When the Smoke of Battle Clears, Where is God?

God is bigger than the battles in history and the lives of all the men who fought them, but He is with each one of us.

My great, great grandfather, Enoch Jones, and his brother, Silas Jones, fought in the Civil War for the north. They were members of the 40th Illinois Infantry, Company F. They mustered in August 10, 1961, at Springfield.

In March 1862, the 40th Illinois, 46th Ohio and Morton’s Battery was organized into a Brigade commanded by Colonel Hicks under General Sherman, and they boarded transport ships that carried them up the Tennessee River. They re-combined with the 6th Iowa under Colonel McDowall and entered the Battle of Shiloh. It would be their first armed conflict.

The north took a beating at Shiloh. The 40th Illinois was commended for standing ground under heavy enemy fire even after their cartridge boxes were empty. A total of 196 men of the 40th Illinois were killed or injured in the one battle, including Colonel Hicks.

Silas suffered mortal injuries. He mustered out of this life two weeks later. Enoch mustered out of the 40th Illinois Infantry on May 15, 1865, two days after Jefferson Davis was captured and one month after President Lincoln was assassinated. The north was victorious, but at great cost.

Enoch saw action at the Battle of Shiloh, Siege of Vicksburg, Battle of Missionary Ridge, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and Siege of Atlanta, and other places before he returned to a humble life in central Illinois. Enoch didn’t participate in the famous “March to the Sea”, because he took a bullet in Atlanta. The bullet drove a button into his chest, but that button saved his life. It earned him the Purple Heart my parents have to this day.

I was fortunate at a Civil War memorabilia show years ago to find a tattered and yellowed dairy written by another volunteer in the 40th Illinois Infantry. He was in a different company, but his periodic reports of the movements and activities of the Brigade gave me a ground level view of the experiences of my ancestors as Union Civil War infantrymen.

When the diary opens, the author anticipates with patriotic and religious confidence the mission they are about to partake. The 40th Illinois was a completely voluntary unit. The diary expresses a kind of righteous hope and abandon to the cause of fighting for God and for country.

I could not help but think of the horrendous carnage of human and equine life they would encounter. Sinew, flesh and bone left exposed to the gaping air as the smoke slowly drifted off future battle scenes. The groans of shattered men lying in their own blood would be the only sound remaining as infantrymen regrouped to count their ranks. Trees splintered by the shrapnel of canons and muskets would stand starkly against the acrid stench of gunpowder lingering still that gaping air.

Did they know what they were in for?

I recalled seeing Civil War physicians’ bags. They carried saws, and picks, and hammers and other objects of painful reminders of the brutality of war without modern anesthetic or antiseptic. Saws saved what was left of the living by cutting off limbs susceptible of gangrene. Many, like Silas Jones, survived the battle with injuries only to die later of infection.

Knowing these things, I was intrigued to read the thoughts and expressions of resilient faithfulness to the duty fight for God and country continue on the pages of that diary after the Battle of Shiloh, and all the way past the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Then the diary ended – abruptly. No resolution. No postscript. No clue as to why it simply ended.

I can only imagine the writer mustered out early – maybe in Atlanta. I assume he wasn’t as lucky as my great, great grandfather. But I am not writing merely to tell a story of my ancestor. There is a bigger picture.

Continue reading “When the Smoke of Battle Clears, Where is God?”

Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot

The views of Christians around the world provide a counterbalance to unique bent of American Christianity.


I became a Christian in college, despite the progressive, skeptical atmosphere in the Iowa liberal arts college I attended. One that had roots in the Methodist Church, but the current tree had all but severed from those roots for more modern constructs. I learned to put into perspective the tensions I saw between what I read in Scripture and what I was learning in college.

I didn’t exactly compartmentalize the differences. I was able to synthesize many of them, but some of the tensions I learned to “shelve” for later consideration.

I wasn’t very career minded when I graduated from college. I only wanted to follow and serve Jesus. I ended up packing my bags to go to Alton Bay, NH for a summer job, believing that I was going, like Abraham, to a place God was calling me. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I only had a summer job, but I didn’t think I was coming back to the Midwest.

I got deeply involved in the local church in Laconia, NH after the summer job ran its course. It was a dynamic church, growing out of the Jesus People movement in the 60’s, and still going strong. I was more focused on following Jesus than pursuing a career. I worked a number of different jobs over the six years I spent in NH. I got married and had two children there.

