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Archive for the ‘Heroes of the Faith’ Category

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

In the predawn hours of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls’ experienced hands gripped the ship’s wheel of the Planter, though his heart was pounding. Ahead were five checkpoints along the Charleston River, and then the open sea. Within a few hours he and the fifteen others onboard would be free from slavery.

Or, failing to succeed, they would be sinking the ship, jumping overboard and perishing together. They had already decided: being captured was not an option.

Smalls prayed aloud, for the benefit of his crew and passengers: “Lord, we entrust ourselves into thy hands. Like thou didst for the Israelites in Egypt, please stand over us to our promised land of freedom” (1).

The first checkpoint came into view, its lanterns gleaming gold against the dark night. Even though the sentries would not be able to see him clearly, Smalls had taken the precaution of wearing the captain’s coat and straw hat. He even assumed his captain’s posture. And when Smalls gave the correct whistle signal, they allowed him to pass without question.

Robert whispered another prayer, this time of gratitude and praise. He marveled how God had engineered events to bring him to this moment:

  • At age twelve, Smalls’ master, Mr. McKee of Beaufort, South Carolina, had rented him to an employer in Charleston. Smalls had worked in the city ever since, as waiter, lamplighter, and then wharf hand.
  • Currently he was employed as wheel hand aboard the Confederate supply ship, Planter, under command of Captain Ripley. His circumstances had allowed him to learn how to sail and how to make the correct whistle signals at checkpoints.
  • The captain and white crew members frequently spent their nights in Charleston, not on the ship. This night was one of them.

 

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(Charleston street scene by Matthew Brady)

 

  • Smalls enjoyed good rapport with the other ship-hand slaves of the Planter. Without them, this daring getaway would have been impossible.
  • The opportunity for escape presented itself when a pre-dawn mission was scheduled for May 13. Smalls’ 3:30 a.m. departure, although earlier than actually scheduled, did not alert the harbor guards.
  • Smalls had time to notify his wife and children that he would pick them up at a prearranged wharf nearby, prior to the first checkpoint.

A small pinpoint of pale light appeared ahead. Checkpoint Two. Again, the Planter slid by without incident as Smalls signaled to those on shore. Three, four, and five also allowed them to pass.

By sunrise they were sailing into safe Union waters. Upon sighting the first vessel of the Union blockade, Smalls took down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white sheet—just in time before Onward sailors began to fire at the Confederate vessel.

His plan had worked; the little band onboard had escaped to freedom. No doubt their shouts of celebration included, “Thank you, Jesus!”

Smalls surprised the captain of Onward with his knowledge of Rebel fortifications and their locations. Also of value: a book of secret flag signals used by the Confederates, and a full cargo of armaments.

It wasn’t long before Smalls had joined the war effort for the Union, helping to enlist Black men to fight. Nearly 5,000 former slaves fought courageously for the North.

For his part, Smalls became the Union Navy captain for the CSS Planter, the ship he had sailed to freedom. He also captained the ironclad, USS Keokuk.

 

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(The USS Keokuk)

 

Smalls led Union ships into waters the Confederacy had protected with mines—mines that Small had helped to plant while enslaved in Charleston. Soldiers deactivated the mines, opening those passageways to Union vessels.

Smalls courageously conducted seventeen missions in and around Charleston, which included assisting in the destruction of railroad bridges in the harbor area.

After the war, Smalls and his family returned to Beaufort, South Carolina. He was awarded the rank of Major General of the South Carolina Militia during Reconstruction, and turned his attention to business, education, and finally, politics.  He opened a general store and started a newspaper. He helped establish the first school built for African-American children in Beaufort County.

 

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From 1869 to 1889 Smalls served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature, and five terms in the U.S. Congress. Referring to his political service, one commentator said, “His record was brilliant, consistent, and indeed he led in all the most prominent measures” (2).

