Monday, February 20, 2012

The Freedom of Forgiveness
(A Testimony of 3 People)

Have you ever struggled to forgive someone who hurt you or disrespected you?

Have you ever looked down on someone because of their sins or mistakes?

“That person is like this, but I would never… (you fill in the blank.)

Maybe you can’t forgive yourself because of the things you have done.

If we are honest, we have all struggled with these issues.

Believing in the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection for us not only frees us from sin and guilt and death,

It frees us to be able to truly forgive ourselves and others.

When we realize how just much we have been forgiven, we will have power to forgive and love also.

We all need forgiveness in our hearts.

Whether Japanese, American or something else, we all have sins that need cleansing.

We all need the freedom that only God’s forgiveness can bring.

Today I want share three brief testimonies with you that relate to these truths.

Through dark and painful times, the power of God’s forgiveness can shine as a light of healing.

70 years ago, on December 7, 1941, Captain Mitsuo Fuchida woke up early.

According to Fuchida, he was excited as he led 360 airplanes toward Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

His plan was simple: To surprise and cripple the American Navy force in the Pacific Ocean.

Caught totally unprepared America lost five of their eight battleships in the harbor.

After just a few hours 3,303 U.S. Navy and Army personnel had been killed and another 1,272 people were wounded.

Fuchida said his chest burst with the pride of victory and success.

In California the news of the secret attack spread by radio.

An American soldier named Jake DeShazer was on kitchen duty listening.

He threw a potato he was peeling at the wall and shouted, “Just wait and see what we’ll do to you!”

As America joined World War II, DeShazer volunteered for the first attack on the Japanese mainland.

The secret group called “The Doolittle Squadron” would surprise attack Tokyo from the carrier “Hornet”.

On April 18, 1942, DeShazer boarded a plane excited for revenge.

Let’s pause for a moment here.

Being so far removed from World War II, I’m sure some of us think that we cannot relate to these acts of hate and revenge.

However, we can ask ourselves some questions.

Am I eager to make a name for myself?

Does desire for success rule over the desire to love and serve others in my heart?

Do I keep anger when someone offends me, or do I quickly forgive and forget?

The seeds of war start here, in human hearts.

Well, DeShazer’s group did finish their bombing and then crash landed in mainland China.

They were soon picked up by Japanese troops and placed into a POW camp there.

Three of the men in the American squadron were executed.

DeShazer, on the other hand, would spend three years in solitary confinement.

He was treated cruelly and was put on a starvation diet.

After 25 months in prison, the U.S. prisoners were finally given books including a Bible.

There in jail DeShazer read and reread the Bible – and finally understood it was more than just a book.

Through its message, God changed his heart.

The love of Christ that Jake accepted into his life in that cell changed his attitude towards the Japanese.

His hateful and belligerant attitude toward his guards turned to love and concern.

The guards were so amazed at the changes, they wondered what kind of book Jake was reading.

Jake decided that if America won the war, he would come back to Japan and help people learn about God’s love from this life-changing book.

Jake DeShazer ended up doing just that.

The first time he had left for Japan with hatred in his heart for the Japanese.

Just a few years later he left for Japan from the same American harbor, with a desire to love and help the Japanese.

DeShazer spent the next 30 years in Japan and helped establish a church in Nagoya, a city he had previously helped bomb.

Fuchida, however, faired much better through the war than Jake did.

Twice he had to parachute from his plane, but both times he was saved.

Though thousands of miles separated the two bailouts, amazingly the same Japanese fisherman was there to rescue him both times!

Fuchida was sick on the day that the majority of his squadron was killed in a suicide mission.

He was in Hiroshima on some business the day before the bomb fell there.

Through these events Fuchida started to wonder if there was some greater plan or purpose for his life.

In his memoir he wrote, “Why was I still alive even though so many of my countrymen died like flies during the four years of war?

Why had I escaped so narrowly so many times?

After the war it was very hard to return to civilian life.

He had gone from Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, captain of the Air Force, to a simple farmer living in Nara.

He felt bitter and disillusioned.

Though he wanted peace, he did not know what could give men the love and concern for others that would keep the world from war again.

During this time Fuchida met a friend named Uraga who had been a POW in America.

Fuchida asked him how he was treated.

Uraga responded that he was treated fairly well, though obviously he experienced some suffering there.

What amazed Fuchida was the story that followed.

“Near the end of my stay in the POW camp, we experienced something that changed all of our bitterness and hatred to forgiveness and light-heartedness.

There was a certain American girl who visited near the end.  I would say she was about 20.

She said, “If there are any of you who are experiencing pain or difficulty in any way, I would like to help you.”

She looked after our sick with so much care and tenderness that all of our hearts were touched.

