From Tragedy to Testimony
About the Guest
They moved to America to escape certain death in Iran. Pastor David Nasser recalls his family's early years in the United States. Eager to fit in at his new school in Texas, David tells what lengths he went to find acceptance among his peers. In his quest, however, David found more than he bargained for. He found salvation and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
They moved to America to escape certain death in Iran. Pastor David Nasser recalls his family’s early years in the United States.
From Tragedy to Testimony
Bob: At age 18, because of the influence of friends at his school, David Nasser surrendered his life to Christ and went forward to be baptized.
David: My mom and dad told me: “If you get baptized tonight, you’re embarrassing us. You’re dead to me.” My dad told me I was dead to him. I said, “Dad, I’m sorry.” I left the house and went and got baptized. A lot of people get birthday cakes—you know, at our church—when we baptize, the parents clap and grandma shows up. It was the opposite for me. I came home and my parents said, “Did you get baptized?” I said, “Yes,” and my dad said: “You’re no longer my son. You’re dead to me.” I got kicked out of the house for becoming a Christian.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. David Nasser, as a young man, had to count the cost to make a stand for Christ. We’ll hear his story today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know how many of our listeners this week knew who David Nasser was before they tuned in—but especially those who are going to be joining us in Chicago, and in Portland, and in Washington, DC, for the upcoming I Still Do™ event—they’ve had a chance to get to know somebody who, not only has a great story, but is also a great communicator of God’s truth.
Dennis: And he’s going to be speaking at each of those I Still Do events. You’re excited about coming; right, David?
David: I really am.
Dennis: You speak all over the country—like to three-fourths of a million people a year. Why would you say, “Yes,” to these three events called I Still Do?
David: First of all, your reputation. You just do incredible work in helping a husband and a wife put Christ in the very center of their lives, and their marriage, and their parenting, and everything else. So, what a privilege for me to get to come up and just be faithful to the message, out of God’s Word, that He’s going to give me for that audience, at that particular time.
I’m really excited about it.
Bob: Let me just let our listeners know that Saturday, August 2nd, at the Allstate Arena in Chicago—that’s where we kick this off—then Saturday, August 23rd, at the Moda Center in Portland; then Saturday, October 4th, at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, DC. That final event is also going to be a worldwide simulcast—so your church / your community can be hooked in, via satellite, and join us. If you’d like more information about I Still Do, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” at the top of the page. You’ll find the info there.
Dennis: And the reason we’re doing this is because we see marriage and family designed by God. He knows how to make it work. We’re going to help people make it work. We’re going to make a giant statement, across the country, on behalf of marriage and family.
David, you’re a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama—Christ City Church is the name of it. You’ve written a book—Jumping through Fires, which is really the story of how you came to faith in Christ.
David: Yes, sir.
Dennis: Earlier, you started sharing your story that was riveting. If folks didn’t listen to that portion, they need to go back and hear it. Bring those listeners up-to-date quickly with kind of where we are in your story before you found Christ.
David: I’m originally from the country of Iran. In 1979, our country was embroiled in the Iranian Revolution. We saw over a million people lose their lives when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious Muslim zealots took over our country. My dad was high-ranking in the military, at that time. When the government was overthrown, we were forced to escape and come to America as refugees.
We escaped when our country was just turned upside down because of what I call “religion gone wrong.” We came to America, looking for hope, and for peace, and for refuge. When we came here, we found out that things weren’t going to get a whole lot easier for us. Our lives weren’t in physical danger; but definitely, we were from the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, for years and years, I was just the outsider kid just trying to find a place to belong in America.
Bob: So your junior high and senior high years were loneliness, for the most part. You were an outcast. Did you find a group of people to hang out with? What did you do, as a teenager?
David: Basically, a loner—like you were just saying—for years and years. My freshman year in high school—the day before high school was about to start—it was the last day of the summer. I was sitting in my room, and I was crying. My dad came in my room because he heard me. He came in and said, “What’s wrong?”
I said, “Dad, I’m just this loner.” So, my dad just put me in the car—and out of pity—just drove me to the mall. He gave me this extreme makeover—same insecure kid on the inside—but I got made over on the outside. I got new clothes, new haircut, new shoes—new everything. I went to the American high school, as a freshman, completely made over, on the outside.
I tell people I went from “geek” to “chic”—Abdul to Julio—you know? [Laughter] I mean, I found friends!
