In the days of my youth, I was frail and weak. My dad was a strong man. I admired his strength. In the picture book of Bible stories my mother read to me, I learned about a man named Samson whose story is in the book of Judges. I was impressed with his strength.
When I was 12, I came across an advertisement by Charles Atlas in a comic book. Atlas was born in Italy in 1892 and migrated to America as a young man. He advertised a bodybuilding program; his advertising campaign was the longest lasting ad campaigns of all time. A picture of strength, Atlas was “the most perfectly developed man in the history of the world.” Not wanting to remain a 97-pound weakling, I bought his body-building kit, but his plan did not turn me into a strong boy.
I worked hard on my Daddy’s farm trying to develop muscles the girls would notice. I played on the basketball and football teams at Wetumpka High School but was never strong enough to be a good athlete. Bill Bonner and I played basketball together, but he and Toby Schroeder were taller than me, so I only got to play when they were tired. I played tackle on the football team but was never strong enough to play first string. I remember well the first Friday night the coach let me start a game with the first unit. All during my teen years I kept crying, “Charles Atlas, why doesn’t your plan help me?”
When I was 15, the Lord convicted me of my sins, and I knelt at an altar at a youth camp named Camp Glory; there I gave my heart to Jesus. My pastor, Brother Si Mathison, gave me my life verse: Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That verse was the beginning of my discovery of the spiritual strength available to all who put their trust in Jesus. I had no idea at age 15 that five years later I would marry a young woman who would teach me by her life to love what Moses said to Joshua – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
In the Old Cemetery in Wetumpka, you can find the grave where my wife’s body is buried. Near the grave is a granite bench on which are carved the words: BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS. The bench was put there by women who loved Dean. Alice Scarborough allowed Dean to serve Jesus alongside her in her wonderful ministry of MOURNING TO MORNING, a fellowship of women who have lost a child. In her last talk to the group, in the year of her death, Dean had used Joshua 1:9 as her subject. Actually, it had been the theme of her life – urging others to turn to Jesus to find the power to live as strong and courageous servants of Jesus.
It was Paul Anderson who taught me to value spiritual strength more than the strength of my muscles. Who is Paul Anderson? Paul is the world’s greatest weightlifter. Born in 1932, Paul set the world record back lift by lifting 6,270 pounds, the greatest weight ever lifted by a human being. I invited Paul to Blue Lake Camp to display his strength and share his love for Jesus. There he got under a table and lifted my four sons and several other men off the floor – to our amazement.
But Paul said that there are no lasting rewards in having a muscular body that people admire. Jesus offers the only eternal rewards. Paul’s encounter with Jesus led him to use the display of his physical power to turn people to Jesus. He and his wife ran a Home for troubled youth in Vidalia, Georgia, turning hundreds of teenagers to Jesus. Paul used his weight-lifting power as a platform for telling people that Jesus was everything.
Paul Anderson’s testimony ended my fascination with Charles Atlas’ bodybuilding kit. My focus shifted to Jesus. I realized that what I needed most was the strength that Jesus provides. I was back to my life verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Only Jesus can make me strong and courageous.
Are you trusting Him for the strength you need? It’s yours for the asking.