A couple of weeks ago, (before they shut down) I was at the gym (aerobics day) and had half an eye on a basketball game that had started around the time I began. I would venture a guess the game was made up of 4th and 5th graders, white jerseys vs. red jerseys. The white team was losing badly. The score around the end of the 1st quarter was 10 to 2, but then something changed soon after they started the 2nd quarter. I don’t know if it was something their coach said or something about how they positioned themselves (zone vs. man) or something entirely different, but they finally scored again. Then again, and again, and again. By the time they were in the 3rd quarter, the red team was still at 10, and the white team was at 16.
I don’t know how it ended because it was time for me to move to another machine that did not have a view of the game, but it got me thinking of stories I have heard, people I have known who have come back from some pretty impossible odds. Those stories and we have all heard them, often serve as an inspiration to us. We hear those stories and we begin to wish. We wish we could speak out like that, we wish we would never give up, we wish we could get that degree. We wish we could have that job. We wish all day long, but wishing is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but does not get you anywhere. Don’t just wish, do. Take the shot, you have nothing to lose. You only lose if you don’t make the effort and that effort can come in very small steps.
I think of Paul and how he is the author of much of the New Testament. The same Paul, whipped no less than five times, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, suffered from hunger, thirst, and multiple other dangers. 2nd Corinthians 11:24-31
Paul in rags and chains, standing in front of Emperor Nero, who was surrounded by his Roman guards, clothed in royal robes and other high ranking officials. Yet two-thousand years later, we name our children Paul and our dogs Nero. Who would have thought? 1
Another example is President Abraham Lincoln who certainly had a host of failures before being elected President. Some items in this list are questionable, but it would be fair to say Lincoln certainly did not have a smooth ride to his presidency. Lincoln lost his job, defeated in his run for the state legislature, failed in business, sweetheart died, nervous breakdown, defeated in a race for Illinois speaker, defeated in a run for Congress, defeated twice in a run for Senate, finally elected President in 1860.
Stephen Hawking, the brilliant professor of physics and cosmology and author of over 15 books that shaped and enlightened our understanding of the universe, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes the death of neurons that control our voluntary muscles.
Hawking was diagnosed with this as a young adult and instead of falling into despair (no known cure for this disease), poured himself into his studies and work. In one of his last statements, he said, “I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet.” 2
Cornel Hirisca-Munn was born in Romania without forearms and a deformed leg that was later amputated. He was taken from his birth parents without permission and placed in an orphanage. They eventually found him but were unable to bring him home as they were poor and both worked full time to support themselves. Nevertheless, he survived, and just under the age of one was found by Doreen Munn, an aid worker from England. Two years later, he was adopted by the Munn’s and began his rehabilitation in Birmingham.
Since then, Cornel has shown great perseverance and has illustrated musical talent, having entered several drumming competitions. He has also raised money for various charities and continues to do so despite his hardship and disability. At one ceremony, Cornel said, “I am just like everyone else, it is just a visual thing, and it does not affect my attitude to life. I now plan to try and raise money towards a limb center in Romania.” 3
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was raised by a strict Muslim family in the war-torn country of Somalia. She suffered beatings, female mutilation, and forced marriage. She escaped to Europe and was under constant threat by her family and other Islamist followers. She was disowned by her father and banned by her family.
In the Netherlands, she worked in shelters for battered women, learned the Dutch language, and earned a college degree in political science. She was elected to their Parliament and tirelessly raised awareness of the plight of Muslim women in Europe. In 2005 Time Magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world today. All this, despite what her family, religion, and country told her about the value of women.
Not only did she escape abuse and oppression from her 3rd world country and family, but she has also publicly criticized the ‘tolerant’ left despite being educated and surrounded by it. In her book Infidel, she writes, “When people say that the values of Islam are compassion, tolerance, and freedom, I look at reality, at real cultures and governments, and I see that it simply isn’t so. People in the West swallow this sort of thing because they have learned not to examine the religions or cultures of minorities too critically, for fear of being called racist… I am not afraid to do so.” 4
I started with an example from the New Testament and will end it with another. Dr. James Allan Francis authored One Solitary Life, which was part of a sermon he delivered in 1926 concerning the life of Jesus. Francis wrote, “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty and then for three years was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of those things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed on a cross between two thieves. While he was dying his executors gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth – His coat. When he was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.” 5
Then everything changed. Jesus made the greatest comeback the world has ever seen. He did not rise again to over-throw rulers, emperors, kings or countries. He did not command an army to conquer neighboring countries or control continents. Not Genghis Khan, not Alexander the Great, not Caesar, not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, impacted the world like Jesus Christ.
Christ conquered sin and death and gave a new meaning to the word hope. Not a hope bound by secular earthly laws, but a promise that extends into a life beyond what we currently experience. Many may claim Christ was a great man. A man full of wisdom, a teacher extraordinaire, but He was not a God. If that is true, then the promise Christ made to everyone was from the tongue of a lunatic.
C.S. Lewis said it best, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 6
If Paul had just lived in fear we would not have the New Testament as we do today. If President Lincoln had given up slavery may have lasted another 100 years. If Stephen Hawking and Cornel had wallowed in self-pity, if Ayaan Hirsi Al had not found the courage to escape, their world and ours would look very different. Take the small steps, tiny steps even. Be encouraged and look for inspiration. John 16:33
The Bible was not only written to inform us of the person of Christ but to transform us, inspire us. We all fall short of His likeness, and I do on a daily basis, but we can often find some nearby inspiration. Some of us have people in our lives that we can reach out and touch, people who have an inspiring come-back-kid story. Yet the conclusive comeback story will always be the story of Christ, and that story means to mold and transform us into a likeness of the ultimate comeback-kid, Jesus Christ.
- Boa, Kenneth. “Trusting Eternity or Cursing Time.” Rewriting Your Broken Story, Downers Grove, IVP Books, 2016, p. 76
- Blake, Andrew. “Stephen Hawking thesis crashes Cambridge website.” Washington Times[i] washingtontimes.com, 6 March 2017, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/oct/24/stephen-hawking-thesis-crashes-cambridge-website/
- “The Cornel Romanian Rehabilitation Centre Trust.” thecorneltrust.wordpress.com, 17 August 2013, https://thecorneltrust.wordpress.com/
- Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. “The Letter of the Law.” Infidel New York, Free Press, 2007, p. 349
- “All About Jesus Christ.” Jesus is Lord, allaboutjesuschrist.org, n.d. https://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/
- Lewis, C.S. “The Shocking Alternative.” Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 1952. p. 52