Only 11,000 to go!

I was driving to church this past Sunday with my seven year old granddaughter in the passenger seat. We were listening to First Baptist Dallas’ broadcast on the radio and she happened to ask exactly where First Baptist Dallas is located. I explained to her that it is in the middle of downtown Dallas, and to help her better understand that some churches are bigger than others, I also mentioned that First Baptist Dallas has 12,000 members.

She got that wide eyed expression on her face and said “WOW!” , and after thinking about it for a few seconds, she asked, “How many people are in our church?”

“About a thousand.” I answered.

Then she pumped her fist in the air and said, “YES! Only 11,000 more to go! 

That’s what I call optimism!

Now, I don’t know if it’s God’s plan to add 11,000 more members to our church. That’s up to Him. That’s not my point. The point is, to a wide eyed seven year old, growing the church by 11,000 people presents no challenge at all. And her bright eyed optimism opened my eyes to something Jesus said: In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we’re told how the people were bringing their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them, but his disciples tried to chase them away. When Jesus saw that, He became very upset with the disciples and said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As we get older, our problems get bigger and more complex. We’re tempted to think, probably more often than we care to admit, that our problems have become too big for God, or that we shouldn’t burden God with our problems by bringing them before Him in prayer. Jesus wasn’t saying we’re to be childlike or immature in our behavior. He was saying we need to view God and our relationship with God from the same perspective as a child.

I’m sure you all noticed how the world around you seemed to get smaller as you grew up. I’ve gone back to look at some of the houses I lived in as a small child. Those houses looked really big when I was five or six. But now they seem so small. What changed? The houses didn’t get smaller. Neither did the world around us. It was our perception and perspective that changed. In the same way, God did not become smaller when we got bigger. For many of us though, our perspective changed. Our perception of God changed. At one point in my life I thought I was no longer loved by God because from my grown up perspective, I thought I had slipped and slid so far back that God just didn’t have any love left to give me. Viewing God through the eyes of an adult, I could not see nor understand the vastness and limitless supply of God’s love. Children don’t have that problem. That’s why we need to see God as a child sees Him.

I’ve always understood that passage I quoted to mean that we’re to view God as our father and ourselves as God’s children, and that is an accurate interpretation. But now, thanks to my granddaughter’s comment, I have a deeper understanding of what Jesus meant when He said we must receive the kingdom of God like a little child. In the eyes of a child, nothing is too big for God. There is no obstacle that God cannot overcome. There’s nothing He can’t handle. When we receive the kingdom of God like a little child, it serves as a reminder of just how big our God really is. We’re to be no less confident in the power of God as adults than we were as children. God is to be just as great in our eyes as adults as He was when we were kids. I believe that’s what Jesus was really trying to teach us!

 

Thoughts From Last Sunday’s Sermon

When God instructed Moses to take up a collection for the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25, God specified exactly what was needed.

Exodus 25

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 

But before Moses was able to take up this collection, the people of Israel took up a collection of their own and made an idol for themselves, a golden calf. As we know from scripture, this made God so angry that He was determined to destroy all the people, and would have had Moses not intervened on their behalf. Afterwards, Moses told the people what God had said to him on Mount Sinai regarding the collection for the tabernacle.

Exodus 35

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.

The people’s response is recorded for us later in the 35th chapter,

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

So here’s the question that came to mind during the sermon last Sunday: Where did the people get all the brooches and earrings and signet rings? Where did all the gold objects come from? Stop and think about this for a moment. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt, where they had been slaves. They were not employees of the Egyptians. They were slaves who had been whipped and beaten repeatedly, and subjected to hard labor. They were just barely able to survive in Egypt. They certainly weren’t accumulating any wealth.

