“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
It's true, I do MMA, at least in the broadest sense of the term. Although I am unable to train at the moment because I recently had surgery on my hand, I generally train Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai 4-5 times per week. To be clear, I don't do MMA fights, but I train two different forms of martial arts (MMA stands for mixed martial arts). Jiu Jitsu is primarily grappling and Muay Thai is primarily striking. I've never had anyone challenge me regarding whether it would be appropriate for a pastor to train in these disciplines, but I have had a lot of people at the gym show surprise when they find out I am a pastor, and a lot of people at church show surprise (usually in a positive sense) when they find out I train MMA. So why do I do it?
There are some reasons that are pretty obvious and on the surface, but there are also some deeper psychological reasons. First, the more obvious reasons:
#1 It's great exercise. Exercise is great for everyone, but not every form of exercise works for everyone. I've spent a good portion of my life doing all kinds of exercise. Growing up I played sports and did all kinds of cardio and weight lifting to be a better athlete. I even competed a little bit in weight lifting, but for the most part I lifted and ran track to stay in shape for football...another violent sport. Exercise has always been difficult for me. Putting on muscle wasn't hard, but as I got older a decent amount of fat came with the muscle. During my seminary years I put on a significant amount of weight. At my peak I was close to 250 lbs. I tried just doing cardio with very little weight lifting, but I couldn't take the weight off even spending 1-2 hours in the gym 3-4 times a week. I needed something to engage my mind related to the work out. For me, MMA (specifically the ones I practice) do the trick. For the first time in almost two decades I am under 200 lbs.
#2 It focuses my mind. I am not talking about some kind of meditation or something. That is a different issue. All forms of meditation connected to martial arts that I know of are not compatible with Christianity. When I am speaking of a focused mind, I am speaking of activity that requires my concentration. MMA requires a great deal of focus as you learn new moves, develop strategies, and defend from other people's attacks. A lack of focus leads to getting hit or caught in a submission. Those things happen as part of the training, but the idea is that you learn and grow from those losses and they are not simply the consequence of losing focus. Of course that is its own lesson.
#3 Self-defense. I am not a pacifist and I find that position to be unbiblical, but I realize many of my colleagues hold that position; I respectfully disagree with them. This is obvious, but it leads to some of the deeper psychological reasons. I don't want to turn this into a Biblical defense of the idea of self-defense, although I am more than willing to do that at another time. I'll simply put it this way, I believe that the responsibility for self-defense begins with the individual. Police can't be everywhere and usually show up after it's all over. While there are a lot of different ways to approach self-defense including being careful about what kind of situations you put yourself in, practicing martial arts is one tool that I like to have in my tool belt. Nevertheless, martial arts is one way to be prepared and given the other benefits, it seems like a good way to go for me.
#4 I like competition. I don't compete in MMA. I have no plans of climbing into the cage and fighting someone in that context, but I do occasionally compete in Jiu Jitsu (submission grappling). I have always had some area in my life where I am able to compete in some kind of athletic endeavor. Right now it is Jiu Jitsu. I'm not trying to become a world champion or anything, I just want to walk out on the mat from time to time and compete with other guys. Win or lose, the experience feeds my soul in ways that I can't explain. Usually I end up becoming friends with the competition.
From a psychological perspective there are some deeper reasons why I have chosen to not only do martial arts myself, but have my son do it as well. In fact, I wish I could have gotten my daughter and wife to do it as well. It is related to self-defense but it is more than that. Growing up, my mom's second husband was abusive to my mom in some pretty sever ways. I was very aware of the abuse and witnessed a fair amount of it. We had "go bags" ready for the times when things started to get bad. There was really nothing I could do about it as a kid, and I knew it. Even if I had been trained in martial arts there would have been nothing I could have done about it at the time. Nevertheless, I don't like feeling helpless. I was never severely bullied, but I had a few bullies growing up and it made me feel like a victim. I don't want to be a victim. Regardless of what my profession is, knowing that if things go sideways I at least stand a chance of defending myself, helps me psychologically. Some might suggest that I should just trust God. Fair enough, but lets just agree that even with all kinds of training my life is ultimately in God's hands and I am well aware of that.
Similar to the previous paragraph, I also see it as my responsibility to defend my family. My mom was unable to defend me and I was unable to defend her. My family isn't always with me and I am not omnipresent, I realize that...I can't defend my family all the time, but I don't want to feel helpless should the need ever arise. Given my background, this is important to me.
