Knocked Down But Not Out

Unselfishness Helpfulness

Back in my junior college days—I got crazy in the ring, slugging it out with my buddies.

We pulled off our t-shirts, put on boxing gloves and pummeled each other.  For three minutes, two guys would box—and the rowdy crowd that circled us would decide who won the match.  Then, the winning fighter would box again and again—until he was exhausted or defeated.

Have you been kicked around and knocked down by the stuff of life?

Sometimes, we get beat up by people or circumstances—and feel like we can’t get back up.

That’s why I like the lyrics of “Get Back Up,” a contemporary Christian song sung by Toby Mac, as it offers us hope:  “You may be knocked down, but not out forever … we get back up again.”

That’s hope-filled encouragement for everyone who knows and trusts our Savior!

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was nailed to a rough wooden cross by tough Roman soldiers.  He hung there for three hours—and then died for our sins.  He was buried in an empty rock tomb—and then three days later, he got back up.  He came back to life.

That’s how our amazing and living Savior defeated sin, death and the enemy—with one punch!

Hebrews 12:2-3 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus … who endured the cross, scorning the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”

Our Savior was dropped to the mat and knocked down for the sins of the world—and then he got back up and grabbed life again, as the reigning Champion of heaven and earth!

That same Savior stands at your side—when life comes at you with a wild upper cut, bloodies your nose and drops you to the mat.  He may not stop the fight, but he’ll strengthen you.

The warrior-king David trusted his mighty God when he was harassed and attacked.  He wrote, “It is God who arms me with strength … he trains my hands for battle” (Psalm 18:32, 34).

That’s how we know David relied on God’s strength, as he faced and fought his enemies.

The bold apostle Paul thought like a fighter who refuses to quit, even when he’s getting beat up.  He wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

That’s how we know Paul didn’t give up and walk away when he got beat up.

So—next time the stuff of life pummels and knocks us down, let’s do what David and Paul did.  Let’s choose to get back up and refuse to give up—and look to our Savior for strength and hope!

 

 

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Growing Through Setbacks

Trials Character

John F. Kennedy was a World War 11 hero and the 35th President of the United States.

Early in his presidency, Kennedy was briefed on how the CIA had trained and armed Cuban exiles—during Eisenhower’s administration—to return to their homeland and lead a revolt—in a covert attempt to oust Castro and stop Soviet-backed threats against the United States.

President Kennedy decided to continue that clandestine operation, keeping it under the radar.  The Bay of Pigs invasion took place—as a military maneuver of Cuban expatriates trying to take back their country, overthrow Castro and dismantle a Communist regime.

But the Bay of Pigs operation failed miserably because the U.S. military and covert forces didn’t provide the necessary support to the Cuban invaders—and because the Cubans didn’t get past the shoreline, after two days of fighting.  It was a dismal failure—a total flop in military history.

Have you failed at something—or felt like a failure?

At times, the prophet Jeremiah experienced rejection and failure—at least from our puny perspective.  And yet, Jeremiah lived like a champion because he understood how to be “successful” in God’s eyes.  He learned to trust and obey God—no matter what.

Jeremiah was a Jewish priest, empowered and directed by God to serve as an outspoken prophet.  He confronted arrogant kings, false prophets and rebellious priests.  As Jeremiah lived out his calling, he was bold before men—but broken before God.

The humble prophet followed God—and yet, he often felt overwhelmed.  He struggled through seemingly insurmountable setbacks—but never gave up or doubted God’s presence and power.

That’s why Jeremiah wrote, “But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior, so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail … sing to the LORD, give praise to the LORD.   He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked” (Jeremiah 20:11, 13).

Later on, he wrote, “Ah, sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Jeremiah recognized and relied on the power, presence and plans of God—who is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present at once.  That’s why Jeremiah refused to give up.

For years, I kept a simple sign near my desk for those moments when felt like quitting.  It read, “Never give up.”  Today, that well-known saying still encourages me to rely on God when I feel like tossing in the towel and walking away.

Is God surprised by our setbacks and failures?  Not at all.  Does God know what’s happening in your life and ministry?  Absolutely.  Is God bigger and stronger than whatever urges you to give up and quit?  Immeasurably.

Friend—that’s why we can trust God and rely on him—no matter what!

