Your Feedback Must Come From Love

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Do you want to improve in one of your roles? Do you want to grow? Then seek out honest, detailed feedback. It may sting, but it can be eye-opening and transformative.

Anyone learning this lesson knows that not all feedback is created equal. For example, student evaluations have limited value for me as a teacher. Students often write about what would make my class less demanding for them. They want an easier semester and a higher grade. Since their objective in giving feedback doesn’t match my goals or priorities, I don’t usually gain much from their evaluations.

I find gems on occasion. A student will see what I’ve been trying to accomplish and let me know what’s working and what isn’t. These students don’t focus on themselves, but they relate their experience to my goals in an honest attempt to help me improve.

The posture of the person giving feedback makes all the difference.

Jethro and Moses

In Exodus 18, we read of a prolonged encounter between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro. This occurs just before Moses goes up Mount Sinai to meet with God.

After Jethro arrived at the Israelite camp, he observed Moses’s routine. He was troubled.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Exodus 18:17–18)

Jethro was concerned about both Moses and the people. He didn’t want them to wear out. His feedback was rooted in his care for Moses and the rest of the people.

In examining Jethro’s advice, we must not ignore the first half of the chapter. Jethro arrives with Moses’s wife and sons (v.5), greets Moses with warm affection (v.7), and hears about “all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake” (v.8).

Jethro’s response is striking. He rejoices (v.9), confesses God’s supremacy above all other gods (v.11), and worships God with Aaron and the elders of Israel (v.12). Given that Jethro enters the chapter as a priest of another religion (v.1), many interpreters view this as a turn toward God. If Jethro is not converted here, he is clearly interested and sympathetic to the Israelite religion.

It took me a while to connect the two halves of Exodus 18. Why do we need Moses’s testimony and Jethro’s reaction? Previously, Moses was connected to Jethro by marriage, but now he knows (and we know) more of Jethro’s heart. Jethro’s advice comes from love. Because Jethro cares for Moses and the Israelite people (with whom he may now identify religiously), he cautions them about a harmful practice.

Moses did all that Jethro suggested (v.24), and we can assume what Jethro predicted came to pass: Moses endured and the people went their way in peace (v.23).

Ground Your Feedback in Love

The debate over Jethro’s conversion is only tangentially related to my point. Because of God’s common grace, we should be open to feedback from outside the church.

But feedback given in love is powerful. It can make all the difference between someone hearing or ignoring your advice.

Of course, it’s far too easy to critique for reasons other than love. We’ve all done it.

  • You critique because you want things to be familiar.
  • You critique because you esteem another person or place highly.
  • You critique because you want to be correct.
  • You critique because your preferences aren’t shared.
  • You critique because you compare your situation to an unrealistic ideal.
  • You critique because you want your way.

When we give feedback like this, we act more like correctors or evaluators than loving, helpful friends. It’s a sure way to discourage, to make someone feel like they are always being measured or tested or rated. No one wants to be a project.

I’m prone to a critical spirit, and I’ve given plenty of lousy feedback in the past. By God’s grace, I’m trying to move away from harsh and relentless criticism. Toward this end, I’m trying to think through these questions as I give feedback.

  • Do I love this person/organization? — Hopefully the answer is yes, but even our best intentions can sour over time. Pray for this person, not only that God would use your feedback for their good, but that God would bless them richly in all aspects of their life. Pray that God would create or sustain love for them within you.
  • Am I too negative? — Even in the midst of criticism, we should find ways to encourage the other person by pointing out how God is at work in their life or in this situation. Remember that “to encourage” means “to give courage” — offering a mountain of unvarnished negativity doesn’t prepare anyone to face the next challenge.
  • Am I proud? — When giving feedback, a humble posture is essential. Acknowledge that any expertise or ability or wisdom you have is from God, and underline the fact that you haven’t arrived. We all need correction and we all need to grow. Acknowledge the difficulty of the hard tasks or the repentance you are suggesting. Point your friend to the depths of forgiveness, love, and power that God offers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tell your friend how God has been your strength and shield and deliverer.

