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Showing posts with label grappling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grappling. Show all posts

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wrestling with God, Part 3

            Jesus Christ changed Sara's life at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Sara was deeply depressed, addicted to heroine, and on the verge of suicide. Jesus welcomed her with open arms through the people of our church and led her down the road to recovery. (Watch a video of Sara's testimony here.)
            I think about Sara’s story and how she wrestled—wrestled with depression, wrestled with addiction. It was a life or death struggle, but Sara did not wrestle alone. There were so many people who helped her wrestle or who wrestled on her behalf.  For the sake of time, I had to cut the footage of her testimony down to just over 4 minutes. There’s no way we could tell all the people who helped Sara—family members who stepped in and took care of Sara, rehab programs that intervened with professional help, people from other churches who were the hands of Christ to Sara, and so many others. All of these wrestled with God on her behalf. Who knows how many prayers were lifted up for Sara?
            Prayer is essential to the Christian life. It is not just part of the Christian life. It is the Christian life. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is powerful. It changes situations. It changes us. Most importantly, it draws us into God’s embrace.
            Today, we will finish our study of the fascinating Bible story of Jacob wrestling with God. We will consider how we wrestle with God in prayer and the effect it has. 
            As a young man, Jacob was incredibly deceitful and cheated his twin brother, Esau, out of his claim to the family blessing and inheritance. Esau was furious with Jacob and vowed to kill him. Jacob fled into exile where he lived for about 20 years. During that time, God blessed Jacob with wives and children and servants and wealth. And as Jacob matured, he realized he must face his brother Esau. He decided to return home—not knowing if Esau would offer mercy or retribution.

Genesis 32:22-32
22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. 23 After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.
24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.
“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. 32 (Even today the people of Israel don’t eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob’s hip.)

            Jacob wrestled with God all night long. He was battered and bruised; his hip was torn out of socket and yet Jacob managed to hold onto God until God gave Jacob a blessing. The story reminds me of how we wrestle with God in prayer and the way it changes us, our circumstances, and—most importantly—how it draws us into God’s embrace.

Prayer Changes Us.
            Most people think of prayer as a way for us to ask God to change something. We ask Him to heal people who are sick. We ask Him to comfort those who’ve lost loved ones.  We ask Him to help us through difficult circumstance or for wisdom for tough decisions. This is called intercessory prayer and it is an important part of prayer, but it is not the whole of prayer or even the most important part of prayer.
            Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, once said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” 
            If we think of prayer in a spiritual sense as wrestling with God the way Jacob wrestled with God, what do we find? We find we are changed through prayer.  In the Bible story, Jacob was forever changed. His hip was torn out of socket. The Bible tells us he limped away from the scene. The encounter with God changed Jacob’s body.
            We also see that Jacob got a new name. He was no longer the “heel grabber” (which is what the name Jacob means); now he is Israel (the man who fights with God and men and overcomes). The encounter with God changed the core of who Jacob was.
            We also see Jacob received a blessing. We don’t know what the blessing was, but perhaps it was the encounter itself. From this day forward, Jacob need fear no man. He has wrestled with God, face to face, and won. Furthermore, the very holiness of God had rubbed off on Jacob.
            Prayer changes us. It changes our attitudes. It changes our thinking. It changes our spirit. It changes our mind. Sometimes, it even changes us physically. (Your knees might get a lot stronger if you are constantly kneeling in prayer!)
            William Law, a noted Anglican priest, once said, “There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him.”  You see, when you pray for someone, they may not change at all, but how you see them will definitely change. You will change and sometimes that is all that is needed.
Prayer Changes Our Circumstance
            Prayer definitely can change us, but sometimes God change our situation when we pray.  Sometimes, God heals people who are sick because we pray.  Sometimes, God provides wisdom to make a tough decision because we pray.  Sometimes, God makes a problem go away because we pray.
            Back at the beginning of August, I realized I needed to delegate some important ministry responsibilities at the church to other capable people. I had been doing these tasks out of necessity, but now it was time to give the responsibilities to others.  Two responsibilities in particular were taking up time that I needed to devote in other areas—leading the praise band and coordinating the sack lunch program. I began to pray that God would provide the right people to lead these ministries; and I prayed they would say yes as soon as I asked them. Within two weeks God answered my prayers for both and changed my situation.
            One day, God nudged me and said, “You know, Susan Cooksey would be the perfect person to coordinate that sack lunch program. She loves kids, loves teachers, and has been really committed to packing sack lunches over the last year. And she’s smart! She knows how to do this and could do a much better job than you’ve been able to do.” So I asked Susan and she didn’t even hesitate. She said, “Yes,” and jumped right in. It’s been going so well. She’s even figured out a few ways we can encourage the teachers with special gifts throughout the year.
            The other answered prayer, was that David Crawford agreed to lead the praise band and he’s been doing a great job! You might not realize how much work goes into the praise band. We rehearse about 5 hours for every one-hour service we lead. But David probably puts in several more hours than that picking out music, coordinating rehearsals, and handling technical stuff. He does a fine job and he was an answer to my prayers in August!
            John Wesley said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” A shocking statistic was shared at the OneCry Revival in September. It was said that the average American Christian spends less than two minutes per day in prayer. Two minutes. Does that sound off?  How much do you pray?
            I do know this: in just about any given church, the prayer meeting is the least attended service. You may find 150 people in worship, but only 4 or 5 will come to prayer meeting.  (By the way, we have a prayer meeting at at Pleasant Grove UMC at 9:00 AM every Sunday. I would like you to join us. And I have a special introductory offer for you. Try it for one month, free!)  I wonder how many blessings we miss out on, how much trouble we have to face, how much more difficult life is simply because we do not pray for God to change our circumstances?  So pray!

