John Paul II

The Vatican elected a new pope, Pope John Paul I in 1978, he died 33 day later. His successor, (JP2) Pope John Paul II, was young, athletic, charismatic, and from Poland.

Born Karol Józef Wojtyła (JP2) was 19 yrs old, Poland was being invaded by a combination of German and Russian presence. Millions of Jews would be murdered in the months and years ahead. Karol was active and studious, and worked in a chemical plant. ‘Witness to Hope’ biographer, George Weigel writes, “Fellow workers remember Karol
praying on his knees at the plant, unafraid of ridicule and seemingly able to tune out the racket around him to concentrate on his conversation with God”.  During this time he also learned new lessons about the dignity of labor and those who perform it.

At age 20, he lost his last family member, his Dad died at age 62. His Mom died when he was just 8 and his brother died when Karol was 13 yrs old. He felt called to the Priesthood. The seminary that Karol would now be attending had to be kept secret from the Nazi occupiers. Anyone rumored to be involved with it – much less attending it – could
be put to death.

After the German occupation, in 1945, Karol would become an assistant instructor in theology.  One class, in particular, a moral theology study on the right to life would have a profound effect on  Karol’s personal philosophy in the years ahead.  He also noticed that material wealth often went hand in hand with spiritual poverty.

In 1960, Karol was 40, he published his first book ‘Love & Responsibility’, essentially stressing the beauty of love & sex with in God’s boundaries of marriage. On the other hand, Poland’s communist government encouraged young people to have pre-marital sex, specifically to cause them to break from the church.

Karol became a cardinal in 1967 and became a good friend and confidant to Pope Paul.  In 1978, Pope Paul died. David Aiken set the scene,

“Part of the confusion, after they named Karol Wojtyla Pope, was that he was mostly unknown beyond church leadership.  But his vitality, his humor & his openness caused people to like him immediately. After his inaugural speech, he waded into the crowd, something popes didn’t do.

In 1981, the pope was shot as he entered St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The 61 yr old pontiff was shot 4 times, spent weeks in the hospital, but recovered.  He thanks God, not only for saving his life, but also for allowing him to join the community of the sick who were suffering in the hospital.

The gunman, Mehmet Ali Ağca was caught and restrained by a nun and other bystanders until police arrived. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul II visited Ağca in prison. JP2 and Ağca spoke privately for about twenty minutes. JP2 said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.″

On December 27, 2014, 33 years after his crime, Mehmet Ali Ağca publicly showed up at the Vatican to lay white roses on the recently canonized Saint John Paul II’s tomb and said he wanted to meet Pope Francis, a request which was denied.

Even though JP2 suffered with Parkinson’s late in life, he took an unyielding stand against the use of human embryonic stem cells in medical research.  A human being is sacred in God’s eyes. We are all God’s children. He was a picture of courage and of heroic consistency, a man practiced what he preached.

Shared by Doug Ross
Next week Charles Colson

Eric Liddell

Eric Henry Liddell was born on 16th January 1902 in Tientsin (Tianjin) I North China, second son of the Rev. & Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell who were missionaries with the London Mission Society.

He was educated from 1908 to 1920 at Eltham College, Blackheath, a school for the sons of missionaries.  Eric, with his older brother Rob, were left at their boarding school while their parents and sister, Jenny, returned to China.

During the boys’ time at Eltham College, their parents, sister and new brother Ernest came home on furlough two or three times and were able to be together as a family – mainly living in Edinburgh.

In 1920, Eric joined his brother Rob at Edinburgh University to read for a BSc in Pure Science.  He graduated after the Paris Olympiad in 1924. To find out more about his life in Edinburgh click here.

Athletics and rugby played a large part in Eric’s University life. He ran in the 100 yards and the 220 yards for Edinburgh University and later for Scotland.   He played rugby for Edinburgh University and in 1922 played in seven Scottish Internationals with A.L. Gracie.

As a result of having insufficient time for both running and rugby, he chose the former, aiming for the 100 meters in the Paris Olympics. When he learned that the heats were to be run on a Sunday, he switched to the 400 meter competition as he was not prepared to run on a Sunday.    He won a gold medal for the 400 meters and a bronze medal
for the 200 meters at the Paris Olympics.

After the Olympics and his graduation he returned to North China where he served as a missionary from 1925 to 1943 – first in Tientsin (Tainjin) and later in Siaochang.   During his first furlough in 1932 he was ordained as a minister.  On his return to China, he married Florence Mackenzie (of Canadian missionary parentage) in Tientsin in 1934.  They had three daughters; Patricia, Heather and Maureen, who now all live in Canada.

