A Pow in the Gut
I stood at the three-point line on the basketball court. Our team was playing defense under the other team’s goal. One of their players shot the ball, but it didn’t go in. Instantly I started running. As point guard, I needed to get to our side of the court in case one of our girls caught the rebound.
Tiffany was built for sports. She could throw the ball with amazing power. When she caught the rebound, she launched the basketball in my direction. When it reached me, it had such power it went through my hands and landed in my gut. “Pow!” The noise reverberated through the whole gym, and as if on cue, the crowd said in unison, “Oooh!”
I couldn’t think for a minute. I noticed that the referee was just standing there. The other team wasn’t charging me. I turned to look at the clock. It was still going. Something clicked in my head, and I knew what to do. I pivoted toward the goal, dribbled a couple of feet, and shot. Much to my surprise, it went in! The crowd cheered in amazement.
Later I heard that the parents of both church youth teams expected me to fall to my knees. The sheer energy of the ball could have ended our team’s offensive efforts, but it didn’t. That pow in the gut turned into a goal for the team.
As we go through life, we may get a pow in the gut from time to time. Some things happen that catch us off guard, hurt us, or cause us to wonder if we can keep going. But that’s when God reassures us that this is not the end of the “play.” He can turn difficult things into good (Romans 8:28). He can turn them into a goal for us, and for the team.
In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul urged Timothy not to back down from the fight when persecution came. He helped him to be prepared for any “pows” that would come his way.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:8 NKJV)
Don’t be ashamed. The fear of rejection can make us afraid to take a stand. Criticism and gossip can embarrass us to the point that we hesitate to say anything about Jesus in public.
Paul knew how severe the persecution against Timothy would be. Paul himself had been “beaten with rods … stoned; three times … shipwrecked; a night and a day … in the deep” (2 Corinthians 11:25 NKJV) and much more. Yet his advice to his beloved son in the faith was this—don’t let suffering stop you. Share in it. The result of your hard work is worth the trouble it brings. But don’t try to endure suffering in your own strength. Endure it in God’s.
We can endure suffering by drawing on God’s power which includes a new mindset.1 As we take in God’s Word, our minds are transformed (Romans 12:2). We begin to see things from God’s viewpoint. A changed perspective empowers us to rise above the pain of suffering so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. When we understand that we’re being mistreated for something that will help people’s eternal well-being, suffering loses some of its sting.
God is working to redeem the world to Himself, and we have a role in that redemptive work. So don’t let life’s “pows” stop your forward progress. Endure them in the power of God.
Psalms 116:12-13 12How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? 13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.
God is good! When I am in touch with reality enough to see how good God has been to me, I am convicted to respond in some way. A vision of the goodness of God comes only by the grace of God. Left to ourselves, we would only focus on what was not pleasing us at the moment. Our old nature is extremely negative and loves to be critical. But when the grace of God opens our eyes for a moment, when He breaks through that veil of darkness that our carnal nature casts over our vision, then we see His great goodness. Once we see it, we are overwhelmed with wonder that He could be so good to rebellious creatures like us.
Then we start to think about the appropriate response. If someone lavished sacrificial goodness upon you after you have ignored his or her attention a thousand times before, if your heart is somehow enabled to see the love that prompted all that goodness, you would want to respond. Take a moment to look at the cross. Can you see Him hanging there in agony for YOU? Now open the eyes of your spirit and see Him standing in front of you with His nail pierced hands stretched out to receive you into His loving embrace. How will you respond?
Take the cup of salvation! Drink it to the last drop. Call on His name, Jesus/ Yeshua, salvation of Jehovah! “Save me, cleanse me, make me wholly Yours. Fill me, change me, use me as You will. I give you this life that has lived selfishly up till now, to do with as You will.
Consider: That is my only appropriate response to all the goodness the Lord has lavished upon me. “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.”
Give a Little Grace
by Debbie Holloway, crosswalk.com
Winter weather is pretty bipolar in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. One day it can be warm and sunny, and the next day you curse your bad luck for not wearing earmuffs and gloves when you walk out the door. However, when bad weather is forecast, local reactions are solidly predictable, specifically when it comes to “preparation” and driving in abnormal road conditions.
“Snow? SNOW? IT’S GOING TO SNOW?!”
People around here freak out and buy a lot of bread and milk when storms are predicted. If your significant other suggests, “Hey, we’re out of ____, can you stop by Wal-Mart?” on the evening a snowstorm is predicted to hit: forget about it; society is on crazy pills. Additionally, nobody around here can drive in the snow either. Obviously greater caution is called for with icy and slippery road conditions, but people see white stuff and generally throw out every rule they ever learned about How to Be a Good Driver.
Such reactions generate a lot of scorn from imported northerners. After all, children in Michigan attend school daily in the wintery months in upwards of a foot of snow. Why do Richmond kids get classes canceled at the forecast of snow? There is definitely impatience and indignation – and no doubt it is well-deserved!
After doing a fair amount of grumbling during our recent snows, I thought, Hmm, this seems familiar… spiritually…
Isn’t it easy to find ourselves being “northerners” when we find ourselves around those at different points in their spiritual walks? We find it easy to look down upon, mock, or judge people who have difficulty living with restraint, modesty, chastity, gentleness, or a host of other spiritual virtues. We roll our eyes at people unfamiliar with the Bible, who can’t rattle off verses by memory as quickly as their ABCs.
Essentially, we are impatient with those who have less (or different) theoogical, spiritual, or biblical exposure and knowledge. But how is that fair? In reality, many people are ill-prepared simply because of their upbringing. Many come to Christ as adults, out of nonbelieving families. Many people don’t have much time (or the inclination!) to devote to in-depth biblical or theological study. Many people grew up in a church where only the most basic of Gospel truths were touched on, and become paralyzed when more complex life situations rear their ugly heads.
Should all Christians have an intense drive to make themselves as knowledgeable and as spiritually “prepared” as possible? Well, yes. But we live in a busy, imperfect world full of busy, imperfect people. Everyone’s experience is different; everyone is part of a unique story.
So when the “snowstorms” of life come, don’t mock the “southerners” in your midst who freak out. Instead, be there for them. Extend grace, love, and friendship. Not everyone can be prepared for what seems like No Big Deal to you. Everyone’s hard place deserves validation in a Kingdom of God marked by compassion, equality, forgiveness, and love.
Scripture Reading — Matthew 7:13-14
“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” — Matthew 7:14
Jesus lays out a clear choice that each of us must make. There is a wide, easy road that leads to destruction. And there is a harder, narrower road of discipleship that leads to life.
It can be easy to assume that the broad road includes only people who do not believe in God, or maybe people of some other faith who do not know Jesus. So we might assume that Jesus is drawing a contrast between people in the church and those who are completely outside of it.
But in light of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, there’s another way to think about this passage. Jesus has been showing his listeners that they need to move from outward religion and ritual into a true relationship with God. We need to go beyond merely behaving ourselves to actually walking in union with the Father.
So as we read this passage, we need to realize that Jesus is describing not only a choice between faith or no faith. There’s also a choice between empty, surface-level religion and genuine discipleship.
The call of this passage is to move beyond rituals or cultural faith and to truly enter a full-life relationship with God, marked by dependence and submission to his will.