I found out the other side of Romans 12:1. I found out that, if you’ll just conform to the patterns of this world, people will just receive you by just buying into them. I basically took my brain—and put it on the top shelf in high school—and thought, “Everyone else can just find my identity for me.”
David: I was just tired of being alone. I found out that—if you drive the right car, have the right clothes / learn how to play the game—you can end up at the right lunchroom table. You can be cold to be perceived as cool. I just became that. It’s so true—where it says in Philippians—“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world but to forfeit his soul?” Because, at least, when I was a nobody—I was “David Nasser, the nobody.” I was just this kid, who just forfeited his soul in high school, just because I was just tired of being alone.
Bob: You did drugs for a little while?
David: I did. I mean, it starts with the first time somebody gave me a beer. I was so insecure that I drank four.
David: When you get one, and you drink four, and everybody starts laughing, you think: “I don’t care if they’re laughing at me or with me. I’m just tired of being alone.”
So, it starts with that. Then it goes a little further and a little further. By the time I’d graduated from high school, I was this kid who had to bring his alcohol to school every day. I was an alcoholic / I was doing drugs. Yes, my life was pretty broken. On the outside, I was this preppy kid who had just learned how to play this American thing; but on the inside, I was this really emotionally-bankrupt kid.
I remember my senior year—just being suicidal. I remember thinking, “Man, if this is what everybody says the greener grass is on the other side,” you know, “there’s no hope in it for me.” When I was not popular, I thought, “If I can just get popular!” When I was alone, I thought, “If I could just get people to say, ‘I love you.’” But, then, when it’s all fabricated, you know, and you get it, you realize it’s just a mirage more than anything.
Bob: And spiritually, still nothing happening in your life at this point; right?
David: That’s right. Just pretty much wanted to have nothing to do with God or religion.
Dennis: Until one night—he was smoking pot—
David: That’s right.
Dennis: —and a friend came and invited him.
David: That is a weird statement; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is! [Laughter]
Dennis: But that’s how it happened.
David: That is what happened. And that is just, again, a testimony of how everything that has happened in my life is just the goodness and the mercy of God. I graduated from high school with a 1.9 GPA. That’s about as bad as it gets! All of my energy had gone into reaching popularity instead of any kind of academic goal.
My friends went to this school and this school. A few months later, I was in front of my house on a Saturday night with the only buddy I had who hadn’t gone anywhere yet. We were sitting there. We were smoking a joint together, back and forth. While we were sitting there, at almost midnight, I had to go in the house. My buddy said: “You’re really down tonight. What’s wrong?” I told him—I said: “Man, I can’t believe all our friends are gone. They’ve graduated out. What are we going to do? No one’s here to smoke weed with us anymore.”
He looked at me. He had this kind of epiphany look; and he said, “Well, you ought to come to church with me tomorrow.” [Laughter] I was like, “Man, you go to church!?” He tells me: “Yes, man! I love church.” Then he said this—he said, “Outside the school, the church, in America, David, is the next big social ground.”
David: He said, “Come to church with me.” I said: “Man, I’m not going to church because I hate religion. I saw religion destroy my country when I was a kid. I want to have nothing to do with it.” Instead of giving up, he tried one last thing—he named the five prettiest girls from my high school. When he got to the fifth girl, he said: “Bro! They all go to my church.” I felt motivated to visit! [Laughter]
Bob: All of a sudden, something’s stirring in your spirit!
David: Something stirred in me; yes! [Laughter]
Dennis: So you’re 18 or 19 years old.
David: That’s right.
Dennis: You have never been inside a church.
David: Well, to back up—earlier, we had moved. For a little while, we went from Texas to Enterprise, Alabama. Way back, in those days, there was a Vacation Bible School thing—but outside of that, not really. So, I’m the kid who went to church the first time just because I was wanting to be social. I went for that reason, but God was so much bigger than my reason.
I went to church for the first time. God just began to use this—I call them a youth ministry, not a youth group—to just really begin to minister to my heart.
They saw me coming. They were just like, “Well, there it is—foreign missions in our back door”; right? [Laughter] “David Nasser just showed up at our church.” Everybody knew me at this church—they knew me as this partyer. This one kid—his name was Larry Noh—he was half-Korean and half-American—who was just this incredible kid, who went to our rival high school—saw me coming. He just decided he was—that the Great Commission was going to be carried out through my life.
Bob: So, what did he—he pulled you aside and started talking to you?
David: Yes. I went to church, Bob—for the first time—I ever went to church. By the way, I think probably the most powerful part of my story of why I got to go to church—I forgot to tell you guys! I told my buddy, who invited me to church—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
David: —I told him I was not going to go.
