Chasing Approval: What I Learned From “Chasing Tyson”

chasing tysonEvander Holyfield never got the credit he was due.  At least that’s the way ESPN Films’ Chasing Tyson (currently on Netflix) tells the story about the former heavyweight champ’s boxing career.

The film describes a world electrified by the phenom that was Mike Tyson.  Tyson was seen an unstoppable wrecking ball of a fighter, and between dominating his opponents and having famed boxing promoter Don King in his corner, Tyson achieved near legendary status.

Holyfield, on the other hand, was a talented athlete, but was quieter and didn’t have the swagger that Tyson and his crew had.  He was always in Tyson’s shadow, and though he wanted to face off with “Iron” Mike in the ring, their superfight was met by one delay after another, stretching out over the course of several years.

When Holyfield eventually won the heavyweight title, people largely acted as if the title had less value because it hadn’t been won against Tyson (Holyfield won the belt from Buster Douglas, who had shocked the world by upsetting Tyson not long before Tyson and Holyfield were supposed to square off).  In the years that followed, critics tried to force Holyfield to play the comparison game, as if he somehow was a lesser fighter because he hadn’t yet faced Tyson.  Nobody except Holyfield himself was willing to concede that “The Real Deal” was truly the best heavyweight in the world.  As Holyfield puts it in the film, “I’m chasing titles, I wasn’t chasing Tyson.”

The comparison game is dangerous.  Comparing ourselves to others causes us to constantly hunger and thirst for the approval of others, which can never ultimately satisfy us.

As believers in Christ, we have to constantly remind ourselves that there’s no need to work for the approval of men because we’ve already received God’s approval through the sacrifice of Jesus.  In Galatians 1:10, the Apostle Paul is blunt in saying that he doesn’t chase human approval.  He writes,

“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.”

Well then, that’s about as to-the-point as you can get.

Those who aspire to please Jesus cannot simultaneously try to please people.  There are too many conflicting ideals.  That’s not to say the Kingdom of God should clash with everyone all the time, just that others’ standards are not those by which we should measure our success.

Evander Holyfield eventually fought, and beat, Mike Tyson…twice. But even still, there seems to be some doubt as to who was the better fighter. After all, even the documentary about Holyfield’s career is named after Tyson! Don’t play the comparison game. You’ll only end up chasing others’ approval.

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A Happy Right-Hand Man

I’ve always been a right-hand man.  Growing up with an older brother, I was almost always an accomplice and very rarely the mastermind.  Whether it was playing in the yard or playing video games, I often played a supporting role and very rarely was the hero.

I remember, in particular, playing Sonic 2 on the Sega Genesis and waiting and wishing for the chance to play as Sonic.  Most often, however, I got stuck being Tails — Sonic’s flying fox friend who was able to offer little support and could actually be left behind by the game’s namesake.

SonicBut then Sonic 3 came out, and in that game Tails became much more important to helping Sonic succeed.  He was still in a supporting role, and he could still be left behind (or dragged along), but he suddenly had the ability to pick up Sonic and fly him to places that would have been difficult for him to reach on his own.  Because of this, there were times where my brother would make Sonic wait so Tails and I could help him with a difficult task.  Tails finally felt his worth (and I felt what it was like, maybe for the first time, to be in a fulfilling, supporting role).

As a student pastor I’ve experienced this same fulfillment in the church, too.  I’ve embraced being a right-hand man to the senior pastor because I sense that I’m really making a difference in my role.

Listen: You don’t have to make all of the decisions in your family, business, or church to make a difference.  Instead, if you’re a right-hand man, make it your goal to be a person of indispensable influence on the people around you (including those who lead you).  You don’t have to be the guy in charge to make an impact.

John the Baptist exampled this philosophy well.  He was a natural (or supernatural) leader, drawing tons of people to himself to be baptized.  Isaiah even prophesied about John’s coming and purpose in the Old Testament, and John was so intriguing it appears some people even wondered if he was the Messiah!

Yet, when Jesus stepped on the scene, John willingly stepped back from it.  On one occasion recorded in John 3, the disciples of John appear to be jealous that people are now going to Jesus for baptism instead of coming to them.  John responds in a way that shows he’s embraced his supporting role:

27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ 29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

John was a great man, a bold speaker, and a strong leader, but he realized what was best for the Kingdom was for him to take a step back and make sure Jesus rightly received his glory.

Let’s make it our goal to do the same.  Let’s work and pray to set aside our pride for the benefit of the Kingdom and the magnification of Jesus.  Let’s find joy in that work, and know that you can have a great impact even when you’re not calling all the shots.

The Great Motivator

When I first met my wife’s great grandma, she was 91 years old.

She lived on her own in the hills of Kentucky well into her nineties, and she was an even balance between tough and tender.  She was loving and sweet (her first words to me were, “Well, aren’t you just tall and handsome”) but had a funny and sarcastic side to her as well (she’d often lean over to me at the dinner table and whisper some snarky remark into my ear).

I have a number of fond memories of her.  When we’d stay at her home, for example, she would be the first one out of bed and would start banging every pot and pan in the house together while making breakfast (presumably to make sure all of us were awake by the time it was ready).  I also remember watching her overflow with genuine gratitude as she unwrapped a simple coffee maker at Christmas (it showed me I have much to learn about gratitude).

Mamaw, as we called her, really made me feel like a part of the family, even before my wife and I were married.  Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the privilege of spending time with someone of that age, but whenever we visited her we did so with the understanding that any visit could be our last.

But, because she was so tough, she lived several years longer.  When Mamaw was 100 years old, my wife found out she was pregnant.  When we told Mamaw she got the biggest grin on her face, and in the months that followed all she could talk about was how she couldn’t wait to hold that baby.  We couldn’t wait either, but as she got older her health issues seemed to be a more frequent nuisance, and we often wondered if our child would get to meet his great great grandmother.

Then, not long before our son was due, she had a stroke.

She survived it and started her recovery in a nursing home, though no one could say whether or not she would fully recover.  Then, in November 2014, our son Micah was born, and not long after that we visited the nursing home and Mamaw got to hold her great great grandson for the first and last time.

She died on Christmas Eve just a few weeks later.

There are a lot of factors that determine when a person is going to die, but my wife and I believe Mamaw may have died much sooner if she hadn’t held on to the hope that she’d get to meet our child.

There is Hope - COVER SLIDEHope — the idea that there is an unseen future that is greater than our visible present — is a force that tells us to keep on going when everything else is telling us to give up.  True hope, though focused on the future, affects our present in powerful ways.

The problem with hope today is its definition has become weakened by the way it is commonly used.  Most people use hope to describe a type of wishful thinking, but the hope described in the Bible is one of confidence and assurance.  It’s a looking forward to heavenly promises that have been made by a reliable God who has time and time again put his faithfulness out there for all to see.

So this Christmas season, don’t lose hope!  Keep your eyes fastened on Jesus, the hope of the world.  Those in the Old Testament were motivated by hope in God’s plan to rescue the world, even though they didn’t get to see it materialize in their lifetimes.  But today Jesus is on his throne, and we have reason to hope confidently for all of the things he’s promised for the future, because he’s a man of his word.

Correction: In an earlier edit I said Mamaw was 95 when we met, but my wife corrected me.  She was (only) 91!