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 Beauty

There is a lot of beauty to be found in simple things. Sometimes it takes a kid to help us to look through all of the clutter and see that beauty in a fresh way.

I became a Christian when I was very young. The church I grew up in put a lot of emphasis on the sinner’s prayer, the walking of aisles and the raising of hands. As a young Christian, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not my faith was legitimate. Did I say the prayer right? Was I thinking the right thing when I walked down and stood in front of the church? What if I left something out?

The other night, standing under the cold dark sky in my driveway, it was like I was having a conversation with my younger self. Like me, my son became a Christian at a young age. Unlike me, he doesn’t know much about altar calls and raising hands and repeating public prayers after revival preachers. But he still has his doubts.

He was worried that maybe he got his prayer wrong all of those years ago when he asked God to forgive him for his sins. Like his father did before him, he feared that a misplaced prepositional phrase in a prayer could mean the difference between heaven and hell. To comfort him, I walked him through the Bible. I went to some of the same Bible passages people carried me through when I was younger. We talked about salvation being more about the cry of the sinner’s heart than the repeating of a sinner’s prayer. We talked about things like belief and Lordship and resurrection.

I asked him if he understood what I was saying. Before I had kids, I never did that. I never understood why people would end their sentences with phrases like, “You know what I mean?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” Now that I’m a dad, I do it all the time. I guess that I just want to be sure.

He told me that he understood. But his face told a different story. It was the canvas for an uncommon mixture of comfort and confusion.

“I get it but it all just seems so simple,” he said in a prophetic tone you can only hear from a child.

That’s when I knew that he really got it.

My son is a worker. A hard worker. A few months ago, he set a really high goal for reading books in one of his classes. About midway through the semester, it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. So he got to work. My son read more words in the last few weeks of 2016 than I did in twelve years of grade school.

He met his goal.

I think that’s why the simplicity of the gospel had my son confused the other night in our driveway. When you meet a reading goal, you get to sit back and delight in the work that you did. You can say, “I did that.”

Not so with the gospel. Before Christ, we were all “children of wrath” fighting against God (Ephesians 2:3). We were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Dead rebels don’t usually have a lot to bring to the table. Just their faith.

And, just in case we might begin to think that our faith is somehow a product of our own doing, Paul reminds us otherwise.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

The Christian life is not simple. Temptation can be very difficult. It’s hard to love enemies. It’s hard to fight against sin. Like Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus.”

But thanks to things like grace and love and the cross, it’s not hard to come to God. That’s because he’s the one who does all of the work. And he does that work on behalf of the small sons of a preacher as well as seasoned drug addicts. He pours out the riches of his grace, mercy and love, “on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).

It really is that simple.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful things.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)

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The Witch Hunt Of Chip And Joanna Gaines

And so the witch hunt of Chip and Joanna Gaines begins.

What is their crime? They have committed our culture’s unpardonable sin of belonging to a church that teaches that homosexuality goes against God’s standard. And the good people at BuzzFeed seem intent on making them pay for their crimes.

Now keep in mind, Chip and Joanna have never publicly stated anything regarding homosexuality. No one has uncovered a John Rocker moment from their past where they went off the rails saying all kinds of mean things about gays. No, they simply take their family to a church each week that teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

Gasp!

The article’s author, Kate Aurthur, puts forth this question.

“So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage? And would they ever feature a same-sex couple on the show, as have HGTV’s House Hunters and Property Brothers? Emails to Brock Murphy, the public relations director at their company, Magnolia, were not returned. Nor were emails and calls to HGTV’s PR department.”

A generation ago, the $64,000 Question was, “Are you now or were you ever a member of the Communist Party of the United States?”

For Chip and Joanna Gaines, the question appears to be, “Would you be willing to flip a house for a gay couple and if not, when can we send the Sensitivity Trainers over to flip your home?”

Make no mistake, it’s not equality that is at play here. The prophets of the false church of LGBT care nothing about fairness or equality. No, their concern is dominance. And all of their talk of tolerance is a trick. The only tolerance they care about is everyone else tolerating whatever sexual appetite is en vogue at the moment. And they’ll stop at nothing to carry on with their bullying.

