Making sense of our history in the church to know where we are going.
Since this is the first time I’ve spoken when we have a live webcast for Church, I don’t know if those of you who are tuning in are aware of the title of the sermon - everybody in Cincinnati is. I believe in titles. I put titles on almost everything and when I don’t, then I have good friends who run around asking me why I don’t have a title on it. That happened yesterday with Aaron Booth so titles are important, kind of focuses on what we are going to do. The title on this sermon is, I don’t know, something to catch your attention. It’s called ‘Jesus Christ and General Custer, Making Sense of our History’. Now I really don’t know how many would have made those connections – Jesus Christ and General Custer – but for us in Ohio we really should. He was from Ohio, George Armstrong Custer was. He was one of the Buckeye boys in American history, there is no doubt about that.
Well, I want to talk about that. We’re really looking at our history in the Church and how to make sense of it. When you study history – history is one of my favorite things to consider – to read about all kinds of history. But when you study history you realize there is a great wisdom to be drawn from it if you’re searching for the wisdom, Now I know there are some historians, I’ve read their books, who can write history, but they haven’t got a lick of sense. They simply don’t learn anything from what they’ve written, it seems. Others, on the other hand, do. Winston Churchill, of course, was the great Prime Minister that basically ran the free world for most of World War II. He was the Prime Minister of England, really one of the great leaders that England ever produced in her history. But, you know, had he not been a politician he would have been nearly as famous as he is now because he was a historian. He wrote more history books than most history book writers write. In fact, he used to joke that sometimes he would make history in the daytime and go and write it that night. And he wasn’t kidding. He actually did that sort of thing.
He was a remarkable historian. He had a philosophy of history summarized in two statements. One is that the further back you look, the further forward you can see. You know, if you look back, you learn what man has gone through. Whether mankind has learned something from it or not, we can. Then you can look forward to what human nature will do in the future. But we have another dimension of history that we know in the Church and that it starts in John chapter 1 and verse 1:
John 1:1 John 1:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
American King James Version×- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
That’s eternity, the family of God into the not dim antiquity, just into infinity into the past. We can’t even comprehend that. It’s hard enough for our finite little minds – with all due respects to each of us – we have little minds compared to the mind of Christ or the Father. With our finite, small minds we can begin to comprehend eternity off into the future. You see the cowboy riding off into the sunset and as he gets further and further away it gets smaller and smaller and smaller. We can envision that. We know, okay beyond what we can see, life proceeds. And that’s good. That’s what we should envision. But try to imagine eternity into the past. Well, you go to the Garden of Eden. You’ve got that, okay? That’s good. You could go back to the creation – in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. We can see that, it’s all around us, the evidence of it – geology and this sort of thing. We can go back even further than that to when Christ made the angels. You know they didn’t exist at one time and then they existed. He made them. Well, of course, we skipped over a big event – the rebellion of Satan – because that was some time after the angels were created, probably a long time after the angels were created. And then we go back to when they weren’t created and then what about before then?
Now if you’ve ever played a pinball machine, and this would show your age if you have because pinball machines aren’t on video, they’re made to be a much more interactive machine where you kind of knock them around as you try to get that ball to bounce – it’s a big steel ball rolling around under the glass and you’re watching it. And if you bounce the machine too much then it has a ‘tilt’ signal. It throws a certain electric circuit and then ‘Tilt’ starts flashing on all of its lights which means you lost because you are pushing the machine around too much. Our minds go on ‘tilt’ when you get back about so far. Humanly we can’t imagine – we can sort of imagine into the future, but to imagine into the past is just baffling. Well, the further back we look - that’s as far back as we can see, but that’s a long ways – the further forward we can see.
I had a history teacher that had a comment about history. She was quoting George Santayana, a great American philosopher and a few others, Leo Tolstoy I think also said the same thing, “Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it”. And if you were ignorant of American history at the end of a year of studying under Betty Redfield, you would repeat it. You’d be back in that class and you’d go through it all again. Fortunately for the students, she was a good teacher and most everybody passed – not very high grades, I mind you, because she was demanding, but we enjoyed the experience and learned from it.
The other statement, and this begins to tie us back into what we are looking at here, but we are going to start in 1 Corinthians 10. The other statement by Winston Churchill about history was this, which speaks to the wisdom that you can draw from knowing history. He said, “A good knowledge of history is like a quiver full of arrows in a debate.” Not many archers here. See, an archer would smile, nod. They know exactly what it is like to have a quiver full of arrows. You know, I smiled being an archer. In fact I carve bows, make arrows, things like that. And I can appreciate the value of a quiver full of arrows. But in a debate, to be able to pull those arrows out and deploy them is why Churchill was the master of debate in that sense. So knowing history is powerful stuff. And God points out very clearly – get back here to – I really should turn to the pages myself when I tell you where we are going - 1 Corinthians, chapter 10, we are going to start right at the beginning. The apostle Paul talks about history. He knew history as well or better than Churchill, at least the history that had been made up to that time.
1 Corinthians 10:1 1 Corinthians 10:1Moreover, brothers, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
American King James Version×- Moreover, brethren, I don’t want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud… well hold it, how could they be unaware that the ancient Israelites were under the cloud when they crossed the Red Sea? Well, they could be unaware of that if they didn’t bother to learn the history or if maybe they heard it, but they didn’t pay any attention and they didn’t have any knowledge of it, therefore, that was working in their lives like the quiver full of arrows. …I don’t want you to be unaware that our fathers were all under the cloud… he said, they …all passed through the sea… that’s the Red Sea.
Verse 2 – and they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
So if you imagine the sea when Israel went down into the water, the water had opened up and it had this dry spot - remember an east wind came and dried it out – blew all night. They walked over dry shod on the sea bed. So they had water to the left of them, water to the right of them and the fish, maybe, sailing out through the water and dropping down. The little Israelite boys running over and grabbing them and carrying, you know, as many fish as they could up and out on the other side. That’s my imagination working overtime. But above them was the cloud and Christ was in the cloud. That was His official presence. They put the cloud over them which also blinded the Egyptian army from seeing where the Israelites were. They just knew that they went that way. They could see tracks.
