A look back in history can provide answers for what lives ahead. We can look back in history and learn, from Abraham Lincoln; a man who was set before the nation to be a teacher.
I have a question for you, brethren, as we move into the message on this Sabbath day, for you. And that simply is this; how do you explain the unexplainable? And how do you make sense out of the senseless? That is not just something that occurred last week. That is something that will occur in the future, next week, next month, next year, next decade. Perhaps some of you are still trying to explain seemingly unexplainable events that have occurred in your life, and you have not come to term, or the finality of what it all means.
How do you establish your core values of personal existence in the midst of life's steady and sure bombardments? When such times do come, and they will, you had better know what truly composes the fabric of your being.
A look back in history can provide answers for what lives ahead. And that is what we are going to do this afternoon. We are going to look back in history and learn from the lesson of one man. A man who was set before the nation to be a teacher. We are going to find the principle that is found in Isaiah 30:21 that tell us to note our teachers and to recognize that there is a way, and that we are indeed to follow in that way.
As we do, allow me to state emphatically that I personally believe that God does raise up leaders to serve His purpose. Not only in the body of Christ. Not only in the Church of God. But He also sets up Kings, and Prime Ministers and Presidents, so that His purpose might be served down here below.
Join me if you would in the book of Daniel, Daniel 4. Come with me. Daniel was explaining the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. And first of all, it was a dream that had to be explained later on within this same set of scripture. Nebuchadnezzar actually echoes the sentiments of the revelation of God that was shared with Daniel. Daniel 4:25 is a part of his explanation of Nebuchadnezzar dream. This is speaking of how they would drive off Nebuchadnezzar out of Babylon.
Daniel 4:25 They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know, know what? that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
This thought is not only mentioned once but again in verse 32. Join me if you would. Follow me along in your own Bible please, where again it says;
Daniel 4:32 "until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses."
We need to recognize, brethren, on this Sabbath afternoon, that the big headlines, the great headlines, are not being produced on the cover of Time Magazine, or Newsweek. They are not on the front page of the Las Angeles Times or The Washington Post or The New York Times.
The great headlines, the big headlines are made in heaven.
Now in that, God raises up and plants and places whom He will, at a given time in nation and/or a collection of nations to bring forth His sure promises. Now, He not always gives us in a sense the same person every time, at times He may give us somebody like a General. At times He might give us a leader with this personality, or that personality. There are other times that He gives us the personality that is set forth in Proverbs. Come with me, Proverbs 17:17. I know we have often used this verse as in the aspect of relationships. But a leader also has a relationship with the nation that he guides and leads.
Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.
There are times, brethren, when God allows and designs men to be born many years before the adverse becomes, plant that individual so that when the time comes, that individual will be ready to serve out God's purpose. That is what we are going to talk about today. Such an individual. Such a time. And such a purpose.
A hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of an immense struggle known as the Civil War, God provided such a man. He provided one man who could reach deep and knew where to reach to inspire, to life up, a nation, a divided nation that was exhausted by the trauma of war. And this man, for the moment, and he himself did not even recognize the moment as it passed, as to how it would effect his fellow countrymen, but in one moment of time, or simply two minutes, he brought forth everything that he himself stood for. And he summarized within two minutes time, ten sentences, and 266 words, everything that his nation stood for. This message of hope is often considered by most writers, most historians, as the greatest speech that has ever been given in American history, following the greatest land battle that ever occurred in the America's.
The speech? The Gettysburg Address. The man? Abraham Lincoln. Today with you I want to focus on what I would like to call, Two Minutes Dedicated to Eternity. Two minutes that are not simply come and gone on a battlefield, or a farm field, or a plain, in the bottom part of the state of Pennsylvania. But ultimately we are going to be talking about your two minutes which enshrine all that you hold near and dear, so that you can be anchored brethren, friend, loved one, when you are bombarded by what will surely come. So that you will not be swept off your feet. And even if you are swept off your feet, at least your heart will be anchored and you will be able to have a comeback.
So let's go back a 150 years ago. Let's ask ourselves what were the great events that led up to this momentous speech on that cold November day in 1863. Just four months before this time was the battle of Gettysburg.
But before the battle of Gettysburg, maybe you do not know the significance of the battle of Gettysburg, but allow me to bring you into the play of history what was occurring at that time, American had been divided for several years. The North was fighting the South. The Union against the Confederates. Now what had happened was that General Robert E. Lee felt that what he had to do was that he had to take the war to the north. Not to engage the war for so long in the north, but if he could just go north, get over the Mason-Dixon above Maryland, and be able to take the war to the north and just win one battle. Then the war would sour on this notion of Union. Nobody likes to see body bags. Nobody likes to see losses. And maybe with just the right timing, and of course, all sides always think that God is on what? Their side. That the victory would be theirs and they could have their own country.