Part of the appeal of Chip and Joanna is that they’re like us. They’re regular people who are good at what they do. Chip is one of your buddies who jokes about how stupid he is. Joanna is the artsy lady you go to church with. They are normal, happy, successful folks.

And, for the LGBT brigade, that’s the problem.

In a world where seemingly everyone is offended by something, the most offensive thing a person can do is to live a happy, normal life that is guided by a faith that has not been previously approved by our culture’s sexual gatekeepers.

Much of the LGBT community thrives on self-identifying as victims. They have even gone so far as to equate their movement with the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. In reality, the real victims of hate are those who refuse to bow the knee to the god of homosexuality. The Bible could not be more clear in it’s message to believers. We are to love everyone, that includes gay people (Matthew 22:34-40). But we must not condone any sin (James 5:19-20). And as we faithfully hold to that standard, we must expect hardship (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

But don’t worry. The One True God is far more powerful than the god of this age.

He cares nothing about winning a culture war. That was taken care of when he rose from the grave.

Because of that victory, he has won something greater, an eternal home for his people that cannot perish or fade away.

Christian, no amount of cultural bullying can touch who you are and what awaits you in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5).

And non-Christian, no amount of rebellion is too much for the grace of God. The gospel is more than a statement on human sexuality. It is a declaration that none of us is good enough to achieve salvation on our own and please a holy God. A homosexual’s greatest need is not to be made straight. It is to be made right with God. And in Christ, that has been made available.

That simple message is what many in the LGBT community find so offensive.

But that’s okay.

Grace is always offensive.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

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Grace And The Disaster On The Front Pew

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I’m usually not good at predictions.

But I nailed this one.

My wife was helping out somewhere else in the sanctuary. I was preaching. And my kids were by themselves on the front row for the whole service. That’s usually not a problem. It’s happened before. But this particular Sunday morning was unique. Our church was taking the Lord’s Supper and, for my kids, there would be no parents around helping them to handle the elements.

I quietly predicted disaster.

Like I said, I nailed it.

The bread came by without incident. My two sons sat just one row in front of me as I led the service. I could see their tiny, probably not very clean fingers, navigating their way through the plate. My sincerest apologies to all of the folks who came after them. The boys both grabbed their bread and waited patiently. There was no throwing or choking. Just reverence. I was proud. But we were only halfway there.

When the juice came around there was a problem with the exchange between one kid and the other. I was sitting right there. I saw it happen as if it were in slow motion. But, just like when you realize a half a second too late that you’re about to get in a wreck, there was nothing I could do. The whole plate of little juice glasses did not spill but there were enough that did.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind.

First, after nearly 40 years spent in church, I finally realized why every Baptist church has dark red carpet. I always thought it was because of some hidden Bible code. It’s not. It’s for moments like this one. The dark red juice blended in quite nicely with the dark red carpet.

My second thought was that I was glad that we’re not Catholic. Catholics believe that the elements of the Lord’s Supper actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t know much about pastors in Catholic churches but I’m sure that they get in a lot of trouble when their kids spill something that serious on the carpet. Wait. See, I told you that I don’t know a lot about Catholic pastors. Never mind.

While I was sitting there contemplating Baptist carpet and Catholic tradition, things were still falling apart on the front row. My kids were scrambling for tissues they could use to clean up their mess. When they found none, they took their search outside of the sanctuary. Both boys. And then one of them came back in. And then he left again. And then they returned to the scene of the crime.

By this time I had quit thinking about carpet and Catholics and started asking God to forgive me for my impure thoughts. And boy were they impure.

I was angry. But I wasn’t angry because my sons were rebelling. They weren’t. I was angry because I was afraid of what people might think about me. I wanted to correct my sons loudly and publicly so that everyone could say something like, “See, that preacher knows how to handle business!”

We don’t take the Lord’s Supper because of tradition. We take it because Jesus told us to do it in remembrance of him and the work he did on our behalf by dying on the cross and rising from the grave (Luke 22:19).

