Friday, October 29, 2010

A. W. Tozer

Akron, Ohio. Visited October 2008

A. W. Tozer is one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th Century. And he occupies a significant place in my life as a follower of Christ.

Aiden Wilson Tozer was born on a small farm in western Pennsylvania in April 1897. His family moved to Akron, Ohio when he was 15. Tozer went to work for the Goodyear Rubber Company as a teenager. It was on his way home from work one day that he heard a street preacher proclaim, ‘If you don’t know how to be saved…. just call on God’. Provoked in his soul, Tozer climbed into the attic of his house, where he did indeed call on God and received the gift of salvation.

While relatively little is known about Tozer’s early Christian experience, he appears to have been gifted with a robust spiritual intellect from the beginning. In 1919, at the age of 22, A. W. Tozer received his first call to the ministry from a small Christian Missionary Alliance church in West Virginia. He spent his entire ministerial career in three churches, most prominently at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. While possessing a renowned preaching gift, Tozer’s greatest contribution to the cause of Christ is undoubtedly his theological writing. Books such as The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy are Twentieth Century spiritual classics, bringing significant theological reflection with clarity and depth to the average believer. His 44 year ministry ended with his sudden passing by heart attack while pastoring a church in Toronto. Tozer's family decided to lay him to rest in Ellet Cemetery, a small church cemetery in Akron. The epitaph on his tombstone is a simple description of his life and ministry – “A. W. Tozer – A Man of God.”

Visited Tozer with my friend Jason Reyes.  We got there when it was almost dark and stumbled around looking for it almost in vain.  Tozer is the top attraction in Akron in my mind.  The other two are the Blimp hangar and LeBron James' house - in that order

A. W. Tozer will always occupy a place of formative significance in my personal Christian experience. As a new believer in 1981 the first two Christian books I was given were C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and a selection of Tozer’s writings entitled The Best of A. W. Tozer: Fifty-two Favorite Chapters, compiled by Warren Wiersbe. I came to Christ from an intellectually convinced atheism. These two books tag teamed me in my spiritual infancy. Lewis wrestled down my intellectual pride and skepticism against simple belief in the Savior. But it was Tozer who got in my face with glory ultimatums – who was I going to live for and what was I going to do with the few short moments I have on earth. It is to A. W. Tozer that I have returned time and again over the years when my theological closet needed to be reorganized and my namby-pamby Christian vision needs a slap in the back of the head.

I don’t know if it’s possible to have a favorite A. W. Tozer quote – his writing is almost entirely worth quoting. But here are some that remind me of what the ‘Man of God’ did for me in the early days of my journey in Christ.

“No man should desire to be happy who is not at the same time holy. He should spend his efforts in seeking to know and do the will of God, leaving to Christ the matter of how happy he should be.”

“The sovereign God wants to be loved for Himself and honored for Himself, but that is only part of what He wants. The other part is that He wants us to know that when we have Him we have everything -- we have all the rest.”

"We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait."

"Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Robert E. Lee

Lexington, Virginial.  Visited August 2000; July 2006

Reader's note:  In doing posts on the Civil War I will include both Union and Confederate figures.  I would appeal that these posts be read as human interest stories, not as commentary on that difficult period in American history and the slavery that required such a tragic war to be fought for its eradication.

This post is in recognition of the 140th anniversary this week of the passing of Robert E. Lee.

Had it not been for his participation in the Confederacy Robert E. Lee would have probably been recognized as the quintessential American hero. He was born in 1807 on the great colonial estate of Stratford Hall Plantation. His father was the renowned Revolutionary cavalry commander and Virginia governor Henry ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee. His marriage to the great granddaughter of Martha Washington further embedded him in the heritage of colonial American nobility.

Little is known about Robert E. Lee’s boyhood years. At age 17 he received an appointment to the fledgling U. S. Military Academy at West Point, where he finished second in his class. Lee distinguished himself by being one of the few cadets to graduate without ever receiving a demerit. This apparently was a big deal because you can’t read about Lee without seeing mention of his demeritlessness.

After graduation Lieutenant Lee served well in the Corp of Engineers. But it was his service in the Mexican American War of 1846-48 where Lee distinguished himself as a soldier and a leader. In the Mexican War Lee also fought along side comrades who would become major figures in the Civil War, including his ultimate foe Ulysses Grant.

After the war Lee (now a colonel) served in several military positions, including commandant of the Military Academy, and would have probably finished out his military career as a model soldier had the Civil War not erupted in 1860. Looking for a man with combat and command experience who showed promise in administration, Abraham Lincoln called upon Robert E. Lee to serve as commander of the major Union force of the war, the Army of the Potomac. But faced with the choice of fulfilling his army oath by waging war on his home state, Lee resigned his commission and accepted a role in the fledgling Army of the Confederacy.

Within two years Lee had assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia and would participate in the most significant action of the war. Lee’s remarkable success in battle while consistently outnumbered and outgunned made him a legend. He was a bold and innovative commander who led his army by audacious generalship and force of sheer personal charisma. But as the war began to drag out Lee’s dwindling army found itself facing inevitable defeat. In April 1865, surrounded on all sides by superior Union forces, Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. 

Appomattox Courthouse at the place where Robert E. Lee and U. S. Grant met to agree on surrender.  The actual surrender document would be signed in a farm house nearby.  The blogger with two of his intrepid kids circa 2006.

Perhaps Robert E. Lee’s greatest contribution to history was his conduct in defeat. Rather than seeking to prolong hostilities that would simply produce further destruction, he urged the South to end its conflict and return to the Union. Though he lost his American citizenship because of his role in the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee spent the rest of his days seeking national reconciliation and restoration of the country. After the war he accepted presidency of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia because he wanted to rebuild the youth of the South which had been decimated by the Civil War. It was at his home in Lexington on October 12, 1870 that Robert E. Lee quietly passed away from the effects of a stroke. He was 63 years old. His last words – ‘strike the tents’ - poignantly reflect the heart of a life-long soldier.

In 1975 Robert E. Lee’s United States citizenship was restored by act of Congress.

The Robert E. Lee Statue on Gettysburg Battlefield looking out toward the open field of Pickett's Charge.  A great scene in the movie 'Gettysburg' where Lee rebukes Jeb Stuart expresses the leadership style ascribed to General Lee

The man Robert E. Lee is difficult to distinguish from the icon of the antebellum South. He wrote very little about himself and published nothing of note on his life experiences. What is known is that he was a man of exemplary character, dignity and self resolve. As to the scourge of slavery, Lee was a man of his times; he personally lamented the practice of forced human bondage but felt that the institution of slavery must be resolved over time.

Despite his deficient understanding of the sin of slavery, by all accounts Robert E. Lee was a man of sincere, Biblical faith; as distinguished from the culturally accepted religious piety of his era. In his own words, ‘My chief concern is to try to be an humble, earnest Christian.’ Though one of the greatest warriors in military history, Robert E. Lee may be most remembered for the personal character and humanity that radiated from a heart living consciously and consistently before the face of God. A letter to his wife late in the war provides a telling glimpse into the soul of Robert E. Lee.

“What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

Robert E. Lee is buried in the family crypt in the lower level of Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. As is fitting to his simple dignity, the only marker is his name on a simple masonry seal.

For anyone who is a student of the Civil War or American History, a detour off of I-81 into the quaint historic town of Lexington is well worth the effort. We will visit Lexington again for future posts on this blog.

Grant (circa 2006) next to Lee's horse Traveller, who is buried just outside the Lee Chapel

Other blog subjects buried in Lexington, VA