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Little Greg and The Ugly Stick

• Greg Boyd

Our vision of God is extremely important to our faith. In this sermon, Greg tells the story of how his vision of God changed during his life. He also shows that God is not a god who is waiting up in heaven to hit us with a big stick when we mess up.

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Romans 7 and Romans 8 explain what sin does to a person and what God does about that sin. Paul, who wrote Romans, told his own story in these two chapters. It is only fitting that in this sermon Greg does the same thing. And he starts with his Romans 7 story.

Romans 7 talks about how we do things that we don’t want to do. From a very young age, Greg has been in trouble with the authorities around him. In Catholic school, Greg would find himself in the office, and he wouldn’t remember he got there. The nun would ask, “Why did you do what you did?” And there would be no good answer. Whether it was shooting a spitball, putting a tack on the nun’s chair or some other mischievous thing, controlling his behavior was something that Greg had incredible trouble with.

This may sound like a familiar story for many of us. It seems that sin has a control over our lives that we are unable to break on our own. And the shame that these sins cause makes us feel like God just hates us. How God could love such sinful creatures eludes us.

The nun would ask Greg, “Do you want us to call your parents or do you want to get hit with the ‘ugly stick’?” This was simply a means of physically punishing those that got into trouble. Greg would often pick the ugly stick, because things at home would be worse than that. His stepmother would often get very creative with punishments and the ugly stick was the better alternative. Greg’s affinity for causing authorities to discipline him led directly into how he viewed God.

In 2nd grade, Greg learned about heaven and hell. Bad people went to hell; good people went to heaven. Greg was sure he was going to hell. If the nuns and his parents didn’t love him, it made sense that God wouldn’t either. All the images around him were of a vengeful God, a suffering Jesus, and the Spirit a white bird thing. Praying to Mary was the only comfort that Greg felt at the time. She was the only one whose face was looking on Greg with compassion and love, which was in contrast to his stepmother at home and the nuns of the church. Greg was starving for love, aching to be accepted by God, and hungry to be good enough to be loved by God.

But when his parents divorced at the age of 13 and his father abandoned going to church, Greg followed in his footsteps and felt freedom from the accusations of every authority. The next few years of his life were full of drugs, sex, and rock and roll. But there was an emptiness that pervaded his life. And this emptiness caused him, at the age of 17, to walk into a Pentecostal church and gave his life to Jesus. He had a true and vivid experience with Jesus. Yet, he still misbehaved and felt the condemnation every time he messed up. He still felt like hell was just a step away.

Though he was told of God’s love and of the grace of God, the picture that still permeated his thinking was of Mother Superior or his stepmother waiting to hit him when he messed up. And this picture caused him anxiety and stress about living a holy life. It led to repeated bouts of sin binges and then confessions to cleanse his soul. And Greg got sick of it.

One day, as his friend and he were leaving church, Greg confessed that he was sick of it all. He was done with this God who was constantly waiting for him to mess up. He threw his bible on the car hood and began to sarcastically read from it. He was trying to prove that the things in the bible didn’t align with what he was feeling. “There is now no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ”, he began. And he stopped. Suddenly, he began to see a new and beautiful picture of a God who wasn’t out to condemn him. Instead, he saw the God who gave his life on Calvary so that he could live with Greg for eternity. The God who wanted Greg and not a holy life; the God who wanted his son to come home.

When we sin, we fall into accusations from Satan. And these accusations want to paint the picture of a God who wants to beat the sin out of us with an ugly stick. A God who wants to punish us. But nothing is further from the truth of Jesus on the cross. We must remember, and trust, this picture of God. From this vision, we learn everything we need to know.

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Topics: Fear, Forgiveness, Guilt

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Focus Scripture:

  • Romans 8:1

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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24 thoughts on “Little Greg and The Ugly Stick

  1. Kevin S. says:

    Sad to say that, still….the coin has not dropped in the slot…but i am banging the hell out of that machine!!!

  2. Joey Doyscher says:

    AMEEEEEEEEEEN. “God does not have an ugly stick cocked back ready to slap me!”

  3. Theresa says:

    I’m reminded of a great little book by David Wilkerson called “Two of me..The struggle with sin”. He compares Romans 7 with Lincohn emancipating the slaves…the “issue” of slavery died. Not the slave master–not the slave. The slave could walk away free..saying to himself: Slavery is a Dead Issue..The old slave in me is dead…I’m a free man.

  4. PAT says:

    That was such an encouraging word – I so long for the truth of it to sink into my heart. My image of God is so much like you described – I’m always waiting to be judged. I have prayed so often for an image of God that makes Him easy to love, but it just doesn’t sink from my head to my heart.

