FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Grace Adopts Us into His Family

with Max Lucado | October 24, 2012
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Max Lucado shares the compelling story of Lee Nailling, a boy of eight who learned firsthand about adoption when his father put him and his two younger brothers on the orphan train from New York to Texas. Find out what happened to Lee, and what happens to us all, when God declares us to be His very own sons and daughters.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Max Lucado shares the compelling story of Lee Nailling, a boy of eight who learned firsthand about adoption when his father put him and his two younger brothers on the orphan train from New York to Texas. Find out what happened to Lee, and what happens to us all, when God declares us to be His very own sons and daughters.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Lee Nailling learned firsthand about adoption when his father put him and his two younger brothers on the orphan train from New York to Texas.

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Grace Adopts Us into His Family

With Max Lucado
October 24, 2012
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Bob:  The Gospel is God’s good news.  Max Lucado says one part of that good news is the news that God has got you. 

Max:  When He puts His heart in us—when He lays His claim on us—He’s never going to let us go.  I think this is such a happy part of the Gospel—such a glad part of the Gospel—because there are times in which I would have let me go.  There are times I would have said, “Okay, Lucado has done enough to disqualify himself from being at my table.  He just crossed the line.”  I would have done that to me, but the Scriptures say over and over, “That will not happen.  That will not happen.”  There are many fears in life, but the fear of being let go by God’s hands—I don’t need to have that fear.  He’s always got me. 

He will not un-adopt us.  That’s not going to happen.  An adoption requires a decision—a choice.  In some cases—often cases—you even get to see the child before you select them, but this is God.  God has examined you and me from stem to stern, from first day to last day, and He said, “You know what?  I want that child in My Kingdom.”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 24th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  How can you know that you are safe and secure in Christ?  We’re going to talk about that today with Max Lucado.  Stay tuned.      

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You probably won’t remember this, but back in the first month that FamilyLife Today was on the air—and we’re coming up on 20 years now—but November 1992, we went on the air.

Dennis:  I have to tell folks.  I wish we had taken some pictures of where Bob and I started—

Bob:  That studio. 

Dennis:  —started radio. 

Max Lucado joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Max, I want to acknowledge your presence because you’ll get a kick out of this.  We did studio in this—it had egg cartons on the ceiling—literal egg cartons—and pink Owens® fiberglass with lattice that was over it—insulated; alright? 

Bob:  It was a humble studio. 

Dennis:  And we got it for half-price!

Bob:  That’s right. 

Dennis:  —at $25 an hour.  [Laughter] 

Bob:  That’s why we were in the humble studio—

Max:  There you go. 

Bob:  —because we were trying to be wise stewards of what little money we had at the time. 

Dennis:  Right across the street was Asher Auto Salvage. 

Bob:  Yes. 

Dennis:  We called this studio “Bethlehem” because, out of humble places, — [Laughter]

Bob:  I remember one the things we had to do—because we started the program pretty quick—ahead of schedule.  We were on the air sooner than we thought we were going to be.  We were scrambling to get guests because we needed them for our radio program.  Dennis said to me, “Call this buddy of mine, who is a pastor.  Just see if he’s got anything.”  That’s basically where we were.  So, I called your pastor buddy, and I said—

Dennis:  “Have you got anything?” 

Bob:  —“Have you got anything?”  He said, “Well, I just did a series, here, at church, on grace.”  I thought, “Okay, come, talk to us about grace because we need it.”  I just want to tell you—20 years later—this wasn’t because we were desperate.  We really wanted to talk to you about your new book on grace.  We understand where it fits into families.  [Laughter]  

Dennis:  Max has written a book called Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine.  I didn’t realize this until I was preparing for this broadcast, Max; but you have a heart for children who are orphans—children in need.  You’ve kind of struck up a relationship with World Vision® and have addressed this over the past couple of decades or so? 

Max:  Well, it’s become more intense, the last four years, which we’ve kind of entered into a more formal partnership with World Vision. 

Dennis:  Why the heart for the orphan? 

