Guckenberger's Chapel message packs a punch

A member of the Worship team sings during Chapel on Monday.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

Visiting Chapel speakers tend to bring a mix of knowledge and humor to Grand Canyon University Arena. They are storytellers who can make the Bible seem as if it was written precisely for the troubles of the world today.

And, certainly, Beth Guckenberger can tell a story with wit and wisdom. But her message also contains a feisty amount of the tenacity you would expect of someone who has devoted her life to managing orphanages with her mission, Back2Back Ministries.

She returned Monday to remind students that the devil is hard at work every day, and they must not just run and hide. They must fight back.

Guckenberger began by telling how she filled in as a pastor in her hometown, Cincinnati, for eight months in 2020. It didn’t go well. Exasperated, she finally challenged her staff of 80 to list the ways the devil was dividing them. It began with a simple word: distrust.

It is the antithesis of our relationship with God, she noted, and pointed to Ephesians 6:13:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

She linked that with 1 Peter 5:8-9:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

Then her natural feistiness took over. She talked of how the devil has been doing the same thing over and over for thousands of years. We know his tricks.

“When I sow those two passages together,” she said, “it makes me feel like I’m supposed to put on my armor and wait for the lion to come get me. But that makes me feel like I’m on defense. And if he just does the same thing over and over again and we know exactly what it is he’s going to do, why does he get to go first?

Beth Guckenberger of Back2Back Ministries advocates getting the first punch at the devil.

“Actually, I would like to throw the first punch. I want to go after him. I want us to be on spiritual offense because there’s darkness around us.”

She has built a whole book around that idea – “Throw the First Punch: Defeating the Enemy Hell-Bent on Your Destruction” – and has written eight others. Her attitude extends through the name of her website, recklessfaith.com.  

Guckenberger cited Chapter 10 of Exodus, which talks of how the darkness over the land was so thick, it could be felt – not unlike what is happening across the world today.

“Have you been in a situation, a moment, a conversation, you read something on the news, anything, and you thought to yourself, ‘The darkness feels so thick, I can actually feel it’?” she asked.

Guckenberger made it clear that Jesus didn’t bob and weave during His time on earth. He led His disciples straight into the storm, as in their excursion to Decapolis in chapters 4 and 5 of Mark.

When the sea became violently choppy, He calmed it.  

And when they kept going, he freed a man named Legion from the demons who had possessed him, transferring them into a herd of 2,000 pigs who hurtled themselves into the sea. Then Jesus turned around and left.

“The first time my heart fully wrapped itself around that story, I thought to myself, ‘Are you kidding me? He did all of that abyss crossing for one person?'” Guckenberger said. “And it wasn’t even like the most popular person in the town, like the mayor or the football captain. It was, like, the most unwanted, unloved, given-up-on member of that community.

“And if that’s all I knew about Jesus, that would be enough for me. As I’ve continued to pursue work with orphaned and vulnerable children, we go to some pretty extraordinary lengths for one child and trust that that is how God has led us.”

Guckenberger referred often to the Bible in her hand.

Just as Legion was commissioned to spread the Good News, so are we, she added: “This is how God works – He comes after the one. He sees the one. He sees us.”

Then it was story time.

Guckenberger told, in delightful detail, of how her chance meeting with a man named Carlos resulted in a 4-year-old orphan’s prayer for a steak dinner being granted (she begins it at the 40-minute mark of the livestream link below).

The point of the story is that when we call on God, we get steak. And when we call out to man, we get beans and rice, if that.

Two of the Worship team’s songs before Guckenberger’s talk centered around the word “hallelujah,” and she wanted her audience to know what that means.

The first part of it, she said, comes from Hebrew and means, “to make a loud noise, to boast, to celebrate, to rave, to be foolish and clamorous, like crazy noises.”

The second part is a derivation from Yahweh, which is how God introduced Himself to Moses. It means, “I am.”

Guckenberger, like anyone else, raises a “Hallelujah!” to God when things go her way. But she urged the students to do the same when life becomes difficult.

She underscored that idea with a gut-wrenching story she heard at a conference years ago about a man in Rwanda who refused to renounce his faith even though it cost him his life. (This one starts 50 minutes into the Chapel livestream.)

A friend from his tribe who hadn’t spoken up, out of fear, found the man’s thoughts the next day, written on a piece of paper in his room. It read in part:

Guckenberger reads from the letter in which a Rwandan proclaimed his faith.

“I am a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. My decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. … I won’t give up, back up, let up or shut up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up and stayed up for the cause of Christ.”

There’s a saying in Spanish, Guckenberger said, that if you punch once, you hit twice. She’s determined to knock out the devil.

“If your spirit responds to the testimony of this man, you tell Jesus, ‘Pick me,’” she said. “You tell Him you sign up for that. This is the kind of life you want to live. You want to take light into the darkness. You’re not going to wait back with your armor on for the lion to come get you.

“You’re going to go and punch first.”

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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  • To watch the full Chapel service, including the music of the Worship team, the announcements for the week and Beth Guckenberger’s talk, click here.
  • Next Monday: No Chapel (spring break)

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GCU Today: Chapel schedule for spring semester announced

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Bible Verse

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

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