Rasha was beyond excited as she skipped out of her house. She’d been dating Nazir for several months now and the more she was away from him, the more she longed to be with him.
She accelerated her pace as she saw the bus approaching the corner. From there it was just a short 15 minute ride to the shop where her beloved Nazir worked.
Ever since she and Nazir had met she had been praying for him. As a former Muslim who had found Jesus to be “the way, the truth and the life,” Rasha believed that Jesus would reveal Himself to Nazir just as He had to her. She thought back to how much her life had changed since accepting Jesus as the Son of God, who forgave her of her sins. Things were not easy, with her family shunning her and threatening to disown her now that she was a Christian. But she had a peace that she could not explain.
The bus came to an abrupt and startling stop, jolting Rasha from her thoughts. Sirens were going off again, signaling the potential of falling bombs or mortars. She had grown accustomed to the sirens, but she knew there was always a real threat. The bus remained stopped for another several minutes before they began moving again.
As they rounded the corner, Rasha could see Nazir’s little shop. She jumped off the bus and jogged towards the spot where she would see the love of her life. She hoped she could talk again with him about Jesus.
As Rasha approached the large glass picture window at the front of the shop, she could see Nazir inside. Her pulse quickened. Their eyes met. Smiles spread across their faces. And…
Boom!! Boom!! Boom!!
The concussion from the bombs threw Nazir across the room as the glass from the front window exploded into the shop. Rasha was gone. Those dark beautiful eyes that had always penetrated his soul were there just a moment before. But now a huge fireball marked the spot where she had stood.
Nazir screamed. Tears poured down his cheeks as he yelled Rasha’s name over and over. Shuffling through the shards of glass and debris that now littered his shop, he crawled out through the gaping hole that was just moments earlier a window, through which he and Rasha had smiled.
Rasha was nowhere to be seen. It was as if she had vanished into thin air. But then he noticed a strange smell. A burning smell. One that brought a sickening feeling to his stomach. And then he saw them. Black charred bodies that had been burned beyond recognition. He collapsed. The sense of loss was too great to bear. How could someone he loved so much be gone forever?
How could humans hate humans this much?
How could Muslims kill Muslims?
Nothing made sense…
The above story is based on a real incident which happened to Nazir (name changed to protect his identity) in Damascus, Syria. The name “Rasha” and the moments leading up to her death are my imagination, but the explosion, her relationship with Nazir, his love for her, and the remaining facts are as reported to us by Nazir.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Greece by way of Albania. I was joined there with several other men who live in that part of the world, and we were engaged in what was to become a series of life altering meetings.
We had the opportunity and privilege to interview a number of refugees, including Nazir, who had fled from cities in Syria, Iran and Iraq, mostly because of the wars and conflicts there. Many of these former Muslims are now living in crowded refugee camps throughout Greece.
In addition to Nazir’s story above, below is a sampling of some of the comments of these refugees that will give you just a small glimpse into the catastrophes they fled that led to their new life in Christ:
- As I made the decision to accept Christ, I realized that my Christian girlfriend gave her life so that I would know Jesus.
- I heard a voice say, “I’m with you” while I was in the hospital but I knew the voice was not from the god of Islam because Allah does not speak with people.
- After fleeing Aleppo, I began questioning Islam’s teachings. If God created me, how could he tell me to kill people?
- If you want to be a Muslim you must close your mind.
- When ISIS came to Mosul they killed my brother, and Christians, and did awful things to girls, destroying everything.
- ISIS put me in jail twice: once for failing to pray and the second time for smoking. The second time they placed a loaded and cocked gun to my head.
- ISIS is still looking for me and would kill me if they found me.
- As I was going home from work one day in Aleppo, a bomb exploded near me and I suffered injuries in my arms and legs.
- Because of the war in Aleppo I fled to Turkey. While there, I met a Christian who I fell in love with, even though I was a Muslim. When I told my family that he wanted to marry me, they told me they would disown me and I would never be welcome to come home again.