So it was a typical baptism. A cloud is water vapor. Water to the left, water to the right, water above, it was a typical baptism in that sense and a foreshadowing of our baptism into conversion and receiving God’s Spirit.
Verse 2 – They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
Verse 3 – and all ate the same spiritual food… We know that they ate manna. Christ, Himself, is called the bread from heaven.
Verse 4 - and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ… Jesus Christ before His human birth was the Lord God of the Old Testament. He always existed with the Father. They didn’t, maybe, have the titles of the Father and the Son, those were assumed when Christ came to earth at this time, but God and the Word, as Christ had the other title in John 1:1 John 1:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
American King James Version×, they were always there – the great family kingdom of God. …For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
Verse 5 - But with most of them God was not well pleased… So here’s a lesson from history. …for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now he is talking about the forty years of wandering.
Verse 6 - Now these things became examples, to our intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
We study history to learn how to live our lives better. It’s easier, in fact it is advantageous to learn from the mistakes of others. Now we had some country western wisdom tossed out in the sermonette. Here’s another one. “Nobody’s worthless. At least they can serve as a bad example.” I think it was Will Rogers who came up with that gem. Well, they served as a bad example – some of them did. Now, granted we’ll work with them when we resurrect them in the White Throne Judgment. That’ll be a challenge, but it will be exciting, too.
Verse 7 - And do not become idolaters as some of them were… See, don’t fall into the trap they fell into. Learn from the history. …As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.”
Verse 8 - Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;
Now we are going to talking about General Custer. In Custer’s Last Stand we lost 266 U.S. soldiers. We don’t know how many of the Sioux and the Cheyenne and, let’s see, I think there may have been some Arapaho or Arikara tribesmen there, but mainly it was the Sioux and some Cheyenne in Custer’s Last Stand. And by comparison, it was a small event compared to just that particular time that God sites through Paul here. In one day 23,000 fell.
Verse 9 - nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;
Verse 10- nor complain, as some of them complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
Verse 11- Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
You see, they are for our admonition. We are to learn from history – all history – the history of man, the history of Israel. What’s the difference? The history of Israel / the history of man? Well, the history of Israel got written in the Bible. And then the history of mankind, the rest of mankind got written elsewhere, but it got written. We can learn it and it’s quite fascinating.
Here are a couple of principles, though, about history that we can draw from. Verses 12 and 13. Before that, we want to emphasize at the end of verse 11 - …they are written for our admonition upon whom… us …the end of the ages have come. Now we are at the end of the ages. We are at the end in the sense that it is just prior to the return of Christ, there is a new age that is coming very soon from an historical perspective. So God gave us the history in the Bible specifically to help us through this time that we are in right now.
Verse 12 - Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
One of the principles of the values of studying history is that it is humbling. When you study the history of man, you learn that for about every year of peace – and this calculation was made by a French historian around the turn of the 20th century, Jean de Bloch . And he did an analysis of a section of history of about 3,300 years. And he found that for every one year of peace on the earth – no wars taking place – that there were thirteen years of war. So one year out of fourteen would be relatively peaceful. And his summary was that the fundamental condition of man is the condition of war – always fighting. Now we could go back to the garden of Eden and read about Adam and Eve, and then outside the Garden of Eden, you can read about Cain and Able, and say, “Well, yeah, true to form”. Mankind tends to get in conflict. But the lesson for us is to try to avoid that. Try to seek peace and unity. Try to stay close to God and avoid those pitfalls.
…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
You study history and study it well, you are humbled by it. Some study it to gloat, you know, maybe in superiority because their people were victors here or victors there, but all they’ve got to do is study some more history and they find out that their people were not always the victors because during the history of man empires have risen and fallen, risen and fallen, risen and fallen. We live in a phenomenal empire called the United States of America and it is the receptor of phenomenal blessings that God made to the tribe of Joseph, specifically to the part of the tribe of Joseph being Manasseh. But our age of greatness, we know, is on the way down and we are right at the crest of the ride on the roller coaster, I think, where it drops down out of the sky and comes flying down the track. So we need to be humbled as we study history – any history, and even Custer’s history – we’ll get to that in a minute. I’ll tell you the story of Custer’s Last Stand. In verse 13:
Verse 13- No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man…
Man has experienced similar history – whether the history of the Israelites or the history of other ‘ites’, other nations, other tribes. Their histories are common to humanity. The history of the Church of God, because although we seek the divine nature, you know, the indwelling of God’s Spirit, we have to confront and to battle our selfish human nature. And sometimes we don’t win so well, I guess you could say. Well, our history is still common to man. We have a connection that way. There’s a certain unity of history. We all have to go through it.
…but… here’s the good news …God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Normally we only read that verse thinking of it in personal trials that we face and we do face those, but it has a far broader historical perspective because of the setting and the context. We all need to make sense of our history - and in the United Church of God that is certainly true - to draw vital spiritual wisdom from it. But sometimes an analysis of another history – in this case like Gen. Custer’s – will help us see our own history a little bit better and help us plot a course - a better course for the future.
So now let me tell you the story of Custer’s Crow scouts, which factor into the story of Custer’s Last Stand. A brief background: Gen. George Armstrong Custer was only a General in title. During the Civil War he was promoted fast to Brigadier General. After the war - wartime promotions were always stepped back at least one promotion to being in the standing army - so he was actually a Colonel, but he got to keep the title of General. Of all of the American Planes Indian tribes, the Shoshone and Crow were the most willing to ally themselves with the U.S. Army during the dramatic western expansion of the United States. The Crow were excellent scouts and trackers and those riding with Custer’s 7th Cavalry up the Greasy Grass River in late June of 1876 were telling him that there were too many Indians in the valley ahead. They based their advice on how far from the banks of the streams – including that of the Little Big Horn which was the Greasy Grass River’s other name – that the grazing had been so heavy. They could tell by how the buffalo grass and the other grasses were grazed down on the river bottom and how far away, as to roughly how many horses – and depending on how many horses you have in a horse culture, it is going to give you an idea of how many people you have. And they were saying, “What you have been told isn’t nearly as many Indians as are ahead of us.” Custer didn’t listen to the Crow scouts. He had another name and with it a reputation in the early 1860’s during the American Civil War between the States, he rose rapidly to the Union ranks of a Brig. Gen. by age 25. In fact, he was referred to as the Boy General during the Civil War because of that. There is no question that he was brave and even a daring cavalry soldier in the battlefield, but was he savvy? Did he have wisdom?