Thankfully, by God’s grace, I remembered all of that before I created an even bigger disaster.

Things finally settled down with the preacher’s kids on the front row and the service closed out without the roof falling in. On the way out to our car, my son was solemn. He told me that he was sorry for what had happened during the quiet of the Lord’s Supper.

By this time, the grace of God had already taken over the law that was in my heart.

I told my son that it was okay. There was an accident and he and his brother did the best they could to make it right. I told him that next time they needed to remember that there are other worshipers around and we need to do all we can not to distract them.

He understood.

Life moved on.

Our kids need our discipline. What they don’t need is our wrath. And they don’t need parents who care more about impressing a crowd than shaping their own children. Yes, our kids need to be corrected. And sometimes that correction needs to be firm. But there always needs to be grace.

We take the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of every month at our church. The next time we take it I will remember. I’ll remember the cross where my Father gave his Son to rescue me from my sins. But I’ll also remember the pew where I was reminded that demonstrating grace to others didn’t stop at the cross. Recipients of grace should be the greatest distributors of it.

If you ever come to visit our church and you look hard enough around the front row, you’ll see a spot in the dark red carpet. The pastor’s kids put it there. Like their father, they’re not perfect. But, like their father, they carry with them a different spot.

That’s the spot of the blood of Jesus that has washed away our sins.

And it’s a spot that gives us all the grace we need for each new day.

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Your Church Might Not Be As Pro-Life As You Think It Is

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Is your church pro-life?

Are you sure about your answer?

Perhaps you need to take a closer look.

Sure, your church hates abortion. At least once a year, there’s a sermon against it. Folks from your congregation might even participate in the occasional pro-life rally at the state capital. You all hate the idea of some girl, somewhere in the country, giving up her baby to the abortion industry. Everything inside of you wishes that the nameless teenage girl, in some unknown part of our nation would keep her baby.

But what about the girl that you do know? You know, the girl that sits a few pews over from you on Sunday mornings? The scared teenager who will no doubt be keeping her baby but has no idea what to do beyond that? What about her?

Will the self-righteous looks and passive aggressive comments from some of the stone throwers in your church make this young girl wonder if keeping her baby was the right decision?

Will the leaders of your church care more about teaching her a lesson than they do restoring her in grace?

Is there an environment in your church where those who have made the same mistakes feel free to come alongside this girl to walk with her in love?

Will you help her with diapers and a crib and babysitting or will you leave her to herself because, “that’s what she deserves”?

There’s this philosophy among guys in the military. Leave no man behind. In battle, no matter the danger and regardless of damage that has already been inflicted, men do not leave their brothers on the battlefield. They run back to them. They get them up off of their feet. If they have to, they drag or carry them back to safety while dodging enemy fire. No man left behind.

Sadly, the Christian army is often very different. We ignore our wounded. We leave them to suffer and die alone in enemy territory. Or even worse, we shoot them.

Chances are, that pregnant teenage girl in your church knows that she’s blown it. She doesn’t need your daily reminders. What she needs is to be reminded of the gospel of grace. She needs to be reminded that Jesus came to save sinners, not hang out with perfect people. She needs to know that her sin is not beyond the reach of Jesus’ nail-scarred hand. She needs to hear passages like Matthew 1 preached where we see a pretty messed up family tree that eventually led to the birth of a perfect Savior.

I hope that your church is pro-life. But I hope that your church’s pro-life stance extends beyond a voting booth or a political rally and bleeds over into the next pew where a scared teenage mother-to-be is wondering what the future holds.

I pray that you are there to show that girl that no matter what happens with her and the life inside of her, there will be plenty of grace in their future.

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What America Needs More Than Trump And Clinton

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America doesn’t need Hillary Clinton.

America doesn’t need Donald Trump.

I’m a Southern Baptist pastor so here’s the part where I’m supposed to say that America needs Jesus. While I believe that to be true, that’s not the angle I’m going with this. Of course we need Jesus. But quite often, Jesus likes to make himself known through his people. Even a quick reading of the Bible reveals flawed followers of God who were beams of light in a dark world.