- While living in my home country of Iran, I met some Christians there and I became a Christian. But because of my conversion, my life was threatened so I had to flee from Iran to Turkey. While there I met a Muslim girl who I was attracted to. But she was from Syria and spoke Kurdish so I had to use a translator. After several months I asked her to marry me, but I could still not speak Kurdish with her. I needed to be able to communicate with her so I had been praying about this. One night I went to bed, unable to speak Kurdish. The next morning I woke up and could speak Kurdish fluently. When I met my girlfriend the next time, she thought I had been lying to her about my inability to speak Kurdish but I explained to her that it was Jesus who had given me the ability to speak her language. I can still speak it fluently to this day.
- We got married and 5 months later left Turkey, ending up in a refugee camp in Greece. My wife miscarried our first baby and became deathly ill in the camp. One night, I was praying for my wife to be healed and a dark smoke filled our tent (which I believe was demonic). As I continued to pray to God I saw a bright white light outside our tent and I heard a voice telling me that my wife was going to be fine in the morning. The next morning two women I had never seen before came to our tent and they said, “We have come from the hospital and are here to help. Where is Amanda?” They prayed over my wife and took her to the hospital.
- While I was crying in the hospital I saw visions of Jesus smiling at me and He told me I would be ok. I cried out to Jesus and asked Him to help me and I trusted Him. Later, as I was sleeping, I saw Jesus in white clothes and He touched my forehead and healed me. When I woke up I walked out of the hospital fully healed and my life has changed forever now that Jesus is my Savior.
The Bible is full of stories of our miracle working God, many as dramatic as the ones above. Of course, in America, we see evidence of His miraculous work every time we look in the mirror, look out our window, look into the sky or see a new baby. But how often do we see God working in ways like those experienced by these Muslim refugees? In my case, never. But that does not mean that God is silent. To the contrary.
God promises to be found to those who earnestly seek Him. The more than half-dozen individuals that we interviewed are all powerful testimonies of individuals who were calling out to God in their time of dire distress. They were diligently seeking God. And God in miraculous ways showed Himself through Jesus. Their lives have been transformed for eternity. And these new believers are now reproducing themselves in the lives of dozens of other refugees within the camps scattered around Greece and beyond.
As I was reading through Scripture this week, I came across this verse:
“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other. He let you hear his voice from heaven so he could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so he could speak to you from it.” (Deuteronomy 4:35-36)
Many of these refugees heard God’s voice in Jesus. They witnessed “these things” in order that they would distinguish between Allah, the god of Islam, and the one true God, who not only created the universe, but also sent His Son Jesus to die for them (and you, and me). When God showed Himself to be real to these refugees, they embraced Him completely. And every one of these refugees were promptly baptized, to present a public testimony of the fact that they left Islam and embraced Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
My good friend Nathan has aptly described what is occurring as a result of the war-torn conflicts throughout the middle east in this manner: “From Catastrophe to Christ.” He is planning a book by that name, as a sequel to his more recent book, that he co-authored with Joel Richardson: The Mystery of Catastrophe.
While wars and violence are horrendous, and any person would seek to avoid, we can clearly see God’s sovereignty at work in a mighty way through these ongoing catastrophes. And each one of these refugees is eternally grateful for the catastrophe they experienced, for without it, they would likely have never met Christ.
The book of Daniel in the Bible contains many examples of how a follower of God should comport himself in the midst of a culture or nation that is at odds with God’s values. Here are a few lessons we can learn.
Of course there’s the familiar story of the three young Hebrew men, who were also government officials. When they were commanded to bow to a statue of the king, they refused to do so, even though it would result in a fiery furnace, from which they were miraculously rescued.
Speak Truth Always
And then there’s the story of Daniel who, as one of the highest government officials in the land, was asked to interpret a dream for the king. Recall that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the king’s haughty and prideful spirit and predicted his downfall. Although there was tremendous risk on the part of Daniel in rebuking the king, Daniel did not falter in speaking truth to power, and Daniel challenged King Nebuchadnezzar to change his ways (which the king ignored).