The famous battle now often called Custer’s Last Stand involved a large contingent of tribesmen who had left their reservation to hunt and be free. And I’ll comment a little bit on the plight of the American Indians later when we get to the second aspect of Custer a little bit later in the sermon. But there they were, the Arapaho, the Northern Cheyenne and many of the Sioux or the Lakota tribes and of those tribes it included the Brule, Hunkpapa. Sitting Bull is a very famous name in American chieftains and he was a Hunkpapa Sioux. So was Gall who was one of the war chiefs – actually he was the primary war chief of the Hunkpapa under Sitting Bull who was primarily a medicine man chief, you know, sort of the spiritual leader of the group. And then there was the other tribe, the Oglala tribe. Those I will talk about a little bit later, but there were two primary chiefs that Custer had to come up against from the Oglala. They were Low Dog and Crazy Horse and I know something of them.
Some say with cause that Custer had political hankerings. They suggest that he was spoiling for a glorious victory in the Indian wars in June so that he could travel back east and run for President in the fall. You could do that. You know, you could do something great a few months before the election and that was plenty of time. You have to do it two years before the election – or three, the way we run elections nowadays. But at that time you could do that. Maybe, because he was certainly known for his penchant for flamboyance, attention to personal appearance and rashness, his favorite battle tactic was a surprise charge with guns blazing into an unsuspecting enemy camp. It had often worked in the Civil War and in the subsequent Indian War. In fact, now this is a whole other study, there was another battle that Custer fought eight years earlier in 1868 because we’re in 1876. In 1868 he fought in the battle of Washita Creek and that was against a Cheyenne chief named Black Kettle. And when you study the two battles you’ll find that the first one could have been his last stand. He attacked an encampment in the wintertime trying to drive the tribes back to the reservations. In the wintertime, he thought he was attacking the main encampment, but he hadn’t gained enough information, not enough reconnaissance. All he did was attack a small section of the larger camp which he overwhelmed very, very quickly because of his surprise tactic. And then he found out a couple of hours later that he had hundreds – if not thousands of mounted armed warriors coming from about five or six miles away where the rest of the encampment was on the Washita Creek in Oklahoma and that they were preparing to attack him. What Custer had going for him is that he could think quickly and he was a brilliant tactician under fire so he attacked them. He sent his skirmishers out to hold them off for a time and then he advanced toward those other villages which was a bluff because he didn’t have enough men to combat those who were facing him. They didn’t know that, so they immediately retreated to their villages to set up a defense. And when darkness fell, he just reversed course and beat it out of there as fast as he could to get as far away from them as possible so they couldn’t counterattack.
The Washita Creek Battle – or the Black Kettle Battle as it was sometimes called – was almost his undoing and he made the same mistakes in 1876. His Crow scouts kept telling him there were many more Indians on the Little Big Horn than the Army intelligence thought. Gen. Custer ignored their warnings. The ‘blazing gun cavalry charge’ had always worked and he was sure it would do the same that hot day in June. He had between 600 and 700 men in the 7th Cavalry, but he made a mistake. He divided his force into three columns plus the supply train – so really four columns. He sent three out scouting. He led the big one. Major Reno led the second largest and Capt. Benteen had a platoon that was trying to find where the Indian encampment was. Reno ran into them first right along the banks of the Little Bighorn and he then engaged in a battle with Low Dog and Gall, two of the key chiefs. And they were fearless chiefs, there is no doubt about it. They drove Reno across the Little Bighorn river and up on a tall hill, which was a good defensive position, and then they were able to successfully hold off any attacks from there.
In the meantime, Custer had ridden along the ridges not being able to see clearly down into the valley and he finally saw the encampment of the tribes. He dived down – ran down through there - charged right through the village assuming that he could just overwhelm it, and what he found was that he had just ridden into a hornet’s nest. He found out that his 266 men were outnumbered about 6 to 1 by armed warriors who were as good horsemen as the cavalry were – they weren’t any braver – these were all brave men fighting brave men, there’s no doubt about it. The Indians were better armed for that kind of a battle.
Custer’s men were fighting with their government issue single shot rifles. They were good enough rifles, but they had been given copper cartridges. Anybody that knows the difference between copper and brass, copper will swell quicker under heat so they were sticking, which slowed down their rate of fire. The Indians, many of them had lever action Winchesters which gave them a far rapider rate of fire – which, in war terms, means more of the enemy is going to die if you can shoot faster. Plus many of the Sioux had their quivers full of arrows. Based on the reports later and seeing the arrows scattered around the battlefield, they were good with those bows. The bows the Sioux carried were anywhere from 30” to maybe 40” long, backed by sinew, usually pulling 70, 80 or 90 lbs. at 22 inches of draw. They were designed for a short draw, rapid fire.
Indian boys used to play a game in those days that was called Arrows in the Air. They would take a big fistful of arrows on their bow and they would shoot an arrow into the air and try to shoot as many arrows into the air as they could before the first one came down and often could get 10 to 12 into the air. Now if you’ve ever shot a bow and arrow, you know how you fumble around trying to get that nock on the string and you wonder how in the world did they do that, but they did. They grew up with the bow just like an appendage on the end of their hand.
They were extremely well armed and the battle for Custer’s Last Stand finally landed on a slope. It was not very defensible. I’ve been to the battlefield, we toured it a number of times. It’s in southeastern Montana. It is actually on what is now part of the Crow Agency Reservation. The Crow scouts, their tribe now has that as their homeland in that sense. But it wasn’t very defensible and the battle lasted at the most 40 minutes and then all went silent because Reno’s men could hear it. The Indians attacking them left and they listened to the battle take place in the distance and then it all went silent. Then they knew they were going to be attacked again. Custer came to his end in the middle of that. As I said, he was a brave fighter, there’s no doubt about it.
