The company’s food service at Yellowstone has been using food grown within 500 miles for several years.

And JustGreen Lifestyle has teamed up with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to promote greener travel. The company recently introduced Green Your Park Travel products so national park visitors can offset their emissions. “JustGreen will donate 5 percent of every carbon offset product purchased to support NPCA’s efforts to reduce air and climate pollution affecting America’s national parks,” says the NPCA press release.

Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter, reminds us that Jesus has “offset” our sins by taking on the punishment for all the wrong things we say, do and think, past, present and future. And we didn’t have to change ourselves or buy anything to receive this gift—He paid the price: “Jesus was slain, and purchased for God with His blood people for God from every tribe and language and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

I’m reading John Piper’s book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, and he includes this prayer at the end of the chapter, “The Incomparable Sufferings: The Anguish of Jesus Christ:”

“Father, what can we say? We feel utterly unworthy in the face of Christ’s unspeakable sufferings…It was our sin that brought this to pass. It was we who struck him and spit on him and mocked him…Touch us with fresh faith that we might believe the incredible. The very pain of Christ that makes us despair is our salvation. Open our fearful hearts to receive the Gospel. Waken dead parts of our hearts that cannot feel what must be felt—that we are loved with the deepest, strongest, purest love in the universe…O God, open our eyes to the vastness of the sufferings of Christ and what they mean for sin and holiness and hope and heaven…Make us awake to the weight of glory—the glory of Christ’s incomparable sufferings. In his great and wonderful name, amen.”

And then, come Sunday, rejoice that Jesus is alive!

“The resurrection of Jesus secures all the blessings he obtained for us in his death,” Piper continues in a later chapter. “’Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). All the promises of God, purchased by the blood of Christ, become ours in everlasting perpetuity because of the resurrection of Jesus.”

When He comes, our glorious King,

All His ransomed home to bring,

Then anew this song we’ll sing:

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

LOVE, HATE…OR APATHY?

April 9, 2014

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Revelation 3:15, 16

Americans, especially young adults, are disconnected to the national parks, says National Park Service director Jon Jarvis.

In a recent article in The Salt Lake Tribune, Jarvis discusses a current attempt to repeal the Antiquities Act (which gives the president the authority to proclaim national monuments), and spending cuts that have had adverse affects on the parks (the good news is that President Obama’s 2015 budget increases park funding).

“What I sense with the flattening of visitation, the budget issues and the legislative attacks is that they are symptoms of the waning relevancy of the [National Park Service] to the American people…It’s a lack of understanding what the National Park Service provides to society,” he noted in the article. “It is more broad than the economic impacts. It is about quality of life; secret and incredible places that can be life-changing.”

“We are looking at the millennials; that 18 to 35 group,” he went on. “It appears they have a feeling of disconnect for a variety of reasons. We are working to understand how they see the world.”

His remarks come on the heels of an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey that finds 21% of Americans feel religion is not that important, and most of that number are under the age of 35.

While I care that there’s a large group that doesn’t understand the value and wonder of our national parks, I find the latter statistic much more disconcerting. I once read a column in which a psychologist stated that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. That surprised me until I thought about it some more. Love and hate are passionate emotions, but at least they’re feelings. Indifference is nothing—no caring, no interest, no concern. It’s blah and “so what?” and “who cares?”. In today’s vernacular, the word is “meh.” It’s a terrible, disconnected way to live. As the lyrics of a popular and catchy mid-20th century song put it: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In Between.”

Jesus graphically illustrates just such a view in Revelation. An apathetic attitude toward Him is so repulsive that it makes Him puke.

In Mark chapter 8, Jesus questioned His disciples as to who others thought He was: “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets,” they answered. Then He challenged them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ” (vv. 27-29).

So the question for you this Easter season is the same: Who is Jesus, and more importantly, what will you do with Him? Will you say, “Yeah, He was a good person,” or even, “Sure, I believe He was God,” then stuff Him in your hip pocket and proceed to live the way you want, on your own terms, perhaps only pulling Him out when you’re in trouble to see if maybe He can or will help?

That’s not love—it’s indifference, a take-it-or-leave-it stance that signals a blasé coolness toward the incredible and life-changing claim of Christ: “If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14: 23).

Or will you agree with the apostle John’s magnificent declaration: “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:9, 10, 19).

Living in the gray area of our own brand of “spirituality” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4) may seem like an okay option today, but the Bible warns that what seems right right now can lead instead to destruction (Proverbs 14:12).

Examine Scripture and take a stance. Be hot or cold—just don’t be found in between.

