1103) Overcoming Physical and Spiritual Weaknesses

     Lord Horatio Nelson, British admiral and war hero, achieved all his triumphs by overcoming great physical hardships.

     He was a small and sickly child.  Frail and weak, he fell victim to yellow fever and various other diseases.  He was a navy commander, yet suffered all his life from seasickness.  He lost an eye in Corsica.  Later his right arm was amputated.  In another fight he was heavily wounded in the chest.  He had frequent violent fits of coughing.

     But he had learned to handle pain and suffering, won many battles by courage and brilliant strategy, and it was he who defeated the naval forces of France and Spain at Trafalgar.

     However, the strong and great hero Lord Nelson was not strong in every way.  He had overcome great physical disabilities, but there are other kinds of weaknesses.  Nelson became the subject of a huge on-going scandal in London and Naples through his involvement with Lady Hamilton, another man’s wife.  

     It is not the physical disabilities that are apt to wreck a man’s life, but rather his weaknesses of character.  Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city.”

     Do not worry about your physical disabilities or weaknesses.  They can be the best stimulants to great achievement.

     But be well aware of your specific character weaknesses, and through Christ, strengthen the wall of the fortress that is most exposed to the enemy.

–By Richard Wurmbrand (adapted)

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Here are two stories of individuals overcoming great physical disabilities– a champion gymnast with no legs and a farmer with no legs or arms.  Astounding!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffQGME3MlYc

http://mvotd.com/meet-chris-koch-farmer-extraordinaire_24ba03ef3.html

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Philippians 4:13  —  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

II Corinthians 12:7b-10  —  In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I Peter 5:6-10  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

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I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty.

–Lord Nelson, English Admiral  (1758-1805)

1064) “It’s Not Easy”

Ruby Bridges, 1960

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     Robert Coles, the distinguished child psychiatrist, went to New Orleans in the 1960s to help black children living with the trauma of trying to integrate their schools.  Ruby Bridges was the first black child to help desegregate her public school in New Orleans.  Every day Ruby would walk to school guarded by Federal Marshals who escorted her through an angry mob of protesters, some of whom were yelling terrible things at little Ruby.  Dr. Coles was quite concerned about Ruby and what effect all this hatred would have on the rest of her life.  He knew, as a psychiatrist, that she was probably having trouble eating, sleeping, and carrying on her normal routine.  Every day he interviewed her and would ask, “Ruby, how are you sleeping?”  She would reply, “I’m sleeping just fine.”  Coles would pursue the question, “Then I bet you aren’t eating too well, are you?”  And Ruby would answer, “I’m eating just fine.”  Every day he would ask the questions and she responded in the same say:  “I’m just fine.”

     Finally, one day he heard Ruby’s teacher say that she had noticed that Ruby seemed to be talking to herself when she walked through the angry mob every morning.  Dr. Coles asked her what she was saying as she walked through that line of angry people.  She told him she said, “Please be with me God, and be with these people too.  Forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”

     What strength Ruby received from prayer and forgiveness!  God was with her, and she was ‘just fine.’

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Ruby Bridges (quoted by Robert Coles in Walker Percy: An American Search):

I ask myself if it’s worth it.  I ask myself why God made people like those white people who shout all those bad words at me.  I ask myself if it makes any sense, to keep walking by them, and trying to smile at them, and trying to be polite, when I’d like to see them all dead.  I would!  But the minister says we are tested; that’s why we’re put here in the world, to be tested.  So, I guess I ought to thank those white folks.  They’re testing me.

I try to talk to God when I walk past them.  I ask Him to please help me do what is right and to know what I should do.  It’s not easy, knowing what to do.  I’ll bet you can find some people who have grown old, and they still aren’t sure how you’re supposed to live your life.  They’re still wondering what’s it all about.  My grandfather is one of those people.  That’s what he always asks:  ‘What’s it all about?’  He takes his whiskey when he comes home from his job, and he sits on the porch in his rocking chair.  While he’s sitting and he’s sipping, he does his asking.  He asks God a lot of questions, and he asks my momma and my poppa, and he asks himself, and he’ll even ask me.

The other day, he said to me, ‘Little one, why do you do like you do?’  I knew what he was asking.  I told him that I’d heard the Sunday School teacher tell us that we’re here to do the best we can to be good.  I try to be good.  When those white people tell me they’ll kill me, I bite my lip.  I don’t answer them back the way they talk to me.  I try to pray for them.  I don’t really want to, but I do.  I wonder, sometimes, if they ever stop and ask themselves why they are put here in this world.  If we don’t ask why we’re here, we’re lost in the woods.

