Archive for March, 2010

In the Cross of Christ I Glory

March 25, 2010

The title of this essay is the same as a hymn written by John Bowring in 1825.  Perhaps you know the song.  Perhaps you also know this text:

1 Corinthians 2:2 NKJV For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Paul was a sinner.  He once described himself as the worst of all sinners.  I can identify with that.  Perhaps you can too.  Paul understood his standing before God when he stood alone: chief of sinners.  But he also understood that because of the Cross of Christ he didn’t have to stand before God alone.  Since Paul became a Christian, Jesus would stand there with him.  Jesus would actually stand in front of him, between Paul and God the Father.  Paul’s guilt/debt had been paid by Jesus – on the Cross.  Since Paul was a Christian, when God looked at Paul’s sin debt, what He saw was the Cross – Christ’s sin payment.  Paul’s debt was paid, his guilt absolved, his sins forgiven, his life restored to oneness with God (what the Bible calls ‘atonement’), and his eternal soul saved.  When I believe and obey the gospel of Christ, God does that for me too.

Without the Cross of Christ there would be no reason to open my eyes in the morning.  Without the Cross of Christ there would be no hope, no purpose, no meaning to anything.  Life would be an abyss, a constant falling into darkness, a horrific and never-ending scream that no one would hear.

Here is what the Christian has because of, and only because of, the Cross of Christ.

The Cross of Christ gives hope for the future.

Philippians 4:13 NKJV I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

In faith and love I give my life to Christ.  I am forgiven.  I am helped by Christ on my Christian journey.  When I die as a faithful Christian, heaven is my home.  Jesus has prepared a place and promised to meet me there.  He will keep His word.  Because of His promises, assured by the Cross, I can live each earthly day filled with hope.

The Cross of Christ gives purpose to my life.

Philippians 2:7-8 RSV 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

The One who took my sins away and paid for my ticket to heaven emptied Himself, humbled Himself, in order to do that for me.  Because of what He has done for me, I want to be like Him.  If He served, I want to be a servant.  If He was merciful, I want to show mercy too.  If His morality was impeccable, I want mine to be the same.  If He helped people even when He was tired and they were struggling, I want to do likewise.  Because of the Cross, I have a mission every day – to become a little more and a little more just like Jesus in my thoughts, words, and actions.

The Cross of Christ gives joy to my heart.

Galatians 6:14 RSV  But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

I can feel good about myself, in a wholesome way, because of the empowered life Jesus has shown me.  I can know I am living the way I was designed by God to live.  I was made in God’s image, and because of the Cross, I can become reconformed to that image which I had lost because of sin.  As a Christian, I am a member of the family of God.  What a profound reality – that God wants me in His family, and through Jesus has adopted me into it.  We call Good Friday ‘good’ for a reason.  The Cross is God’s present to me.  I am ecstatic.

In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o’ertake me,
hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
never shall the cross forsake me:
lo, it glows with peace and joy.

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The Salvation of Elijah Campbell – Afterword

March 11, 2010

If the Civil War novel ever happens, the main character is Elijah Campbell.  The story will concern itself with how Elijah gets from rural Marion County, Alabama to a meeting with Lincoln himself in 1864.  I think that story is interesting, exciting, and emotionally moving.  I am probably the only one who thinks that.  What follows actually happens after the main story closes and probably won’t be in the novel.

This is the dialog of a chance meeting Elijah Campbell has with a couple in Northeast Mississippi in 1868.  Elijah and his black friend, Claude (who figures prominently in the main story), are riding down the banks of the Buttahatchie River to see if it is feasible to establish a tow barge route to the Tombigbee to facilitate the marketing of the cotton produced at the community Elijah has founded at Campbell Springs.  The couple, the Carsons, own a small subsistence farm in the edge of Mississippi.  Their only son joined the Confederate Army in late 1861 and was heard from only once since then.  Elijah and Claude are looking for a place to spend the night as they approach the Carson house.  Mrs. Carson eventually recognizes Elijah from a picture she had seen in an old newspaper.  Here we go…

The Salvation of Elijah Campbell – Afterword

Elijah – Evenin’ Ma’am.  We’re lookin’ for a place to spend the night.  I wonder if we might use your shed over there?

Mrs. Carson – Yes sir.  I’m sure that would be fine with my husband.  He’s not been feeling well.

Elijah saw a man who appeared to be in his sixties, but who, for some reason, he imagined might be somewhat younger than that, in a straight-backed, cane-bottomed chair leaned back against the house on the front porch.  The old man was staring straight ahead and Elijah thought he could hear him mumbling something under his breath to no one in particular.

Elijah – I’m sorry your husband is ill Ma’am.  We’ll be leavin’ at first light.

Mrs. Carson – Stay as long as you like.  My husband starting having spells like this in ’65.  Sometimes they’ll last most of the day, sometimes for only a few minutes.  I can never understand exactly what he says.  Every so often he’ll cry while he tries to talk, big ol’ tears will run down his cheeks and his voice breaks all up, but he never sobs or anything like that.  I think he’s talking about our son.

Elijah – You lost a son in the War, Ma’am?