THE VISITATION

April 1, 2014

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within your walls, and they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.  Luke 19:41-44

Don and Shelly Hafner are about to begin a big adventure.

Their quest to visit all 59 national parks in 59 weeks begins today (while the National Park Service has 401 units, only 59 are designated national parks—others are national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, rivers, etc.).

They’ll start at Hot Springs National Park, since it is considered the oldest national park. Yes, you read that right. On April 20, 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed legislation to set aside “…four sections of land including said (hot) springs, reserved for the future disposal of the United States (which) shall not be entered, located, or appropriated, for any other purpose whatsoever.” Hot Springs predates Yellowstone by forty years.

The Hafners will travel through nearly every state, as well as the territories of American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and will stop at other national park sites as well. They say they’ll be spending the most time in Alaska (a lot of ground to cover there, as it has eight national parks spread out over the huge state). Some of the parks they’ll visit twice, in order to photograph different seasons, because this is, among other things, a business venture, and they’ll be selling their matted and framed photos through their website. The trip will wrap up on July 4, 2015.

Sounds like a fun plan to me!

Visiting…the very word conjures up pleasurable thoughts of travel and seeing the sights, and also of sitting around with people you perhaps haven’t seen for a while, catching up on each other’s lives, or having a cozy chat over a cup of coffee with a nearby friend. In former times, calling on your neighbor was a formal ritual or a special time set aside just for that purpose. Sometimes during such a social call, the visitor brought a small present; today we often bring a gift to the host of a dinner or party we attend.

Jesus’ words in Luke 19 were spoken on the day He entered Jerusalem for the last time, on what is now referred to as Palm Sunday (April 13 this year), when the city’s residents greeted Him with shouts of praise, spreading leafy branches and their coats on the road before Him (Mark 11:1-10). But as the Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes, “Jesus was not excited by the applause of the crowd, because He saw prophetically the miseries that would overtake Jerusalem after His rejection…He foresaw the siege and final capture of Jerusalem by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus in A.D. 70.”

The key phrase is “after His rejection.” God had arrived in the flesh 33 years earlier: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,” announced Zacharias, realizing his son John’s birth marked the beginning of the coming of the Messiah (Luke 1:67, 68). A large crowd who watched Jesus raise a man from the dead also recognized it—“God has visited His people!” they exclaimed (Luke 7:12-17). And yet in the end, they and the Roman authorities ultimately rejected Him, and had Him put to death.

Jesus brought God’s gift of salvation—reconciliation with God—to us, a priceless present we neither earned nor deserved (Ephesians 2:1-9). Today, He still seeks admittance into our lives (Revelation 3:20). But as happened 2,000 years ago, many shrug it off with indifference, refuse it outright, or reject it with hostility.

Just as He did the first time He arrived on earth, Jesus warns of future dire outcome to those who spurned His earlier visit, when He comes a second and final time: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost…But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 21:6-8).

It’s great to visit 59 parks if you have the time and money to do so. Many of us can only dream of doing that during our lifetime. But history’s greatest visitation is no reverie—Jesus is accessible to everyone, free of charge, and to rebuff His call has eternal consequences.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

An invitation to ponder this Lenten season.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

March 17, 2014

Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your children to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you: indeed it is your life.  Deuteronomy 32:46, 47

The National Park Service doesn’t just rest on its laurels—it’s always on the lookout for more places that it might add to its 401 sites commemorating America’s historical places and people.

I’ve recently read about some examples. Two New York Congressional representatives have introduced legislation—with the Park Service’s encouragement—ordering studies of two locations in New York City: the John Bowne House and Old Quaker Meeting House in Queens, and Fort Greene Park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn. According to an article in the New York Daily News, “The sites already appear on the National Register of Historic Places for their significance to religious freedom and the American Revolution, but experts say most people have no idea the historic gems are so close to home.”

Bowne first allowed Quakers to hold banned meetings in his farmhouse, and in 1694 bought land to build the Meeting House, the oldest structure in continuous religious use in the city. The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, erected by famed architect Stanford White in 1908, commemorates 11,500 colonists who died under British captivity aboard prison ships during the war of independence. “There is a rather sizeable plaque at the base of the monument, but most people I talk to actually don’t know the significances,” said Julie Golia, director of public history at the Brooklyn Historical Society, in the article.

