Lenten Devotionals – Week 2, February 22-28

May the Lord continue to bend your heart towards him in humility and repentance…

Monday, Feb 22…Matthew 4:3, 4  

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  (Deut 8:3) 

The tempter did not come to Jesus when he was full, but when he was empty— and when he was alone. He had also just come off a spiritual high point—his baptism. (Luke 4:1 says that he was full of the Holy Spirit.)  Such mountain top experiences are often the times when one is particularly vulnerable to temptation. And yet Jesus was not left unprotected, after all the Holy Spirit led him to this place. This particular temptation was aimed at the area of bodily appetites. Jesus was hungry because he had been fasting for forty days. Satan impugned the trustworthiness of God. “Doesn’t it seem a bit strange to you that your Father who, by the way, said at your baptism that you were his much loved son has led you to be in this place where you are starving?” Jesus choice was between satisfying his own appetite or trusting that his heavenly Father would provide for him. He chose the latter and learned that the only thing that really satisfies is found in relationship with God

He already knew that God satisfied, but his knowledge was experienced through being tested. It is one thing to sing a worship song that God alone satisfies, but it is quite another to affirm that when you are in the struggles of life. Jesus was willing to trust God’s provision for him rather than taking matters into his own hands. Perhaps you are feeling deprived in some area of your life or feeling frustrated that if God really loved you then he would want you to be a lot more happy. Perhaps you feel justified in grabbing for some of that satisfaction now instead of trusting the Lord to provide it for you in his time. As a consequence, we do not learn the secret of the Christian life that our deepest fulfillment can only come through a relationship of trust, and trust also includes waiting. Could it be that God might allow us to suffer deprivation or disappointment just to show us that he alone can satisfy? Wouldn’t that be worth it in the long run? It was St Augustine who said, “He who has God has everything; he who has everything but God, has nothing.”

O Lord you are more precious than silver, more costly than gold, more beautiful than diamonds and nothing I desire compares with you. O Lord, whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail, but you are the strength of my life and my portion forever. Please help me to stay steadfast in trusting instead drawing conclusions about your love for me based on a very limited understanding how you are working in the situation with which I am most concerned. Amen.

Tuesday, Feb 23…Matthew 4:5-7

Once again, the evil one tempted Jesus to force the hand of God into showing how much he was loved. And once again, Jesus chose not to yield to temptation and confirmed the lesson that the gifts and resources given him by his Father are to be used for God’s glory at God’s command and not for his own selfish ends. God did not ask Jesus to jump 450 feet into the middle of the Temple worship in order to begin his ministry with a powerful demonstration of Messiah-ship. If Jesus had done this on his own initiative, it would have artificially and presumptuously forced the hand and the plan of God. Instead he chose to only act upon God’s command and wait upon his timing.

The preacher Alexander McClaren once said, “If we take a leap without God’s command, we shall fall mangled to the pavement below.” Perhaps that is why so many of our plans and programs fail, because we create them without God’s command and then ask God to bless our doomed creations.

Father, help me to clearly see the difference between faith and presumption. Help me to understand that faith is about you and presumption is usually about me. May I learn to trust in you and listen for your instruction. May I not just do good things for you, but may I do the things you desire that reflect your goodness. Teach me to wait, O God, teach me to wait…Amen.

Wednesday, Feb 24…Matthew 4:8-10

If the first temptation dealt with the physical, and the second dealt with the religious, this third temptation zeroed in on ambition and power. Satan lied, he always does. Even though he claimed a certain amount of power over this world, he had no right or authority to give anything to Jesus.  Nonetheless, he tried to tempt Jesus into thinking that the crown of glory need not come through the path of suffering, but through the easier road of ambition. “C’mon, Jesus, bow to the inevitable. You know you’ll be King, that’s why you’ve come, so why suffer for it? There’s an easier way, however; just one little compromise, no one will know, just one little act of worship, it will be over in a jiffy, C’mon Jesus it will be so much easier.”  NO! AWAY FROM ME SATAN! I WILL WORSHIP GOD ALONE AND DO WHAT HE SAYS NO MATTER WHAT THE COST! 

Jesus learned that following the rough pathway of suffering, which had been chosen for him by his heavenly Father, was more important than seeking a pain-free road to success and power.  Perhaps we’ve made an idol out of success or personal ambition and we will do anything and everything to gain it. Such a mindset is a philosophy of failure. God is the only legitimate object of worship and the only way “up” is the downward pathway of humility and serviceWhat an essential lesson to learn!

