Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Little Big Horn

Chances are, you have never heard of Thomas J. Stowers. In fact, if it were not for a small grave marker in Odd Fellow Cemetery in Baxter, Tennessee, his story might be lost forever. This marker preserves a piece of history that even the most astute history student might miss.

The gravestone reads as follows: Thomas J. Stowers, December 3, 1848-July 25, 1933 Enlisted September 3, 1864-Private Co. D 199 Regiment Served in the 7th Calvary after Civil War. Was sole survivor of General Custer’s massacre June 25, 1876.

History tells us that there were no survivors of that fateful battle, which occurred this week in 1876, except one horse named Comanche, who was found in a thicket with seven arrows stuck in him. However, Mr. Stowers’ marker tells us something quite different. His story that he told until his death is worth re-telling.

The story that has been passed down about him is that the reason he was able to survive was prior to the commencement of the battle, Stowers had been placed in a supply wagon because of an extreme case of intoxication. During the battle, the supply wagon was turned over, and he lay hidden beneath it.

Now, before historians and the like begin contacting me about the validity of Mr. Stowers’ story, allow me to acknowledge that there were as many as fifty people who “claimed” to have survived the battle. Most of them have been written off as “yarnspinners”. However, most of these didn’t take their tale so far as to be written on their grave marker. Whether the Stowers story is true or not, I think it illustrates a great point for us as Christians.

I have been preaching through a series entitled “The Battlefield”. We are discussing the spiritual warfare we are all engaged in, (Ephesians 6:12) and where those battlefields occur in our lives. We fight this battle at work, school, home, and even church. There are those who fight valiantly in this war, but there are many more who have been so “intoxicated” by the ways of the world, that they have no idea that a battle is even going on. They are sung to sleep by the hum of the world’s noise, and only awaken when the wagon they are riding on overturns.

Even then, many choose to stay out of the battle. They cower under some kind of cover to try to ride out the storm outside. They hear the sounds of war, but they choose to stay safely hidden. The problem, however, is that sooner or later, they are going to have to give an account to the general as to their role in the war. They will either be met with a medal of honor, and greeted with “well done my good and faithful servant”, or a verdict of treason and a sentence of “depart from Me”.

There is a story about a Scottish noble named Robert the Bruce, who led Scotland to independence in the 1300’s. He requested that at his death, his heart be preserved and taken on crusade by a worthy knight. James Douglas took on the responsibility.

In 1330, Douglas was engaged in a battle he realized he could not win. He was wearing the king’s heart around his neck. He took the heart, threw it into the enemy’s ranks, and cried out to his men, “Fight for the heart of your king!”

How long will you allow the battle to rage around you while you sleep? What will you do when your wagon is overturned and you find yourself in the middle of a war? Will you hide and try to ride it out, or will you fight well for the heart of your King?

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:12-16)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cell Phone Tree

I was leaving North Augusta this week, headed for Augusta. As I turned left onto Highway 25, I noticed this funny looking tree behind the Publix shopping center. It was very tall, and rather scraggly. It towered over everything, and its limbs were spaced widely apart. I did not remember seeing it there before.

As I drove closer to it, I realized that it was not a tree at all. It was a cell phone tower. No, my eyes are not so bad that I don’t know the difference. The reason I could not identify it sooner was because it was a cell phone tower disguised as a tree.

In an effort to make the tower seem more like part of the landscape, the company had made the pole look like bark and the receivers look like limbs. The result looks like a very out of place, very tall, unhealthy pine tree.

I was only fooled for a few seconds. The fact of the matter is, even though it was disguised, it was still a cell phone tower. I’m quite sure that the residents of North Augusta have mixed emotions about the cell tree.

The problem is that either way, the tower is not exactly appealing. I suppose the decision is the lesser of the two evils. Either you have an unattractive cell tower looming over the city, or you have an equally unattractive, bad imitation of a tree.

Personally, I would go for the former. This portion of North Augusta isn’t what I would call rural. There are stores, restaurants, power lines, and lots of traffic. I never noticed there was a cell tower there until they tried to make it look like a tree.

