Arm Wrestling The Devil

There may not be a more guttural display of manly competitiveness than that of arm wrestling. Pit two men against each other in a test of sheer arm strength till veins bulge in their foreheads and necks, and people will gather around to watch. Pit me against either of our sons, Alex or Austin, and no one would pay the price of admission.

Why? Because it’s no contest. Their bodies have not yet developed muscles to the point whereby they would have enough strength to defeat me. Simply put, I would win every time.

I remember challenging my parents to arm wrestling when I was younger and winning many times, only to realize in later years that it is because they were letting me win. I was so disappointed to discover that I wasn’t as strong as I had thought.

You know, the enemy of our souls is a lot like a little kid arm wrestling their parent. That kid doesn’t stand a chance unless he is allowed to win by the parent. The kid would lose every time. And the truth is, Scripture tells us that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” In other words, because God lives in me, when the devil challenges me, I can win every time. He’s just out-powered. It’s no contest. The only way the devil can win when he comes against me is if I let him win. But as long as I oppose him… as long as I put up any resistance at all… he simply cannot overcome it.

There is this myth which floats about mankind which says what is going on in the spiritual is an epic battle between good and evil… that God and the devil are equal opposites, and we just have to wait and see who will win. That is misguided thinking. The angel who rebelled against God and became who we know as the devil was a creation of God who was instantly defeated the moment he opposed God, and he has been living a defeated existence ever since. There is absolutely no comparison or competition.

And since the Creator of the Universe lives in those of us who have accepted Him, we have that power in us. This means the devil is no competition if we will simply offer resistance.

I don’t know how he has flexed his wicked muscles in front of you today, or how he has taunted you to sit down at the table and grasp hands, but when he says go, just hold tight… give him a wink… and then slam his wrist through the table… because he doesn’t stand a chance of winning if you oppose him with the One who is greater living in you.

So get out this week and arm wrestle the devil if you must. Just remember… you can’t lose as long as you offer resistance!

Blame or Credit?

I’m going to assume that since you are reading this, you must be human. And since you are human, I will also therefore suppose that you have faced hurt or unfair treatment in your life… like the rest of us. You’ve probably been wounded by people who were supposed to be for you, on your side.

When that happens, it’s normal to feel emotional pain, to feel betrayed, to wonder why this bad stuff is happening to you. That’s okay initially. And some wounds are deep enough that they just simply take longer to heal. That’s understandable.

But at some point on the journey, we need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people. The question then becomes… What will you do with the bad stuff that has happened to you in life?

In the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, we read the story of someone who was done really wrong by those who should’ve been closest to him. His name was Joseph, and God had given him big dreams for his life. As he began to share these dreams with his family, his dad discredited him, and his brothers hated him for the dreams. They hated him so much that they started to kill him, but decided to sell him into slavery and tell their dad a wild animal ate him.

There is no doubt that Joseph was done wrong. But it got worse for him before it got better. Though he excelled as a slave for a high-ranking Egyptian leader, he was falsely accused of attempting to rape that man’s wife… and whose word do you think they believed, the slave or the lady? So Joseph was sent to jail.

In jail, Joseph excelled again and even predicted the futures for two servants of the king based on their dreams. They promised to remember him, but one was executed and the other forgot Joseph for a long time. Finally, Joseph was called upon to interpret a dream for the king, and it was then that he rose to prominence as the second in command for the entire nation of Egypt.

A famine ensued, and Joseph’s brothers showed up to get food from Egypt where Joseph had led a successful food saving and distribution plan. When they showed up, Joseph was confronted with a choice. There stood the very guys who had done him wrong. And it was within his power to set things straight.

In that moment, Joseph chose to give God credit instead of giving his brothers blame. Yes, they did bad things to him, but he chose to instead focus on how God used the bad they had done to work for all their good. He probably didn’t see it in the pit or the prison, but he certainly saw it the day they showed up to buy grain from him during the famine. Perhaps that was why he wept so intensely… the sudden understanding of how God had used the bad to set up the good.

I guess the question before each of us today is the same one Joseph faced that day his brothers showed up… Will I choose to give God credit or give those who did me wrong the blame they deserve?

God promises that He will set the record straight on our behalf, and that He will work everything that happens to us in life… the bad as well as the good… for our benefit and His credit… IF we will let Him.

The choice is ours today… Credit or blame? Let’s choose to see how God has worked things out for our good and give Him credit. In the end, we will win with a choice like that!

