1004) The Christian Doctor Who Took on the NFL

Dr. Bennet Omalu  (1968- )

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By John Stonestreet, January 8, 2016 at: http://www.breakpoint.org 

     America’s favorite sport can be brutal.  A Christian doctor’s quest to save football players’ lives is the subject of a moving new film.

     Thirteen years ago, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist working at the Alleghany County Coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, performed an autopsy on one of the Steel City’s greatest sports heroes:  Steeler Hall of Famer “Iron” Mike Webster.

     What the Nigerian physician found shocked him.  Webster’s teeth had rotted away and he had resorted to using Super Glue to try to reattach them.  His remains looked and smelled like he had been living in his car, which he had.

     Omalu began wondering how a man so celebrated in life wound up dying as he did.  The answer to that question is a story of courage, perseverance and more than a little faith.  And it’s depicted brilliantly in the new film, “Concussion” starring Will Smith.

     Omalu examined Webster’s brain, which showed no readily visible signs of trauma.  But further tests, which Omalu paid for out of his own pocket, revealed “brown and red splotches” all over his brain.  These splotches, called “Tau proteins,” are also found in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and senile dementia.  They’re described as being “kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.”

     This is what reduced Mike Webster to a mentally-disturbed man living out of his car.

     And he wasn’t the only one.  Former Steelers Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk, both of whom died young after quick mental deterioration after their playing careers, showed the Tau proteins in their brains.  And it wasn’t just Steelers, either.  Former Eagles safety Andre Waters, who killed himself at age 44, showed the same abnormalities when Omalu examined his brain.

     When Omalu published his findings in a prestigious medical journal, he expected the NFL to be grateful to him for pointing out the health risks to its players.  He was, to put it mildly, naïve.  As his mentor tells Omalu in the film, the NFL owns an entire day of the week, the one the church used to own, and his findings threatened that arrangement.

     The NFL and its apologists went after Omalu hard, personally as well as professionally, causing him great suffering.  And this is where his story becomes a story of faith.  As Omalu told Christianity Today, his concern for the players had its inspiration in the parable of the lost sheep.

     As he said, “The shepherd had 100 sheep, and 1 went missing.  What did he do?  He took the 99, kept them safe to go search for the 1.  Even if these findings affect only one player, that player is as important as the other many . . . That was what helped me to keep moving on.  It was no longer about me . . .”

     When “moving on” became especially difficult, he prayed “Lord God Almighty, if this is not of your will, if I am on the wrong side, I pray you’d reveal it to me.”  When other cases turned up, his wife told him, “Bennet, it is not a coincidence that you are getting these cases.  Are you the only doctor in the world?”

     And almost as remarkable as this story of how one Christian immigrant doctor changed the way America’s most popular sport is played is the fact that Omalu’s story, including the role his faith played in his work, made it on to the big screen pretty much intact.

     “Concussion” is not an easy movie to watch.  It earned a PG-13 rating for intense depictions of drug use and human suffering.  In fact, when Sports Illustrated showed it to 70 retired NFL players, some of them found it to be, in SI’s words, a “panic-inducing horror flick.”  But it’s still a story that needs to be told.

     As viewers learn in the film, Omalu’s full name in his native Ibo language means “he who knows, must speak.”  And that’s Christian witness in a nutshell.  Now it’s up to us to listen.

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See also:

Meet the Christian Doctor Who Changed How We Play Football
Katelyn Beaty | Christianity Today | December 22, 2015

“Concussion”  (movie trailer)

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Luke 15:3-6  —  Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

Isaiah 6:8  —  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?…  And I said, “Here am I.  Send me!”

Jeremiah 6:10-11a  —  To whom can I speak and give warning?  Who will listen to me?  Their ears are closed  so they cannot hear.  The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.  But I am full of the wrath of the Lordand I cannot hold it in.

