Friday, January 16, 2015

Louie Zamperini & the Apostle Paul

Louie Zamperini (photo found here)

Unbroken.  It is the true account of miraculous endurance and survival.  For those who are unfamiliar with the book written by Laura Hillenbrand,  I will give an incredibly brief summary:  It is the story of Louis Zamperini.  He was a kid headed toward a life of crime until his brother saw his potential as a runner.  Then, he trained and ran and became one of the fastest runners in the United States.  He was an Olympic competitor during the Belgian Olympics in 1936.  He did not win a medal, but he did make headlines in setting records.  His plans for the 1940 Olympics were thwarted by the US entrance into World War II.  Louie joined the Army Air Corps, instead.  In a search and rescue mission, his plane goes down into the Pacific Ocean.  He and two other crew-members are the only survivors and spend the next 47 days on a raft in the middle of the ocean, during which time Zamperini promised God he would serve Him for the rest of his life if God would just get him through.  Louie sees land on the 47th day, only to find that it is an island under Japanese control and, consequently, spends the next couple of years in Japanese war camps.  His prison guard sees the strength of this athlete and challenges it to an inhumane extent.  The beatings should have left him dead more than once.  The living conditions resulted in the death of many prisoners, but not Zamperini.  He lives through unbelievable odds.   While nature, war, and men tried to break him, he remained unbroken.  He lived a long life.  He accepted Christ and served Him.  He forgave.  He carried the Olympic torch in Japan during the 1998 Olympic Games.  Louis Zamperini entered into Heaven just 6 months ago.

The point of this post is not to give you a book review, though I highly recommend the book…for adults.  However, as I recently listened to a sermon about the Apostle Paul, I could not help but realize that his was a similar story.  Read what this former-prominent-religious-teacher-turned-follower-and-preacher-of-Christ went through:

Are they ministers of Christ?  (I speak as a fool) I am more;  in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;  In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;  In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.  

This man endured much throughout his ministry.  He was imprisoned continuously;  whipped until one could not count the stripes on his torso - at least 5 of those whippings were by his own countrymen.  As if whips were not severe enough, he was beaten with rods three times.  

He was stoned once.  If you read that specific account, they stoned him until they thought he was dead (could he have been and then raised again?).  Think of the damage done to his body and head from that experience. 

Three times he suffered shipwreck.  I'm sorry - one bad experience on a boat and I would be finished.  But not Paul.  Nothing would stop him from doing the work to which he was called by God.  He may not have spent 47 days in the ocean, but he did spend at least 24 hours in the cold, shark-infested waters.  

Then, there was the traveling.  Traveling was not the luxury it is today (as proved by those wrecked ships littering his past).  On land, he either walked miles and miles resulting in blisters on his feet or rode rough donkeys or carts resulting in a sore derrière, I am sure.  Either way, robbers were plentiful along the way.  Paul had friends, but he had countless enemies, as well - and it seems all people groups loved to hate Paul the Apostle.  Louie Zamperini may have had a handful of people who wanted to kill him, but Paul had hundreds.  There were few safe-places for him.  

Paul was a man, not a superhero.  He, understandably, suffered exhaustion and pain as well as hunger and thirst.  He spent many a cold night in damp prison cells in nothing but rags that were torn from his beatings.  

While Louie made it through his captivity, Paul was eventually beheaded at the hand of Nero.  Yet, I would dare say the apostle was a man who was truly unbroken.  No ship, no storm, no beatings or stoning, no rejection of men, no pain, no hunger, no advice from his caring friends…nothing would break Paul.  Nothing would break him from his focus, his goal, his calling.  

Nothing would break him away from serving his God.  

Louie Zamperini's mantra was, "If I can take it, I can make it."  While Zamperini promised his life to Christ, he did not give it to Christ until years after the war (and I am so grateful he did).  His endurance during his tribulations throughout World War II was self-preservation.  Truthfully, God preserved him for future use.  God knew He would use Louie in a wonderful way.  

Paul, however,  was going through tribulation because of his service to God.   Paul's mantra was, "For me to live is Christ."  He self-sacrificed for Christ.  To get to land would mean another soul would hear of the salvation of God.  To make it to the next city through the obstacles of robbers, hunger, and sore feet meant making it to the next church that was so in need of encouragement.  To endure and live through that 3rd, 4th, 5th whipping meant he could tell the prison guard about Christ.  If he lived, Christ would be served.  If he lived, Christ's name would be proclaimed.  If he lived, people would accept Christ.  Because Paul lived, Christ's name was spread to the regions beyond.  

The story of Louie Zamperini is an incredible one.  One that inspires us to endure, go further, and forgive.  Yet, the story of Paul outshines Zamperini's - and I'll bet Zamp would have agreed. Paul endured arguably greater not for self-preservation;  rather, he self-sacrificed for Christ-proclomation.  

May we all live unbroken for Christ.

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