Never empty handed

National Bible Week is celebrated each year from Sunday to Sunday of Thanksgiving week. It affords us an opportunity to increase our Bible reading time and grow closer to Christ as we read.

Dr. Steve Wende, senior minister of the First United Methodist Church in Houston, tells about an outstanding Christian man who told him this story. As a young man he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to a battleship moored in Pearl Harbor. On Saturday night he and some shipmates were looking for something to do. Having all grown up in the church, they decided to go to a church social.

It was a wonderful affair. There were cookies and punch, lovely young ladies, and new friends to meet. As the evening came to a close, the pastor had them sit down in a circle. “We are going to go around the circle,” he said, “and have each of you share your favorite Bible verse.”

The young man went cold. He couldn’t think of a single one. He had grown up in the church, gone to Sunday school and church all his life, but he couldn’t think of a single verse that meant anything to him. As they went around the circle, getting closer and closer to him, he kept racking his brain trying to come up with something.

Suddenly he thought of John 3:16. He couldn’t remember all of it, but he figured he could wing it. “God so loved the world that he—did something.” He would bluff his way through. But the fellow next to him chose John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What was he to do? Shamefaced he mumbled to the person next to him, “I’m sorry; you go on!”

Back aboard ship, humiliated, ashamed, he got up in his bunk. Part of him was saying, “I’ve got to do better than that next time.” Another part was saying, “I’m going to stay away from that church. I don’t want anything to do with that kind of talk ever again.”

The next morning, December 7, a little before 8 a.m., bombs started dropping. With all the others he rushed on deck. It was being strafed by Japanese warplanes. Every ship at Pearl Harbor was fighting for its life. He went running to his assigned gun, pointed it and started firing.

But we were at peace. The day before they had been having training exercises so even as he pointed his gun toward the sky, he was armed with nothing but blanks.

Standing there amidst the enemy’s withering fire he realized this was the most useless and ridiculous thing he had ever done in all his life.

In that moment of utter futility a voice rose up inside him saying, “This is your whole life. There is an enemy trying to attack you and spiritually you are armed with nothing but blanks!” And right there on that burning deck he made a vow: to God: “If I get out of this alive, I will grow in God’s Word. Never again will I meet the enemy with empty hands.” Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.

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2013-11-21 digital edition

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