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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Broken Or Caught?

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There is a difference between a broken man and a caught man. A caught man will try to cover-up his sins. A broken man will ask Jesus to do that for him.

A caught man will recognize his need to get out of trouble and he’ll do pretty much anything to get out of it. A broken man will realize that his sin has left him in a position where he has a need that only God can meet.

“Have mercy on me, O God.”

A caught man will rely on his qualifications. He’ll tell himself that he deserves grace, mercy and forgiveness. That’s another way of saying that he doesn’t understand grace, mercy and forgiveness. A broken man recognizes that he has no good to offer. He sees that there just isn’t enough good in him to make the bad go away. And so rather than lean on his own qualifications, he relies on God’s goodness.

“According to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”

A caught man plays the blame game. As he sees it, his sin isn’t really his sin. It’s his father’s fault for not sticking around. It’s his mother’s fault for being too overbearing. It’s society’s fault for not being fair enough. So his sin isn’t really his sin since he had no other choice but to sin. To put it bluntly, he may be the one who got caught but he’s nothing more than the victim. The blame belongs to someone else. Anyone else but him. The broken man takes ownership for his sin. He takes the blame. He says with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

“Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and cleanse me from my sin!” 

Every man has a sin problem. It’s one thing that we all have in common. But the question is this. What will we do with that problem? Will we act like we have been caught or will we be broken. True joy and freedom is found in the brokenness, never in the cover-up because it’s only in our brokenness that we really begin to know the love of Christ.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2 (ESV)

When Disaster Strikes

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Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not the type to blame Hurricane Katrina on the sins of any particular group of people. I don’t go speaking for God whenever there is some calamity. “This is God’s punishment for…” You get the picture.

If some hurricane in some far away city is God’s punishment for sin, then we better be ready in our own cities.

That’s the reason why I’m writing this.

Not every tragedy is God’s punishment for something. But sometimes it is. And if we’ve ever done anything in this country to deserve God’s punishment, it is the killing of babies. I don’t know if disaster will strike us anytime soon. I haven’t received a special word from the Lord. All I know is that if God does decide to punish this country, he has every right to do so.

When something bad happens, skeptics like to use it as ammo against Christians.

Where was your good and loving and all powerful God when that daycare caught on fire and all of those kids died?

Where was your holy God when that hurricane wiped out the lower half of Mississippi?

So is your God weak or did he just not care enough to stop that terrorist attack?

Be ready for questions like those when disaster strikes. Be ready to ask a few questions of your own.

Where was your sense of justice for small children when Planned Parenthood was delivering them alive and pulling out their brains?

Were you just too busy or did you just not care that millions of babies were put to death in this country while our leaders threw compliments and money at Planned Parenthood?

I pray for God to have mercy on us. But at the same time, I know that he is a just God. He is not apathetic or passive to the murder of people he created in his image. He has punished nations, even his own chosen nation, for sins before. We would be naive to believe that ours will be any different.

God destroyed Sodom and Gommorrah for their sins (Genesis 19:23-29).

It was the sins of God’s own people that caused them to lose the land that he had given to them and to live instead as slaves in a foreign land (Daniel 1:1-7).

Much later, God allowed Jerusalem, the holy city, to fall again.

God didn’t do these things because he has a short temper or because he is evil. He did them because he hates sin. And, contrary to public opinion, hatred of evil and love for what is good do go together. If you don’t believe me, watch how a loving mother acts when she sees an adult assault her small child. Are you prepared to call her unloving for pouring out her wrath on the man who is hurting her child?

The next time disaster strikes, there will be many who use it as an opportunity to chip away at God’s love, power and goodness. In reality, it could be that the disaster is simply his display of all three things, namely his love for the people he created in his image, his power over evil and his goodness to those who obey and love him.

The real disaster has already struck. For some 50 years now in this country, we have sanctioned the sacrifice of children to the gods of sex, comfort, money and power. That’s the disaster. If God chooses to shower our cities with sulfur and fire, he will be just in doing so.

Maybe he will do it while you read this.

Or maybe his mercy and patience will last even longer than it already has.

But we must be careful. While God’s holiness, goodness and love are limitless, his mercy and his patience are not. They do run out. And before they do, we must pay attention to the words of Jesus.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

Repent.

Or perish.

Those are our options.

I pray that, before the next disaster strikes, our leaders would follow the example of the King of Nineveh.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:6-9 (ESV)

Who knows?

God may have mercy on us so that we do not perish.

Or he may just send disaster our way.

If he does, and you are tempted to wonder why, look no further than the remains of the babies we have sacrificed to our false gods.

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The Most Intolerant Person In Your Church

By now we know what tolerance means. It has nothing to do with patiently hearing out all sides and putting up with those whom you disagree with. It has more to do with falling in line with whatever the elites, social engineers and angry mobs tell us to fall in line with. That’s why, if you happen to be a Christian with something more than a coloring book for your creed, you have been or will be called intolerant. And if you go to a church that takes the Bible seriously, it will be called intolerant as well. But no matter how often you get classified as such, you’re still not the most intolerant person in your church.

