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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A Simple Request

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I have a request.

Let’s try to just enjoy the Super Bowl this year.

There are a lot of obstacles to this seemingly simple request. Some like to make the rest of us feel guilty during the Super Bowl by saying silly things like, “If you cheered as loud at church this morning as you did for that last touchdown, the world would be a better place.” Over time, we’ve learned to tune these folks out. But, there’s one topic that still keeps finding it’s way into our Super Bowl enjoyment.

Race.

Are you surprised?

Neither am I.

Earlier in the week I saw a split screen picture on the Internet of Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, the two quarterbacks in this year’s big game. Peyton was wearing a suite and Cam was dressed like a kid who just left a skating rink. We were made to believe that this picture told us everything we need to know about the two men. The guy in a suit is the kind of guy you name your kid after and the guy in the knit cap is the guy you keep your kid from. Be like the guy in the suit. Don’t be like the guy in the knit cap.

Never mind the fact that Cam Newton frequently shows up to press conferences dressed in a suit that costs more than your home. And never mind the fact that Bill Belicheck’s wardrobe appears to have been picked out by a college freshman who thinks that it’s okay to wear pajamas to work. Every moment of our life is not a job interview. Clothes don’t tell you everything you need to know about someone.

I have never cheered for Cam Newton.

It’s nothing personal. I just don’t like the teams he’s played for. Also, the fact that those teams typically beat my teams doesn’t help.

A lot of people have a problem with Cam. They don’t like the dances he does after big plays and touchdowns. They don’t like it when he seems to be too competitive or doesn’t handle the sign of an opposing team’s fans with care. But there is one guaranteed, sure fire way to make those people suddenly have no problem with Cam’s antics.

Trade him to their favorite team.

Look, I don’t like to see Cam dance in the end zone. But boy, I sure did love it when Deion Sanders was an Atlanta Falcon and acted like MC Hammer after twelve too many Red Bulls whenever he picked off the other team’s quarterback.

One of the great things about sports is that it exposes our hypocrisy. We talk a lot about character and integrity being important for professional athletes. We make ourselves care about these things. That is, until our favorite team gets a running back with the ethical standards of Charlie Manson who also happens to run the 40 in 3.5 seconds. Then, it’s just a game.

I’m not telling you to cheer for Cam. I won’t be. I’m just pleading with you to enjoy the game and not make it about race. My fellow whites, Peyton Manning does not represent us. He represents the Broncos. And black friends, Cam’s Super Bowl performance won’t do much to advance or hinder black America.

Most of the men and women who are really doing something of importance will not be playing in the big game on Sunday. Instead, they are the ones who work hard on their marriage, invest heavily in their children, love their neighbor and, if that’s their thing, just have a good time watching two great quarterbacks in the Super Bowl.

So, at least for the Super Bowl, let’s look beyond the memes. Let’s not give in to the typical racial division that seems to find its way into every other aspect of our life and culture. Let’s pay more attention to the orange and blue uniforms than we do the black and white skin colors.

Let’s just enjoy the game.

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Football Is Back!

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Another football season is officially upon us. You can already tell it in Atlanta, Georgia where last night there was a perfect storm of traffic all because of the arrival of America’s favorite pastime. Thousands of Falcons fans had traffic blocked for miles as they headed to and from the Dome to see their team find new and creative ways to embarrass themselves. In an effort to avoid all of that, many commuters chose to walk but it just didn’t work out as planned. The 13 Georgia Tech fans who went to see their team, ahem, play last night had sidewalks all jammed up with their Segway scooters. It was not a pretty sight. Thankfully, they were all able to make a detour to DragonCon where they had their pictures taken with that guy from Sharknado and Reggie Ball.

That’s why I prefer to watch the games at home. Just me, my wife and my kids. My young kids. My young kids who like to ask billions of questions. Here are a few that I’m sure to hear from them as the season wears on.

“Dad, why are that man and woman in that commercial sitting in separate tubs and holding hands?”

“Dad, why do people cheer for Clemson?”

“Dad, how is it possible for New York City to have two professional football teams and really not have any professional football teams?”

“Dad, do they give you free tuition at Florida if you wear jean shorts?”