O God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, O God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like yours, Lord Jesus. Amen. (Jim Elliot) 

Thursday, Feb 25…Matthew 4:11 

And so the devil left him. In the parallel passage of Luke 4:13 it says, When the devil had finished his tempting, he left him for an opportune time. Jesus was successful in resisting the temptation, but satan would be back again. How many of us have experienced this scenario of successfully resisting temptation on one occasion only to fall for the same temptation the next moment or the next day?

How did Jesus successfully resist the temptations of the evil one and keep him at bay? 

Jesus brought a weapon with him into the desert—a sword. It wasn’t the light saber of the Jedi Knights, or the glowing “sting” sword that Frodo used against the Orcs, or the bright blade of Anduril belonging to the future king of Aragorn. Jesus used a weapon far more powerful, the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  Jesus parried each thrust of the evil one by using the Word of God and satan was defeated.

93% of Americans say they have Bibles, 90% believe in God, 90% of teens say they believe Jesus was divine; yet our culture continues to crumble morally and spiritually. The problem here has nothing to do with a shortage of Bibles or churches, but rather a desperate shortage of people who both read and obey the Bible. Countless people claim to be Christian, but so few are successful in overcoming temptation and having a godly influence in this world. We know so much and show so little. In a fascinating article in Christianity Today, one pastor asked, “ Why in a Christian subculture served by 24 hr Christian radio and TV, bathed in books and periodicals of unparalleled quality and quantity, instructed by state-of-the-art seminary systems, and inspired by state of the heart worship music industry… why are so few people good Christians?” He goes on, “Why are our marriages falling apart and our kids straying away from the faith? Why are the most biblically knowledgeable so often so mean-spirited? Why are our pastors dejected so often? Why do our speakers (both human and electronic) have to blare so loudly to get a response, and even then, why is it so shallow and temporary?” Why? 

O Lord, you make a profound and searching distinction between natural human morality and authentic spirituality. A veneer of correctness would only conceal my corruption within and utterly fail to touch the root of my sinfulness. Your gospel, O Lord, is not just another human religion. It is new and full of hope, because it replaces the best that I can do with the best that you can do. Dear and blessed Savior, I look up to you now with open-hearted faith and hope an desire. Let me draw strength from you right now. Make me a living example of authentic Christianity today, I pray. In the holy name of Christ. Amen.(Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr)

Friday, Feb 26…Matthew 7:24-27

Do you remember the graphic story that Jesus told at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, about two men who built houses? One built on the foundation of rock and the other built in a prime location, but on the sand. A huge storm came and washed away the house on the sand. I used to think that this represented the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, the one who built his life on the rock of Christ and the other who did not. But this is not necessarily true. Jesus said, Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. (7:24, 26)

Do you understand the implications here? Everyone who hears and does not do builds his house on the sand; this includes Christians. It was to the church that James wrote be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (1:22).  How can you expect your marriage to be healthy if you are dealing with your spouse in ways that are inconsistent with scripture, especially relating to issues of forgiveness, anger, respect, faithfulness, and sexual purity?  Your marriage will be built on the sand and in danger of being swept away. How do you expect your children to grow up as faithful followers of Christ when the only time your faith is practiced is when you decide to show up at church? How can you expect to have an influence for Christ when you spend more time filling your minds with the thoughts and images of our culture than with the word of God? You are deceiving yourself—you are “a sand-man or woman.”

Lord, please do a work in my heart this Lenten season so that I will dig deep into the bedrock of your Word and allow the Holy Spirit to show me the areas of my life in which I have been content to be just a hearer and not a doer. Reveal those areas of my life that are quite obvious to others, but to which I am blind because of my self-deceit. Amen  

Saturday, Feb 27… Matthew 7:24

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be “a rock-man or woman.” There’s the secret; hearing and practicing the Word of the Lord. I must read and do what God commands. Pastors, elders, deacons, church members —you must always be practicing the Word. No Christian can rest on her laurels; yesterday’s obedience does not fulfill today’s responsibility. Everyday we must intentionally read the Word of God and put it into practice, like Jesus did in the wilderness. Then we will see some victory, some healing of relationships, and experience freedom from our addictions to this world. The Holy Spirit will work in our lives through God’s word to strengthen us and to protect us from the temptations of the evil one. 