God’s Laws Trump Man’s
Several years later, various government officials sought to persecute Daniel, who reported directly to the king. Daniel was equivalent to the Prime Minister of the nation. The only way these scoundrels could achieve Daniel’s demise was to attack his religion directly. Note what they concluded:
“Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” (Daniel 6:5)
And so they made sure that laws were passed that would be in direct violation to the religious values by which they knew Daniel lived. Sound familiar?
So they outlawed prayer, to any god except the king.
But notice how Daniel responded:
“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” Daniel 6:10
Daniel not only ignored the law, but he did so publicly, with his window open so that there would be no doubt about whom Daniel would obey. You’ll recall that the rest of this story involved a lions den, God’s miraculous deliverance, the defeat and death of Daniel’s adversaries, and a proclamation from the king affirming Daniel’s God as the one true living and eternal God.
So, you may say, “Yeah, I know all those stories but what do they have to do with me?”
And I say, “A lot!”
The book of Daniel is not just full of a lot of cute bed time stories. Rather it is a book with deep, powerful truths, with principles that apply to the very era in which we a living.
Our culture and government is no longer friendly to Biblical values. In fact, whether it’s a school board, or a city, state or federal government, or agency, the antagonism and animosity towards Christians and the values taught by Jesus are under vicious attack… and it will only grow worse.
If you are a government official or employee who claims to follow Jesus, you have been or will be called to make a choice, when man’s laws and regulations conflict with God’s laws and values. (Remember Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses?)
But most of you are private citizens so you may say, “I’m exempt” from having to make such a choice. But don’t be deceived. Your day is coming… or is already here.
If you own a business, and attempt to abide by biblical values, there is a bullseye on you and your business. (Remember the cake maker, photographer and florist who were singled out and attacked for their Biblical beliefs?)
If you’re not a business owner, you have been (or will be) confronted with a myriad of choices, whether it’s your kids’ education, how your tax dollars are used, your selection of political candidates that may not affirm biblical values, and a host of other choices. (Remember the coach who was recently attacked for his decision to pray with his team?)
But first, will you and I even recognize it when we are confronted with these choices? And secondly, will we cave under pressure, or will we follow the examples from Daniel?
In the final moments of the life of Joshua, we see this great warrior for God and hero of our faith presenting his nation and fellow citizens with this choice:
“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
Who will you and I choose? The god of our culture or our government? Or the God of the Ages, whose values and truths never change?
Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well.
In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself.
Running from God
Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:
“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)
Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God? We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe.
Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish. Futile is how we might describe such an effort.
When Storms Roar
When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God.
Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life. But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?
Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates.
What about you and me? Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens? If so, note what happened next to Jonah.
Pagans Begging for Prayer
When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet.
There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually.
Getting Thrown Overboard
When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard.
And the Storm Stopped
When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm. Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death.
The Big Fish
As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights.
If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior.
When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus.
Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained.
Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands.
When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan. Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory.
So, are you Jonah? Or have you been? If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you.
Are you ready?
Last week I wrote about my trip to the Indy 500 and the spectacular crash that happened when Scott Dixon’s car went airborne in the 53rd lap of the race. In those few seconds that followed, Dixon’s life hung in the balance. Thankfully, he survived. Dixon’s walking away from the crash was due in large part to the months and years of purposeful preparation by his team, designers, and engineers. They spent countless hours constructing a car that could withstand some of the most brutal crashes one can imagine.
But my focus today is not the crash at Indy, or the incredible design of the cars, but rather what was astonishingly absent from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and poses a grave threat to hundreds, if not thousands of fans. But before I share what was absent, here are a few quick facts about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
- The IMS is the largest sporting venue in the United States and the World, with its capacity exceeding 400,000.
- The highest attendance ever at the IMS was 350,000, with this year’s attendance exceeding 300,000.
- The Indy 500 is held on Memorial Day Weekend, in honor of the thousands of men and women of our military who died while serving our nation. The timing of the race lends itself to a strong, patriotic theme.
- This year, Vice President Mike Pence attended the Indy 500, and his motorcade made a quick trip around the Speedway before the race.
- The IMS is not only an American icon, but it depicts the American spirit of ingenuity, enterprise and competitiveness. Built in 1909, it has been a part of America for over 45% of our nation’s history.