Prayer Draws Us Into God’s Embrace
            Wrestling is an intimate sport. It’s very real, very humbling, very personal.  It’s honest. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, what rank you are, what championship titles you’ve won. When you are grappling with another person, all that stuff goes out the window. All that matters is what works, what doesn’t, and who submits their opponent.  And it is very humbling when someone with less experience or who is smaller or weaker beats you—as sometimes will happen.
            Wrestling is very humbling. It’s hard to be dignified when you are straining with all your might to grapple another human being. Your legs and arms are all tangled up; your bodies are pressed together; you sweat all over each other. You know how that person smells, whether they took a bath or washed their clothes—and they know it all about you too.
            And I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Pastors get gas just like everybody else. And sometimes, when your wife cooked tacos for dinner, and then you go to jiu-jitsu and start fighting for your life with another person who is grabbing you and pressing down on top of you with all their weight. And you are straining with all your might not to get choked or arm-barred or crushed to death… Let’s just say, things slip out… And you can’t always control when it happens or the volume at which it happens… So you just have to let go of your dignity.
            Now, when we come to church, we try real hard to maintain our dignity. We dress up nice; we watch what we say, how we act, what kind of “image” we present. Maybe we should be less concerned about all those things. Maybe we should take off our masks and just be who we are.
            In prayer, it’s much like Jacob wrestling with God. It’s not about being dignified. It’s about letting it all hang out in a no holds barred grappling match with God. Pour your heart out to God in prayer. Don’t worry about “keeping up appearances;” God already knows everything about you anyway. Just concentrate on going after God with all you’ve got!
            Do you realize the privilege of prayer? Of wrestling with God in an embrace so intimate you can smell Him, taste Him, feel Him embracing you?  Do you realize how that encounter can change you? To have the sacredness of our Holy God rubbing off on you as your arms and legs and body entangle with the Divine and God struggles to wrestle sinful behaviors, attitudes, and ideas from your soul? When we pray to God, really pray, it draws us into His most intimate embrace.
Prayer is your way to wrestle with God like Jacob wrestled with God.  Through prayer, God changes us, changes our circumstances, and draws closer to Him.  I hope you will make prayer a top priority of your life.  What do you need to pray about?  Who do you need pray for?
I would like to invite you to write a prayer to God now.  Would you share a prayer in the comment section below?  Simply write a prayer about whatever is on your heart.  Pray for your family, your community, your church, your pastor, your children, whatever.  God will hear you and change you, maybe even change your situation, but He will definitely draw you into a closer relationship with Him when you pray.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My First Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Fight

I started training Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in March of 2014.  This is the story of how I won my first BJJ fight at the Smokey Mountain Grappling Tournament in Alcoa, Tennessee on May 23, 2015.  I only had a few weeks to prepare for the competition and a week before the tournament, I decided to lose 10 pounds and fight in a lower weight division.  Click here to read about my weight loss experience, which was a victory in itself.