There is a certain tribe of indigenous people that had an interesting rite of passage for a boy to become a man. On the night of his thirteenth birthday, the boy would be blindfolded and led deep into the forest. There, the blindfold would be removed and he would be left in total darkness to spend the night alone. He would hear the howl of the wolf, the growl of the bear, and the snarl of the mountain lion. He would hear the cracking and snapping of twigs and branches and prepare himself for any approaching danger. Then, as dawn came, and he began to see the leaves and trees and colors of the forest, he would also see something else. He would see that not far away stood an armed warrior from his tribe who had been there throughout the night. The boy would also notice that this warrior was his father who had been ready to defend him from all danger. He was never alone for his father was with him. (Dr. David Fiddes, Back to God Hour)

We in ourselves are no match for the evil one, but when we are in the wilderness striving to live according to the word of God, we can be confident that our Heavenly Father will be our guard and defender. He will take whatever wilderness experience we are facing and turn it into an opportunity for growth and ministry. Count on it!

Here I sit in the dark, Lord, like a little child fearing there are monsters in the closet. I trust you are here watching me in the darkness and will protect me from the fear of the uncertainty that awaits. Would you just let me know that you here, Lord? Amen

Sunday, Feb 28… Psalm 27

One thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

The Psalmist delighted in the presence of God and desired to behold the beauty of the Lord and to dwell in his Temple. I love that verse and share the same desire for the presence of God and for his beauty to be reflected in my own life. The only part that I have trouble understanding is what it means to dwell in his Temple. Sounds like it means hanging out in church all day, and for a pastor that’s almost a reality. However, the Hebrew believer did not make a distinction between the loving God in everyday life and their worship. Life was a unity and whether one was eating, working, being hospitable, or worshipping. The Hebrew recognized God’s presence and beauty in the very act and not as a separate experience. Do you dwell with God (recognize his presence) in all of life or just when you are in church? How about right now? Do you separate out the sacred from the secular and think you need a mystical experience to satisfy your soul?

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.(E. Browning)

O God, give me eyes to see your glory in all things created and may my proper response be to dwell with you—to worship and adore you, no matter where I am and what I am doing; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

(Look for the 3rd week devotionals that will be posted on Feb 28.)

Lenten Devotionals, Week 1

Please use these brief daily devotionals throughout Lent as an aid to your faith and a help in the bending of your soul toward God in humility and repentance.

ASH WEDNESDAY, Feb 17… Luke 15:11- 24

Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day period leading to Easter known as Lent, which simply means “Spring.” Ash Wednesday has developed throughout the history of the Church as a day of repentance. It is a day to put aside our busyness and get back to the basics of our faith: a time for returning to the Lord and basking in the grace of our wonderful God. 

Some of us can identify more than others with the pitiful condition of the Prodigal Son in our Scripture. The shameful consequence of a Jewish man feeding pigs was the result of a willful rebellion and separation from his father. Such an act also brought disgrace upon his father much like our sins have “fallen short of the glory of God.”  

The greatest miracle in this story is not the Prodigal’s repentance but the father’s love; not the boy’s return, but the father’s willingness to receive him back.

Let us get one thing straight on this Ash Wednesday, our repentance does not earn for us the grace of God. He is a God we whose very nature is gracious and who produces in us the very repentance that brings us back home.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fastbound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray: I woke- the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart went free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. (Charles Wesley)

Thursday, February 18….Luke 15:25-32

The Lenten season provided the Ancient Church 40 days in which converts to Christianity were prepared for baptism and incorporated into the Body of Christ. It was also a time when those who had been separated from the community because of serious sin were reconciled upon repentance and restored to fellowship.

There have always been some in the Church who like the older brother in our parable have grown so used to the grace of God that they think it is unfair to restore those who have run away from home. The older brother challenged the Father’s grace. He not only accused his father of wasting grace on his rebellious brother, but never demonstrating it to him after all his years of faithful service. What the older brother failed to see was that his very relationship with the father was a gift of grace. “My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

The greatest gift anyone could receive is a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. Who needs the reward for faithful service? Who needs a gold watch after retirement if we have Him?