I am by no means suggesting that MMA is for everyone, but it is for me. From my perspective, there is nothing contradictory about being a pastor and doing MMA in the way that I do it.
No, I'm not channeling my Grinch right after I posted about repenting from such a thing. Instead, I am recognizing that while the angels proclaimed the Christmas message is a message of "great joy" it is also a message of the sword. I don't want to give away my sermon this Sunday, you'll have to listen to that at gfol.org to get more details. That said, we ought to recognize that the baby born in the dwelling place of animals and placed in a feeding trough doesn't stay a baby. He grows up and faces significant hardship, creates division, and ultimately dies on a cross.
Christmas is a message of joy and peace with God. Nevertheless, in recent years many have complained about "the war on Christmas." It's a real thing. Don't get me wrong, most of the time it isn't a collaboration of conspirators, but the general direction of society. The message of Christmas with all its nativity scenes, religious songs, and stars of David is being pushed aside in the name of tolerance. I am not suggesting that we start picketing or any such thing. Instead, let's just recognize the division the message of Christmas brings.
Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Mt. 10:34). The message of Christmas is foolishness to many, a stumbling block to others, and offensive to still others. It requires people to come face to face with the reality of their own sinfulness and their own inability to save themselves. For many this message is anything but hopeful. This message damns them to hell because they refuse to accept the truth of their own fallenness and the grace and mercy required for salvation from sin. Yes, those are blunt words, but sometimes a little bluntness is needed.
No wonder some would rather make Christmas about a fictional, jolly, old man who likes to give gifts to all the kids than make it about sin, and redemption. There is joy in the Christmas story for those who receive the offering of peace that is found in this baby that became a man, that went to the cross, that was buried in a grave only to rise from death to life eternal. But that joy is for those who believe and is fleeting for those who do not believe.
For years I called myself the grinch; I even had some Christmas shirts I would ware this time of year with the Grinch on the front in a celebration of my distaste for Christmas. I would celebrate my negative attitude by making jokes and I would justify it with complaints about how Christmas had lost its message amidst the commercialization, the emphasis on Santa, and the selfishness we taught kids.
I wasn't necessarily wrong. There is certainly some truth in all of that. Many people do ignore the true meaning of Christmas, but let's be honest, those people probably aren't going to change their minds about Christmas simply because I complain about it. Let's keep Christ in Christmas, but let's do it by showing the generosity, grace, love, and peace that the Christmas story communicates. Let's do it by exemplifying the character of Christ in our own lives. Who needs to see the love and generosity of God that we find in the Christmas story? More specifically, who do you know and how can you be instrumental in showing that to them?
Christmas has been monetized by toy companies, card companies, and the Hallmark channel (which is constantly on at my house this time of year). That doesn't mean I have to emphasize that at my house. In fact, it presents some opportunities for me to raise my kids in a different manner. Instead of teaching your kids to make lists of things they want to get, how about teaching them to be generous to others by giving away some used toys and some new ones to charity?
Frankly, I still struggle with the Santa thing. We haven't really talked about Santa in our house, we have no decorations that are "Santa" decorations. We told our kids the truth from the time they were young, but we also taught them tolerance for others who chose to pretend. We taught them not to ruin it for others. We even took them to see Santa a couple times with others. Whatever decision you make about Santa is obviously up to you, but you don't have to ruin it for others. For me Santa confused things and I didn't want my kids to be confused about Christmas.
The end of this story is that I have repented from my Grinchness. I love Christmas. I love that it gives me an opportunity to talk about Jesus. I love that it reminds me and my family of the generosity of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, and the sacrifice Jesus made by emptying himself and taking out human flesh (Phil. 2). So now I decorate, listen to Christmas music (both secular and Christian), and encourage others to embrace Christmas. You don't have to love the commercialization of Christmas, but stop complaining and use it as an opportunity to talk about the true meaning of Christmas. Live a life characteristic of the savior who made himself known to a lost and dying world on that first Christmas over 2000 years ago, but stop complaining.
This morning there is an obvious answer, yes! But, should it be enough? That is a different question altogether. I know people in my profession (Pastor) who have lost their jobs because someone accused them os sexual misconduct who were later exonerated. Of course, I also know some who were guilty and lost their job. Roy Moore lost the senate election last night to a democrat in a heavily republican state because of such allegations. The question of guilt is a question that has not been answered in the court of law or by any other official body of which I am aware.