Max:  Well, scripturally, James 1:27 says, “The true religion is this that you would abstain from evil desires” —or pursue holiness— “and that you would remember the widow and the orphan”—

Dennis:  Right.

Max:  —“in times of distress.” 

Dennis:  Right. 

Max:  The orphan is that person—the most vulnerable person—on the face of the earth.  It’s the person who needs us the most.  It just seemed right to me and to my wife, Denalyn, that we could leverage some of the credibility that we’ve earned, over the last few years, maybe—recognition—and use that to partner with World Vision.  We looked around for a relief organization that really seemed to have a great track record.  We love World Vision.  We love all of them, but World Vision just seemed to connect with us.  

So, we went into more of a partnership with them.  We’re trying to find sponsors for 25,000 kids.  Partnership means—make sure they get water and food, education, vaccination, and access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Dennis:  The issue of the orphan and adoption are really themed back to your book, Grace.  You tell a story about the orphan train.  I love this story because I’d done some research on this in the past, but you wrapped some flesh around it and told a story about a family.  Share that with our listeners. 

Max:  Yes, this is the most interesting story.  I loved it.  If you ever get a chance to read about the orphan train, there are several documentaries out about it—some books out about it.  I came across a story about a fellow named Lee Nailling, N-A-I-L-L-I-N-G—Nailling.  He was eight years old.  He was an orphan in New York City.  He and his two brothers were placed in the orphanage by their father. 

The orphan train was the idea of a gentleman in about the 1860’s, Dennis—if I remember correctly.  The idea was that they would put these orphans in New York City, Bob, on a train and just ship them west.  All these prairie families, who needed workers—all these farmers—and the West was kind of—they would pull into a small town in—as far west, as Kansas, or south, as Texas.  These kids would just be brought out and stand on the train platform.   

Sometimes, they’d be taken into a saloon or someplace—and the farming families would come.  They would examine the kids.  They would take two or three home if they wanted them.  It was a bit crude.  They would check their teeth.  They would see if they had muscles.  They would ask—they were looking—a lot of kids just didn’t get picked. 

Well, Lee Nailling’s story—and I could tell this all day.  It’s a fascinating story.  His brothers got picked, and he got picked over.  His dad, who put him on the train, gave him an envelope, with the return address.

Dennis:  Right. 

Max:  He said, “Someday, get in touch with me.”  When Lee Nailling woke up, after the first night on the train, the envelope was gone.  He never knew what happened to it. 

Dennis:  Didn’t know how to get a hold of his father. 

Max:  Didn’t know how to get a hold of his father.  So, his brother gets adopted.  Another brother gets adopted.  Lee Nailling, by this time, is all the way down in Texas; and he gets adopted.  Then, they change their minds; and they take him back.  Farmer family keeps him one night, and they decide they don’t want him—put him back on the—can you imagine?  Can you imagine? 

Well, finally, he gets adopted by this family.  Lee Nailling, in his mind, is thinking, “I’m going to escape tonight.  They’re going to kick me out anyway.  I’m going to escape tonight.”  They put him to bed.  Well, he’s so tired—he falls right asleep.  The next morning, he gets up.  He gets taken to breakfast.  He’s thinking, “I’m going to escape;” but this older man and this woman—they don’t have any other kids.  It’s just the three of them at the table.  Lee Nailling remembers the woman telling the father to lead the prayer.  He bows his head and he says, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.”  

Lee Nailling, in his story, says, “I didn’t know who this ‘Our Father’ was, and I didn’t know who these people were; but I looked up and across the table.  The father winked at me, and the mother smiled at me.  They reached over, and they petted me.”  He thought, “I may be in a place called home.”  They adopted him, and he went on to grow up in that home and to lead a wonderful life.  He gave his heart to Christ and became a great Christian man. 

The whole reason I put that story in my book is because that is a picture of grace.  That is a picture of grace—that we have been adopted.  In fact, that’s biblical language; isn’t it?—that we have been adopted into the family of God—that God has made a covenant with us to bring us and let us sit at the table and spend eternity with Him. 