That’s what America needs.

America needs brave young people like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who remain standing while everyone else bows. And make no mistake, there are a host of 90-foot statues to kneel before today. The most prominent one in our culture is naked and painted in rainbow colors. We need young people with the courage and love to say, while standing outnumbered, “I love you but I worship a different God.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)

But that isn’t going to happen if parents care more about raising great athletes who make the family a lot of money than they do bringing up men and women with godly character. And it isn’t going to happen if students at church are fed a steady diet of entertainment and sermons about following their dreams. We need young people who stand for truth when everyone else bows but that only happens if the parents and pastors of those young people are committed to teaching them the truth.

America could use people like Daniel who aren’t afraid of the threats of the tolerance police because they know that the Lion they belong to is far more powerful than the lions sent to kill them. When the world opens up our closets to find a skeleton or two, they need to see us in there praying (Daniel 6:4-5). And when praying suddenly becomes an act of terror, they need to see us doing it anyway. Continually. With the windows opened.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (ESV)

America needs prophetic voices like John the Baptist who aren’t afraid to speak up against evil, even when it means a trip to the guillotine. Far too many of our pastors are too preoccupied with building their brand or being buddies with the world to go through the trouble of being a light in the world. Others have no problem speaking out against the evils of the world but they do so in a way that leaves them only preaching to the choir. And that choir is made up of their own family members. Yes, I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church.

John was different. He wasn’t afraid to confront sin but he did so in a way that the very man he confronted wanted to hear more. That’s because, unlike many today, John was fueled more by grace than anger. America could use a voice like that today.

And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. Mark 6:19-20 (ESV)

America needs churches filled with people like the Apostle Paul who care more about winning people to Christ than they do winning people to their favorite political party (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The church today has consumed itself with either fearing evil or embracing the supposed lesser version of it. We could do worse than praying for the human instruments of that evil to come to grips with their sin, repent and put their trust in Christ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Paul had to stand trial for the terrible crime of lovingly proclaiming the gospel. As he stood before the king, he didn’t respond with the proverbial middle finger to the government, as many are quick to do today. Rather, he responded with compassion, boldness and gospel truth.

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:28-29 (ESV)

America doesn’t need Hillary Clinton.

America doesn’t need Donald Trump.

And America doesn’t simply need a better candidate. The best president history has ever known would have no real success in leading a people whose hearts are turned from God. Our Lord can work through any means he chooses. He has worked through tyrants before to accomplish his will. More frequently, he works through his people. But he doesn’t work through his people so that he can make America great again.

His aim is to accomplish his kingdom purposes. And regardless of the opposition, his kingdom purposes will be accomplished. The only question is this. Will we be a part of his kingdom purposes or will we be too busy clinging to our own tiny, crumbling kingdoms?

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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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Steven Anderson, Grace And Orlando

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Religious people are often accused of hate. On many occasions, those accusations are unfounded. People just don’t like being disagreed with these days and their natural impulse is to categorize any opposition as hate. But there are times when religious people are rightfully accused of hate.

Like when an Islamic terrorist kills people in the name of his religion.

Or when a pastor who calls himself a Christian delights in the carnage.

Steven Anderson is the pastor who made a name for himself through YouTube videos where he ranted on the proper way for men to use the restroom and who he thought God should kill. If he happens to be your pastor, repent, leave his cult and find a legitimate church.

Just a short time after the Islamic radical killed dozens of people in Orlando, Steven Anderson posted a video sharing his thoughts on the massacre. I won’t post the video here but here’s an excerpt of Anderson’s comments.

“So, you know, the good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not gonna be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re gonna continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle. I’m not sad about it, I’m not gonna cry about it. Because these 50 people in a gay bar that got shot up, they were gonna die of AIDS, and syphilis, and whatever else. They were all gonna die early, anyway, because homosexuals have a 20-year shorter life-span than normal people, anyway.”

