Early MMA


Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a violent combat sport. It’s a mix of boxing and wrestling. Competitors begin each round on their feet, prancing around about like boxers. At some point, the fighters usually hit the ground in an all-out wrestling match to bring their opponent to submission.

Rules have changed in recent years to make the sport safer for its competitors. The sport used to be promoted as a “no rules, fight-to-the-death” match between competitors. To be fair, it wasn’t really “fight to the death.” And there were some rules. Biting and eye-gouging and hair-pulling and head-butting and groin-shots were all illegal. However, the brutality was very legal.

In the early days, competitors faced each other in an eight-sided cage (still do) with no judges, time limits or rounds. Every fight finished with a knockout, submission, or throwing in the towel. The fights were so violent, that in 1996 former Senator John McCain called the sport, “human cock-fighting” and sought to make it illegal in all 50 states.  As a result, rules have been implemented to make today’s sport less barbaric than it originated.

When Paul describes the spiritual battle that believers face against the demonic forces of the world, he likens it to a spiritual wrestling match. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

When we think of wrestling, we often think of the high school sport, where skinny boys grapple on a soft mat against each other. It is likely, however, that Paul was thinking of Pankration, an ancient form of wrestling very similar to the early days of MMA. Paul surely knew of the sport. Surely the violent nature of the spiritual battle that we face in the spiritual realm was in Paul’s mind, not the sanitized sport of wrestling today.  The devil hardly plays by the rules. So, when you read of the spiritual wrestling in Ephesians 6:12, the early years of MMA is probably a good image to have in mind.

First World Problems


Those in wealthy nations often experience “First World Problems.” These are problems that come only to privileged individuals, who have no worries of food, shelter, or clothing. It’s the owner of the yacht who bemoans the cost of upkeep. It’s the Porsche owner makes a fuss when a can of soda is spilled in the back seat of his car. It’s those at their vacation home on the lake who complain of the sand that comes into the door from the beach.

Those who complain in this way seem oblivious to their material wealth. They have a yacht! They have a nice car! They have a vacation home! They have things that most of the world could only dream of having. They really have no right to complain at all. Reminding themselves of how good they have it would help them to see how minimal these problems are.

In a similar way, those who know and experience the tremendous spiritual blessings of God would do well to remember the privileges that they possess. Those who trust in Christ have been blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). It is the Lord …

who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-5).

Such blessings can easily be forgotten. That’s why David reminds himself to “forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). That’s why Paul instructs us to remember where we were before trusting in Christ. “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

For a believer in Christ, complaining about the troubles of the world we face is like a wealthy man complaining about his first world problems.


Perhaps you have had the experience of turning on the kitchen light after a long night, only to see some cockroaches scurry across the kitchen floor, finding shelter from the light. It’s an obvious fact: cockroaches hate the light. They love the darkness.

Cockroaches aren’t alone. Sinners love the darkness and flee the light. They love the cover of darkness to enjoy their sin. Followers of Christ used to walk in these ways, but Christ has changed them: “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Customer Surveys

One of the things that has made Apple a wildly successful corporation is their innovation. They have made products that the consumers didn’t even know that they wanted (or needed).  Steve Jobs once said, “It is not the customer’s job to know what they want.” As a result of this philosophy, Apple corporation isn’t too keen on customer surveys.

The same is true in the spiritual realm. Non-Christians don’t even know what it is that they need. They are blind to spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). They are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1). Christians don’t need to survey non-Christians to see what they want. Rather, we need to tell them what they don’t even know that they need. We need to tell them that they need their sins to be forgiven by believing in Jesus Christ. They need to repent and turn to Christ (Acts 3:19).

Tear Down This Wall!

Twenty-five years ago yesterday (June 12, 1987), President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin wall. Reagan was in route to Italy, but stopped in Berlin to call Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall–a symbol of communist oppression. Reagan said, …

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tear_down_this_wall!)

It took more than two years for this to happen. But, it did happen (November 9, 1989). The wall was torn down. Freedom was given to East Germany.

The Bible speaks of a wall that was torn down. It’s that wall that kept the Gentiles from salvation. Before the coming of Christ, Gentiles were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But, with the coming of Christ, believing Gentiles have been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Jesus Christ “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14), which means that the Gentiles are now able to enjoy the salvation of God!

The Orchestra

My wife plays the clarinet in the local community orchestra. So, twice each year our family will go to hear her play in a concert. It is very enjoyable.

At the most recent concert, I was struck by the way in which each instrument in the orchestra plays their little part in making the entire piece sound so nice. Everyone doesn’t do the same thing. Some instruments are playing the harmony. Other instruments are playing the counter-melody. From time to time they switch their roles. Sometimes the violins are prominent. At other times, the trumpets or the cellos or the trombones take the lead.

When Paul described the church, he described it as individuals all playing their roles to build the entire body. “The whole body, being fitten and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Every believer has a part to play in the orchestra called the church.

The Dance

When a man and a woman dance together, the man must lead, and the woman must follow. He leads with subtle weight changes. He leads with arm movements. He leads with eye contact. He doesn’t push or pull his partner. Rather, he helps the woman to enjoy her dancing. When done correctly, such dancing is beauty in motion.

The same concept comes in Ephesians 5:22-33, the quintessential passage for marriage. It describes the husband’s role. It describes the wife’s role. The husband loves and leads. The wife submits and helps. In so doing, they picture the relationship that Christ has with His church. When done correctly, it is beauty in motion.


Those involved in witchcraft use the word, “Zombie,” to describe corpses which have been brought to life. They are often depicted  as gruesome figures that wander the earth, haunting those who are alive. The Bible doesn’t use the word, “Zombie,” but, it still had a category for dead people who are alive.

The Bible says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Here you have dead people (spiritually) walking around (physically). This is how God views unbelievers. Although they are alive and breathing and walking and talking, they are dead in their sins. They are unresponsive to the Spirit of God. They need to be made fully alive.

In contrast, believers in Christ are fully alive. They are alive physically and spiritually. “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). This is all the grace of God! “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5).

Barn raising

The Amish are well-known for their community support for each other. In the 18th and 19th centuries, entire communities would gather together to raise a barn for their neighbor.  The men would do the hard labor and the women would help them with nourishment to keep working hard all day long.

Something similar takes place in the life of a healthy church.  When their are projects to be done, they will come together in support of their neighbor who needs help. This can be as simple as providing meals to those who are sick or who have recently had a baby. It can be as complex as a bunch of men gathering together to help put a new roof on a needy family who can’t afford it.

This past week, one of our members moves to a new house. Some 25 people showed up to help them in the move.  Some were heavy lifters.  Others helped with the food when we finished. We all were there to support our fellow believers in Christ.

This is how the church is built.  “Christ,… according to the proper working of each individual part causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Setting It Straight

My father is a retired orthopaedic surgeon. He helped countless people over the years with their broken bones. One of the things that he repeatedly told me regarding his care for his patience is this: “I can set the bones straight, but only God can repair the bones.”

This is parallel to the task given to leaders in the church. They are given “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Ephesians 4:12). Pastors can do all that they can do to equip (i.e. “set things straight” for) people. They can teach them the Bible. They can give them tools to study the Bible on their own. They can counsel them on righteous ways to live.  They can model for them how to serve. They can suggest ways for them to serve. But ultimately, it is God who must work in their hearts to give them a heart to serve others.