Unintentional Lessons On Grace From Coach Roach

I can only remember two sentences that Coach Roach ever spoke to me.

Coach Roach was his real, given name. Well, Roach was. Coach was just a title. I guess when you have a last name like Roach, you just have to go all in and find a career that gives you a rhyming title. That way, thirty years later, people will still remember you and at least two sentences you said to them.

Coach Roach was my seventh grade football coach. I played for the Adamson Indians. We were terrible. More specifically, I was terrible. But we had nice uniforms. Mine was especially nice.

One day, on our way down to the field from the locker room, I asked Coach Roach how my uniform looked. I have no idea why I did this. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first and only time I ever asked a grown man to evaluate my looks. On top of that, Coach Roach was legally blind. No, I’m not making that up.

I still remember what he told me in his thick accent that I thought sounded like something straight out of Brooklyn.

“Ya look like a million bucks, son.”

Man, I was so proud. Coach Roach thought I looked like a million bucks! But my pride faded by the time the game was over and I was walking back up to our locker room. I still looked like a million bucks. There were no blood or grass stains on my pants. My jersey had no rips in it. The other team’s helmet paint wasn’t smattered across my helmet.

I looked like a million bucks.

It’s just too bad that I didn’t play that way. Come to think of it, I barely played at all.

I think that I still remember those words because they give a perfect assessment of today’s church. Many people who claim to be Christians look the part. They listen to radio stations with words like Fish and Love in the title. They live by a strong moral code. They are good boys and girls.

They look like a million bucks.

But they aren’t in the game. In many cases, they aren’t even on the team.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable from Luke 18 was this way. He was good. And in case God forgot, he was willing to let him know.

“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:12 (ESV)

But there was another man in Jesus’ story. He barely felt worthy to put on the uniform, much less to ask Coach Roach how he looked. When he prayed, rather than running through his stellar spiritual résumé, he asked God for his mercy.

And Jesus gave a stunning assessment of the two men.

The sinner who asked for mercy was made right with God, not the man who looked like a million bucks.

For all of his shortcomings, the sinner in Jesus’ story understood something that the Pharisee and many of us do not. Being right with God has nothing to do with our performance or how well we look while performing.

That brings me to the second sentence I remember Coach Roach saying to me.

“Sandaz, ya gonna get crooooooooo-suh-fied!”

That’s what Coach Roach would say to me during tackling drills. I was too small and too scared to do well at those drills so usually I ended up looking more like a frightened ballerina than an actual football player. But hey, at least I made my coach think about Jesus. That’s got to count for something.

No matter how good you think you are, your sin was so great that it took the death of Jesus to make you right with God. Only through faith and repentance, not fasting and tithing, can you be made right with God.

My football career came to an end after that season with Coach Roach. But I’m thankful for him, if for nothing else, because of those two sentences that he spoke to me. I didn’t know it at the time but I was learning something about grace.

I wasn’t able to fake my way into a right relationship with God.

God did not accept me because I looked the part.

I am right with God because the crucified and risen Lord had mercy on me.

A sinner.

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Red Ferrari

I don’t know anything about cars but I know a nice one when I see it. This was a nice one. It was a red Ferrari. When I looked at it, I saw a little bit of myself. Now before you bail out on me for comparing myself to a Ferrari, just hang on.

I don’t see cars like this where I live. It seemed to appear from nowhere just outside of my driver’s side window while I was stopped at a red light. When I pointed the car out to my sons, the questions started flowing. And they were questions that I didn’t have the answers to. But that’s never stopped me before.

“Dad, is that a fast car?”

“Oh you bet. It’s got twin dual cam headers.”

The three of us sat and gazed at that red sports car. It was almost like we felt honored to have such a fine vehicle visit our common town and to be so kind to share the same road with our humble Chevrolet. When the light turned green, a little piece of us died. The Ferrari would soon be out of our sight and out of our lives forever. I thought about racing, just to prolong the experience. Cooler heads prevailed.

