TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS — We walk along the beachfront and get harassed by men and women at the entrances of restaurants, trying to coax us inside, waving flyers and coupons, and speaking with Spanish accents, “Good food, come eat. You hungry? Where you from, amigo?”
I’m more concerned about pushing my daughter in the stroller, and after that uphill walk, I’m gassed—I’m wondering how I let myself get so fat.
There is a constant chatter in my mind. “No more. This is done. No more gorging. I’m sick of this. How did this happen?”
But I know how it happened.
It’s some kind of self-hatred buried deep in there—left over from the old me. And it’s slowly being killed. So much of it has already been destroyed, but there’s still a claw somewhere in there, and it’s clutching onto food—and at its root is gluttony and covetousness and lust.
It’s been a lifelong unhealthy relationship with food. With hockey I could hide it. Now everything is being exposed.
But I’m making small victories here on the Canaries. Two days in a row I have been up at six in the morning to jog and do plyometric workouts that I remember from the old hockey days.
Today is day three—the hat trick! And I’m not slowing down. There’s a shift happening, and it’s all connected. These words you are reading now are part of that shift.
It’s six-fifteen in the morning, and I pop out of bed motivated and determined; but my body does not feel so enthusiastic. This is the dreaded day three. I push through it by jamming earbuds into my ear holes, and blasting the OC Supertones ska-beat through my bones, and perform a dynamic warmup outside on the sidewalk of the condo, about a mile from the beach.
It’s still dark outside and there’s no one around. These are the best times.
Now I’m watching the sun rise from the patio with sweat still dripping off me from the run. I’m looking around at mountains and endless rows of Spanish-style condos filled with people fast asleep.
Things are happening here and my fingers are moving across this keyboard. My heart is surging and I can’t contain it anymore. I feel an electric current running through me all day long, and it has me repeating Bible verses that I’ve memorized.
It has me thinking about the big picture—saved or unsaved? Heaven or hell? I can’t get it out of my mind. And I know it’s true. It’s so obvious now.
How do I enjoy a vacation here on the islands with these thoughts in my brain?
It seems that everyone else can enjoy the ocean and cocktails and lounging for long hours—and not even think about it. But it’s consuming me. I think maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. I keep praying that the Lord use me to do his work, and he keeps answering my prayers.
As we walk along the beach, we decide to find some food. The dialogue of self-inflicted fat-shaming is still pumping through my brain, and of course we see the golden arches.
The devil’s den.
And somehow my wife can go in there and order a kid’s meal. She gets the smallest pouch of French fries I have ever seen; and a tiny puck-sized burger with no toppings; only bread, meat, and cheese.
And all I want to do is order the double quarter pounder meal, go large, with fries and a coke, and a vanilla shake and a twenty piece chicken nugget and two fish sandwiches and a peanut-butter cup McFlurry. That will make me happy.
I’m at this robotic touch-screen kiosk, swiping through the menu; and I keep pressing the “back button” from the double quarter pounder screen, then back from the McFlurry screen—out of guilt and shame, and finally I decide on some chicken nuggets.
I’ve done this before during our European vacation, and just order a nine-piece nugget to keep it tight. In an act of defiance, I press six piece—just to let that robot know I’m not messing around this time.
We get to the table and there are four Brits from Yorkshire with the thickest accents I have ever heard. They are old and wrinkled; well-baked, red, and jolly—retirees. I find myself asking “what? what?” time and time again, making them repeat their questions. We cover all the small talk about why we are here on the islands.
This opens up the whole narrative about how I’m coaching ice hockey over here in Spain, and how I was a pro hockey player before. And one of the guys has a friend who’s a big hockey fan in the UK.
“I used to play for the Belfast Giants” I say.
Now he’s taking my picture and sending a text to his buddy, “what is it again, Bobby Roberts?”
“Bobby Robins, one B, like the bird” I say.
They are all infatuated with my daughter. She’s laying the charm on pretty thick, as she can do so well. She is such a little lover of Jesus; it makes my heart explode. She asks them if they have ever heard this song, “The B-I-B-L-E that’s the book for me, I stand alone on the word of God with the B-I-B-L-E.” They shake their heads no, but don’t want her to stop singing.
Then she asks me, “Daddy, I wonder if they are Christian?”
Oh boy, no turning back now. So I ask. “Are you believers?”
Three of them shake their heads no. But the woman sitting closest to me keeps her head still and eyes forward.
She turns to me and confesses that she is a believer. She tells me that the reason her husband doesn’t believe is because his sister was killed when she was two years old, run over by a car; and he doesn’t believe, because if there is a God, how could he let that happen?
It breaks my heart. Then I feel an undeniable call to tell them the Gospel. Oh but it would be so easy to get out of there and get to the beach. The sand looks so warm from where I’m sitting, and those waves so rhythmic and tranquil. But the urge is there.
My chicken nuggets disappeared into the abyss of my belly, and I’m not satisfied. I’m still hungry. Hungry for more.
Our daughter is getting nuts now and buzzing off the ice cream she just finished, and my wife gets up to make an exit with our girl.
“Just give me a couple minutes” I say to her, and she knows what this means.
As we say our goodbyes and share handshakes and germs, I’m sort of talking inside of my mouth, not completely in my head, but not loud enough for anyone to hear—other than myself and the Lord.
I’m praying that the Spirit move through me.
This is terrifying for me. I want you to know that. Terrifying. But it’s getting easier and easier every time.
“Before I go, can I just tell you about the Gospel real quick? I feel that I need to tell you some things that are really important.”
To my surprise, they seem eager to hear.
I go right into it. And I explain what I know so far. What the Lord has revealed to me. What I have learned from preachers on youtube. What I have learned from my Bible readings.
