Category Archives: America

Summer Reading Challenge: American History

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From Memorial Day to Independence Day my patriotism swells, and for the past few years I have, therefore, found Summer to be a great season to reflect on our nation’s history by reading books in the American History genre, particularly works related to American military history.
Why not join me this year in some American History reading goals for this summer? I challenge you to join me. I’ve picked out a five books I plan to read this summer.
SUMMER 2016 American History Reading List
Valley Forge by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen – Historical fiction. Part of the George Washington trilogy. I recently read To Try Men’s Souls in this series. I’m hungry for more.
Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton – I have yet to much, if any, post-9/11 American military history so I picked this one out by an author I’ve previously enjoyed (In Harm’s Way).
Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew – I’ve always loved nail-biting submarine movies, like The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and U-571. But I have never read a good book on the subject. This one looks like it fits the bill.
Decision Points by George W. Bush – Grabbed this one for a buck at the library fundraiser. So far… not bad. Just a few chapters in, though.
Badger Boy by Elmer Kelton – Western Historical Fiction – Much more fiction than history, but Kelton seeks to also accurately educate the reader on Texas Ranger history. This is book 2 in his Texas Ranger series. Book 1, The Buckskin Line, totally rocked. Loved it.
So will you join me in making this a summer of patriotic reading? If these particular titles don’t interest you, then below is a list of books I’ve enjoyed in the past that you might consider.Many, if not most, are available at your local public library. Or if you prefer to own your own copies, I’ve found (especially if you have Amazon Prime) and to be excellent sites for purchasing books.
If you want to join us, go to the Facebook group I’ve set up titled “2016 Summer Reading Challenge: American History.” Hope to see you there!
Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick – Separate the wheat from the chaff in the remarkable story of the Pilgrims. Probes the profound hardship and suffering for the sake of religious freedom and economic dreams.
1776 by David McCullough – The title says it all. If you’ve never read McCullough, you are in for a treat. He is a phenomenal popular level historian.
Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis – Really helps you understanding the political tensions and historical background of the American Revolutionary period. Our Founding Fathers were united in the cause for freedom from the British crown, but not much else. A real eye opener for those who hold to a naive, idealistic view of the Founding Fathers. And yet, as a Christian, it increasingly affirms my view that God’s Providence oversaw the establishment of this amazingly blessed nation.
To Try Men’s Souls by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen – A historical novel based on the true story of Washington crossing the Delaware. Gingrich and Forstchen make the characters come to life with imagined dialogue of key characters in the events, seeking to be true to their character and the setting. Very enjoyable approach to history, especially for those who consider reading history to be a dry exercise.
Manhunt by James Swanson – Easily one of my favorite history books of all time. A true page turner. You probably know the story of the assassination of Lincoln, but how well do you know the details of the hunt for his assassin? Hearing it in detail, and told so well, makes this book special.
Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – For quite some time I was not really interested in this book because I had already read Manhunt by James Swanson and thought that it would basically rehash the same material. I was wrong and glad to see the difference. The two books would actually make a great combination, reading this one first. Manhunt zeroes in on the 11 days between the assassination of Lincoln and the killing of Booth. It is riveting. But Killing Lincoln spends the bulk of the book (well over 3/4s) on the events leading up to and including the assassination. I especially enjoyed the telling of the close of the war. Fantastic read.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen– Fascinating historical account of the William Dodd family’s time in Berlin, when Dodd was U. S. Ambassador to Germany (mid-1933 to late 1937). Dodd and his family witnessed the rise of Hitler and Nazi power, as well as the early samples of Hitler’s despotic, cruel rule. Dodd’s first-hand experience led him to champion a strong interventionist position as well as prophetic accuracy concerning Hitler’s actions in regard to Jewish extermination and European domination. If Roosevelt’s government (as well as other European democracies) would have heeded this man’s dire warnings, millions of lives would have been spared.
     Especially riveting are chapters 52 and 53 in which Larson laments the remarkable descent into depravity and how it occurred unchallenged. It is frightening and should serve as a reminder of just how fragile democracy, and our rights, really are. “Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.”
To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy – It was with great anticipation that I picked up the first hand account of America’s most decorated WWII soldier, Audie Murphy. The short Irish Texan was gifted with a quick mind, endurance, determination,  grit, and courage. Story after story of battlefield drama fill the pages. If Audie’s version of the events weren’t backed up by eyewitnesses one would suspect that he might be guilty of not just stretching the truth, but inventing stories that feature himself as the hero. At one point I was honestly thinking, “There is no way one guy does that much, and there is no way that one man is that lucky.”
     So, provided that his stories are really true, which at this point I have no evidence to believe that they are not, his was truly a remarkable, amazing, almost unbelievable, military career. I love the ending of the book: “Gradually it becomes clear. I will find the kind of girl of whom I once dreamed. I will learn to look at life through uncynical eyes, to have faith, to know love. I will learn to work in peace as in war. And finally – finally, like countless others, I will learn to live again.”
Hitler in the Crosshairs by John Woodbridge and Maurice Possley – John Woodbridge, a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, tells the story of Teen Palm, who was a close friend of his father, Pastor Charles Woodbridge. Woodbridge led Palm to saving faith the Lord Jesus a few years before World War II.
