Rasslin’ with God

Memphis is a wonderful and weird town, a melting pot of Southern charm, African-America heritage and blue collar/redneck ethos.  The city is a cultural petri dish full of interesting, creative, sometimes oddball characters.  Perhaps this explains why professional wrestling somehow took root and became legendary here.El_Santo

Jerry “The King” Lawler, Sputnik Munroe, Superstar Bill Dundee, Handsome Jimmy Valiant… in some local circles these grapplers are more revered than Elvis, Jerry Lee or Al Green.  Pro rasslin’ is woven in the fabric of Memphis as much as Beale Street and the Mississippi River.  Sure, it’s stupid and low brow, but like your crazy Uncle Lou, it’s part of our Memphis family history and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Memphis didn’t invent wrestling.  The ancient Babylonians enjoyed a tussle and so did the Egyptians.  Among the oldest recorded wrestling matches is in the Bible. Genesis 32 relates the story of Jacob and his all-night fight with “a man,” which theologians say was the pre-incarnate Jesus.  In simple language, Jacob was rasslin’ with God.

Why would God choose to wrestle anyone?  Seems an unfair match.  No one is in God’s weight class, so to speak.  But according to Genesis, God and Jacob fought to a draw.  How could God not win?  He’s God!  Perhaps the story is a metaphor.  Nevertheless, at daybreak, God decides to end the match by dislocating Jacob’s hip.  Ouch!  Jacob must have been one tough hombre because refused to capitulate until he received a blessing.  God, impressed with Jacob’s pluck, tells him that from now on he will be known as Israel, which loosely translated means “God-wrestler.”

Lots of Christians wrestle with God.  It happens when God wants us to think or behave in a certain way but we resist.  It may be a sin issue like the soft porn we allow ourselves to watch or the amount of alcohol we consume.  Perhaps we have a bad attitude about specific people.  It could be we are selfish with our time or money.  God wants to shape our character but we insist on resisting.  The struggle may be in the form of the Holy Spirit gently convicting us (which can feel like guilt).  Eventually, He may escalate the conflict and bring pain into our lives.  Our Father wants our full submission and He will fight to get it.

Sometimes a problem or tragedy can lead to a God-battle.  When trouble comes, most believers turn to the Lord for help, but if their problems persist, they may become impatient or angry with God.  “Why have you forsaken me!?!”  In such times, the Lord may be silent to test your faith.  It’s not because He is unsure about your commitment; He already knows how you will respond.  The test is for you.  Do you really believe the promises of God (“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5) or are you just a fair-weather Christian?  It is in the struggle that you discover your level of spiritual maturity.

Perhaps you doubt God.  You may become angry with Him.  You can, for a time, think God does not love you.  You can emerge from these life crises with emotional scars.  That is often how God teaches us full submission.  Deep, abiding faith and genuine obedience can be hard lessons.  Sometimes He must dislocate our hip, metaphorically, to humble us.

I have wrestled with God a few times.  I ask, “Where are You?  Why am I suffering?  Don’t You care?”  Like a good Father, He often allows me to struggle in order to increase my faith and build my character.  What I have learned is this: over time, God always keeps His promises.  Our wrestling matches are strenuous, but they help build spiritual muscles.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Also read and discuss Romans 5:1-5


Wisdom is not a superpower possessed only by great scholars or Oprah Winfrey.  Wisdom can be obtained even by normal people like you and me.  But it’s sort of like learning a foreign language, it comes easier to some than for others.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

wisdom-green-signWisdom is like that special gadget in the bottom of your tool box.  You may rarely use it, but when you do, it’s invaluable.

Wisdom is to knowledge what great poetry is to the alphabet.

If you Google “wisdom” you get a list of really smart people.  A guy named Nathan Leopold had an estimated IQ of 210 (Einstein’s was said to be 160).  Leopold also was a convicted murderer, so intelligence and wisdom are not always a packaged set.

Wisdom cannot be measured on a scale.  It is more like creativity, a thing that is expressed or displayed in moments of unique clarity.  And like creativity, some have more of it than others.

Japanese proverb: “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.”  (I’m talking to you, Bill Maher.)

Wisdom cuts through the clutter and confusion of competing ideas.  It makes the complex simple and offers a pathway forward.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” – Proverbs 9:10.

Sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I simply bow down and acknowledge that God is Lord of all.  That, in itself, is a wise thing to do.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward once said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Wisdom is kind of like that.

Wisdom is not always knowing the answer.  Sometimes wisdom is simply trusting God when you don’t know the answer.

Wisdom is like lasagna, delicious layers of intelligence, experience, common sense and good judgement.  Also, patience, introspection and humility.  And throw in character and honesty, too.  Best of all, it’s non-fattening!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a 19th Century theologian, defined wisdom as “the right use of knowledge.”

The word “philosophy” literally means “love of wisdom.”

Knowledge is knowing a lot of answers.  Wisdom is knowing the right questions.

Jesus was the personification of wisdom.  He displayed wisdom in every aspect of human life – possessions, relationships, devotion to God, subjection to leaders, leadership of others, friendships, enemies, celebrations, prayer and sacrifice. And because of (God) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God…” 1 Corinthians 1:30

Think of the wisest person you know.  What other characteristics do they have?  My wise guy is soft spoken, funny, unassuming, compassionate and short.  Think Yoda.  In fact, he uses wisdom like a Jedi sword; only when needed and to lay bare the truth.  Cuts me, he does.

