God is supposed to “order our steps.” At least that’s what the Bible says (Prov. 3:4-5). Right?
Meet Vladimir (he’s the young, good looking one on the right–in case you didn’t know). For ten hours we sat next to each other on an EL AL Super Jet, soaring from Newark to Tel Aviv. A smooth flight with some pumpy conversations. Guess about what? Rather, about Who?
Vladimir is a thirty year old Israeli who travels in and out of China and Russia, importing jeans and other Israeli-demanding goods. He has a girlfriend. Together they’re living the good life. I don’t know about his girlfriend, but, after ten hours in the air together, I know about Vladi. He’s lost! And now he knows he’s lost.
When Vladimir was sixteen, his Armenian father and his Jewish mother sent him from Armenia to Israel to live on a kibbutz–by himself! Vladi’s older sister and his younger brother remained in Armenia with their parents. Like a baby eaglet kicked out of its nest, Vladi was left in Israel to learn to fly on his own. And learn to fly he did. Mostly in the wrong direction!
Like all Israeli boys, at eighteen Vladi entered the Army, serving his country for three years. Later he served as a part of the personal body guard for Ariel Sharon. And like all Israeli girls, Vladi’s girlfriend also served in the the Army for two years. Young Vladi, driven to prove himself, advanced rapidly, achieving the rank of major in a short time. But it was costly time. Vladi fought in one of Israel’s many wars against Arab terrorists and saw his two best friends brutally murdered on the field of battle. A man’s physical scars can last for for a short time. But emotional scars can last for a person’s whole life.
Vladi’s emotional scars found some relief in his emotional atheism, “There is no God. There couldn’t be. Just look at the world: The Armenian Holocaust, Hitler and the six million, Islam taking over the world–including Israel, etc.” Vladi had woven together a Linus Blanket to keep him safely tucked away from the God who was not there. I’ve never seen anyone argue so vehemently against Someone who doesn’t exist. But if God doesn’t exist, why bother arguing that He doesn’t exist. Just forget about it and move on. But Vladi is doing everything he can to convince himself that God really doesn’t exist! And like St. Paul of old, Vladi is learning a sharp and painful lesson, “It’s hard to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). But God does exist. And during our flight together, God would make the goads even sharper!
Our flight to Ben Gurion Airport consisted of a little sleep, a lot of food and prayer (by me), and more talk about the God who doesn’t exist, the latter the best of all. Vladi didn’t move much in our divine discussion. But then it happened. The whole discussion changed. About an hour before landing, I was reading a book. Literally out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Vladi leaning forward toward his backpack on the floor in front of him. He zipped it open, reached in, and retrieved a pinch of something (cocaine?). Slowly moving his fingers toward his nose, while keeping watch out of the corner of his eye, Vladi snorted the white powder into his nose. And to make the whole thing even more bizarre, as he snorted the stuff, his eye caught mine! Gotcha! Now what? I quickly moved toward the potty, one row behind where we were sitting.
Once inside, I locked the door and shot up a quick sky telegram to God, “Now what Lord?” And He answered me with this impression, “Go for the conscience! Go for the heart! You’ve been going for the mind. Well and good. But now go for the conscience. After all, the Apostle Paul did all of the above depending on the person and the situation, ‘. . . by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God’” (2 Cor. 4:2).
“Okay, Lord. Here we go.” I returned to my seat, buckled in, and turned to Vladi and whispered in his ear, “You’re really lost aren’t you?” His head fell to his chest. His breathing almost stopped, like a man whose conscience had been awakened after a Rip Van Winkle sleep. I leaned over once again and whispered, “Vladi, God really loves you. You may not believe in Him, but He believes in you!” Nothing. Not even a nod. One more time, “Vladi, have you ever heard of Blaise Pascal, one the greatest minds of his generation?” Finally he spoke, “Yes.” I could’t believe it. Finally, one word! He is still alive. Again I leaned over and whispered, “Someone has paraphrased one of Pascal’s most famous sayings, ‘There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that cannot be filled by any created thing [I wanted to add, even by cocaine, but I resisted], but only by God the Creator made known through Jesus the Messiah.’” And, like a final musical coda, I added, “Vladi, God loves you and is pursuing you. Don’t miss out on His great plan for your life. Let me tell you how I found the Lord, rather how He found me. . . .”
As the airplane began to prepare for its landing, Vladi finally looked up at me, eyeball to eyeball. He smiled for the first time in the flight. Not just a smile, but a broad, happy grin! As the wheels of our plane hit the tarmac, I told him I would pray for him. He responded, “Please also pray for Greg, my eighteen year old brother. He’s in the Army.” We exchanged email addresses and headed out of the plane toward passport control and baggage claim. As I headed out of the airport, I looked over my shoulder and Vlady saw me and waved, shouting, “Shalom.” I returned the greeting, “Shalom.” He still had that broad, happy smile on his face.
Please pray for Vladimir (plus his girlfriend) and his brother Gregory. “Lord Yeshua, please continue to draw these young, strong soldiers to Yourself!”