Bob:  Well, it is a picture of grace.  In fact, you stop and think, “All of us are adopted children.”  I mean, that’s the metaphor that the Bible uses.  We—and stop and consider the power of that metaphor.  We are not brought in as slaves.  We’re brought in as children—full inheritance.  Our older brother shares the inheritance with us. 

Stop and think—if you were the sole inheritor of a fortune and you said, “You know what?  I want to just open this up and share it with all these adopted brothers and sisters.” I mean, after one or two adoptions, you’d say to Dad, “Look, this is going to water down my inheritance,” but the riches of God are inexhaustible.   Nothing gets watered down, and the abundance—the metaphor is so strong, so powerful, that—when we stop and think about adoption and what it pictures for us, it ought to bring us to tears. 

Max:  I love—you’re right, the metaphor just is endless.  I love that phrase—it’s often used—we hear of unwanted or surprise pregnancies, but we never hear of a surprise adoption. 

Bob:  Right. 

Max:  You know?  You never just say, “Oops!  I accidentally adopted somebody.”  [Laughter]  You hear, “Oops!  Oh, we’re pregnant,” but never, “Oops!  We adopted somebody.”  An adoption requires a decision—a choice.  In some cases—often cases—you even get to see the child before you select them.  Well, this is God.  God has examined you and me from stem to stern, from first day to last day; and He said, “You know what?  I want that child in My Kingdom” —  

Bob:  —with everything that’s wrong with them. 

Max:  —with everything that’s wrong with them. 

Dennis:  He didn’t inspect our teeth.  [Laughter]  He just said, “I want you in”—

Max:  That’s right. 

Dennis:  —“my family.”  I can say this, Max—when I was reading your book, and I felt your heart for the orphan, and saw how you positioned it around this theme of grace—I thought, “That’s really true.”   In my life, Barbara and I have one of our six children that is adopted.  We don’t know which one, just adopted this child—that’s supposed to be a joke, Max.  [Laughter]  Max was kind of—

Max:  I thought, “Well, maybe this is a family secret.”  [Laughter]

Dennis:  No.  No, but I would say I have learned much more about grace through my relationship with my adopted daughter than I have through our biological children—some really fascinating lessons of love and of grace. 

In fact, I just talked with her just a few moments ago, before stepping in the studio, and just had a delightful conversation with her—hearing of God’s work in her life and how He’s giving her courage.  She’s just become a remarkable, young lady. 

I mean—but I would never have understood the Father’s heart for us, as His adopted children, if we had not ventured out in that journey of faith—just said, “God, are You calling us to do this—to go call one our own—and graft that child into your family with no difference?”  It really is a powerful illustration of grace, like you’re talking about. 

Max:  Can I ask you a question? 

Dennis:  Sure. 

Max:  I know this is your show, but can I ask you a question?  [Laughter] 

Dennis:  I’ve had a couple of guests turn the tables on me. 

Max:  I’m just curious.  Did your child, the adopted daughter, ever misbehave? 

Dennis:  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes. 

Max:  Did you un-adopt her? 

Dennis:  No.  No; never.  In fact, you know, I told her when she went through a real difficult time in her life—I looked her in the eye and I said, “One thousand times out of one thousand, I’d do it again.” 

Max:  Wow.

Dennis:  It became kind of a little by-line with us, “One thousand out of one thousand.”  To your point, once you’re in—

Max:  —you’re in. 

Dennis:  —you’re in!  I’ll turn this back to you now, at this point.  You’ve said, as you’ve spoken on this theme of grace, “One of the applications you’ve seen people most thirsty for is around the subject of eternal security.” 

Max:  Exactly.  That’s exactly where I was headed.  I love you, Dennis.  I think you’re a great man, but even you are a sinner. 

Dennis:  No doubt. 

Max:  If you can extend that kind of covenant, as a sinful man—

Dennis:  Right. 

Max:  —to your daughter—the Bible says how much more can God, Who is holy, perfect, endless, righteous—has all of these attributes—how much more can He, then, turn—He will not un-adopt us.  That’s not going to happen.  When He puts His heart on us, when He lays His claim on us, He’s never going to let us go.  I think this is such a happy part of the Gospel—such a glad part of the Gospel—because there are times in which I would have let me go—

Dennis:  Oh, yes. 