  5. Scott Schneider says:

    We seem to have in Christianity a slave mentality when it comes to our relatinship with Jesus. Yet we are His spouse and Ephesians 5 says for spouses to submit to one another. We seem to only talk about us submitting to Him, that it seems only one way. Yet Jesus said He came to serve, and also that He no longer calls us servants, but friends(in the patronage sense which really goes deeper into this). And another thing we miss is the depth of Genesis 1:26-29. God gave us dominion here on earth. He limited himself somewhat. When Satan wanted power he went to Adam to get it. We gave Satan control and authority here. So when God wants to accomplish “on earth as it is in heaven” He indwells humans(who have dominion here) to accomplish this.Us being conduits for Holiness to manifest here on earth. This series really has stirred the pot, for me, in the two above areas (Jesus spouse and Genesis 1). I dont think the church has covered the depth of these concepts, maybe because of fear of what we might have to conclude. Just thinking out loud…

  6. Robert Button says:

    Wow. I can so identify. What a blessing Greg & WH church has been in my life; as well as some really amazing friends in the Kingdom, I have been able to imagine a beautiful God, the beautiful loving God of Romans 8 – that accepts me where I am. The God that says “my grace is sufficient for you”. Thank you God for this resource – and bless all of you at Woodland Hills!

  7. Teresa says:

    I thought this was a great message… and I’m thrilled people are finding freedom from condemnation because of it. Satan is the accuser and clearly he is good at what he does. God is trust worthy – yes yes yes!

    However, again, I see a both/and rather than an either/or when I look squarely at scripture. Everything Greg taught is true, but we are also commanded to live holy lives and to live in the light, to be examples to the world and reject the things of the world (lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and so on), and to live our lives as aliens here – not getting caught up in civilian affairs, but OBEYing our commanding officer (2 tim2:4).

    God IS love and he is not the abusive parent who disciplines his children through striking them with boards etc. BUT, God is also the serious/sober Master and Lord and he calls each of us all to be his bondservants so that we can do our work here and bring the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are not our own, we were bought with a price (1 cor. 6:20) and as free as we are from our sins when we repent, we are also Christ’s slave/bondeservant who wait for our inheritance – rather than trying to take it now by living however we want to live.

    There is no fear in love, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Think about it.

    Again, I agree. God is not like the abusive parent or nun who strikes a child whenever they disobey. God IS love. But God is also just. If we try to be kings over our own kingdoms we will have serious consequences. Consequences that look very much like striking with blows (see passage below – especially the last few verses). If however, we die to our self, surrender our sinful tendencies to God and commit to living a holy life – repenting when we are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit and pressing on – then we will live in His love and in freedom.

    Luke 12:35-48 sums it up:

    Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like those who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

    “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

    Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

  8. Teresa says:

    PS. TO avoid confusion, I am not talking about legalistic obeying in the above post – as if we will be disciplined whenever we sin and live in danger of hell if we sin. I am talking about a “faith plus works that express that faith” kind of obeying. Faith without works is dead. We can say we believe in Christ and accept his call to live holy lives, but we can’t stop there. We actually have to walk toward holiness and repent when we fall. It’s a life characterized by daily dying to our self will and living for God’s will that I’m talking about. Big picture holy lives lived in communion with the Holy Spirit where He leads and we follow -not selfish lives where we do what we want because we believe in grace and forgiveness for whatever sins we commit. That’s what I am talking about. I’m not talking about lives where God condemns us for the bad things we do. Relationship – not religion.

  9. Danny says:

    Teresa, I know what you mean. I think Greg’s point in these past few messages has been to emphasize the specific teaching about God’s radical love and forgiveness. We both know he wouldn’t deny the importance of holy living and keeping your character in check and asking for help when we screw up.
    Personally, I’ve found that I can rest in the assurance that the power of Jesus’s love to draw me, enthrall me, and turn my desire away from sin is stronger than sin’s power to draw me to itself. So, if I simply focus on Jesus, his character, and loving him, then I will want to obey him and I will live free of sin as a natural result. Though of course all mess up. We all need help.

  10. Theresa says:

    I agree Danny…Dieing to self AND getting the right perspective of God’s love brings us to want more of Him just because of the beautiful way He draws us to know Him and grow in Him. …He delivers His peace in us and we just can’t help but WANT TO PURSUE and be seeking His will daily….I truly enjoy Greg’s sermons..:)

  11. Teresa says:

    Yep, I do the same, Danny. And of course I agree that it’s God’s love that draws us away from sin and toward him. I am not advocating the try harder thing at all (that’s why I don’t even think of sinning as “we need help when we screw up” I dont think about sin very much at all! ). The way I think about holiness is not “absence of sin” as much as it is our LIVES that should be set apart/holy – as in reserved for God’s will and purposes & not our own. I’m talking about discipleship and what that means – not a try-harder type of holiness and a “keeping our character in check.”

    The power of sin and the power of the accuser’s accusations of sin fall away when crucify our lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and pride of life and press on to what God is calling us to do with out time here. We, like the author of Hebrews 12, can “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and…run with endurance the race that is set before us” when we understand discipleship.

