Category: How We Grow

Playing With House Money

I am not much of a gambler. I get so anxious about whether I will lose my money that it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. But I do notice the point spread for the NY Giants games. And after several terrible years, they are playing so well this year that I am no longer ashamed to drink from my Giants coffee mug.

In view of the Giants’ newfound success, I found it hard to believe that they were 5 ½ point home underdogs to the Ravens last week. And there was a message from a certain legal online betting site that I had $5 of house money to play with. This meant the site would put up the money for my bet! I would not have the anxiety of having my own money riding on the game. Since I had nothing to lose, I placed the bet.

(Mike Francesca used the same expression “playing with house money” in his podcast. He applied it to the Cleveland Guardians in their recent playoff series versus the Yankees. Since no one had expected that Cleveland would even be in the playoffs, they wouldn’t face the anxiety-inducing pressure of lofty expectations.)

It looked like I’d lose my bet as the Giants fell behind by ten in the second half. Then they closed within three so I would win the bet with the Giants covering the spread. Finally, the Giants won outright. I won the bet without needing any points!

Of course, I like to see a spiritual analogy in this:  There is a way in which living the Christian life is like playing with house money. First, there is nothing we can contribute to get salvation. It is a free gift that we say yes to. Second, I don’t need to be anxious that I can get un-saved if I mess up. Living with free grace, what do I have to lose?

Take the lyric from the modern hymn “In Christ Alone.”

“No guilt in life, no fear in death.
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry, to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.”

So, as I follow Jesus’ commands, I am free from facing anxiety about whether I am doing enough to please God. The more I gain awareness of this truth, the freer I am to grow in grace living.

As it says in John 8:36, So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

My Spiritual Birthday

November 30 is my spiritual birthday. That’s when I was first touched by amazing grace! Back then, I experienced a day and night difference. My world was turned upside down with feelings of happiness. I was a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As John Newton said, “How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed”

This meant (I thought at the time) that I would enjoy my best life now with no major obstacles. I’d complete my doctoral dissertation with no sweat, and I’d quickly be married to an excellent Christian wife.

Wasn’t that what it meant to be a child of God? Nope, it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.


Because without realizing it, I was focused more on what I could get from God than on who he was. Indeed, what my attitude really amounted to was “Lord, if you won’t quickly meet my needs, don’t expect me to go out of my way to change my way of doing things or bother too much with learning what it means to please you.” 

With that attitude, God allowed me to enter a very dry time. (While at the same time continually protecting and preserving me much more than I realized!)  

God used many ways to change my attitude, but today I want to focus on just one. He brought me into fellowship with some strong Christian helpers. Amazingly, I first met them on April Fool’s Day! (I love how it says in 1 Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ) 

Even with a renewed attitude, it still is taking much time for God’s beautiful truths to better percolate through more of my life. I knew the Bible was doctrinally true but was pretty poor at connecting it to the life changes God was calling for in a stubborn, independent man. 

So, it’s been helpful to have Christian friends who connect the truths of God and scripture to daily real life and who lovingly let me know when I am full of baloney. 

I never did complete my doctoral dissertation. And it took nine years until I married the love of my life. And another 10 years after that before I finally found my true vocational calling from God (Not a professor but a computer geek!)  

My story shows how we have a patient and longsuffering God who cares enough to spend decades molding and shaping us to be more like what he wants. And the more I grow, the more I see I still need to grow. Wherever you are on your journey, be encouraged that God ain’t done with you yet!

God Will Come Near

But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. (Exodus 23:29-30)

After Exodus, the book of Joshua begins by showing how God granted Israel major victories to defeat the main military powers in the promised land of Canaan. But next, each tribe was supposed to complete the mission by removing the remaining pockets of resistance in their territories. Unfortunately, they never finished that assignment.

When I first believed, God gave quick change to many deep rooted negative attitudes and habits. With so many weaknesses rapidly wiped away it felt like I would now have a life filled with unending joy.

Ha! I was unsuspecting of remaining pockets of resistance in my life, how much work still had to be done and how much I still needed to change! So when I encountered some serious major obstacles, I was stunned and then overwhelmed when they did not get quickly cleared away. I then backslid and made many stupid choices.

Did that make a shipwreck of my Christianity? No —-I never did lose sight of how I was a new creation in Christ.  But I had a poor understanding of what it takes to learn to grow in wisdom, making wise choices and growing in love.

Now it’s decades later. Am I free from all sin? Not quite! True, I have traded gross or obviously stupid sins for what Jerry Bridges called respectable sins [1]. As if a little bit of resentment, jealousy, envy, and secret anger is not a problem at all! That’s why I cannot say I have arrived. There are still pockets of resistance. I still have more land to possess. Yet there is good reason to keep pressing on.

Whether you have been at this for a long time or are more of a beginner, this remains great advice:

 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:7–8a)

There’s an amazing interplay here between what I need to do and what God promises to do.

I must submit, resist, and come near. And then: God will come near. Is this for one time only? A one and done deal? Nope, it’s daily. Seek such an encounter with the presence of God today. And tomorrow. Renew it each day for the rest of your time on earth!


Is the Bible a Rule Book?

Today I’ll contrast two ways of looking at the Bible.

 #1. The Bible is God’s divine rule book. Life improves when we study it diligently and find rules to obey. The Bible gives us a life under law.

#2. The Bible is God’s special revelation to us. It leads us into a vital Spirit-led personal encounter with Christ, who gives us wisdom and guidance as we seek to do God’s will. The Bible is a guide to life under grace.

If #1 is true and the Bible is a set of rules, then my ability to follow such a set of rules well is highly dependent on my own will power. If I have strong enough will power, I may do quite well at keeping the rules.  But the more I succeed at this rule keeping, the more I will develop a superior attitude towards those who do not follow the rules as well as I do. Indeed, I may take a perverse enjoyment in comparing my performance to theirs and either rebuking them to their face or secretly treasuring how well I am doing!

Rules are a way of transforming the free grace in Scripture into dead laws.

Look at these differences:



Express gratitude and thanks in prayer

The longer you spend praying each day, the better

Time spent reading the Bible is a delight

You must have a Bible reading plan and stick to it each day

You please God as you help your fellow man with good deeds

The more ministries you are involved in and the more hours you spend on them, the better.

Often, these rules go beyond what is written in the Bible into a series of prohibitions:



Wine is good, but do avoid getting drunk

No drinking whatsoever.


Use careful spirit-led discernment in your entertainment choices

Don’t ever watch R-rated movies.


The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel gave a preview of how grace works:       I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)

Life under law is what leads to a stony heart. Life in grace gives more leeway and much liberty…. but not freedom to do whatever we feel like.

So instead of a blanket prohibition of R-rated movies, we can have an honest prayerful wrestling with which movies to see or not see. The Passion of the Christ was rated R …. is it OK to see it ? 

We move from rules to guidelines. A new guideline I’ve adopted is to not watch a series that has an intimacy coordinator[i]. One result:  I won’t watch the next season of the series BridgertonBut I can’t make this into a rule and bind your conscience by saying “You’re in sin” if you watch the next season of it.

Reading the scriptures in a Spirit-led way, we gain patience with others who don’t see it our way. Instead of shoving rules down their throats and binding them to stuff that is not commanded in scripture, we model to them what a life in grace looks like.