I weighed in at 194.6 pounds at 9:45 AM and began the process of hydrating and getting some energy in my body while I watched my team mates from Veritas BJJ of Dalton, GA compete.  I love these guys and gals.  They train very hard at jiu-jitsu and inspire me to do my best.  If you're in the Dalton area, I highly recommend you give them a try.

Here's some pictures of my team mates during the competition.  Here's Coach Jason Finnell coaching Caitlin Kelley "Cupcake" during her competition.  The next picture is the moment she won her division with a shoulder lock.  She won first place.  (Photos by Vince Caggiano.)

Here's Kevin Bruce winning his no-gi match by rear naked choke.

I have competed before in Tang Soo Do competitions and I always have jittery nerves before it's my turn.  It's the same way when I preach on Sundays.  Even though I've been doing it for almost 15 years, I still get a little nervous before the service starts.  I just try to control my breathing, relax, and stretch.  It's almost time.

Coach Jason pulled me aside to encourage me.  "Chris, I expect you to blow through your competition today.  Your good and you've been training hard.  You shouldn't have any problems.  Regardless of what happens,  I'm proud of you.  Just remember to relax, breath, and stay calm.  Don't rush things.  Take your time and wear you opponent down before you try any submissions.  Establish your dominant position and then hold it until your opponent stops fighting."

They call my name.  I'm the first one named from my division to fight.  I walk onto the mat to take my place in the ring.  I close my eyes and say a short prayer to center myself.  "Father, help me to do my best and keep me and my opponent from being injured.  Please be glorified by what we do here.  Amen."

My opponent stands across from me.  He doesn't look so mean.  He's a little smaller than me with salt and pepper hair and beard.  I'm glad I lost those 12 pounds so I could fight in this division.  We shake hands.  The referee signals for us to start.  My game plan is not to rush.  I'm going to take my time.  I will let my opponent try to take me down to the ground, but I will counter him.  I'm quick and have great reflexes and I'm usually successful at this.  We have just started to clench and fight for grips on each other's gis (uniforms) when the ref stops us and tells us to hold our position.  He explains the clock has malfunctioned.  I joke with my opponent that we already broke the clock.  The kidding blows off a little more steam and helps me relax.  In a moment, the ref tells us we can let go of each other and take a break while they fix the clock.

I step over to my coach, Jason, and listen to him remind me to stay calm and not rush.  "Make sure you don't concede your grips to him."  "Ok, coach.  Is it alright if I go ahead and try and take him down?"  "Sure.  Remember, snap him toward you.  Then when he pulls a way, push in.  You can just go back and forth like that until you get him off balance..."  Coach sits back down and I just pace slowly around to stay calm and loose.

The ref calls us back together and decides to restart us from neutral.  Only 20 seconds has run off the clock at this point.  We touch hands again.  "Go!"  Almost immediately, my opponent tries to take me to the ground.  It is sloppy and he hasn't done anything to break my balance or posture.  As I expected, I can easily counter him and follow him down almost immediately into side control.  This is one of the most dominant positions for me.  My body is on top of his and I'm perpendicular to him while he is flat on his back.  All my weight is pressing down on him.  He's burning way more energy than me just to breath and there's very little he can do, while I have a multitude of options to try and submit my opponent.

I remember coach Jason's advice earlier that morning, "Chris, don't rush. When you get on top, relax and take your time.  Hold the position and let your opponent wear out.  When he starts to settle down, then go for the submissions."  That's what I'm gonna do.  I press my shoulder into his face and drive all my weight down while trying to counter any movements he tries to free himself.

I hear coach call out from the corner, "Relax Chris!"  I relax my muscles and slow my breathing.  I don't want to burn myself out.  I'll leave that for my opponent.  He's tiring and slowing down.  I feel his frustration, because I've been in that position before.  He starts to settle down and I see him looking towards his corner for advice from his coach.  Time to make my move.