One story in particular highlights Smalls’ Christ-like attitude that impacted his entire life:

 

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(The McKee/Smalls House in Beaufort, SC)

 

He eventually acquired enough wealth to purchase the house in Beaufort where he and his mother had been slaves of the McKee family. Sometime after Smalls and his family moved in, Mrs. McKee came to the door. By this time she was elderly and perhaps suffering from dementia. She thought the house still belonged to her.

The natural inclination would have been to send her away or have her delivered to her current home. But that was not Robert Smalls’ way. He invited Mrs. McKee inside, gave back to the woman her old bedroom, and then served her.

Robert Smalls died in 1915 at age 76, and was buried with great honors.

In 2001 a Logistics Support Vessel was launched with his name, the Major General Robert Smalls. It was the first ship named for an African-American.  A worthy honoree, indeed.

 

Notes:

(1) Boone, Bishop Wellington, Black Self-Genocide, p. 165.

(2) http://www.docsouth.umc.edu/neh/simmon/simmons.html

 

Sources:  Black Self-Genocide by Bishop Wellington Boone, APPTE Publishing, 2016; http://www.biography.com/people/robert-smalls; http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/138685.aspx; http://www.historynet.com/robertsmalls; http://www.robertsmalls.com; www.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ibiblio.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (4)

 

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Isaac closed his eyes for a moment and pondered the scripture he had just read:

 

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,

all the earth:

Make a loud noise,

And rejoice, and sing praise.”

–Psalm 98:4 KJV

 

A poem began to take shape in his mind, and he picked up his quill to write.

Poetry came as naturally to Isaac Watts as regular conversation to others. Ever since he was a boy he’d taken great pleasure in rhyme and rhythm.

He also appreciated a heart-stirring tune, which is why, as a young man, he found the chanted church music of the day uninspiring and ponderous. At the urging of his father (also a nonconformist), young Isaac set out to write new hymns. In fact, he may have been among the first composers of contemporary Christian music—contemporary for the late 1600s, that is.

As could be expected, his first songs were rejected by some as unworthy for congregational singing. They even called Isaac a heretic because his lyrics were not direct quotes from scripture.  Despite the critics, however, his first volume of Hymns and Spiritual Songs was published in 1707.

 

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Even today, some of his hymn-titles are familiar, including: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “We’re Marching to Zion,” and “At the Cross.” In all, Isaac Watts wrote more than six hundred hymns.

In 1716 Isaac was hired as an assistant to the minister of Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London, and less than three years later, became the minister. He worked tirelessly and creatively; the congregation grew.

 

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It was one day during that same year of 1719 Isaac chose to meditate on Psalm 98 and was particularly inspired by verse four (quoted above).

Perhaps Isaac pondered the “joyful noise” all the earth would make—if fields, hills, rocks, and plains joined mankind in praise of the Lord, the King. And the words began to flow:

 

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“Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King:

Let every heart prepare Him room.

And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns!

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

 

The four-stanza poem was published in 1719—without benefit of tune.

More than one hundred years later in Boston, Massachusetts, Christian composer, Lowell Mason, was inspired to write an upbeat melody he titled, “Antioch.”

 

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This tune needs to be sung, he thought. But finding lyrics with the correct rhythm and a suitable theme proved difficult. Not until three years later, in 1839, did Mason come across the perfect lyrics in Isaac Watt’s Modern Psalmist: “Joy to the World.”

Sing through the hymn and you’ll find no mention of Jesus’ birth—nothing about Mary, Joseph or Bethlehem, nothing about angels, shepherds, or wise men. So how did it become a traditional Christmas carol?

Perhaps pastors and music ministers began choosing the song because it celebrated the impact of Jesus’ birth—the advent of his Spirit to all who believe, and the final advent when Jesus will return to earth and begin his reign as King of kings.

When we sing this well-loved carol, we’re celebrating:

  • The past. “The Lord is come” (stanza one). Two thousand years ago Almighty God became flesh and lived among humanity, to win our hearts and transform our lives.

 

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  • The present. “The Savior reigns” within those of us who make room for him, filling our spirits with the joy of his presence (stanza two).