Photo Credit: Siggy Nowak (2011), public domain

The One

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The One

I’ll be the one to grow old without pain,
I’ll be the exception.
Others have tried to gain before gain
always to face rejection.

I’ll be the one to avoid creaky knees.
Arthritis, bad back I’ll resist.
Stay active, stay strong, get plenty of z’s,
I’ll check every box on the list.

I’ll be the one with no lasting disease.
Cholesterol, cancer—no way.
I’ll beat back genetics with veggies and teas.
Organic? I’m willing to pay.

I’ll be the one with an ever-sharp mind.
I’ll slow down not even a bit.
Confusion, dementia—I’ll leave them behind,
I’ll read and converse to stay fit.

Headstrong, determined, and foolish I go,
ignoring the reason One was made low.

He was the one who loved and obeyed
each of his thirty-three years.
Willing to suffer, he saw his strength fade
through anguish and blood-coated tears.

He was the one without sin of his own
who bore a hellish, foul load.
His heavenly army stayed back near the throne
as he stumbled up Calvary’s road.

He was the one who sought heaven’s joy
instead of power or ease.
The works of the devil and flesh to destroy,
the Father’s wrath to appease.

He is the one who’s readied a place
helping me properly long
for curse-free communion at last face to face
adopted and loved in the throng.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

What My Children Taught Me About Grace

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Daddy!

As I take my keys out of my pocket, the piano stops and the stampede begins. My children rush to the back door and fling it wide before I can unlock it. I am enveloped in hugs, and my day is made.

This is the scene at my house many times when I get home from work. It doesn’t always happen, and I don’t presume it will continue on indefinitely. (And it doesn’t happen only for me!) But, what a blessing it is! God has given my kids a love for me that I don’t deserve, and the occasional exuberance is wonderful.

This end-of-day greeting isn’t just a blessing of fatherhood. It’s a picture of God’s grace.

A Picture of Grace

I’m far from a perfect father. I’m frequently impatient, too quick to anger, and sometimes just mean or clumsy with my children’s feelings. In an honest accounting, I don’t deserve the extravagant love my children show me.

But my children give me what I don’t deserve. Instead of a cold shoulder, they embrace me. Instead of hesitating, they run. They let me know, unmistakably, that they are glad to see me.

I feel immediate acceptance when I peer through our back window and see those small, smiling faces. I don’t need to bring anything, say anything, or do anything. In that moment, their love does not depend on what I have done for them or what I might do for them. The greeting I receive has no relation to my recent behavior toward them at all—on most days I haven’t seen them for almost eight hours.

This sounds familiar, right? My children’s love is a small, imperfect pointer toward the grace of God. His constant, lavish, maximum love toward those who don’t deserve it—this is his grace and the heartbeat of the Christian life.

A Biblical Truth

Don’t just take my word for it. And don’t let a sentimental fact about my family convince you God is like this. This picture resonates with me because it is the description of divine love we see in the Bible.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8–12, ESV)

And God’s grace is fully and finally realized in the giving of his son for sinners.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3–7, ESV)

Embracing Grace

Grace like this demands a response. Overflowing love, once offered, changes us in one way or another.

Do you know the grace of God? You have never been loved like this, so it might seem unreal. And yet, it is certain. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can enter God’s house. We don’t need to sneak in a window, we don’t knock ashamed—God opens the door himself.

He is glad to see you. He invites you to sit down with him and rest. And the music starts to play once again.


Photo Credit: Petra (2014), public domain

A Parable on the Reading of Blogs

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Once there was a land that needed a new governor. So the king sent to this land a certain young, well-respected man. Though this man did not know the land he was sent to govern, both the man and the people were excited.

The man and his wife moved into the governor’s mansion, hired a staff, and began to settle in. The mansion was enormous, far larger than any place they had lived before, and there was one wing of the mansion for which they could think of no use.

