Lori Gilbert-Kaye was worshipping in the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in suburban San Diego last Saturday when a gunman entered the sanctuary. A man identified by authorities as nineteen-year-old John T. Earnest began shooting.
Gilbert-Kaye stepped in front of bullets aimed at her longtime friend and rabbi as he gave his sermon. She was killed, leaving behind a husband and an adult daughter.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was shot in the hand and lost a finger. Nonetheless, he continued his sermon “telling everyone to stay strong,” according to a synagogue member.
As the rabbi was wheeled into the operating room after the shooting, he told a friend to “let everyone know that Lori stepped in and saved my life.”
“I thank God he gave me the courage to do what I did.”
Lori Gilbert-Kaye was not the only hero last Saturday.
Army veteran Oscar Stewart was in the synagogue when the shooting began. He started running out of the sanctuary along with his fellow worshipers. Then he turned around.
Something—he later said it might have been the “hand of God”—propelled him into the lobby.
There he saw the assailant in a military-style vest wielding a semiautomatic rifle. “Get down!” he yelled at the man. The gunman fired two rounds in response. “I’m going to kill you,” Stewart yelled back. This seemed to rattle the gunman, who began to flee.
Stewart chased him into the parking lot, where the shooter got into a Honda sedan. When the man reached for his weapon, Stewart punched the side of the car. The man started the car and sped away. He later surrendered to police.
Stewart told reporters, “I’m not a hero or anything. I just reacted. I thank God he gave me the courage to do what I did.”
“Everyone’s having a hard time.”
From attacks against Jews in California to assaults on Christians in Sri Lanka and Muslims in New Zealand, religious people are facing hate crimes and prejudice daily. As CNN notes, “The violence is a grim reminder that prejudice knows no borders and threatens people of different skin colors and religions.”
However, research indicates that attacks on houses of worship and religious leaders are rarer than we might think. From 1970 to 2017, such assaults comprised only 2.44 percent of all terrorist attacks worldwide.
Even a single act of violence is too many, of course. But the need for courage in our fallen world is not confined to religious persecution.
You are statistically unlikely to face terrorism when you go to your next worship service. But you are very likely to be facing problems today for which you need courage. An elderly professor once advised me to “be kind to everyone, because everyone’s having a hard time.”
Oscar Stewart and Lori Gilbert-Kaye had no idea when they woke up last Saturday that their bravery would make global headlines. Their stories remind us that courage in a crisis can be our greatest witness.
How can we prepare this morning to be courageous today?
“I urge you to take heart”
In Acts 27, Paul and his shipmates were facing death. Their vessel, driven by a “tempestuous wind, called the northeaster” (v. 14), was in peril of being destroyed and its passengers drowned.
Then the apostle gathered them together and said, “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (vv. 22–25).
Here we learn three important facts:
One: God knows who and where we are.
When Paul’s ship was caught in the storm and his shipmates had no idea of their location or future, the Lord of the universe knew precisely who and where they were. His angel called Paul by name. He promised that God would sustain him and his fellow passengers. His visitation reminds us that when we do not know what the future holds, we know Who holds the future.
Two: Our lives are part of a larger purpose.
As I noted yesterday, all humans long for our lives to matter today and forever. This impulse is part of God’s design for us, intended to drive us to himself and his perfect plan for us. Just as Paul “must stand before Caesar,” so you and I have something we must do in this life.
Three: We must trust God’s plan to experience his provision.
Paul could have rejected this angelic revelation. Or he could have been too unsure of its promise to risk sharing it with others. But he testified, “I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” And he was right.
“The form of every virtue”
God knows your name and location this very moment. He has a larger purpose into which your life fits. If you will claim his love and trust his plan, you will be able to choose courageous faith whenever such faith is required. And the world will take note.
According to C. S. Lewis, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
How virtuous will you be today?