Monday, January 27, 2014

God can change the most hardened racist

It’s an amazing story of the conversion of a racist. Peter considered anyone who was not a Jew to be unclean, common, outside the boundaries of God’s reach. Peter wasn’t concerned about keeping Gentiles out of the workplace. No, his racism was much deeper and much more dangerous: He did not want Gentiles to be included in salvation. He simply could not see how they possibly could be! And, as an Orthodox Jew, Peter would have never entered the home of a Gentile or invited one into his home. But now Peter was a Christian. He had been saved by God’s grace, not because of his ethnicity or his gender, or even because of his character. And God was asking him to preach the same saving message of faith in Jesus Christ to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and a Gentile. Read the story in Acts 10 and see the rooftop conversion of Peter from racism. I offer these four observations about that story and how it relates to you and me.

First, you can be greatly used by God before you are perfect, which is good news since we will never reach perfection this side of glory. When the church was born on the day of Pentecost, Peter was the first to preach the Gospel to the Jews. Then Peter, along with John, was the first to preach the Gospel to the Samaritans. Finally, Peter was the first to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. But until that day, up on the rooftop, Peter was still a racist. The good news is that God can use us in spite of our shortcomings, however huge they may be. Every single person God has ever used to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a sinner. Here’s the even better news: God loves us exactly the way we are and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us any more or love us any less. But God loves us enough not to leave us where we are.

Second, much of our walk with Christ, especially as a new Christian, is un-learning.
Peter had learned very well, his whole life, that some foods were unclean. But listen to what God says: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Truth is, pork was unclean for the Jews. But God has made it clean. Truth is, we Gentiles were unclean as well. But God has made us clean through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Truth is, every person is unclean: Jews, Gentiles, slave, free, male, female. But what God has made clean, we are not to call or treat as common. So much of what we learned as children has to be unlearned when we come to Christ.

Third, God opens our eyes through His Word. He spoke His Word to Peter in this story. And He has spoken His Word to us. It’s all right here, in the Bible. Are you bound up in sin? Don’t wait around for a vision or a visitation. It’s already been given. Read the Word.
Fourth, God leads His people on His timetable. Not ours. So, we can be patient with someone who has not had the same opportunities to learn from the Word.” Or who is not at the same maturity level. Or is simply not walking in the truth. That doesn’t mean we ignore sin. But we can be patient with the sinner, just as God has been, and is, patient with us.

God can change even the most hardened racist. He changed Peter. And me.
He can change you, too.

Monday, January 20, 2014

God has two dwelling places

I don’t even remember what Cindy and I were fighting about now. But I remember what happened to end the fight. It was 11 years ago, in the fall of the year. Jesse was 9 then, and he had already had three “febrile seizures,” where his fever spiked and he went into convulsions. His first one was when he was 18 months old, and it happened right after church on a Wednesday night, in our kitchen. The next two happened during a Sunday morning service. Seriously! He stopped those meetings cold, at least until we got things under control. The last one happened at home again. I put Jesse in an ice bath to try to get his fever down but he would not come out of the convulsion, so I called 911 and the first responders got there quickly. After we had been at the hospital for a few hours, two grateful parents took their 9-yearold home and thanked God that everything was fine. We learned two things that night. First, an ice bath is probably overkill, as I’m not sure Jesse was shaking because of the seizure or because he was freezing to death. Probably just a cool bath would have done the trick. The second thing we learned was that most of what we fight about in marriage just isn’t important.

Cindy and I could not relate any more to the anger we had felt toward each other in the hours before the seizure occurred. I remember a sweet hug and a “Will you forgive me?” spoken almost in unison.

May I gently suggest to you, dear reader, that most of what you are upset about right now, in the grand scheme of things, just does not matter? Use the “11-year rule” from my story as an example. Eleven years from now, will you even remember what you were fuming about? Hey, if you have my memory, you can use the 11-day rule! Either way, whatever has your shorts in a wad right now will be long gone in mere days or months and it just won’t matter. So you really have the choice of either maintaining your anger just as a “matter of principle,” or doing the mature thing and putting it away for good.

Gratitude should be a powerful motivator. That’s why Jesus asked, when only one of 10 lepers he healed came back to say thank you, “Were there not 10 cleansed? But where are the nine?” Robert Capon wrote, “A person who is ‘well enough to enjoy the blessings’ expresses gratitude to the source from which it comes.” There were ten requests for mercy and healing and only one who returned to express their gratitude.
While the other nine lepers may have been grateful, only one returned to say "thank you."

Gratitude should be a powerful motivator. That’s why Jesus asked, when only one of 10 lepers he healed came back to say thank you, “Were there not 10 cleansed? But where are the nine?” have been grateful, only one returned to say “thank you.” Why not try this experiment? Send a note of thanks to 10 people this week who have influenced you, blessed you and been an encouragement to you. But don’t limit that list of 10 to friends and loved ones. Send a few notes also to people from whom you have become estranged, people who have hurt or disappointed you in some way, people that you might even consider to be your “enemies.” Be careful not to bring up past offenses. Just be grateful and express that, as simply and as honestly as you can. You never know what God might do with such an act of humility. Someone once said that God has two dwelling places. One is in heaven and the other is the thankful heart.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Giveaway alert! Cover to Cover Contest from Moody

Win free books for a year!