What had occurred was that, up to Gettysburg there were tremendous movements of troops and regiments in that border area; Maryland, Virginia, and amazingly what had happened was that they had lost track of one another. And they didn't know where one another was moving. Amazing. Whole regiments of thousands of men. They had lost track of one another. But you know and I know that an army not only moves on its stomach, it also moves on what? It's feet. And what do the feet need in war? They need shoes, don't they.
And it had been told and heard that there was a small out of the way little town that happened to have a warehouse full of shoes. And so a regiment under General Ewell of the Confederacy took off for Gettysburg. And lo and behold what occurred. What occurred was that as they were coming, interestingly, the South, they were coming in from the north. The North was coming in from the south. And all of a sudden at Gettysburg, guess what? The two armies that had been apart and did not know one another's movement all of a sudden came into contact with one another. All of a sudden were engaged in the battle which would be a three day battle. Three day battle took off. Day one had begun. And you know what, nobody knew it was day one at the time. You know, you don't always get to plan your trials do you? You don't say well about 3:30 this afternoon I am going to have a trial. Nobody does that. And they didn't know that this was coming. They were just going to get shoes.
And now it began. The word went out. Here were just small battalions. The word went out. We found the other side, and by the second day, it is amazing how news travels, all the forces in the area came together. And in twenty-four hours, 85,000 Union soldiers were faced off with 65,000 Confederate soldiers. Day two came. Day two went. Both sides, both North and the South had experienced victories in that hill, or that dale, or that valley.
But then it was the third day that would seal the fate of one side or the other. On this day, the Southern leadership misread the intent of the North. Are you with me? They misunderstood. They began to think that perhaps, because of what the North was doing, that they had run out, or were running low, on ammunitions. And so General Robert E. Lee elected for one group of his forces, under General Pickett, to go forth across the field and test what the Union had. These were basically men from old Virginia. They were basically Virginian battalions along with other troops of the Confederacy. But basically Virginians. And they felt that victory was just perhaps minutes away. The enemy had run out of munitions.
You know, it is sometimes like when men play sports, the last guy that is left standing he wins, right? We win. All we have to do is go across this field. And so there is this vast field, this farm field, and there the Union positions elevated on the other side of this field. And across that field, one half mile wide, marched 13,000 men behind their regimental flags. They are not running. They are not doing the rebel warrior hoop at that point. But they are moving. They are poised. They are active. They are engaged. They are going across the plane.
And then all of a sudden, one of the great moments of American history occur. The Union had not run out of ammunition. And all of a sudden those muskets went off. And on that battlefield, in just a matter of moments, 6,500 Confederate soldiers were either killed or captured. Now, they made it to the ramparts of the Union side. They were able to cross over. But on that day, what would happen the rest of the Civil War was sealed. On that day, and through that three-day campaign, and through that three-day crusade, one out of three men that engaged both for the Union and for the South, were either killed or wounded. Devastating casualty.
Yes, the North won. But at such a cost. And the South, well it would never rise again.
Allow me to share from Bruce Canton's book. American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War captures that moment by describing as the Confederate Infantry men came on steadily and quietly nearing the awful climax of the war's greatest battle, Union artillery fire shook their ranks with deadly accuracy, and then both sides exploded in a tremendous class of musketry.
Canton goes on to describe from an eyewitness account as to how the battle noise was strange and terrible. And a sound that came from thousands of human throats, like one vast mournful roar. You are there. You hear it. Some of those men, on both sides, were your relatives.
Now, four months later, Abraham Lincoln is to give voice to that mournful cry and roar that was heard in battle. How could he make sense out of the senseless? How could he give hope to those that were now hopeless, by responding to an invitation to come, and perhaps you read it in your own history books, to make a few appropriate remarks.
On that day, the Gettysburg battlefield was to be dedicated as a national cemetery. Before Abraham Lincoln would speak for his famous two minutes, there was another speaker. And that man's name was Edward Everett. Everett was a retired politician, but one of the most gifted orators that the country had ever known. And he spoke for two hours. You thought just Mr. Webber could do that. Well if you add this morning and this afternoon, we are almost there.