So where did the gold come from? The Bible answers this question in the 12th chapter of Exodus. As the Israelite people were leaving Egypt, the scriptures says:

 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people (the Israelites) took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

That’s where all the gold and precious stones and other material came from! So in reality, it came from God because it was God who caused the Egyptians to give the Israelites everything they asked for as they left Egypt. All the gold and silver and other material that God asked for never belonged to the Israelites in the first place and in truth, it never really belonged to the Egyptians either. It was all God’s to begin with. Yet God didn’t ask for all of it back. All He asked in return was for enough to build a small tabernacle, along with whatever material was needed to make all the furnishings and garments for the priests. And even then, God did not demand a contribution from everyone. He only asked for contributions from those whose hearts moved them to give. Perhaps the Apostle Paul was thinking about this time in Israel’s history when he wrote these words recorded in 2 Corinthians 9:

 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Do you not think the Creator of the universe couldn’t have whipped up a small tabernacle? The One who created the heavens and earth out of nothing (and also created us) could have very easily made a few pieces of furniture and some utensils. God did not need gold and silver and brooches and earrings and signet rings to get the job done. What God really wanted was the people’s hearts! He wanted their devotion. He did not want them to give reluctantly or because they thought they had to give. He wanted them to give freely. He wanted them to give out of generosity!

God still wants this from us today. He does not need a single thing from us, but He does want our hearts! He wants our devotion. He wants us to be cheerful givers, whether we’re giving of our time, gifts, skills, or our money. Remember, it all came from Him, just as all the gold and silver and jewelry that the Israelites acquired on their way out of Egypt came from God. And He’s not so concerned about what we give or how much, as He is about what’s in our hearts. What prompts us to give? What is the attitude of our hearts? That’s what God sees. Our hearts need to be right with God.

Of the Macedonian churches who had taken up a collection for believers in Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul wrote, “their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Where does such overflowing joy come from? Again, the answer is in scripture: “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:5) The kind of overflowing joy that prompted the impoverished Macedonians to give beyond their means can only come from once source, from a heart that’s right with God through faith in Jesus Christ!

Today is the Day

In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote these words that are recorded at the beginning of the sixth chapter:

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

“Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”

I am very grateful to God that my life did not end before I came to know Jesus Christ as my savior. Looking back on my life, it gives me chills to think what would have happened if I had lost my life in a car crash or as the result of illness or of an accident of some kind. It gives me chills because when I was young, I was one of those people who said, “I’ll wait until I’m older before I dedicate my life to Jesus.”  Had my life ended prematurely, I would have ended up condemned to hell for all eternity.

Mind you, I wasn’t living wild like the prodigal son or anything like that. In fact, I lived a fairly quiet life. I was one of those people who said to himself, “I’m a good person. I’ll be okay” So it was really more a matter or procrastination. “I will follow Jesus wholeheartedly……..someday……..but not now. I’ll read the Bible……….someday………. but not now.” That was me. I regret that now and that’s a regret I’ll have to live with.

I heard a pastor tell the story one time of a man with whom he was sharing the gospel, trying to win him to faith in Christ. After he had finished telling this man all about Jesus and God’s plan of salvation, the man said to him, “Pastor, I believe everything you said. I believe God is real and that Jesus is real. But I plan to wait until the 11th hour before I accept Jesus as my savior.” The pastor replied, “What if you die at 10:30?” 

I’m glad God didn’t take me at 10:30. Like I said, inviting Jesus to come live in my heart was something I was going to do………someday. And it pains me now when I realize that there are many people who still think that way. Accepting Christ is something they plan to do……….someday. It’s something they’ll get around to when they’re older. One of the most damning lies that Satan tells people is, “There’s no hurry.”

And of course, there are those people who ARE indulging in a lifestyle of wild living, and they don’t want to give it up. They live for pleasure, and you all know what I’m talking about. I don’t need to go into graphic detail. To them, Christianity is something that’s dull, boring, and unexciting. Being a Christian would spoil their fun. I know of a young man who said  that he wanted to get all that out of his system first, and once he had done that, then he’d follow Christ. I hope his lifestyle doesn’t kill him first and I don’t mean that facetiously in any way.

I’ve also heard people say they have to get their lives right before coming to Jesus. “I have to get cleaned up first.”   I mentioned the prodigal son and that story gives us a clear picture of God’s unconditional love. When father and son finally came face to face, the father gave orders for his son to be dressed in his finest robe. Remember, the boy had been living in a pig pen and he must have stunk to high heavens. He had to have been covered with filth. That didn’t matter to the father. He didn’t make his son take a bath before putting on the robe. Likewise, it doesn’t matter to God if a person is dirty. It doesn’t matter how a person looks when he or she humbly enters into His presence. God gives His finest robe, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

I heard someone say not long ago that he had to get past some crisis he was going through before giving his life to Christ. Listen, if anyone waits until they get some crisis resolved before coming to Christ, they will never come to Christ because the next crisis is always lurking around the corner. Our lives are a series of challenges, some good, some bad. The good ones are the goals we set for ourselves. The bad ones are the trials we face in life. There will rarely be a time when we we’re not faced with some sort of challenge and it’s really counter intuitive for someone to suggest that they have get past a crisis before turning to Christ. If only we could get such people to understand that Jesus wants to walk with them THROUGH that crisis. He wants us to bring our burdens to Him and lay them at the foot of the cross.