Well that’s part of the history we want to look at, but he made some blunders. Custer divided his forces. That’s not good when he needed to keep them together. He did not listen to his intelligence, he didn’t listen to his counselors. He didn’t gather enough information. He was operating with only partial information and that wasn’t good. If he had known how big the encampment was, he could have done something else. He could have waited for Gen. Terry, who was following him, to get there. It would have taken two days, but they could have done that.
It appears that Custer was operating in a personal quest for political glory. A great victory as a General would catapult him into the White House – and very likely could have. He was flamboyant. He was photogenic. He wrote his own books about his great exploits which meant his name was a household word in the 1870’s. He could have done it.
Turn, if you would, back to Proverbs. We’ll analyze some of the lack of wisdom used by him here. Part of the problem with Custer was that he believed his own press – mostly generated by himself. And, you know, when you’re feeding off your own counsel, and not getting a multitude of counsel, you’re likely to make some serious mistakes. Ultimately he took his stand in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way and still expected to win. Proverbs 1:5 Proverbs 1:5A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain to wise counsels:
American King James Version×. We’re going to go through a series of four or five proverbs here and consider them in the lesson of that history.
Proverbs 1:5 Proverbs 1:5A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain to wise counsels:
American King James Version×- A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
You know, a wise man will listen. He will learn something. He will seek wise counsel. Unfortunately, Gen. Custer didn’t do that so well. Now, if we were to stop and apply that personally in our own spiritual lives, we could analyze, you know, you can look at Gen. Custer and you can say, “Oh, yeah, I can see where he made his mistake.” And then you stop and you are weighing and considering and rehearsing the story in your mind and you think, yeah maybe I could learn something from that. Maybe I need to be wiser in my own approach and get wise counsel when I have a big decision to make.
And chapter 12 of Proverbs, another proverb of similar nature here about wise counsel.
Proverbs 12:15 Proverbs 12:15The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that listens to counsel is wise.
American King James Version×- The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.
Now we are not saying that Gen. Custer was a fool in the complete sense, but his idea was right in his eyes. He thought that he had seen his tactic work repeatedly in the Civil War and he actually had in the Civil War. The Indian wars were different. It was a different enemy. But he was convinced because eight years earlier he had fought the battle of Washita Creek in Oklahoma, used the same tactic and succeeded. He didn’t think about the fact that he almost didn’t succeed at that time and that he could easily have been completely overwhelmed. So he thought he was right in his own eyes, but he didn’t heed counsel. In his case, the counsel of the Crow scouts were telling him to be cautious, this isn’t safe.
In chapter 19 of Proverbs, chapter 19 and verse 20.
Proverbs 19:20 Proverbs 19:20Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter end.
American King James Version×- Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days.
Gen. Custer, our own Ohio boy out on the Plains, never did have any ‘latter days’. He died relatively young. There was serious collateral damage, too. His brother, Tom, was a Captain in his column, And he had, I think, two nephews there, one was a journalist and one was a soldier. So there was a lot of the Custer family that went down in that battle. They were riding right with him. So we need to be prudent in all that we do and remember that when we study history, it has a humbling effect. And it has a unifying effect in the sense that we can see that our experience in God’s Church is somewhat similar to what mankind has gone through. We have the added element of the spiritual calling and conversion, and we have the element of God’s divine nature working in our minds – you see that battle between the two natures - the selfish, human nature and the altruistic divine nature. We need to make sure that we exert greater pressure and force behind the divine nature and follow God’s direction in our lives. Listen to counsel and receive instruction that you may be wise in your latter days.
Across the page in chapter 20, this time in verse 18, here is one that would certainly have been applicable to Gen. Custer.
Custer basically operated on his own counsel when he needed the input of others. And that’s a principle that we have come to see in the United Church of God. There are several proverbs in here that repeat the multitude of counselors and the fact that we need counsel and so we are set up to take advantage of that. That’s one of the great strengths that Christ has given us and one of the mistakes that Gen. Custer made. He didn’t use wise counsel in waging his war.
In chapter 24, is the last proverb that we will look at here in this section of the sermon, chapter 24 and verse 16.
Proverbs 24:16 Proverbs 24:16For a just man falls seven times, and rises up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.
American King James Version×- For a righteous man may fall seven times And rise again, But the wicked will fall by calamity.
Again, I’m not saying that Custer was wicked any more than anybody else, or the Sioux or the Cheyenne tribes at the time were wicked, but, you know, Custer fell by calamity, indeed. He didn’t fall seven times and rise again. We have the benefit of the wisdom of Christ guiding us so that when we make mistakes, we get up and learn from what we’ve gone through and that’s most important for us in this particular regard. And I’m not analyzing. As we’re analyzing history we can think, well, we’re analyzing our recent crisis in the Church that is actually still ongoing. No, we’re not, because it is not history yet. It is still reality. We’re still going through some things in United Church of God in various congregations more than in others. But that will need time. But we have history to look back to – decades back – and literally, really, centuries back to the New Testament times.
The apostle Paul made a remarkable observation for our benefit in Acts, chapter 14. And we can see this. It gives us a sense, an historical sense as we go through the challenges we face presently, but we draw that historical sense from things we have gone through before or that Paul and others have gone through.
Acts 14:22 Acts 14:22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×– Paul comes and is strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
We are on a quest of historical proportions. The kingdom of God is the overarching element of history. From beginning to end, it has always been here and we intend to be part of it into the future – in the great kingdom of God with the Father and the Son. But, being human as we are, we are going to have to go through some tribulation, some troubles and challenges to end up in the kingdom of God. Christ is the One who will be leading us. You know, He is the captain of our salvation. Some of Custer’s men followed Capt. Benteen. In fact, they all followed Captains who followed Majors who followed Colonels who followed the General. But we have a Captain who is the commanding officer of the Church and that, of course, is our Savior, Jesus Christ.
I don’t know how many of you here in this room were in the Church in 1974, but we had a departure from the Church at that time that was quite sizable – a few thousand people on the East coast, actually. If you were in the Church then you will remember what that was like. We had another one later in the ‘70’s – ‘78’79 time frame. We have a lot more written about that – that involved legal action that was brought against the Church’s headquarters out in the west in California. There are some really interesting things to be learned from that, the lessons of our own history, the troubles that we have faced in the past. Coming up to a more modern time where many of us have firsthand experience, 1995, we learned some things from that, too. That’s why we structured the United Church of God and sought to structure it in the way that we did and Christ gave us, I think, the wisdom to do that, which is a wonderful and encouraging aspect of what we, in fact, have going for us through Christ’s direction and guidance.