I’d rather have Jesus than silver and goldI’d rather be His than have riches untold. I’d rather have Jesus than houses or landsI’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand; than to be the king of a vast domain or be held in sin’s dread sway. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.(Rhea Miller)

Friday, February 19…Psalm 51

The ashes used during the traditional Ash Wednesday service are a powerful symbol of repentance.  In the Old Testament, ashes were a visible sign of humiliation and abasement. There is nothing that humbles one more than to see her/his sin in juxtaposition to God’s holiness. 

The Psalmist, King David, pleads for the mercy of God after his sins of adultery and being an accomplice to murder.  His greatest sadness was that these sins were committed against God; against you, and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. David does not ask for forgiveness, but for God’s mercy. He is so humbled that he believes only God’s mercy can save him. He wants more than to be forgiven. He wants a new heart so that he would never again offend his God. 

This is exactly what God has provided for us in Jesus Christ. He has given us a new heart, a new spirit (Ezek. 36:24-27) so that we might obey him. How it should grieve us when we do not perfectly love and serve him after all he has done for us.

Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in though word and action, by what I have done and what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart nor my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and repent; for the sake of your son Jesus Christ have mercy upon me and forgive me that I might delight to do thy will and walk in all your ways to the glory of your wonderful name. Amen.

Saturday, February 20… Genesis 3:1-8

The Lenten season not only reminds us of the need for repentance, but also of our human frailty. What better picture of this than in our text for the day? It also reminds us that we have an enemy of our souls who is hell-bent on our destruction.

Satan used a specific strategy in order to deceive Eve. He began with using the good with which to tempt her toward evil. He focused upon the single tree which God had prohibited from use and twisted the words of God to imply that all trees were off limits and that God was miserly with his gifts. Satan then denied the truth completely by telling the New Age lie that Eve become like God if she ate from the tree. 

Satan was so deceptive that he made Eve see the things that were not there and then blinded her to things that were. Can we be deceived like this? You better believe it! Paul wrote, I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

What do you need to do in order to simplify and purify your life with God?  In what ways do you unnecessarily complicate your relationship with Christ? Have you been tempted to believe that God has become demanding and has ceased to be gracious to you?

Avoid every tendency that takes you away from simplicity of relationship to God in Jesus Christ, and then prayer will be as the breath of the lungs in a healthy body. (Oswald Chambers)

Sunday, Feb 21…Matthew 4:1, 2 

The first thing we notice about this account are these words, Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In other words, God orchestrated this desert experience. Why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? The fact that both Matthew and Luke place this account at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry should give us a clue. Before he could minister strength and healing to others, Jesus had to learn that the source of his own strength and provision was his Father. Before he could influence others he had to be certain of the greatest influence in his life.

Admittedly the very acknowledgment that Jesus had anything to learn is one of the great mysteries of the incarnation. However, perfection and growth in understanding are not mutually exclusive as the writer of the Hebrews indicates, Jesus learned obedience through the things that he suffered. (5:8) In his human nature, Jesus continued to grow and deepen in his relationship with the Father. It was Luke (2:52) who said And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

Perhaps you are at a “growth point” in your life because things are not going well. Maybe you don’t look at it that way, but why not? Don’t waste these desert moments, because it is usually in these that we learn to trust and obey, and build the muscles of faith.

Then in fellowship sweetwe will sit at his feet or we’ll walk by his side in the wayWhat he says we will do, where he sends we will go—never fear, only trust and obey. (John Sammis) 

[Be sure to look for next week’s devotionals)

Fourth Sunday of Advent

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we light the candle of Peace. Isaiah writes that “in that day” when our Lord returns, he will judge the nations; “cool the pride of ruthless nations…and remove the cloud of gloom, the pall of death that hangs over the earth…he will wipe away all tears.” (Isa 25:7, 8) As the Prince of Peace, he will bring peace upon the earth and will rule with justice and equity. “His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule with perfect fairness and justice… He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world.” (Isa 9:7) Isaiah also says, ‘He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in the Lord, whose thoughts often turn to the Lord.” (Isa 26:3) Thus we look forward to this Kingdom of Peace and, in the meantime, we can have peace within our hearts amidst these tumultuous times as we trust the Prince and acknowledge him in all our ways.

Go to the menu portion of this blog to see the daily devotional thoughts for this fourth and final week of Advent. I hope these have been helpful.

