God with a Cool Head
Tom Friends of The New York Times asked
coach Jimmy Johnson what he told his players before leading the Dallas
Cowboys onto the field for the 1993 Super Bowl.
"I told them that if I laid a two-by-four
across the floor, everybody there would walk across it and not fall, because
our focus would be on walking the length of that board. But if I put that
same board 10 stories high between two buildings, only a few would make
it, because the focus would be on falling."
Johnson told his players not to focus on the
crowd, the media, or the possibility of falling, but to focus on each play
of the game as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the
No life ever grows great until it is
focused, dedicated, disciplined. Peter writes his first letter
encouraging suffering Christians to live a focused, dedicated and disciplined
1 Peter 4:7-11
7 The end of all things is
near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude
of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each
one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully
administering God's grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he
should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he
should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God
may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power
for ever and ever. Amen. NIV
a Cool Head
Peter writes, "The end of all things
is near." First century Christians lived out their lives in prospect
of Christ’s imminent return. Nothing makes us more alert and focused than
knowing a time of reckoning is close at hand. A final college exam focuses
one’s studies. April 15 focuses us on our taxes. It is the certainty of
Christ coming that keeps Christians alert. Not knowing the time of Christ
return should keep us even more alert and focused.
Warren Wiersbe says that Peter admonishing
us to keep a sober mind or clear mind is equivalent to our idea of keeping
a cool head. Keeping our minds clear is not equivalent to having
an empty mind. The easiest way to turn God’s grace into disgrace is to
provide a hot head as an empty furnace for the devil to fuel. A cool head
helps us focus.
You have seen movies where skiers and
snow boarders are skiing off of cliffs and through a stand of aspen or
spruce. The key to that kind of skiing is not hitting the boulders
or the trees. I have always wondered how skiers prevented hitting them.
It looks more like a death wish, but it looks as though the skiers are
having the time of their lives. I would be scared out of my wits.
In Outside magazine, writer and skier
Tim Etchells lays out the challenge: Even more so than in deep snow or
moguls, what you focus your eyes on becomes critical in the woods. Look
at the spaces between the trees—the exits where you hope to be traveling.
"Don't stare at what you don't want to hit," says [extreme-skiing world
champion Kim] Reichelm matter-of-factly.
The Christian walk is a focused walk.
Peter writes, "Therefore be clear minded
and self-controlled so that you can pray." Do you want to
know if you live a focused life? Listen to the content of your prayers.
Do you have a prayer life? If so, what is the focus of your prayers? Do
they have a clear focus? Do they come from a heart focused on administering
God’s grace through the gifts God has given you as you serve others? Are
your prayers focused on serving God with your gifts in the strength he
We must keep our minds clear so we can
pray focused prayers. My friend Tim called me a couple of days
ago. He had been anxious over being placed on a shift where he was going
to work with someone he didn’t feel comfortable with. It wasn’t that the
man he was going to be put with was bad, he liked the guy, but he just
didn’t think that they worked well as a team. He started praying that he
would guard his words and actions when time came. He prayed that he would
exemplify a Christian attitude. He was concerned but he continued to pray.
He called me on the way to work his first shift with this new partner.
He was elated. He was praying about it on his way to work his first shift
with his new partner. While driving over the Skyway Bridge his boss called
him on his cell phone and told him he was switching him to another station.
At the other station he wouldn’t have to work with this person.
I talked to Tim again about this experience
as I was writing this sermon. He told me that he had to work with this
guy a few days after this incident. He said it was much better than he
expected. He said, "I think that God let me get in the right frame of mind
before I worked with him." He said it was unbelievable how his new frame
of mind cleared up what he thought was going to be a very difficult situation.
You can call this kind of living hocus
pocus, or you recognize it as a life focused on the power of God’s grace.
I choose to believe that his prayers were answered because of a
clear head and a focused life. Keeping a clear mind required him to fully
understand the difficulty he faced. He clearly understood the circumstance
he would be placed in. He clearly understood his own limitations. His clear
mind made it possible for him to focus his prayer on the problem. It worked
out for him.
It is the love
of Christ that keeps our lives focused. Peter admonishes,
"Above all, love each other deeply, because
love covers over a multitude of sins?"
(1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV). That same gracious love that covered our sins
in baptism must cover the multitude of sins committed against us. You must
clear your mind of all your personal pain and frustration to focus on loving
others with the love of Christ.