Dennis: You had to go ask your dad!
David: He said, “Go ask your dad!” I said, “My dad’s never going to let me go to a Christian church.” But he forced me to ask my dad. I thought my dad was going to say, “No,” in front of my buddy so that my buddy would then leave me alone.
But the same month—where I’m getting invited to church by this lost buddy of mine—there were these people from this church who had been coming to my father’s restaurant—he had opened up a restaurant in Birmingham. They’d come to my dad’s restaurant, and they were eating. We’re talking about the pastor and the worship pastor. While they were eating in my dad’s restaurant, they’d seen how he was short-handed on wait staff. So, they would get up, and roll up their sleeves, and wait on tables at my dad’s restaurant.
David: So God had used that to massage my dad’s heart.
Dennis: They did it more than once?
David: They kept coming back, and they kept doing it. As a matter of fact, a guy named Aubrey Edwards, who was the choir director of this church—he invited my dad to come to choir practice. He said: “This is my Iranian friend, Mr. Nasser. He owns a restaurant in Birmingham here. He needs free help at his restaurant.” He made everybody sign up for shifts, where they could work at my dad’s restaurant for free.
David: So God, in His sovereignty, had just used that to massage my dad’s heart. Fast-forward a few months later—I didn’t know all of that was happening in my dad’s world.
Dennis: Well, you’ve got to share, with our listeners, what your dad said.
David: So, on Saturday night, I go and ask my dad.
David: You know—my buddy just invited me to church. I said, “I’m not going”; and he named the five prettiest girls. I say: “Alright. I’ll ask my dad; but he’s not going to say, ‘Yes.’” So, I asked my dad. Instead of saying, “No,” my dad says [using his dad’s accent], “What is the name of the church?” It happens to be the same church as the people who had been helping him out—just God predestining every step. My dad goes: “I know those people. You can go there, but only there!”
Dennis: He said, “They’re kind.”
Dennis: “They’re kind people.”
David: “They’re good people. You can go there.” So, on a Sunday morning, I get up and put on my Chino’s and go to this church. Again, what you don’t know is all the stuff that God is doing in and around your life. You’re just going to meet a girl.
Bob: So a friend, who’s half-American / half-Korean, starts taking you aside and talking to you?
David: Sure. So, I go to this church. This guy sees me. He just starts loving on me—he comes up and is excited that I’m there. He and I had met about a year before. I had been pretty rude to him.
In spite of me, you know—instead of being rude back, he was just gracious and graceful. He invited me to church. He said: “I’m glad you’re here today. Can you come back another time?” I was full of pride. So I said, “No.” But he didn’t take “No,” for an answer. He said, “We’ll come see you.” They had this thing called “visitation.” For the next eight Monday nights, these teenagers just showed up at my house. They brought Bibles. They came in, and they sat down, and they started talking to me about Jesus.
They showed me how Jesus Christ lived the perfect life and then died a sinner’s death, on my behalf, to pay the penalty for my sin. They showed me how God was a holy and righteous God, and I couldn’t be good enough. They showed me how religion didn’t work—that Jesus was the only hope that I had. They shared with me the cross and how Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. They shared with me about the resurrection and how Jesus conquered the grave.
For the next eight weeks, they would come to my house. Every Monday, they would share the gospel. Then they would come on Wednesday and Sunday, and they would drag me to church. I would just hear the gospel over and over again.
Bob: And when was the breakthrough for you?
David: One night, I was sitting at a Shoney’s® after church. We would go to church and then we would go eat.
David: You know—so I remember that we ate and not much happened. Then we all piled in this Honda Accord—Larry Noh, the guy who kept witnessing to me, and about seven other guys—just packed into this little Honda Accord in the parking lot. The waitress had run out of the restaurant, into the parking lot, and she was banging on the window. Larry stops the car—he rolls the window down.
She yells in the car—like in the back seat, where he’d rolled the window down—and says, “Hey, one of you accidentally left me way too much money.” She said, “I was just counting up the tip and everything, and there’s well over $100 here,”—like the whole bill was like $35. She said: “Somebody made a mistake. I—my boss just yelled at me for not stopping you.” She said, “Ya’ll need to get out of the car,”—because we were all packed in there—“check your wallets, and see who accidentally left what you thought was a ten that might have been a twenty or whatever.”