I was going straight and the car was turning left. Well, the car wasn’t exactly turning left. It was being taken to the left. That beautiful red Ferrari was tied down to the back of a flat bed truck. And this wasn’t one of those trucks that carries rich people’s expensive cars across the country. This was the type of truck that some dude named Big Ed uses when he comes to pick up your gently used Toyota Tercel after you drive it off into a ditch.

That’s when I saw a little bit of myself and my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in that Ferrari.

By God’s grace and through faith and repentance, we have been given much. God has given us eternal life. But he has also given us the resources we need to glorify and enjoy him in this life.

In Christ, we have power over evil, both the kind in our hearts and the kind in the world (Ephesians 6:10-20).

In Christ, we have joy (John 17:13).

In Christ, we have access to our Creator (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In Christ, we have peace and love and self-control and so much more (Galatians 5:22-24).

But we don’t use those gifts. Instead, we settle for getting through life on the back of some spiritual tow truck.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God is going to bless you with a beautiful new Ferrari. And I’m not saying that Christians never have hard times or that we never deal with issues like depression or anxiety.  What I am saying is that our identity is not found in those things.

Too many Christians put a heavy emphasis on their sin while ignoring the righteousness that is theirs in Christ. An emphasis on personal sin is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing if you care to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. But it’s incomplete if it does not lead us to see our new identity in Christ.

Yes, Christian, you were a wretch. You were an enemy of God.

And yes, your struggle against sin is still very real.

But please do not forget that great exchange that took place by God’s grace. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God looks at you, he sees the perfect righteousness of his perfect Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You are no longer an orphan.

You are no longer an enemy of God.

You have been given eternal life.

You have been given hope and joy in this life.

And here’s the thing about God’s gifts. They are meant to be used. So ditch the flat bed truck and take your gift for a spin.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (ESV)

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Sloop John B

The Beach Boys have a song called Sloop John B. As best I can tell, it’s about a sailing trip gone bad. Not Gilligan’s Island bad but bad. I think Charles Manson was somehow involved.

Shortly after graduating from high school, my life was that song. I spent a week on a cruise. But this was no giant cruise ship that we were on. It was a tiny boat. As the week went on, that boat got small and smaller.

More than a few times on that trip I sang the words to Sloop John B to myself.

“Why don’t they let me go home?

This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Our captain spent the week in his bathing suit. By bathing suit, I mean bikini. His first mate was a Russian who liked to drink. It was my first time out on the open seas and my life was in the hands of a partially clothed man and his drunken assistant.

On one of our stops, a few people went into a casino. One guy got really drunk and the captain tried to have the alcohol beaten out of him. Another guy, the Russian first mate to be exact, got really drunk and lost all of the money that he was saving for a trip back to Russia. I can still remember him riding around in circles on a bicycle mumbling his miseries in Russian.

We had responsibilities on this tiny boat. One night, it was my responsibility to drive the boat. The partially clothed captain’s instructions were simple.

“Don’t worry about looking out the window. Watch the screen and make sure the red dot doesn’t hit the yellow dot.”

And off he went.

I was scared to death.

That night, surrounded by a dark sky and an even darker ocean, the world seemed to be really big and really small at the same time. I had never even thought about being a boat man but that night made it clear that it wasn’t my calling. I hated the pressure and the responsibility. When my shift was over, for once, I was really happy to see our partially clothed captain.

My lesson had been learned.

I was a better passenger than a pilot.

But I still forget that lesson a lot. If I had to honestly read Psalm 23, there are plenty of times when I would say, “I am my own shepherd because I don’t trust the real shepherd.”

And then the Real Shepherd reminds me that I make a better sheep than I do a shepherd.

I’m a control freak. I don’t really care about controlling what other people say or do. I’m more concerned with controlling the future. I want to ensure that things go well for my family and my church. I want good health for me and the ones I love. While there are certainly things that can be done to make those things more likely, there are no guarantees.

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen.

And that scares me.

Handing over control of the ship really scares me.

That’s because I’m prone to forget the character of the Captain. He’s nothing like the one I had on that boat all of those years ago. This Captain is faithful and true and all-powerful.