Special note: My new book, The Goodness of Affliction: Encouragement for Those Who Suffer, has just been published. It is available at Amazon (also as a Kindle edition), Barnes and Noble, and Christian Book Distributors. Also available at Books in Print, Ingram Book Group, Baker and Taylor (Yankee Book Peddler). It is also available internationally with James Clark & Co., Mosaic Books in Australia, Ingram, and Amazon.com. This will be a good book to pass onto those whom you know who are struggling with grief, sickness, or discouragement. May God use it for his glory and the good of the Church.

Third Sunday of Advent

Tomorrow (or today, in some of the over 60 countries of the world where this blog is read) is the third Sunday of Advent. Historically, the pink or rose candle of our Advent wreathes are lit today. It is called the Gaudete candle in Latin, which means the “rejoice” candle. It is a reminder to us that no matter how dark the world, the darkness will not prevail; no matter how out-of-control things seem to be, God is the ruler yet. Thus we can rejoice in the “comings” of the Lord (that he came once and he will come again) and that such joy can be our strength. The presence of our Lord, our Emmanuel, has bracketed our sorrows with the hope that if the last hour belongs to him, we do not need to fear the next moment. (Helmut Thielicke)

Go to the menu portion of this blog to see the daily devotional thoughts for this third week of Advent. I hope these have been helpful.

Special note: My new book The Goodness of Affliction: Encouragement for Those Who Suffer has just been published. It will soon be available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Christian Book Distributors. This will be a good book to pass onto those whom you know who are struggling with grief, sickness, or discouragement. May God use it for his glory and the good of the Church.

Second Sunday in Advent

On this second Sunday* in Advent (adventus- arrival, coming) we light the first and second purple candles on our Advent wreath. The first candle is sometimes called the prophecy candle, because it represents the HOPE and anticipation of the coming of the Messiah as foretold by the prophets like Isaiah. The second candle represent FAITH and it is sometimes called the Bethlehem candle indicating that God kept his promise that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Be sure to click on the menu portion of this blog and find the daily readings and thoughts for this coming week. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Also, I have also published on my menu page a “Primer on Eschatology.” Don’t let this big word scare you. It is simply a list of different views on the end of things and the Second Coming of Christ. While Christians agree that Jesus Christ is coming back, the how, when, and where differ significantly. This primer is to help you find your own viewpoint and to better understand the others.

*I post my readings on Saturday, because for some who read my blog in places like Australia it is already Sunday.

Advent Devotionals

Today is the beginning of the Advent Season 2020, which (because it is a leap year) runs through December 24th. The first purple candle (three purple and one pink) on your Advent wreath is lit today signifying HOPE. Advent begins a four-week period of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. The need for spiritual preparation reflects that Christ came to be born into our hearts by faith so that he might save us from our sin, and enter into every aspect of our own anxiety-ridden lives.

I have prepared this daily devotional to help you experience the Prince of Peace as he enters into the bedraggled and weary places of your life. It is my prayer that you may find your faith renewed and your hope restored.

Please go to the menu portion of this blog to find the devotionals for this first week.

Join Me on a Journey!!

ARE YOU READY??

Go to the MENU PORTION of this blog and check out the syllabus on Church History 101 and get the text. Then listen to the 6 lessons and view the resources available to enhance your study. There is no hurry to rush through this course (like you did in school) and feel like you are taking a drink out of a fire hydrant. Proceed at your own pace and LEARN SOMETHING.

An Election Day (Waiting) Prayer

As I await the vote count from 6 remaining states with population totals of over 18 million and the total number of votes that separate the candidates only around 200K, here is my prayer:

Almighty God, Eternal Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, we humbly come before you as a church and pray for our nation in throes of this unsettled election. We pray all of this against the background of acknowledging that you are the sovereign God of the universe who sees yesterday and tomorrow through the lens of your eternity, and knows the end from the beginning—ruling over the affairs of humanity just as you govern the earth, skies, and seas.

In spite of all we know to be true about you, Lord, many of us are still filled with anxiety, others of us are fearful, and others even angry. We are thankful for our democratic (representative) form of government and the opportunity we have to exercise a say in its direction. On the other hand, we also acknowledge our allurement to power and the tendency we have to consider our political opinion pre-eminent. We often fail to recognize or admit to our own blind spots and prejudices which could lead us to disregard the opinions of others with as much zeal as they reject ours.

We often put too much faith in “the system” rather than recognizing that it is but a tool in your sovereign hand for accomplishing your divine purposes, not ours. And we admit that such a trust in our own opinion opens us to the dire warning of our Lord Jesus, “Judge not lest you be judged.” We opine the the viewpoint and negative qualities of others, only to see that our sensitivity to such viewpoints flow from the dark crevasses of our own hearts where the same sin dwells.

