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

If, or when, you get robbed…

Have you ever been robbed? A dear couple in our congregation recently had their apartment broken into, and much was stolen: computers, jewelry, credit cards, etc. I’ve never had that happen to me.

My car was broken into years ago; all that was taken was some loose change. But a couple of years ago, through identity theft, Lacey and I funded someone’s Christmas… over $800 of electronics at a Radio Shack in California! Fortunately, Discover believed us when we said we didn’t Christmas shop at that Radio Shack on the West Coast and removed the  charges from our bill. All it ended up costing us was the hassle of getting new credit cards.

How should we react when we get robbed? If it ever happens to me again. I hope I respond the way noted Bible scholar Matthew Henry did after he was robbed. Henry was mugged once when he was traveling on foot, the thieves getting away with his wallet. Later, as he reflected on his experience, he wrote in his journal:

“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because, it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

Be thankful in all circumstances. – 1 Thessalonians 5.18

Choose gratitude!

Interstellar, C. S. Lewis, and 2 Peter 3:8

We recently watched the sci-fi drama Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chasten, and Michael Caine. (**Spoiler Alert**) Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Earth is on the verge of becoming inhabitable. The human race will die unless someone can figure out how to colonize another planet. In the process of searching for a potential planet to colonize, Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper, enters a black hole. Expecting to perish, instead he finds himself in a tesseract. Inside the tesseract, Cooper is somehow on the other side of his daughter’s bedroom bookshelves. He is able to peek through the bookshelf and see different time frames of his daughter’s life in that room. Amazingly, he is also able to cross the space-time continuum and actually cause books to fall off the shelf. Using Morse code, he is able to communicate to her via a wristwatch lying on the bookshelf, a watch he gave her prior to leaving on his space journey. Through Morse code he delivers to her quantum data collected from the black hole. This data provides the solution to a gravitational equation that is the key to successfully saving the human race from extinction.

How does this relate to the eminent author C. S. Lewis and 2 Peter 3.18?

When Cooper is in the tesseract, he is able to see into, and even communicate, with his daughter, at various times through her life. He is able to see history not as a progression of sequential events, but, in essence, all at once. He even sees himself in the room (think Marty McFly seeing himself in Back to the Future II). At first, Cooper thinks that he has been aided by some five-dimensional alien beings which are obviously more intelligent and advanced than humans. Eventually, though, he realizes that it is not aliens, but a more evolved humanity that has learned to master the space-time continuum.

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Quotes below are from Book IV, chapter 3, “Time  and Beyond Time”

Consider these concepts from Interstellar with what C. S. Lewis wrote back in the 1940s, as found in the book Mere Christianity:

“We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all: later the Philosophers took it over: and now some of the scientists are doing the same.”

Lewis is addressing the very principle on which much of the movie Interstellar is dependent: it is possible to be outside of time as we know and experience it. The difference is that Interstellar envisions a God-less, evolved humanity being the ones who will experience and master the implications of such an eternal view. Lewis, instead, believes God is the One dwelling outside of time. Lewis uses the concept of God hearing and answering prayers as an example of how He stands outside of time:

“His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every  other moment from the beginning of the world –  is always Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of the prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.”

How does this impact our prayer lives?

“He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us… You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created.”

Is your brain hurting yet? If Lewis is correct, then his theory enables us also to think about how God seems to be so more patient in dealing with the things we think He should rushing to fix. In other words, it gives us a clue as to why God is sometimes slow to give us the answers to our prayers.  After all, as 2 Peter 3.8 says, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

God is awesome and beyond our comprehension! His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than our ways!

Twelve Scriptures on Walking With God

I recently did a personal Bible study on walking with God. Using a concordance, I found 62 Scriptures that really spoke to me directly on the subject. Over the last few weeks I narrowed the list down to 12 favorite Scriptures on the subject, which I hope to put to memory:

And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.  – Leviticus 26.12

For the Lord is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.   – Psalm 84.11

Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.  – Psalm 119.133

Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.  – Psalm 143.8

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  – Proverbs 3.5-6

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil.  – Proverbs 4.25-27

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.  – Proverbs 20.7

And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.  – Ezekiel 36.27

The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.  – Habakkuk 3.19

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  – 2 Corinthians 5.7

This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  – Galatians 5.16

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. – 3 John 4

Seven Scriptures You’ll Never Hear in a Prosperity Gospel Church

One of the ways you know you are in an unbalanced, unbiblical church is by asking yourself are there any Scriptures you would never hear preached, taught, or quoted there?

Prosperity Gospel churches have an extreme emphasis on being wealthy and being healthy. In a Prosperity Gospel church the chances of you hearing one of the Scriptures below is infinitesimal:

Proverbs 30.7-9

7 Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
9 Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.

1 Timothy 6.6-10

6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Luke 9:58

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Galatians 4.13-14

13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

James 1.9-11

9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

Matthew 6.19-21

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

2 Corinthians 11.24-30

24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.

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…

Great Prayer… Wrong Verse?

In that classic film The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, in regard to his frequent use of the word “inconceivable”:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I’ve increasingly been hearing evangelical Christians, in prayer, say something like this: “Lord, you told us to ask for the nations and You will give them to us as an inheritance, to the ends of the earth. Lord, we’re asking.” The point of the prayer is great: petitioning for global evangelization. Far be it for any reader to read into this post that I am not excited about this emphasis!

My point is that the verse referenced, Psalm 2:8, is the wrong verse for this prayer.

Psalm 2 is a prophetic Psalm that makes perfect sense when you see it in the light of God the Father and His Anointed, God the Son. When you read the whole Psalm you soon realize that God the Father’s offer to give all the nations to His Son is so that He might pour out His wrath upon them. Verse 9 is clear: “You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

This is a prophetic Psalm of the coming judgment of the Son of God when He returns in glory. Only those who fear the Lord and bow their knee to him now will escape His wrath, as verses 11 and 12 reveal:

“Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”

So, as much as I love the spirit of this prayer I’m increasingly hearing, I must say to those who are quoting Psalm 2:8 in reference to global evangelization…

You keep quoting that verse. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Abundant Life (Jn.10.10) … Abiding Life (Jn.15.5)