Jesus is.

I know. An intolerant Jesus isn’t consistent with the Jesus our culture has crafted into its own image. Our culture, if you haven’t noticed yet, likes to talk a lot about Jesus. Just not the Jesus of the Bible. Their Jesus falls in line with the elites, the social engineers and the angry mobs. Their Jesus is more of a do-gooder than Lord and Savior. Their Jesus came to affirm sin and condemn certainty. Their Jesus isn’t too concerned with what people do with their sex lives, just as long as those people love each other. Or even if they don’t. Who cares? Jesus surely doesn’t.

But the real Jesus, the one we read about in the Bible, is different. He’s much more intolerant than you may think. Consider his words to the church in Thyatira. The church wasn’t all bad. The people there did good things. They loved, they served and they endured (Revelation 2:19). But they weren’t all good either.

When it came to their theology of sex and their lifestyle, they were too tolerant for Jesus’ liking.

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Revelation 2:20 (ESV)

Yes, it is possible for a church to be too intolerant. Accounts of people being steered away from a worship service, either directly or indirectly, because of their skin color or reputation are well documented. This is a sin for which the guilty church should repent.

But it is possible to sin the other way as well. It’s possible to be so tolerant that we have to slide Jesus’ words to the side in order to accommodate whatever the elites, social engineers and angry mobs tell us to accommodate. It is possible to bend the truth so much in the name of tolerance that is no longer the truth. That’s what the church in Thyatira did. And that’s what many churches are doing today.

Not only is Jesus more intolerant than we might think. He’s also much more merciful than we expect. It doesn’t matter how straight you are or how faithful to your wife you are. Without Jesus’ mercy, we are all without hope. You can’t straight your way or faithfully marry your way into heaven. You need Jesus and his mercy.

That’s what Jesus offered to the church in Thyatira.

I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. Revelation 2:21-23 (ESV)

Do you see the grace there? The woman who was leading Jesus’ people away into sexual sin and grave theological error was given time to repent. There is no amount of sexual sin or theological malpractice that is beyond the gracious grip of Jesus’ nail scarred hand. But his mercy is not limitless. There is an end. Sickness and death were promised to this false teacher, her children and those who followed her because of their failure to repent.

This is a word that we would do well to heed today. In all of our sexual revolving and evolving, one thing still has not changed. Sin has consequences that lead to death. And there is nothing that the elites, social engineers and angry mobs can do to stop it. Only repentance can do that.

Earlier this week I was reading about how both political parties have abandoned the concept of traditional marriage. The intolerance of the church has finally caught up with us. We can forget about ever having a voice for us in the White House again. For all practical purposes, we are now the Amish.

But that’s okay. It’s okay because there is something better than the approval of the elites, social engineers and angry mobs. The approval of Jesus Christ is of infinite value.

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Revelation 2:26-29 (ESV)

Being intolerant will only get harder. But don’t give in. Just remember the words of the most intolerant man in your church.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12 (ESV)

Grace, Mercy And The Police

A police officer just left our church office. As soon as he pulled away, I knew that there was a story to tell.

We’ve had police officers at our church before. It hasn’t been good. Like the time when a stranger walked up on stage while I was preaching. There have been other instances that required the presence of a police officer. Times that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

But this time was different.

Several weeks ago a friend from church asked about the possibility of our church helping our county police department to give gifts to needy people in the community. I thought it was a good idea. People in our church started bringing in gifts. The biggest givers were children and teenagers. They gave two bikes and a couple of boxes filled with toys.

On Monday morning, an officer came by the church office to pick up the goods.

“I can’t thank you enough.”

The officer must have used that phrase a thousand times.

I had a chance to ask him about the program. He said that detectives go around to homes around the county, homes that they’ve already had to visit for all of the wrong reasons, and see who they can help. And along with that, they figure out who wants help but doesn’t really need it. You know the type. The home where both parents are working, walls are covered with flatscreen TVs, and the air is filled with smoke but the parents still, “need a little help getting Christmas for the kids.”

They got marked off the list.

But there were other families. Families where a mom was trying to raise 8 kids on her own while the man of the home was serving time. I asked the officer how many of the families they are assisting have no father living in the home. It was way, way over 50%.

Police aren’t the most popular people on the planet these days. I get it. As a lover of liberty, I’m no fan of warrantless searches and other damages done to our God-given rights. Make no mistake, there are plenty of bad cops out there. The same can be said for teachers, doctors, pastors and construction workers. But that doesn’t mean that we should do away with the whole profession and light the city on fire.

More than just a right, it is the responsibility of a free people to stand against any form of tyranny. Real tyranny. Not just when something goes down the way you didn’t want it to. And at the same time, we should be quick to give praise and assistance when people try to do it the right way. If we shout against institutional injustices but remain silent when those same institutions demonstrate grace and mercy, we do much more damage than we realize.

