I spent a weekend recently watching all six of the "Rocky" movies in a row. Though there are some variations on the theme in the last two, it was interesting to see how the same formula plays out in every film: The underdog boxer faces insurmountable odds. All the cards are stacked against him; he knows he can't win.
But when his one true love, Adrian, tells him she believes in him, it changes everything! Every time, without fail. That's when Rocky comes to life. That's when we get the most inspiring training montages ever committed to celluloid—including a shot of a trainer pounding him across the midsection with a cane as he's doing sit-ups.
Hey, if you're going to go toe-to-toe with the world champ for 15 rounds, you're going to need a strong core to do it! If you aren't tough enough to take the hits and fight on through the pain, you might not make it out of the ring alive.
Lately, I think that's how a lot of us are feeling. Over the last several weeks, we've seen yet more judges declare voter-passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman unlawful in light of last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling. And we have seen the governor of Arizona veto a bill that would protect people of faith from being forced out of business when gay activists ask them to provide services for same-sex weddings.
All that together can make you feel like you just took a beating from Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago and Tommy Gunn combined. Simply put, it hurts.
And yet, I am reminded of another scene, this one from "Rocky V." In a flashback, Rocky remembers something his salty old trainer, Mickey, told him while he was training for his first fight against Creed. Mickey gives him a necklace—a gold glove that once was legendary fighter Rocky Marciano's cuff link, suspended on a chain—as a symbol of his love for him.
"This is my most favorite thing I have on this earth," Mickey says. "And now I'm givin' it to you, and it's gonna be like an angel on your shoulder, see? If you ever get hurt and you feel like you're goin' down, this little angel is gonna whisper in your ear. And it's gonna say, 'GET UP! Get up … 'cause Mickey loves ya!' "
As Christians who are concerned about our culture, right now it feels like we're lying in a bloody heap in the corner—eyes swollen shut, struggling to see straight. Nose broken, just trying to breathe. Some of you are probably tempted to stay down, just waiting for the final bell to ring so you can go home.
And in the midst of this, I feel like the Holy Spirit is gently whispering:
GET UP! Get up, you son of God—because Jesus loves ya!
Friends, I can't pretend to know how all this stuff will work out in the natural. But the Bible clearly predicts a time when people "will not put up with sound doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:3). And do you remember the instructions that follow those words?
"But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. … I have fought the good fight." (2 Timothy 4:5, 7 NIV, italics mine)
I personally feel God is using the current situations in our country to toughen our hides. The early Church endured great persecution—and poured out great love in the midst of it to all who would receive. We are tasked with no less. We have so much more to contend for than personal pride, or a title or a belt—we have future generations to think of, and captives to free.
So let's lay hold of all that for which Christ laid hold of us. Let's be contenders.