Living in China in the 1930s was potentially very dangerous and in 1937 Eric was sent to Siaochang where he joined his brother Rob.  He was now crossing the Japanese army lines.

In 1941 life in China was becoming so dangerous that the British Government advised British nationals to leave.   Florence and the children left for Canada.

During 1941 – 1943 Eric stayed in Tientsin, then in 1943 he was interned in Weishien camp until his death in 1945.

(The Eric Liddell Center)

While in camp he deeply missed his family. Eric stayed cheerful for the sake of the others. In a Bible study class, he taught others to love their enemies–including the Japanese guards at their camp–and he exhorted his fellow Christians to pray for them, as the Bible instructed. Eric Liddell died of an apparent brain tumor while in the hospital, close to the camp, in China. Shortly before his death he heard the Salvation Army Band, which played hymns on the Sabbath just outside the hospital. They received a special request from Liddell. He wanted them to play “Be Still, My Soul”, one of his favorite hymns.

The 1982 movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ tells the story of Eric Liddell.

Shared by Dour Ross
next week  Pope John Paul II

Jackie Robinson

Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey first met Jackie Robinson on Aug. 28, 1945. Rickey told Robinson that he wanted to sign the 26-year-old ballplayer and break the national pastime’s color barrier. But for him to succeed, Rickey said, Robinson couldn’t respond to the indignities that would be piled on him: “I’m looking for a ballplayer
with guts enough not to fight back.”

Rickey then opened a book published in the 1920s, Giovanni Papini’s “Life of Christ,” and read Jesus’ words: “But whoever shall smite thee on the cheek, turn to him the other also.” Robinson knew the Gospel and knew what was required of him. He replied, “I have two cheeks, Mr. Rickey. Is that it?” This meeting between the two Methodists, Rickey and Robinson, ultimately transformed baseball and America itself. …

What is often overlooked in accounts of Robinson’s life is that it is also a religious story. His faith in God, as he often attested, carried him through the torment and abuse of integrating the major leagues.

Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif., where his mother, Mallie, instilled in her five children the belief that God would take care of them. “I never stopped believing that,” Robinson later said. They originated in Georgia, but their father left town never to return. Jackie’s mother saved money to move her, all 5 kids, and other family members to Calif. The journey, in a Jim Crow train, took nine long days!

One day, in California, Jackie met a preacher named Karl Downs. He had a tremendous ability to inspire young people. He knew that Jackie was a Christian, and taught him that exploding in anger was not the Christian answer to injustice.  He explained that a life truly dedicated to Christ was not submissive; on the contrary, it was heroic

Robinson, who had been a stand-out athlete at UCLA, signed up in the spring of 1945 to play baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. Robinson openly scorned his whiskey-drinking and promiscuous teammates. He also stunned his teammates by declaring that he was waiting until he was married to have sex.

Nobody in sports had ever faced the sort of pressure, and abuse, that Jackie Robinson did when he took the field for the first time in a Brooklyn uniform on April 15, 1947. And yet Robinson didn’t merely endure, he thrived.

In a 1950 newspaper interview, he emphasized his faith in God and his nightly ritual of kneeling at bedside to pray. “It’s the best way to get closer to God,” Robinson said, and then the second baseman added with a smile, “and a hard-hit ground ball.”

“I can testify to the fact that it was a lot harder to turn the other cheek and refuse to fight back than it would have been to exercise a normal reaction,” Robinson wrote. “But it works, because sooner or later it brings a sense of shame to those who attack you. And that sense of shame is often the beginning of progress.”

He thought of his wife and his children, whom he knew, but he also thought of all the others who would benefit from his doing the right thing, and he suffered greatly to do what he did. Because of his courage and heroism, he is included with these great men.

Shared by Doug Ross
next week….Eric Liddell

William Wilberforce (1759-1833), abolitionist and philanthropist. As a young lad, he known as “Billy”. His father died when Wilberforce was nine, and his mother sent him to stay near London where he was reared by an evangelical aunt and uncle. Through their influence, he came to faith at the age of 12.  In this home he came into contact with such men as George Whitefield, the great evangelist, and John Newton, who had converted from a life of a slave trade, and ultimately penned the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.

Wilberforce’s mother and other close family friends were alarmed at young William’s religious “enthusiasm” and sought to reverse this course. By the time he arrived at St. John’s College at Cambridge in 1776, his evangelicalism was well behind him. He was as worldly as any of his friends, witty and vastly popular, not to mention exceedingly wealthy, Wilberforce displayed the charisma of a natural leader who drew friends and followers into his world.