I’m proud to say that the police officer who just left my office belongs to a group of people who are trying to demonstrate grace and mercy.

With all that I’ve seen over the past few weeks – the riots, the shootings, the intimidations, the accusations – a group of officers who are trying to do it the right way goes a long way.

And I can’t say thank you enough.

A Father’s Day Reflection On The Importance Of Being Dad

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Every kid needs a friend.

Someone who will tell him that everything is going to be okay.

Someone who will laugh with her when no one else will.

Someone to waste an entire afternoon with.

Someone to endlessly argue with about sports.

Someone to get in trouble with and hopefully learn with through the consequences of that trouble.

Someone who she can talk to about boys.

Someone to walk next to him as they both try to navigate life together.

Every kid needs a friend.

Every kid also needs a father.

He needs a father to tell him that everything is okay. Unless it isn’t. That’s when he needs a father to lead him and teach him through the adversity.

She needs a father who is relaxed enough to laugh when something is funny and mature enough to respond appropriately when the situation calls for a different reaction.

He needs a father who models and encourages rest but who also teaches that the best rest comes after you have accomplished something.

He needs a father who will play catch with him, not in hopes that it will someday lead to the pros but rather as part of a strategic plan of developing him into a man of integrity.

She needs a father who will not turn a blind or permissive eye to her foolishness but who will wrap her in the fatherly arms of correction and forgiveness.

She needs a father who she can talk to about boys. She needs a father who will be her protector in a world full of predators. She needs a father who will be her standard as she considers the one man who is right for her.

He needs a father who will walk ahead of him, leaving solid footsteps of wisdom, faithfulness, risk and joy for him to follow.

Every kid needs a friend.

And every kid needs a father.

Good fathers will fight hard to see that the two are not confused.

When The Darkness Is Deepest

Maybe God is punishing us. Or maybe he’s just allowing us to deal with the natural consequences of our rebellion against him. I don’t know. He hasn’t told me. But we don’t need a special word to know that we are living in dark times. That much is obvious. Here’s the thing about darkness. You’ve probably heard it said before. Light shines brightest when the darkness is deepest.

Christians should be leading the way in calling attention to and fighting against the darkness. But, if we’re not careful, we will find ourselves in danger. We can become so consumed with the darkness that surrounds us that we forget about the light that is in us (Matthew 5:16). And as a result we can develop a reputation of only being against certain issues while never really being for anything. Okay, so maybe we’re already there. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. We can change.

No matter how dark things are, God is always working. And he is always good. If we really want to see his good work, we just have to pay attention. Whether we notice it or not, God’s grace and mercy, his love and goodness, are on display in millions of ways each day.

Like the smile of a small boy. This morning, I wanted to hug my son and tell him that I love him. So I did. He was sitting at the table and eating carrots. As I walked away from him he made a request.

“Dad, I want to go hunting with you and I want to use my bare hands just like you.”

He smiled.

Apparently my kid thinks that I can kill an elk with my bare hands. He doesn’t need to know the truth just yet.

This is God’s grace. It is a light in a dark world.

Consider also the followers of Christ whom God has placed in key leadership positions. Men like Al Mohler. Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Earlier this week he gave an address at Brigham Young University, Mormonism’s central institution of higher learning. One might expect someone in Mohler’s position to water down his beliefs and deliver a lecture on how faith in something is good enough for salvation and, therefore, Mormons and Christians are one in Christ.

That didn’t happen.

“I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together. I do not believe that. I believe that salvation comes only to those who believe and trust only in Christ and in his substitutionary atonement for salvation. I believe in justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. I love and respect you as friends, and as friends we would speak only what we believe to be true, especially on matters of eternal significance. We inhabit separate and irreconcilable theological worlds, made clear with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet here I am, and gladly so. We will speak to one another of what we most sincerely believe to be true, precisely because we love and respect one another.”

Mohler’s combination of love, truth and courage is another reminder of God’s grace. Yet another light in a dark world.

There are thousands of others like Al Mohler. Men and women who you may not agree with on every issue but who stand tall with their feet firmly planted in the truth. There are even men and women like that in Washington D.C. It is not my intention to name names. That would only lead to partisan bickering. We should just remember that God is not confined to working in and through one political party. He isn’t intimidated by the godlessness of cities like Washington D.C. Just as he did thousands of years ago through people like Joseph, Daniel and Esther, God has people who are representing him in dark political arenas.

They are reminders of God’s grace. They are lights in a dark world.

I do not know what the future holds for our country. I do know that the present is quite dark. But that just serves as a greater opportunity for the Light to shine. You can see it in the smiling faces of a husband and wife who have been married for 50 years. You can see it in the perseverance of a young woman who clings to Jesus after another miscarriage.

They are all reminders of God’s grace. They are lights in a dark world.

And they remind us of a world that awaits those who have put their faith in Christ. A world where there is no darkness because it has been finally and forever defeated by the Light.

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:23-27 (ESV)