And loving.

He never promised that the ride would always be smooth but he did promise to deliver us safely home.

Two big reasons for the anxieties we face are our constant effort to sit in the Captain’s seat and the ease with which we forget how good and loving that Captain is.

Christian, stop fighting for that seat.

Instead, sit back and trust that the Captain is good, that he is in control and that he loves you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

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The Scariest Verse In The Bible

The Gerasene Chamber of Commerce would not have been happy. A man named Jesus and a few of his followers had just sailed to their shores. But before Jesus could get out of the boat all of the way and put his feet on the ground, the craziest man in town runs up to greet him.

This wasn’t what typically comes to mind when you think of some guy who’s a little off. This man didn’t walk around pushing a shopping cart talking to himself. His condition was more severe. The gospel writer Mark lets us know pretty early on why the man was so crazy. He was demon-possessed (Mark 5:2).

Mark gives some frightening details about this man who came to meet Jesus.

He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. Mark 5:3-5 (ESV)

Mark is very graphic. The man standing before Jesus lived in a graveyard. People tried to contain him with chains but he kept breaking them. No one in town had the power to control this man. All throughout the day and night, he would scream and cut himself. It sounds like something from a Stephen King novel.

But none of those verses are the scariest one in the Bible.

The man begged Jesus for mercy. Most likely, the request was one part the man wanting relief from Satan’s torment and one part the demon not wanting to face the power of God. And then Jesus asked a strange question.

And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark 5:9 (ESV)

A legion was a group of 6,000 Roman soldiers. Mark is not necessarily saying that this man was possessed by 6,000 demons but we can be sure that it was more than one. The man’s reply was something similar to, “We don’t have a name. We have 6,000 names.” So whether it was 100 demons or 6,000, let’s be honest, this was a scary situation.

But it’s still not the scariest verse in the Bible.

The demons begged to stay in the community before being cast out of the man. Strangely enough, Jesus granted their request. I told you that the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t like this. The demons were sent into 2,000 pigs which they forced to run off of a cliff and into the sea. If you were the guy in charge of looking after those pigs that day, you were scared. If you happened to be fishing in sea when you saw 2,000 pigs jump off of a cliff and into a watery grave, you would have been scared too.

But still, those aren’t the scariest verses in the Bible.

The pig farmers couldn’t keep this news to themselves. They told the city folks and the country folks about what the strange visitor did to the town lunatic and their pigs. Sure enough, everyone came to see for themselves. Mark’s description of the town’s reaction to the changed man is very peculiar.

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Mark 5:15 (ESV)

This was the first time that the people in the town were ever described as being afraid. Mark never said that they were afraid when the demon-possessed man cut himself, screamed or broke chains. Only when they witness the transforming power of Jesus are the described as being afraid.

Even still, that’s not the scariest verse in the Bible.

But Mark 5:17 is.

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 

These folks never seemed to have a problem with the evil of up to 6,000 demons possessing one man. They never cried out in protest at the fact that those demons wanted to stay in their town once Jesus evicted them from their host. No, but when they encountered the holiness of God, they just couldn’t take it. So they asked Jesus to leave.

It is possible to excuse evil, ignore evil and indulge in evil to such a degree that evil becomes comfortable. Yes, even the most horrific evil. And when that happens, the only thing left to frighten us is the pure holiness of God.

The Gerasenes decided that day to reject the one truly good thing they had ever seen. Six thousand demons were welcomed in their town. The one true God was not. And that’s frightening.

The church is surrounded by evil. We live in a culture that promotes evil, funds evil and even goes so far as to call evil good. God doesn’t keep us here to blend in. Rather, he keeps us here to resist and expose evil.

As Jesus was leaving, the formerly demon-possessed man had an obvious request. He waned to go with Jesus. Wouldn’t you? But Jesus didn’t allow him to. It’s funny. He granted permission to the demons when they asked to go into the pigs but not to this new follower when he apparently wanted to be the 13th disciple. Why?