In 1779, Wilberforce moved to London where he became friends with William Pitt.  Both were motivated to enter politics and Wilberforce was elected to Parliament in September 1780 at the age of 21, the youngest age at which one could be elected.  Pitt was soon to be Chancellor and by the age of twenty-four Britain’s Prime Minister, and because Wilberforce and Pitt were inseparable, the political career of this son of a tradesman advanced quickly.

In 1784, while respected as one of Parliament’s leading debaters, Wilberforce decided on a European tour and invited an Irish friend to accompany him. When the friend declined, Wilberforce asked Isaac Milner, the brother of Joseph Milner (his former schoolmaster) to join him. Isaac, an Anglican clergyman, was known as a brilliant Cambridge scientist and mathematician. Unaware of Milner’s evangelical convictions, Wilberforce was surprised to find that someone whom he could respect intellectually and could also embrace a Christian worldview. By the end of two European trips, the politician was convicted of his sin. He acknowledged “a sense of my great sinfulness in having so long neglected the unspeakable mercies of my God and Savior.”

At this time, Wilberforce sought counsel from John Newton, by then the leading Anglican evangelical in London, and by October 1785 the ‘great change’ became complete. For a time Wilberforce thought about a call to ministry and retiring from public life, but Newton and Pitt urged him to stay in Parliament and serve Christ there.

After a long period of self-questioning and prayer Wilberforce reached his famous conclusion that, ‘God had set before me two objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners’ [i.e. morality].  While due in part to the influence of Newton, a former slave trader, Wilberforce’s embracing of the anti-slavery cause was from the direct effect of embracing the Christian worldview. But this was not a popular cause. Wilberforce was the target of tirades and assassination threats. Admiral Nelson wrote that as long as he would speak and fight he would resist “the damnable doctrines of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies.” Despite threats to his life, he put forward a bill in the House of Commons in 1793 advocating gradual abolition. Promised the support of some Members of Parliament, he found himself abandoned. Although Wilberforce reintroduced the Abolition Bill almost every year in the 1790s, little progress was made even though Wilberforce remained optimistic for the long-term success of the cause.

In the meantime, Wilberforce directed some of his efforts into other arenas, largely evangelical or philanthropic.  In addition to his abolition work, he was consistently involved in church work that included the Church Missionary Society and the sending of missionaries to India and Africa.  Wilberforce’s resolve to end slavery never abated.  He was joined in this efforts by like-minded Christian friends known as the “Clapham Sect”.  For twenty years they labored to turn public opinion and political leaders against the evils of slavery and the tide began to turn.

On the night of February 23, 1807, excitement grew in the House of Commons as his latest motion was debated.  Speech after speech spoke in favor of abolition, and his fellow members began to pay tribute to Wilberforce.  The climax came when Solicitor General Sir Samuel Romilly contrasted the reception that Napoleon and Wilberforce would receive at the end of a day’s labors:  Napoleon would come home in power and pomp, yet tormented by the bloodshed and oppression of war he had caused.  “Wilberforce would come home to ‘the bosom of his happy and delighted family,’ able to lie down in peace because he had ‘preserved so many millions of his fellow creatures.’

The House of Commons rose to its feet, turned to Wilberforce, and began to cheer.  They gave three rousing hurrahs while Wilberforce sat with his head bowed and wept.”’ Then the Commons voted to abolish the slave trade by a vote of 283 to 16.  Prime Minister Granville called the passage “a measure which will diffuse happiness among millions now in existence, and for which his memory will be blessed by millions yet unborn.”

Wilberforce went on to lobby the governments of other nations, including the US, to adopt similar measures, and to assure that the laws were enforced.  After stopping the trading of slaves, he devoted himself for the next twenty-five years to ending the institution of slavery itself.  Three days before his death in 1833, he heard that the House of Commons had passed a law emancipating all slaves in the British Empire.

Wilberforce’s faith in Jesus Christ changed him from a careless, wealthy young politician to a tireless, compassionate public servant. He developed and used his gifts of leadership and persuasion to champion countless efforts to better society.  He was a moral leader who voted against his party when principle required it. His partnership with his Christian brothers and sisters in the Clapham Sect serves as a model for Christians working together to bring about meaningful reform in society. He persisted for decades in the tasks God had called him to, despite illness, physical threats, and enormous opposition.   At his death the British nation honored Wilberforce by burying him in Westminster Abbey and erecting a statue in his memory.

Shared by: Doug Ross
next week  Jackie Robinson