 

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  • The future. The day is coming when sin and sorrow will cease, God’s blessings will flow forever (stanza three), and he will “rule the world with truth and grace” (stanza four).

 

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The “wonders of his love” (also from stanza four) include all these truths and more.

 

So…

 

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“Shout your praises to God, everybody!

Let loose and sing!”

–Psalm 98:4, MSG

 

JOY TO THE WORLD!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest; http://www.yourworshiptools.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.tumbr.com.)

 

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Lots of folks will be trekking to the grocery store today or tomorrow, picking up ingredients for their traditional Thanksgiving feast: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and more.

But that’s probably not what the Pilgrims and their Indian guests ate in 1621. According to the two primary sources that survive, their feast included wildfowl (wild turkey among them, for sure, but those taste nothing like a Butterball), waterfowl, cornbread or corn porridge, and venison. Perhaps vegetables from their gardens were also on the menu, but they received no mention.

Soon after that first Thanksgiving, our American forefathers added a custom to the meal: putting five grains of corn at each place around the table as a memorial to those first Pilgrims—a people of strong faith who had faced persecution and even imprisonment in England.

So the small band left everything—extended family and friends, jobs, homes, and goods—to establish a colony for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith (according to the Mayflower Compact).

 

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“Embarkation of the Pilgrims”

by Robert Walter Weir

 

You may remember a late departure from England delayed their arrival in America by two months. To complicate matters further, they were blown off course by a storm. Instead of arriving at Jamestown, Virginia where other colonists already lived, they landed at present-day Massachusetts.

In numbing cold and deep snow the Pilgrims began the overwhelming task of building a colony from scratch. Shelter was their highest priority, and construction of a common house began immediately.

At night the men stayed on land while the women and children returned to the Mayflower, thanks to the captain, Christopher Jones, who anchored the ship a mile offshore. Jones knew that if he left, they would all die.

But even the ship offered little relief from the frigid temperatures. To keep their children warm, the mothers would actually sleep on them.

 

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“Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor”

by William Halsall

 

It’s no wonder that severe illness decimated the Pilgrims. At one point, only seven colonists were strong enough to care for the others. Half of the original 102 colonists died, many of them the women who had protected their children from the bitter cold. Most of the children survived.

The trial of rampant illness was compounded by the lack of food. During that first dreadful winter in America, corn had to be carefully rationed. Each person received just five grains at a time.

And thus began the custom among early settlers to put corn kernels at each place for Thanksgiving—in memory of those resolute and persevering men and women who suffered so much to live for the glory of God and share the good news of Jesus with the American Indians.

 

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William Bradford

 

Sometime later, Governor William Bradford of the Massachusetts colony wrote, “We have noted these things so that you might see their worth and not negligently lose what your fathers have obtained with so much hardship.”

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Forgive me, Lord God. I do forget these things and become focused on the delight of gathering with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. I neglect to soberly note the worth of the Pilgrims’ sacrifices, that they might live for your glory. Their perseverance, courage, and passion put me to shame.

Help me to be a voice of remembrance to those around me. May we not negligently lose what the Pilgrims and other heroes/heroines have obtained for us with so much hardship.

 

Sources:

 

The Higher Happiness by Ralph W. Sockman (1950), p. 45.

The Founders’ Bible by Shiloh Road Publishers, pp. 95-104.

http://www.eagleforum.org; “Thanks-living Time–The Extraordinary Example of the Pilgrims.”

 

(Photo & art credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.biography.com.)

 

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Between the putrid odors and stale air below decks, Francis Asbury chose to spend most of his time on the top deck, often taking his journal and pencils with him. The rolling of the ship caused unsteady handwriting, but recording his thoughts passed the time and focused his heart on what lay ahead.

Twenty-six year old Francis had left home in England, September 4,1771, at the invitation of John Wesley, the great Methodist evangelist. The growing colonies in America needed ministers, and Francis accepted the challenge. Nine years of experience in the pulpit had prepared him for the preaching; what else might be required only God knew.