I tell them that we are all the same. We all have the same problem. And it’s a sin problem. We all love our sin. More than we love God. We all fall short of the glory of God.
I explain that God has built up wrath for us as the punishment for our sin; and that cup is being filled drip by drip. Every single time we disobey his commandments—drip. I use my hands and show how Holy God is, “way up here”, and how we are dead in our sin, “way down here”. Then I tell them that even when we do good things, our good works, our good deeds, are like filthy rags to the Lord. Because he is that Holy.
“And we certainly are not holy” I say in a dramatic voice that transmits the truth of that statement.
They all agree. They know their hearts. So full of sin; and what is sin? It’s breaking God’s law. We all reek of it, and we all know it. So at least we are being honest with ourselves. I tell them about my sanctification process how after I got Born Again, that the Lord is exposing and showing me all the filthy sin in my life.
I tell them how Jesus said, “You have heard of old that you should not commit adultery, but I say to you, if you look at a woman with lustful intent, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.”
And I’m on this beachfront and there are beautiful women in G-strings and topless. They are everywhere. The “old me” would be in full creep-mode, sunglasses on, and devouring up every single one of them with my lustful eyes—lashes like pointy, black fangs.
But not anymore. Now I know Jesus sees my thought-life. Everything will be exposed.
I think they understand what I’m saying. The men at the table certainly do, as sex is thick in this island air.
I finally arrive at the point—we are all hopeless. We all deserve punishment. We all deserve hell. And there is nothing we can do.
Oh, then the Holy Spirit places insight on my heart, and I’m staring right into the eyeballs of the man who lost his sister—he’s blamed God his whole life. But really, he doesn’t blame God. He’s using the tragedy as an excuse to reject God and embrace his sin.
How could a loving God take his sister away from him?
“Listen to this,” I say, and I recite John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And everyone is nodding because we all know this verse and have heard it a million times.
But the next part is the double-edged sword that begins to slowly pierce this heart of mine.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Now here’s where it gets interesting. And as I say these next lines, I can see their eye balls darting back and forth, fully convicted, and in full knowledge of what side of the fence they fall on.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned. Whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
And here it is; finally—the truth of it all.
“And this is the judgement. The light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. Whoever does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. Whoever does what is true comes to the light that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
They are all leaned in now and listening intently.
I turn to the man who lost his sister and say, “God loves us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us. For you, and you, and you, and you, and me, while we were still sinners, while we still hated him.”
I motion to where my daughter was sitting. “Imagine if I gave my beautiful daughter as a sacrifice to die for someone; and not only that, someone who hates her and hates me. That’s what God did, brother; and he did for you and me, and he did it with love so deep we can barely comprehend it.”
After my monologue, one of them asked, “but what about Muslims, they believe in God.”
I answer, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me’, all other religions are false. Jesus is the only way.”
Then an image pops into my head of a mountain, and I remember some preacher using this analogy somewhere. I think it was from the book Radical by David Platt.
“Imagine a mountain, and there is a Muslim here, and a Buddhist here, a Jew here, and a Christian here—all these different people from different religions around the base of a mountain. And they all agree that God is on top of the mountain; and they’re all trying to get there. And each one of them says ‘here is my path to get up there’, and they’re all different paths, but they all lead to the same place.
But here’s the thing. None of them can get to the top of that mountain. But God became a man, Jesus Christ, and came down to us, as a lowly servant, and lived a perfect life—something that we can never do because we are all so lost in our sin—and the world hated him for it.
They killed him and nailed him to a cross. And as he was up there on the cross, he became our sin. All our sin got nailed on that cross. God poured his wrath onto Jesus; he bore the full punishment of our sin. He drank the full wrath of God, the wrath each one of us deserves to drink. Then he said ‘it is finished’ and he died and rose from the dead three days later. He ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father—and he is coming back to judge the living and the dead. Jesus paid the fine for our sin and if we believe on him and follow him, we will be counted as righteous in the last Day of Judgement.
In all our wicked sin and filth, we will stand before a Holy God and he will not see any of that, he will only see the righteousness, the holiness of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And since the wages of sin is death, we all deserve death; and hell and punishment so severe that we can’t even imagine or understand—because here’s the thing, we can’t understand or imagine how Holy God is.
Of course we can’t understand the punishment. But once you are given eyes to see, you will see that the punishment is just and righteous. It is a holy punishment.
But we don’t have to worry about any of that. Jesus did the work already. He took the punishment for our sin and offers the free gift of eternal life. Jesus is the only way.”
I’ve finished preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, and there is a silence. They are all thinking, looking deep into their own hearts. I desperately pray to the Lord and ask that they are able to see how lost they are in their hopeless state.
And for some reason I turn to the man who lost his sister and say, “Your sister is in heaven, brother; and you have a chance to see her again. We will all be judged when we die. And all of us will die one day; and the reality is we are going to one of two places, heaven or hell. And I truly hope to see you there in heaven. Your sister is there, brother. She is there.”
“I hope so” he says, and our eyeballs meet and there are salty tears in there magnifying the truth of this strange encounter at a beachfront McDonalds.
There’s truth here.
I leave and meet my girls down at the beach and look out at the endless horizon of the ocean and right away I’m tempted to lust by tight bodies wearing thong bikinis, so I close my eyes and thank the Lord for using me to share his incredible Gospel, “the Good News”.
I pray for strength to continue on this path and continue to be molded into some kind of new person who becomes more and more like Jesus and less and less like the decrepit zombie I used to be. What an incredible God we have. Do you know why I believe in miracles?
Because I have experienced the miracle first-hand. The Lord performed a miracle on my heart, converting the most wicked pit of sin into something that will stand before God one day, and be counted as righteous because of Jesus and what he did for me— and what he did for you, if you are willing to accept Him.