Those are just few of the reasons that people put off their salvation until……someday; for waiting until some unknown day in the future that they may never see. Of course some of them are just making excuses. They don’t have any intention of embracing Jesus, ever. Others believe their reasons are legit. Twice in the book of Proverbs the Bible tells us there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Waiting till someday to follow Jesus might seem right to some, but if they die while they’re waiting, their fate is sealed. Eternity is an awful long time to have to pay for that mistake.

We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. We’re not even guaranteed our next breath, or next heartbeat.  The day of salvation is today. That someday…..is now!

There is an answer

I live in the Dallas Fort Worth area and actually work near downtown Dallas at Love Field. I’ve watched the news all evening as the evil and violence in downtown Dallas continued to unfold. Several reporters from the local news stations got caught up in all of this tonight. They interviewed many of the witnesses who were on the scene and I was struck by one comment I heard time and again. “We don’t know what the answers are.”…”There are no answers.”…”I don’t know what the answer is.”

I do know what the answer is: The answer is Jesus Christ. For the past 50 years, our nation has slowly but steadily turned away from God. America has been telling God to go take a hike. We have told God, “We don’t want you. We don’t need you. We can take care of ourselves. We’re just fine without You.” We’re reaping the consequences. God will honor the request of any nation that tells Him to shove off.

What happened tonight in Dallas is nothing but pure evil. But this evil did not start tonight and it did not start here in Dallas. However, this will only get worse unless this country gets on its knees and returns to Jesus Christ. America must acknowledge its need for Christ.

I’m well aware of what took place in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m not ignoring that. I understand there’s anger and outrage over what happened in those places. But the answer for the anger and outrage is the same as the answer for the evil that drove these thugs to shoot 11 Dallas Police Officers, killing 4. It’s the answer for all the evil in the world. The answer is Jesus Christ.  As a nation, we must return to following Jesus Christ. This nation is under judgement, and tonight’s display of evil serves as a reminder that God is removing His blessing and His hand of protection. God will not protect a nation that spits in His face. The history of judgement upon nations that’s recorded in the Bible bears witness to that.

God is faithful. His promises are true. And God has promised us this:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Pray tonight for all the officers and their families. This is absolutely heartbreaking.

Pray for our nation. America’s repentance and restoration as a nation begins with prayer, one person at a time.

Don’t tell me there’s no answer.

 

Prayer request update

Now the news media is saying 11 officers shot in Dallas, 4 dead. This had been a peaceful protest. Some of the officers were seen cutting up and joking with people in the crowd, taking selfies. And then all hell broke loose… It’s still going on. Please pray and ask your friends on social media for their prayers…

Please Pray

I’m sure most of you have heard about what’s happened in downtown Dallas. It’s still ongoing as I’m typing this. 10 police officers shot, 3 are dead. Pray….please pray tonight.

Has America changed gods?

Jeremiah 2:11

Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones,
even though they are not gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God
for worthless idols!

In that passage, God was speaking through the prophet Jeremiah and He challenged the people of Judah to name any nation that had ever switched gods. The Lord was saying to the people of Judah, “Your pagan neighbors are more firm and faithful to their false gods than you are to Me, the one and only true God.” Even though their gods were false gods, the pagans did not stray. They did not chase after other gods the way Judah and Israel did. God was not commending the pagan nations, to be sure. God’s intent was to shame the people of Judah so that they might turn away from idol worship and turn back to the one true God.

But the people of Judah felt no shame. They continued chasing after the false gods of their pagan neighbors just as the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had done scarcely a generation before. They exchanged the one true God for idols of wood and stone. Ironically, the nations of Judah and Israel sought after the gods of their pagan neighbors because they wanted to be just like their neighbors. Yet they were very much unlike their neighbors in this one very crucial area. The pagans remained true to their false gods while the Israelites, who had no cause to change their God, did not.