I will attack his left arm and try a shoulder lock.  He's fighting hard because he knows what I'm trying.  He's slipping his knee up under me, trying to hook my leg and pull me into half guard (still a dominant position for me, but an improvement for him).  I fight it off and press my weight back into him.  I go for the shoulder lock again, but he's defending well and trying to regain half guard.  I'm fighting it off, but now he's framing up (this means he is using his forearm and elbow to press into my chest and face to keep me from putting pressure on him).  He's fighting valiantly and creating space between us so he can maneuver.   Now I'm having trouble isolate his arm for a shoulder lock.  He finally slips his leg in and pulls me back into a half guard and I don't fight it off this time.  It's time to go for something I've been working on and has been working for me a lot--an Ezekiel Choke.

I settle into half guard on top of him as I slip my left arm around the back of his neck.  He is feeling relieved at having finally removed the pressure of my side control.  I'm hoping to capitalize on his false sense of security in this situation.  Secretly, I grab my right sleeve cuff with my left hand.  Then I slip my right hand in front of my opponent's throat.  Now I scissor my arms and apply pressure to his throat, but I'm not in good position and he rolls over while I'm trying to choke him and I end up on my back with him on top and I have him in guard.  The choke isn't placed right so I let go.

Now I'm on my back with him on top.  I have him in my guard with both my legs around his waste, so he can't apply pressure.  This is actually a more dominant position for me, though the lay person wouldn't know it.  I have a multitude of ways to attack him from here while he has very little.  However, I don't like fighting from this position.  I still have a lot to learn. My coach knows my fighting style and calls out, "You've gotta sweep him, Chris!"

I get my grips on my opponents lapel and attempt a scissor sweep to flip him over on his back to put me on top of him, but he counters and he doesn't go all the way over.  I hear my coach yell, "Back up to your feet, Chris!"

I scramble back up to my feet and we are standing again, gripping each other’s gis.  Almost immediately, he tries to pull me down into his guard.  Again, his technique is sloppy and he doesn't break my balance or control my posture.  I easily counter him as we go down and I pass his guard--this time to the opposite side.  I'm glad I've been practicing side control from both the left and right side.  As I press my shoulder down into his face, I think "See buddy.  I can do this either left or right handed."

I go for the shoulder lock again (Note to self, I really need more submissions in my tool bag.  I know what to work on.)  I get his arm isolated, but he's fighting hard again.  My coach is giving instructions on how to complete the submission, but the opposing coach is giving instructions on how to counter it.  After a few minutes of struggling, my opponent slips his leg in and drags me into half guard again.

Ok.  I'm going to try the Ezekiel again. I know it works.  I trust my training.  I press into half guard, slide my arm around the back of his neck, grasp my right sleeve cuff.  Coach Jason is giving instructions on how to get out of half guard.  Good.  That'll serve as more misdirection. The opponent's coach is warning him to guard his throat.  I know he can't really from this position.  I slip my right hand across his throat.  Coach Jason yells out, "Use the blade of your hand!"  I keep my hand open, sag my left arm, and scissor with all my might.  We start to roll to my right, but this time my opponent can't roll all the way.  I'm in a better position and we end up side by side facing each other as my choke sinks in deep.  It feels solid.  I know it sucks because I've been choked this way in class before.  My opponent fights for a second or two and then taps out (to show he is giving up).   I don't let go until the ref calls for the stop.  Then, I release.  (The picture below is the moment my opponent taped from my Ezekiel choke.  Photo by Vince Caggiano.)

We break apart and the muscles in my arms arm burning and I'm breathing hard from exertion.   I think there were only about 30 seconds left in the fight.  We went for seven and a half minutes and we both feel it.

I hug my opponent and congratulate him on a good fight.  I shake his coach's hand and then go back and thank coach Jason.  My opponent hugs me again and says it was a great fight.  "How old are you?"  I ask.  "41."  "Same as me," I say.  "Us old guys can still fight!"  I say.  "What was your weight?"  "185," he says.  I'm glad again that I dropped the weight to fight in this lower weight division.  "What's you name?"  "Shawn."  I thank Shawn again for a great fight.

At this point, I'm thinking I need to catch my breath because I'll have to fight my next opponent in a few minutes.   The ref calls for the awards banner and I realize Shawn and I were the only two fighters in our division, so there won't be anymore fights.  I got off easy today, but I'm proud of my first fight.  I fought well and executed my fight plan perfectly.  I could have fought more people, but was glad to have my first competition behind me as a win.

Click here to learn more about Veritas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu where I train.

Click here to learn how I lost 12 pounds in one week to prepare for my fight.