Trials come to all of us. While we don’t exercise control over many of the situations that occur in life, there is one thing for sure: we get to choose how we respond. I have experienced suffering in my own life from to time to time. We all have. Can’t say that I am a big fan of it. But I must admit that enormous good has come out of the trials I’ve faced. How about you? How do you view the adversity that you’ve experienced? Although you might not want to repeat those times, can you see how God has worked suffering for good in your life?
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope,” (Romans 5:3-4, NKJV).
The veteran missionary, Paul, wrote these verses to Christians in Rome. He was trying to encourage them with respect to the persecution and suffering they were facing as Christians under pagan rule. Note that he tells them that he rejoices in his sufferings. Wow! Why would he do that? Paul had been beaten several times within an inch of his life, stoned and left for dead, and shipwrecked on numerous occasions. He knew what hardship and suffering looked like. But Paul answers the question as to why he rejoiced: it was because of what the suffering had produced. Through tough times, he had developed perseverance. Perseverance produced character, and character gave him hope. As Christians we need all three: perseverance, character, and hope.
As Christians we need all three: perseverance, character, and hope.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine who has rebounded from trials about as well as any individual I personally know. His name is Clebe McClary, a Marine. I first met Clebe in 1985 when I was serving as a chaplain in the 82d Airborne Division. I was responsible for two battalions at the time and invited him to be a guest speaker for both units. Clebe’s autobiography, Living Proof, tells the entire story, but let me briefly relate some of the trials that he experienced. First Lieutenant McClary was serving as a platoon leader with the First Marine Division’s First Reconnaissance Battalion. The year was 1968 and the place was South Vietnam just south of An Hoa.
On March 3, 1LT McClary’s thirteen-man team was occupying positions on Hill 146 in preparation for a large operation that was to occur in a few days. Upon arrival at the location, they quickly discovered that the enemy had tried to turn the football-sized area into a death trap through a series of booby traps and pungi pits. The team cleared the mines, pungi pits, and other explosives on the hill. Soon thereafter, they learned that the large operation had been cancelled, and that helicopters would extract them as soon as the weather cleared. On the third night on Hill 146, 1LT McClary’s life on this earth would be radically changed. The team knew they were being watched by elements of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), but they had no idea of what was about to happen.
Around midnight large numbers of NVA soldiers along with a sapper element attacked their positions with a barrage of rifle fire, grenades, and satchel charges. If you want to hear the account in detail, I recommend you buy his book. But for now let me simply say that 10 of the 13 Marines were either killed or wounded, one of those being 1LT McClary. Miraculously, rescue helicopters were able to pull the team off Hill 146 before everyone was killed. Clebe’s injuries were bad: life-threatening for several days. For a starter, a grenade had blown off his left arm above the elbow. His left eye had been blown out. He sustained shrapnel wounds over most of his body.
Bottom line: he was a mess.
I’ll finish telling you more about Clebe shortly, but I must pause to tell you about Deanna, his lovely wife. She is equally amazing in the way she handled this adversity. Judy and I actually met Deanna years before we ever met Clebe when she sung at our church in Charleston, South Carolina. Deanna, in addition to having a good singing voice, is a former Miss South Carolina.
The Vietnam War produced some sad accounts, but the most heart-breaking situations occurred when wives of wounded veterans chose to abandon their men. They simply chose not to handle the deal with their wounded husbands and all of the accompanying challenges.
Not Deanna McClary. She is made of durable stuff. Leaving Clebe never crossed her mind. During the days, months, and even years of Clebe’s recovery, she stuck by his side. They are still together today, the proud parents of two lovely daughters named Christa and Tara. They live on Pawley’s Island and continue to work together in ministry.
Back to Clebe. Formerly a handsome, talented athlete at Clemson, 1LT McClary’s world had literally been torn apart. For his actions, he earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart. But what about his future? What would he do now? Missing his left arm, missing his left eye, and left with serious wounds all over the rest of his body. He was told he would never walk again. Remember what I said earlier? We usually can’t stop the trials from happening in our lives, but we do get to choose how we respond. And respond Clebe did, and in the most courageous fashion.