Jesus had a mission for the man who had just been made new. He wanted the man to tell others about God’s mercy. And no one can tell a story better than the person who it happened to. No one can lead others to marvel at God quite like a man who himself marvels at God.

Mark 5:17 is the most frightening verse in the Bible because it reminds us of how comfortable we can become with evil. It confronts head on our tendency to settle for some of the devil and none of Jesus. It shows us how similar the American church is to the people in that town. We are okay with Jesus from afar. But when he starts to contradict the evil that has grown so dear to us, we kindly ask him to leave.

In a lot of ways, I’m afraid that he has granted that request.

And that’s really scary.

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Good News For People Who Doubt

I wasn’t blessed with the best of nicknames.

Jaybird.

That’s what people called me when I was a kid. I know guys named Cornbread, Turk and Bubba. Those are all solid nicknames. Each one tells you that the guy with the nickname either has a cool story to tell or is not one to be messed with. Not so much for Jaybird. There are no linebackers in the NFL named Jaybird. Well, maybe with the Cleveland Browns but you get my point.

I’m much better off than a guy named Thomas. No one ever calls me Jaybird these days. But Thomas has the misfortune of being called Thomas the Doubter for several hundred years now. Why are we so hard on Thomas? No one ever says Peter the Denier or Paul the Murderer. And there’s certainly more to Thomas than his doubts. Of all the disciples, he seemed to be the one of the ones most concerned with going where Jesus was going (John 11:16; John 14:5).

But we don’t talk to much about those moments. Thomas is better know for his doubt that led him to make a bold, misguided statement but also helped him to see his Master like never before.

Jesus had just risen from the grave and word was getting out. The disciples had locked themselves in a room and, no doubt, were trying to process what the empty tomb meant. And then Jesus walked in (John 20:19-23). By the time he left, all of the disciples were sold on his resurrection. Well, all of the disciples who were there. Judas Iscariot was dead. And Thomas, well, we don’t know where he was. But he wasn’t in that room (John 20:24).

The disciples had to tell Thomas the news. They told him that they had seen Jesus. Not experienced Jesus. Not felt Jesus. They saw him. He talked to them. He showed them his wounds. This was no rumor and it certainly wasn’t a ghost. But Thomas wasn’t impressed. That’s when he made his bold, misguided statement.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:25 (ESV)

Never.

Jesus took the challenge. But he waited. For eight days he allowed Thomas to marinate in his doubt.

The disciples were inside, back behind the security of locked doors. This time, for whatever reason, Thomas was with them. And Jesus showed up again.

Guess whose name Jesus called out first when he walked in.

He didn’t say the name of  Peter, the Rock. He didn’t ask for John, the Beloved Disciple. He called for Thomas, the Doubter.

The grave could not hold Jesus down. The locked doors could not keep him out. And Thomas’ doubts could not keep him away. Jesus came and met the Doubter where he needed him most – right in the middle of his cynicism and unbelief.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” John 20:27 (ESV)

Thomas responded by making another bold statement. But this one was anything but misguided.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28 (ESV)

Doubt is one of the sacraments of our age. Even in some churches, doubting seems to be a mark of spiritual enlightenment. So we have pastors who doubt the virgin birth, professors of religion who aren’t quite sure if Jesus ever even lived and an entire generation of church goers who are only sure about one thing – that it’s wrong to be sure about anything.

On the other end of the spectrum, there have always been those Christian leaders who have all of the answers. They know the answers to the questions that haven’t been asked yet. Even on issues not addressed in the Bible, they are absolutely certain that they are right and you are wrong – on everything.

And then there’s Thomas. Yes, he had his doubts. But the answers he didn’t even know he was looking for weren’t found in more evidence or a deeper knowledge. They were found in Jesus. That is where we must look. And as we do, we must echo what the father of a sick child said to Jesus. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The Christian’s identity is not found in his doubts. It’s found in his Savior. But it is through repentance and moving beyond those doubts that the Christian grows closer to his Savior.