The governor wanted to get to know his people. It was his habit to take long walks in the morning for exercise, so he ended each walk at the city market.

The market was expansive and busy, filled with the sights, smells, and noises you would expect. Since his staff did his shopping, he had no need to linger by the meats, produce, or baked goods. Instead, he spent most of his time with the artists.

The governor had been raised to love art in every form. He adored music, theater, sculpture, and photography, but he prized paintings above all. He couldn’t get enough.

This city had a thriving community of established and aspiring painters, so the artists’ section of the market was sprawling. New booths popped up weekly. Some sold cheap imitations or outright forgeries, but there were many paintings of astonishing skill, beauty, and insight. The governor’s stroll through the market always left him refreshed and inspired.

After several months, the governor began to feel different after his walks. His brain felt busy, like it was always spinning and never resting. The flood of new paintings was overwhelming, and though he feared missing a gem, he began to wonder about the effect on his soul.

The governor was troubled. He knew exceptional artists at the market—their work deserved more attention. But they couldn’t compete with the volume and speed of the marketplace. They made a living, but their paintings had little impact.

The governor returned from the market one morning, these thoughts swimming in his head. As he walked through the house to meet his wife for lunch, he passed the unused wing of the mansion. An idea struck him in an instant.

He would turn the east wing of the mansion into a gallery. He would preserve the best art in the city by displaying it himself. His gallery would be open to the public on a limited basis, but he could walk through the rooms whenever he wanted.

His wife embraced the idea immediately. Over the next months, the couple visited the market together and carefully purchased the best paintings they saw. Some works depicted scenes of terrific, arresting beauty. Others showed heartbreaking loss, tragedy, or loneliness. Still others championed hope, truth, or forgiveness.

Most paintings would have a limited run in the gallery. Some of the works spoke to the political and social issues of the moment. Others, because of his mood or particular moment in life, struck a note within the governor that might never ring again. But the governor and his wife were delighted to give these paintings an extended life. They hired a curator.

The governor wasn’t trying to make a huge statement with his gallery. He knew he had a lot to learn, and if other citizens wanted to join him, all the better.

The governor continued to visit the artists’ booths in the market periodically. But he learned that lingering over a painting or two in his gallery was almost always better for his soul.


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Photo Credit: Rudy and Peter Skitterians (2016), public domain

The Trinity Makes All the Difference

What is God like? It’s hard to imagine a more important question.

Different faiths answer this question differently. Is God the same as nature? Is God found inside every person? Is God one, all-powerful, and distant?

At the heart of Christianity stands a triune God.

For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation, and salvation of this God, the triune God. (Delighting in the Trinity, pp.15,16)

In reading Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, I saw how vital God’s nature is to Christianity. It affects everything! If we begin elsewhere, we simply do not end up with biblical Christianity.

The Path to the Trinity

Most cultural discussions about God begin with (or assume) the foundation of God as creator. But is this the best starting place? Is God’s primary identity his role as Creator?

Michael Reeves says no.

First of all, if God’s very identity is to be The Creator, The Ruler, then he needs a creation to rule in order to be who he is. For all his cosmic power, then, this God turns out to be pitifully weak: he needs us. (Reeves, p.19)

Reeves goes on to show that the salvation a primarily-Creator God can offer is unsatisfying and, ultimately, self-contradictory. He writes that our relationship with such a god is similar to our relationship to the police.

If, as never happens, some fine cop were to catch me speeding and so breaking the rules, I would be punished; if, as never happens, he failed to spot me or I managed to shake him off after an exciting car chase, I would be relieved. But in neither case would I love him. And even if, like God, he chose to let me off the hook for my law-breaking, I still would not love him. I might feel grateful, and that gratitude might be deep, but that is not at all the same thing as love. And so it is with the divine policeman: if salvation simply means him letting me off and counting me as a law-abiding citizen, then gratitude (not love) is all I have. In other words, I can never really love the God who is essentially just The Ruler. And that, ironically, means I can never keep the greatest command: to love the Lord my God. (Reeves, p.20)

An alternative way to think about God is simply this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The fact that Jesus is a Son means that he has a Father. “That is who God has revealed himself to be: not first and foremost Creator or Ruler, but Father.” (Reeves, p.21)

This starting place is not merely philosophical, it is Jesus’s own stance. In John 17:24 Jesus says that the Father loved him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world. Before there was any created matter, with nothing to rule, God was a Father loving his Son.