If you’ve ever attended a race at the IMS, you know that you can often park a mile or two away. You then make your way to the racetrack via quaint, all-American neighborhoods. The thousands of houses that surround the speedway are typical 50+ year old houses, in bustling neighborhoods, often with small front lawns and yards with picket fences. Most of the residents offer up their yards and front curbs for $10-$20 parking per car. They all want a little piece of the half-billion dollars that flood into their community on what is undoubtedly the greatest motorsport weekend of the year in America.
As my friends and I drove to the race track Sunday morning, our spirits were high, but we were also anxious that the forecasted rain would hold off. The clouds were ominous but the weatherman teased all the race fans with the potential that the rain wouldn’t appear until the last half of the race. After finding a parking place a mile and a half away, we began our walk, along with hundreds of other race fans. As we drew closer to the track, the hundreds turned to thousands and the Speedway facility rose into the sky in front of us. Outside the track, people milled everywhere. Backpacks, coolers, bags, raincoats and fanny packs were the norm. The tens of thousands heading for the entrances had one thing in mind — an afternoon of speed, excitement, crashes, and cheering for their favorite driver.
We made our way to one of the dozens of entry points into the speedway and gathered in a line, expecting to endure the requisite security screenings that have become commonplace in sporting events since 9/11. But as we met the IMS representatives checking our tickets and inspecting our belongings, we received a quick, cursory motion through. I observed many race fans, before and after me, who had backpacks, coolers and bags, and the inspection of their items was also very superficial. I spoke to another friend who entered at a separate gate who expressed the same shock over the aloof attitude of the personnel when he entered the gates as well. He was carrying a shoulder pack and the elderly lady didn’t even delve into his pack but just motioned him through with a “you’re fine!”
As I walked past security, I was instantly struck with the fact that not only was there no focused attention to what people were carrying into the venue, but I was also amazed that there were no metal detectors in place to at least catch any obvious weapons that someone might have on their person. Even law abiding citizens with firearms concealed carry permits could have passed through the Indy 500 security that weekend. I shuddered to think how easy it would have been for a terrorist to have walked through with a host of weapons that could have caused indescribable tragedy.
Following the attack in Manchester a few weeks ago, I wrote about the repercussions of ISIS inspired attacks turning from bombs laden with nails to explosives laden with neurotoxins. The Indy 500 last week represented a fertile and high valued soft-target for such weaponry. Given that our terrorist enemies pursue not only death and destruction, but they also seek symbolism in their attacks, what better target could be found than the Indy 500, an American icon that draws the largest crowd of any sporting event in America?
So there is no question that security at the IMS was appalling. I don’t want to pre-judge the owners and management of the IMS, but in this day of grave threats to the security of our nation, and an enemy that is increasingly looking for high profile soft targets, it’s inexcusable that the lives of 300,000 race fans was devalued so greatly at last week’s Indy 500. The reason an attack did not occur last week, and dozens or hundreds of casualties did not occur, was not because of the extraordinary efforts of the IMS and their staff. To the contrary, there was no terrorist attack despite the pathetic security. I can only assume that those seeking the death of our citizens were simply not up to the task last weekend. But must we wait for them to succeed before we get serious about security?
The MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA all require metal detector screenings at all of their venues. Additionally, coolers and large bags are not permitted. Implementing just these two security standards at the Indy 500 would at the very minimum eliminate the likelihood that a would-be terrorist could exploit such a current vulnerability.
As we think of the crash that Scott Dixon survived, in the context of a terrorist attack, there are three aspects to Dixon’s walking away from his horrific crash that should be a part of the IMS security protocol. They are:
- Understanding the threat
- Preparing for the threat
- Surviving the threat
There is no question that Indycar drivers, their teams and owners, understand the threat they face every time a driver strap into his car. Death or serious injury is always lurking. The fact is, the last 100 years confirms that it’s not if you will crash in motorsports, but when. And tragically, for some drivers it wasn’t if they would die, but when they would. So the threat is real.