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O Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavor any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuation of the same to the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yields true glory; through Him who for the finishing of Thy work laid down his life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Source unknown, based on a saying by Sir Frances Drake

151) Wisdom of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (circa 1818 – February 20, 1895), former slave, was an American abolitionist,

Frederick Douglass Ambrotype, 1856

Frederick Douglass, 1856

 women’s suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer.  Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African-American and United States history.  He was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant.

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others; rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

“The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”

“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

“The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”

“I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor.  But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul if I suppressed the opinion… that from my earliest recollection, I (had) a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom.  This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

“Allowing only ordinary ability and opportunity, we may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK!  WORK!!  WORK!!!  WORK!!!!  Not transient and fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work into which the whole heart is put.”

“The man who is right is a majority.  He who has God and conscience on his side, has a majority against the universe.”

“Such are the limitations of the human mind, and so thoroughly engrossing are the cares of common life, that only the few among men can discern through the glitter and dazzle of present prosperity the dark outlines of approaching disasters, even though they may have come up to our very gates, and are already within striking distance…  Prophets, indeed, were abundant before the war; but who cares for prophets while their predictions remain unfulfilled, and the calamities of which they tell are masked behind a blinding blaze of national prosperity?”

Signature of Frederick Douglass as published i...

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II Chronicles 7:14  —  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Ecclesiastes 9:10  —  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

 Joshua 1:9b  —  “…Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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O God our Shepherd,
Give the Church a new vision and a new charity,
New wisdom and fresh understanding,
The revival of her brightness
And the renewal of her unity;
That the eternal message of your Son,
Undefiled by the traditions of men,
May be hailed as the good news of the new age;
Through him who makes all things new,
Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   –Percy Dearmer

150) Five Lessons We Can Learn From Antoinette Tuff

By Nicole Symmonds, August 22, 2013, at  www.urbanfaith.com  (See Meditation #149)

     Antoinette Tuff’s courage and faith saved many lives and can teach us a great deal.  (We have been inspired by this) school bookkeeper who courageously talked Michael Brandon Hill out of going through with a shooting rampage at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia.  In deflecting Brandon Hill from going forward with the shooting, she not only saved the lives of hundreds of school children and adults, but she showed many what faith looks like, even in the midst of fear…  Here are some lessons gleaned from her courageous and faith-filled actions.

     #1.  “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  –Nelson Mandela

     Tuff is honest about being terrified during her interaction with Brandon Hill.  She has no delusions of superhero grandeur.  But instead of letting that terror stunt her ability to respond in crisis, she worked through it.  In connecting with that feeling of terror, she may have also connected with Brandon, a young man whom we have some reason to believe felt some terror of his own and was fearful.  Here we see Mandela’s words in action, indicating that courage is not the absence of fear but triumph over it.  It is okay to acknowledge fear, but after that we must push through it with courage.

     #2.  The tools we need in a time of crisis are sometimes within us.

     In an interview… Tuff said that she reflected on a sermon series that her pastor was preaching to help her engage with Brandon Hill.  She remembered how it taught her how to console people who are bereaving and, through this reflection, she discerned that Brandon-Hill was a young man who was hurting and in need of care.  Sometimes we think that we need particular credentials in order to affect change in someone’s life; and sometimes those credentials are necessary.  But at other times, we have what someone needs within us, be it a scripture, a sermon, or, as we will see in the next lesson, our story.

     #3.  Our story could pull someone else through, if we are willing and able to share it.

     Following the reflection on her pastor’s sermon, Tuff mentioned that she shared her story with Brandon Hill.  Tuff recently lost her husband of 33 years, the only man she has ever known; and she has a son with multiple disabilities, and a daughter who is preparing to head to law school.  Given this, she felt like she was at a low point and that nobody loved her; but last year she experienced a turning point and shared with Brandon Hill “Life can still bring about turns but we can live from it, in spite of what it looks like.”  Upon hearing this, Brandon Hill began to open up to her, confessing that he hadn’t taken his medication and sharing his concerns about the consequences for the crime he was considering committing.  Brandon Hill didn’t completely surrender at that moment, but he was comforted and calmed through the realization that there was someone going through similar struggles.  Tuff reminds us that we never know how our stories might connect or change someone else’s life and we have a responsibility to share that story…

     #4.  Make your judgment, but decide to give people the benefit of the doubt.