Stay With The Herd

If you’ve ever watched one of those nature specials about animals in the African wild, you’ve probably seen a lion chase after a gazelle. And the way the lions work is to identify one of the gazelles in the herd which is older, younger or somehow weaker. Then they work to get that gazelle separated from the rest of the herd in order to have a better chance of killing it. That’s because the lion instinctively knows that if it attacks in the middle of the herd, the herd… which outnumbers it… may turn on them, rally, counter-attack & somehow defeat the lion. So they weed one off, causing it to move away from the herd out of fear or thinking it can find a better way to escape the attack. But once the gazelle is by itself, it is no match for the lion.

Most of those type nature shows end with a narrator saying something like, “Such is the way of life in this African wilderness.” I’d like to say that it’s about the same in our lives.

The enemy of our souls employs this technique of dividing to conquer. He works to create fear, worry, anxiety and despair in us. Then he uses that to cause us to push away from the very herd of people who love us and could help us. No matter what your issue today… infertility… pornography… a broken heart… lack of purpose… your enemy wants you to feel like you’re the only one… like no one else understands… as if no one has ever experienced what you’re going through in just the way you’re going through it. And the more you feel alone, the more you push away from the herd. And then the more hopeless your situation feels.

But you have a herd. Run toward them instead of away from them. Run for your life toward them. They are not going to chide you for struggling. They are going to welcome you back into the herd. They are going to surround you and defend you. And even if someone did say, “Well, that wasn’t the smartest thing you ever did,” at least you’d still be alive.

The way to defeat this fear the enemy tries to use against us and separate us from our herd is to expose the struggle. The very thing that causes you fear… someone else finding out that you feel weak or that you struggle… is the very thing that will vanquish the fear. That’s because, when you open up and share about it in a right and healthy environment, others will acknowledge that they, too, struggle or have struggled with that very thing. Your aloneness will evaporate as you realize you are normal… that you are more a part of the herd than you ever realized.

And just in case you don’t know what I mean by herd, I’ll clarify… family… church… emotionally and spiritually healthy friends at work. Your herd is made up of those people who surround you who are healthy enough to help you. Truth be told, there are other weak and struggling members of the herd, but at least together you stand a chance against the enemy.

Let the lion go hungry. Stay with the herd!

9-Year Old Truth

Just this morning, our 9-year old, Alex, reminded me of a deep truth in some very simple terms.  He asked me if I’d like to play the new level he created on the Wii U game, Mario Maker.  He said, “I think you’ll like it… I call it ‘God’s Path’.”

Here’s a pic…


Alex then began to describe to me how it is laid out.  At the beginning, you get to choose one of two paths to take in the game.  Each has an initial challenge, with a slight difference… the challenge on the upper path (aka, “God’s Path”) has a green shell… the challenge on the lower path (aka, “the Devil’s Path”) has a red shell.  He informed me that green means go, and red means stop.  Then he told me that I would definitely want to take the upper path and face the challenge with the green shell.  By choosing “God’s Path,” there would be a few challenges along the way, but there would be plenty of “power-ups” provided also to help overcome those challenges.  But on “the Devil’s path,” there would be a ton of challenges which could not be overcome… no way to win.

He had my full attention at this point, and I couldn’t wait to play.  As directed, I took “God’s Path” first.  It was a breeze!  I zipped through it with no problems, and when I got to the end, it dropped me out of the tunnel at the top of the flag pole where I could get the highest score and an extra life.

Then Alex says I should try playing “the Devil’s path.”  I told him I didn’t want to because I liked “God’s Path” and would never want to take “the Devil’s path.”  He replied, “I just want you to see how hard it is, Daddy.”  How could I refuse?

So, I took the lower path.  What a train wreck! I’m already no gamer.  But this path was so full of enemies and challenges, without any power-ups to help me get past them, that I had to re-start over and over… and over and over… and over and over again.  And when I finally forced the game to the end, it dumped me out so close to the bottom of the flagpole that I could only get the lowest score possible.

Now, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I still cut… and I’m at least smart enough to see what he was showing me.  Talk about your armchair theologian!  This 9-year old kid just laid out for me the truth of the value of choosing to follow God’s plan for my life instead of the enemy’s way.

And on this Friday, I invite you to take a tip from Alex… choose “God’s Path” in real life.  Though you may face challenges there, too, they will be far fewer, and you will always have the power you need to overcome them.  Conversely, if you choose to take “the Devil’s path,” good luck with that.  It’s impossible to complete successfully, and it will cost you what could’ve been.

To quote the famous poem by Robert Frost…

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Truer words may never have been spoken… unless you count a 9-year old armed with a video game!

Payback Time!