"Love covers a multitude of sin . . ."
This is a comprehensive statement. It sums up the culmination of God’s
grace for each of us. You can’t practice it until you have experienced
it. We are to love others with the love of Christ. This means loving your
enemies as well as those who are Christians. Many times we find it difficult
to love Christians with the love of Christ. Solomon says, "Hatred stirs
up dissension, but love covers all wrongs" (Proverbs 10:12-13).
"People need love, especially when they don't
Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it
will flow back and soften and purify the heart.
I would rather be cheated a hundred times
than develop a heart of stone.
I don’t have the ability to love others
with the love of Christ, but I can allow God to love others through me
with the strength he provides. It does take a clear mind exercised
with self-control. It takes a mind focused on God’s ways. It takes a mind
focused on what others need rather than upon my pain.
to Minister God’s Grace
Peter writes, Therefore,
prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled;
set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had
when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so
be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
(1 Peter 1:13-16).
We need to prepare or should we say
focus our minds as never before for action to manifest God’s grace to a
lost world. Just think about how America works today and it will
help you understand the world’s need. The general
philosophy behind the world’s thinking is: "The world owes me something."
God’s philosophy is that we should minister his grace to a dying world.
Its focal point is upon what we owe our world. Nothing would be more helpful
in focusing our prayers.
In Man in the Mirror, Patrick Morley
tells of a group of fishermen who landed in a secluded bay in Alaska and
had a great day fishing for salmon. But when they returned to their sea
plane, they found it aground because of the fluctuating tides. They waited
until the next morning for the tides to come in, but when they took off,
they only got a few feet into the air before crashing back into the sea.
Being aground the day before had punctured one of the pontoons, and it
had filled up with water.
The sea plane slowly began to sink. The passengers,
three men and a 12-year-old son of one of the men, prayed and then jumped
into the icy cold waters to swim to shore. The riptide was strong, but
two of the men reached the shore exhausted. They looked back, and saw the
father with his arms around his son being swept out to sea.
The boy had not been strong enough to make
it. The father was a strong swimmer, but he had chosen to die with his
son rather than to live without him.
In Christ God wrapped his arms around
a spiritually dead world and chose to die with us. What would it
be like to focus the attention of your entire life on dying to self like
that father did the last moments of his life? God did this for every person
on planet earth through the death of Christ. He refused to go on without
first dying with us. He has put his creation on hold until he settles this
sin and spiritual death problem for each of us once and for all.
John Ashcroft said, "The most important thing
my dad ever taught me is that there are more important things than me."
This is the attitude of our heavenly Father.
Peter writes, ".
. . set you hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is
revealed . . ." This is a prevalent theme throughout the
New Testament. The Hebrew writer encourages us to focus on grace when he
says, "But we see Jesus,
who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and
honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of
God he might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9
1 Peter 2:1-3
2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves
of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may
grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord
is good. NIV
Tasting God’s grace makes it possible
to lead graceful lives.
2 Peter 3:17-18
17 Therefore, dear friends,
since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried
away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. NIV
Have you focused your life on growing
in the grace and knowledge of our Lord? The heart of Peter’s message
speaks of ministering God’s grace to others. The prerequisite for doing
so is first having tasted the grace of God for your own life.
It is impossible to minister God’s grace
when we haven’t experienced it for ourselves. Many babes in Christ
die in infancy because of their inability to live up to the impossible
standards which are thrown upon them by more mature (?) believers, who
so often fall short in those standards themselves.
When you family knows you don't pretend to
have it all together, that you admit failure, that you're sorry and want
to do better, they can handle almost any situation.
Christ focused his life on making
sure you would have an opportunity to experience God’s grace through his
life. This is the most basic fact of the gospel of Christ.
The only way to accept Christ’s life
for the atonement of your sins is through obedience to his command to die
with him in baptism (Mark 16:15-16). Paul was instructed
to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. If it is in baptism that
we wash away our sins, it is in baptism that we come in contact with the
blood of Christ. For only the blood of Christ can take away sin. When Jesus
instituted the Lord’s Super he said, "This
is my blood shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew
Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
Peter writes, "Therefore,
since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude,
because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin"
(1 Peter 4:1). The devil seeks to focus us on our anxieties, our pain and
disappointment. Nothing will clog our minds more. To live graceful lives
we must focus on God's grace.