 

God Is Always Approachable

Dog German shepherd

As I pedaled up the hill and got ready to toss another newspaper, I was caught off guard by a big German shepherd that I knew.  Instead of wagging his tail—like he usually did when I neared his yard—he barred his teeth and growled.  Then, he charged me.

I thought to myself, “Well, I can square off with this ornery dog, speed away on my bike, or …”  Rather foolishly, I went for the third option.  I rode straight at the dog.

Grabbing a rolled newspaper from my bag, I got ready to swing it like a club—but never got the chance.  The shepherd sank his teeth into my thigh, and I yelled, “That dumb dog bit me!”  Then suddenly, he turned tail and ran home.

Feeling a stab of pain in my leg, I braked and jumped off my bike—and dropped my Levis to investigate the wound.  I saw four deep puncture marks.

But ignoring the pain, I angrily mounted my stingray bike, finished my route and headed home.  First thing, I showed my early morning “battle scar” to Dad who—to my chagrin—said I needed to get some shots to in case I got rabies.  Those long needled shots hurt more than the dog bite!

That morning, Dad and I knocked on the door of the house where the dog lived—and learned he’d been cruelly beaten by some neighborhood boys riding bicycles, just days before he charged and bit me.

Later on, the doctor called to tell us that the dog didn’t have rabies.  I thought, “Oh man, I got poked repeatedly with a long needle—for nothing!”

For days, I steered clear of that big shepherd, and carried a spray bottle of vinegar so I could nail him if he charged me again.  I avoided him because I was afraid—and hesitant to approach him.

The Bible says God is our heavenly Father.  He’s always approachable and trustworthy.  He’s ready for us to run to him, just like small children who never hesitate to run to their strong Dad.

But rather foolishly, we sometimes try to steer clear of God.  We may see him as a distant father or a big bully.  We may mistrust or fear him.  We may harbor distorted thoughts about him.

Long ago, the confident apostle Paul encouraged his timid friend Timothy.  He wrote, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5), and “through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12).

Friend—because we have such open access to our heavenly Father, we can run to him—boldly and confidently.  He’s always approachable and receptive.  He’s gracious and reliable.  He nods and motions, inviting us to his side—and he hugs us.

So then, “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-15).

Will you run into our Father’s open arms, enjoy his strong embrace and rely on his grace?

 

 

Confident and Courageous

Marisol Valles Police Chief

Marisol Valles was courageous—or crazy. In 2010, the 20-year-old mother signed on as the new police chief of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, one of Mexico’s most dangerous border towns. Despite the fact that her predecessors were brutally killed, she boldly stepped forward.

She volunteered to lead 13 officers with one patrol car, three automatic rifles and a pistol. She boldly stood against the drug cartels who had murdered a mayor, his son, and numerous citizens of Mexico and the United States. Valles knew they’d probably kill her.

Chief Valles was a very courageous woman—just like the bold women whose stories are told in the Scriptures.

Deborah led the warriors of Israel—and together, they fought valiantly against fierce enemies. Esther approached the king unannounced, risking her own life to rescue her Jewish people.

Hannah prayed for a son. Two years after Samuel was born, she kept her promise and took him to the temple, where he learned to serve God. Mary endured ridicule and rejection from family and neighbors, as a young virgin in whom the Holy Spirit had miraculously conceived Jesus.

All of these women lived confidently and courageously in a world of cowards and compromisers.

Are you bold and courageous—or timid and fearful? Are you more like a lion or a mouse? Proverbs 28:1 says, “The righteous are as bold as a lion.”

God empowers us to live boldly. No matter how fast our heart is pounding. No matter how great the odds. No matter how bleak the circumstances.

Courage is stepping through fear, whether it’s caused by a perceived threat or real danger.

It’s standing and staying strong when we’d rather run and hide. It’s being bold and brave when we’d rather give up and get out. It’s blowing the bugle and charging the hill when we’d rather sound retreat.

We can’t manufacture confidence or muster courage on our own. That’s why we must rely on Almighty God to empower us to be confident and courageous.

God is the one who fuels our courage—as we trust and obey the Scriptures. He says, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7-8).