Because the sport understands the racing threat, they have prepared for it. A few years ago, a crash like Scott Dixon’s would have undoubtedly ended the driver’s life. Yet, with continued testing, refining, and perfecting, a crash that absolutely decimated the car Dixon was in, still enabled the driver to climb out and walk away. I’m confident that Dixon, his family, team members and the entire motorsport world, would agree that whatever amount of capital was expended to prepare for the threat he faced, was worthwhile when the threat materialized.
Finally, because the Indycar series understands the threat, and continues to prepare for it, the vast majority of drivers in the league today walk away from horrific crashes. The same holds true in NASCAR and other racing series. Understand. Prepare. Survive.
But to date in our nation, I fear many, including politicians, business owners and even ordinary citizens do not understand the threat we face. Sadly, tens of millions in America still walk around as if they are immune from terrorist attacks. But Islamic terrorists are here in droves. They’ve struck already. And they will continue to do so, with greater regularity and intensity, unless we understand the magnitude of the threat.
So we must understand, but we must also prepare. I applaud President Trump for not only his understanding of the threat we face, but for his efforts to prepare our nation and cities for the threats. Sadly, he is being handcuffed all along the way by dangerous, politically correct buffoons. And mark my words, it’s just a matter of time before the roadblocks that have been thrown up to thwarts Trump’s efforts result in American lives being lost. But then it will be too late and there will be no amount of course correction that will restore the lives lost because of ignorant and incompetent leaders.
Finally, we will only survive this threat if you and I personally and individually understand and prepare for the threat facing not just our nation, but us individually. My home town of Chattanooga, TN was attacked two years ago by an Islamic terrorist. Five Americans died and more were injured. That’s too close for comfort. But your city could be or will be next. Will you wait until it happens or will you prepare for such a potential? If you want to survive the unimaginable, like Scott Dixon did, then do like he did.
Understand. Prepare. Survive.
To do less is to gamble with your life and those you love.
It was early 1943. The war in Europe and Asia waged on. The nations of the world were embroiled in an epic battle of good versus evil. Tens of millions of lives were being lost and hundreds of millions more were grieving those losses. Hell had unleashed its fury in a manner that had never previously been experienced. The utter depravity of man was center stage and no human soul remained untouched.
As the victory by allied forces at Guadalcanal against Japan had just been realized, half way around the world, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected to command the Allied armies in Europe.
At the same time in March 1943, thousands of miles from both Guadalcanal and Germany, a German immigrant was marking his 50th birthday in Chicago. As a teen, Oscar Werner, son of German parents, had immigrated to America from Ukraine. In the years since he immigrated, my grandfather had established himself as a professional musician, a concert flutist and a member of several area orchestras. He was also a successful entrepreneur, owning a music store in Chicago.
On this day though, as Oscar was reaching a half-century, he recognized the utter turmoil the world was enduring. But rather than despair, he looked upward for help and within the pages of a Book that had become his regular companion.
In keeping with his custom, Oscar boarded the Chicago El, the elevated train that he rode to work each morning. His routine was to move to his favorite seat, pull out his worn and tattered Bible, and continue reading through his favorite book. This day was different though. Halfway to 100, Oscar began to consider what the next 25 years of his life might hold. He had accomplished a lot since he first set foot on Ellis Island. But he knew that there would be more challenges in the years to follow. More battles to wage. And he would need God’s wisdom and counsel to prevail.
He opened his Bible, and began to read from the very first words of the book he so loved.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light…”
As he read that last word, the jolt of the El train startled him. He looked up as the train rounded the bend. The brilliant rays of the rising sun flashed in his eyes.
Spirit of God…
Oscar stopped. He had read that verse so many times before. But all of a sudden those words brought another verse to his memory:
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
Oh, how he desired the wisdom of the ages to light his path and give him the understanding he would need to navigate the next 25 years. And then, the idea that would come to dominate the remainder of Oscar’s life surfaced within his mind, as if the Spirit of God planted it there.
He would read through the Bible on average four times per year over the next 25 years so that in 1968, on his 75th birthday, he would complete reading through God’s Word a total of 100 times. His pulse quickened. He knew that this would be an immense commitment to God. He realized that he would have to sacrifice so many other “good” things in his life. But he also believed that the wisdom and direction he longed for in his life would be forthcoming. Saturating his mind with the counsel of God could only mean that.