Further west, the Chicago Tribune reports three Illinois lawmakers would like the Pullman Historic District designated a national historical park. The 300-acre area on the city’s South Side dates back to the 1880s, when it was home to the business that made railroad sleeper cars, as well as housing for its workers. Company president George Pullman hoped to create a model community, attracting skilled laborers who would increase productivity (and hopefully not strike because they were so happy with their lot). The over 1,000 brick houses and buildings were constructed by Pullman employees, and each home had gas and water, as well as front and back yards. Plenty of green space also was incorporated into the community’s design. Maintenance was included in the rental prices.

The town’s population reached its height of almost 9,000 in 1885, and it was a major tourist attraction during Chicago’s World’s Columbian Expostion in 1893. A national economic slowdown resulted in reduced wages, and workers did strike the following year. The refusal of American Railway Union workers to move the Pullman cars interrupted rail service and mail delivery, and federal troops were brought in to quell the unrest.

Robert Todd Lincoln took over the business’s presidency following George Pullman’s death in 1897, and the next year the Illinois Supreme Court ordered Pullman’s Palace Car Company to sell all its property not used for industry. By 1907, the residences were in private hands and remain so to this day.

In the 1960s, an industrial park threatened the district, and galvanized residents into action to save the neighborhood. The Town of Pullman was designated an Illinois Historic District in 1969 and a National Historic Landmark District in 1970 and 1972.  Preservation efforts and building renovations continue.

I vaguely remember the Pullman strike and persecution of Quakers from my high school American history classes, but I’d never heard of the British prison ships. Such a large number of people dying at the hands of the enemy would have made a huge impression on our fledgling nation (and you’d think even today). Obviously, over a hundred years after it happened it was still on the minds of many, since they built a memorial.  So it’s kind of amazing that now it’s a largely forgotten piece of history (makes me wonder if future generations will remember 9/11).

Philosopher and writer George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” When the lessons of history are not taken to heart, we quickly forget what happened and make the same mistakes all over again.

Biblical history is no different. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction,” the apostle Paul exhorts the church in Rome, “so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The men and women of the Bible are no different from us—the stories of their triumphs and failures are for us to learn what to do and what not to do in this life.

I hope that you’ll become familiar with what God has to say to you. In the opening verses of this post, Moses told the Israelites that God’s instruction weren’t just idle words—they were life itself.  Jesus reiterated that message in answering Satan’s temptation: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3). Just as you’d starve if you only ate food once in a while, your soul can’t be fully nourished by a mere Sunday dose or a quick “bite” whenever you feel like it or find the time.

If you don’t know how to study Scripture on your own, I’ll be happy to point you to some good resources. Or go to your local Christian bookstore or your pastor and ask for guidance.

I guarantee you’ll find much, much more than mere “historic gems…”

 

HE’S STILL HERE!

December 31, 2013

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.   John 1:14

As of tomorrow, there will only be one resident left on Liberty Island—Lady Liberty herself.

People have lived on the small spit of land that’s home to the Statue of Liberty for at least 200 years, reports an article in The New York Times, beginning from when it was a military reservation, and then to care for the iconic figure. The current superintendent, David Luchsinger, and his wife actually haven’t resided there since Hurricane Sandy wrecked their home on the island last year; they’ve been staying in New Jersey. But today is his final day on the job, and the house will not be rebuilt. “I’m officially the last resident of Liberty Island,” Luchsinger said in the article.

Naturally, security will still be in place. And of course there are millions of visitors to the park every year. But going forward, no one will ever inhabit the island again.

We’ve just finished the celebration of Christmas, commemorating the birth of Jesus, God in human form. We’ve come through our annual struggle to keep Christ the reason for the season, not always easy amidst the commercialization that bombards us earlier and earlier (Thanksgiving, it seems, is just a blip on the calendar in the frantic march from October and December).

But the coming of Immanuel—God with us, a designation from Isaiah 7:14—isn’t meant to be a one-time observance: it’s something to be reflected upon every day! Jesus promised His followers, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23). After His resurrection, He reiterated that pledge: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Our mortal minds can’t fully grasp this concept, but we don’t need to—all we have to do is rest in the guarantee that Jesus is always there. He doesn’t retire, isn’t threatened by storms and never leaves.

No matter what tempests assail us in 2014, let’s hang on to that assurance!

 

OUR LIFE GUIDE

December 12, 2013

Blessed by the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people…the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:66, 79

Can’t get out to see any national parks? Then let the parks come to you!

Google Street View takes you on virtual hikes through more than 44 National Park Service locations to showcase the wonders of, among others, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, the Lincoln Memorial and Mount Rushmore.

Another fun visual is the Sierra Club’s subway-style map, showing the Park Service units specifically designated as “national parks.” Their (relative) locations are superimposed over an outline of the United States to give you a feel of how they’re situated.