Mrs. Carson – I reckon we lost him.  All we know is that he went off to the war and he never came back.

Elijah – I’m sorry Ma’am.  (Elijah and Claude removed their hats)

Mrs. Carson – He left in December of ’61.  We told him not to go, that that fight didn’t concern us.  But he wouldn’t listen.  He left anyway, snuck off one night.  When we got up the next morning, he’d left a note, said he was going to kill some Yankees.  We got one letter from him, in March.  He was with Johnston’s army (the one that got himself killed).  He talked about striking the northern invaders who had stuck their nose where it didn’t belong and were trying to take away our rights.  He seemed like he was out of his head, all wild and such.  I guess it was being around all them other rebels.  We think he was killed at Shiloh, but we don’t know for sure.

Elijah – A lot of good Southern boys died there, Ma’am.

Mrs. Carson – He had a friend named Silas Reed.  He mentioned him in the letter.  We know that Silas was killed there.  We figure our boy likely died with him, that they were probably together.  But we never got any word about our son.  We know where Silas is buried, about half a mile from Shiloh Church.  But we don’t know if our son is buried there too.  We don’t even know for sure that he died there.  We don’t know what happened to him.  I sure wish we did.  If we just knew….(her voice trailed off)

Elijah – Claude and I are real sorry, Ma’am.  We’ll just…(but the woman kept talking)

Mrs. Carson – Do you know how the Southern boys were buried at Shiloh, sir?  (She continued before Elijah could speak)  Beauregard had ‘em dig trenches about as wide as a body is long.  They were scattered out over a few acres of the battlefield.  I guess they were mostly about half as long as from here to over there.  (She pointed to the shed, about 20 yards distant)  Then they just piled ‘em in there, one on top of the other.  No body ever dug ‘em up.  I don’t know if you could tell one from another if you did, whether they had anything on them that would give a body its name.  I don’t know if our boy is in one of those ditches or not.  I just don’t know… (Her voice trailed off again)

Elijah and Claude lowered their heads and turned their horses to ride over to the shed.  But the woman started talking again, she had only stopped for a few seconds.  They stopped and turned back around out of respect to listen.

Mrs. Carson – Silas was killed by a Yankee canon shot.  It was in a newspaper one of our neighbors down the river gave us a few months after the battle.  We always figured our son was with him and got killed too.  But we don’t know that, his name wasn’t listed in the paper with the others.  We had hoped…(she paused, Elijah thought she was going to start crying, he started to dismount and go to her, but then she suddenly started up again)… that maybe he wasn’t killed…that maybe he went with that crazy man Beauregard back to Corinth…and then was captured by the Yankees later…maybe sent to that prison up near Chicago…maybe he died there…or maybe he didn’t…maybe he was released in ’65 and tried to get home…(she paused again, Elijah had heard her voice start to break when she said “home” and started again to dismount, but she blinked her eyes real hard, shook her head slightly, and went on)…and for some reason never made it back here.  There was a farm down the road that was raided by a group of Yankees, they shot the husband while he was standing on his porch.  His wife somehow drug him inside their cabin.  The soldiers threw fire through a window and the house burned down.  The wife stayed with her husband and burned up inside the house with him.  They both died.  Our son may have gotten some mixed up word of that and thought it was our house with us inside.  Maybe he never came back because there wouldn’t have been anything to come back too and the grief would have been too bad.  Maybe he’s still alive out there somewhere.  We just don’t know where, and he doesn’t know we’re still here.  That could have happened, couldn’t it?  Too many “maybe’s” and “could have’s”.  But they’re what keep us going.  It’s because of the maybes and could haves that I open my eyes every morning and get up.  Without ‘em, I’d just stay in bed…

Her words trailed off again.  The old man had quit talking.  Elijah noticed that his beard was wet and his eyes were all glisteny.  The woman started to cry again and this time she made it.  Elijah dismounted and walked up to the porch where she was standing.  She had gathered herself and the crying was stopping.  For the first time, she looked straight at Elijah’s face.

Mrs. Carson – Sir, are you Elijah Campbell?  I saw a picture of you once in a newspaper.  It was a few years ago, right after you had raided Washington.  Is that you, sir?

Elijah – Yes Ma’am.  I am your humble servant.

Mrs. Carson – Was the message you sent to Jeff Davis true sir?  Had Mr. Lincoln actually agreed to stop the war?  The papers down here didn’t or wouldn’t print much of what some rumors said actually happened.  And then our government said you were such an evil man.  A lot of people wondered what really happened.  (She looked straight into Elijah’s eyes)  Could you have stopped it sir?

Elijah – There were a few details to be worked out.  But I think it could have ended then (he hesitated, looked to his right, then briefly up toward the sky, then directly at Mrs. Carson and slowly and calmly said)… if both sides had wanted that.

Mrs. Carson – I see sir.  Everybody around here thinks you are a hero.  Our government was a bunch of proud, selfish old men.  They were too proud.  And now we have this mess we’re in, and I don’t have my only son.  If Jeff Davis and the rest of them know so much, can they give me my son back, or just tell me where he is?  Can they do that sir?

