I spent the weekend with George, and I admit, I'm a fanboy. As a former fighter, I was in the presence of one of my heroes. Two-time heavyweight champion of the world, George won his first world title when he beat the great Joe Frazier. George was 24 years old. A tumultuous life followed, one that included a born-again conversion experience. George would answer the call to be a pastor, walking away from boxing for good.
So he thought.
Many years later, a concoction of fate, finance, and faith brought George back to the ring. Still a pastor, yet this time he had a greater purpose. George was going to become the oldest heavyweight champion in the world. At 46 years old, George did precisely what he set out to do. More on that to come...
Sitting at his kitchen table, I asked George, "How'd you do it? 76 wins, 5 losses. Two-time world beater... How'd you do it?"
George's response was so good. He plainly said, "I answered the bell."
"At the end of every round, a fighter has to decide... 'Will I sit here and give up, or will I stand and fight? Am I going to answer the bell?' I always answered the bell."
Sitting at George's kitchen table, I immediately thought of the apostle Paul who said, "I press on" (Phil 3:14). The word Paul uses is translated dioko—it carries the idea of intense endeavor. The Greeks used it to describe a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. A man does not become a world-beater by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books, or cheering at the match. He becomes a champion by getting in the ring and deciding to press on! He becomes a world-beater by answering the bell.
As men, we need to answer the bell. Far too many of us are ready to throw in the towel emotionally, physically, and spiritually. How do we get to a place where answering the bell is not a question—it's our only option? The key is to look ahead. David Livingstone, a pioneering missionary to Africa, returned to England and was asked, "What do you want to do now?" I love his response: "I am ready to go anywhere provided it be forward." In other words, "I'm ready to answer the bell."
Answering the bell involves settling our past and looking forward to the future. As Christians, we are called heavenward. Focusing on the future will purify the present—we read in 1 John 3:2-3: "But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." As we look upward and onward, the past loses its ability to paralyze us. When we live in light of eternity, the darkness of this world has no lasting effect.
I've been told there is a headstone at the foot of one of the massive mountains in the Alps. The stone honors the memory of a man who fell to his death while attempting to climb to the top. Underneath the individual's name, the epitaph reads, "He died climbing." I pray that's what's said of each of us, that we relentlessly pursue the prize, so that when we die, we're already on the way up. In other words, we answer the bell.
The result of this eternal focus is an eternal legacy. A man who answers the bell is not easily forgotten, and his name is surely known in heaven. A father was recently trying to get his son to understand the importance of "pressing on." He said, "Son, you've got to stay in and not quit. Look at Lewis and Clark. They didn't quit. Look at General Douglas MacArthur, he didn't quit. Think about Michael Jordan. There's was no quit in him..."
Then the father said, "Look at Elmo McCringle."
The son said, "Wait a minute, Dad. Who is Elmo McCringle?"
The father said, "See. He quit."
Brothers, don't be Elmo McCringle... answer the bell.