And if you like learning about the history and culture or the parks as well as their scenery, check out the Park Service’s electronic library. It’s sort of an online “one-stop shopping” for thousands of publications. Even if you never get to any of the parks, you can still enjoy reading about them.

And just today, I learned that the website National Parks Traveler is inviting members to collaborate on its “Parkipedia” section. You can join for an annual $9.95 fee, and use your knowledge and insights to share the best places to stay, hike, eat, etc. in the parks.

All these resources are available with just a few mouse clicks. Isn’t technology great?!

We all need a guide to help us navigate new and unfamiliar territory, in order to make the most of an experience, whether it’s an everyday one or once-in-a-lifetime, online or in person. I find that just when I think I’ve mastered something in life, along comes an entirely new stage or problem. For example, I enjoyed my teen years, but I couldn’t wait to be 21! That milestone, though, came with responsibilities I didn’t have before—paying bills, working a full-time job and marriage. Then my daughter came along in my 30s, and I had to figure out what to do with her! In between came all sorts of other challenges to meet—and I anticipate no let up in the future. For one thing, I’m trying to handle growing older!

Bet you can relate!

The four weeks of Advent we’re in right now take us to Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth of the long-anticipated Messiah, Jesus. Zacharias summed up the history and the yearning behind that wait, at the circumcision ceremony for his son, John, who would pave the way for Jesus’s public ministry (Luke 3:1-22). “[He will] guide our feet into the way of peace,” he concluded (Luke 1:79).

Our Life Guide paid us a visit, in person, over 2,000 years ago. He knows what it’s like to duke it out here on earth (Hebrews 4:15, 16), and His words live on in the pages of the guidebook He left behind, the Bible.

This Christmas season, I pray that each one of us will experience anew His peaceful guidance, freely given to lead us through our ever-changing, chaotic world (John 14:27).

A SHORT BUT SWEET MESSAGE

November 18, 2013

And when I came to you, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified…And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4-5

Tomorrow, November 19, marks the 150th anniversary of one of history’s most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address.

The Dedication Day ceremony begins with a wreath laying at 10:00 a.m. in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in attendance. If you can’t make it in person, you can catch the broadcast via Livestream starting at 9:30 a.m.

You’ll find information about other anniversary events taking place this week—including a salute to U.S. Colored Troops, a book signing by filmmaker Ken Burns (both also on the 19th), and Nov. 23rd’s annual Remembrance Day Illumination—here.

The 3-day battle between Union and Confederate forces in July 1863 was the bloodiest ever of the Civil War. A temporary cemetery situated on a town hillside became the final resting place for most of the dead, until prominent citizens became concerned about the graves’ poor condition. Eventually Gettysburg lawyer David Wills was appointed to coordinate the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery, designed by noted landscape architect William Saunders. Removal of the Union dead began in the fall of 1863, but wasn’t completed until long after the grounds were dedicated on November 19 of that year (the Confederate dead were moved to the South, most interred in Richmond, Virginia).

According to Abraham Lincoln Online, David Wills invited Lincoln to give the concluding remarks at the ceremony, following the main address by Edward Everett (both men were guests in his home the night of November 18). According to his Congressional biography, Everett was an ordained minister, professor, politician, diplomat and speaker. He received his education at Harvard, and later taught at and was president of that institution. He served in both chambers of Congress, and as a governor of Massachusetts, envoy to Great Britain, Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore and unsuccessful vice presidential candidate in 1860. If you’d like to know more about him, Google has the book, A Memorial of Edward Everett, as a free download.

Everett’s speech to the 10,000-20,000 who attended the dedication ceremony lasted two hours, not an unusual length due to the oratorical style of the day. President Lincoln also was known for long speeches, but not on this day:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

(Contrary to popular lore, Lincoln did not whip up his remarks on the back of an envelope. He wrote at least half on White House stationery before his trip, and apparently finished it at the Wills house. The Library of Congress notes that there are five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address; it has two, one from each of his private secretaries.)

Everett sent Lincoln a short note the next day, asking for a copy of the speech (his copy resides at the Illinois State Historical Library; the other two copies are at Cornell University and in the Lincoln Room of the White House). He also wrote: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness at the consecration of the cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Lincoln didn’t need many words to capture the feelings of a torn Union that day—solemnity and sorrow, mingled with resolve and hope. Nor do we need a lot to communicate the Bible’s central point, as the apostle Paul reiterated to his Corinthian readers. It is a very simple one, perhaps best expressed in one of the most beloved, well-known passages in all Scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The whole of the Bible is really just a further explanation of that promise. Sure, God could have provided us with much more information, He could have gone on and on, but He chose not to. As the apostle John concluded in his Gospel, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written” (John 21:25). Ditto for every book in the Bible.

