Few men have had as many strikes against them as John did.
He was born in Scotland to an unwed mother. He worked briefly as an actor at the age of eleven in the West Indies. At thirteen, he shipped out aboard a slave ship. The slave trade and piracy went on to blemish his career at sea.
The authorities wanted him for two separate murder charges. He was even tried and acquitted of rape. He later lived in bitter anonymity and failing health. Eventually, he died penniless in France, buried in an unmarked grave.
But we do not remember John Paul Jones for his checkered past. Instead, he is immortalized in U.S. history as the Father of the United States Navy. People remember him as the formidable commander of the “Bonhomme Richard” and as conqueror of the far superior “Serapis” off the coast of Flamborough Head. We remember him for his reply to the captain of the “Serapis” when asked if he wished to surrender, as Jones’ own ship was sinking: “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!” The “Richard” sank the next day, but John Paul Jones had already captured the “Serapis” and taken 500 British prisoners.
“Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!”
John Paul Jones went on to help organize the infant United States Navy. He advised Congress on the training of its officers, and commanded its squadrons. After the Revolution, John Paul Jones won his most stunning successes. As an admiral in Catherine the Great’s navy, he fought during the war against the Ottoman Empire. He destroyed 15 warships, killing 3000 and capturing 1600 of the enemy. For these things we remember John Paul Jones.
But what about the “bad things” in his life? Are we naïve? No! We are not naïve. We acknowledge the man’s dark side, but we simply refuse to define his life by his failures.
A pastor once held up a large sheet of plain white poster board before his congregation. Then he drew a black dot in the center of it and asked, “What do you see?”
Invariably, they all replied, “We see a black dot.”
“Does no one see a sheet of white poster board?” he asked. “Don’t define this sheet by the dark blotch made upon it, nor define a person’s life by any stain it has.”
Dear Father in heaven, grant that I may not define my life or anyone else’s by its failures and blemishes.
The Scripture reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” in Romans 3:23 (NKJV).
But also that “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” in John 3:16 (NKJV).
Dear Father in heaven, grant that I may not define my life or anyone else’s by its failures and blemishes. Open my eyes to the good in me and in others. Open my eyes to the love you have for me. Amen.