He spoke for two hours honoring the fallen dead. Now comes the man from Illinois. What is the man from Illinois going to possibly say after two hours of comments? What could possible be said that hadn't already been said? You know, it is the stuff of legend that Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope in a stagecoach on the way to the battlefield. It simply didn't happen. The 266 words were incredible well crafted and organized in a theme that has been bespoken as almost spiritual in nature. What is of interest maybe to you is to recognize only the term "under God" was put into the speech as he sat there on the platform, recognizing that when you are speaking before 6,000 people, you need all the help that you can get. So bring in God. He also borrowed it, shall we say, plagiarized it, from a very famous speech by an abolitionist.
I believe as a God fearing man, and a Bible reading man, that Lincoln perhaps at one time or another had gone across the verse found in Proverbs 29:18. Join me if you would there please. It is very important for us to understand this. Why is your pastor on this Sabbath day talking about a leader? And why are we talking about condensing our thoughts as to what is important for us, brethren? Because you are now being trained and groomed to be leaders in the wonderful world tomorrow. And we have got some training ahead of us. In this world we have some Picket's charges ahead of us. And there are people that are going to come to you sometime and ask you to make meaning of what is going on in your family, or in your community, or at your office, or at your school. And can you give them hope? Can you tie it all together? Or do you go look for an envelope to scribble a few notes and hope that those are enough?
Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.
I really like how it is phrased in the authorized version; where there is no vision, the people perish.
Now, Lincoln had to create a vision, make sense, give meaning to the fallen and to the dead. Lincoln knew that his nation needed hope. Lincoln, things never changed, nothing has changed over 150 years, Lincoln knew that people can go days and weeks without food. People can go days without water. People can even go minutes without air. But nobody can survive without hope. That why were are here, brethren. We are the church of the hopeful. We have the message. We have the gospel. And you, when these bombardments of life come, must be able to bring it down systematically and understand it past, present, an future. And that is what Lincoln did. He did that by giving this address.
It is interesting that where the man before him had spoken about honoring the dead, Lincoln in the Gettysburg address took the speech out of the past tense as far as what had occurred, brought it into the present, and moved the audience into the future with what he said.
William Safire in his book, Lend Me Your Ear, which I highly recommend, which is a collection of all the great speeches in history, says that Lincoln, what he did was amazing. He suggests that Lincoln's famous intro of "Fourscore and seven years ago", offers Biblical solemnity to what he was about to say. He is bringing God now into the desolation and the disaster that has occurred all around him. He goes on to suggest this, that it may best, this speech, the Gettysburg address that you now have in your hands, may best be understood by focusing on the metaphor of birth, of death, and rebirth. Birth, death, and rebirth,
And without mentioning Jesus Christ in the speech, there are tremendous overtones of Christ's triumph over death. Safire illustrates how four images of birth are imbedded in its opening sentence.
Do you have this in front of you now? Do you have the Gettysburg Address? Let's look at it.
Four images of birth. "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers", notice, number one, "brought forth". This is speaking about birth on this continent. " "a new nation conceived in liberty". Again speaking of birth. And dedicated the proposition that all men are, notice, "created equally. Now we are engaged in the great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."
Now, I thought that they were there to just simply mourn the dead, and dedicate a piece of ground to death. Well, what Lincoln does, I believe, under the inspiration of God, takes what seems to be dying, and wraps it in the aura or newness. Of birth. Going back to that something was conceived fourscore and seven years ago, gives it context, gives it meaning.
Why is it that some people can look at the same item and see two different things? Where one man sees death, another man sees birth.
Let's continue the thought here. He goes on then, Safire speaking, he then focuses on how Lincoln touches on the images of death. Notice as we go along here.
"We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting for those who gave their lives so that the nation might live. And it is all together fitting and proper that we should do this. But in the larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hollow this ground. The brave men living and dead."
When people die, you have to mention that they have died. You can't ignore it. It has happened. But he touches on the images of death and gives honor and value to these men. But now, the death is not for naught. The death is not the death of a sparrow, or a bumblebee, or a crow. But what he mentions here in the Gettysburg address, notice that says that, "we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground." He takes that which is earthly, which is death, and gives it to God. It is now set apart. Life and death have got to have meaning. Have got to have, what? Have purpose.
Safire finishes evaluating this metaphor of existence by moving beyond the nation's symbolic birth and death. He focused on rebirth. Let's say this. He focused on resurrection. As Safire so eloquently defined out of the scene of death, "This nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom". And then notice, "Shall not perish".
In that sense, as much as Lincoln understood at that time, immortality. From the ashes, the phoenix rises. Lincoln does not leave America with simply a distance past of heroic forefathers, or pilgrims, and minutemen. Neither does he leave the nation with the blood that was soaking on the fields of Gettysburg. Does he mention it? Yes, he does. Must it be mentioned? Absolutely. Just like in our life, there is life and there are beginnings. Then there are sorrows and disappointments. But you cannot leave your beginning alone. Neither can you leave the middle alone. There must be some form of texture, continuity, of symmetry, of moving things together. Of understanding that going up a flight of stairs, one step assuredly leads to the next.