The biblical faith is a Trinitarian faith, and the biblical calls to faith are thoroughly Trinitarian .

John wrote his gospel, he tells us, so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). But even that most basic call to believe in the Son of God is an invitation to a Trinitarian faith. Jesus is described as the Son of God. God is his Father. And he is the Christ, the one anointed with the Spirit. When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is a triune God that you get. (Reeves, p.37)

Creation

reevesI’m late to the party on Delighting in the Trinity. The book was published in 2012 and appeared on several best-of lists that year. But the truths in this book are timeless, and Reeves writes with such clarity, cheer, and care that this was easily the best book I read in 2016. My socks, as they say, were knocked clear off.

Throughout the book, Reeves contrasts the Trinity with a single-person god. More than just a philosophical exercise, this strategy shows just how different the God of the Bible is and how dramatically his trinitarian nature affects everything.

Take creation—would a single-person god create?

Single-person gods, having spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything else to exist. Wouldn’t the existence of a universe be an irritating distraction for the god whose greatest pleasure is looking in a mirror? Creating just looks like a deeply unnatural thing for such a god to do. And if such gods do create, they always seem to do so out of an essential neediness or desire to use what they create merely for their own self-gratification. (Reeves, p.41)

Following Karl Barth, Reeves explains why creating is natural for the Christian God.

Since God the Father has eternally loved his Son, it is entirely characteristic of him to turn and create others that he might also love them. Now Barth is absolutely not saying that God the Son was created or is in any way less than fully God. It is that the Father has always enjoyed loving another, and so the act of creation by which he creates others to love seems utterly appropriate for him. (42)

Reeves explains that the fellowship and love within the Trinity overflows in creation. Our God is not primarily aloof and alone, but he enjoys loving, blessing, and declaring creation “good.”

Salvation

The triune nature of God also makes sense of our sin and salvation.

The nature of the triune God makes all the difference in the world to understanding what went wrong when Adam and Eve fell. It means something happened deeper than rule-breaking and misbehavior: we perverted love and rejected him, the one who made us to love and be loved by him. (Reeves, p.68)

If God is trinitarian and made us in his image, then “we are created to delight in harmonious relationship, to love God, to love each other.” (Reeves, p.65) Our sin is fundamentally a lack of love or a turning of our love.

So, why did Jesus come? Why did God want to restore relationship with us?

Without the cross, we could never have imagined the depth and seriousness of what it means to say that God is love. […] Jesus’ self-giving love is entirely unconstrained and free. It comes, not from any necessity, but entirely out of who he is, the glory of his Father. Through the cross we see a God who delights to give himself. […][T]he Father sent his son to make himself known—meaning not that he wanted simply to download some information about himself, but that the love the Father eternally had for the Son might be in those who believe in him, and that we might enjoy the Son as the Father always has. (Reeves, p.69)

This underlines the uniqueness of the trinitarian nature of God.

Here, then, is a salvation no single-person God would offer even if they wanted to: the Father so delights in his eternal love for the Son that he desires to share it with all who will believe. Ultimately, the Father sent the Son because the Father so loved the Son—and wanted to share that love and fellowship. His love for the world is the overflow of his almighty love for his Son. (Reeves, p.69–70)

The result of the salvation Jesus accomplished is therefore also trinitarian.

The Father so loves that he desires to catch us up into that loving fellowship he enjoys with the Son. And that means I can know God as he truly is: as Father. In fact, I can know the Father as my Father. (Reeves, p.71)

Clearly the salvation of this God is better even than forgiveness, and certainly more secure. Other gods might offer forgiveness, but this God welcomes and embraces us as his children, never to send us away. (For children do not get disowned for being naughty.) (Reeves, p.76)

How would salvation look different with a single-person God?

