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What are you willing to die for?

By AL EARLEY
Religion columnist

On Aug. 27, 1776, Gen. George Washington found himself surrounded by the British in Brooklyn. Had Gen. Howe attacked Washington’s position, it would have been a short battle with lots of American casualties. The arrest of Washington and his subsequent hanging would have ended the short-lived war. Instead, Howe waited for his navy to come up the East River.

From that position the American troops would be surrounded, the naval bombardment would begin, a quick surrender would follow without any loss of British life, and the subsequent hanging would occur. Then the hand of God intervened.

As Howe waited for his navy, a strong storm blew the navy back out into the ocean waters. The delay gave General Washington the opportunity to row his troops across the East River. However, when morning dawned, there was still three hours of rowing needed to get the army to safety. Nearly every diary of the American army recorded words similar to Maj. Ben Tallmadge’s reflection, “…at dawn, a dense fog began to rise, and it seemed to settle in a peculiar manner over both encampments. I recollect this providential occurrence perfectly well, and so very dense was the atmosphere that I could scarcely discern a man at six yards distance.” The fog did not lift until Washington boarded the last row boat for Manhattan, and the army was saved, which everyone that day knew was by the hand of God.

Now Washington needed a volunteer to go back to Long Island and discover what Howe’s troop movements were. Only one volunteer could be found. His name was Nate, and he was an honors graduate of Yale university, completing his studies by the age of 18. He’d been teaching school for two years when the Revolutionary War began. There is something about taking on a job that’s got to be done that’s the custom of American heroes. Dressed like a Dutch schoolmaster, he ventured through the enemy lines. He was able to get the information he was looking for, but was betrayed, arrested and scheduled to be hanged the next day.

On the day of his hanging, he asked for a Bible, and then a pastor, but was denied both times. Then, he asked for pen and paper and was able to write letters to his mother and brother, but the British destroyed them so that “the rebels should not know they have a man who can die so firmly.”

As he stood on the gallows he was allowed to make a final statement, Captain Nathan Hale shared those famous words that have rung out through history, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” In so doing, he showed the world what Americans are made of. The diary accounts of those who witnessed his death all agreed that Nathan Hale died with dignity and honor. His famous words still inspire many Americans today. In his bravery and willingness to die for our country, we too recognize that we have something very special as Americans, and we must not squander what we have.

What is there in life worth dying for? I’ve been studying Acts 7, which records the story of the stoning of the deacon Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred, that is to die for their faith. He stood firm before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish faith, and boldly proclaimed that his faith in Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of their Jewish faith.

As they stoned him to death he cried out for forgiveness just as Jesus had done from the cross (see Acts 7:60 and Luke 23:34). These brave words set the precedence for our church to be a church of forgiveness and reconciliation, and not one of revenge. As Christians died through the centuries for their faith, an amazing thing happened. The church would explode as people saw their willingness to die for their faith, and the peace and courage they exhibited. It is the reason that is has been said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

What, if anything, are you willing to die for? What are the reasons these things are important to you? Was your faith on the list of things worth dying for? If you were standing on the gallows with the hangman’s noose around your neck, and all you had to do was deny your faith in Jesus Christ, would you do it? Why or why not? What are you most grateful for as an American citizen? May God continue to bless America today and always!

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, visit www.lagrangepres.com.