Do You Know a Superhero?

heroes

“My own heroes are the dreamers,
those men and women who tried
to make the world a better place
than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones.
Some succeeded, some failed,
most had mixed results…
but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it.  Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”
George R.R. Martin
.

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”
Maya Angelou

I’ve always wanted to be a superhero.  Admit it, you have too, huh.  To fly through the air at the speed of light, swooping just in the nick of time to save the day, the damsel, or the next downfall.  Pulling out some super strength like laser vision, mind melding, levitation – I don’t know, anything that defeats the super villain and restores peace and justice.

Yeah, I’ve always wanted to be a superhero.

Only the spandex suits…leeeet’s just say that the only way I’d don one of those puppies is if it were in slimming black and lined head to toe with factory grade Spanx.  Then again, this middle-aged body in spandex just might be horrifying enough to vanquish all villains for good. One look, and in Medusa-like fashion they’d turn to stone or run screaming for the hills. (Hey, I may have pegged my super power!)

True Heroes
My family is a big fan of superheroes – cinema and comic book alike. But today, I’m gearing this post toward true heroes. Unlike our masked avengers and caped crusaders, true heroes are hard to identify.  They don’t look like heroes.  For instance, let me get right to it and describe a few.

John the Baptist in prison

John the Baptist in prison

Hero #1
Step back in time with me to a dank dungeon in Judea. There is a man on the dirt floor.  He has just inaugurated history’s greatest movement.  His words have triggered a revolution that will span two millenniums.  Future historians will describe him as visionary, noble, courageous.

But, at this moment he appears anything but.  Dirty. Unshaven. Matted hair. Wearing camel skin. This is John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.  He has just prepared a people for Christ’s mission and message.  He has baptized hundreds of converts. Now he is in jail awaiting his execution and he is despondent.

We don’t like to see this kind of scene with our heroes.  We’d rather see him stand, arms braced on opposing walls of the prison and with a he-man shove, send the cell crumbling to the ground.  We want a better ending for John.  We’d rather have him die on a battlefield against thousands, or in an epic standoff with the super villain.  We want him to see the fruition of what he’s been fighting for.  Catch a glimpse of the summit.  Enjoy the fruits of his labors.  Seems only right.

After all, didn’t Moses get a view of the Promised Land?  Didn’t Brigham Young live to see the pioneers migrate and the valley settled?  John the Baptist is the cousin of Jesus.  If anybody deserves to see the end of the trail, doesn’t he?

Apparently not.

He never saw the miracles.
He never enjoyed the gospel in action.
And the Messiah he announced, he now doubts will save him.  John does not look like the Elias who would be the transition from the old Law to the New Covenant.  He does not look like a hero.

Heroes seldom do.

Apostle Paul at the Table of Travail by Rembrandt

Apostle Paul at the Table of Travail
by Rembrandt

Let’s Go to Another Prison – Hero #2
This time the jail is in Rome. The man is named Paul.  Like John, the Apostle Paul shaped history.  And like John, Paul would die in a creepy jail.  No headlines announced his execution.  No reporter recorded the events.  When Paul was beheaded, Roman society did not notice. To them, Paul was just a weird leader of an odd faith.

There, in his prison he is dirty, bent, and shackled. Behold, the Apostle of God!  Who knows when he last had a warm meal or a decent night’s sleep.  For three decades he has done nothing but travel and teach and write.  And what’s he got to show for it?

Psh.  He’s broke.  Almost blind.  No family. No property.  He’s plain worn out.

Misfortune has followed him everywhere he has preached.  Stoned in one city (with rocks! What are you thinking?), stranded in another.  Shipwrecked.  Nearly drowned.  Almost starved. Countless times imprisoned.  His missionary service has been completely voluntary – he kept a part time job on the side to make ends meet (he made tents).

No, Paul the teacher/tent maker does not look like a hero.  Doesn’t sound like one either.
He introduced himself as the worst sinner ever (he was a thug before he was a theologian). At times his heart was so heavy, his quill drug itself across the parchment,

“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Romans 7:24

Heaven knows how long he stared at the question before he summoned courage to defy logic and write in the very next verse,

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

Beheading of Paul sculpture by Alessandro Algardi

Beheading of Paul sculpture by Alessandro Algardi

One minute he’s confident, the next he doubts. One day he’s preaching, the next he’s in prison.  And that is where I’d like you to look at him.

Right there in prison. 65 A.D. You do not know him. You are a guard, or a servant, or a friend of the emperor, and you’ve come to get one last look at this guy.