We are such weak and desperate creatures, willing to trust in anything that seems to serve us most immediately. O Lord, forgive us; revive us; stir within us a passion for your kingdom and glory. May we pursue justice and righteousness not because it is culturally relevant or a part of our party’s platform, but because it is what you desire from us. May we love mercy and kindness not because it fosters civility, but because it reflects you character who makes the rain fall upon the just and unjust. And may we be driven by the Spirit of humility, repentance, forgiveness, and repentance, thus shunning the way of anger and vengeance towards those who “in our minds” don’t deserve it—just like we dd not in your eyes..

For the Day is coming when every proud look will be brought low and you, Lord, will be exalted. All the glory of mankind will bow; all the pride of man will lie in the dust, and you will be exalted in all the earth. And all our political idolatry will be destroyed.

Holy Father, someday this most anticipated election of our lifetime will be be replaced by another. The election of 2020 will need to be googled to be remembered. But you, O Lord, will remain. May we then, as now, acknowledge with the prophet Isaiah, “Puny man! Frail as his breath! Don’t ever put your trust in him!” Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

As I finished writing this prayer the announcement came that Biden was being declared to winner, which still needs to be certified.

The Most Pivotal Election in US History?

Is this election the most important one in our lifetime? We have been told it is, but when you have lived as long as me, you have heard that phrase many times. In fact, if you did a study of presidential elections in American history you would hear this same phrase repeated in almost every election.

That is why I have rephrased the question to ask what was the most pivotal election in US history? You can do your own study and arrive at your own conclusion, but for me, I believe that the most pivotal and divisive presidential election in American history took place in 1860. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry a year earlier had brought the great American debate over slavery to a breaking point.

Four candidates were nominated. The Republican Party, which fielded its first candidate in 1856, was opposed to the expansion of slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the party’s nominee in 1860, was seen as a moderate on slavery, but Southerners feared that his election would lead to its demise, and vowed to leave the Union if he was elected. The Democratic Party split during their April convention, and the Southern delegation walked out in protest against the party’s failure to endorse a federal slave code for western territories. Northern Democrats reconvened in Baltimore, where they nominated Stephen Douglas, while the Southern faction of the party held their own convention in Richmond and nominated Vice President John Breckinridge for president. The Constitutional Union Party, a moderate party composed of former Whigs and remnants of the Know-Nothings and other groups in the South, organized just before the election of 1860 and nominated John Bell.

Bell carried Virginia and Breckinridge had the most votes in western Virginia. Lincoln won the election without carrying a single Southern state, the limited support he received in Virginia coming almost exclusively in the Northern panhandle. Almost immediately following his election, Southern states began withdrawing from the Union, setting the stage for a civil war and the creation of a new state.

Notice the above map – with four candidates in the field, Lincoln received only 40% of the popular vote but a significant 180 electoral votes (59%). This meant that 60% of the voters selected someone other than Lincoln. The next time you complain about the electoral college just think of this election as an example of its wisdom. With the results tallied, the question was, would the South accept the outcome? A few weeks after the election, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Since the North had a larger population than the South, it therefore had control of the Electoral College. Lincoln dominated the Northern states but didn’t carry a single Southern state. 

Douglas received some Northern support—12 electoral votes—but not nearly enough to offer a serious challenge to Lincoln. The Southern vote was split between Breckenridge who won 72 electoral votes and Bell who won 39 electoral votes. The split prevented either candidate from gaining enough votes to win the election. The election of 1860 also firmly established the Democratic and Republican parties as the majority parties in the United States. It also confirmed deep-seated views on slavery and states’ rights between the North and South. 

The night after all the results came in and it was clear that Lincoln had won, he went home only to find his wife, Mary, already asleep. He gently touched her shoulder and whispered her name, to which she made no answer. Then, as Lincoln recounted: “I spoke again, a little louder, saying ‘Mary, Mary! we are elected!‘ ” Minutes before, the final words his friends heard him utter that night were: “God help me, God help me.” (The Smithsonian Magazine)

Before Lincoln’s inauguration, eleven Southern states had seceded from the Union. Weeks after his swearing-in, the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter and started the Civil War. I would say the election of 1860 was the most pivotal in US history.