Peter admonishes proper service to others
to move us to action as he writes, "Offer
hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9
NIV). We must offer hospitality without grumbling. Sometimes it is hard
to be the one doing all the giving. But it is your only hope of changing
others. You may come to the point where you expect something in return.
We may invite someone over for dinner expecting them to reciprocate in
like manner. When they fail to do so we grumble to ourselves. In Christian
fellowship grace is experienced and shared as we offer hospitality to one
another without grumbling. Grace is experienced when we give without demanding
Christian behavior should be learned within
our fellowship. In the first century Christians met in private homes, but
we don’t have to meet in our homes to extend hospitality. We can practice
hospitality in our church buildings. We built them to accommodate Christian
fellowship. Most church facilities set empty ninety percent of the time.
Why not use them for hospitality.
All you have to do is to develop a different
frame of mind; you must see yourself serving the Lord. Paul admonished
slaves to be obedient to their masters by reminding them, "It is the Lord
Christ you are serving" (Colossians 3:24-25). Focusing on serving Christ
changes your perspective. Remember in every circumstance you are serving
the Lord. Peter writes, "Each one should use
whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering
God's grace in its various forms." The verse emphasizes
faithfulness to God in dispensing his grace in various forms.
The only way to truly experience God’s
grace is to share it with others. God seems to do nothing of himself
which he can possibly delegate to his creatures. He commands us to do slowly
and blunderingly what he could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an
eye. Creation seems to be delegation through and through. God knows for
us to truly understand salvation by grace we must serve it to others.
Focus on how God desires to delegate
his grace to the world through the use your gifts. Focus on what
God has given you. Forget how much or little he has given you.
Dwight Moody said, "If this world is going
to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of
average talent. After all, there are comparatively few people in the world
who have great talents."
You can use whatever weakness
you have to serve God in his strength. God
used the apostles’ ignorance and unlearned ways to make the world stand
up and take notice. God used Joseph’s arrogance to place him in a position
to save his family. With Moses God used a mouth that stammered to bring
Egypt to her knees. With David he used a slingshot. With Gideon he used
a trumpet to call Israel to battle. God used Daniel’s slavery to accomplish
his purposes. With Paul he used a jail cell. He used every one of them
in a very effective way. Today he just wants to use me, and you.
Our everyday speech is a means of administering
the grace of God. Peter writes, "If
anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God."
We may want to think of this as a command to preachers. Paul admonishes
us, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth,
but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to
the hearers" ( Ephesians 4:29 NKJV)
Peter writes, "If
anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides . . ." The
strength God provides is only discovered in service to others.
I have learned more through seeking to share the gospel
of Christ with others than I would have ever learned if I were only studying
it for myself. There have been occasions when I have gained more insight
to what I was trying through an insightful question ask by a class member
than I learned in the few hours of preparing the lesson. Of course, preparing
for the lesson was what prepared me for the question.
I spoke to a young man in Cincinnati airport.
He was reading the book "The Living Buddha, The living Christ." I learned
why many seek Buddha. They seek to build a personal system of faith that
will save them. They are hoping to save themselves through building good
Karma. He was taking the good teaching of each, to build his personal system
of faith stronger; or should we say to increase his personal Karma. It
will leave him serving in his own strength. Peter is admonishing us to
minister God’s grace in God’s strength. Today many also seek to take Christ’s
teaching and accomplish the same purpose. I learned something that makes
me stronger through seeking to share God’s grace with that young man. The
next time I face this situation I will be better equipped to dispense God’s
grace because of what I learned from that sincere, though wrong, young
man. Exercising our faith makes us stronger.
Why do we serve in the strength God
provides? Peter writes, "If anyone
serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all
things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and
the power for ever and ever. Amen."
The reason we serve in the strength God provides
is "so that in all things God may be praised
through Jesus Christ."
Dispensing God’s grace is not easy,
but it is a sure way to learn to appreciate Christ’s love for me.
To make it easier focus your mind on how Christ’s love covered your sins
in baptism. Then focus on how his blood continually keeps you free of sin
moment by moment. Appreciate how badly you need this. It will help you
keep a cool head when you are mistreated. It will empower you to serve
others with the strength God provides. There is really no other way to
keep a cool head.