I was 11 years old, and he was everything I wasn’t. Big. Strong. Popular. And insanely rich. I watched him on TV every Monday night. I had all his action figures. I hung on every word he said during the interviews with “Mean Gene.” And when it was announced that he was coming to Atlanta in the Fall of 1990, I begged my parents to take me. After weeks of campaigning, they finally agreed, and my mom took me to Turtle’s Records & Tapes in my hometown of Conyers, Georgia to buy ringside tickets for the upcoming WWF “Superstars of Wrestling.” My hero, Hulk Hogan, would be there to mercilessly destroy some poor, nameless soul – and I would be right there to witness it.
After what seemed like years of waiting, the night finally arrived. My mom, dad, and me made the trip to The Omni for what would become one of the greatest memories in all my childhood. When we arrived, I was thrilled to discover that our seats were not only on the floor near the ring, but also next the main aisle the wrestlers enter the ring. If you’ve ever watched wrestling, you know that as the wrestlers come down the aisle, their song plays and all the spectators line up to reach out and try to touch the wrestler as he runs past them on his way to the ring. After watching this sacred ritual on TV for many years, I would now be one of the blessed few who had the chance to stretch out and touch Hulk Hogan as he entered the arena. And sure enough, when the main event arrived, Hulk came down the aisle – and I was right there. I reached out as far as I could the instant before he came and I did it. I smacked him right on his left shoulder as he ran by. I knew I had just experienced tangible greatness.
24 years later, I still haven’t washed that hand.
By the time I started high school in 1993, my interest in wrestling had faded. I still thought Hulk Hogan was awesome, but I was entering a season in life where my concerns were a bit different. Hulk was an awesome role model for a while, but I knew I my biceps would never achieve a girth of 24 inches (as far as I could tell, I was the second smallest kid in a school of about 1,400), so I began searching for something more practical.
On my third birthday, my family had moved into the neighborhood of Honey Creek in South Rockdale County. My parents immediately joined a new, small church that had just been started in our community, and by the time I entered high school, we had been going there off and on for about ten years. During that time, I learned about God and the Bible. I participated in a few of the youth activities, but in middle school, I “dropped out” of church because it seemed like youth group was nothing more than an excuse for kids to get together and smoke, cuss, and talk about sex. It was all very fake to me, so I bailed out. Ironically, the time of my absence from church was the same time I got into wrestling. But by the time I got to high school, I was back to thinking about God. I knew that having a wrestler as my hero was lame. At some point, I’d have to get a new “hero.” Luckily, I met two pretty committed Christians my freshman year. I looked up to one and was repulsed by the other.
Mike was the drum major in our marching band and he was known for being a solid Christian. I noticed a book he was reading one day and I decided that since Mike was reading it, I should read it too. Soon after, I went to our local Christian bookstore, “The Cross & the Crown,” and purchased the book. It was called He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado. I was not a reader at that point in my life, but I was captivated from the very first page. It painted a picture of Jesus that I had never seen before, and that’s the first time I can ever remember beginning to think of Jesus as my hero. The book remains on my list of “best books I’ve ever read,” and I’d encourage you to check it out if you ever have the chance.
The second Christian I met during my freshman year was, in my mind at the time, one of those “goody two shoes” type people who was always happy, smiling and cheery. It was disgusting. Her name was Gina, and I did everything I could to avoid her. However, I couldn’t deny that there was something attractive about her commitment to God. I noticed that she always had a book with her. I thought it was a Bible but I was never sure because it didn’t really look like one. It had pictures of teenagers on the cover, there was no leather on it, and the pages weren’t gold. How could it be a Bible? One day, I worked up the courage to ask Gina what the book was and if I could look through it. “Oh, yeah – totally!,” she replied bubbly as I suppressed my disgust. “It’s my Bible,” she said.
I looked through her Bible and the first thing I noticed was that every 50 pages or so, there was a page with a picture of a celebrity and a quote from the celebrity. As I flipped through the pages, I was shocked to discover a picture of…, guess who? Hulk Hogan! There he was, flexing his muscles right in the middle of the Scriptures, and his quote was underneath: “I find real fulfillment in being a believer. It’s a contrast to what I once thought was necessary in order to be happy. Reading your Bible every day isn’t boring. It’s something I never fail to do. It’s as necessary to my life as staying in shape, eating the right foods, and treating people honestly.”
Wow! Here was my role model from a few years earlier pointing me to a new role model. Looking back on this, I’m amazed at what God used to get my attention and point me back to Himself. Hulk Hogan, like all the rest of us, ended up having some struggles in life, but God uses weak and flawed people to change other people’s lives for the better – and He definitely used Hulk Hogan, along with Mike, Gina, my parents, and numerous others to point me to the ultimate role model – the One I still follow today.
Did you have a role model when you were a kid? How about now – as an adult? I’m sure you had one when you were young, but I’d be willing to bet that you have one now, too – even if you don’t refer to him or her as such. Most of the time, kids look to super heroes. When we get older, maybe we revere athletes or celebrities. In adulthood, we may admire and mimic other adults who are super successful in some area. But regardless of who we follow, the point is this: everyone follows someone. If we’re honest with ourselves, we look to people that we think are “better” than we are in a particular area, and we study them. We read their books, go to their conferences, watch their TV shows, follow their successes, and we try to apply what we see. And quite rightly so – that’s what a role model is for.
If I’m terrible at managing my money, Dave Ramsey might be a good role model for me. If I want to be a successful businessperson, I might read books by Jack Welch. If leadership is my bag, I might study someone like John Maxwell. If I want to develop a healthy lifestyle, I might follow a respectable trainer. If I want to learn how to effectively choke out my opponent, I may go back to some of my old wrestling tapes and watch the Hulk – LOL! I’m kidding on that last one, but you get the point. People follow people – that’s just human nature. But managing money is only one part of life. Running a business, being a leader and working are the same. They’re all important and worthwhile aspects of a life well lived, but what about a role model who has it all? What if the kind of life I want to live is a life of completeness and balance in all areas? And what if I want a role model who will not only teach me how to live well in this life – but I want someone who will prepare me for the next life?
My humble suggestion to you is that Jesus is such a role model. He is the total package. Everything you and I need to know about how to think, feel and act is found in His example. Concerns such as money, business and physical health are legitimate concerns – but they are “fruit-level” concerns. In following Jesus, we learn the “roots” of how to live the way God designed us to live. When we learn to deal with our roots God’s way, God’s “fruit” for our lives will inevitably follow – in this life, and in the life to come.
Putting your faith and trust in Jesus means making Him your example for living. But unlike Hulk Hogan, Dave Ramsey and Jack Welch, we have access to more than just written words. We have access to a living God who listens, loves, and speaks – to each of us – individually. That’s the kind of role model I want.