Lincoln does not leave America in the past He recognized the recipe for democracy started in 1776. But at that time it was just a recipe. Never been done before. There had never been a republic this large, this many people, and this far stretched out. Often times historians will simply call it the Great Experiment. And these people didn't know where they were going. They knew what they wanted to do, but they didn't know who was going to survive day by day. And there were things that were addressed at the beginning and not addressed at the beginning, such as slavery, because if they had addressed slavery in 1776, the nation could not have come together.
In one sense the American Revolution did not end in 1781. In one sense you could say it ended in 1865. And of course many historians will say it continues to this day.
Why was this man able to connect with his audience? Why was this man able to connect with a nation with manifest destiny? You see, Lincoln himself understood about the subject of rebirth. He understood what it meant to start over. For his entire life into that moment, it had always been starting over. Many of us just think of the man with the beard that is minted on our penny. But did you realize that at age 22 that this man failed in business. He ran for the legislature and was defeated at age 23. Failed in business at age 24. He was elected to the legislature, oh that was a good year, age 25. But then at age 26, his sweetheart died. He had a nervous breakdown by age 27. He was defeated for Speaker at age 29. Defeated for Elector at age 31. How is your life going so far compared to Lincoln? Thought you had a bad day? At age 34, defeated for Congress. He was elected to Congress at age 37. Good year. Defeated for Congress, age 39. Defeated for the Senate, age 46. Defeated for, who wants to run for Vice President, but he is defeated for Vice President at age 47. Defeated for the Senate at age 49. Age 51, I like that year. It is a good year. I am 51. He is elected President. For in the words of the book of Esther, "For who knows but for such a time as now, the kingdom has come."
Why we as American's look back on this man is because we see ourselves in him. While we are ennobled and while we are cast, in the republican sense of a Washington, it is this man of manger quality, humble beginnings, a log cabin in Kentucky that captures our feelings. We feel like we know him. We could sit with him, we could talk with him, for he is a common man. He is quintessential American. Abraham Lincoln once said God must love the common man, because He has made so many of them.
But it is from common people, and ordinary people that extraordinary feats follow as they yield themselves to a bigger and to a better picture, to a greater destiny then that which simply has been in the past, or is even in their tragic present. And that is what I want to share with you. To help us look at context and how we bring it all together.
Why was he able to rise above this rolodex of failure? Let me share a couple thoughts with you for a moment. I think that he learned that the key to personal success, my friends, is simply this, it is not what life brings to you, but it is what you bring to life that counts. And beyond that, do not wait to find your values in a trial. But be assured, as God is above, and you have the big picture in front of you in your Bible, you better have your values going into trials and know what you are about.
Beyond the powerful metaphor of life cycles, he uses one word that I would like to point out to you here, if you have your sheet in front of you. It is his use of the one word, dedicate. He uses the phraseology from beginning to end, six times in two minutes. And that one phrase, that one word dedicate, gives a constant rhythm to all that Lincoln says in those two minutes, ten sentences and 266 words, and it is the word dedicate that then ties the birth, ties the death, and ties the resurrection together. It is the word dedicate that ties the past, the present, and the future all into one story. His story at that time, and our story today.
Dedicate out of the American Heritage Dictionary, "1, to set apart for a deity or for a religious purpose." He did that by talking about the hallowed ground, the sacred ground. "2, to set apart for some special purpose. 3, to be committed to a particular course of thought and action."
And that is why the word dedicate is so important. It is a rhythm. It is like the, if you have ever been to a livery stable, it is like the hammer on the anvil again and again and again and again. To dedicate, to dedicate, to dedicate, to dedicate, comes through the speech. No matter what comes in your life, the bombardments, the death of a child, the death of a mate, the death of a friend. In this world of terrorism what might happen to America? You and I, friends, our dedication, must hold fast. We must be able to put purpose and meaning to whatever event comes in our life, Be in joy, or be it sorrow. And this he does.
The author, Safire again, comments about Lincoln, that his whole thought is rooted in consecration, he makes the secular sacred by pledging it to God. The first three dedications that you have in front of you, spring from the theme of the Declaration of Independence ideal that all men are created equal. Going back to the past.