Little kids can be profoundly wise without knowing it.  When my middle child was six, she said, “The sky is just heaven’s floor.”  Think about that.

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” – Proverbs 19:20





I gave up church for Lent

Lent is a big deal to some Christians.  They give up chocolate, cola, booze, TV or something else they hold dear in the spirit of repentance, self-denial or as a way to feel closer to God.  A noble and worthy idea, I think.

Me after the octagon of egos

Being raised a country Baptist, Lent has little meaning to me, but in an effort to experience all aspects of the faith, I’m giving up something this year – church.

I don’t recommend this for anyone else unless your circumstances are like mine.  My church has been going through something of a crisis in recent months.  Church politics are confusing and stupid, and there’s no point in going into details here, but the bottom line is that my own spirit has been injured by bickering and bitterness.  I fear my frustration is turning to anger and will eventually become hate, and I can’t let that happen.  So, I’m taking time away from my church.

Please understand that I’m not taking time off from God.  In fact, I plan to use the 40-day Lenten season as a period of personal spiritual reflection and growth.  Jesus spent 40 days alone, fasting and praying, to begin His ministry.  I can’t go 40 days without a cheeseburger, but I will spend more time in the Word and in prayer, seeking God’s forgiveness and His direction.

I asked the smartest person I know, Mr. Google, to explain Lent to me.  It began in the 4th Century as a reminder of self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ.  But, as people tend to do, we have turned Lent into a show of self-righteousness.  Ashes on the forehead and 40 days of (often) meaningless sacrifice prove to the world how much we love God.  Or does it?

Fasting, self-sacrifice and focusing on faith is a good thing, but it’s not restricted to a season.  Jesus wants all of us, every day.  There is a constant battle between flesh and the Holy Spirit for control of our lives.  That doesn’t mean God wants us all to sell our belongings and move to Papua New Guinea as missionaries.  There is a mission field right outside our front door… and often in our own homes.  Jesus calls us to live lives of consistent dedication to Him.  He wants to be Lord of our time, finances and emotions.

Which brings me back to my church, but not literally.  They say churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for saints.  My church has recently become an octagon for egos.  Too much infighting, too many turf battles, too little sincere humility.  It can be a toxic environment that breeds resentment.  You can’t see Jesus with angry eyes.  And the damage is not just to the church leaders, it extends throughout the congregation and has its most negative impact on the new believers.  “If there is anger and division in the church, why bother?” they say.  Maybe this love-your-neighbor thing is just a scam.

So, I’m giving up church for Lent.  Revival begins in your own heart, right?  Let it begin in me.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35 (ESV)

Unforgettable Joe

As a boy I had a friend named Joe.  I think about him a lot.

I met Joe when I was about 10 but didn’t get to know him well until we were in high school.  He was probably the most popular guy in our school.  Not because he was rich, handsome or a great athlete; it was because he was crazy.

Many of my coming-of-age momentsFullSizeRender involved Joe.  Fun surrounded him like the dust cloud around Pig-Pen.  Wherever he was, something interesting was bound to happen.

The biology teacher stepped out of the classroom for five minutes.  Joe found a small bottle of highly concentrated blue dye in the cabinet and quickly convinced a couple of his buddies to bet him to take a sip (I may or may not have been involved).  He put his tongue on the open bottle and allowed a couple of drops into his mouth.  When the teacher returned, the students were snickering and Joe had his head down on his desk.  The teacher demanded to see Joe’s face.  When Joe raised his head, royal blue saliva was oozing from the corners of his mouth.  As punishment, Joe, his teeth bright blue, was made to sit in the hallway and smile at all who passed by.

As a kid Joe befriended an older boy with severe learning disabilities.  The older boy was harmless but a bit frightening to younger kids and their parents because he was very large and strong and loved to rough house.  He would have been shunned by everyone were it not for Joe, who always knew how to include him and control his rowdy behavior.

Streaking – running naked through a public place – was a big fad for a time the 70s.  Everyone in my school talked about it, but no one had the guts to do it… except Joe.  An indelible memory of my teenage years was seeing Joe’s white butt growing smaller in the distance as he ran down the main street of our town.  I think he earned a hundred bucks for that stunt (I may or may not have been involved).

Joe got married soon after high school and had a couple of kids.  I moved away but we remained in touch.  I saw him infrequently, but when I returned to my hometown we would sometimes get together.  We would reminisce and laugh out loud at the memories we shared.  Joe was the very definition of a good dude.

When he was about 30, Joe took a job with a fuel company.  One day there was an explosion caused by a leaky gas truck and he was severely burned.  Joe lingered several days in the ICU.  The hospital reported that the number of people from our hometown who donated blood on his behalf set some sort of record.  The largest church in town could not hold the number of mourners for his funeral.

I smile whenever I think of Joe and I look forward to seeing him in heaven (he was a Jesus follower). My oldest friends and I still talk about him when we get together.  There are very few people you meet in life who are truly unforgettable.  That was Joe.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  – Proverbs 17:17