08 Aug WRESTLING
My friend Eric and I have known each other for a couple decades. Eric is a large human being, measuring in at around 6’7” and 250 pounds. Even as one of the younger guys in our social circle, Eric was always bigger than the rest of us. Of course, as teenagers, that didn’t stop our group of friends from regularly banning together and pinning him to the ground, forcefully lifting his shirt and using a sharpie to mark as much of his upper body as possible. He would squirm and giggle as we wrote messages like “Stacy Murphy was here” (his 9th grade crush). We doodled little sketches onto his torso in the permanent ink, or sometimes labeled his fat rolls, which he affectionately referred to as “Bubba” and “Little Bubba”. I know that sounds like we were bullies and were traumatizing our pal, but it was all in good fun and I’m pretty sure he liked the attention.
A few nights ago I was watching an old video of my kids having a pre-bedtime wrestling match. It was cute and full of laughter and mostly consisted of Story, my oldest, trying to pin Journey, her little sister by 22 months, as Journey wrapped her pixie-esque body around Story’s leg, refusing to let go. I couldn’t help but laugh as Journey, obviously looking to gain some sort of psychological edge, kept quoting the infamous Flo Rida: “It’s going down for real!”
Remember having bouts like that with your siblings or friends when you were younger? There was no ill will or intent. It was good fun and if things didn’t escalate, it usually ended with laughter, smiles, and maybe a few bragging rights.
Of course, there’s another side to wrestling, too, isn’t there? Whenever I think we’ve progressed as a society I recall moments in high school when fights would erupt in the hallway because two kids hated each other so much that it had to go down right then, right there. Students gathered around, hungry for bloodshed, while teachers and hall monitors scrambled to break things up before anyone was seriously injured… all because someone said something about someone’s momma or looked at someone’s girlfriend the wrong way.
Wrestling is a part of life. We’re all wrestling in some way. At times we do it in a healthy manner, seeking something deeper or more meaningful as we grow older. And other times we wrestle out of brokenness, only adding to whatever pain or regret we’re already walking in.
We wrestle in relationships.
We wrestle to find identity.
We wrestle with shame.
We wrestle with faith.
I believe wrestling for the right reasons is healthy… and necessary.
A few weeks ago I preached a message on a woman’s role in the church. I spent much of the message quoting Paul, who some would argue was vocal in opposing women acting with authority in the local church. After all, Paul did say “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
Paul seems to double down on that notion, laying out a male headship model in the local church through numerous other passages.
Yet, as I prepped for that message in particular, I couldn’t help but notice that on numerous occasions Paul (and the author in Acts) also affirmed women as leaders in the first century church.
There was Junia, who was called an apostle.
There were Philip’s daughters who were prophetesses (preachers).
There was Phoebe, maybe the most obvious example, who Paul affirms as a significant leader in the church in Cenchreae.
Paul also mentions Priscilla, who helped to disciple Apollos, thus, having some authority over him.
Here’s my point: I wrestled with this. I wrestled because my Church movement or “tribe” has historically been one that only affirms male leadership. For as long as I’ve been in ministry I’ve never questioned that or pushed against it. I had never wrestled with it.
With that particular message I laid a few things out there. I didn’t actually make a declaration about male headship in our church (we are lead by elders who are all men) but simply proposed a few things that might cause some to think a little deeper about what they had previously perceived as crystal clear.
Now, let me say, I do still believe in male headship in the local church (and within the family unit). I also recognize (and wanted our people to see) that God has used women in significant ways as leaders in the church and Paul affirmed it in scripture! So what do we do with that?
Following that message I received emails from a few individuals who admitted to not liking my thoughts, so they looked into the passages for themselves… and they wrestled. Some saw where I was coming from and others didn’t. And that’s ok… they wrestled…
… and that was all I wanted.
I wasn’t trying to change our church’s doctrine or leadership structure. I just wanted people to wrestle with me a little.
Let me share another scripture that I recently stumbled upon and am currently wrestling with:
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12)
Did you catch that? Jesus just said that he teaches in parables because he doesn’t want everyone to understand… because then they might turn and be forgiven. Wait, what? I thought Jesus was for everyone!?
I’ve read numerous commentaries on this passage and I still don’t get it. I’m wrestling with this one and I’m not afraid to admit it. Even as a pastor, I don’t feel the need to have to know everything. I figure God must not be very big if I’ve got him all figured out.
The problem is, too many of us don’t wrestle at all.
Be honest, do you believe everything your political party does is right? And do you believe everything the other side does is wrong? And do you really think that’s healthy?
Do you believe everything your favorite professor, teacher, or preacher says is right? I mean, how could that even be possible?
I know God isn’t afraid to wrestle with you. I believe He welcomes it. As a matter of fact, I think He’d prefer it over the apathy many of us have chosen instead. So, go wrestle.
Husband to Jenn. Dad to Story, Journey, Asher. Lead pastor at First Christian Church, Canton.