What we do have is the assurance that we have everything we need to live a life pleasing to God (2 Peter 1:3), not because we know it all but because of the power of the God who does.

A short but sweet message indeed!

MYTHS

November 13, 2013

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3, 4

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie… Romans 1:25

I read this opinion article, entitled “5 Myths About National Parks: Challenging Everything You Think You Know,” in The Washington Post shortly after the government shutdown was resolved. In it, Robert Earle Howells, who writes prolifically about the national parks, debunks a handful of fallacies:

1.        The parks’ financial problems are over

Its reduced budget means fewer rangers and programs as well as less upkeep.

2.        States should chip in to manage the national parks

States have their own fiscal problems.

3.        National parks are all in remote places

Many of the 401 units of the Park Service are in or near urban areas.

4.        Wildlife is managed in the park

Nope—“watch from a distance” is still the best advice.

5.        The parks are timeless preserves

Not with vandalism, tourists, receding glaciers and lack of maintenance.

Likewise, there are many myths about Christianity, and I’ve come across a couple of articles about that, too. Susan Ott, a Yahoo contributor, lists three in her piece, “Myths and Misconceptions About Christianity:”

1.        Christianity is a religion

“A religion is basically a set of rules and rituals, but true Christianity is based on a faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, the Bible contains right and wrong ways that we should live, but following these does not make one a Christian. The Bible tells us very clearly how to be a Christian: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him’ (John 3:16-17).”

2.        You will get into heaven by following a specific set of rules

Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The apostle Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

3.        Becoming a Christian will solve all of your problems

“We live in a fallen world full of sin, and therefore we must face the consequences of that sin. God doesn’t want us to love Him because He’s a magic genie who solves all of our problems. He gives us the freedom to choose life with Him or without Him. God ‘causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matthew 5:45). But we don’t have to face it alone and hopeless. Christians can face adversity, knowing that God is there to carry their burdens and never leave them. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . . I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).”

And I add two more, taken from Mary Fairchild, writing “Common Misconceptions About The Christian Life” at about.com:

4.        Becoming a Christian means giving up all fun

King David acknowledged to God, “In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Jesus said, “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

5.        Christians are perfect people

“Well, it doesn’t take very long to discover that this is not true…Although Christians strive to be like Christ, we will never obtain complete sanctification until we stand before the Lord.”

Two more from Paul:

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

“Not that I have already…been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead… (Philippians 3:12, 13).

If you’re interested in reading more about the subject, I suggest two books: Exposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends by University of California Santa Barbara Prof. Jeffrey Burton Russell, and Busted: Exposing Popular Myths About Christianity by Prof. Fred von Kamecke. You’ll find factual evidence to refute other claims, such as, “You can’t trust the Bible because it’s been translated too many times,” and “All religions basically teach the same thing.”

Meanwhile, let this nugget of advice from Paul be your guide: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).

GOD IS NOT SHUT DOWN

October 9, 2013

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9

Did you wonder why I haven’t posted for a while? Even if you didn’t I’ll tell you: It’s because I moved 1,300 miles, then went on a trip to Alaska!

But I’m back!

Just in time for the government shutdown.

Which means all the national park sites are closed. I made it to Denali right before it happened (more on that in coming posts—and I can’t even hyperlink to the park website because that’s shut down, too!).

What a mess…

I hope you hadn’t planned any activities in the national parks. I read two articles about people who did, including a young girl from South Korea (“How can a whole government shut down?”), and couples whose weddings were affected.

Other important events got lost in the shuffle as well. Yosemite’s 123rd birthday was Tuesday, and while Google created a special doodle for the day, it lost some of its specialness because the park wasn’t open. One hundred and twenty-five years ago today the Washington Monument welcomed its first visitors, but that went uncommemorated (well, it’s still closed due to damage from the August, 2011 earthquake, but still…).

During the last government shutdown in 1995-96, the D.C. monuments—many of which are open-air—were not shut down. And, naturally, some believe this time the Park Service closures are politically motivated. Why am I not surprised?

It’s an uneasy time for us Americans, and I sympathize with those directly affected by this turn of events (like one of my brothers). The lesson here is that our democracy, our politicians, our paychecks nor anything else can ever be fully counted on. Sole dependence on them is misplaced trust.

Look up instead.

“Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’ Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord!” Psalm 4:6