History tells us that Thomas likely went on to India to share the good news of Jesus. It is also likely that he was martyred for his devotion to what he vowed that he would never believe. Thomas marinated in his doubts for eight days. He spent the rest of his life taking them to Jesus and serving him.

We all have our doubts from time to time. Perhaps for you it’s some part of the Bible that you find just too hard to believe. Or maybe you check all of the right boxes when it comes to believing the Bible but it’s the future that makes you doubt. You’re all on board with the virgin birth being real, it’s God’s sovereign and loving control over tomorrow that’s giving you second thoughts.

Either way, remember that Jesus is big enough for your doubts. Don’t cling to them. Cling to him. Right where you need him the most, right where your faith is the weakest is right where he meets you.

Do not disbelieve, but believe.

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Cootie Catcher

My son climbed into the truck and told me to name a color.

I said red.

Then he asked me for a number.

I said eight.

Apparently I gave the right answers because he told me that I was going to be a millionaire.

At school he had made what he called a fortune teller. A generation or two ago it was called a cootie catcher. You’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s made out of a piece of notebook paper and it fits over your hand sort of like a puppet. Written on the outside are numbers and colors that correspond with something about your future.

After I got over the initial thrill of knowing that I would be a millionaire when I grow up, something else amazed me.

Kids today can access a world of information on a phone. If they want to know how many touchdowns Matt Ryan has thrown this year, it’s just a few clicks away. They can watch entire television shows and download albums on their phones. But they still like to play the same paper game their grandparents played way back in another world. Score one for the simpler things.

But simpler things have a way of becoming complex things. In the second grade, you dream about the car you’ll drive and the house you’ll live in. In your thirties, when you get the car and the house, you long for the good old days when those things were just dreams rather than bills to be paid. Sometimes, the life we dream of isn’t as peaceful as we thought it would be when we were holding a cootie catcher in our hand.

Forget about the nice car. Is there a cootie catcher that promises us peace in the future?

Usually, when we hear about someone being at peace, it means that they’re dead. “Billy lived a hard life, especially there at the end, but he’s at peace now.” It doesn’t have to be that way. While we will never know a perfect life on this side of eternity, we can know peace. Peace among the dreams that never came true. Peace among the dreams that did come true but turned out to not to be so dreamy. In the thick of anxiety and fear, the Bible offers us hope.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2 (ESV)

In the heat of your stress and anxiety, it is possible to know peace. It is possible to silence the unnecessary noise around you and to rest in Jesus like a child in his mother’s lap. David Powlison says, “Most of the noise in our souls is generated by our attempts to control the uncontrollable.” It’s as if we’ve grown to believe that the cootie catcher really works, that we really are in control of our future. We aren’t. Failure to recognize this is the root cause of much of our anxiety. That’s why David wrote, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me (Psalm 131:1).

The future is too great for us.

But it’s not too great for the One to whom we belong.

David’s peace was not like the so-called inner peace that people talk about these days. You know, the kind that makes us feel better about ourselves but never really goes beyond ourselves. Real peace is shared peace.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131:3 (ESV)

We live in a world where most people are being driven crazy by the noise of what they cannot control. It could be that your greatest testimony is living out the peace you have from being content in the God who controls all things.

In the town where I live, there used to be a guy whose job it was to stand out in front of the pizza place and try to get the attention of the people who drove by. Stand isn’t the best word to describe what this guy did. He danced. He danced like it was his goal in life to get people to stop at that place and buy a pizza. I don’t even like the restaurant he worked for but sometimes I would think to myself, “Well, if he feels that strongly about it, maybe I should try a few slices.”

He was the exact opposite of the guy who works for the place that sells Halloween costumes in October and does taxes in March. You know the place and you know this guy. He’s always dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, leaning on a sign that says, “We’ll do your taxes” while texting. That’s it. No dancing. Just texting. I hate to be so judgmental but I don’t want my financial future in that guy’s hands.

You are that guy. Or the pizza guy.

Whatever it is that you put your hope in, that’s what you advertise to a hopeless world.

If your hope is ultimately in your ability to control the future, you have nothing to offer a hopeless world.