“Dad, why can’t teams from Alabama just pick one mascot and go with it?”

“Dad, why do so many of Florida State’s players wear those electronic things around their ankles?”

“Dad, what is DeVry doing in the Orange Bowl?”

“Dad, is this ESPN or the Oprah channel?”

“Dad, why are Georgia Tech’s games played on the Oprah channel?”

“Dad, Notre Dame is 1 and 7. Why are they on TV and ranked number 3 in the country?”

“Dad, why is Ohio State playing against my soccer team this week?”

“Dad, shouldn’t they make the team that finishes in last place have to go to Washington D.C. and just send the champions to Disney World?”

If you need me over the next few days, I’ll be preparing my answers to these very important questions. In the meantime, enjoy the season, don’t throw anything and try not to laugh too hard and that dude in the yellow wig riding on the Segway. He can’t help it.

Oh, and Go Dawgs!

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The Monday Morning Quarterback

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1. The Ohio State Buckeyes and The New Orleans Saints both lost over the weekend. An angel smiled.

2. The Dallas Cowboys are terrible. However, for some reason, Fox saw fit to make their game against San Francisco the game of the week. I’m guessing that by the end of October when Michael Sam is playing quarterback for a winless Cowboy’s team, the Cowboys will still be playing in Fox’s Game of the Week. The Cowboys are a lot like Obamacare. Everyone knows they’re bad. Everyone, that is, except for the people in charge of putting stuff on TV.

3. Big Ten fans are already starting to count down the days until the college hockey season starts.

4. On Sunday I drove in front of Georgia Tech’s campus with my wife and two sons. They all booed. My work here is done.

5. At the beginning of every season, the NFL tries it’s hardest to remind us that a.) Peyton Manning used to play for Indianapolis and b.) Peyton Manning has a brother who also plays quarterback in the NFL.

6. Not many people have it easier in life than the backup kicker.

7. My wife told me that two of her favorite things are breakfast for dinner and the NFL. We enjoyed both on Sunday night. I married up.

Until next week, happy footballing.

Mark Richt Is Helping To Provide An Answer To A Very Important Question

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Things didn’t work out the way Paul Oliver had planned.

He was supposed to go off to college to be a football star. That much happened.

He was supposed to go to the NFL where he would make a big name for himself and a lot of money. That never happened.

Oliver made it to the NFL but the fame and fortune part of his plan didn’t materialize.

So, for reasons none of us will probably ever know, Paul Oliver took his own life. He left behind a wife and two sons. He also left behind a lot of grieving teammates from the University of Georgia where his football career climaxed. Someone else on that campus was grieving too.

Oliver’s old coach – Mark Richt.

But Coach Richt did more than just grieve. He decided to do something for his other players. The ones still playing for him. The ones who used to play for him. Even the ones who he had to kick off of the team for disciplinary reasons.

Here’s how Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herlad describes Richt’s actions after attending the funeral of his former star defensive back.

“A week later, Georgia football coach Mark Richt huddled with some 40 or so former Georgia players after Oliver’s funeral at Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Richt vowed to make good on a promise he made to them when he recruited them, that he would take care of them while they were in Athens and afterwards.” 

They call it the Paul Oliver Network. It’s a tool for former Georgia players to learn how to handle life after football. It’s a system where they can get connected to businesses seeking employees. It’s a fraternity where guys who have just had to give up the game can find encouragement from guys who stepped away long ago and thrived.

Listen to what Coach Richt says about the Paul Oliver Network. His words are a stark contrast to the usual “One game at a time,” “It is what it is,” coach speak that we’ve all grown so accustomed to.

“I’m not going to be presumptuous that if Paul had a good job waiting for him afterwards or if he had hope for a good job or he was on the path for a good job that he would be here today, but maybe. I want that to be one thing to check off the list. I do know this: A man, I think he is divinely created to provide for and protect his family. I think if he’s not doing that or doesn’t feel capable of doing that, I think it hurts his spirit.”

I have two sons. They don’t play football. Futbol is their sport. Or soccer, as we like to call it here in the states.