In his short commentary on the homosexuals getting what they deserved, Steven Anderson conveniently left something out. By not being murdered that night, Steven Anderson did not get what he deserved. Neither did Jay Sanders. Neither did you.

Tragedies aren’t knew. In some form or another, they’ve been around since Adam and Eve’s sin. They were around in Jesus’ day too. On one occasion, a government ruler named Pilate ordered his soldiers to murder a group of Galileans during a worship ceremony. The public response to this tragedy wasn’t any different than it is today. People wanted answers. Some of them took their questions to Jesus.

His answer likely wasn’t what they expected.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? Luke 13:2 (ESV)

Jesus was addressing a popular belief that still exists today, some two thousand years later. People have a tendency to believe that if something bad happens, it is automatically God’s punishment. Sometimes this is the case. God does punish sin and he is always just in doing so. But Jesus’ answer cuts to the heart and exposes the self-righteousness we all carry from one degree or another.

The Galileans who were murdered were no worse sinners than those who got to live that day. And the homosexuals who were murdered early Sunday morning by an ISIS devotee were no worse sinners than Steven Anderson. Or Jay Sanders. Or you.

The Bible is clear. Homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). But the Bible is also clear that pride (1 John 2:16) is a sin. And lust. Yes, even good old heterosexual lust (Matthew 5:27-30). And whatever socially, religiously acceptable sins you and I are prone to.

Which leads to the rest of Jesus’ answer.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3 (ESV)

It’s not just the first century Galileans who fail to measure up to God’s perfect standard. And it’s not just today’s LGBTQ community either. It’s all of us. We all deserve death. Even the straightest and most moral among us.

Whenever something bad happens, it’s like there’s an alarm that goes off somewhere that makes so-called Christian leaders tell us who God was punishing through the tragedy.

“God sent Katrina to wash away the homosexuality from New Orleans!” they told us gleefully.

We would be foolish to say that God would never use a natural disaster or national tragedy to bring about punishment for sin (Psalm 46). But we would be arrogant and self-righteous to say that God would only punish the sin of those other guys. We should wake up every morning thanking God for his mercy in not sending Katrina or ISIS to our front door.

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

All.

Not just the Galileans.

Not just the homosexuals at a club.

All means the self-righteous church leader who privately pays for his daughter’s abortion because he worries about what a very public unplanned pregnancy could do to his career advancement plans.

All means the hypocritical progressive who is so full of love that he absolutely hates anyone who doesn’t agree with his definition of love.

All means you.

And all means me.

Christ’s call to repentance wasn’t some empty chatter like the guy on the side of the busy street yelling about hell and the end. It was a warning. But it was also an invitation to his grace.

Some time after Jesus spoke the surprising words, the same Pilate who massacred the Galileans would put Jesus on a cross. But it is in that great tragedy that we can find hope. By God’s grace and through faith, we can be set free from the death sentence that we all deserve.

It is very important for Christians to address sin. This is no call to tone down the gospel. But when we address sin, we must remember that the personal sins we accept are just as disgusting to God as the public sins committed by others. And we must also remember grace.

Grace is not God turning a blind eye to our sin. It is God turning his wrath that we deserve onto his Son and giving us his Son’s perfect righteousness in exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21). And what a great exchange it is.

It’s an exchange that is available to the homosexual.

And the self-righteous religious person.

And to Steven Anderson.

And to me and you.

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The Link Between Us And Them

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I don’t believe in air conditioners in automobiles. I’ve always been a window man. So when my sons spent their first few weeks of summer driving around with me, we did so with the windows down. You can’t really experience summer through air conditioning. It’s best experienced with the windows down. Otherwise, you miss out on the joy of the wind blowing in your face. And you miss out on the smells that come with summertime in Georgia.

From the backseat, my sons gave me their commentary on those Georgia summertime smells. When they noticed an appealing aroma, they let me know. I think that was their way of telling me to pull over and buy them some food. And when something smelled rancid, they let me know that too. That was their way of telling me to roll up the windows and turn the air conditioner on. I never gave in.