If God was not a Father, he could never give us the right to be his children. If he did not enjoy eternal fellowship with his Son, one has to wonder if he would have any fellowship to share with us, or if he would even know what fellowship looks like. […] If the Son himself had never been close to the Father, how could he bring us close? (Reeves, p.77)

Everything Else

The triune nature of God affects everything: creation, salvation, and so much more. Here’s just a sample.

Because God is triune, the church is a family.

But the triune God’s delight in family still stands. And so the Father sends the Son, not only to reconcile us to himself, but to reconcile us to each other in order that the world might be a place of harmony, reflecting their harmony. […] The Spirit wins male and female, black and white, Jew and Gentile all to the same uniting love of God which spills over into a heartfelt love of one another. He unites us to the Son so that together we cry “Abba” and begin to know each other truly as brothers and sisters. For the new humanity is a new family; it is the spreading family of the Father. (Reeves, p.103)

Because God is triune, missions are about the nature of God.

For it is not, then, that God lounges back in heaven, simply phoning in his order that we get on with evangelism so that he might get more servants. If that were the case, evangelism would take a lot of self-motivation—and you can always tell when the church thinks like that, for that’s when evangelism gets left to the more adrenaline-stoked salespeople/professionals. But the reality is so different. The truth is that God is already on mission: in love, the Father has sent his Son and his Spirit. It is the outworking of his very nature. (Reeves, p.105)

Reeves goes on to show how the biblical picture of God informs many of the words we use about God, like holiness, wrath, and glory.

Because the Trinity affects everything, there’s more to ponder. For example, how does the Trinity affect apologetics? Reeves argues that:

It is crucially important, then, that Christians be clear and specific about which God we believe in. We must not be heard to believe in just any “God,” but in this God. Today that seems especially vital. (Reeves, p.112)

How should we talk about God with unbelievers? Should we introduce the Trinity right away, or should we establish some common ground first?

This is a short book, and so it cannot and should not cover everything. But it covers so much, so well. The glorious, loving truth of the triune nature of God will probably take a lifetime (and then some) to unpack, but I’m glad I’ve started the journey. If you’d like to begin a similar hike, I can’t recommend Delighting in the Trinity more highly.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press

The Default Posture of Love

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It was a delightfully ordinary morning. I was well-rested, blessed by the routines of both the previous evening and the present day. I was enjoying the silence and stillness. Then my children awoke.

Though this happens every day, something was different. I was immediately on edge, listening critically to their conversation and actions. I felt like a coiled spring, ready to bounce upstairs to correct, scold, or yell at the slightest provocation.

Default Positions

We all know a bit about defaults. A default is a position assumed automatically without active choice. We’ve all accidentally subscribed to an email newsletter (or fifty) because we didn’t uncheck the proper box.

On this particular morning, my default position toward my children was one of suspicion and anger. Before they said or did anything, I took on an adversarial stance; I assumed they would soon need correction or discipline. I’m convicted as I remember this attitude, because it’s simply not the way a Christian should think about his kids.

A False View of God

Christian fathers have a weighty task. Whenever they interact with their children, they speak about God’s fatherhood. Like it or not, kids will learn what God is like as a father (in part) by watching, playing with, and listening to their dad.

In my posture toward my children, I was promoting a false view of God.

The culture at large thinks of God as a scold, a grade-school nun eager to draw blood from knuckles with a ruler. The clear, Scriptural evidences of God’s holiness and judgment are used to paint God as perpetually angry, just waiting for us to sin so he can strike. He may be merciful, but only as a last-second shield from his wrath.

These conceptions of God do not square with the biblical picture, especially for Christians.

The True View of God

If you are a Christian, God loves you (1 John 4:10). Your faith is an evidence of his love. He cannot love you any more, and he cannot love you any less. Full stop.