Max:  —honestly.  There were times I would have said, “Okay, Lucado has done enough to disqualify himself from being at my table.  He’s just crossed the line.”  I would have done that to me; but the Scriptures say over and over, “That will not happen.  That will not happen.”  There are many fears in life, but the fear of being let go by God’s hand—I don’t need to have that fear.  He’s always got me. 

Bob:  I remember, a number of months ago, I had a great privilege of spending a day in a correctional facility in Colorado, with a man who is in his 50s.  His dad was a preacher.  In his junior high years, this young man headed in the wrong direction—started hanging out with the wrong folks, started making unwise decisions, and found himself in the county jail and doing time, as a result of that. 

When he was let out of jail, he decided that he was going to head on the right path.  He did for a while.  In fact, he got involved with a church.  He, at one point—he was preaching.  He was the pastor of the church.  Then, things got crossways at the church.  They decided to let him go.  He said, “I didn’t know how to handle that.  The only way I knew how to handle disappoint like that was the way I’d always handled it.”  He said, “I lapsed back into this old life,” and he wound up in jail again. 

Here he is—headed off, for a second time, down on charges.  He said, “I was sitting in the jail.  I was hearing some guys, in the cell, talk about the Bible.”  He said, “They were making a mess of it.”  He said, “I knew enough about the Bible, and I knew that they were making a mess with what they were doing.”  He said, “I got down, and I said to them, ‘No, that’s not what that passage means.’”  He said, “The passage was Romans 7”—at the end of Romans 7, where Paul is wrestling with this whole issue of, ‘Why do I do the things I don’t really want to do?’  He gets to the point where he says, ‘Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?’” 

The guy, who was in prison, said, “At that point, I had to go be alone.”  He said, “So, I went to the toilet stall in the Denver County Jail.  I sat there, and I argued with God.  I said, ‘You can’t still love me.  Given what I’ve done, You can’t still love me.’”  He said, “I just heard God say, ‘I love you.’  I said, ‘You can’t, God.  You can’t love me.  I’ve rejected You.  I’ve transgressed.  I’ve thrown things back in Your face.  You can’t still love me.’”  He said, “I just kept hearing God say, ‘I still love you.’” 

He headed off to do a twenty-plus year sentence in prison.  He’s still in there, but you know what he’s been doing for the last 20 years?  He has been teaching men what it means to be a godly man—taking them through courses and discipling guys.  He’s been an evangelist, in prison.  He’s been a minister of the Gospel, behind bars, grateful for God’s saving work in his life.  It all started with him saying, “It’s possible that God can still love me, after all of this.”  When we can start to understand that, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....” that transforms how we live; doesn’t it? 

Dennis:  It really does.  In fact, Max doesn’t know this; but that story of what Bob did in that prison—he actually filmed a video of Ricky Servine [spelling uncertain]—that is in our new Stepping Up video series for men.  The story is almost all of Session Four.  It is the Gospel because it is a picture of how God can set a man free—who is physically in prison—but he can be a freer man, in prison, than some people are—who are in the outside of those fences. 

As you were talking, I just kept thinking just about this issue of eternal security, and how God redeems us, and the kind of grace He offers us.  I just remember this passage ministering to me because I struggled with the issue of eternal security when the spiritual lights came on in my life when I was a college student.  Someone shared this passage; and I’ll not read all of it from John, Chapter 10, where Jesus is talking about how He’s the Good Shepherd. 

He summarizes it, at the end.  He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them; and they follow me; and I give them eternal life...”  Then, listen to these promises.  Jesus says, “...and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”  Who’s got you? —Almighty God! 

Max:  Almighty God. 

Dennis:  He selected you.  He adopted you.  You’re in! 

Max:  You’re in.

Dennis:  You’re in the family.  You can’t be unborn—

Max:  Absolutely; absolutely. 

Dennis:  —from the family. 

