457) Something Had to Change

   By John Stonestreet at http://www.breakpoint.org, July 11,  2014

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 Louis Zamperini died July 2nd at the age of 97.

     Louis Zamperini was bullied as a youngster because of his Italian heritage.  He responded by, as he described it, “beating the tar out of every one” of his tormentors.  He admitted, “I was so good at it that I started relishing the idea of getting even.  I was sort of addicted to it.”  So his parents got him into track and field to provide an outlet for his aggressiveness.  As a high school track star in 1934, Zamperini set a world interscholastic record in the mile.  In 1936, he made the U.S. Olympic team, even rooming with Jesse Owens.  Though Louis did not medal in his event, the 5,000 meters, he earned a meeting with Adolf Hitler after running the final lap in an amazing 56 seconds.  Hitler shook his hand, remarking, “That boy with the fast finish.”

     By 1943, he was at war in the Pacific as a bombardier.  Lieutenant Zamperini crashed in the Pacific when his B-24 developed mechanical problems.  Of the eleven crew members, only Louis and one companion survived, enduring 47 days on a raft in shark-infested waters.  He was then captured by Japanese forces and sent to a prison camp for two years, where he was tortured almost daily.  One Japanese camp sergeant, nicknamed “the Bird,” beat Louis over and over in a psychotic fury.  Louis would later say, “Pain never bothered me.  Destroying my dignity stuck with me.”  The U.S. military had even declared him dead.

     Somehow though, Louis survived.  He married Cynthia in 1946, but struggled with rage, nightmares, alcoholism, and depression.  One night he even woke up to find his hands around his wife’s neck.  Something had to change.     

     In 1949, Cynthia went to the Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade.  She urged Louis to go along.  He initially refused, but then he relented and went.  There he heard the Good News of forgiveness in Christ, trusted in the Lord, and began a personal journey of forgiveness that has touched the world.

     In his autobiography Devil at My Heels, Louis said, “I think the hardest thing in life is to forgive.  Hate is self-destructive.  If you hate someone, you’re not hurting the person you hate, you’re hurting yourself.”  So in 1950 he went back to Japan and preached a message of forgiveness and love to imprisoned war criminals who had hurt him, and even threw his arms around them.  What a picture of doing good to one’s persecutors!  But he wasn’t finished.

     When Louis was 81, in 1998, he ran part of the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.  While there he sought out “the Bird” to offer forgiveness.  Tragically, the old prison guard, who had somehow avoided prosecution as a war criminal, refused to even see him.  But at least Louis tried.

     Unbroken, the best-selling biography of Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand, was released in 2010.  Next year, Angelina Jolie will release a major motion picture based on his life.  Speaking about Louis’s death, Jolie said, “It is a loss impossible to describe.  We are so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him.  We will miss him terribly.”  Let’s pray that the Christian secrets of Zamperini’s greatness don’t get left on the cutting room floor.  And as we’re praying with thanksgiving for his life and impact, let’s remember anew how stories like Zamperini’s can point a wayward culture to grace and truth.

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“God has given me so much.  He expects so much out of me.” –Louis Zamperini

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For more on this amazing man’s life go to:

 www.loiuszamperini.net

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2 Corinthians 5:17  —  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Matthew 25:21a  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant…”

2 Timothy 4:7  —   I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

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Teach us, dear Lord, frequently and attentively to remember this truth:

That if I gain the whole world and lose you, in the end I have lost everything;

Whereas if I lose the world and gain you, in the end I have lost nothing.

–John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

456) Change? No, Thank You.

From a letter by C. S. Lewis to Mary Van Deusen (November 21, 1962), on the difficulties of moving and on the lessons we are taught by life’s many changes.  From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III.

     I think I share, to excess, your feeling about a move.  By nature I demand from the arrangements of this world just that permanence which God has expressly refused to give them.  It is not merely the nuisance and expense of any big change in one’s way of life that I dread.  It is also the psychological uprooting and the feeling—to me, as to you, intensely unwelcome—of having ended a chapter.  One more portion of oneself slipping away into the past!  I would like everything to be immemorial—to have the same old horizons, the same garden, the same smells and sounds, always there, changeless.  The old wine is to me always better.  That is, I desire the ‘abiding city’ (Hebrews 13:14) where I well know it is not and ought not to be found.  I suppose all these changes should prepare us for the far greater change which has drawn nearer ever since I began this letter.  We must ‘sit light’ not only to life itself but to all its phases.

That ‘far greater change’ came for C. S. Lewis one year and one day after he wrote this letter; he died on November 22, 1963.

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

 –Anatole France (1844-1924)

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Hebrews 13:14  —  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52  —  Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Hebrews 13:8  —  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Henry F. Lyte  (1793-1847)