Moody Publishers is currently having a monstrous giveaway. Five entries will be selected to receive the ultimate library package—more than 80 books over the course of 2014! Each winner receives monthly shipments of new releases from Moody Publishers, with titles from some of the best Christian authors like Gary Chapman, Wes Stafford, Tony Evans, Dannah Gresh, Juli Slattery, John MacArthur and many more. You'll even receive the much-anticipated, single-volume Moody Bible Commentary, written and edited by the professors of Moody Bible InstituteThe total package is valued at over $1,200!

To make the deal even better, you can choose a free e-book download from four of Moody Publishers' best titles in 2013. Download your free e-book in a format that best works for your tablet, e-reader or computer.


E-Book Banner

Monday, January 13, 2014

Take some time to look back

Every year I look back at the lessons the Lord taught me the year before. I offer six today for your encouragement. If you want to hear the sermon where I explained each in more detail, you can go to

Friendship is a sheltering tree . That’s from a poem by Coleridge, but the truth is all through Scripture. We need friends who know us very well and can speak plain truth into our lives. Solomon said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.”

Endure suffering . Suffering is part of life and we can run from it or we can endure it. A man or woman in a tough marriage can run away, but rather than ending the suffering, their flight simply spreads and deepens it. I wrote in my journal last year, “It occurred to me this week that if we don’t endure suffering, we will most likely be the cause of suffering for others.”

There’s no equal to a father’s influence . There’s a powerful scene in the movie “42” where a father and his young son are sitting in the stands, talking about the Brooklyn Dodgers’ shortstop, Pee Wee Reese. “How many hits do you think he’ll get tonight, Dad?” the boy asks, and it’s clear that Reese is his hero. Then, Jackie Robinson comes out to play first base for the Dodgers. The father starts yelling at him, calling him the N-word, screaming, “You don’t belong in baseball!” The boy is troubled at first. You can tell that in his heart he knows his father’s behavior is not good. But soon he joins in with dad, calling Jackie Robinson the N-word himself, angry face and all. Then it happens. Pee Wee Reese, the boy’s hero, comes over from shortstop, talks to Jackie Robinson to encourage him while the crowd is yelling racial slurs at him, and puts his arm around Jackie’s shoulders. The crowd goes nuts, booing Pee Wee Reese, as the camera focuses on the boy. You can see the conflict all over his face: His hero likes a black man! It’s a great scene, and it showed me again that there’s no equal to a father’s influence. The head of the family has been given tremendous authority. If he uses that for evil, as the father in that scene did, he leads his family into evil. But when he uses his authority for good, God gives great grace.

“Wherever you are, be all there.” It’s a favorite quote of mine, from Jim Elliot. Take a look at Jeremiah 29:4-9, and count the six things we are supposed to do and not do, we who follow God and live in a world that doesn’t. Half the battle is just showing up.

“For the sake of Christ, be content with weaknesses.” It was a year of physical challenges, as this old body starts to show its age. I am grateful for what Jesus taught Paul about this in 2 Corinthians 12. It is true that our weaknesses magnify the Lord’s greatness.

There’s no plateau for believers. A child fell out of his bed and when his dad asked why, he said, “I guess I fell asleep too close to where I got in.” If a Christian is not growing, that may be the reason. We cannot fall asleep. We are either growing up in Jesus or we are falling away.

What are the lessons you learned last year? Take some time to look back.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Random thoughts just inside the door

As we are just four days into our journey through 2014, I would like to offer a little nudge or two, if I may.

First, this is the time of year when many make — and then promptly fail to keep — New Year’s resolutions. Sports psychologist Michael Gervais says it’s because we focus on weaknesses rather than strengths: “Well-accepted principles of psychology suggest that when we behave in ways that support or reflect our personal values and beliefs, we are much more likely to commit to that behavior over time.” The Bible says it like this: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” Paul goes on to point young Timothy to the Scriptures, “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” So, if one of your resolutions is to lose weight this year, why not tie that goal to strength rather than weakness? If you value hard work and a healthy body, then set goals that will move you in that direction. Do a “Couch to 5K” program, for example. Make that the focus, not your weakness for fried foods, sweets and soda. As you exercise yourself towards physical stamina, the craving for unhealthy delicacies will diminish.

Second, make healthy relationships with people a priority. I still have a long way to go, but I take some comfort in the fact that though I am not where I want to be, by God’s grace I am also not where I used to be. God is teaching me, mostly through my wife, how to love people, especially her. I learned recently, for example, that I need to leave my phone in the car when we’re on a date. It wasn’t a problem when I had a dumb phone because all the dumb phone could do was ring. Now my smart phone has a dumb owner with a craving to look at a 5-inch screen, rather than looking at and listening to his beautiful wife. Some of you are shaking your heads and smirking right now, but I know it’s not just me. Have you heard about FOMO? It used to be kind of a joke, “Fear of Missing Out,” but now it is seen as a growing addiction. John Grohol wrote, “Teens and adults text while driving, because the possibility of a social connection is more important than their own lives (and the lives of others). They interrupt one call to take another, even when they don’t know who’s on the other line. They check their Twitter stream while on a date, because something more interesting or entertaining just might be happening.” So, men, leave your phone in the car when you are on a date with your wife. If one of you needs a phone, let it be hers, and make sure it stays in her purse. Here’s another suggestion: Leave your phone in your car when you come to church. You say, “But my phone has the Bible on it!” OK, let me ask you this: Have you ever checked email during the service? Texts? Twitter? If so, then having your Bible on the phone is just a cover for your growing FOMO. Leave your addiction in the car. The same rule should apply at the dinner table or any time when you are with people.

A few final nudges: Find a healthy church and go every week; live on less than you make; open your home to others; read your Bible every day, and read it to your children.

May God bless you in 2014.