    You’re right, I think Greg would agree with that, but I’ve met several people in person and seen several online who don’t seem to be getting that full message. They are getting the love/forgiveness message over and over….and for that I’m glad! I guess all I’m asking is why not preach both?

    I am advocating something like what Bonhoeffer wrote about in his book The Cost of Discipleship [http://www.amazon.com/The-Cost-Discipleship-Dietrich-Bonhoeffer/dp/0684815001]. I’m coming against the either/or “the Grace/Loving God OR the judgmental, wrathful & punishing God” with another idea – Costly Grace. Grace yes, but we need to understand the big picture too…first. We need to understand the teachings of the parables – like the story of the10 virgins etc in Matthew 25 and the idea that God is serious when he talks about consequences. God is loving beyond our imagination, but God’s love INCLUDES consequences….and that’s ok, because we can trust God.

    The cost of discipleship is described all over scripture (Matthew 7:21-27 and Luke 9: 57-61 for example) so we can’t get around it.

    When we “bestow grace upon ourselves”(bonhoeffer) based on God’s love and forgiveness only without an understanding of what it means to be a disciple, we can’t go very far on mission. We can easily miss the point because it’s not about us or our forgiveness…its about him. We have to count the cost AND understand forgiveness and grace.

  12. Kevin says:

    Sorry, but that loud and,to me, illegitimate “amen-er” totally spoiled the ministry time at the end……….

  13. AJ says:

    I am sorry but I have to agree with Kevin. It’s very disturbing when listening to podcast. God bless.

  14. Remember is not about us being disturbed or gracefully ministered. Is about being centered on His love, then everything else is not relevant.

  15. caucazhin says:

    Greg is partially right I dont think God so much has an ugly stick for His children but He certianly chastens His children.
    And sometimes He might use a stick and it might even be ugly and get ugly. Ugly to us because we get lost in the fog of our own sin.
    Ive experienced Gods chastening many times and thank God I did because ( at times ) it helps me to stay walking in the spirit and my eyes on Him.

  16. caucazhin says:

    oh and I agree with others WHC should pass out some duct tape for at the next service for that guys mouth

  17. Caucazhin, please watch the harshness!

    Charley Swanson
    Communications, Woodland Hills

  18. Scott Schneider says:

    I think that our upbringing, our fathers especially, develops our definition of love. I was pastoring a church and one of the leaders, who was over 60, would say, “I just love it when God beats the snot out of me!” To me that was sad. So many people grew up with parents regularly laying hands on the kids that was preceded by “I love you” and were taught that this is an expression of love. I am not saying that an occasional spanking is bad when done properly. Most of the “laying on of the hands by parents is provoked by anger and not by love. When a child does something that is against the parents teachings, something that causes the parent to anger at that moment, then reacts to that anger with a “laying on of the hands” is just teaching the child that it is ok to lay hands on someone when they make you angry, and that the laying of hands on a child by a parent who is reacting with anger, is love. And we project that onto our image of God. Thus we can say, “I love it when God beats the snot out of me!”

  19. Lori says:

    As a podcast listener, it really is hard to listen to the sermon with the distraction of that gentleman. No disrespect intended. I’ve had to just shut it off in annoyance and wait for the next week’s sermon. Sorry. 🙁

  20. caucazhin says:

    go along to get along baby that what the pharisees did and Jesus and John the Baptist both condemned them for it………

  21. Teresa says:

    Found this today and thought it might help explain what I was trying to say above. I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think it was vital for us to understand this… I do!
    “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.”

    “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

    Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doc trine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

    Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. That was the heresy of the enthusiasts, the Anabaptists and their kind. Let the Christian beware of rebelling against the free and boundless grace of God and desecrating it. Let him not attempt to erect a new religion of the letter by endeavoring to live a life of obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ! The world has been justified by grace. The Christian knows that, and takes it seriously. He knows he must not strive against this indispensable grace. Therefore–let him live like the rest of the world! Of course he would like to go and do something extraordinary, and it does demand a good deal of self-restraint to refrain from the attempt and content himself with living as the world lives. Yet it is imperative for the Christian to achieve renunciation, to practice self-effacement, to distinguish his life from the life of the world. He must let grace be grace indeed, otherwise he will destroy the world’s faith in the free gift of grace.

    Let the Christian rest content in his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. He is doing it for the sake of the world rather than for the sake of grace. Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of this grace–for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

    Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

    Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

    Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

    Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

    Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a world of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Bonhoeffer ~The Cost of Discipleship

  22. Manuel Schmid says:

    One of the most personal, lifechanging messages I’ve ever listened to… Greg, thank you for your honesty – and greetings from Basel, Switzerland! (Yes, we are listening to your semons…!)

  23. Benjamin says:

    Thank you for your honesty Greg. It’s so easy for me to relate to you.

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