God is the one who fortifies our confidence—as we recognize and rely on his presence. He says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

That’s why and how we can live confidently and courageously—as righteous men and women who obey the Scriptures, enjoy God’s presence and rely on his power!

 

 

Navigating the Pits of Life

Sinkhole 300 Feet 2007 Guatemala

You probably know what it’s like to fall flat on your face. You’re stunned and embarrassed for a while—with nothing to say and nowhere to hide.

I’ve tripped and skinned my knees. I’ve lost my footing and somersaulted head over heels. I’ve skidded across the road under a big Kawasaki. I’ve been tossed by an unruly horse. I’ve crashed my mountain bike on a country road.

But I’ve never been tossed into a hole in the ground—and left there. Hurt. Scared. Confused.

Joseph’s jealous brothers threw him into an empty pit in a faraway field. Jeremiah’s loud-mouth critics put him in a muddy cistern near the city gates. Daniel’s dishonest associates concocted a plan that forced the king to toss him into a lions’ den.

The psalmist David wrote about the pits of life because he felt the pain of getting stuck there. He cried, I sink into the miry depths, where there is no foothold …” (Psalm 69:2). He struggled with circumstances, emotions and individuals that discouraged and trapped him.

But David also rejoiced, as he remembered God’s rescue. He wrote, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my felt on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:1-2).

David’s frequent experiences with the pits of life should encourage us. His raw emotions and honest talks with God should reassure us that it’s okay to feel, struggle and question—as we go through the pits of life and find ourselves down and out.

Remember—when we get knocked down or stuck in a tight spot, God is there. When we fall down and get hurt, God is there. He cares—and he’s ready to rescue and strengthen us.

God is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present at once. He’s sovereign over all things—and in control of all things—even if it doesn’t look or feel like it to us. He allows or causes “in the pit” circumstances to build our character and endurance.

God is everywhere present at once. He’s always with us—and that’s why he goes and stays with us inside every pit, just as he did with Joseph, Jeremiah, Daniel and David. You can read more about their “in the pit” stories in Genesis 37, Jeremiah 38, Daniel 6 and Psalm 40.

Honestly, the stuff of life can drop us into a pit at any moment. Maybe you’re stuck in a pit right now. Maybe you’re going to sink into a pit soon. Either way, God is with you.

Corrie Ten Boom wrote, “There is no pit so deep that God is not still deeper.” That’s what I call correct pit theology. God is always with us. No matter what happens.

Our strong Papa goes into “the pit” with us. He isn’t distant. He’s right there with us. He sees our circumstances and feels our emotions. He isn’t detached. Our tender Papa cares about us.

That’s why we can rely on him—anywhere, for anything and at any time!

 

 

 

Learning How to Wait God’s Way

Waiting in Line

I’m a fairly patient man—but I don’t like waiting in line. It doesn’t matter where, why, or how long I’m waiting. I just don’t like it.

Frankly, I don’t think anybody enjoys waiting. But we wait anyway—because we can’t avoid it. Often, we find ourselves sitting or standing somewhere, waiting for someone or something.

We wait at grocery stores and drive-thru windows. Stop lights and crosswalks. Busy airports and crowded subways. Italian restaurants and taco trucks.

Waiting isn’t for the faint of heart because it isn’t easy or stress-free. It’s very difficult for us.

Having to wait for someone or something can be aggravating if we’re in a hurry, exasperating if we’re running late, and frustrating when we can’t do anything about it.

But I don’t think God looks at waiting like that. I think God sees it as something more than just something we have to do throughout the day. Could it be that waiting is a good thing?

God sees waiting from a different perspective: It requires us to slow down when we’d rather go faster. It refocuses us to consider interruptions as significant pieces of God’s plan for our day. It reminds us to trust and experience God’s presence, enjoy his peace, and discover his purposes.

Long ago, the wise but worn out prophet Isaiah wrote to people who were tired of waiting for their circumstances to change:

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope [wait] in the LORD will renew their strength … they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

Slowly but surely, we can learn how to wait, just as the shepherd-boy turned warrior-king did. David didn’t like to wait any more than you and I do, but he discovered how to do it, God’s way.

David learned to wait confidently. He wrote, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2).

David learned to wait expectantly. He believed, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock …” (Psalm 62:5-7).

David learned to wait continually. He taught, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8).