     Teen went on to serve as an infantry officer in the war. In the process of liberating Munich, he actually lifted a prized souvenir: one of Hitler’s favorite pistols, a gold-plated Walther which had been a 50th birthday present to the dictator from the Walther family. Upon returning to the U. S., after the war, Palm presented the priceless pistol to Pastor Woodbridge as a gift.
     But the book is not really about the pistol. It is about the faith and heroism of Teen Palm. Because details are limited, and because Palm was a typical WWII veteran who preferred not to talk about his war experiences, the authors are not left with enough first-hand details of Palm’s experience to produce a lengthy volume around his compelling story. So a considerable amount of the book is a retelling of the events of the European theater in relation to Palm’s division. The lacking personal details are the weakness of this book. But do not be mistaken, I enjoyed this book.
Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley – I was so excited when I found out the movie was being made. But as much as I love Clint Eastwood (Director), it was, as often is the case, an example of how the movie could not come close to measuring up to the book. Read the book and skip the movie. Destined to be a WWII classic.
Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley – They did not make a movie of this one. Thankfully. If you ever let political naysayers cause you to doubt the heroic war story of President George H. W. Bush, Bradley puts those doubts to rest. Bush is one of several war heroes who are chronicled in this outstanding WWII effort by Bradley.
Biggest Brother: The Life Of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led The Band of Brothers by Larry Alexander – After watching the HBO series, “Band of Brothers” I desperately wanted to learn more about this phenomenal American named Dick Winters. Larry Alexander scratched that itch. Warning: If you have read a lot of Stephen Ambrose on Easy Company then there is a lot of overlap, but Alexander still provides some insights into the man you won’t get from Ambrose.
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose – If you are like me and loved the HBO series, “Band of Brothers” then this book is for you. That said, this is also one of those rare cases in which the screen version may actually have surpassed the book itself.
     I also read and enjoyed these other Ambrose WWII books (yes, I know Ambrose plagiarized a portion of The Wild Blue, but I still loved it):
> Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany
> The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 (my favorite Ambrose WWII book)
> The VICTORS : Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II
In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton – I am proud to say that I am Facebook friends with Harlan Twible, one of the survivors. He loves God and still looks healthy and active, well into his 90s. Warning: this book may give you nightmares. What these men went through is quite horrific and Stanton really puts you there with them.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand –  Every American should hear Louis Zamperini’s story. Hillenbrand tells it best. Hard to put this one down. Skip the theatrical version by Angelina Jolie and read this book instead.
In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnamby Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark -McNamara was the longest serving Secretary of State in U. S. history, having served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
     Almost without exception modern historians and the general population look back at the Vietnam War as a colossal failure in political and military execution. Such dogmatic hindsight declarations fail to appreciate the difficulties in navigating through the post-WWII, Cold War era. Less than two decades after burying hundreds of thousands of American boys, the nation had little stomach for another major sacrifice of youth. Yet the encroachment of communism in Southeast Asia was real, and was especially frightening in a nuclear age. How valuable was containment of the communist threat? Was it worth the deployment and potential death of thousands of young Americans?
     McNamara gives his first-hand account of the difficulty of making the decisions that led to the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. This book is a very engaging trip into the mind of one of the architects of the American entrance into the Vietnam conflict. It served as a gentle reminder to me that it is much easier to be an armchair quarterback on American foreign policy than to actually be a player in the decision-making process that impacts thousands of lives.
Seal Team Six by Howard Wasdin and Stephen Templin – Anyone interested in getting the insider’s look of what it’s like to become and be a Navy Seal (at least one who served in the ’80s and ’90s) will love it. Because I have a personal connection to the Battle of Mogadishu, I was especially captivated by that portion of Wasdin’s story. Heroism, bravado, and optimism throughout. Shatters some myths perpetuated by Hollywood. Salty language (as expected).
The Best of Times: The Boom and Bust Years of America before and after Everything Changed by Haynes Johnson – The vast majority of the previous books I have listed deal with American History during wartime. But this deals book focuses on America in the 1990s. It was interesting, but I felt Johnson inserted his own opinion too much. The New York Times praised it: “Informed, balanced and . . . gripping. A vivid and reliable reminder of what we have been through.” Library Journal commented: “Ultimately, the Nineties, according to Johnson, will be remembered as a time of squandered opportunities despite U.S. global preeminence and a booming economy. Johnson at time preaches and belabors issues, but his clear writing and thought-provoking investigations should send this book up the best sellers lists. Strongly recommended for all public libraries.”
The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn – You may be surprised to see this one in an American History list, but if you read it you’ll understand the connection between the beginning of our nation and the tragedy of 9/11. Prior to reading it, I looked up the reviews on this book and found quite a bit of ammunition against it, primarily because of a rejection of the assumption that underlies the book: that the U.S.A. is a special nation in God’s eyes… a modern Israel. Therefore, it is hermeneutically incorrect to impose Isaiah 9.10 onto America in a double prophecy manner. Makes sense. But then I read the book.  Like many others, I was stunned by the facts surrounding 9/11 and the response of our country since then, including the facts and timing of the stock market crash in September of 2008. What I need to find is a point by point refutal of these amazing facts. I mean it’s one thing to deny the assumption underlying the book, but it’s another thing to explain away all the amazing “coincidences” that line up so…eerily.
Younger reader?
Try these titles:
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