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The Problem We All Live With, by Norman Rockwell, depicting Ruby Bridges going to school

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Ruby Bridges Hall (1954- ) tells her story at:

http://www.rubybridges.com/story.htm

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Luke 23:34a  —  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Colossians 3:12-13  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

2 Corinthians 13:11  —   Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.

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Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

–Lord’s Prayer

384) Stand Your Ground

Ephesians 6:13a:  “…Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground…”  (see Eph. 6:10-18 below)

     Paul begins this section with these words:  “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power;”  and then says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.”  The trouble is that many people’s lives become so very miserable because they do not ‘stand their ground.’  Rather, they lose ground, they slide backwards, and they lose the battle.  We have all seen it in ourselves and in others– we begin to make some wrong decisions, and then do some bad things, and pretty soon we are losing ground fast and life is a mess.

     People usually do not take sudden, dramatic leaps into sin and despair.  Most people do not lose all their ground all at once.  They don’t very often mess up everything by a single stupid decision or act.  Sometimes that happens, but usually not.  More often it is that we, like sheep, just ‘nibble our way lost,’ gradually meandering off the path.  Little by little, we lose ground.  Bit by bit, we wander away.  Little white lies become more and more frequent, and before long we fall into a pattern of dishonesty.  Innocent flirtations with nothing intended become less innocent and more intentional, and two people drift into adultery.  Minor defiance by a grade school child can become open rebellion in high school.  A few beers once in a while after work, for some, can become an addiction that takes control over every aspect of their life.  Consistent weekly worship attendance can be gradually eroded away, first by a few absences and then by infrequent attendance, and after a while there is no worship at all.  We nibble our way lost and we start to lose ground.  Our lives become a little mixed up and we don’t pay attention.  Soon, it begins to get worse, then it’s out of hand, and before long we find ourselves getting used to things we shouldn’t be getting used to at all.  And then we wonder how our life could have gotten so sad.  Little by little we lose our ground, and then stability becomes instability, harmony turns into discord, peace into conflict, diligence into sloth, and so on.  We lose our ground.  We nibble our way lost.  It happens all the time.

     Don’t let that happen!, says Paul.  Remember, life is a battle!  This is war!  “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” Paul tells us, “but against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil, and against the devil’s schemes.”  With all those enemies against us we must realize that living a godly life requires hard work, steady diligence, and much prayer and faith.  We cannot just walk around in this world as if no one or nothing can hurt us.  There are dark powers out there, says Paul, spiritual forces of evil, and the devil himself who wants to do you in.  Can we doubt that?  Can we forget all the evil of the 20th century?  Has the horror of 9-11 already worn off?  There is much evil in this world, and it is not only all around us, but also within us.  There are many powers of darkness, working against us on many fronts.

     Therefore, says Paul, “Put on the full armor of God so you can stand your ground.”  Put on the belt of truth, he says, or in other words, know what you believe.  Put on the breastplate of righteousness so you can know what God expects of you and you can obey him in every big and little decision.  Take up the shield of faith, which is to say, take hold of what you believe and apply it to your life so that you can live in faith and hope and not in fear and uncertainty.  Finally put on the helmet of salvation.  Eternal life with God has been promised, so we can fight with courage and trust, knowing that when the battle is over we will be with the Lord and safe.

     How can we get that armor?  Through prayer and God’s Word, Paul says.  He writes at the end of this section:  “Take the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God,” and, “pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  God has provided us with what we need for this battle.  We just need to take the time to hear God’s Word and keep in touch with God by our prayers.  That is how we put on the whole armor of God.  We must make no mistake about this, we do need this armor.  The battle rages around and within us and we will not just drift on into victory.  We need to stand firm or we will lose ground and will drift into all sorts of sin and despair and misery.  The powers of darkness are fighting against us and we have already seen too many casualties.

     Yet, there are so many who will attempt to fight this battle without armor and without weapons.  What’s worse, even though it is Satan who seeks to harm us, we give to him our eyes and our ears.  We spend hours filling our eyes and ears and minds with all the wickedness this world has to offer in its ever-present and ever more vulgar television, music, and movies, while giving very little of our attention to God.  It is no wonder that so many people are not strong for the battle.  It is no wonder that so many lives get so confused and sad.  People give their eyes and ears to the enemy, and when things go wrong, we wonder how God could have let it happen.