That raises a very important question for us in our time. Has America changed gods? Let’s look at that passage again, and let’s apply the question God asked Judah in the first part of the verse to modern day America.

Knowing that America was founded on Christian principles, has America traded the one true God for new gods?  Has this country traded the one true God for…………worthless gods? Idol worship does not necessarily mean bowing before a carved or cast image, (though the book of Revelation does foretell of a time when that will happen again, just like in ancient times). We can be guilty of idol worship when we allow anything to occupy the place in our lives where God should be. That can take many forms. How many of you know someone who puts their careers ahead of everything else, even their own families? That’s a form of idolatry. Obsession with things like money, possessions, and hobbies (that’s right, hobbies) can become idolatry. Worshiping celebrities and athletes can also be a form of idol worship. They can become people’s gods. That’s not to say it’s wrong to have a hobby or cheer for a favorite team. There’s nothing wrong with any of that as long as God occupies the number one place in our hearts. But even our spouses and children can become idols if we put them above God. Idol worship is anything that displaces the one true God from His proper place in our lives, and replaces Him with something else.

But more and more in modern America, people are doing just that. They are putting something in the place where God should be. Look at some of the things people believe in today, in spite of what they’ve read in the Bible. They exchange the truth of God for the lies of a world system that tries to tell them that if they believe it, it must be true, so therefore it’s okay to believe it. One thing we hear of so often today is that God loves everyone just the way they are, so there’s no need to repent and turn to Christ. Yes, God does love us and accept us just the way we are. But He also loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to stay that way. He expects us to become less like the world and more like His Son as we grow in our faith. We also hear people who say, “The god I believe in would never send anyone to hell.”  You know something? They’re exactly right, because that god does not exist. They exchanged the one true God for a god they’ve created in their minds. They embrace this notion that God is okay with whatever sin a person happens to indulge in. People can become so entrenched in beliefs that go against God’s word that those beliefs become like false gods.

Though they would be very quick to argue otherwise, even atheists have exchanged the true God for a false god. They argue that man is the measure of all things, or in other words, that man is all there is. They scoff at the idea of an intelligent creator, insisting that the universe just sort of created itself one day millions of years ago through some sort of evolutionary process or through some unexplained cosmic accident. The false god they worship is themselves because they claim to have all the answers about the origins of the universe and how life came to be.

People looking for “inner peace” or “spiritual contentment” have exchanged God for the false gods of non-Christian religions like Buddhism or some other eastern religion, hoping to find what can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many others still have turned to what I call semi-Christian churches, which are churches that claim to be Christian churches but teach a watered down version of the gospel that replaces the truth of God’s word with theology based on what their congregations want to hear, a daisies and sunshine gospel. That too can become a form of idolatry. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned us about this: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. This is more widespread in America than most of us would care to admit.

I did not mention the false gods of pride, ego, arrogance, drugs, alcohol, and lust and sex. I’ve only scratched the surface. So what happens if we keep going down this path? God will do to America what He did Judah and Israel. He will bring judgement. In fact, some say America is under judgement already and I’d find it hard to argue otherwise. We do know from Biblical history that God is patient, but His patience is not infinite. If this nation does not repent and turn from its false gods and back to the one true God, the rest of the world will say of America what was once said of Judah and Israel:

Jeremiah 22:8

People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.”

America may very well be under judgement because we’re already asking the same question: What happened to this great country?

 

From a sermon by W.A Criswell – An Illustration of God’s Love

From Doctor Criswell’s sermon from October of 1987:

I think one of the most moving things that I can remember from America’s last war, there were two young men serving the army. They were in uniform, and when you’re in uniform and when you are fighting in combat; whether you came from a rich home or whether you came from a poor home; you look exactly alike.  One of these young men came from a most affluent family, and the other one was homeless, he was an orphan.  And those two young men became steadfast friends as they marched and fought together in the army.  They were fighting in the midst of a furious battle. And when the battle was raging, the affluent son took out of his pocket a sealed letter with an address on the front.  It was his father’s name and address.  He took that sealed letter and laid it in the hands of his friend, and said to him, “If I don’t come back, if I don’t outlive this battle, promise me that you, if you live, that you will deliver this letter to this address and to this man.”  The other young man faithfully promised; and after the battle was fought, the affluent young man didn’t come back, he didn’t survive.  And when the war was over, his friend took that sealed letter, made his way to the city, made his way to the address, and before a palatial home knocked at the door.