Max:  I find this message of eternal security to be especially comforting for people who have prodigal children.  When I talk to somebody, whose children have walked away from the Church, or walked away from Christ—it’s not ours to know if a person has truly given their heart to Christ—but many of these parents can remember a time in which they saw their child surrender their heart to Christ.  I say, “That child belongs to God.  He still does.  He’s not fruitful right now.  He may not be faithful right now, but God’s not going to let that child go.”   I think parents, who struggle with children who have wandered away from the faith—they need that hope.  There will be those in heaven, I think, who gave their heart to Christ.  Then, they led a fruitless and faithless life.  I know that can come across as being disrespectful.  I don’t mean it to be.  

God is so great that He is going to use that life, somehow, for His glory; but if somebody gives their heart to Christ, Christ is going to hold on to them.  He’s going to hold—of course, it’d be better if they were faithful.  Of course, it’d be better if they were fruitful.  Of course, they’d be happier if they were living and walking in Christ; but let’s don’t ever put salvation back on our shoulders.  Let’s keep it where it was, where it started—in Jesus—His death on the Cross. 

Dennis:  And I celebrate that with you.  I would add this one thing to what you just described.  I also find it vastly comforting, to me, to know that a prodigal moment is covered by that same grace—

Max:  Amen. 

Dennis:  —because what man doesn’t have—

Max:  That’s true. 

Dennis:  —or woman—

Max:  That’s true. 

Dennis:  —a prodigal moment?

Max:  Right. 

Dennis:  The prodigal son or daughter may go off for a season or two, or what looks like a lifetime, by the time we pass, but—

Max:  Exactly.  We have prodigal hours; right?—

Dennis:  We sure—

Max:  —or prodigal weekends.   

Dennis:  Yes.  I mean—I forget when it was, in the past week—but it all of a sudden hit me, about noon, “I hadn’t said a word to God today.”

Max:  Yes. 

Dennis:  It’s like, “Really?!  What’s that about?!  Huh?”  [Laughter]  But the grace of God is greater.  Let’s all start singing the song: ...than all my sin

Max, I hope this book does great. 

Max:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

Dennis:  It’s a great book.  You’re a great friend, and I just appreciate you being one of the few that read one of my books.  [Laughter] 

Bob:  And we’re going to go ahead and set up the autograph table now.  So, if you want to get in line. 

Max:  Line looks pretty short!  [Laughter] 

Bob:  If you are interested in getting a copy of Max’s new book, Grace, you don’t have to get in line.  All you have to do is go to  The book is available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  You can order from us, online, if you would like.  Again, the website is 

If you are interested in the book that Dennis wrote—that Max read—that’s available as well.  Again, go to for more information about these books; or call us, toll-free, 1-800-358-6329.  That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. 

Now, once again, today, we want to take just a minute and say a big, “Thank you,” to the folks who make FamilyLife Today possible—those of you who listen and get in touch with us, from time to time, and let us know how God has used this ministry in your life.  First of all, we want you to know we are encouraged when we hear from you.  Secondly, we appreciate the fact that, from time to time, you will make a donation to support the ministry.  The cost of producing and syndicating this program is significant.  Without you guys helping out, we couldn’t do it.  So, when you support FamilyLife Today, you’re helping to keep it on this local station, on our network of stations, all across the country.  Of course, you’re helping us keep the lights on, keep the internet site up and running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Again, we appreciate your financial support. 

When you make a donation, this month, we’d like to send you, as a thank-you gift, a two-CD set—a conversation we had with Shaunti Feldhahn, the author of a book called For Women Only, where she interviewed hundreds of men and asked them about what was important to them in their relationship with their wives.  The results were pretty interesting. 

We’ll share those CD’s with you as our way of saying, “Thank you for your donation, of any amount, to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.”  Make a donation, online, at  Click the button that says, “I CARE”; and we’ll send the CDs to you.  Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  You can make a donation over the phone and ask for the CD’s, For Women Only, with Shaunti Feldhahn.  Again, we’re happy to send them out to you.  We appreciate your support of this ministry. 

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about dating and relationships and, “How far is too far?”  The answer may surprise you.  We’ll have that conversation tomorrow.  Hope you can be here with us for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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