 

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Francis put pencil to page. “Whither am I going? To the New World. What to do? To gain honor? No, if I know my own heart. To get money? No, I am going to live to God and to bring others to do so.”

Upon his arrival in America, Francis soon discovered colonial life was drastically different from that of England. Centuries of development and culture in Britain had created a civilized society. America was rough and raw by comparison, although the towns exhibited more refinement than outlying settlements.

 

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(Asbury disembarked at Philadelphia, home of Independence Hall.)

 

To make his home in one of these towns must have crossed his mind, but Francis was compelled to take his message of hope and peace to the villages and pioneers. He began twenty miles outside of New York in Westchester, and then visited other small hamlets as well. Soon he developed a “preaching circuit.” Other Methodist ministers followed his example. These circuit riders were so willing to travel in all sorts of weather, a saying became popularized: “Nobody out today but the crows and the Methodists.”

In 1775, several of his colleagues decided to return to England, as war between the colonies and Britain seemed imminent. But Francis chose to stay, impassioned as always to continue preaching about Jesus no matter the dangers.

Other perils included sickness, exposed as he was to inclement weather of all sorts. He preached numerous times with an ulcerated throat and high fever. Sometimes Francis was so weak, men would have to lift him onto his horse and tie him in the saddle. In later years, he resorted to a carriage due to rheumatism. Yet he preached on.

 

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(“Francis Asbury Preaching by Lamplight”

by Richard Douglas)

 

Francis also continued to journal about his experiences:

“Near midnight we stopped at A.’s…Our supper was tea…I lay along the floor on a few deerskins with the fleas. That night our poor horses got no corn, and next morning had to swim across the Monongahela.

“The gnats are almost as troublesome here as the mosquitoes in the lowlands of the seaboard. This country will require much work to make it tolerable” (West Virginia, July 10, 1788).

For 45 years Francis traveled throughout the colonies, from Georgia to Maine, and even into Canada. He covered an estimated 300,000 miles, delivered some 16,500 sermons, ordained nearly 700 preachers, and added well over 200,000 members to the Methodist Episcopal Church.

 

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Francis became so well-known, he received mail addressed simply, “Bishop Asbury, United States of America.”

Yet even as a bishop he earned only $80 per year, and that he mostly gave away. He also gave away the coats and shirts from his own back to anyone more destitute than himself.

On March 24, 1816, Francis Asbury preached his last sermon. He was seventy years old.

A week later, he finally succumbed to yet another bout of illness. The well-known bishop died penniless but “rich in souls” (Dan Graves), a tireless participant in the growth of Christian faith across the colonies that included the building of numerous churches and institutions of learning, impacting future generations to this day.

A little more than a century after his death, a statue of Asbury was erected in Washington, D.C. On October 15, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge gave the dedication address at the unveiling.

 

Monument to Francis Asbury in Washington, DC

Monument to Francis Asbury in Washington, DC

 

His commendations included:

“He never had any of the luxuries of this life. Even its absolute necessities he had a scanty share…yet his great spirit pressed on to the end, always toward the mark of his high calling.”

Though Asbury is not listed among the founding fathers, President Coolidge affirmed during his address: “He is entitled to rank as one of the builders of our nation.”

Truly, Francis Asbury could say with the apostle Paul, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10 NASB). And Asbury’s example was as powerful as his preaching—his self-sacrifice, passion, and purpose recorded in his ship journal in 1771—a purpose from which he never wavered:

 

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“I am going to live to God and bring others to do so.”

 

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Oh, Lord, guide me to fulfill that same purpose! Keep me mindful that nothing else will provide such satisfaction and contentment as a life lived for you.

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.christianity.com, “Francis Asbury” by Dan Graves.
  2. http://www.christianitytoday.com.
  3. Seedbed Sower’s Almanac and Seed Catalog, Seedbed Publishing, 2015-2016.
  4. http://www.wesleycenter.nnu.edu.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.wallpaperbeautiful.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikimediacommons; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.place.asburyseminary.edu; http://www.fggam.org; http://www.bibleteachingresources.org.)