     When Brandon Hill came into the administrative office at McNair Tuff’s stated, “He had a look on him that he was willing to kill.”  He stated as much as he warned Tuff and her colleagues that this wasn’t a joke and had Tuff announce the same over the school intercom.  But rather than treat Brandon Hill like a common criminal, she treated him like a normal person or, better yet, her neighbor.  She seemed to espouse Jesus’ second great commandment in Mark 12: 31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Despite what she knew Brandon Hill was possible of, she chose not to let that define the way she treated him.  This too is our responsibility, to not let our behavior be dictated by who someone is or what they have done, or will do, but be guided to love them because of the common humanity we share and the fact that we are all created in the image of God.

     #5.  Be humble.

     It seems that Tuff has been humble from beginning to end in this situation.  She is not interested in being called a hero; rather she wants to give God the praise.  It is through God’s grace and mercy that Antoinette Tuff believes and knows she “got over.”  It is that humility that guided her through it, acknowledging that this might not have been something she could do on her own.  It is that humility that is taking her through the countless interviews and making her a living testimony of what faith in the midst of fear can do.  Tuff’s humility leads her and us to God and reminds us that God is with us, working through and among us.  We may not always see it or understand it, but God is still working.

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Isaiah 41:10  —  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Proverbs 11:2  —  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Colossians 3:12  —  …As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

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O Most Merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,

May we Know Thee more clearly,

Love Thee more dearly, 

And Follow Thee more nearly,

Day by Day.   Amen.

–Richard of Chichester, 13th century

149) A Gentle Response

The Amazing Story of Antoinette Tuff

By Eric Metaxas, http://www.breakpoint.org , September 5, 2013

     How do we respond when everything is on the line?  In fear, or in faith?  Or perhaps in a little of both?  Well, one amazing story is getting national attention, and I want you to hear it. 

     The scene had all the makings of yet another tragedy.  Twenty-year-old Michael Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia armed with an AK-47, five hundred rounds of ammunition, and in his words, “nothing to live for.”

     Yet events in Decatur didn’t turn into another Newtown, thanks to the grace of God and a remarkable woman armed only with her faith.

     That woman was Antoinette Tuff, the school’s bookkeeper.  After Hill took her as a hostage, Tuff acted as the go-between for Hill and the authorities.  It was Tuff who relayed Hill’s demands that the police stop using their radios and “stop all movement” or else he would start shooting.

     But that’s not all that she did. Tuff started talking to her captor.  Specifically, she started talking to him out of her own experience and as a Christian.  As she told CNN, “I was just praying. . . . in the inside of myself and saying ‘God, what do I say now?  What do I do now?’  I just kept saying that on the inside because I knew that I had no words to say.”

     But she found the words.  She referred to Hill as “Sir,” “sweetie, and “baby.”  She told him that “we’re not going to hate you.”  She then went one step further and told him that “I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?”

     And she didn’t stop there.  Understanding that Hill was a troubled soul– he had actually gone off his psychiatric medication– she shared her own struggles and pain.  She told him about her divorce, her disabled son and her own thoughts of suicide, adding that “We all go through something in life.  You’re gonna be OK, Sweetheart.”

     She even offered to walk outside with him if he turned himself in to make sure that the police wouldn’t shoot him.

     Through a combination of love, empathy, and grace she persuaded Hill to surrender, and then told him that she was proud of him.

     After the ordeal, she told the 911 dispatcher who heard and recorded her entire conversation with Hill, “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life.  Oh, Jesus.”

     She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that part of what helped her was a sermon series her pastor had started on the previous Sunday about being “anchored in the Lord.”  In fact, the morning before her encounter with Hill she had started studying what the pastor had to say about being “anchored in the Lord.”

     As Cooper told her, “That was good timing of that sermon,” to which she replied, “Very good timing.”