On July 26, 1968, Clebe and Deanna attended an evangelistic crusade in Florence, South Carolina, that would change their lives forever. After listening to the evangelist speak, they responded to the altar call and committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Both had been in church many times and had lived the trappings of the Christian life. But they each knew there was more. On this night it became personal. Both entered into a personal relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ. It didn’t happen overnight, but God worked on Clebe’s heart and called him into full time ministry. The rest is history.
When I met Clebe in 1985 he had ministered to tens of thousands. By now it’s safe to say that number has grown to hundreds of thousands, if not millions. He has spoken in all 50 states and in 30 countries throughout the world. Still an amazing athlete, Clebe continued to run, participating in many marathons and Special Olympics. The list of awards and special recognitions Clebe has received is lengthy. Just ‘google’ his name to find out much more about the things he and Deanna have accomplished since that fateful night on Hill 146 in South Vietnam.
Has adversity knocked you to the mat? Have you gotten up yet? If you have, super! If not, let me assure you that you can- with God’s help, of course. You’re thinking: “Scott, you have no idea how tough my situation is and how hopeless I feel. I just can’t. I’m destined to a life of simply trying to survive-that’s all, nothing more. Really? Is that what some person has led you to think? Or maybe Satan has deceived you into thinking that your life is all but over, and worth very little. I don’t know you, but whatever dismal report you’ve heard didn’t come from the Lord. As long as you have breath in you, God hasn’t finished with you
Jesus came that you might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).
You have purpose and meaning. The trial, adversity, or whatever has you down isn’t enough to stop you, not if you turn to God for help. That’s what Clebe did. That’s what Deanna did. And that’s what millions of others on the planet are doing as well. “Easy to do?” “No. “Will things turn around quickly?” “Probably not.” “Will it turn out like I want it to?” “I don’t know. God is in charge of the results. You are in charge of trying.” “When should I start?” “How about now?” You’ve heard it before, or certainly something similar: “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Take that step today. God will help you. And so will others. But you must decide to try. You must take the first step. A great first step would be to talk to the Lord and ask for His guidance and help. I will even suggest some words to pray.
But let me get back to Clebe one more time with a couple of things you might be interested to learn. By 1985 Clebe had received national attention as a preacher of the Gospel and a great motivational speaker as well in secular settings. But he still had challenges. Tough challenges that he had to deal with daily, and still does. The first morning I met Clebe in 1985, I went to pick him up at the guest quarters on Fort Bragg. He met me at the door of his room, looking very sharp in his Marine combat uniform. But as we shut his door to walk to my car, he looked at me and asked if I would do him a favor.
You have purpose and meaning.
He needed me to tie his jungle boots. You see, he only had one arm as it was, and even the fingers on his one arm were severely ‘jacked up.’ He could speak to thousands, but physically he couldn’t tie his bootlaces. Later on that morning we were at the mess hall eating breakfast. My commander and some senior non-commissioned officers were spellbound listening to Clebe. But at one point during our breakfast, Clebe leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “Scott, would you please cut my pancakes?” Again, 1LT McClary’s wounds from Vietnam left him unable to perform a simple action like cutting his own pancakes. The lesson is simple. We all have our challenges, some of which will remain with us for a lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish the unique mission God assigns to each of us.
Back to the verses I chose to use for this writing-Romans 5:3,4. On the first morning I ever met Clebe, he spoke from this text. They have been indelibly marked in my brain and on my heart since that time. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
I close with a prayer. I invite you to pray with me:
Lord Jesus, thank you for the truth of verses 3 and 4: suffering can produce perseverance in my life. And perseverance can develop my character. And as my character grows, I will have hope. God, I need hope to overcome the adversity in my life. Just as you helped Clebe, help me to get up off the mat and fight the good fight of faith. Help me to know and to accomplish Your will for my life. I want to do this, Jesus. I just need Your help. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen. Time now for action. Step up to the next level. The God of this Universe will help you.