Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Angel of Marye's Heights - A Civil War Story

My wife and I recently took a trip to Virginia and Washington, D.C. During that time, we visited a number of historical sites, including several Civil War battlefields. As an American History buff, this was like a dream for me (and my wife actually enjoyed herself there, too!). It was amazing to follow the route of Grant and Lee’s 1864 Wilderness campaign, to stand on the ground at Chancellorsville where “Stonewall” Jackson was shot by his own men (he would die a few days later), and to walk the Sunken Road at the base of Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg was one of the most interesting sites to us. If you know anything about the battle that took place there in December of 1862, it was like Pickett’s doomed charge at Gettysburg in reverse. Instead of Confederates charging up a hill into the teeth of well-entrenched Union batteries (as Pickett would later do at Gettysburg in July, 1863), Union infantry at Chancellorsville would charge up a steep incline to disastrous consequences, as they were pummeled by Confederate artillery stationed on the top of a ridge called Marye’s Heights and by Confederate infantry stationed behind a stone wall in front of the Sunken Road below. It was there that Robert E. Lee was said to have famously declared, “It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”

While there on the battlefield, I saw a large bronze statue at the end of the rebuilt stone wall. Being the only statue on the premises, I was drawn to see what this unusual site was. It was a monument not to any of the great generals of the battle, but to an obscure sergeant in the Confederate Army by the name of Richard Kirkland. Following is an account of Sergeant Kirkland’s fascinating story:

When night fell after the day’s pitched battle, countless (overwhelmingly Union) soldiers lay freezing and dying on the ground, where both sides could clearly hear them crying out for

water, the injured becoming understandably more dehydrated than the healthier men behind cover. Hearing these dying pleas, Confederate soldier Richard Rowland Kirkland, decided to do something about their pain. Kirkland asked the commanding general if he could head out to the battlefield and provide water to the disabled men, but Kirkland was initially denied. However after listening to the men’s cries a while longer, Kirkland pressed the point and the general allowed him to take to the exposed battleground and provide aid. Kirkland’s request to carry a white flag so that he would not be shot by the active Union soldiers was denied. Undeterred, the brave soldier set out with his canteen to soothe the dying men. At first apprehensive, the Union forces soon caught on to his charity and did not fire on Kirkland. The generous soldier was able to make several separate trips out onto the battlefield with water, each time risking being shot by the tense men on either side. Kirkland’s selfless actions earned him the nickname, “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” (source – Atlas Obscura).

The Sunken Road...Marye's Heights is on the right...
the stone wall on the left
Think of that! Of all the stories of bravery and heroism that could be told at this iconic site, the one that the generation following the war deemed most worthy to memorialize in bronze was this story of mercy. A Rebel reaches out a hand of mercy to his Yankee opponents...and is forever remembered.

This reminds me of a verse in James:

...judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 3:13 NIV)

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” What a stunning statement! God is indeed a God of justice, and because He is a just God, no sin can be excused. In fact, in Romans 1:20, Paul boldly states that all mankind is “without excuse.” He later states “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Yet God’s mercy triumphs over judgment. The only way for His mercy to triumph over His perfect justice was for someone to pay the penalty of sin for those under judgment. Someone had to come over the wall to save us, rebels though we were. That Someone was God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Paul sums this up this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Co. 5:21). Jesus Christ did far more than Sergeant Kirkland did for his enemies, heroic though that action was. Jesus gave His very life for me and for you. Because of His greatest of all sacrifices, we now have the opportunity to have fellowship with God today. As well, we know that we can only receive mercy from God when we show mercy to others. Let’s follow Richard Kirkland’s example and show mercy to others today!

This article originally appeared in The Posey County News in my column "Pastor's Perspective."

Below are a few more pics (and one short video) of our Fredericksburg visit:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Robust Christian Man (Father's Day)

One of the more popular words that we see in the news these days is “robust.” We use this word to describe something that is strong and hardy. Just a quick check of this word in recent news articles revealed things like “robust jobs report,” “robust demand,” and “robust oil prices” (not exactly a good thing!). I looked up the origin of this word and found something very interesting. It comes from the Latin word “robustus” whose literal meaning is “as strong as oak.” It conveys the image of a sturdy tree whose roots go down deep. Winds may blow, storms may lash strongly against it, but it remains undisturbed.

The Bible actually likens a man who follows God to such a tree. Read these words from Psalm 92:

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still yield fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green,

Although this verse can apply to both men and women, since we are near Father’s Day, we’re going to apply it to men today.

Notice first for all that this robust man is righteous...that is, “right with God.” He is one who flourishes like a strong tree. In Psalm 1, it describes this same type of man as being “...like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.” It is in his right relationship with God that “the righteous man” flourishes. It is in that relationship that he is “firmly planted.” The truth is that without God, our lives are far from robust. Though outwardly we may seem to flourish, yet inwardly there is no firm foundation.

Secondly, notice that this “righteous man” is planted in the house of the Lord. I’m afraid in our culture, church attendance has become optional, even for those who call themselves Christians. This is especially true of men. Somehow to be a spiritual man is considered “unmanly.” To pray and take our families to church denotes weakness to many men. Yet, actually the opposite is true. A flourishing man...a robust man...is one who is spiritual. He is “planted in the house of the Lord.” He is the man who finds himself in church...every time the doors are open! How we need these kind of robust Christian men in our culture!

Finally, we also note that this spiritual man of robust faith bears much fruit in his life. Not occassional fruit, but consistent fruit...even down to his old age. Psalm 1 says of this man that “in whatever he does, he prospers.” This is because he doesn’t live a selfish life. He doesn’t live on “Me Mountain.” He is productive in the way that he relates to his fellow man. He gives of himself to others. He gives his time, treasure, and talent to God’s kingdom, asking nothing in return. In his latter years, he is the family patriarch, “full of sap and very green!”

Men, don’t you want to be a man like that? Women, don’t you want your husbands, fathers, and sons to be that kind of a man? Believe it or not, these type of men really do exist today! I would encourage you men to become that kind of man. Start this Sunday by going to a Bible-believing church in your area. Begin to read God’s word. Pray to Him daily. Ask Him to make you the kind of man that you want to be...the kind of man that you know you should be...a robust Christian man!

(This article originally appeared in The Posey County News...June 12, 2018)

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