 

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Sam leaned in close toward the center of the table, in order to be heard over the rowdy group nearby. In spite of the noise, the Green Dragon Tavern was a perfect place for Sam and his comrades to meet. No one paid much attention to them or their topic of conversation: resisting British tyranny.

“What we need,” Sam announced firmly but quietly, “are committees of correspondence in every town of Massachusetts, ready to pass on communication quickly from one to another, keep each other informed, and coordinate our efforts—in spite of the Brits’ nosy presence.”

Others at the table nodded in agreement. Almost all Bostonians longed for the removal of British soldiers, encamped in their harbor town since 1768. The men at table with Sam weren’t surprised by his idea for subterfuge. For eight years he had been writing newspaper articles in criticism of Britain’s oppressive policies and harsh taxation of the colonists.

Now it was 1772.  Samuel Adams and many others felt the colonies had endured enough. It was time for action. He began to organize Committees of Correspondence in Massachusetts, and soon more than 300 developed throughout the colonies.

Sam also helped organize protests and boycotts. The most famous was the Boston Tea Party of 1773. He led fifty-some patriots to dump tea into the harbor, thus avoiding the high import duties, and sending Britain a clear message.

 

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In 1774, Samuel Adams represented Massachusetts in the First Continental Congress. Their objective: to determine how best to deal with their grievances against Britain. The delegates readily agreed their first course of action should be prayer, but a disagreement ensued. Which clergyman from which denomination should be invited?

Samuel Adams told the congress he was “no bigot and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend of his country (1).” He nominated an Episcopalian clergyman, Mr. Duche. Sam did not know him, but the minister had been highly recommended. The motion passed.

From communicator to leader to unifier, Samuel Adams distinguished himself as a worthy patriot for the history books. But his character out shown his considerable abilities.

 

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Sam’s distinguishing traits included:

  • Courage.  He continually spoke out against the British crown. At least once, Sam narrowly escaped capture. In 1776, Adams (and fifty-five others) signed the Declaration of Independence. They knew it could likely be their death warrants. For some, it was.
  • “Incorruptible Integrity” (as described by one biographer (2).  For the eight years Sam served in the Continental Congress, he was known for his stamina, realism, and commitment, working tirelessly on numerous committees.
  • Wisdom.  Adams knew that devotion to God would strengthen the new nation (Proverbs 14:34). “Communities are dealt with in this world by the wise and just Ruler of the Universe,” Sam wrote in 1776. “He rewards or punishes them according to their general character (3).”

Samuel Adams was indeed a man of strong Christian faith, evidenced frequently in his writings:

“The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe (Proverbs 18:10). Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better (4).

 

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Following the signing of the Declaration, Sam said, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come (5).

In his last will and testament Sam wrote: “I…[rely] on the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins (6).”

He was also a visionary, speaking wisdom for the generations to come. His statements ring true today, especially as we approach our presidential election:

“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that…he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country” (7).

 

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“He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country…The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men” (8).

“Those who are to have a share in making as well as in judging and executing the laws should be men of singular wisdom and integrity” (9).

Samuel Adams:  Born 294 years ago tomorrow, on September 27, 1722–a man who lived what he believed.

Lord, help me to do the same.  And may I remember:

The privilege to vote is a solemn trust for which I am accountable to God.

 

Notes:

  1. http://www.renewamerica.com, “Continental Congress:  America Founded on Prayer,” Brian Fischer, May 2, 2007.
  2. http://www.belcherfoundation, “Samuel Adams.”
  3. From a letter to John Scollay, April 30, 1776.
  4. http://www.usa.church.
  5. http://www.faithofourfathers.net
  6. Founders’ Bible, ed. Brad Cummings & Lance Wubbels, p. 1732.
  7. From an article in the Boston Gazette, April 2, 1781.
  8. From The Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Harry A. Cushing, 1907.
  9. From the Boston Gazette article, April 2, 1781.