What you see sitting there in the dark cell isn’t much, but what I tell you is:
“This man will shape the course of history,” I say. “Nero’s fame will fade in this man’s light.”  You don’t believe me.  But I continue. “The Churches he sets up will apostatize, but his testimony? Within 200 years his writings will influence the teaching of every school on the continent. His letters will be translated in thousands of languages and will inspire every major creed across the globe.”

That would be your breaking point. “Hold it right there,” you’d say. “There is no way.  He is an old man with an odd faith and radical teaching.  How could he be a hero?”

Good point.  If anyone else had seen Paul in that setting at that time, they would whole-heartedly agree with you. “NO WAY. This guy does not fit the mold of a hero.  He doesn’t look the part!”

Joseph in Liberty Jail by Greg Olsen

Joseph in Liberty Jail  by Greg Olsen

One More – Hero #3
Joseph Smith is locked up in Liberty, Missouri.  What John did to present Christ, and Paul did to explain him, Joseph was the prophet who restored all things pertaining to Christ.  John cleared the path.  Paul erected the signposts.  Joseph Smith paved the way.

Yet, here Joseph sits in jail.  He and a handful of others have been arrested on false charges.  Locked in a prison that is too short to stand fully erect, they are shackled like dogs in the dead of winter with no blankets (the painting is a tad inaccurate – they had NO blankets), no food, no facilities. Weeks turn into months.  Joseph is freezing, filthy, ragged, spent.  Worries plague his mind for the safety of, not himself, but the saints.

As he’s imprisoned – the church members are run-out of Missouri: mobbed, beaten, raped, robbed, terrorized, and killed.  Joseph can do nothing.  Literally, his hands are tied.  His spirit is rundown and his pleas are worn out.

This is the point we want Joseph to boldly stand and with firey-eyes and thundering voice – pull a lightning rod from the sky and strike the evil guards and wipe the Missouri mobs off the face of the earth.  That’s what we’d like to see.  But this is not what we find.

Joseph in Liberty Jail by Liz Lemon Swindle

Joseph in Liberty Jail by Liz Lemon Swindle

Peer carefully through the small window of the cramped jail and you’ll see this Prophet of God weeping, praying, and writing.

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants?
Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-2

At this moment Joseph did not feel like a hero. Heroes seldom do.

Life, for the past two decades has not been a picnic for Joseph.  From the time this farm boy emerged from the grove at age 14, he’s felt the continual lash of trials:

Imprisoned more times than he could count.
Poisoned, beaten, belittled, tarred and feathered.
Six of his children have died.
Lands stolen, businesses taken.
Friends betrayed him.
He never had money to speak of.

Who could have thought that through the dark valleys that landscaped his life, there would emerge:
•  The Book of Mormon: considered the most remarkable and important religious text ever given to the world.
•  Vital doctrines and deep insights that were lost from the Biblical cannon.
•  A complete Restoration of Christ’s original gospel upon the earth.
•  Holy Temples dotting the planet.
•  Twelve original members of the Church in a farmhouse would grow to over 15 million worldwide today.

Who would have thought?  Coming from that lifestyle and that jail cell, who would have thought anything great and lasting would emerge?

Heroes Unnoticed
All three of these men – John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Joseph Smith – were courageous, but small.  Radical, yet unnoticed.  Brilliant, yet impoverished.  No one bid John and Paul farewell.  No one thought Joseph’s name would be remembered longer than a generation.  Their peers had no way of knowing that they’d be superheroes – and, had we lived in their time – neither would we.

For that reason, a hero could be next door and you wouldn’t know it.  Consider that thought. The auto mechanic who changes tires at the corner station could be one.  A hero with greasy hands?  Maybe.  Maybe as he works, he prays, asking God to do with the heart of the driver what he does with tires.

As you ponder the idea of unnoticed heroes, I’ll share a few more stories of heroes.

In his book The Fall of Fortresses, author Elmer Bendiner shares a story of Bohn Fawkes who came across such a hero.

B-17

B-17

“This is All We Can Do For You”
During World War II, Fawkes piloted a B-17.  On one mission his plane sustained extensive damage from a flak attack of Nazi anti-aircraft guns.  Even though his gas tanks were hit, the plane miraculously did not explode and Fawkes’ crew was able to land safely.

The next morning, Fawkes asked his crew chief for the German shell that hit his plane.  He wanted a souvenir as a reminder of his tremendous luck.  The crew chief explained that his gas tank had been hit, not just once but eleven times, yet none of them had exploded.  Technicians opened the missiles and found that they were totally void of explosives. “Clean as a whistle and just as harmless,” they said.  All were empty, except one.