This was the time of the rise of the Moral Majority. Pat Robertson ran for President while I lived in the Granite State. Live Free or Die was the motto, and people were proud of it. Politics crept into my faith. I even rubbed shoulders with churchgoers who were members of the John Birch Society.

Then I felt called to go in a different direction. God confirmed it to me in personal ways, and I left to go to law school.

That brought my back to the Midwest where I have remained ever since. I wandered through wilderness and was challenged in my faith. Law school challenged my thinking to the core. It is designed to do that.

I compartmentalized my faith once again, as I had done in college. I set things “on the shelf” as I devoted myself to learning the law.

It turns out I was pretty adept at understanding the law, leaving law school with a diploma and the academic standing of second in my graduating class. This was in keeping with a vision a wise and spiritual woman had for me that was part of the confirmation from God that I should go.

The certainty with which I left to go, like I had when I left for New Hampshire, gave way to uncertainty in how I should reconcile the political and cultural influences that bore down on me under the scrutiny of the jealous mistress of the law.

I kept that jealous mistress as bay, but it would years before I reached a point of resolution.  My faith survived, but the political and cultural baggage I brought with me from New Hampshire did not.

The dynamic church I attended there a long ago now disintegrated into myriad pieces of broken relationships, broken dreams and broken promises during my sojourn. The way was difficult, but I think I am a better Christian because of it, and this is what I believe I have learned.

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A Sure Fire Way to Know and Follow God’s Plan

Wouldn’t you like to get a hold of God’s plan for your life?


This blog post is inspired by today’s sermon: God Has A Plan. As I was listening, my mind took off in different directions from the various points that were being made.

To begin with, I need to note that I am an attorney, and I do estate planning. That is relevant because it explains the first place my mind went. Probate.

Ok, sorry. Let me explain, and I beg your indulgence not to jump off at this point. I know that it may seem a bit boring!

The thing is that I often tell people when explaining estate planning that, “If you don’t do your own estate plan, your estate will be controlled by probate.” That may sound more ominous than it really is (only because most people don’t know what probate is), but the point is that estate planning puts you in control of your estate, rather than leaving your estate to the default rules of the probate statute.

Enough of the legal stuff! (It’s Sunday after all) The reality is this: even when people do estate planning, things don’t always go as they planned. I’m here to testify that they don’t. We don’t foresee changes in circumstances, and we don’t always accurately assess the way things really are. One of the worst family fights I was ever involved in began with a family meeting in which they told me how close their family was!

We put a lot of time, effort and confidence in our own planning. We don’t want to trust that planning to anyone else – not to the state, not to others, and not even to God.

Did you know that God has a plan for you? Don’t you wish you could know what it is? Have you considered that it might be helpful to row with God rather than against Him?

It turns out there is a pretty sure fire way to know and follow God’s plan.

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Authority from Above in Politics

Do we trust in the authority from above?


As I was listening through the last four chapters of the Gospel of John this morning, these words impressed me:

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:9-11 ESV

This was part of the interchange between Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of the province of Judea, and Jesus. Pilate exercised the authority given him over the province of Judea in the Roman empire given him by the Roman authorities, but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

I am reminded of God’s sovereignty. Jesus came to die. That was his plan. Pilate was just part of the plan. We tend to think of Pilate in negative terms as we look back at the story, but he was just part of God’s plan, like Judas.

These things remind, also, of President Trump. Though I voted for him, I have been hyper critical of him. Though Christians supported him in large numbers, Trump has not displayed the kind of fruit we should expect from a God lover; he might even be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Though Christians have also been divided over Trump the zealot, he prevailed and is our president.

Of course, Barack Obama was also our president. So was Bill Clinton. If we really believe the words that Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate, these men would not have authority as presidents of the United States unless it was given from above.

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Looking for a Sign; Seeking God

Jesus did miracles everywhere he went, but some people still asked for a sign.


Jesus came healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and doing other miracles, but when the religious leaders asked for a sign, he refused.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:11-12)

What Jesus said to the Pharisees when they asked him for a sign seems curious in light of the fact that Jesus performed signs and wonders everywhere he went! The incongruity of these things struck me recently as I was reading through portions of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

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