The fourth dedication is reserved to enshrine a portion of that as a final resting place. The fifth and the sixth dedication moves beyond death to the future. To the unfinished work and to the great task remaining before us. This unmistakable rhythm links the fallen dead with those that are living and hearing his message, so that from their martyrdom on that field, those that were in attendance, 6,000 could go forth after that two minutes and have increased devotion to the cause.
How does that relate, brethren, with our Christian calling? Our cause as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as followers of the way as it is mentioned in the book of Acts, can never change.
Hebrews 13:7 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. His rhythm never changes. And while encapsulated in this earthly tabernacle of flesh, in everything that He came into contact with, it is not what life brought to Him but what He brought to life. The message of our Heavenly Father that never altered, that never changed, and He was true to His purpose. As He is, as He was, you and are to be likewise dedicated.
You know, after the speech was given, Lincoln was displeased with the presentation. Many in the media that listened, scorned it. Did not like it. It went like this, thumbs down. They didn't like it. And you know why you have never seen a picture of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address? They didn't have time to set up the camera. Nobody took a picture because the speech was over before it was done. But Edward Everett, the man that spoke before Lincoln, was the man that came up and said to the man from Illinois, the common man, I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.
Yes, friends, sometimes when we reach deep and reach right in what we say because it is what God has given us to say, and we will say well you know I don't think it moved anybody or did anything. But I want to share a thought with you. You parents with teenagers, you grandparents with grandchildren, you friends with friends, you children that are adults with parents that are not in the way now, never underestimate, never, ever, ever, underestimate what you might be able to share in two minutes that can change lives forever.
Is it not quoted in the book of wisdom, Proverbs 25:11, where Solomon says that words can be like apples of gold laid out on trays of silver.
As you have noticed, I am sorry the sermon has gone more than two minutes, I am not quite where Lincoln is yet, but do not underestimate, my friends, what you can do and how you can move and share people.
Lincoln thought, when he sat down, that his speech was a failure. But 50 years later it was not. You never know how long the words can ring.
I would like to share from Jeffery Seward's comments, page 412, from the Civil War, an illustrated history. He picks up the pieces long after Lincoln was assassinated. He talks about the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg.
"In 1913 the Federal government held a 50th anniversary reunion at Gettysburg. Thousands of old Veterans came to be a part of what one man called a radiant fellowship of the fallen. The climax was a reenactment of Pickett's charge. Thousands of spectators gathered together to watch as the Union Veterans took their positions on Cemetery Ridge, and waited as their old adversaries emerged from the woods of Cemetery Ridge, and would once again make that famous advance. One Union Veteran said we could not see rifles or bayonets. All we can see are canes and crutches now. We soon could distinguish the more agile ones aiding those less able to maintain their place in the ranks. As they neared the Northern line, they broke into one final defiant rebel yell. At the sound after half a century of silence, a moan, a sign, a gigantic gasp of unbelief rose from the Union men on Cemetery Ridge. It was then, said one observer, that the Yankee's, unable to restrain themselves any longer, burst from behind the stone wall and flung themselves upon their former enemies, not in mortal combat but reunited in brotherly love and affection. Two minutes, ten sentences, 266 words, fifty years later.
Oh, were there still wounds? Oh yes. Were there still scares? Oh yes. And war takes time to heal, but the wounds were healing. The greatest speech in American history, after the greatest land battle in all of the America's of all times.
As we begin to conclude, allow me to come to point why I have shared this with you on God's holy Sabbath day. The work of the church is to be equally dedicated. Dedicated to a bright tomorrow and the rebirth of humanity from the bonds of brotherly love and affection. There is a world out their brethren, I am scared where we are right now, pretty tense, there are going to be people that are going to be looking for meaning in the events that are occurring the weeks, the months and the years to come along. What can you tell them? What can you share with them? Are you just going to leave things dead and dower and dying and negative? Or can the Holy Spirit of God that is within us, take the matters that are around us, and as a Christian man and as a Christian woman, give other people who may not understand all at once, or understand at that moment, but take the past, take the present, share the future, bring it together in hope.
Join me if you would in Revelation 21. Let's read what you and I as Christians are dedicated to. This is it, brethren. Our cause did not begin in 1776. Our cause began before the foundation of time. Our cause did not begin with Minutemen. It begins with the One that became the Father and the One that we now know as the Son. This is what it is about.
Rev. 21:1-5 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. God himself is going to be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."  Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."
I don't know if you were counting because you were probably following along as I was reading. Only one, and one alone could better Lincoln at getting the message across. Lincoln was two minutes, ten sentence, 266 words. Brethren, this is the message that we as Christians are to be dedicated to, in 150 words, in nine sentences, tells it all, says it all, brings our past, brings our present, brings our future together.