“For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” -Psalm 75:6-7
It was 1955. The setting was famous Gorky Park. The park sits on the shores of the Moskva River in the middle of Moscow, Russia. Here a historical event took place in an outdoor amphitheater before 15,000 avid Russian weightlifting fans. Standing room only! An alternate-selected lifter, no less, to the US State Department Team was about to lift enough weight to beat the best lifters the Russian team had to offer.
Paul Anderson, a rookie and unknown US weightlifter from tiny Toccoa, Georgia, stood before a bar fitted with enough weights to out-lift his Russian competitors. He had not even warmed up. The crowd was amused and quite skeptical. Relatively short and over 350 pounds, he did not fit their perception of a typical weightlifter. Chuckles and the smattering of laughter rolled through the crowd. How could this unknown in the sport beat the best the Russian team had? This was a country where weightlifting was considered the national sport. These Russians boasted the best weightlifters in the world.
It was the midst of the Cold War. The USSR was America’s enemy, and the tensions were palpable. This had been arranged as an attempt at good will as the US team went behind the Iron Curtain for the first time to compete against the Russians. The eyes of the world were on this competition.
Paul stepped up and reached down, grasping the bar. He snatched it to his chest. With a prodigious effort, he raised it overhead, stretching his arms until they were straight, then throwing the winning weight to the stage floor. Complete silence reigned throughout the amphitheater; you could hear a pin drop. The crowd was absolutely stunned.
Then, after what seemed like a lifetime, the crowd erupted. The applause increased to enthusiastic shouts. The sound was deafening as the crowd began to chant in Russian, “Chudo prirody,” meaning “a wonder of nature.” To this day, Paul Anderson is remembered and revered in Russia among their many weightlifting fans and others who heard of this amazing weightlifter from America.
About 50 years after this event, a group of Russian tourists came to Vidalia, Georgia, of all places, to visit Brewton Parker College nearby. Surprising their local tour guide, they insisted she take them to see the Paul Anderson Youth Home, established by Paul and his wife, Glenda, in 1961. The local guide had no idea Paul was so famous in Russia, even after so many years.
This past week, Paul’s widow, Glenda, and his daughter, Paula, visited Gorky Park for the first time to see where their late husband and father had beaten the Russians 64 years before. It was an unforgettable experience. The refurbished amphitheater still stands in Gorky Park; Paula and her mother stood on the same stage.
This amazing performance in 1955 put Paul on the world map. Later that same year, he won the World Championship in Munich, Germany and a year later the Olympic Gold Medal in Melbourne, Australia. His notoriety throughout the world began with this competition in Moscow and a week later in St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad. Glenda and Paula saw this weightlifting sight as well.
In the “Big House” on the PAYH campus, a drawing hangs on the wall of the second floor in a gallery of pictures and framed letters of Paul’s legacy. The drawing depicts Paul lifting a great weight with Jesus standing behind and over him with His own hands on the bar beside Paul’s. This drawing captures Paul’s self-description of his Gold Medal lift in the 1956 Olympics, found in the book A Greater Strength, Paul’s biography. It depicts the truth of Psalm 75:6-7, which Paul believed was the very reason he won the Gold Medal, even though weakened by a high fever which caused him to rapidly lose over 30 pounds in the short 13 days prior to his winning lift.
The Lord Jesus Christ assisted Paul in getting the winning weight overhead, answering Paul’s just prior vowed life-service-prayer to the King of Kings. It was an amazing lift, for Paul had failed in his first two attempts of the three allotted him. That same Jesus lifts you up also in the numerous vicissitudes of this life. Your lifting up by God is not necessarily as world-renowned as the case of Paul’s dramatic lift, but, nevertheless, it is just as critical to you in your own personal rescues by the Lord of Glory.
He lifts you up above the assaults of Satan on your being. He lifts you from the miry pit when in your own strength you cannot get out of the sucking-mud. Jesus wants to be asked to lift you beyond the powerful constraints of your sin. His sacrifice on the Mt. Calvary cross just beyond the gates of Jerusalem was for this very purpose – to lift you up to eternity when nothing but perishing was in your future.
He Himself had to accomplish what your own efforts were incapable of doing. His blood, His willing and voluntary sacrifice covers those who believe with His own performed righteousness. In other words, He provides you with the spiritual wedding clothes that preclude you from being thrown out of the wedding supper of the Lamb. You belong there because of what He did and you believed. Your presence is desired and is completely celebrated. Jesus did this!
He did the Gorky Park lift and Paul Anderson’s Olympic lift, but more critically, He lifts you up to eternity!
“Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame. Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same. He touched me, oh He touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul! Something happened and now I know He touched me and made me whole.”
(First verse of William Gaither’s song, “He Touched Me,” 2001)
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