Larry looked at her; and he said, “That wasn’t a mistake.” I remember this. I remember that I just had this little front-row seat to the conversation between the waitress and the guy that kept witnessing to me about grace—and it wasn’t clicking.
David: She said, “What do you mean?” He said: “Well, ma’am, we know you were working hard; and we just wanted to bless you. We just wanted to be gracious. We emptied our pockets. We gave you everything we had.”
She just started crying. Everybody in the car was crying, you know? It was just a God-moment. I remember saying to them, “What is wrong with you people?!” I had never seen how grace makes people gracious. I’d never seen that kind of generosity. Immediately, I got grace. So, that’s the night I really started to take the gospel seriously.
Dennis: And so, when did you make a commitment to Christ?
David: Past that, I just kept going to church. One night, the preacher was preaching—he was just preaching the gospel. He was honest enough to tell me the truth that I needed a Savior. I knew that, but I didn’t think I deserved to be saved. He just shared the gospel.
He said: “God so loved David Nasser that He gave His one and only Son that if I believe in Him, I will not perish but have eternal life.”
He gave an invitation. People were coming forward during the invitation. I got pretty threatened. I thought, “All my life, I’ve been terrorized by religion; and now some man’s trying to terrorize me down an aisle.” You know? So, during the invitation, I hit the aisle; and I went the other way. I thought: “They’re starting to get to me. I can’t let these Christians get to me.” I went home. When I got home, God was like, “You think I’m contained in buildings with steeples?” [Laughter] I mean, I got home; and the conviction of the Holy Spirit was thicker at my house than it was at that church building. That night—I was 18 years old—and that night, at my house, at about 1:00 in the morning—I finally came to the end of myself.
I love what Paul—you know—the Apostle Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. Christ lives in me; and the life that I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” I don’t think it is plagiarism—I just think, “Me, too!” I just read that; and I think, “Me, too!”
I was 18 years old when I realized that these people weren’t interested in making me religious. They were interested in making me Christ’s. So, I was 18 years old, at my house—the preacher’s sermon kept preaching to me.
Dennis: And, David, later on—that same passage you were quoting—it says: “Therefore,”—Paul said—“we are ambassadors for Christ; God making His appeal through us. We implore you—we implore you on, behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Dennis: There has to be somebody listening, right now, who needs to be reconciled to God.
Dennis: What we would say to that person is: “We implore you—
David: Yes, I have no pride in begging people to consider the gospel.
Dennis: “Let’s go!
Dennis: “Get with life because, when you’ve found Christ, you’ve found life.”
David: Absolutely! I really believe that God is speaking to somebody, who’s going, “You don’t know, David, how bad I’ve been.” I would say, “Man, it’s not about how bad you’ve been.” Or maybe even the other way—
David: — “You don’t know how good I’ve been.” I’d say, “It’s not about how good you’ve been.”
The gospel is not about bad people becoming good. It’s about dead people becoming alive. So, I would say, right now, could it be that God—long before the foundation of the earth—ordained this moment for you to be in the car, in your house, or wherever you are—listening to this and God is, right now, presenting you the truth to say, “You can be set free right now.” Come give your life to Him.
The one thing I would say is that we want to honor a Jesus who gave all of Himself on the cross by saying: “Come bring all of yourself. You don’t have to clean up any of it, but bring all of yourself to Him. Have you ever done that?” I would ask that of somebody listening today: “Has there ever been a moment when you’ve said: ‘I’m a blank check. I bring all of me to Him. I realize that He’s beginning that good work in me—you know, the spiritual CPR of the Holy Spirit. He’s drawing me from death to life.” If that’s what He’s doing right now, then just surrender—surrender. Give Him your life.
Bob: That’s what you did, and then you told your dad what you’d done. How did that go over?
David: My dad will tell you that he was pretty offended, at that moment. He thought, “Goodness, he’s now really become Americanized.” You know, “He’s drunk this American religion Kool-Aid called Christianity.” He told me—he said, “You’ve been brainwashed.” They thought: “It’s just a stage. He’ll become religious for about three weeks, you know, and then it will go away.” They didn’t realize that, when you truly become born again, it’s not like a cold that you catch and it goes away. It’s a whole new you.
The night that everything really went down was the night that I wanted to get baptized at the church that I’d become a Christian. That’s the night, I think, when my dad knew this was real in my life. My mom and dad told me: “If you get baptized tonight, you’re embarrassing us. You’re dead to me.” My dad told me I was dead to him. I said, “Dad, I’m sorry.” I left the house and went and got baptized. A lot of people get birthday cakes—you know—at our church, when we baptize, the parents clap and grandma shows up. It was the opposite for me. I came home; and my parents said, “Did you get baptized?” I said, “Yes,” and my dad said: “You’re no longer my son. You’re dead to me.” I got kicked out of the house for becoming a Christian.
