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EVERYTHING WAS GOING GREAT UNTIL . . . (published in The Tribune March 08, 2014)

posted Mar 5, 2014, 2:20 PM by Jesse Griffin
If you go East, I recommend a side trip to Petersburg, Virginia. Why? To see a hole in the ground. A hole in the ground? Yes. But not just any hole in the ground. This one is historic!

During the late stages of the Civil War, the Union had General Robert E. Lee’s army under siege in Petersburg, just a few miles south of Richmond, but they could not break through the Confederate lines. 

Some Pennsylvania miners came up with a daring plan to tunnel under the Confederate position from which they could create a huge explosion and blow a hole in the enemy line. Because of the distance involved, most thought it was impossible, but permission was given to try, and special training was held to prepare troops to exploit such a unique advantage.

Against all odds, over a period of weeks the miners performed the stupendous feat of excavating a 511-foot shaft without being detected by the enemy. With the hard part done, the large galley at the end of the shaft was loaded with four tons of dynamite directly under the Confederate lines and at 3:45 on July 30, 1864, the fuse was lit.

In true Hollywood fashion – nothing happened! An hour later a brave volunteer was sent into the tunnel to find the problem. Sure enough the fuse had failed and had to be re-lit. This time, there was no disappointment. The resulting explosion killed hundreds of Confederates outright and the resulting crater created a 200-foot breach in the Confederate line. The Union troops immediately advanced to breach the gap.

But there was a problem. None of them had ever seen anything like this! They began to break ranks to get a better look. Arriving at the 30-foot-deep crater, they could not resist looking in. They began climbing down the side of the crater and before long many were being buried alive in the loose dirt. Confusion ensued; the Confederates regrouped and within a half hour, the best chance yet to end the war had been lost. General Grant called it “the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war.” 

The chance for a sure victory was lost because the soldiers got distracted. They forgot why they were there.

That tragedy reminds me of a parable Jesus gave about a farmer sowing seed in different types of soil. The seed represented God’s Word. The soil represented different kinds of hearts. One kind of soil had thorns that choked out the seed. Jesus interpreted the meaning in Luke 8:14: “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”

A lot of people miss Jesus’ message for that very reason. He once said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24). But we get so distracted with what is “immediate” we fail to see that it is keeping us from what is eternal. And before long we are buried at the bottom of the crater, having bypassed the only way out.

We’re like the guy filing an accident claim who reported, “The accident happened because I had one eye on the truck in front, one eye on the pedestrian and the other on the car behind." He didn’t have enough eyes to go around! And neither do we when we do not have one focused firmly on what comes next – eternity.

You can still see the remains of the Petersburg crater– a grim reminder of opportunity lost. We can’t re-live that battle; but we can make sure our opportunity for eternal life, bought and paid for by Jesus Christ, is not similarly lost. It just takes a little focus – and a little faith.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton (