With my being away in Texas on vacation at the time of Howard Dejager’s graduation into glory – I had penned some thoughts in advance, I would have hoped to share had I been there. I hope that my reflections on this remarkable man may be of some blessing to you all – and a call to those who do not know Christ as their Savior to consider a life lived as one of Jesus’ own.
Howard – or “Mr. D.” as he was well known, lived to be 103. And with but the tiniest of exceptional moments in his last days, retained a vigorous and lucid mind to the end. Along with that intact sentience, came continued expressions of his hope and trust in Christ Jesus, his Lord and Savior.
1906 was a momentous and tumultuous year –
January 8 – Landslide in Haverstraw, New York kills 20.
January 31 – Earthquake in Ecuador (8.6 in Richter scale).
March 10 – Explosion in coal mine in Courrières, France kills 1060.
April 7 – Mount Vesuvius erupts and devastates Naples.
April 18 – 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the San Andreas Fault destroys much of San Francisco, California, killing at least 3000. 225,000-300,000 left homeless.
50 people killed in riots in Stockholm Sweden.
September 18 – Typhoon with tsunami kills an estimated 10,000 persons in Hong Kong.
September 22 – Race riots in Atlanta, Georgia. At least 27 people are killed and the black-owned business district is severely damaged.
March 15 – Rolls-Royce Ltd. is registered.
April 14 – First service held at African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, CA by W.J. Seymour in a series later known as the Azusa Street Revival
August 22 – The first Victor Victrola, a phonographic record player, is manufactured.
September 24 – U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaims Devils Tower the nation’s first National Monument.
November 3 – SOS becomes an international distress signal.
November 9 – US President Theodore Roosevelt leaves for a trip to Panama to inspect the construction progress of the Panama Canal (this was the first time a sitting President of the United States made an official trip outside of the United States).
December 10 – Pres. Theodore Roosevelt is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating peace in the Russo-Japanese War (1905).
December 24 – Reginald Fessenden makes the first radio broadcast: a poetry reading, a violin solo, and a speech.
December 26 – The world’s first feature film, “The Story of the Kelly Gang”, is released.
And Howard Dejager was born. That would make him 103 at the time of his passing this last week.
His death, and subsequent entrance to his eternal reward brings to mind several passages of Scripture.
1 – 1 Sam 17:40 Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
2 – 2 Tim. 4.7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
3 – 2 Cor. 10.For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
How do you wage a spiritual battle victoriously – even to the age of 103?
How does one fight the good fight of faith – persevering in Christ to end of a 103 year long journey. and a nearly century long battle?
I think I am able to locate at least some of those secrets in the things Mr. D. uttered from his own lips.
As long as I was privileged to know him, he maintained a witness of the goodness of his Savior, and didn’t lean upon his own goodness. this was reflected in the way he spoke in ordinary conversation.
Among his other sayings – for me, these are Mr. D’s five smooth stones. Just like the five David picked up as he went to face Goliath, these sayings – to me – represent how Mr. D faced some of the giants in his own life. Giants we all encounter.
1. “Thank you for bringing me God’s Word.” When he was well, he virtually never missed approaching me after a Sunday morning sermon and uttering these words along with his customary firm handshake.
It was a wonderful encouragement.
The greatest giant we all face is UNBELIEF – and he can only be brought down by trust – but not trust abstractly, trust in the God of the Word, and the Word of God.
Mr. D had a perpetual hunger and gratitude for God’s provision for him in His Word.
And it is why as so many of us can testify – right up until the very end that Mr. D breathed out the passages of Scripture that both informed and comforted his soul, as well as steadied his mind in every season of sorrow and grief.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11, ESV)
Mr. D. loved God’s Word.
He was grateful for it.
And every time he heard it proclaimed he made it clear how thankful he was.
He understood that as a fallen race in Adam – God could have written us off in the Garden and been completely just – but that He didn’t!