Now we can look at the Custer blunders of being a little bit too vain, believing our own press too much, dividing the forces instead of seeking unity. He split apart what he had going for him and ended up in some serious trouble. But before you think I’m just against Custer, I want to read you another story. I wrote a summary, an after view, an afterthought on Custer’s last stand because I think maybe I might give the impression that I’m a little bit too hard on him. And, although I mentioned them, I didn’t give enough credit to Low Dog and Crazy Horse and Gall.
Gall had – that’s a funny name for a chief, isn’t it? Gall. Well, it happened when he got his adult name, they all got their adult names from either a vision, quest or some adventure. Most of the adult names, among the Sioux at least and probably many of the other tribes, most of the adult names come from the warrior name of an ancestor in the late 1800’s that they didn’t use as a surname on down the line in about a hundred years. So Gall’s name came from when he was – I think he was orphaned if I remember the story correctly – and was famished. And a neighbor in the tribe had killed a deer or a buffalo and he ate the gall off the liver, the bitter, bitter gall. He ate it. So they gave him the name of Gall and it stuck from that time on. He was one fierce, fierce chief.
Low Dog was a little cross-eyed in a terrifying way. There is a great photograph of Low Dog. He was an Oglala, Gall was a Hunkpapa Sioux and that is what Sitting Bull was. But the Oglala Sioux were Crazy Horse and Low Dog. Those were the two war chiefs. They were allied with Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa, but they were a of different tribe of the Sioux. They had a variety of tribes. They were actually related also to the Blackfoot and to the Cheyenne so it is a larger nation of the American tribes at the time.
I know something about them because every high school has a rival high school and my high school’s rival was named after Gen. Custer, Custer, South Dakota. That was the name of the town. Mine was Hot Springs. So it was the Hot Springs Bison against the Custer Wildcats. Why they didn’t call themselves the Custer Cavalry I don’t know, but they could have. Our farm was east of Hot Springs out in the Black Hills, the southern end, just out into the prairie on the way toward the Pine Ridge Reservation which is the homeland of the Oglala. That’s their reservation. And we often had families in our community that moved off the reservation to work on the farms. So we had – Grover Horned Antelope was one of our hired hands on numerous years. He had been a tank sergeant in the Korean War and was a marvelous mechanic working on our farm.
My parents decided while I was a teenager that they would like to serve as foster parents. My mother’s parents had done the same. They had raised out in Oregon – had helped to raise - sixty foster children. Some of them they had for up to nine years, some a few months. Many of them, they raised from their preteens all the way up through their teens and off to college. I knew some of the foster kids, but many of them were even before I was aware of what my grandparents were doing. But my mother and father decided to do that. They thought that the farm experience - living out on the farm - would be good for kids that needed some healing and stability and functionality in their lives, but they specifically requested to work just with the Sioux kids. Everybody else was happy to do a little of that, but not much. There was always a need. So I had a variety of foster brothers and sisters for a few years and one of them was Horned Antelope, a relative of the fellow I mentioned. Wounded Head was the last name of another, Fast Horse and Bad Hand and Star. Now Star doesn’t sound like an Indian name, I guess. Some of the surnames on the reservation there were actually French because of connections with French explorers that had married into the clans. So, due to that geographical proximity parental influence, and the fact that my father was always interested in the history of the American West – both, shall we say, the cowboy and the Indian side of it – and I use Indian instead of Native American simply because that’s what they say. They use the term ‘Indian’ themselves, the Sioux do and most of the tribes do.
So it wasn’t just Custer’s Last Stand there in June of 1876, that was the greatest victory that the Sioux had over the American military, but it was also their last one of any significance because they went back to the Reservation afterward. His job was to drive them to the Reservation and Custer did – they went back to the Reservation and all they had to look forward to a few years later was the Massacre at Wounded Knee which was just one of those big mistakes that happens between two groups of armed soldiers and warriors. There is a lot of sadness. It was the end of their time. You know, there was a saying that I’ve read among the tribes of plains Indians. They were hunters. They hunted the buffalo. And when they got the horse from the Spanish, that enabled them to follow the buffalo constantly through the traveling seasons of spring and summer and fall but, in that sense, they were identified for several hundred years as just being hunters. And their time of doing that was coming rapidly to a close. In just a matter of a couple of decades they weren’t free to do that anymore and that was hard to take. One great chief said, “We will hunt the buffalo. When the buffalo are gone, we will hunt the antelope. When the antelope are gone, we will hunt rabbits. When rabbits are gone, we will hunt mice for we are hunters. We want our freedom.” They were seeking their version of freedom out there. Eventually they had to settle back to being ranchers and farmers and many of them frankly have with some success, but that was a tough time. It was a clash of two huge cultures. The problem was that the tribe of the whites - or the Americans - was that they just kept coming and coming and coming. It wasn’t like they had an encampment here. It was like they were pumping out encampments as they were making their westward expansion and the tribe of Manasseh was assuming its inheritance and not always being fair dealing with people who already lived there. You know, they could have dealt fairly with them or relatively fairly. They still would have had conflict, I suppose. No doubt of that, but it didn’t have to be quite as dramatic. But when you have one culture defending its lifestyle and another culture on the ascendancy with power, you have Custer’s Last Stand and the last stand of the tribes as well.
When you look at it in an overview, I want to quote another Ohioan and that is William Tecumseh Sherman, Gen. Sherman, Civil War era. He gave a speech to a boys military school in Columbus, Ohio, in April of 1870 I believe it was, and in his address to the young cadets he articulated his famous ‘war is hell’ theme. He was famous for making statements about that. And he said, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell.” It’s all terribleness and tribulation - destruction is what he was talking about. Really, Gen. Sherman – which is why we named a tank after him – Gen. Sherman was the father of modern warfare. Total war. You don’t just fight the combatants, you fight the population. You take away from the combatants their ability to make war. And that’s why his famous march to the sea was so effective in helping to bring about the end of the Civil War. He and Gen. Sheridan who both served under Gen. Grant, who became President later after the war, that is what their strategy was in working with the Indian tribes. It was to drive them from the plains and make them ranchers and farmers. But they had to take away their ability to live in this wandering, nomadic lifestyle. It is one of the reasons why they wanted the buffalo wiped out and they pretty well did that in nothing flat. And then they would attack their winter tribal grounds because they were so hard to catch up with at any other time of the year.