     God does provide the help we need.  Prayer and God’s Word do not guarantee a smooth life, but obedience to God will keep you from much misery.  Belief in God’s promises will give you inner strength, and those promises give you a hope that will not disappoint you.  And then, just as we can nibble our way lost, we can nibble our way back to peace and stability.  The effects of prayer and knowing God’s word are usually not characterized by dramatic and emotional leaps forward, but little by little our foundation is strengthened and we become more able to stand our ground.

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People do not drift toward holiness.  Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.  We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith.  We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

D. A. Carson, For the Love of God

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Ephesians 6:10-18a  —  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.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

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Most great and mighty God, you are the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator and Preserver of all things.   Look down, we beg you, on us your unworthy creatures.  We humbly thank you for your daily care of us.  We beg your pardon for whatsoever you have seen amiss in us this day, in our thoughts, words, or actions.  Strengthen us in every good purpose and resolution.  Reform whatsoever you see amiss in the temper and disposition of our minds or in any of the habits of our lives; that we may love you more and serve you better, and do your will with greater care and diligence than we have yet done.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.  

–Warren Hastings (1732-1818) English colonial administrator

8) Turning the Other Cheek

The following article entitled The Jackie Robinson Story was written by author Eric Metaxas for the April 15, 2013  Breakpoint reading ( http://www.breakpoint.org / a ministry of Prison Fellowship).

     The words are famous even among those who know little about baseball: “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”  They were spoken by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to the man whom he’d chosen to break baseball’s color barrier: Jackie Robinson.

     We see this famous scene in the new movie, “42,” a  biopic about Robinson.  “42”—named for the number Robinson wore on his uniform—is a fine and memorable film starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as the immortal Branch Rickey.  But the film all but omits the most significant factor in Jackie Robinson’s ability to endure almost unbearable insults and physical attacks on the field: namely his strong Christian faith.

     Branch Rickey wasn’t the first person to teach Robinson that keeping his temper was more powerful than letting it blow.  As I note in my new book, Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, while he was a student at Pasadena Junior College, “Jackie met a Methodist preacher named Karl Downs.  Downs knew that Jackie was a Christian and taught him that exploding in anger was not the Christian answer to injustice.  But he explained that a life truly dedicated to Christ was not submissive; on the contrary, it was heroic… Downs eventually led Jackie to a deeper faith in Jesus Christ.  He began to see that the path to justice would be done not with fists and fury but with love and restraint.”

     As “42” opens, we see Jackie Robinson sitting in the office of Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey hearing the incredible news that Rickey wants Jackie to play for the Dodgers.  Then Rickey acts out the vicious varieties of bigotry Jackie will face from white hotel managers, restaurant waiters, and fellow ballplayers—insults he will have to face with dignity.

     How much more dramatic this scene would have been had “42” told the whole story.  Rickey knew that Robinson shared his devout Christian faith, and wanted to reinforce the spiritual dimensions of the battle into which the two men were about to step.  So Rickey pulled out a copy of a book by Giovanni Papini, “Life of Christ.”  He flipped to the passage in which Papini discusses the Sermon on the Mount.  There he referred to Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek” as “the most stupefying of Jesus’ revolutionary teachings.”

     Rickey’s faith told him that injustice had to be fought wherever it was found.  As for Jackie Robinson, he believed that God had chosen him for this noble purpose.  And he knew that if he committed himself to doing this great thing, God would give him the strength he needed to see it through.

     Day after day, Jackie Robinson’s faith fueled his ability to play great baseball.  And night after night, he got down on his knees, asking God for strength in the face of unrelenting hatred.

     The reason I include Jackie Robinson in a book about some of the greatest men who ever lived is not because he played great baseball, but because he engaged in a heroic sacrifice.  Jackie Robinson followed Jesus and sacrificed his right to fight back.

     If you’ve got young baseball fans in your family or among your friends, take them to see “42,” which by the way is rated PG-13 for the evil language shouted at Robinson on the ball field.  And then I hope you’ll also consider giving them a copy of my book, Seven Men and Their Secret of Greatness (Eric Metaxas).  They’ll learn why Jackie Robinson changed America for the better.  He did it by living out, on and off the baseball field, the revolutionary words of Jesus: Turn the other cheek.

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Matthew 5:38-39  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

I Peter 3:17  —  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Matthew 6:12  —  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

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     Our Father in heaven, as we are forgiven by you, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us.  Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge.  May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper.  We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart.   AMEN.     –Martin Luther

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