What Will Bring Revival? It’s Really Quite Simple…

Now that I’ve been a Christian for 29 years as well as a pastor for 21 years, I have seen a lot of trends in American Christianity over the past few decades. One of the more disappointing trends has been the amount of hype surrounding certain books, movies, conferences, movements, Bible studies, and, even, “revivals.” I cannot recall how many times a of these various mediums were going to possibly usher in a revival which would transform our nation.

Let me mention a few examples. From each of these examples, God has certainly done a whole lot. People have been saved. Lives have been changed. I do not want to minimize that fact. Praise the Lord for how He used these tools to reach people!

In each of these cases I can recall Christian people enthusiastically suggesting, or hoping, that this particular “thing” would be the catalyst for national revival or spiritual awakening.

(1) 1990… A Bible Study… “Experiencing God” featured the teaching of Henry Blackaby, and consisted of a VHS video series matched with a workbook. The premise of the study is to find out where God is at work and to join Him there. Excellent counsel! But national revival from the study itself? Twenty-five years and counting… not yet.

Continue reading What Will Bring Revival? It’s Really Quite Simple…

A Christian View of War and the Need for a Military

This coming Sunday at Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville is “Military Appreciation Sunday.” I am excited about this opportunity to give honor to those our active military and our veterans. I will be sharing a special message about the two kinds of war we are prepared to fight: the physical and the spiritual.

There are generally three views of war among Christians. Supporting Bible verses are appealed to for each view. The vast majority of Christians fall into the view I hold to, what is commonly called the “Just War” position. I fully recognize that there are many variations within each of the three views:

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I believe a strong and prepared military is a necessity for our country. I also believe that we have biblical justification for being ready to fight:

1. Because there is evil in the world (Genesis 6.5; Romans 3.15-18; 2 Timothy 3.1-4).

2. Because God has established the right of self-defense (Exodus 22.2-3; Nehemiah 4.13-14; Luke 22.36).

3. Because one of the major reasons God ordained government is for protecting the people (Romans 13.1-4).

4. Because sometimes governments must act with force to stop injustice (Psalm 82.4; Ecclesiastes 3.8; Proverbs 24.6; Genesis 15.16).

Therefore, God has the government the authority to have a military:

> to protect us from harm.

> to enable us to live in freedom.