The husband and father and owner of the house came and opened the door, and saw standing there this young soldier.  He placed that letter in the hands of his friend’s father.  And the father opened it, and read it: “Dear Father, if I don’t come back, I’m asking that you receive this man, my friend, as your own; that he be your boy and your son.”  The father flung wide the door, and said to the lad, “For my son’s sake, for my boy’s sake, come in, come in.”

That is exactly and precisely what God has done for us.  “For my son’s sake, for my boy’s sake, come in, come in.”  We are beloved in Him. We are precious in His sight because of Him.  He paid the penalty for our sins.  We are justified in His love and grace.  He came into this world to seek us and to save us ; and for His sake God loves us.

 

Memorial Day Tribute – part 3

Even though God had provided them with food on day six, the mental state of some of the men began to slip. Rickenbacker’s personal aide attempted to take his own life by slipping over the side of his life raft. Rickenbacker snatched the man back by the scruff of his neck and it was at that point that Rickenbacker assumed the role of morale officer. Whitaker wrote that he could not put down all the things Rickenbacker said to the men over the course of the next two weeks when he sensed that one of them was giving up. He said the foul language would “scorch the paper!” Woe to any man who was about to quit, give up, or do anything that would bring down the morale of the group.

Days seven and eight found the men miserably weak from thirst. They had not had any water since the B-17 ditched. They were no longer praying for food, but for water. By day eight, Whitaker had memorized the Lord’s Prayer, which the men recited out loud every evening at the conclusion of their devotional time. God began the process of convicting Whitaker, and he wrote that was gradually beginning to realize no human agency, acting alone, could save them. The afternoon of the eighth day, the group’s commander led them in this prayer:

“Old Master, we called on You for food, and You delivered. We ask You now for water. We’ve done the best we could. If You don’t make up your mind to help us pretty soon, I guess that’s all there’ll be to it. It looks like the next move is up to You, Old Master.”

Whitaker noted that that prayer, despite its informal wording, has just about everything in it a prayer should have. It presents a petition to God and at the same time, it expresses resignation to God’s will. Finally, it implies the belief – the faith – that the petition will be granted.

After the commander prayed, they all recited the Lord’s prayer a second time. Whitaker shared the thoughts that went through his mind afterward:

While we rolled and wallowed over the crests and into the troughs, I was thinking that this was God’s chance to make a believer of Jim Whitaker. If there was indeed a God and He could ignore a prayer like that, then He must be a pretty heartless being. My thoughts went on in this vein for some time; I don’t know how long. I do know that eventually I became aware something was tugging insistently at my consciousness. I looked over to the left. A cloud that had been fleecy and white a while ago now was darkening by the second.”

Within minutes the men were in the midst of a downpour! They tried to collect as much water as they could and managed to gather about a quart in one of the life vests. As the rain fell, the commander shouted, “Thanks Old Master”  

“Then”, Whitaker wrote, “as though the Lord wanted to remind us that He can take away as well as give, a huge wave came up out of nowhere and capsized our raft.”  They lost their remaining flares and flare guns, but they managed to hang onto to the life vest with the quart of fresh water inside it.

“Faith is a fragile thing and elusive. It is all too easily shattered or lost.”  Whitaker was a man on verge of conversion to faith in God at that point. However, there was no getting around the reality of their situation. Even with the life saving rain the night before, most of the men were of the opinion that they were all going to die in those life rafts out in the middle of the Pacific. Still, it’s plain to see that God had gotten his attention.

Whitaker had become a believer by the time he wrote his book, so all of this was written in retrospect. From this point in the book to the end, you can see his transition to faith expressed in his writing. For instance, on the ninth day, after they managed to catch a small shark, Whitaker wrote that it was the Lord who provided the food. What the reader of his book gets to see is each step of his journey to faith. At the end of the ninth day, the men held their prayer service. Whitaker wrote “I joined feelingly in the worship. I know this: I wanted to believe. Yet in all honesty, I must confess that there remained enough of my old and false pride to make me say to myself: ‘Let’s not overlook any bets.'”