     I can’t imagine what she was feeling while Hill pointed a gun at her, and I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes.  All I want to do is pray that if I’m ever in such a position that I would respond with a fraction of the grace, love, empathy, and courage that Antoinette Tuff did.

     The word “hero” gets thrown around pretty promiscuously in our culture.  We often use it when what we really mean is “reliable” or even just “celebrity.”

     But Antoinette Tuff is the real deal.  She is a reminder of what Christian courage looks like:  She didn’t need a weapon, just her faith and a willingness to love the unlovable and to share her own pain, failures, and struggles, knowing that the rest was in God’s hands.

Antoinette Tuff

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Proverbs 15:1  —  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I Peter 3:13-15  —  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.

Ephesians 6:10-13  —  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

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 A PRAYER FOR OUR ENEMIES FROM THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH:

Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst command us to love our enemies, and those who defame and injure us, and to pray for them and forgive them; Who Thyself didst pray for Thine enemies who crucified thee:  grant us, we pray, the spirit of Christian reconciliation, that we may heartily forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies.  Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offences of people with Christian love of our neighbor.  We further beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion.  And help us repay evil with goodness, and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil and from all the perils which threaten us, in the form of visible and invisible enemies.  Amen.

21) Character, Conscience, and Courage

     Peter is 31 years old, a hard worker, and devoted to his job.  He is good at what he does and is quickly moving ahead of everyone in his office, even those who have been at the company for many more years.  He is moving up to the highest levels of management in a large corporation.  Someone with his skills and goals and ambitions is required to put in a lot of time on the job– seventy hour weeks are expected.  But Peter loves what he is doing and does not mind the long hours.  His hard work is what separates him from the rest of the pack.  All he needs to do to achieve his dream of being a top executive is to continue to pour his whole life into his work.
   But now a complication has entered Peter’s life.  Two years ago his sister and her husband were killed in a car accident, leaving behind three children.  At first, the children went to live with Peter’s other sister, who, like Peter, is not married.  She managed for a time and Peter has given her some financial help, but now the sister needs more help.  She cannot afford all the costs of three children, day care, rent, doctor bills, and everything else, along with the many times she has to miss work to care for sick kids, go to necessary appointments, meet with teachers, and do everything else that can go with caring for children.  She asked Peter if they could all move in to his house for a while.  She could save what she is now spending on rent, and, would have a little help on hand.  Peter is a good man and quickly agreed to let them move in.  But now, after a few months, things are getting difficult.  Three kids can take a lot of time he is learning– time away from work to pick this one up here, or take that one there, or just sit with them for a while so the sister can go get groceries.  The sister is still doing the bulk of it, but Peter had not been used to any interruptions at all, and he is now feeling the pressure.  And his boss was starting to notice that Peter isn’t as available to work the endless hours like had always been before.
   I read about Peter in a book by Dr. Laura Schlessinger called How Could You Do That?  Schlessinger is a psychologist and author, and for a long time had a radio call-in talk show.  She does not talk much about finding fulfillment and feeling good about yourself and doing what is best for you, as do many counselors.  Rather, she talks very directly about taking responsibility and doing the right thing and self-sacrifice and duty and morality and faith.  Peter was someone who called into her show asking for advice about his predicament.  He was considering asking his sister and the children to move out.  “What about me?” he said, “this is my only chance at success.  I have to focus on work, or I will be out of the running.”
     Dr. Schlessinger said this to him:  “Peter, you sound like a good man, so I don’t have to lecture you like I have to lecture some of the others who call in to this show.  But let me just give you one question for you to ask yourself as you make this decision.  Project yourself into the future 15 years, and imagine yourself from that perspective looking back at this time and this decision.  What do you think you will wish then that you had done now?”  She could hear Peter sobbing at the other end of the phone.  He thanked her and said he knew what he had to do.  He was sad because he could see his dream of rising to the very top coming to an end.  But he knew that four people needed his help more than he needed to be at the top.  And he knew that in the long run, he would feel better about doing the right thing now.  He would just make up his mind to be satisfied at work with only moderate success.  He could live well enough on that, and his sister would get the help she needed, and three children would have a home.  It was the right thing to do, and he realized that doing the right thing would, in time, bring its own kind of deeper reward.
     Dr. Schlessinger lists three necessary characteristics of a good moral foundation.  She calls them the three “C’s” — they are Character, Conscience, and Courage.  Peter had Character– he wanted to do the right thing.  He had Conscience– it bothered him to consider not doing his duty.  And, after talking to Dr. Schlessinger, he made the decision to have the Courage to do what was needed.