Here’s an apology to Gen. Custer and a comment about Crazy Horse and Low Dog and Gall, the warriors that he faced. Gen. Custer suffered and died for his lack of wisdom and his willingness to consider the soft spoken advice of his Crow scouts, but you cannot accuse him of a lack of loyalty to his command structure which was the U.S. Army and to the nation for which it stood. He was a good soldier. Likewise from all that we can glean about Low Dog, Crazy Horse and Gall, they functioned faithfully within the hierarchy of the Lakota, or Sioux, chief code structure. They were under the command of their leaders and they had men under their commands just like Gen. Custer had.
So there are lessons that we can draw, actually two I want to draw from them. One is found in Matthew, chapter 8. It is a good lesson for us looking back in our history and on back to the time of Paul and John and the early apostles with the intervening elements of Church history where we get enough detail to see the dynamics of the intervening centuries. We have a written record that is quite remarkable because it’s inspired, which is in the Bible, of the 1st century Church in Matthew 8. And then we have our own written records and our own personal experiences now for many decades – seventy to eighty decades in the faith – and if we study the writings of the Church of God organizations before our time, that is before the 1930’s, going back into the early 1900’s and 1800’s we can still see these patterns that are repeated and the challenges that we have to face, not unlike what we are facing.
Matthew 8:5 Matthew 8:5And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him,
American King James Version×- Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him,
Verse 6 - saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
When you read the account in Luke, you will find the centurion had actually sent emissaries, thus he was approaching Christ that way. He was a gentile and he did not think he was worthy to actually go and talk to Christ himself who he recognized as the Messiah. He believed in the God of Israel. So he sent the leading Jewish leaders from the community with that message.
Verse 7 - And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
So He started walking to the man’s house. Centurion, by the way, means he commanded one hundred men. He was a Roman officer. They probably had a garrison there in Capernaum. And he sent another message when you read Luke’s account in Luke 7.
Verse 8 - “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof… You see, the religious Jews didn’t go into the homes of Gentiles. They considered that beneath their religious dignity to do so. And so he, being respectful of that, he didn’t want Christ to have to put himself at risk in coming into his house when, in fact, Christ didn’t pay any attention those dictums that had been added by the Pharisees or the Sadducees. …But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.
Verse 9 - For I also am a man under authority… Not unlike Gen. Custer, not unlike Crazy Horse or Low Dog or Gall. …I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
All you have to do, he said to Jesus, is give the command and I know my servant will be healed because You have authority over healing and over illness. You have authority over the creation and You can tell the creation what to do. He recognized that in Christ, something that the Jews typically didn’t recognize and something that we sometimes forget.
Verse 10 – And when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I tell you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
Among those that you should expect to see this kind of faith, it hasn’t been existent. And yet, here it is – someone who understands and humbly submits himself, seeking God’s intervention.
Verse 11 - And I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven… or kingdom of God,
Verse 12 - But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Some of those Israelites, even the converted ones, will be cast into the lake of fire – by this time maybe He knew of those who had come to that point. …And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Verse 13 - Then Jesus said to the centurion… or to his emissaries, …”Go your way; for as you have believed, so let it be done to you.” And the servant was healed from that hour.
Christ marveled at the faith of one who was not born of Israel, did not have the heritage of God’s word yet. Now that was to come, but hadn’t been a part of the history of Israel. It’s really quite a remarkable comment. He knew that Christ had authority over everything – over the angels, He had authority over mankind, He had authority over illness, over the power of healing. Over everything in the creation, Christ had authority over it because He knew what it was like to be in authority and to be under authority. That’s a good lesson for us. It’s a lesson that in our history some have forgotten that we have to be under the authority of Christ and always look to that.
There was another lesson, though, and I think we have just enough time to cover that one. In Matthew 10 another lesson that we can draw from these men of Custer’s acquaintance - you can call it an acquaintance when they are shooting at each other. I think what typifies this next quality, which needs to be a spiritual quality to us, but for them it was certainly a physical quality at least, Custer was brave, very brave and so were his men. Low Dog was brave. Crazy Horse was crazy brave. That’s why he was called that, he rode like a crazy man. Gall was a fearless warrior. They were all fearless. They were very brave. That’s the quality. They were brave braves, I guess you could say. When Low Dog sent his men into battle, as they amassed and prepared to charge, they had every man whip another man’s horse so that nobody would fall behind. And he shouted to his men, “This is a good day to die!” And we thought that klingons came up with that. Klingons were the Indians in Star Trek. “This is a good day to die!” It was also an Apache proverb. It seemed to be ubiquitous across the tribes in America. And they charged forward, but Low Dog survived the battle. He was right in the thick of it, but he wasn’t even injured. He was actually one of the chief sources – pardon the pun, chief sources – of the history of Custer’s battle, the Last Stand, because he saw it. And later on he told it to those who were writing it down.
In chapter 10 of Matthew, we find that we must have a spiritual fearlessness. I think sometimes we don’t think about that as much as we should. Christ made a shocking statement in verse 34. He said,
Matthew 10:34 Matthew 10:34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
American King James Version×- Do not think that I am come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.
Ultimately He will, won’t He when He returns?
Verse 35 - I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
Verse 36 - and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’
Now Christ isn’t inciting them to do that, but when somebody chooses to follow God, that will often put them in conflict with those who don’t choose to follow God. Many of us have experienced that either coming into the Church or subsequently in the subdivision of the Church. My family has experienced that very directly.
Verse 37 - He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me… Whoa, all right. You mean we have to love God more? Oh, yeah.