Sources:

  1. http://www.belcherfoundation.org
  2. http://www.christianitytoday.com
  3. Founders’ Bible, Shiloh Road Publishers
  4. http://www.history.com
  5. http://www.notablebiographies.com

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.history.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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Staff Sgt. Jacob DeShazer, a member of the famed Doolittle Raiders, was the bombardier of Crew No.16, the last of the 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers to launch from the USS Hornet April 18, 1942, on the famous bombing run over Tokyo. Sergeant DeShazer, 95, died March 15. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Jake DeShazer sat on a narrow bench facing the back wall of his cell, a position he was forced to keep hour after hour, day after day, as his imprisonment dragged on.

The year was 1945. DeShazer had been a prisoner of war in Japan for forty long months, enduring suffocating heat in summer, bitter cold in winter, solitary confinement, near-starvation, cruel treatment, and torture.

As he sat, perhaps Jake thought of his comrades among the eighty flyers of Dolittle’s Raiders, the bombing run over Japan that helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies in 1942.

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But DeShazer’s plane was among those shot down, its crew members captured. How many of the original eighty had survived? Jake had no way of knowing, except for the few in his own cell block.

During those long, solitary hours, perhaps Jake reviewed the encouragements from scripture he had learned and the verses he’d memorized when–for three short weeks–he was allowed to have a Bible. What a change had taken place in his heart.

Prior to his captivity, Jake had no interest in Christianity. But the cruel treatment from his captors month after month nearly drove him crazy. Hatred consumed him. He remembered that Christianity supposedly changed hatred into brotherly love. Was that really possible?

He had begged for that Bible, but it was a long time coming. When the emperor of Japan told prison guards to treat their captives better, DeShazer’s request was finally honored. And as a result of studying the scriptures, he put his faith in Jesus. Bitter hatred for the Japanese transformed into loving pity.

As Jake’s thoughts focused on his captors, he may have prayed again the words from scripture that first melted his heart: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Perhaps DeShazer reaffirmed what God’s Spirit had revealed to him earlier: His captors knew nothing of a Savior.  Without Jesus it was only natural for them to be cruel.

And so, as he lifted up loved ones and fellow soldiers, as he expressed his longing for the war to end, Jake also prayed for his captors to know Christ.

Suddenly he heard the stomping of boots, the hum of multiple voices in the corridor, men crying, and the clanging of prison doors. Then he was able to make out words—in English! “The war is over!” “We’ve come to take you home!”

Within moments his own cell door was swung open by soldiers in American uniform, paratroopers who had landed directly on the prison compound.

The date: August 20, 1945 (seventy-one years ago this Saturday). Unbeknownst to the captives, the emperor of Japan had surrendered on August 10, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The horror was finally over; DeShazer and thousands of other soldiers returned home to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Jake chose to pursue a degree at Seattle Pacific University, which he accomplished in three years. By December of 1948, he and his wife, Florence, along with their first baby, were headed for the mission field, to—of all places—Japan.

Every time DeShazer met someone in his new home country and told his story, almost always the person would ask, “Why did you come back here?” And he would introduce them to Jesus.

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(DeShazer with Japanese children, 1952)

It is estimated that some 30,000 people accepted Christ into their lives—just in the first year of Jake’s ministry in Japan. Among them, a number of former prison guards who had held Jake and his comrades captive.

Another surprising convert: Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. He “happened” to read a pamphlet Jake had written, “I Was A Prisoner of Japan.” Fuchida began to study the Bible, became a Christian, and served as a missionary himself in Asia. He and Jake eventually met and became friends.

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(DeShazer and Fuchida)

For nearly thirty years the DeShazers served God in Japan, helping to found sixteen churches throughout the country.

Someone has said:

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(“Forgiveness does not change the past,

but it does change the future.”)

DeShazer’s story proves just how mind-boggling and miraculous that future can be.