Dennis: He asked for your house key.
David: He did. He asked for the house key and the car key. I just remember those days. I mean, on paper, I went from a spoiled brat—who had a really nice car and who had everything lined up—to, I mean, I lost everything. But I’d never been more hopeful / more at peace. Then my sister became a Christian five months after I was a Christian. Five months after that, my mom calls me on the phone. She’s weeping on the phone. She said [using a thick accent]: “Tonight, I became a Christian. I say it loud so your father can hear. He not kicking me out of the house!” That’s how she rolled. [Laughter] So, my mom becomes a Christian! Then my brother, Benjamin—five months after that / fifteen months after I was a believer—God saved my brother Benjamin.
Dennis: So, your dad’s now surrounded?
David: He’s just mad!—because my mom—she just became a believer—and she just started witnessing to my dad. To him, he was so angry because it was his pride. It was, “I’ve lost my place in the army, I’ve lost my fortune in Iran, I’ve lost all of the stuff. Now, because of my prodigal son, who’s been led away to Christianity, we’ve lost our heritage.”
So, my mom—she couldn’t care less. She was just pouring into my dad—left and right—left and right. [Laughter] Fast-forward two-and-a-half years later—God, in His perfect timing, after two and a half years, saved my dad.
Dennis: And I wish we had time to tell the story of how God brought your dad.
David: Buy the book! [Laughter]
Dennis: We’ve had a lot of guests, Bob. Who knows how many hundred? That may be the best.
Bob: Few have worked their plug in as well as David has.
Dennis: That was perfect!
David: That was the worst.
Dennis: It is fun that you have joined us, though, David. I really am looking forward to doing I Still Do with you. It’s going to be a tremendous time to celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ and redemption—
David: Amen; amen.
Dennis: —but also how God designed marriage and family to be the Great Commission Training Center, where we train the next generation of warriors for Christ.
Dennis: And I’m glad you’re joining us on the platform to be speaking at I Still Do.
David: Thank you. What an honor!
Bob: Saturday, at the Allstate Arena in Chicago; then, three weeks from Saturday at the Moda Center in Portland; and then, October 4th in Washington, DC. Those are the dates for the upcoming I Still Do events. If you live anywhere around the Chicagoland area, we still have tickets available. We’d love to have you come out this weekend and join us on Saturday and hear David Nasser, along with Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Crawford and Karen Loritts, Al Mohler, Shaunti Feldhahn, and Ron Deal—talking about blended families. We’ve got Andrew Peterson coming. Chris August is going to be there / Jimmy McNeal leading in worship.
It’s going to be a great day. All of the details are, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order tickets, online, if you’d like; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can help you get set up for I Still Do this weekend in Chicago—August 23rd in Portland—or October 4th in Washington, DC.
If you’re interested in your church being a simulcast location for I Still Do on October 4th, get the information you need at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” The info is right there.
And, of course, we have copies of David Nasser’s book, Jumping through Fires, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order that book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, we need to take just a minute and say, “Thank you,” Dennis, to the folks who make FamilyLife Today possible. These are folks who, not only listen to the program, but they have caught the heartbeat of what FamilyLife is all about. We believe that God’s Word offers the solutions that people need to have strong healthy marriages and families. We try to provide practical biblical help, day in and day out, for your marriage and for your family.
Many of you share that passion with us. We know that because some of you make occasional donations to support the ministry. Others of you are Legacy Partners and support this ministry with monthly donations. We’re so grateful for that. In fact, today, if you can help with a donation, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a CD—a message from Dennis Rainey—a message given at an I Still Do event a number of years ago, where Dennis talked about the importance of the Lord building the house. Without it: “They labor in vain who build it.” That’s what Psalm 127 says, and that’s at the heart of Dennis’ message.
We’ll send you that CD as our thank-you gift when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the “I Care” button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Make an online donation and the CD is yours; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone, and request the CD when you do. Or write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.
Tomorrow, we’re going to introduce to you a young woman from Texas who spends most of her time these days talking to single young women about God’s plan for their lives and for their sexuality, as single women. Marian Jordan Ellis joins us tomorrow. We’ll hear her story and hear what she’s sharing with young women, all across the country. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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