Elijah – No Ma’am, they can’t do that.

Mrs. Carson – Can you, Mr. Campbell?  I believe if anybody could, it would be you, sir.

Elijah – I would if I could, Ma’am.  You know that.

Mrs. Carson – I believe you, sir.

Elijah – Ma’am, would it be all right if we had prayer?

Mrs. Carson – I would like that, sir.

Elijah and Claude (who was still mounted) both removed their hats.  Elijah placed his gloved right hand on the woman’s shoulder and prayed this prayer:

All righteous, Holy Father in heaven

Forgive us, Thy children, our many trespasses

Help us order our lives more like the life of Thy Son

Bless this good lady and her husband

Comfort them in their grief and loss

When our lives here shall soon end

Receive us all into Thy loving bosom

In the name of Thy Son

Amen

Mrs. Carson – Thank you, sir, and God bless you.

Her husband had started crying during Elijah’s prayer.  She went over to his chair and whispered something in his ear.  Elijah couldn’t make out what she said.  In a few moments he got up and, without looking at Elijah or Claude, began walking toward the door of their house with his wife’s arm locked in his.  They entered the house and the door closed behind them.

Elijah and Claude were left alone in the yard.  It was beginning to get dark.

Praying for Wisdom

March 9, 2010

I pray every day, as I am sure you do.  I thought I would share a few of the things I pray for.  This will take more than one post, so here’s the first.  They are not in any particular order.

I pray for wisdom.  I have had a tendency over my 58 years to make some poor decisions.  My life would have been more productive, I would have been a better servant/disciple of Jesus, I would have been a happier person – if I had made better decisions.  The amazing thing is: I did not set out to make bad decisions; I meant to make good ones and generally thought at the time that I was doing that.  I lacked humility and I had a weak faith.  I was starving for wisdom.  Then, I made an amazing discovery:

James 1:5 NKJV 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

I had trusted my own “wisdom” when I should have been asking God for wisdom.  It takes humility to do that, and, as James 1.6 points out, it takes faith.  When I begin to ask God for wisdom, things begin to get better.  I begin to trust more completely the teaching of Jesus about loving God and my neighbor.  I begin to study my Bible more to better learn what loving God and my neighbor meant, and that caused my faith to grow, for:

Romans 10:17 NKJV 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

With a stronger faith and the introduction of humility into my life, my walk with Jesus begin to improve, my feelings about myself also begin to improve, and (I think) the feelings of others toward me begin to improve.  I became a happier, calmer, more confident person.

Here is some advice for the faithful Christian that it took me way too long to learn.  Stop thinking that you have all the answers and begin asking God for wisdom.  Don’t ask for selfish materialistic things, because that’s not an area of approved emphasis for the serious Christian.  God won’t perform a miracle for you, those ended with the completion of the New Testament.    But He’ll do what He said He would do.  My thought is that He does it through His word, His Bible.  When I depend on God for wisdom, I gain a deeper respect for and faith in what He has said.  I find this proverb a succinct statement of this improved attitude:

Proverbs 3:5 NKJV 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;

A short prayer about wisdom might go something like this: “Grant me, dear Father, the wisdom to trust You and not me.”

God Loves Me

March 8, 2010

John 3:16 NKJV 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Romans 5:8 NKJV 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:10 NKJV 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God loves me in spite of myself.  He will always love me.  I don’t know anything I can do to make Him stop loving me.  My sin can separate me from Him, and that separation can become eternal if I live a life of sin of which I refuse to repent.  But He loves me, even when I’m bad, and wants me to come to Him and receive the forgiveness and acceptance He offers.  I find it immensely comforting to know that God always loves me.

When I disappoint myself by living less than a perfect life, when I get so upset with myself for not doing better than I do, when I fail so miserably that I wonder why I even try – God loves me!

When others say unkind things to me or about me,  when others do not give me the respect and recognition that I honestly feel they should, when my perception of others’ opinion of me is so poor that I become depressed and discouraged – God loves me!

When the trials of life become so heavy that I feel their weight will literally crush my soul, when I worry about my own health or the health of a dear loved one, when I have placed a part of my own life in the receiving cemetery earth – God loves me!

I can depend on His love for it is worth far more than the greatest financial empire ever amassed.  I can rejoice in His love for it is more glorious than the most sought after victory in this life.  I can proceed with quiet, confident, assurance because I know that:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4 RSV)

It is my prayer that these humble thoughts have encouraged us all.

Message from Montgomery

March 4, 2010

I have been in Montgomery this week attending some of the Faulkner lectures.  I am staying with Eric and have enjoyed spending some time with him. 

Consider this:

  • Think of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5.48, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” as His restatement of the theme of the book of Leviticus as stated in Leviticus 11.44 and elsewhere, “be holy, for I am holy.”  Think of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 as the teaching of Jesus on what personal holiness means. 
  • Make a list of the seven beatitudes in Matthew 5.3-9 and the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23.  Let these sixteen character traits be a starter list to improve your Christian life. 
  • Think of the Golden Rule of Matthew 7.12, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,”  to be the life application/action statement of the Second Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” found in Matthew 22.39.