About three weeks after the girl first came to the camp, one of the prisoners asked her, “Why are you so kind to us?”

Her unexpected reply was, “Because my parents were killed by the Japanese army.”

We could not understand how anyone could return kindness for such pain.

The girl told us that her parents had been missionaries in the Philippine islands at the beginning of the war.

They fled to the mountains and lived there for three years.

Then the American army landed in the Philippines and the Japanese army was forced up into the mountains.

Some Japanese soldiers found the missionaries in their mountain retreat and accused them of being spies.

They were ordered to be put to death.

“We are not spies,” they said, “but if you must kill us, give us 30 minutes with our Bibles and prayer.”

For the next 30 minutes, as the report came back to the girl, her parents quietly read their Bibles and prayed.

And then they were put to death.

When she heard the news, bitter tears of grief and indignation blinded her eyes.

She was filled with a terrible hatred for the Japanese.

And then gradually another attitude prevailed.

She realized that during that 30 minutes of prayer that her parents asked for

they had certainly been asking God to forgive their executors.

She was filled with such a love and forgiveness from God that she strongly desired to help the Japanese in the American POW camps.

Fuchida thought that was a beautiful story, but he wondered where such love could be found.

He had never heard of people returning good for evil.

It was against everything he had been taught.

But he determined himself to find the source of this power that would turn hateful people into forgiving and loving individuals.

He realized that to find world peace, he and the world would need to find the answer to that question.

Later, while in Tokyo testifying at the war crimes trials, Fuchida was walking outside Shibuya station.

There was an American missionary there, standing close to Hachiko, handing out tracts.

Fuchida picked up the tract that contained Jake DeShazer’s story of hatred turned to love.

Let’s continue the story with Fuchida’s own words:

“It was something I could not explain.

I could not forget it.

The peaceful motivation that I read about in this story was exactly what I was looking for.

I thought, if a Bible could change DeShazer so much, it could change me too.

The next day, I bought a Bible.

Before I had even opened it, I opened the newspaper that day and found an article about the Bible.

It said that the Bible was the world’s best-selling book.

That it had been translated into the languages of all of the civilized peoples of the world.

It ended with a plea:

If there is any Japanese person who has not yet read the Bible, please read the first 30 pages with an open mind.

Surely there is something there that will touch your heart.”

Fuchida says he felt certain that God was now leading him to read the Bible.

He began and he could not put it down.

When he came to the gospel of Luke he read the scene of the crucifixion of Christ.

He read Luke 23:34 where Jesus prays on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Fuchida thought, “Jesus prayed for the very soldiers that were about to put a spear into his side.”

Then he exclaimed, “Here is the source of that love that can forgive enemies!”

Suddenly he could understand the story of the American girl whose parents had been killed.

Their prayer must have been the prayer of Christ.

Surely they must have prayed to forgive those who were about to decapitate them.

The work of the young girl must be the answer to the prayer of her parents.

Fuchida thought, “This too can explain the transformation in Jacob DeShazer’s life.”

Fuchida said, “I am not ashamed to admit that immediately my eyes filled with tears and I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.”

Fuchida later met Jake DeShazer.

They became good friends and spoke together to large crowds in both America and Japan about the love and forgiveness they had found in Jesus Christ.

Big headlines in the newspapers read, “Pearl Harbor Hero Becomes Christian”.

Fuchida said, “Friends came to visit me trying to change my mind, but their minds were changed instead.”

Fuchida lived in Nara until he went home to heaven in 1976.

DeShazer lived to the age of 95 before he went home to be with Jesus in 2005.

What can we learn from the stories of these three lives?

Number one, God’s forgiveness is great!

We all need forgiveness, and no matter what we’ve done, God can forgive us all through Christ.

Through Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins on the cross, all of our sins can be cleansed forever.

We can be freed to love all people too.

Mitsuo Fuchida, Jake DeShazer, and the daughter of the slain missionaries saw their hearts and lives transformed by the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Their hearts, which were once filled with hate, came to be filled with love for their former enemies.

And what happened to them can happen to to anyone who gives their life to the Lord.

Whether those enemies are from other countries, or from your own family, or even from your own church, we can be free from bitterness and resentment.

We can become a family in Christ, where there is no distinction or divide.

All the walls of separation and animosity can be removed through Jesus Christ.

We can be brothers and sisters forever in Him.

Second, we can find hope in this painful world.

Many people try to find hope by being good or striving for world peace.

Let me close with the words of Mitsuo Fuchida:

“I believe that people must not ignore the message of Jesus. 

People must realize that he is the hope for this hurting world.

Though my country has found so much success materially, wealth hasn’t saved anyone.

Peace and freedom in this life and the next come only through Jesus Christ.”

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