I didn't follow the election in Alabama very closely because I can't vote in that election. My feelings about the election this morning are rather indifferent, but the election raises a moral question that is worth exploring. If all it takes is allegations of misconduct against an opponent then we are in big trouble. How many false allegations are in the future? On the other hand, if these allegations are true in Roy Moore's case then God forbid that we should elect him to public office. How should we see this election?
The election itself was not a trial. Roy Moore is not found guilty because he lost the election. I suppose it is possible that he is innocent of all the allegations. There are certainly some questions about why these allegations were not brought up years ago, why aren't there more recent allegations, etc. Roy Moore's political career is probably over, but then again, there have been some real slime-balls who have had long political careers, even after something like this. It is also quite possible that he is guilty as sin.
An election is not the court of law and it shouldn't be seen that way. Just as Roy Moore is not guilty simply because he lost an election, so to he would not have been declared innocent in any legal manner if he had been elected. Voters don't declare innocence or guilt, thankfully; voters do make decisions based on what they believe the character, competencies, and worldview of a candidate are and how that would impact the city, county, state, or country they live in. The voters of Alabama made that decision, I hope they made the right decision. To knowingly elect a sexual predator to congress would set a dangerous precedent, just as refusing to elect someone simply because allegations were made would be equally as bad. Fortunately, that is not what was done; the voters of Alabama made a judgment call about Roy Moore's character based on the information they had. Whether they got it right or wrong, they did their job, they made a judgment call.
That's what we do in elections, we make judgment calls about whether a person has the character, competencies, and right world view to effectively lead in a particular capacity.
The decision won't be announced until June, but Jack's lawyers are presenting their case today. If you are for a society where true tolerance exists, you should also be on Jack's side of this even if you don't agree with his stance. Here are five reasons why:
1. Jack Phillips is you
Obviously he isn't literally you, but he represents you. You have strongly held values and beliefs you live by whether you have defined them or not. You also want to live according to those strongly held beliefs and values. That's all Jack wants to do. Every time the government tells someone they can't live according to their convictions the government is one step closer to telling you the same thing.
2. Jack Phillips loves all people
I know many people don't think this is the case, but those people have either not spent much time with Jack or fail to understand his beliefs. I have spent significant time with Jack and have had the opportunity to talk about what he believes. He is one of the most loving and kind men I have ever met. Jack loves people who are hurting often ministering to those who struggle with addiction. His wife even volunteers to tutor students who are struggling in school. Jack and Debbie love people of all kinds and of all sexual orientations, but they don't support all messages.
3. Freedom is at risk
Today it is religious freedom, but if that is taken away which freedom is next? Will it be freedom of the press? How far removed are we from not being able to mention any religious beliefs in the public square? Rather than tolerance and plurality we are moving towards government enforced uniformity; that hasn't turned out so well throughout history.
4. Being free from being offended is not a civil right
Jack wasn't attempting to stop anybody from getting married, he just couldn't keep a clear conscience and participate in the wedding at the same time. Maybe that isn't your conviction, but it is his. Unfortunately this offends some people, but there are all kinds of things that some people find offensive. If not being offended is some kind of civil right how many things would you be kept from doing or saying because other people are offended? I am offended every time someone takes Jesus name in vain (that's a lot). I am offended by abortion, by foul language, by name calling, by trash talking, by burning the flag, by all kinds of things. That said, I realize it isn't everyone else's job to keep from offending me, so I deal with it in other ways.
5. It's common sense
Really it is! Jack doesn't do same sex wedding cakes, but the bakery literally across the street does, so go there. This isn't a case where the couple had no other options. Tolerance requires some sacrifice in society. If one person or group of people can't participate in your event you should not be able to force them to do so, that isn't tolerance, that is oppression.
Jack isn't going to make same sex wedding cakes, he will end up losing his business. At best this will cause people to fear government and avoid those kinds of businesses. Jack needs your support.
I heard it on the radio this morning and I have heard it so many times before, "The Masterpiece Bakery case going before the Supreme Court is a case of competing rights." I have heard it numerous times and having given this a lot of thought, I can't help but say, "No it's not!!!" Let me explain why this case isn't about competing rights at all.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.