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Thank you, Father, for DeShazer’s story, proving it is possible to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). By comparison to DeShazer’s horrific experiences, my hurts and resentments are embarrassingly puny. Yet I still need your Spirit to transform them into compassion and love. As a starting point, may I never lose sight of the totally underserved forgiveness you have lavished upon me.

You can access more of Jacob DeShazer’s story at:

(Art & photo credits:  www.verterantributes.org; http://www.worldevangelism.net; http://www.spu.edu; http://www.jacobdeshazer.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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Logic said his chances were slim to win the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympics. After all:

  • Four hundred meters is a long sprint; he was a short sprinter.
  • Two other competitors in the race had achieved world records in this event.
  • He had been assigned the least desirable lane.

But when the starting gun fired, Eric Liddell quickly took the lead and pounded around the track at a steady pace—his head thrown back, arms pumping at his sides. Against the odds, Eric crossed the finish line first to win the gold medal. In fact, he set a new world record.

In the film, Chariots of Fire (1981), about Eric’s rise to Olympic gold, his character says, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” The scriptwriter was actually responsible for those words, but the attitude behind them surely reflected the strong faith-experience of the real Liddell.

 

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No doubt about it: Eric was gifted by God to run. And when he used that gift, Eric felt confident God was pleased, because he was fulfilling one of the purposes for which God had created him.

But those famous words from the film beg the question:

How can a person know when the invisible God experiences pleasure?

Scripture is the obvious place to begin our search for answers. In fact, the first book of the Bible—the first chapter no less—gives us indication. Seven times as God was creating the universe he “saw that it was good.” God takes pleasure in what he has made.

His pleasure is especially evident in the creation of humanity. He knit each of us together—not just bones, muscle, and organs—but personality traits, modes of intelligence, talents, interests, and more. Each of us is an incredible feat of engineering, a breath-taking masterpiece (Psalm 139:13, Ephesians 2:10). With so many variables at his disposal, God creates each person with precise uniqueness for distinct purposes.

 

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God also plans out each of our lives: the places where we’ll live, the people we’ll meet, the events we’ll experience (Psalm 139:16).

 

“God formed us for his pleasure…

and meant us to see him and live with him

and draw our life from his smile.”

A. W. Tozer

(The Pursuit of God, p. 32, emphasis added)

 

In Psalm 147, we’re told, “The Lord delights in those who fear* him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (v. 11).

What might that delight or pleasure feel like to us?

Perhaps a warm contentment in the spirit—the way we feel when someone we respect smiles upon us with approval. Perhaps deep confidence as we live by his wisdom.

With God, such sublime moments are not necessarily random events.   We can be assured to experience God’s pleasure as we:

  • Take joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11) through worship—anytime, anywhere.
  • Radiate his joy to others. There is blessing in being a blessing.
  • Make right choices – especially the tough ones.

Eric Liddell surely sensed God’s pleasure as deep confidence when he made the tough choice not to run in his best event, the 100-meter, in the 1924 Olympics. The race was scheduled on a Sunday, and Eric took seriously God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath set apart for worship and rest.

 

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When does God experience pleasure from our lives?

Consider Eric Liddell’s statement in the film, only let’s personalize it based on the way God has created each of us. Prayerfully fill in these blanks:

 

“God made me ____________. When I __________, I feel his pleasure.

 

One of my statements might read: “God made me a grandmother. When I play a rousing game of tag or hide ‘n’ seek with Elena and Sophie, I feel God’s pleasure.”

I’d love to hear your responses. Please share in the comment section below!

Meanwhile…

My mind cannot fathom the incredible privilege you have given us, Lord God. Thank you for ordaining the reciprocal process of pleasure between us: we enjoy bringing you delight, and you allow us to feel your pleasure. My mind cannot fathom it: I bring delight to the King of glory! I rejoice in you and praise you with all my heart.

 

———————————–

 

* “Fear of God” in the ancient Hebrew refers to awe, respect, and reverence for him.

 

Sources of information about Eric Liddell:

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.swordofthespirit.net; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.azquotes.com.)

 

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