Last weekend I competed in my first World Master Jiu-Jitsu competition. Over several days, hundreds of athletes descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center for the biggest master’s competition in the sport. The whole event was awesome. I was terrified, anxious and eager all at the same time. To stand across the mat from a person I have never met and engage in a combat sport is something I never imagined I would find myself doing, especially at the age of 44. But there I was, and it was an experience I will not soon forget.
Yet, the Jiu-Jitsu competitors were not the only ones gathering at the convention center that weekend. There were other competitors as well in one of the other halls and in many ways, they could not have been more contrary to us.
As we got in line at Starbucks early in the morning before the matches began, there was a beautiful mixture of these two competitors. You would see the Jiu-Jitsu guys with their cauliflowered ears and lean physiques. Then you would spot various other folks wearing bold and bright colors, Pokémon themed backpacks covered with pins depicting symbols that were strange to me (though I did recognize the various shaped ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ dice). Some were dressed in costumes and others had died their hair wild colors. These competitors were there for the “Magic: The Gathering” Gran Prix; a card game where wizards battle it out casting spells and collecting energy with a combination of luck and skill to defeat their opponent.
While it would be easy to belittle such a gathering, to see them as simply playing at fighting while I was there to actually fight, I do not think it would be fair to do so. In fact, there was a lot of similarities. There was passion and skill and no doubt a hierarchy of value ascribed to one’s skill. While it is most likely their joints did not ache as mine do, nor were they even worried about having that cup of coffee lest they miss weight, there was a similar desire, a longing to be a warrior, to battle it out and win the day.
Reflecting on this, I think the desire to compete and triumph over something is a common desire among men. Everyone in their own way wants to stand in opposition for a cause that matters. They want to be a champion of something grand. Not all put in the time and training to be successful, but the desire remains. It remains in our churches too. Churches are full of causes which need champions. You can be on the front lines of the doctrinally sound war, silencing those who dare disagree with established expressions of orthodoxy. Or, you could be engaged in the mission field war, going all-in for mission dollars and strategy sessions on spreading the Word of God. You can be a warrior for the historic liturgy or contemporary worship. You can do battle over Sunday School and afternoon potlucks. The options are endless.
And our desire to be warriors does not end when it comes to the topic of our own salvation. By nature, we want to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and get to work to win the battle with our own depravity. If we put in the work, we think perhaps we just might do it, we might win. We might justify ourselves before God.
But such a desire is fraught with problems. There is only one who can be the champion, only one who does good, only one who is perfect and faithful and unmoved by the opposition. And that one is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb who was slain and now He has begun His reign for you, for your victory. Hope is not discovered by finding the warrior within, but by receiving the blessings of the Warrior who died and rose again.