As Richard Grenier wrote, “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

One Day, Two Tragic Deaths, and James 1:19

On Saturday, August 9th, 2014 two tragic deaths occurred that sent shockwaves across the country. At one minute after Noon, officer Darren Wilson approaches Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. An altercation ensures that results in the shooting death of the 18-year-old Brown.

That evening, 832 miles east of where Michael Brown had died, Kevin Ward, Jr., was living his dream by Sprint Car racing at the Ontario County Fairgrounds against NASCAR legend Tony Stewart. On lap 14 of the short dirt track, Stewart appears to spin young Ward in to the wall, causing a flat tire and, thus, eliminating the younger driver from the race. Ward breaks protocol and exits his vehicle, walking toward the vehicles circling the track under caution. He aggressively approaches Stewart’s car on the short track and ends up apparently hit by the tail end of Stewart’s car, which results in the death of the 20-year old Ward.

Continue reading One Day, Two Tragic Deaths, and James 1:19

Back Home: Death in a Coal Mine

I was saddened this week to read about a young man getting killed in an accident at a coal mine in my home county back in southern Illinois. It brought back memories for me. When most people think about coal mines, they usually think about West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. I’ve learned that many people don’t realize that southern Illinois has one of the richest coal mining veins in the United States.

I can remember as a young boy going to spend the night at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house and Grandpa coming home from finishing the 2nd shift. He’d wake me up so I could join him for a midnight snack in the kitchen: Pringles and a bottle of cold Mountain Dew.

My Grandpa is in the middle.
My Grandpa is in the middle. Grandpa would shower before our “midnight snack” in the kitchen.

I also remember in grade school getting news of a classmate’s Dad being killed in the mine. One of my Dad’s best buddies had his face crushed in mine accident. Several surgeries were required to reconstruct his face. One of my best friends spent several weeks in a hospital recuperating after nearly dying in a coal mining accident.

Continue reading Back Home: Death in a Coal Mine

The Problem with Education in America

I believe in education.*  I truly desire for all children to have the opportunity and privilege of a good education. But let’s face it, the United States of America is not exactly knocking the ball out of the park when it comes to educating the masses.

What’s the problem? Is it curriculum? Is it funding? Is it standards? Is it lack of testing? No, none of these are the main problem.

Julington Creek Elementary School
St. Johns, Florida

Although we live in one of the best public school districts in the nation (it’s true, year in and year out, Newseek, Forbes, and others say so), we choose to homeschool. We do this for a very strategic reason: we believe that no one cares more about our children’s development than us, their parents.

This is the problem with education in America: parents.

Continue reading The Problem with Education in America

The Dream Is Still Unfulfilled (In A Way That May Surprise You)

"I Have a Dream" (August 28, 1963)
“I Have a Dream” (August 28, 1963)

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. In that historic speech, King said:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

As a nation we have come a long way. Sure, there are still examples of racism in the United States, but as a whole, we no longer judge a person by the color of their skin. Surely Dr. King would be pleased with the progress that has been made in this country.

But the problem is that we have also reached a point where we no longer judge someone by the content of their character. The spirit of the age is to not judge at all, with the ironic exception being judging those who do still seek to judge according to the content of character.

When Dr. King spoke of judging someone by the content of their character, he spoke from an underlying worldview that accepted the reality of moral standards. Our nation has jettisoned those moral standards, which makes it impossible to judge character.

America’s favorite Bible verse is the first part of Matthew 7:1…”Judge not” interpreting it to mean, in essence, “Don’t judge anyone for the content of their character.” Such an interpretation of that command completely contradicts Matthew 7:6, where Jesus says, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” Here Jesus clearly and strongly calls us to judge content of character.

Jesus fully expects us to judge the content of a person’s character, but He qualifies it with an admonition against hypocrisy and a mandate to be willing to help the person improve, as we see in Matthew 7:5…”First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” For Jesus, it’s not enough to judge someone without hypocrisy, we must also proactively seek to help that person.

Because we have rejected moral standards and because we are misinterpreting, and therefore, misapplying Jesus’s teaching on this subject, we also run the risk of descending back into a nation that judges others by the content of their skin. Both the negative half of Dr. King’s statement (not judging by the color of skin) and the positive half (judging by the content of character) must be embraced for racism to truly be put to death.

Dr. King’s dream will be fulfilled when a person is no longer judged by color of skin but rather is judged by content of character in a way that is loving and redemptive.