As they continue playing, I hope that they get to grow under the leadership of coaches like Mark Richt. Too often, coaches are at odds with what parents are trying to do in the lives of their kids. Good parents are thinking long term. They’re thinking about developing their boys and girls into men and women of integrity who will one day develop their own boys and girls into men and women of integrity. Some coaches only care about developing a boy into a quality fullback who, when his time is up under that coach, will remain a boy.

It’s good to see that Richt is doing things differently.

I love sports. But they are an idol in our country. You could even make they case that sport is one of the leading religions in our nation. As a result, kids are being sold a false gospel. Work hard. Start as a freshman. Impress a college scout. Make the jump to the league. Find a place to keep all of your money.

But what they are not told is that there will come a day when they will not play anymore. It may be in high school or it may be in the NFL. Either way, their time as an athlete will end.

What’s next?

Good parents will work hard to provide the best possible answer to that question. A few good coaches will too. Mark Richt is one of them.

I’ve been a Georgia fan all of my life. The Bulldogs won a national title in the 1981 Sugar Bowl when they beat Notre Dame 17 to 10. I was five years old. The commemorative Coke bottle sits on my desk as I write this. The Georgia football team hasn’t won any national titles since then. Friends who cheer for other schools like to remind me of that.

That’s okay with me.

Because something bigger is happening at the University of Georgia.

A coach is doing what he can to develop more than just linebackers with speed and strength. He’s trying to build men. Men who are ready for that question that every athlete must answer when his playing days are over.

What’s next?

Go Dawgs!

And go Coach Mark Richt!

Hug. Hug. Hug. Touchdown!

I’m not sure who’s life was impacted the most by this touchdown.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”      Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)

In Defense of Bald, Old Men: Pastoral Wisdom from Bob Costas and Ernie Johnson

What this world needs is a few more bald, old men. Bald, old men in bad suits. Bald, old men in bad suits with a microphone in their hands.

I was practically raised by bald, old men with microphones in their hands. Men like Ernie Johnson Sr. He used to announce Atlanta Braves baseball games. During baseball season, I listened to him almost everyday. And I mean intently listened. Now, a few years after his death, I can’t remember one word he ever said. That means that Ernie Johnson did his job well.

There aren’t many Ernie Johnson types around today. You know, men who just tell you what’s happening in the game, step out of the way and let the sport be the sport.

Instead we have men like Bob Costas.

Last season, Kansas City Chief linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his three-month-old daughter. He then drove to team facilities where he killed himself. The following day, Bob Costas took a few moments during halftime of NBC’s Sunday Night Football to inform us that this was all the fault of America’s gun culture.

Last Sunday night, Costas took time to preach another sermon, seemingly in hopes of delivering a strong dose of guilt to anyone who has ever cheered for the Washington Redskins by calling the team’s name an “insult” and a “slur”.

For the record, Bob Costas has all of his hair. And he also has the same disease that Dick Clark had. That disease that makes you look 26 for your entire adult life. I can’t prove it but I think that Bob Costas is actually 98-years-old.

The bald, old men I grew up watching knew something that today’s sports commentators seem to have forgotten. The game sells itself. They knew to just get out of the way and let the product on the field take over. They never used their sport as a platform for their agenda. Although they certainly had personalities and something to say, they never let those things get in the way of the game itself.

There is something for pastors to learn here. We have been given the privilege and responsibility to talk to a crowd of people about the gospel at least once a week. We have something to say. But a few temptations come along with that. Like the temptation to get in the way. Or the temptation to make it just a little bit more about us. And the temptation to use the church as our platform for our kingdom and the sermon as the billboard on which it is advertised.

Ernie Johnson died a couple of years ago at the age of 87. He never was recognized for his astute social commentary. He never made anybody’s list of beautiful people. When I listened to him, he was old. And bald. And even though I can’t remember anything he said, Ernie Johnson left me with something more valuable than an opinion or a great quote. Ernie Johnson Sr. taught me the game of baseball. Practically everything I know about the sport came from him.

Pastors, teach your people the gospel. One day we’ll be dead. Just like Ernie Johnson. And most of the people we preached to won’t be able to remember much of what we said. And that’s okay. Maybe that just means that we got out of the way and let the gospel be the gospel.

A lot of people are remembered for the words that they said.

But only a few special people are remembered for the truths that they left behind.