 Whitaker also wrote of his conversion experience: “I had been an agnostic; an atheist, if you will. I am not sure I am using either term correctly. I imagined that I doubted the existence of such a being as God. I reasoned further, when religion was mentioned, that God had never done much for me in my life, so why worship Him? the most I could salvage from those gloomy thoughts was that I at least had never been a hypocrite. I pondered that night on an expression I had heard out in the Southwest Pacific: ‘There are no atheists in the foxholes of Guadalcanal.’ I can tell you now that there can be no atheists in rubber rafts amid whitecaps and sharks in the equatorial Pacific. I was finding my God in those watery wastes and we were meeting as strangers. I don’t deny that there was still a reluctance somewhere deep inside me After 40 years and more of indifference and selfishness, it would have been strange indeed if I hadn’t felt something of the sort. We might have remained strangers had it not been for Him. He was soon to send two divine miracles that saved my life twice more and change my life as completely as a life can be changed.”
As we all know, every Christian can tell you what life was like before coming to Jesus Christ, what brought about his or her conversion, and how their lives changed after accepting Christ. We see all of that in Whitaker’s words. He was finding God in the watery waste.

Whitaker gave credit to God for two life saving, life changing miracles that made the difference between life and death. But in reality, there were numerous miracles that God used to save those men, both physically and spiritually.

A couple of more days passed. Day 11 brought a torrential downpour and more life giving fresh water. The following night, Sergeant Kaczmarczyk died. As was mentioned earlier, he was the only one who did not make it. The next morning, the 13th day, they held a funeral service for him and set his body adrift. They watched him float away for a long time. As Whitaker noted, nothing bothered the sergeant’s body.

That same day, the heat became unbearable. Their skin was burned to a crisp and constantly peeling. They had rashes from rubbing against the rubber rafts. Everyone but Whitaker and Rickenbacker developed salt water ulcers on their legs that were described as being as painful as boils. They were near death. They had gone through the water they had collected two days before and their thirst raged. That morning, they saw a rain squall some distance away. They prayed aloud for it to reach them. Then the wind whipped up and blew it away from them.

“Somehow,” Whitaker wrote, “my faith did not die. For the first time, I found myself leading the others in prayer. Like the others, I didn’t know how to address God, so I talked to him like I would have to a parent or friend.”

Interesting words. In John 15, Jesus said,  “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.”

As the rain moved away, Whitaker prayed aloud: “God. You know what that water means to us. The wind has blown it away. It is in your power, God, to send back that rain. It’s nothing to you, but it means life to us. God, the wind is Yours. You own it. Order it to blow back that rain to us who will die without it.”

This is what he wrote next: “There are some things that cannot be explained by natural law. The wind did not change, but the curtain of rain stopped where it was. Then, ever so slowly, it started back toward us – against the wind! A meteorologist tried to explain it to me afterward; something about cross current buffeting. I tell you there was no buffeting. It was as if a great and omnipotent hand was guiding it to us across the water. And for my money, that’s exactly what happened.”

Even with that miracle, the worst part of their ordeal was ahead of them. They spent the next four days in an area Whitaker called the doldrums, a region commonly referred to by scientists as the horse latitudes. That’s a region of ocean where there is absolutely no wind or precipitation. Old time sailing vessels caught in that region would stall and cease to move for days and sometimes weeks on end.

All the men but Whitaker were covered in painful ulcers. He said it was suffering the likes of which he had never seen before. They had water, but it had to be strictly rationed. The men started becoming delirious and they began hallucinating.

It was during those four days that Rickenbacker worked hardest to keep morale up. Everyone was so mad at him, Whitaker said, that they vowed to live just to spite Rickenbacker! In those four days, he said Rickenbacker slung some mighty powerful and fancy cussing!

By day 18, Whitaker was leading most of the prayer services. They were now praying for rescue. As that day drew to a close, he said felt that rescue was coming. He prayed to God that he might live to see it. As the sun set that evening, the commander of the group suddenly sat upright. “I hear an engine.” he said. At first they thought he was hearing things, but then everyone heard it!

It turned out to be a U.S. Navy pontoon plane known as a Kingfisher. The plane passed within about five miles. And then it flew off into the distance. The pilot did not see them. As you would expect, their morale plummeted. Whitaker said that was when Rickenbacker unleashed cussing that had to be the masterpiece of his career! He was not looking to win a popularity contest. The morale of the men was all he cared about.

