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On This Day Armed for Battle

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed congressional legislation to make The Star Spangled Banner the official national anthem of the United States. Though this patriotic tune had been wildly popular for over 115 years, it wasn’t until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson declared it our de facto national anthem. In 1929, House Resolution 14 was presented to Congress to make it official, but some members argued that it was not easily sung and the melody, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” had been the favorite of a bawdy men’s club in the 18th century. Still, it had the overwhelming support of  the American public, including a number of state governors.

In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year old American lawyer, penned the words after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Key was on a neutral ship, trying to negotiate the release of American prisoners of war. The heavy assault took place over a rainy, 25-hour period as Key witnessed the “bombs bursting in air” and the “rockets’ red glare”—which historians identify as the Congreve rocket, weighing about 32 pounds and carrying an incendiary charge. On the morning of September 14, with the smoke clearing, Key joyfully spied the tattered Stars and Stripes fluttering over the fort. Inspired, he began scribbling lines on the back of a letter that he had retrieved from his pocket. The first performance of the poem-turned-song occurred in October 1814, when a popular stage actor sang it at a Baltimore tavern.

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It’s easy to praise God when the sun is shining, isn’t it? But when all-out war seems to break out in your life, it becomes more difficult. Lent is a journey through shadow and sorrow, but most of us prefer to live under clear, trouble-free skies. When rockets of adversity blow up in our back yard, we shake our fists at heaven or torture ourselves with the unanswerable “Why?”

I’ve done that. A couple of years ago, my youngest son was diagnosed with cancer. He’s a gym junkie who played basketball in high school, with no major health problems in the past. The diagnosis caught me off-guard, sucking me down into a deep whirlpool of depression. God felt light-years from me; in fact, it took me a while to realize I was angry at God. Since his initial treatment my son has been cancer-free, which is great news, but I am in the process of accepting that bad things not only happen to good people – they can happen to me and the ones I care about. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus promised His disciples that they would have trouble in the world, one guarantee that none of us wants to receive. The King James Bible has Jesus adding, “But be of good cheer.” It almost sounds as if Christ is telling His followers to “put on a happy face” as they go through the grinder of tribulation. But that’s not what He is saying at all. Other versions translate Jesus saying, “Take heart,” “Take courage” or “Be brave.” He gave this same command several times during His ministry: to the paralytic in Matthew 9:2; to the hemorrhaging woman in Matthew 9:22; to His disciples on the tempest-tossed waters in Matthew 14:27; and to Paul as he languished in prison in Acts 23:11. Note that Christ not only gave the command; He backed it up with His impeccable presence and power.

Faith is not an invisible shield that insulates us from conflict and hardship. Faith draws us to the side of Jesus, who sends us into life’s battles with all the resources of heaven behind us. No soldier wants to fight alone. With Christ, we don’t have to.

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