On one short stretch of road, we got both extremes of odor. When the smell of deep fried chicken worked its way into my automobile, my boys voiced their approval. Just a few minutes later, they let me know that the dead animal we had just driven by did not smell good. Should I be concerned that the roadkill was so close to the restaurant? Don’t answer that.

Although the smells could not have been more different, there was one thing that they had in common.

Both smells came from dead animals.

One dead animal was socially acceptable. Its odor was pleasing to the nose. Its flavor is pleasing to our sense of taste. But the other animal died of natural causes. And, judging from the odor, that death took place several days ago. No one in his right mind eats that animal.

We are a lot like those animals. Some of us are socially acceptable. Others of us are not. Some are appealing. Others are sickening. But, in our natural state, we are all dead. Only through Christ do we find life.

Our nation is divided. People who have spent seven decades on this planet tell me that we are more divided than we ever have been. We’re divided by race. We’re divided by political ideologies. And pretty much everyone is angry about it.

This is where the Church really needs to be different. We must resist the temptation to jump in on the divisiveness. We must be above it. We must remember that, apart from Christ, we are just as dead as everyone else. And we need not forget that grace is not a right. The only thing that God owes us is eternal wrath. Anything less than that is a gift.

You really aren’t that different from guy in the orange vest on the side of the road finishing out his community service hours.

You’re not as different as you think you are from the mother of four from four different men.

Really, the only difference is that you never got caught. Or you were too scared to act out on the evil intentions in your heart.

Whether it’s the promiscuous mother or the drunk working off his community service hours, there is a link between them and you.

That link is death.

You may doctor it up a little better and you may be more socially acceptable but, apart from the grace of God, you’re still dead.

Thankfully, Jesus came to save dead people. Not dead white people. Not dead religious people. Not dead Republicans or dead Democrats. Just dead people. His dead people.

So don’t be so quick to jump down on another person for the odor of their sin. Yes, confront them in love. Yes, address the sin. Yes, walk with them through it. But as you do, remember that to some degree, you carry the same odor.

And only grace can make it go away.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5 (ESV)

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Home Of The $99 Paint Job

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In the town where I grew up, there was a place that would paint your car for $99. For no extra charge, they would also paint whatever dirt, bugs and randomly growing shrubbery happened to be on your car. And, they would do it all in a day. So you could drive your rusty old Buick into this fine establishment one morning and at the end of the day, you’d be driving home in what appeared to be a car that had gotten White Out spilled all over it.

That place eventually went under. But the business model still exists in the hearts of many believers. Just slap on some paint and get things looking nice. Whether things actually are nice is irrelevant.

David had a different approach to his sin.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:6 (ESV)

David realized that there was no amount of religious paint that could appease his Lord. God has never been interested in the appearance of his people as much as he has the actual condition of their heart.

He delights in truth, not broadcast on our shirts or car bumpers but in our hearts.

He puts his wisdom, not on our faces but in our hearts.

Like David, we can all say that we were, “brought forth in iniquity.” We have a sin problem. And the remedy to that sin problem isn’t a spiritual makeover.

A few years ago, there were shows on television where Hollywood designers would take regular looking people with self-esteem issues and give them a makeover. The results were terrific! Well, at least during the big reveal at the end of the show. They weren’t so terrific later on when everything went back to normal. At some point, the make-up has to rinse down the sink and the evening gown has to go back in the closet. So in the end, the regular folks on the show were left with the same old issues with only a few extra style tips to show for it.

The Christian life isn’t a beauty contest. It’s not a car show. It’s a marathon.

Have you ever seen the people who do really well at marathons? Elite Olympic athletes who finish a marathon in just over two hours look terrible when they’re finishing. They look like they’re going to die if someone doesn’t get them a hamburger and quick.

But they’ve reached the finish line.

They have completed their task.

And, for the most part, in spite of how they look on the outside, on the inside they’re healthy.

Grace isn’t a paint job.

Grace isn’t a makeover.

Grace is the tired runner who reaches the welcoming arms of his forgiving Father at the finish line and knows that that same forgiving Father was with him all along the way.

Don’t trade that in for a cheap paint job.

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