So, next time you’re stuck waiting, remember: God urges us to rely on him for strength and stamina—and encourages us to learn how to wait confidently, expectantly, and continually!

Why Teaching Is So Important

Books

Bruce Wilkinson tells how Dr. Howard Hendricks—his professor, mentor and friend—reacted years ago, when he pretended to be totally disinterested in what Hendricks was teaching.

One afternoon at Dallas Seminary, Wilkinson—an avid learner and top-notch student—concocted a plan to test and match wits with Hendricks. He wanted to see how long Hendricks would tolerate his “lack of attention” before he did something to recapture it.

When the bell rang, Hendricks started teaching. Wilkinson—who usually listened attentively and took notes—put his pen down, sat sideways in his chair and gazed out the window—as if to say he was no longer listening.

Out of the corner of his eye, Wilkinson saw that Hendricks had detected his unusual disinterest and lack of concentration —and he wondered what Hendricks would do.

Attempting to recapture Wilkinson’s attention, Hendricks stopped and told a joke. Wilkinson didn’t laugh. Then, he talked louder, taught even more energetically and waved his arms like crazy. Wilkinson didn’t seem to notice.

Abruptly, Hendricks walked all the way across the classroom, told another joke and jumped up and down. Wilkinson didn’t budge.

Finally, Hendricks couldn’t take it anymore. He marched down the aisle and yelled, “Wilkinson, what on earth are you doing?” Wilkinson just smiled and said, “Sorry, Prof.”

In less than 60 seconds, the master-teacher did everything he could—just short of standing on a desk—to try and recapture his student’s attention.

For more than fifty years, Hendricks taught with energy and excellence because he refused to settle for mediocre teaching and half-hearted learning. He taught with passion and purpose because he wanted his students to make a life-changing difference as pastors and teachers.

That’s how God used Hendricks to teach and influence thousands of people around the world!

Wise Solomon wrote, “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still;  teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning” (Proverbs 9:9). That’s the joy of teaching.

The apostle Paul wrote, “And the things you have heard me say … entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). That’s the genius of mentoring.

As teachers and learners, we can trust God to empower us to teach and learn how to become wiser and more mature in Christ. We can also trust God to equip us to mentor, teach and influence others.

That’s what Solomon, Paul, Timothy, Howard Hendriks, Bruce Wilkinson and many others have done—and that’s why God has used them to turn the world upside down for Christ!

Why Giving Trumps Getting

Mukesh Ambani Mansion

Business tycoon Mukesh Ambani—the wealthiest man in India—built his dream house for just over $500 million. It’s a 27-floor mansion that juts 568 feet into the sky, making it as high as a 60-floor office skyscraper.

The residence tower—named Antilla—sports a six-floor parking garage with enough space to park 160 vehicles. Nine elevators and three helipads transport Ambani, his family and guests to 60,000 square feet of luxurious living quarters.

That’s what I call a big house—taller than the house that Jack built and bigger than any Del Rio home my friend Jim has built!

Are you okay with a “cracker box” house—or are you chomping at the bit to buy a bigger house with a five-car garage, a huge swimming pool and all the bells and whistles?

A lot of us crave what the world treasures and tantalizes. We get disenchanted with our same old stuff—and see it as disposable junk. We want things that we can’t afford and don’t need.

We grow dissatisfied with what we have. So, we buy to get more thing—and build to keep up with the neighbors next door. We covet and charge. We eyeball and envy.

That’s what happens when we tolerate attitudes that deceive and dirty our hearts. Pride. Jealousy. Envy. Greed. Discontentment. And a whole lot more.

1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain …” Our resources won’t last forever. They’re temporary, vulnerable and fleeting. That’s why Timothy so exhorted the wealthy.

But before you ignore Timothy’s teaching, take a moment to consider God’s bountiful blessings in your life. Compared to most people in the world, you’re a wealthy individual.

Now, here’s the million dollar question: Is what you have too little, just right or too much?

One way to check your perspective is to see if you value things more than people—and if you enjoy getting more than giving. That’s the yardstick that measures what we really treasure.

God isn’t impressed by how much we have or what we get. Instead, he focuses on how we give and who we help. That’s why God encourages us to be increasingly helpful and generous.