I was talking to a mental health counselor in the Church and this is not an uncommon experience for him, but he was counseling a person and the person was going through all the things that they do in life and experience and after going on and on and on about all the things that in this case she was doing, but it’s a common thing, he said, “Before you launch off into this other thing, let me give you three minutes of counsel.” And he said, “What you need to do is you need to put God first in your life. You’re putting this person and that person and the other thing first. God first, then your family and then these other things.” And we think, yeah, right, put God first. Okay, what else do I do? You know. She stopped, speechless. And then she said, “Ah, I never thought of that. I have to put God first and then my family.” It was like a bolt out of the blue. You know, the lights came on and she suddenly began to realize something that we take for granted. And that’s the danger, isn’t it? We take it for granted. And yet, Christ repeats it so often.
Verse 37 …He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
Verse 38 - And he who does not take up his cross… and shoulder his burden …and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Verse 39 - He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Now we look back at these chiefs and Gen. Custer and you realize, wow, for what their cause was, they were all very brave. They were fearless. They charged into battle. Low Dog himself said that he never saw such fearless white soldiers as Custer’s men. There’s nothing that you can bring against him as to being a coward in any way. He was fearless. He was not always wise, but he was fearless. There was certain wisdom in his actions and wisdom in their actions.
Mark, chapter 8, this point of losing our life for Christ’s sake is important for us to understand and he repeats it regularly. We’ll hit a couple of them, but certainly not all of them. Mark, chapter 8, we’ll begin along verse 34.
Mark 8:34 Mark 8:34And when he had called the people to him with his disciples also, he said to them, Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
American King James Version×– And He called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Now remember when Christ was about to be crucified, He had to carry His cross out of the city because He had to be crucified outside of the city. After He had been scourged, after the whip had torn and shredded the flesh and the muscle and the skin on His shoulders where you could see His bones, He had to carry that beam – whether it was a beam with a cross member on it or the cross member itself or the main beam itself, we don’t know - but we just know that it was being carried on raw flesh with all the nerves firing pain. And He collapsed along the way and so they grabbed another guy standing there and said, “You carry it.” His name was Simon of Cyrene. And Simon, probably because he would have looked just like all the other Jews in the neighborhood, could have probably dived into the crowd and they would have just grabbed somebody else. But, no, he stepped forward and he picked up that beam and he carried it all the rest of the way. You know, Christ was carrying it until His body gave out and then Simon picked it up and carried it the rest of the way. He was drafted into the service, shall we say. And he was willing to do it. But we have to pick up the burden that we have to do the work of God, and to represent the kingdom of God and the Church of God. We see that vision and, furthermore, we go to verse 35.
Verse 35 - …whoever desires to save his life… “I don’t want to change my life. I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to commit myself to following Christ wholeheartedly. I like to pay lip service.” Lip service is easy, real service is a little harder.
For those soldiers – whether they were the Indians or the cowboys – it wasn’t just lip service. They were defending their people. They thought they were doing what needed to be done and from a human perspective, they did. It was just man’s way of doing things. The better way we will teach them later. But they were fearless. They gave their lives to that. They were willing to do that. Custer never led from behind. He always led from the front. There were plenty of generals who only led from behind sending everybody else to charge ahead of them. Custer led the charge. Consistently that was his tactic. He was just like Crazy Horse and Low Dog and Gall because they did the same thing.
So that fearlessness to follow the cause to which we have given our lives is something we can draw from them. We look at that history and we can see, then, our history a little better.
Verse 35 – For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
When you stop and think about that, it’s not just for Christ’s sake, but also for the gospel, the gospel of the kingdom of God, the work’s sake that Christ has given us to do. And when it says, ‘lose his life’, does that mean dying in the service of Christ? Maybe. That might mean martyrdom. But what is your life made of? It’s your time and your energy and your prayers. That’s part of the spiritual energy. Dedicating ourselves to follow Christ and do the work He has given us to do – to preach and spread the gospel, which is the avowed purpose of the United Church of God – is the way we can end up in the kingdom of God. If we shrink back and we only follow God when it’s convenient, that’s not very good. You charge into battle and you think that you are leading a massive force to victory and you look over your right shoulder and there’s not anybody there, you look over your left shoulder and there’s not anybody there, it’s just you and your horse. Well, that’s why Low Dog made his men – every man whip another man’s horse. Nobody could shrink back. Custer didn’t have to. The 7th Cavalry had a reputation for fearlessness. They were a bunch of Irish Americans, Scottish/Irish Americans and American Americans, and they just galloped wherever he led them. Well, the Indians were brave enough, too. They were defending their families. Their families were right there behind them. Custer’s family was back a ways – you know, hundreds of miles away in the Eastern part of the United States, but they were willing to give their lives for what they believed in. Are we?
You know, some people are uncomfortable when you talk about martyrdom for the faith. I don’t know why we should be, but I have only heard one sermon that the whole sermon was just about martyrdom in all my years in the Church. And I think we need to cross that bridge to where we have decided that if we literally had to physically lose our life to follow Christ, to do the right thing and to convey the message of the kingdom of God to the world, that we would give it in a heartbeat. And you can’t think, “Well, hey, give me a couple of weeks to think on it and maybe I’ll decide.” No, it has to be the heartbeat. The meditation and the prayer and the dedication has to come up front because when it’s time, if it is your calling, and there will be some who will be martyred and we salute them with honor, that has to come on a heartbeat’s notice. You know, we have to be ready to cross that bridge at a moment’s notice. We have to be willing to lose our life for Christ’s sake and for the gospel’s. Most of the time it is committing our energy – spiritual, emotional and physical – to the cause of the kingdom of God and to the cause of Christ.
Verse 36 – For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
Verse 37 - Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
And what are you going to give up for your potential future, for your life?
Verse 38 - And whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
We honor Christ in our lives, in our dedication, in our faithfulness, in our loyalty and our fearlessness. If we do that, He will honor us in the kingdom of God. We’ve got to love our Savior, love our Father and love our brethren and commit our energies in every way.