When I was a banker and still running as hard as I could from God, I had an interesting experience. I was at lunch in downtown Greenville. There are many people who work downtown that were dressed like me. I was wearing the standard suit and tie of a banker, and was surrounded by other businesspeople that were also waiting for lunch. A man, who was dressed very casually, came up to me and asked if I was a preacher.

I, of course, replied that I was not. He said “Are you sure?” I told him again that I was not a preacher. He then said “I’m sorry, you just look like one.”

I left there puzzled. Why on earth did he think I was a preacher? I was dressed like all the other businesspeople and I was not holding a Bible or anything that might look like one. Why did he say that? I wanted so badly to find him and ask “What made you think I was a preacher?”

After being a pastor for almost three years now, I understand. You see, I can wear whatever I want, I can put on any mask that I like, and I can try to behave like the world in order to fool them into thinking I’m like them. The truth is, that because I belong to God, others can see the difference, no matter how I try to hide it. I can try to disguise myself, like that cell phone tower, but others only see me trying to be something I’m not.

When we Christians do this, we are fooling nobody but ourselves. God knows who we are inside, and the world knows when we are behaving inconsistently with who we really are as children of God. Stop wasting the effort it takes to put on the disguise, and live your life in the fullness of Christ’s love. Just like the cell phone tower, the world may not like you any more or less, but at least you won’t be a poor imitation of something you are not.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Truth

If you do not have an e-mail address, some will say you are not in touch with the times. However, on some days, I believe the “e” in e-mail stands for “evil.” Those of us who send and receive messages through this particular portal, know it can be very frustrating at times.

We get fake Amber Alert messages. We are told that if we forward a certain e-mail to at least 10 friends then Bill Gates will send us some money. We are regaled with heart wrenching or inspiring stories that are supposed to be true, but turn out to be a story that was fabricated years ago.

One such example that I received last week is the story of Jay Leno’s essay on the blessings we have in America. The following is an excerpt from the e-mail.

A recent Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the President. In essence 2/3 of the citizenry just ain't happy and want a change. So being the knuckle dragger I am, I started thinking, 'What are we so unhappy about?’ Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 Days a week? Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter? Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year? Maybe it is the ability to drive our cars and trucks from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state?(Attributed to Jay Leno)

The essay goes on to list other things that we have to be thankful for. While this is a great essay, it was not penned by Jay Leno. It was authored by Craig R. Smith of the World Net Daily. I found the true author of this essay in a matter of seconds online.

This is a great example of how rumors get around. All it takes is one person to carelessly give out information, others to halfway hear and repeat it, and many more to pass it along as fact while never checking to see if it is true. How many times have you told the story about the man who was not hired by the CEO of a large company because he salted his food at lunch without tasting it? That one’s not true either.

While some don’t really think this is very damaging in the big scheme of things, I do. The danger in passing along undocumented information, that happened to a “friend of a friend”, is twofold. First of all we begin to doubt everything we hear or read. The second danger is that we begin to believe everything we hear and read. The first danger is that of cynicism and skepticism, and the second is gullibility.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, many people were displaced from their customs and ways of life. As a result, in the generations to follow, the ability to read and write was something a commoner did not need. Therefore, over time this ability was lost. In many cases, only the church retained the art of reading and writing.

Because the people could not read the scriptures for themselves, they became prey for corrupt priests who knew the commoners would believe anything they were told. The people were slaves, in a sense; to the church because they did not question the information they were given.

Today we have more information available to us than ever before. We have entire libraries at our fingertips, on the internet. Many people had the opportunity to watch the Mars landing live last week, and we can follow a storm with the radar on our own home computer.

What are we doing with this access to information? Are we really squandering our time and resources by spreading rumors and gossip even faster? What if we use this resource to study God’s word to learn the real Truth? What if instead of forwarding a joke that has been making the rounds since 1942, we make sure people hear about the love of Christ?

I challenge you to make sure the words from your lips, e-mails, texts and letters are true. If people can’t believe you in everyday subjects, why should they believe you when you talk to them about Jesus?

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker. (2 Timothy 2:15-17)