The one exception contained only a carefully rolled up piece of paper with a message written in the Czech language. The translated note read, “This is all we can do for you now.”

What did that mean?  Turns out, one very courageous assembly line worker in a bomb factory was disarming bombs as fast as others were filling them.  He couldn’t end the war, but he could save one plane.  He couldn’t do everything but he could do something.  So he did.

There is no telling how far reaching small acts can be, or who those acts might bless.

Hurrican Katrina Help!

Hurrican Katrina submerged house

Holy Ground
One survivor of Hurricane Katrina told a riveting story.  As the waters rose around his house, he had no choice but to swim out his windows. With two children clinging to his back, he swam to safety atop the tallest building in the neighborhood.  Soon other people joined him on the roof and this small group huddled together on what would be their home base for the next 3 days until they were rescued.

After an hour on the building, the man realized he was on a church. He patted the rooftop, announcing, “Hey, we are on holy ground!”

The woman next to him jolted with excitement.  She looked closer at the area, crawled over to the steeple, and proclaimed as she hugged it, “My grandfather and grandmother helped build this church!”

Do you think those grandparents ever imagined God would use their work to save their granddaughter?  Surely, they prayed for God to bless that building to save souls…but they could not have imagined He would use it to save their grandchild from a hurricane.  They had no idea how the Lord would use the work of their hands.

And you might not realize how the Lord is using the work of your hands – or the hands of someone you know.

Normal Heroes
Could your high school teacher be a hero?  Perhaps.  Perhaps his morning prayers include the names of each kid and the dream that one of them will change the world.  Who’s to say God isn’t hearing his prayer?

How about the parole officer downtown?  She could be a hero.  Maybe she’s challenging the ex-con to challenge the teen to challenge the gangs to clean up the streets.

I know, I know.  These people don’t fit our image of a hero.  They look too…well, normal. Give us celebrity, spotlights, awards, athletics, titles, headlines.  But, you know, history shows us that true heroes aren’t made that way.  Something tells me that for every hero in the spotlight, there are dozens in the shadows.  They don’t get press.  They don’t draw crowds. They don’t have their footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a star on Hollywood Boulevard, a Nike contract, or even drive an expensive car.

True heroes are never in the spotlight.  They just see a need and act.  Add up enough of those little acts and what you get is a whole lot of good that makes a BIG difference.

You’ve heard one or more of the sayings:
Behind every avalanche is a snowflake
Behind a rockslide is a pebble
An atomic explosion begins with one proton
A revolution begins with one individual

What Makes a Hero?superheroes in training
What makes a hero?  In order to change a life, a change must occur – but that change begins with you.  Within you.

Come in a little closer and I’ll tell you a secret.  The heroes of life may seem ordinary at first glance, but what makes them heroic is that they understand something that others don’t, which is: Everyone carries greatness within. Every one.

A Higher Standard
But the greatness can only emerge by living a higher standard, which means living the Lord’s standards.  Looking inward for truer identity. Reaching upward for greater strength. Because the truth of the matter is:
You cannot be like the world to have an impact on the world.
You cannot follow the crowd to change the crowd.
You cannot lower yourself down to lift others up. Impossible. You need to be standing on higher ground.

And you don’t have to be weird about it.  In scripture, God’s people are referred to as a “peculiar people.”  Peculiar does not mean strange, dorky, or odd.  Peculiar means “A treasured people.” “A people separate from the crowd.”  Holiness seeks to be like the Savior. You want to make a difference in your world?  Live a holy life:

Be the faithful friend.
Be the one in your class who refuses to cheat.
Be the one in your circle who refuses to use vulgar language.
Be the neighbor who acts neighborly.
Be the worker who doesn’t complain.
Smile. Live your standards.
Don’t speak one message and live another.

People are watching the way we act more then they are listening to what we say.

Francis of Assisi by Jusepe de Ribera 1643

St. Francis of Assisi  by Jusepe de Ribera 1643

“By Thus We Preached Our Morning Sermon”
St. Francis of Assisi was a Catholic Monk who lived in Italy in the 1200s.  Did you know that he was the first to re-enact the nativity with people and animals?  Yep, good ol’ Francis invented the very first creche exhibit at Christmas time.

So, one day Francis invited a young Monk to accompany him to town to preach.  The new monk was honored at the opportunity.  The two set out for the city, and there, walked up and down main street, then meandered down several side streets.  All the while, they chatted with peddlers, smiled at children, and greeted citizens.  After some time, they returned to the abbey.  The young monk was confused about their seemingly unsuccessful trip and asked, “Didn’t we go to town to preach?”