But if you are trusting in the Sovereign God who has calmed and quieted your soul, even when everything else in your life is falling apart, the world stops and takes notice.

Four Things To Remember Before Fear Consumes You

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Christians are not immune to frightening situations. But we do not have to be consumed with fear. If you are in Christ, here are four things that are true for you. They were true on the day that you became a Christian. They’ll be true the day after the elections.

Your reasons to trust in God are greater than your reasons to fear man. 

To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:1-4 (ESV)

God’s justice is greater than man’s schemes.

All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

Psalm 56:5-7 (ESV)

The one who is for you is greater than the one who is against you.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:8-11 (ESV)

The God who lifts you up is greater than the grave that holds you down. 

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Psalm 56:12-13 (ESV)

When you feel overwhelmed by the evil schemes of man, just look to the character of God.

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Is God Really In Control?

A while back I was having a theological conversation with someone. They were taking issue with my belief in the sovereignty of God, that is, the belief that God is in control of all things at all times. The person’s main concern was that if all Christians believed that God was in control of all things, none of them would do missions.

I thought about that on Wednesday night while I sat and heard a woman telling a story of the sovereignty of God. She and her husband and their five children packed up everything and left behind the comforts of Georgia for the challenges of Romania. For eleven years now the family has been working to break down barriers or racism, rescue women who are or otherwise might be caught in the sex trafficking industry, pulling children out of orphanages and giving them a better home, providing an education and yes, evangelizing the lost.

This family’s belief in the sovereignty of God didn’t keep them from the mission God had for them. It fueled their mission.

Christians like to say that God is in control but I wonder how many of us really believe that. Sure, we can say that he is in control on a random Tuesday morning. But what about on a Wednesday morning when a tornado hits? Or when there’s a bad phone call from your brother? Or when it feels like you can’t possibly go any further? Is God still in control then?

The Bible answers that question with a resounding yes.

I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

This would be quite scary were it not for God’s goodness. Hitler had a pretty good measure of control over Germany. An abusive husband can control his wife. But neither Hitler or the abusive husband are good.

It does us no good to speak of the sovereignty of God if we do not also speak of the goodness of God.

 

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:1-5 (ESV)

So the sovereignty of God is not intended to free us from the mandate to make disciples of all nations or from any other more specific mission God may have for us. But there are a few things that the sovereignty of God, when understood in union with the goodness of God, will free us from.

Things like fear and anxiety.

It’s interesting to hear how people talk about the upcoming presidential election in the United States. Here’s a basic summary of one point I hear frequently.

“Well, neither one of the candidates are any good but we need to vote for ______________ because at least God can work through that one.”

But God can’t work through the other one? Read the Bible. It’s one big, long story of God working through tyrants to accomplish his perfect will for the good of his imperfect people. Or, to put it another way, the Bible is an account of God’s complete control over all things. That doesn’t mean that we have to support tyranny or some supposed lighter version of it. It just means that we don’t need to be afraid when it comes knocking on our door.

God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness work together to free us from the constant hand wringing that so many have given in to.

God was good and he was in control when he created the heavens and the earth.

God was good and he was in control when Jesus was crucified.

God was good and he was in control on the day that I was saved.

God was good and he was in control on the day that my parents divorced and on the day that my mother got sick and on the day that she died.

When we have our presidential election, God will still be good and he will still be in control, no matter who wins.

And, whether God calls you to Romania or to stay in the states to make disciples, he will still be good and he will still be in control.

Because God is both good and sovereign, we can trust that when bad things happen, God will eventually, some way and some how, work them for our good. We don’t need to know all of the details. When tragedy strikes, the world is better off without us trying to excuse God, speak where he has not spoken or explain away his sovereignty.

We say something much more powerful when we simply trust God and worship him.

He really is in control.

He really is good.