God gave Adam and Eve the promise of the Redeemer to come.
Such a promise that all the World should be electrified at the mercy and grace it reveals.
Mr. D knew God’s promises were all that precious – every one of them – and he memorized them and worked them into his own heart and soul.
He knew it was God’s provision for everything life could throw at him.
Another favorite saying his was his most frequent response when you asked him how he was…
2. “Better than I deserve” He would say. In other words, he had a clear sense of being forgiven in God’s mercy because of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.
Mr. D. never imagined for a moment that he was Christ’s and Christ was his because of some goodness he brought to the relationship himself.
He knew himself a sinner, and deserving of God’s just wrath.
But in Jesus Christ he was a “mercied” man. And being mercied delivers one from the dread giant of GUILT – which all the world flees, though through useless human means.
Every time he uttered these words he gave testimony to the gospel – to the glory which holds the heart of every true Believer – that we are justified – declared righteous NOT because of some merit of our own – but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us by faith.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV)
Another favorite saying of Mr. D’s was –
3. “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
In this, he showed a clear sense of standing in the goodness of God’s unmerited favor – GRACE!
It isn’t hard to notice that this saying itself was one lifted right off the pages of the Bible and appropriated for his own soul.
1 Cor. 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Grace! God’s free, personally and sovereignly bestowed divine favor.
Mr. D saw himself – understood himself as a “graced” man.
And the crippling giant of DISCOURAGEMENT is no match for such a one.
One who had received God’s favor not because he deserved it – but because God was so good to bestow upon those who trust Christ as their sin-bearer.
In this one statement he echoed over and over the difference between all of human religion, and that of true Christianity – that we serve God NOT to gain His favor, but because we HAVE obtained it in Jesus Christ.
United with Jesus by one Spirit, we are what we are because God has inexplicably and wondrously and mercifully and graciously given to us all that we have, and for the Christian – made us all that we are.
In the Fall – we made ourselves reprehensible.
In the Cross, and through the Spirit, Jesus makes us “sons of the living God”
Fourthly, especially when commenting on adverse circumstances – such as when he was in the hospital – He would say…
4. “Before the foundations of the world God ordained…”
The twin Giants of CONFUSION & DESPAIR were no match for this stone in the hand of Mr. D.
He had a settled contentment that his God had ordained his circumstances, and had a purpose in them all.
For Mr. D – Romans 8:28 & 29 were no theory or pop-Christian platitude, they were the stuff of life!
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV)
This didn’t mean he didn’t suffer pain, sorrow, disappointment or trials of all kinds – he did!
But he supremely trusted the hand of his sovereign over all of them – as One who loved him and cared for him and by the redeeming work of Christ made all of his sufferings opportunities to grow in grace.
Lastly, I have to remark about a personal encounter between Mr. D and myself.
Once, in an emotionally charged discussion, I had spoken out of turn to Mr. D – in a sharper tone than was fit for a younger man to this elder saint – even though I was in the pastoral role.
Later, reflecting upon our exchange, I called him to ask his forgiveness for my unseemly way and to apologize.
His quick, unhesitating and immediate response was –
5. “I’ll accept that, and you’re forgiven – thank you.”
A ready and quick willingness to forgive.
With this stone – he felled the giant BITTERNESS.
A forgiving man, issuing forgiveness from the sense of his own forgiveness in Christ Jesus simply cannot be conquered by the bitterness which infects so many – even among those who proclaim themselves as Christians.
1. Hunger and GRATITUDE for God’s provision in his WORD.
2. A clear sense of standing in the goodness of God’s unmerited favor – GRACE!
3. A clear sense of forgiven in God’s MERCY because of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.
4. A settled CONTENTMENT that his God had ordained his circumstances, and had a purpose in them all.
5. A ready and quick willingness to FORGIVE.
With these five smooth stones, he waged a spiritual battle which no doubt was crowned by a glorious entrance to his eternal reward in the presence of his God.