As a young teenager, Saturday nights from 10:30pm to midnight meant professional wrestling on TV.  Midsouth Wrestling to be specific.  Think Junkyard Dog… Hacksaw Jim Duggan… The Missing Link… Andre The Giant… Jimmy “The Super Fly” Snuka… Ted Dibiase… The Von Erichs… The Midnight Express… The Rock-N-Roll Express… The Fabulous Freebirds.  Yes, I still remember.  It was almost a religious experience for me.

The rest of the family would have already gone to bed… resting up for a Sunday full of church.  And I would be laying on the shag carpet in front of the small TV with the volume turned down low so as not to wake anyone.  Sometimes my mom would stay up a little later than the others reading a book.  She would come to tell me good night before she went to sleep and find me there, completely caught up in the frenzy of a grudge match… or a cage match… or a title bout.

Mom would try to tel me that it was all fake… all a set-up, but I wouldn’t believe her because there was real sweat and real blood.  Granted, it was no UFC (which I’ve never really watched), but I knew in my junior high mind that it was real.

I can remember one of the story lines that seemed to play out time and again… It would be a match between a “good guy” and a “bad guy.”  The good guy would be winning until the bad guy cheated… like pulling brass knuckles from his tights, or jumping off the top rope, or grabbing a chair from the audience and slamming it over the head of the unsuspecting good guy. The tide would turn in that moment and now the bad guy had the advantage.

But all of the sudden, one of the good guy’s other good guy friends would come racing out of the locker room “where he had seen the whole thing unfold on the closed circuit TV,” and this friend would come sliding into the ring to rescue his friend. And it would be payback time!

The friend would take it to the bad guy using any method necessary to let the bad guy know he had messed up… that he had messed with the wrong guy… because that good guy had friends who weren’t going to stand by and let that abuse go unpunished.

Now don’t be ridiculous… I am completely aware now that it was all fake, that all the plots were written out, that those pro wrestlers knew how to make it look like they were beating the living daylights out of each other without really doing any harm.  It was all a show.

But real life is no fake. It’s no made up show.  There are times when bad people really do mistreat good people.  Truth be told, there are even times when good people slip up and mistreat other good people.

And sometimes it looks like the person who did wrong is getting away with it.  It looks like they are going to win the day.

But there are plenty of places in Scripture which point out to us that, if we will keep a right attitude… a right heart… a right spirit, then we have a Friend who is watching it all unfold.  He will rescue us. And when He does, it will be payback time.  In fact, Zechariah 9 says that God will repay His people double for each trouble which has been inflicted upon them.

Now I can’t guarantee that you’re going to get paid back during this lifetime, although you might.  But God is keeping detailed records… one of the Psalms even says He collects every tear you ever cry in a bottle… and He will make sure that eventually payback time comes.  He will restore to you more than you ever had taken away.

So, today… if you’ve been beat down, determine to keep a right attitude and know that payback time is coming if you’ll just leave it to God!

Bam! How ’bout That?

Here’s the thing you have to know… whether you believe it or not, there is a real devil and he is opposed to you simply because God values you and wants you in His forever family.  The devil and his imps are your enemies.

Here’s the other thing you need to know… They may be your enemies, but God is the Good Shepherd and your enemies are no match for Him.  It’s not even close… not even a competition.  The devil is not the equal opposite of God.  He is a defeated enemy gasping for his last breath.

So when David writes about God as the Ultimate Shepherd in Psalm 23, he writes from an experienced perspective.  David was a shepherd… a shepherd who provided for, pointed and protected his sheep.  He defeated lions and bears with sling, stick and bare hands. So he didn’t mind taking his sheep out each day and making sure they had a good meal right in the area where enemies lurked… because he knew how to handle those enemies.

And God knows perfectly well how to vanquish your enemies.  I like God’s moxey… His bravado… His flair for thumbing His nose in the face of the enemy.  David says that God basically sets the table for a feast, makes us the guest of honor and blesses us… right in front of our enemies. And they can’t do a single thing about it because He’s standing right there beside us, ever vigilant!

So eat in peace today.  Enjoy God’s blessings today.  Let God honor you today as you stay close to Him.  Don’t let the enemy give you an ounce of worry or concern.  God is showing His enemies that this is how He blesses those who belong to Him. They can skulk around the perimeter and watch you be blessed and honored, but they can’t keep it from happening.

JoAnna Gaines made a sign on one of the “Fixer Upper” TV shows which read, “It’s a good day for a good day.”  I would tweak it to say, “It’s a good day to belong to the Good Shepherd!”  Today, let Him prepare for you a feast, an honor and a blessing!

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