And that frees us to obey him boldly and worship him gladly.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)

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School Isn’t The Only Place Where The Satanists Have A Club

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They say that they don’t really worship Satan. He is, they tell us, just a symbol for their rational thought and atheism. All of that is just another way to say that they really do worship Satan. And now, they want to start a club in public schools. We were all shocked when we heard reports of this earlier in the week. That’s natural. But a deeper look reveals that we really shouldn’t be surprised that Satanists want to meet in public schools.

They’ve been meeting in our churches for years.

Satanism isn’t what you think it is. Sure, there’s an element out there that likes to sacrifice goats and drink blood while sitting around and listening to Slayer in the graveyard. But there’s another faction of Satanism that’s much harder to spot. As is usually the case with the devil’s schemes, this particular brand looks really good on the outside. To understand it better, we have to trace it back to its New Testament roots.

Things were changing in Jesus’ ministry. He was switching gears by talking to his disciples more and more about his death. For a group of people who were expecting their Master to be a mighty warrior sent to wipe out the Romans, this was absurd. So Peter pulled the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords over to the side to explain a few things to him. There would be no cross, Peter told him. But he didn’t just tell Jesus. He rebuked Jesus. No cross!

Jesus’ response is one of the most cutting in all of Scripture.

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23 (ESV)

It’s one thing for Jesus to tell you that you’re missing the point. It’s quite another for him to call you Satan. That’s precisely what Jesus did to Peter. But why? We know that Jesus, the perfect God Man, never sinned so this wasn’t the result of a bad temper. Jesus’ rebuke was righteous, not sinful. Satan was working through Peter to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross. He had attacked Jesus with the same temptation face to face at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry without success (Matthew 4:1-11). Now he was giving it a another shot by using one of Jesus’ closest friends. The last thing Satan wanted was the crucifixion because he knew that it meant the beginning of the end for him.

When I was growing up, my church was always having these rock music seminars where we were taught what rock and roll bands were saying backwards in their songs. It was terrifying. And, to be honest, quite entertaining. The speakers at these seminars would always devote some time to showing us Satanic art work and hand symbols, the most common ones being the pentagram and upside down cross.

If we understand our Bibles correctly, it will be obvious that the symbol which best represents Satan is the invisible cross, not the upside down one. He can work just as easily through the eager church-goer as he can through the devout graveyard dweller. Just ask Peter. And his ultimate goal for both is the same. No cross. Since the cross has already happened, he’s now doing everything he can to turn our attention from it. A quick look at many of our churches reveals that he has been quite successful.

All of those backward masking seminars and record burnings in the 1980s were no threat to Satan. He’s okay with us getting rid of pentagrams, just as long as we don’t replace them with talk of the cross where Christ was crucified in obedience to his Father for the salvation of his people.

And today, Satan is okay with our large, relevant churches and small traditional churches just so long as none of those churches spends anytime preaching about, singing of and trying to live out the cross.

They may not be wearing black, hooded robes and slaughtering goats, but the Satanists are already in the churches. And, like Peter, these proponents of the sneaky brand of Satanism probably don’t even know what they’re spreading. But it doesn’t matter. Every Sunday school or small group lesson about becoming a better person and every sermon about taking your life to the next level or getting more money are what we might call the sacrament of the Satanic church – no cross.

No doubt, Christian groups will do what they can to try to keep the Satanists out of the public schools. They’ll file petitions and contact school board members. Perhaps, before that happens, Christians should address the Satanism in their own churches. After all, it’s hard to stand victoriously against the obvious brand of Satanism on Monday when we embrace the more subtle variety on Sunday.

Our victory will not be found in a court room or a school board meeting. It is found rather at the cross where Jesus won an eternal victory for his people.

We are, be definition, a people of the cross.

Anything less is simply Satanic.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

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Gospel Malpractice And A Picture Of Cross-Carrying

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Thurston is a hard worker. Maybe one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. And Thurston is a real man. A while back, when his daughter was going through a difficult time, Thurston stepped up to the challenge like few men would. I’ve never known a Thurston before. Well, unless you want to count Thurston Howell III. I’m glad that I got to know the real Thurston a few days ago.

