What does it mean to be born again?
What does it mean to be “converted”, “born again”, or “saved”?
Let me quote an amazing passage from “Unbroken”, an incredible book I just finished reading. (It’s also incredible I read a 400 page book!) I will set up the first 350 pages of the book for you here.
Louie Zamperini was an Olympic athlete who ran in “Hitler’s Olympics” in 1936. He was considered the favorite to be the first 4 minute miler. His best years in long distance running were ahead of him. Fame and stardom awaited. God would bring it for him but in a much different way.
World War 2 ripped Zamperini’s track dreams away. The 1940 Olympics were cancelled in already war torn Europe. Pearl Harbor brought the US directly into war. Zamperini went to fight. He was trained to be a part of a B-24 crew. One mission their plane returned from an attack with 594 bullet holes!
A fascinating part of the book describes the incredible danger of flying in the Pacific. Secrecy kept the crews from communicating. Planes were getting lost frequently. More than half of airmen deaths in the Pacific were from accidents, and not from combat.
When a plane didn’t return to base crews were sometimes sent to search for survivors. The planes were equipped with rudimentary survivor supplies including rafts. Louie’ crew was sent to look for a missing crew on a plane that the Louis’ crew didn’t trust. It crashed, Louie and 2 other men managed to survive and got into 2 rafts they tied together.
They floated an incredible 46 days and 2000 miles onto a Japanese held island. And if the nightmare of surviving 46 days wasn’t bad enough they were now in horrendous hands of Japan.
Japan’s POW camps were run by rejected soldiers. They were not qualified to fight for whatever reason. In the Japanese code called Bushido these soldiers had to bring honor to their family. So they brought honor by being as cruel as possible to Allied POW’s without killing them. They couldn’t kill them because the POW’s were used as slaves.
Zamperini, the Japanese discovered was a track star. This fascinated them and won him some favor. Until “the Bird” came into Louis’ camp. The bird was the POW’s derogatory name for Mutsuhiro Watanabe, the most notorious camp guard of all.
The Bird was a Japanese scion who assumed he would be given a position of power in the military because of his families prestige and influence. When he was deemed unfit for combat he was assigned to several POW camps Louis was placed in. The bird knew of Louie’ reputation and he asserted his authority severely on Louie. Literally thousands of times over the course of the war he beat Louie. How a man survived this is beyond belief. Beyond belief that is unless you believe God’s incredible sovereignty over the affairs of humans all across this world.
Louie survived the war, and went home to a new nightmare. Alcoholism. Memories of the Bird kept Louis away from any kind of normal function in society. He was a sought after speaker for the Navy, and this income kept him afloat. Each and every night was torment however. Real life nightmares, brought on by the Bird.
Zamperini became a husband and a father. The nightmares and alcoholism became worse. A country preacher was coming to Los Angeles and his wife said they should go and listen. They did. The country preacher, whom you’ve probably heard of, Billy Graham gave an invitation to receive Christ. Louis got out of there as quickly as possible. His wife said we’re going back the next night. Louis said OK, but as soon as they start singing that song they were leaving. The song was starting Louis got up as per his plan……
“Louie shone with sweat. He felt accused, cornered, pressed by a frantic urge to
flee….Louis pushed pas the congregants in his row charging for the exit. His
mind was tumbling. He felt enraged, violent, on the edge of explosion. He
wanted to hit someone.
As he reached the aisle, he stopped. Cynthia, the rows of bowed heads, the saw-
dust underfoot, the tent around him, all disappeared. A memory long beaten
back, the memory from which he had run the evening before, was upon him.
Louie was on the raft. There was gentle Phil (his raftmate who also survived)
crumpled up before him, Mac’s breathing skeleton (the other raftmate who died at
sea) endless ocean stretching away in every direction, the sun lying over them,
the cunning bodies of the sharks, waiting, circling. He was a body on a raft, dying
of thirst. He felt words whisper from his swollen lips. It was a promise thrown at
heaven, a promise he had not kept, a promise he had allowed himself to forget
until just this moment: If you save me, I will serve you forever. And then stand-
ing under a circus tent on a clear night in downtown Los Angeles, Louie felt rain
It was the last flashback he would ever have. Louie let go of Cynthia and turn-
ed toward Graham. He felt supremely alive. He began walking.
“This is it,” said Graham. “God has spoken to you. You come on.”
Cynthia (Louie’s wife) kept her eyes on Louie all the way home. When they
entered the apartment, Louie went straight to his cache of liquor. It was the time
of night when the need usually took hold of him, but for the first time in years,
Louie had no desire to drink. He carried the bottles to the kitchen sink, opened
them, and poured their contents into the drain. Then he hurried through the apart-
ment, gathering packs of cigarettes, a secret stash of girlie magazines, everything
that was a part of his ruined years. He heaved it all down the trash chute.
In the morning he felt cleansed. For the first time in five years, the Bird hadn’t
come into his dreams. The Bird would never come again.
Louie felt a profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with
him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had
intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the
Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his
humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he
was a new creation.
Softly he wept.
Louie Zamperini is still alive, a 90 something bundle of energy. I suppose many will
hear of him as there is a movie planned of his life. (Will Hollywood include the most
amazing part, his salvation?)
“If any man is born of Christ he is a new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17. I’m not sure if
I’ve heard such a dramatic testimony of a life being changed. I pray all of you who
read this will know of a Christ who can also change your life, and that all of you who
have experienced this will live lives that show the world what Christ has done in your