About the time Rickenbacker finished his barrage, the wind began to blow. And on day 19, a small rain shower blew in. It was such a light shower, they couldn’t collect any water. But the wind and the sight of the plane so encourage Whitaker that he was unable to sleep that night. He said he reviewed in his mind the things God had done for him during the ordeal. To paraphrase his words, he thought about the prayers that had been answered. But more than any of that, he thought about the most important thing – that he had learned to pray. He knew in that moment that he had found God and did turn away from Him a stranger.

That same day another Navy plane passed by them. They knew they were close to a base. It was just a matter of living long enough until they were spotted. On day 20, same thing. A patrol plane few over them  them without seeing them. That was when the commander made a crucial decision: They would cut the ropes holding the rafts together and drift off, hopefully, in separate directions and hope one of the three rafts would be spotted. Whitaker’s raft was the larger of the three, so two men went with him. The other two rafts held two men each. By late afternoon of the 20th day, they could no longer see each other.

Day 21: Whitaker and his two companions spotted land! Actually, they saw the tops of palm trees about 12 miles away. That was around 6:30 in the morning, shortly after sunrise. It took 7 and half hours for them to reach the island. And it took another miracle. Whitaker was the only one of the three men with enough strength to row with the aluminum oars that were in the life raft. One of his companions tried to spell him, but a few minutes was all he could manage.

In a cruel twist, they were about 250 yards from shore when the ocean currents began pulling them back out to sea. Whitaker thought then that only a miracle could set their feet on that island. Then he recalled the miracle of the rain on the 13th day. He remembered other answers to prayer. He said he remembered his God! He began crying out to God for strength. The other two men were startled! He cried out louder. Within a half hour, he was rowing and began making progress. A sudden rain squall blotted out the island and produced wind that pushed against the raft. Whitaker cried out his final prayer: “God! Don’t quit me now!”

Whitaker said his prayer was born of desperation. But it came from the depths of his soul, he said. Any mental reservations were now gone. “I was calling to my God.” he wrote, and the answer was immediate and miraculous. He testified to how strength surged back into his shoulders and arms. He said it was if the oars were working automatically and his hands merely followed their motion.“As steadily as though drawn by a cable attached to a winch on shore, we moved through treacherous surf, amid sharks, and in the face of a buffeting rain squall. It was the second miracle, and I recognized it for what it was.”  The bow of the life raft grounded on the beach at 2:00 p.m. of the 21st day.

They landed on a small unnamed island with coconuts and enough rain water captured in coral pockets to sustain them until friendly Pacific island natives found them a few days later. A Navy Kingfisher spotted one of the other life rafts, the one that held the group’s commander and his companion, right around the time Whitaker’s raft made landfall. The natives had been asked by the Navy to go out looking for the other survivors. Whitaker called them, “instruments in God’s hands.” Rickenbacker and his aide were spotted and rescued the following day.

On day 24, six of the seven survivors were reunited at a makeshift hospital on another island identified only as X-2. The seventh man was too weak to be moved and remained in the sick bay of the transport ship that carried them to X-2. He eventually recovered. They recuperated at the makeshift hospital for a few days before being transferred by PBY flying boats to a proper hospital on American Samoa. As they were being transferred out, Rickenbacker said to John Bartek, the private with the khaki covered New Testament Bible, “Better thank God for that Testament of yours son. You see now what faith can do for a man.”  Whitaker commented, “There wasn’t a man among us who didn’t thank God for that little khaki covered Bible. It led us to prayer and prayer led us to safety.” 

A few weeks later, the men landed back at Hickam Field in Hawaii, fully recovered. The rest of the book is a tribute to the men who, at that time, were still fighting the war in the Pacific.

Millions of men and women have served in America’s armed forces. As bad as the ordeal that Whitaker and Rickenbacker and the men with them endured, there is an uncountable number of soldiers and sailors who endured far worse. The men who suffered through the Bataan Death March after the fall of Philippines at the outset of World War II come to mind. There were POW’s camps in Germany and Japan who were horribly abused for years. Some lived to tell about it. Many did not. We owe them all a great debt. This Memorial Day, we honor those who paid the ultimate price to defend the freedoms we all too often take for granted. We give thanks to God for the men and women who gave their lives for freedom. And we give thanks for our savior Jesus Christ whose sacrifice on the cross secured our freedom for all eternity, for anyone who calls on His name!