We have two final points to make. The first, wait, that isn’t right. Two final points? Really you can have only one final point. Okay, so we have another point and then we have a final point. Ephesians, chapter 6. And this is a piece of good wisdom for us. And it’s not a revelation because it’s in Ephesians. But it is profoundly important. It is verse 12. You know, this is the section of the last part of chapter 6 of Ephesians, it is the armor of God. Then you think, well we could get into that, but no, we’re not going to. I could go on and tell you all about the guns that they were using – I told you some of it already – and the kinds of bows – I already told about the bows – that stuff’s interesting to me so I memorize it like eating candy, you know? But I won’t tell you all of that, we don’t need to talk about the armor of God, we just know that there was armor, just the history of the event.
Don’t get me started, by the way, when we get into history. Don’t get me started on something like the Mexican Revolution. You think, well, what’s that got to do with anything? Well, that was a hundred years ago when it started – in 1910 is when the Mexican Revolution started. It lasted ten years in Mexico raging up and down the length of the nation. That was the time of Pancho Villa who is the only one that we remember of the Mexican Revolution. But do you know what happened in that country? There were a lot of fearless people and a lot of dedicated followers. Pancho Villa led multiple charges of cavalry – horse cavalry – against machine guns and barbed wire entanglements. He never learned that he can’t do that, but his followers would charge anyway even when they knew that they were going to be slaughtered. It was really amazing.
In the course of the Mexican Revolution, over one decade, between one and two million Mexicans died. I think that’s terrible. Okay, but here’s what’s even worse. Put it in perspective. If that was in America today, that would mean that in a ten year spread of internal warfare between twenty to forty million Americans would die because of the relative size of the Mexican population at the time. You read the histories and you marvel at the dedication that some people have had to their causes and their willingness to give their lives. Of course, their willingness to take the lives of others, too, in the process, but still there’s a humbling lesson of loyalty and fearlessness, bravery under fire that we need, because we need to have that against an enemy that is much worse than any enemy that Pancho Villa faced or that Custer faced or that Crazy Horse faced.
Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
American King James Version×- For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood… Now in the Church of God this is absolutely true in UCG – we do not wrestle against flesh. We don’t have human enemies. We wrestle …against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. We fight the devil and his demonic hordes.
Now, we have to toss in another enemy and that is our own carnal, selfish natures that we are striving to overcome because they get exacerbated by the real enemy. Understanding who our real enemy is, that we love our neighbor as ourselves, but we hate evil and the devil produces the evil. That is his way. He is the enemy, the spiritual enemy that we fight. But we don’t fight without weapons. Like I said, we could talk about the weapons of that battle or the Mexican Revolution, but let’s talk about the weapons that we do have. This is the final point, by the way. 2 Corinthians 10 this time. We started in 1 Corinthians 10 at the beginning of the sermon and we end in 2 Corinthians 10. 10 to 10. We begin in verse 3. Just two or three verses here.
2 Corinthians 10:3 2 Corinthians 10:3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
American King James Version×- For though we walk in the flesh… Paul said …we do not war according to the flesh.
Now this ought to be a lesson for us as far as understanding the using of aggressive force or deadly force as a Christian. We don’t war according to the flesh. We are warriors, we intend to be brave warriors, loyal warriors, loyal to the structure that Christ has given us, fearless in the face of battle.
Verse 4 - For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal… that is they are not physical …but they are mighty in God… well, if they are not physical and they are mighty in God, okay then, they are spiritual weapons. That’s exactly what they are. …they are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
Now this was set in Corinth and just outside of Corinth there was an 1,847 foot tall promontory, a peak. And on top of that peak was a fortress. You think well 1,847 feet isn’t all that high. Well, it would be pretty high around here even though we have hills above the river, it would be higher than the hills. Bear in mind that Corinth was basically sea level because it was a port, so it was a pretty high promontory. And then you had a fortress on top of it. And charging uphill is a lot harder than charging downhill or across the flat. We pull down strongholds.
Verse 5 – We …cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God… What we draw from scripture, the wisdom that we gain from the intelligence at our disposal, this whole big book of it, and the strength and the courage we gain through prayer through fasting and through doing the right thing in serving and loving others and in loving God above all, those are our weapons and that enables us to pull down strongholds of wrong ideas or casting down false arguments, seeing through the falsehood and striking at the crux of it and deflating it. …and any high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.
Let me give you an example, a common one and an obvious one. It is evolution, the theory of evolution.
#1, it’s a theory.
#2, it’s evolution.
#3, it denies God.
The great denial of God was promoted probably more in America by Friedrich Nietzsche - he was a philosopher at the end of the 1800’s - than it was even by Charles Darwin, although they worked together. Nietzsche had made popular the saying ‘God is dead’ and that was quoted by Time Magazine back in the 1960’s when the writings of Nietzsche came to be much more popularly followed. A few years ago a friend of mine did a writeup on who Nietzsche was and I got him a t-shirt. I loved the t-shirt. It said, “God is dead, Nietzsche” And below that, it said, ” Nietzsche is dead, God.”
The argument has been pulled down and that which exalted itself against the knowledge of God was brought to nothing. And we are then, in our purpose of conquering our own natures and helping each other to conquer those natures, we bring verse 5 - every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
Capturing our own thoughts, making them obedient to God. Christ gives us the strength. He helps us to make sense of our history. And as we analyze what we are experiencing now, don’t spend so much time worrying about it. Just focus on the future, what God is doing through us, the fact that we are promoting the gospel of the kingdom of God – you know, that we give our lives for the gospel’s sake as well as for Christ as it said in Mark
Herbert Armstrong used to give us the advice. Toward the end of his ministry was the sermon at the Feast in 1984, which we saw again in 1985 because he was too ill to deliver a new one. At the end he just put his hands over his Bible and he just sat and talked to us. And one of the themes that he talked in those few minutes was to ‘stay with the work’. By that he meant the work of preaching and publishing the gospel of the kingdom of God. And that when you do that there are disciples that are made – that’s how the Church grows. That’s where the disciples come from. So you preach the gospel and you care for the flock - or you prepare the people, as we use it today.
Now we have a great battle ahead of us – a great battle. It will be an exciting battle. I’m sure Custer’s Last Stand was an exciting battle – scary, but exciting. We have much to look forward to, but, you know, we have better weapons than Custer had or any of those chiefs had because we have the spiritual weapons that Christ, Himself, gives us. So it is through the power of Jesus Christ and God the Father that we conquer and enter the kingdom of God.