October 19 marks a very important milestone in American history.
On this date in 1781, Britain’s General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, putting an end to America’s war for independence.
For Washington and his men, this day ended a long struggle that had seemed impossible to win at many junctures. But Washington’s men would have followed the leader of the Continental Army anywhere. Many soldiers began their fight in opposition to tyranny, but they continued and completed their herculean quest solely because of their beloved general.
On multiple occasions, he had shown them that he would never ask them to do anything he was not willing to do himself. Washington led by example, and his men loved him for it. Freedom was their cause, but Washington was their hero!
Fast forward to today, and the American story is quite different.
Right now, there aren’t many heroic leaders we would faithfully follow into battle, knowing those American leaders would unequivocally put our welfare before their own. The truth is, as a nation, I am not sure we even remember what real heroism looks like.
I did catch a glimpse of bravery and courage this past weekend when I read an old classic children’s book with my 10-year-old grandson.
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner is an action-packed adventure about a boy named Little Willy from Jackson, Wyoming. It is set during the early days of America’s western frontier.
As the story begins, Little Willy’s grandfather has fallen ill and given up on life. With his grandfather unable to move or speak, the weight of their potato farm rests solely on Little Willy’s 10-year-old shoulders.
So Little Willy and his faithful dog Searchlight gather the potato harvest all on their own but then discover that they owe $500 in back taxes. Everyone in town advises Willy to give up and let go of the farm, but the boy refuses. He is determined to save the farm and mend his grandfather’s broken spirit.
Their only hope to save the farm comes down to winning the prize money for the National Dogsled Race held yearly in Jackson. Since Little Willy and Searchlight know the terrain better than anyone else, he believes they can win.
But Little Willy’s biggest competitor is a Native American racer known as Stone Fox who has never lost a race. A giant of a man, Stone Fox also never speaks a word, but he is intent on using the prize money to buy back native lands for his fellow Indians.
Of course, in good literary fashion, the race comes down to a heated finish between Stone Fox and Little Willy.
When Searchlight’s heart gives out 10 feet from the finish line, Little Willy is devastated. Stone Fox jumps from his sled to check on the dog, and seeing the young boy’s broken heart, the giant Indian pulls out his gun, draws a line in the snow, and speaks his first words, “Anyone crosses this line – I shoot.”
Everyone watches as Little Willy carries Searchlight’s lifeless body across the finish line, winning the race and saving the farm.
What a story!
The dauntless courage of a little boy facing overwhelming circumstances inspired a giant of a man to confront an entire contingent of dogsled racers. As Billy Graham said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man (or boy) takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
Which brings me back to America’s current lack of heroic leaders and our need for some stiffened spines. Admittedly, part of our heroism deficit problem is that we live in the Shadowlands, the space between now and eternity.
The Bible states multiple times that our days on the earth are as a shadow, and 1 Corinthians 13:12 reminds us, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
But while we mere mortals are traversing through this earthly “valley of the shadow,” we should remember the words of another true American hero, Alvin C. York: “The fear of God makes a hero; the fear of man makes a coward.”
True courage all comes down to this one choice – fear of God or fear of man.
Fear of man includes a boatload of other fears, including fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of alienation and loneliness, and ultimately, fear of death.
For those of us who make the choice to fear God alone, courage will come as a by-product of who we serve rather than what we do. And as we discover the safety found under the shadow of His wing, we will also realize the truth of John Piper’s words: “All heroes are shadows of Christ.”
That’s it, folks. All we need to do is make a choice to be “imitators of Christ,” following His example in all we do. Then, and only then, His perfect love will cast out all fear we encounter, and He will give us strength to endure and overcome as more than conquerors.
More than conquerors…hmm…that sounds like heroism to me.