December 7, 1941, was proclaimed as “A date which will live in infamy” by then President Franklin Roosevelt, after the surprise Japanese attack on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. More than 2400 Americans died in the attack, and another 1000 were injured. As important and historic as this date is, it leads to another date of focus, April 18, 1942.
The Pearl Harbor attack caused American morale to plummet. There became a sense of urgency; something needed to be done. In January 1942, U.S. Navy Capt. Francis S. Low approached Adm. Ernest King with the idea of launching U.S. Army Air Forces bombers from the deck of an aircraft carrier. So it was, Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle was tapped to head up “Special Aviation Project No.1” and once proven that a B25 Mitchell Bomber could fly from a deck of an Aircraft Carrier, the mission to strike back would begin.
What makes this mission so extraordinary is that the B25, once taken off from the deck of the carrier, could not return to the deck due to its size and sea conditions. The bombers would instead have to commit to dropping their ordinances on the planned targets and then fly to destinations in unoccupied parts of China, trusting on limited fuel.
Once a plan was tested and agreed upon, eighty flyers accepted the challenge. There were 16 planes each with a 5-man crew. Lt Col. Jimmy Doolittle flew the lead plane. Jimmy Doolittle was an inspiration to the other 15 crews. The USS Hornet would be the carrier for the bombers, joined by a contingent of other support vessels. The mission was under way.
On the morning of April 18, 1942, the Hornet spotted a Japanese patrol craft just 20,000 yards from the carrier. Although the USS Nashville destroyed the ship, the Hornet intercepted an outgoing message to the Japanese military. This event forced the Taskforce to launch the mission approximately 200 miles farther out than planned, thus putting a squeeze on the squadron’s fuel. So, the command was given to launch the bombers to avoid Japanese interception.
The mission would be a success. The air crews would claim hits on all assigned primary targets. The crews would reach China; there were three fatalities from accidents during bail-outs and crash landings. Two crews were captured by Japanese forces in China after bailing out, one near the coast and one near Lake Poyang. The Chinese attempted to purchase the freedom of the captured air crews, but they were unsuccessful. Four of the raiders remained prisoners of the Japanese until the end of the war. One died of dysentery in 1943. Three were executed by the Japanese in October 1942.
Although the news of the attack on Tokyo did not reach the public until almost a year later, the success of the daring mission changed the morale of the nation.
Eighty men accepted a mission to launch from an aircraft carrier deck, knowing they could not return to the ship. In addition, there was the prospect of an early launch which would jeopardize landing at a final destination. There was no turning back.
Jimmy Doolittle gave each of his flyers opportunity to back out of the mission at various times. Not one of the 79 other flyers would take him up on his offer.
I do not know the faith of these 80 men. I am willing to go out on a limb and suggest a majority of them were men with faith in Jesus Christ. These men were presented a mission of moral duty. They did not back out. They did back down. And once committed, they could not turn back. It was something that had to be done. This is the same fortitude it takes to choose to follow Jesus.
Once we make the decision to follow Jesus, we are accepting the mission of defending the faith and going forth with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We go forward in a manner which is acceptable to Him and we choose to follow with our whole heart. We accept our mission through faith in Christ. We put our trust in Him.
The author of Hebrews writes to Christians who are persecuted. He tells them they must not “shrink back,” and he mentions the need for “endurance.”
“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
‘Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.’
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”Hebrews 10:35-39
If you are a true Christian, you cannot wake one morning and say, “I am no longer Christian.” It is simply not possible. On the other hand, there are those who are “Christian in name only” (CHRINO). A CHRINO is much like an Atheist in that they go about their life as God does not exist. They do not worry about shrinking back from commitment, for they never embarked on the journey in the first place. Starting a journey, race or a period of discipline takes courage and endurance. Courage is most important because we are engaged in a cosmic battle. We are not just fighting flesh and blood but the forces of Satan. Endurance is key as well.
Jesus in Luke 21, speaking of the “end times,” qualifies “endurance” as a key to finishing the race:
“You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”Luke 21:16-19
Courage is not easy. I know this too well. We all are perfectly capable of crumbling in a time of crisis. Satan would “sift us like wheat.”
When Jesus predicts Peter’s denial, He tells him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Notice that Jesus tells Peter he prayed for him and his faith. Jesus prayed for Peter; He will pray for you and I. Wrap your mind around that thought.
Peter in his epistle warns believers from first-hand experience, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Courage and Endurance are powerful qualities which take strength. These qualities may be hard to fathom to the common, meek, and simple man. But I must say, these qualities can be difficult for anyone in any category. Saint Paul qualifies this in his letter to the church in Philippi, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
Our strength comes to us from Christ. But for it to come from Him, we must be “In Christ”. Saint Paul, in his epistles, uses, “in Christ” approximately eighty times.
So, what does it mean to be “in Christ”?
By God’s grace, through Jesus Christ, we are redeemed and given everlasting life. It is our free will to accept or reject this grace. And God also bestows his blessings. But do we receive Christ simply for these benefits? No, we must be “in Christ.” To be in Christ, we must love Christ as He has loved us, because to do otherwise would be like marrying someone for money or prestige or simply for good cooking and home tidiness. As well, to love the Lord, we must follow His commandments. (John 14:15)
For all this, if you are “in Christ”, there is no turning back.
A Christian does not go on the “mission” alone. We have our fellow Christians. The Doolittle Raiders flew each plane with a five-man crew. Every plane manned with a Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Bombardier, and Engineer Gunner. Each man with an assignment. Each man with a talent. In Luke 10, Jesus sends seventy-two appointed on ahead of Him, two by two. He warns them of the peril and instructs them of proper procedure. Likewise, Saint Paul tells in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, each is a member of the “Body of Christ” and has a talent.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”1 Corinthians 12:14-20; See also entire 1 Corinthians 12
I write these words for encouragement, not just for you, but for myself as well. I do believe that we are entering “times that try men’s souls”. And for followers of Christ, I fear the road does not get easier to travel. So, as you travel, do not travel alone, do not shrink back, and do not turn back.
Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord.
The Lord’s peace,
Deacon Doug Stomberg