And so on that day in 1943, as the rest of the world was in an epic battle for its very existence, Oscar experienced the peace that can only come from God. He knew that no matter what happened in the years to come, he would always have his Bible with him. The words he would read over and over again would permeate his life in such a way that they would transform him. And by doing so, they would direct him on a path that would honor God and bring blessing to Oscar and the rest of his family.
The El train came to a stop. Oscar disembarked and made his way to his business. But there was a confidence in his step that he had not known the day before.
Oscar Werner reading his Bible
Twenty five years later, Oscar sat on his sofa, where he had positioned himself every evening. As he did so, he read these final verses in Revelation 22, the last book of the Bible:
“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
Oscar clasped the tattered and worn Bible to his chest. He smiled as he remembered he had purchased several copies of the Bible over the last twenty-five years. His constant use of the Book took its toll on each of the previous copies.
Oscar had done it. His one hundredth time reading through the Bible. Of course there was great satisfaction in having completed the goal he had set twenty-five years earlier. But greater than any feeling of success, he was reminiscing over the many times in his life when a verse he had read jumped off the pages and offered him the answer he needed to the challenge, struggle or battle at hand. He remembered Isaiah 55:11 at that moment:
“So shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void. But it shall accomplish what I please. And it will prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Oscar Werner’s Bible Tallying His Readings
That verse had been proven true so many times over the last twenty-five years. As Oscar had committed God’s Word to his heart, he realized that it had not been for naught. It had not returned void. Rather, there had been exponential return for the time he had invested in reading his dearest treasure.
As I think back to the years my grandfather was with us, one of the memories I have is of him sitting on his favorite sofa with his Bible on his lap. And while he read his Bible over 130 times in his life, he did have other past times. In front of his sofa was his black and white TV where he would watch his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. (While I’m no great baseball fan, I had to watch this year’s World Series in honor of my grandpa, knowing that he would be ecstatic to see his Cubs finally win!)
Grandpa Werner was an incredible example to me and so many others — of the commitment to a goal, the power of discipline, and the priority of God’s Word. The Bible was Oscar’s constant companion. It was his most powerful ally in every battle; his wisest counselor when facing difficult decisions; his most understanding comforter in times of sorrow. And my grandpa’s commitment to reading it has been an encouragement to me to do the same.
I share all of this not to simply highlight Oscar Werner, although he is a great man who I will meet again someday. But more importantly, my goal is to challenge you and me to consider, who are our counselors? Does your list include God’s Word? Are you regularly ingesting the Wisdom of the Ages into your life?
Whether you are a Christian, atheist, agnostic, Muslim, or unsure, I encourage to commit to reading through the Book that has traversed thousands of years and offers hope and peace to anyone who is willing to seek them.
In this era of technology I would encourage you to select an app to begin reading the Bible or even listening to it audibly. My app of choice is at bible.com where you can find several Plans that enable you to read through the Bible in a year. Last year I completed the “As it Happened” Plan which daily takes you through the Bible over the course of a year, in the chronological order in which the Bible was written. My preferred version for reading or listening is the New Living Translation (NLT) as it is in modern, easy to understand English.
I trust you will join me in reading through the Bible in 2017. If you will, I’m confident that your investment will not return void and you will find it to illuminate your path in this new year.
Footnote: While the specifics of the train ride, what Oscar was thinking and and how he came to his decision, stem from my own creativity, the decision to read through the Bible 100 times in 25 years is not. As reflected in the photos above, my grandfather kept meticulous records of when he completed each reading. He daily read the Bible, both on the El train on the ride to work as well as on his favorite sofa. When Oscar passed away at age 84, he was working his way through his favorite Book for the 132nd time, with his wife Esther reading it to him in those final days.
Has Campaign 2016 left you feeling like you are about to drown in a barrage of fear and moral corruption? Have you experienced any of these emotions over the last few months? Angst? Anger? Worry? Uncertainty? Nervousness? Fear?