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      In 1723 when he was only 20 years old, New England pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote 70 “Resolutions” to serve as a guide to his life and ministry.  This is one of those resolutions:

“I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live if they were to live their lives over again.   RESOLVED, that I will live just as I think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.”

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I Corinthians 16;13, 14 —   Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love.

Galatians 6:9, 10 —  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Matthew 25:21  —  ‘…Well done, good and faithful servant!…’

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Grant us, O Lord, grace to follow thee…  In little daily duties to which thou callest us, bow down our will to simple obedience, patience under pain or provocation, strict truthfulness of word or manner, humility, and kindness.   In great acts of duty, if thou shouldst call us to them, uplift us to sacrifice and heroic courage, that in all things, both small and great, we may be imitators of thy dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.     –Christina Rossetti

15) Facing Up to Reality

Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) was a Baptist preacher, New Testament scholar, and farmer.  He operated an integrated farm in Georgia in the 1950’s before integration was allowed in the South.  Blacks and whites lived, worked, and ate together on this cooperative farm, and their neighbors did all they could to get them out of the area.  In this reading, Jordan describes one of the attempts to get him to move.    (From Cotton Patch Sermons (p. 114) by Clarence Jordan)

     One time about 93 carloads of Ku Klux Klansmen came out to Koinonia Farm and suggested to us that we find a climate a little bit more conducive to our health.  We declined the advice, and word got out that I was about to be lynched.  Some very dear friends came to me and suggested that I find refuge north of the Mason-Dixon line.

    I said, “Well, we came here because of the will of God, and, if we leave, it will have to be because of the will of God.”

    They said, “Now, wait a minute here, you’ve been a preacher too long.  You’ve got to get your head out of them theological clouds and face up to reality.  That Klan is about to lynch you and you might as well face up to it.”

    Well, I hadn’t been sitting there being bombed and machine-gunned and all like that for three years without being aware of the fact that I was in danger.  But I said to them, “Now, what do you mean ‘face up to reality?’”

    They said, “Be practical.  It’s all right to discuss theology at the seminary, but you got to face up to the cold stark facts of life.”

    I said to them, ‘Now listen, I think I’m the one that’s being realistic and you are the ones that are being unrealistic.  You’re facing up to the demands of the Klan which is temporal and transient.  And I’m facing up to the demands of God who is eternal.  Now who’s being realistic?  I think God was here before the Klan and I think He’ll be here after the Klan is gone.  And I think God is more real in this universe than the Ku Klux Klan.”

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Faith is not belief in spite of evidence but a life lived in scorn of the consequences.   Clarence Jordan

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     The story is told that after one sermon before a Southern congregation, an elderly woman approached Clarence Jordan and said, “I want you to know that my granddaddy fought in the Civil War, and I’ll never believe a word you say.”  Returning her steely glare with a gracious smile, Jordan replied, “Ma’am, your choice seem quite clear.  It is whether you will follow your granddaddy or Jesus Christ.”

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Matthew 10:28 — (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

 Psalm 56:3-4 — When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?

Psalm 118:5-8 — In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.  I will look in triumph on my enemies.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

Acts 21:12b-14 — …We and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart?  I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

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    O Lord Jesus, who art the only health of all men living, and the everlasting life of those who die in thy faith: I give myself wholly unto thy will, being sure that anything which is committed unto thy mercy cannot perish.  –-Thomas Cromwell, before his execution