“My son,” said Francis, “We have preached.  We have been seen by many.  Our behavior was closely watched.  Our attitudes were closely measured.  Our words have been overheard.  It was by thus that we preached our morning sermon.”

People watch the way we act more then they listen to what we say.

Actions Billboard Beliefs
John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Joseph Smith were voices for Christ with more than mere words.  Their actions revealed their beliefs. Their lives matched their words.  When a person’s ways and words are the same, the fusion is powerful.  But when a person says one thing and lives another – well, the result is destructive.

People will know we are Christians, not because we bear His name, but because we live the life – a life with a higher standard.  It’s the life that earns the name, not the name that creates the life.

Now, from all worldly appearances, a high-standard life may not look heroic, but the fruits of those actions will be.  After all, what is the heroes standard?  Think about it – it is a life filled with integrity, truth, love, service, justice, and courage.

Does it take courage to live the gospel in today’s world?  You bet it does. Tremendous courage.

“All heroes are shadows of Christ.”
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life

Here’s a question: Does a person know when he/she is being heroic?
Hardly ever.  True heroes will not know they are being heroic because they are too busy helping others. Because they are so occupied with loving and serving and doing what is right, they seldom see the impact their actions have on others.

From such a life are heroes born. From such a Christ-centered life are others inspired to rise and become heroes themselves.  History proves it.

Alpheus Gifford
Let me tell you one final story about a young missionary with a passion for teaching. Immediately after his own conversion to the gospel in the spring of 1831, Alpheus Gifford’s greatest desire was to share the gospel with others. He wanted to share the wealth of blessings and peace he felt.  So he took 5 copies of the Book of Mormon and handed them out to friends and family in Pennsylvania before he set out for Kirtland, Ohio to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Since he was going to meet the Prophet, Alpheus brought a few of his non-member friends along.  Time in Kirtland proved quite beneficial.  Alpheus’ friends were converted and baptized, he was ordained an Elder, and all four men (Alpheus and converted friends) were sent on a mission to New York.

They found the people of New York eager to hear the message of the restored gospel.  But none were more anxious than two young men of Mendon County: two best friends.  One of the men heard of the restored gospel, but hadn’t given it serious thought, that is, until he heard Alpheus teach it.

Seems that when Alpheus bore testimony, something clicked in their hearts. The Spirit stirred.  Everything finally made sense.  As Alpheus continued teaching the discussions, the two friends made sure to not miss a single lesson.

And it wasn’t long before both men were converted.  Alpheus baptized and confirmed one, and his missionary companion baptized and confirmed the other.

brigham-young-and-heber-c-kimball1The names of the two converted friends from Mendon County?  They ended up being Joseph Smith’s most valiant apostles: Heber C. Kimball (great grandfather to prophet Spencer W. Kimball), and
Brigham Young (2nd prophet of the Church in this dispensation and this country’s great colonizer).

This young missionary, Alpheus Gifford? Well, he is my great, great, great grandfather.  What a blessing!
Did Alpheaus know what he had done?  The impact he had made? Absolutely not.

In 1975, my family received a letter from – then – prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Spencer W. Kimball.  In part, the letter reads:

Letter to Gifford FamilyTO THE MEMBERS OF THE GIFFORD FAMILY:
Dear Friends,
As one who is very grateful, may I express the gratitude of the Kimball family that your ancestor, Alpheus Gifford, was so responsible for bringing our ancestor [Heber C. Kimball] into the Church…

Please accept my best wishes, and may I express appreciation for the other members of the Kimball family and also for the Church for your faithfulness and devotion and loyalty.

With Kindest Wishes, Faithfully Yours,
Spencer W. Kimball, President

What a blessing!  Did Alpheus have any clue what he had done?  I don’t think so.  Do heroes know when they are heroic? Rarely.  Are historic moments acknowledged when they happen?  You know the answer to that one.

If not, a visit to the manger will remind you.  Or a trip to the Garden of Gethsemane will remind you.  We seldom see history in the making, and we seldom recognize heroes.  Which is just as well, for if we knew either, we might mess up both.

But we would do well to keep our eyes open.  For, tomorrow’s Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young might cross your path.  And the hero who inspires one of them just might be nearer than you think…

That hero may be in your own mirror.

“What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity?
Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero?
Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa?
Is the soul a source of hope or despair?
Who are these so-called heroes and where do they come from?
Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
Notes from Underground

.

(source, Max Lucado)

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