Young Pastor Timothy also exhorted, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age …” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

That’s deliberate generosity, prompted by an unselfish heart that trusts and obeys God—and accompanied by willing hands that serve and help people.

Remember, God rewards generous believers for investing today’s treasures for eternity!

 

Shelter in the Storm

God is My Refuge Ps. 91

Most of us look for shelter from the storms of life. Some find it. Others don’t. But one thing’s for sure: everybody struggles against life’s storms—and nobody sidesteps them.

But God isn’t alarmed. He knows everything. He sees our struggles and feels our emotions. He knows our name and understands our story. On top of all that, God cares!

People everywhere are struggling with the stuff of life. They’re confused and hurting on the inside. They’re wondering if anyone sees and cares.

They live inside our home. Next door. Down the street. Around the corner. In your church. At work. Across your city.

We may know little or nothing about their circumstances, but they’re struggling nonetheless—just like us.

All of us need encouragement. Hope and perspective. A buffer zone from the harsh realities of life. A safe place to rest. Someone to stand up for us. Someone to sit and cry with us.

At times—we’re vulnerable and weak. Just barely hanging on. Tired and run down. Alone and afraid. Overwhelmed. Desperate and discouraged. Ready to quit.

So, where can we turn for shelter—and to whom can we run for strength?

David declared, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty … he is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1).

God is our shelter. No matter how long the storm rages, we can trust God. He won’t abandon us. He won’t jump ship. He won’t leave us in a lurch.

God stays with us through thick and thin. He offers shade, protection and rest. He’s our strong fortress. We can count on him—and run to him. He’s our unmovable rock.

Remember, God may not change our circumstances. He may not tweak anything. He may not lift us out right away. He may not respond or rescue, as we’d like.

But no matter what happens—we can trust God’s wise perspective, experience his mighty power and enjoy his constant presence.

David prayed, “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:4). That’s what we need to pray and do. Every day. All day long. No matter what.

Are you caught in a storm today? Do feel like you’re going under? Are you getting slammed by the stuff of life? If not, now is the time for you to get ready because a storm is on its way!

Friend, we can choose to stay in God’s shadow—and take shelter beneath his strong wings. We can enjoy his presence, rely on his protection and experience his power!

 

 

Hold the Line

Fumble

“Stay strong. Hold the line. Stay in the fight. Make your stand. Stay in the game. Don’t quit. Don’t back down. Don’t give an inch. Don’t let anybody get by you.”

Strong leaders bark these gutsy commands—and courageous men and women answer the call. They step up, run forward and tackle the challenge. They’re a breed set apart.

They’re military commanders. Battalion chiefs. Firefighters. Quarterbacks. Defensive linemen. Navy SEALS. Police officers. Fighter pilots. Parents. Surgeons. Pastors. Teachers. Coaches. And the list goes on.

They stand up—and refuse to back down. They do whatever it takes to hold the line—regardless of the cost.

Did you know God expects you to suit up and hold the line?

Ephesians 6:13-14 says, “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

God commands us to wear his protective armor so we can stand firm and stay strong.

We don’t hose hot fires or target enemy soldiers. We don’t round up bad guys or tackle running backs. Our fight is very different and more dangerous because it’s spiritually camouflaged.

We’re opposing the enemy of our souls—our adversary, the devil. We’re waging war against his evil forces. We’re exposing deception and opposing darkness.

Are we strong enough to hold the line against our enemy? Not if we try to fight in our own strength. Do we have an effective battle plan? Not if we haven’t read the New Testament.

As believers in Christ, we can resist and defeat the enemy only if we follow his winning strategy.

We must trust our great God who is all-knowing and all-powerful. Wear the impenetrable armor of God. Walk in the light. Know and declare the truth. Recognize our identity in Christ.

Ephesians 6:10 says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power …” God is the source of our strength. We’re puny and powerless without him.

1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” God equips and empowers us to stand firm in our Lord Jesus Christ.

As spiritually strong warriors, we can resist and defeat the enemy only by wearing the armor of God, knowing our identity in Christ and wielding the Word of God. That is God’s unbeatable strategy for us. Remember, we engage in spiritual combat with the enemy—all day long.

Alone, we’re no match—but in Christ, we can suit up, stand firm and win the victory!