When Thurston found out that I was a pastor, our conversation quickly turned to church. He’s a church man too. His dad devoted his entire life to leading churches. Now Thurston plays music for the church. When Thurston asked me about the city where I pastor, I told him. He had been to my city before to visit another baptist church.

When he showed up to that other baptist church, everything started out like a normal visit to a new church. At some point during the morning, Thurston and his wife got separated from one another. When they finally met up again in that old baptist church building, Thurston’s wife had tears in her eyes. Like any husband, especially one in a new place, Thurston was concerned and asked his wife what was wrong.

She told him that one of the leaders in the church told her that she and her husband needed to find another church to go to. Their kind wasn’t welcomed at this church.

You see, Thurston and his wife had committed the sin of being black and visiting a white church. This would all be bad enough if it had happened in 1942. This particular instance of gospel malpractice happened just a few years ago.

Thurston told me that these kind of comments never really bothered him. He said that they always bother his wife. I’m white. I don’t know what it’s like to be told that my “kind” isn’t welcomed somewhere. I can’t relate to the pain that Thurston’s wife felt that morning. Even still, I’m with her. Those words really bother me. And they bother Jesus too.

I know that race gets hyped up sometimes. Stories about racism get a lot of views and clicks and attention, whether they’re true or not. But we must not let this blind us to the reality that racism really does exist. Thurston told me about a time when he first started selling cars and he took a few guys out on a test drive. They took him out into the middle of the country, dropped him off and drove off with the new car. This was the days before cell phones so Thurston’s only hope was knocking on doors and asking to borrow a phone to get a ride back to work.

At the first house he went to, Thurston had a gun pulled on him just for walking on the property. And, in his words, he, “wasn’t even dressed up like a thug.” He had on a shirt and tie. But that wasn’t enough to atone for the color of his skin. The next time you’re tempted to think that racism is nothing more than media hype to sell more advertising, I wish that you could ask Thurston about his experiences.

As he drew closer and closer to his death, Jesus devoted more time to teaching his disciples about the significance and meaning of the cross. Those are lessons that we would do well to learn from today.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (ESV)

Not, “Repeat this prayer after me.”

Not, “Raise your hand, walk the aisle, hug the pastor’s neck, sniff snot and sign a card.”

Just, self-denial and cross carrying wherever Jesus leads.

If we have truly denied ourselves, we will not cling to our color tribes. We won’t find our identity in the color of our skin or our politics. Rather, we will obey Jesus. Even when it’s hard. And if we’re carrying our cross, in a small way, we’ll be doing what Jesus did. We’ll be moving toward people who are different from us. We’ll be moving toward them in sacrificial love.

I’ve often wondered why race is such a problem in the church. Why are youth ministers yelled at for bringing in black kids? Why are black families wishing to worship Jesus told to take it somewhere else? Part of me thinks that the answers are far too complex for any of us to ever understand. But another part of me thinks it’s pretty simple.

We have abandoned the cross.

So rather than denying ourselves, we deny others. Rather than taking up our cross, we settle for hanging it up on a wall. And instead of actually following Jesus, we admire him from afar because after all, he might lead us some place we don’t want to go. For many in the church, the cross has become like the American flag. We respect it. We don’t want to see it dishonored. We have certain days devoted to it. But it has nothing to do with what we’re doing, saying or thinking on a Tuesday afternoon.

If we truly are a cross-centered people and not just the kind of people who like to add it to our decorations, we will be a different people. We will remember that, without the cross, we’re all outsiders as far as God’s concerned. But because of the cross, through faith and repentance, we are welcomed in.

Thurston finally got a ride home that day when he was left out in the middle of nowhere by those car thieves. An old white lady drove up and asked him if he needed any help. He explained to her what happened and told her that he didn’t have any weapons or ill intentions. She wasn’t hearing any of it. She just told him to get in the car. Thurston obeyed. He walked around back and opened the door. Again, she wasn’t having it.

She told him to sit up front.

That old lady in her car gives us a good picture of self-denying, cross-carrying discipleship.

There are Jews, Gentiles, whites and blacks who are following Jesus.

But there is no backseat.

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