As I’ve engaged in political discourse, I have seen these emotions permeating the discussions. It’s clear that Americans are experiencing an extreme degree of angst. The level of fear that is expressed by conservatives, republicans, independents, and democrats seems to be off the charts.
Our future appears to have been boiled down to the choice that will prevail on November 8th. While there are monumental factors at stake that are driving the choices Americans will make at the ballot box, there have been other seminal moments for our nation.
If you think back over your life, you can no doubt identify times when your future was dire and bleak. Similarly, while our nation’s homeland has faced a relatively tranquil and prosperous series of decades, there have been periods in our history when citizens wondered if the Republic would survive.
I’m reminded of a passage in the gospels where the disciples were fearing for their lives. The story is found in Matthew 8 and highlights one day in the life of Jesus. Throughout that day, Jesus healed a leper, a paralytic child, a feverish lady, cast out a demon, and healed dozens of others. At the end of this “day in the life of Jesus” where the miraculous became almost commonplace, Jesus led his disciples into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.
Shortly after Jesus and the disciples embarked on the journey, a violent storm encompassed their boat. The disciples, terrified by the tempest that surrounded them, and the waves that were crashing inside the boat, yelled out in utter hopelessness, to a sleeping Jesus.
“Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
Consider exactly what the disciples were revealing with those chilling words. First, they had completely forgotten what they had just witnessed earlier in the day, when Jesus performed miracle after miracle, reflecting His complete dominion over the physical and spiritual. Second, consider that this supernatural Man had led them directly into the boat. While they were unaware of what lay ahead, Jesus fully understood what that dark night held for them. Finally, while Jesus knew there was a storm directly in their path, He also knew that the storm was not the object of that night. Rather, a lesson that the disciples needed to experience and learn, was precisely what Jesus had in mind.
So Jesus awoke to the disciples’ screams of fear, panic, and hopelessness. He saw it in their eyes, heard it in their voices, and fully understood their emotions. But, He did not immediately deliver them from their greatest fears. Rather, as the waves were swirling around their knees, Jesus questioned:
“Why are you fearful?”
Did the disciples not understand what the purpose of the last twelve hours had been? Did they not remember that Jesus was the Son of God? Did they fail to comprehend that He delivered dozens from physical and spiritual oppression? Did they not realize the most obvious reality, that Jesus was in the boat with them? Could they perish with the Son of God at their side?
Yet they so easily forgot, just as we so often do. But notice Jesus’ next words.
“O you of little faith.”
The disciples had within minutes lost their trust in the very Creator of the universe; the God-man who had called them to follow Him, and told them things about themselves that only God could have know; the Nazarene who they were seeing live a perfect life, who had turned water into wine, healed the sick and lame, brought words to the lips of the mute, opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf.
Yet, fear gripped the disciples and they lost their faith. And what was drowned out that night by the storms that swirled around them was not their physical lives, but more importantly their spiritual faith.
But then, despite the fear and lack of faith by the disciples, we read these words:
“Then Jesus arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
If Jesus can halt physical storms can He not conquer the storms in your life, and our nation? Of course He can. And although there are clear biblical principles that instruct us to not simply sit back and do nothing, we also learn from Matthew 8 that what we are often lacking is faith.
Faith that believes.
Faith that trusts.
And, as we learn in the book of James, faith that is revealed by our works, for we read that “faith without works is dead.”
Remember that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The same Jesus that saved His disciples from drowning that stormy night, is the same One who is fully aware of the storms in your life, and our nation. But will you and I acknowledge, trust, and follow Him, not just on November 8th, but more importantly on November 9th and forward?
In just a few days our nation will enter a new era. It could be a very stormy and tumultuous period. So we have two choices. Will we turn to the ultimate answer for a stormy future and return to the only One who can guide us through these storms? Or will we trudge on, in fear, disunity and hopelessness?
Politicians, their Parties and ideological movements are not our hope. There is only one Hope: Jesus Christ. Let’s turn to Him as we climb into the boat that will traverse a Clinton or Trump Presidency. It’s going to get rough, but we know that God Himself “will never leave us nor forsake us.“
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3