There is not a drop of his wrath remaining toward you (Rom 8:1). Every last ounce was wrung out on Jesus in your place (Rom 5:6–11). Because he is just, God is not waiting for you to fall. (Though he will pick you up when you do.)

Of course, God disciplines us as a loving father (Heb 12:3–11). But God’s discipline comes as needed, in just the right measure and at just the right time. It is never extraneous or excessive; it is never vengeful or disproportionate. His discipline is perfect and perfectly loving.

In short, God’s posture toward us is one of love.

A Godly Vision of Fatherhood

Perhaps the application for parents is clear. Our default posture toward our children must be one of love and peace. We should rejoice at the God-given relationship we have. Friends come and go, but these will be our children forever. Instead of suspicion and anger, my resting state with my children must be warmth and joy, especially if I am to teach them about God.

This posture doesn’t excuse sin or disobedience. In fact, it provides the biblical context for addressing disobedience.

I can love because I am loved. I can help because I have been helped. I can forgive because I have been forgiven. I can correct, guide, and instruct because my Father does the same for me.

For yourself, and for your children, this makes all the difference in the world.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

A Christian Defense of Dad Jokes

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If you have a dad, you’ve probably heard a dad joke. If you are a dad, you’ve probably told one (or a hundred).

Dad jokes are silly jokes that fathers tell, mostly to get a reaction from their children. Laughter will do, but a roll of the eyes or an exclamation of Daaaa-dddyy! — well, those are fine, too.

Since dad jokes aren’t typically good jokes, they might seem extraneous. But don’t write them off. Dad jokes serve an important purpose, and we’d be poorer as a society (and as a church) without them.

The Importance of Laughter

If real joy is at the center of the Christian life, then laughter cannot be far behind. A joyful Christian need not always wear a smile, but a Christian who never laughs is hard to fathom.

There are abundant reasons for laughter all around us. God’s world is full of bizarre and hilarious creatures doing bizarre and hilarious things. Doubting readers should visit their local zoo and spend 30 minutes pondering the giraffe.

God’s providence can make us smile just as often as his creation. Sometimes God governs the world with a “frowning providence” (William Cowper), but other times the unfolding of our lives is wonderful: a friendly cashier just when you need a smile; your elderly neighbors holding hands on their afternoon walk; the joy in your heart when an old friend calls for a chat. God means for these glimpses of his grace to delight and cheer us.

So laughter is an appropriate, humble response to a sovereign creator who himself has a sense of humor. But laughter is essential to loving our neighbors as well. No one wants to befriend a stick in the mud. Shared laughter or a well-timed joke can build friendship in powerful ways. Developing our God-given senses of humor makes us the sort of people others want to be around and listen to.

Raising Funny People

Of course, a sense of humor is more readily caught than taught. The best way to help kids develop a sense of humor is to be funny with them. Parents have been doing this with their children for centuries, and children love it.

Though our children will eventually sail away, their preparatory time in the safe harbor of their family is critical. At home, children won’t be rejected or embarrassed if a joke falls flat. Children can test and develop their senses of humor in a supportive environment.

This playful encouragement is especially important for young children. As toddlers learn to speak, they have all kinds of struggles with words—some confusing and some just funny. (No one avoids the pee versus pea jokes, right?) So much humor hinges on facility with language—homonyms, puns, rhyming—that experimenting with words should be celebrated in our homes.

Dads Are Leaders

Dad jokes are probably so named because men typically enjoy the silliness more than women. But the name also reflects a natural part of a father’s calling.

Fathers are leaders in their homes. I take this as a given, though hearty, cheerful defenses of this biblical doctrine abound. A man’s leadership as husband and father is to be Christlike—warm, gentle, firm, and sacrificial. His loving leadership should extend to all aspects of the home, including the laughter that echoes from room to room.

Dad jokes are a natural outworking of the sacrificial love of a Christian father. (Stay with me!) See, the goof in a dad joke is the dad himself. A dad joke doesn’t make fun of others, it doesn’t draw on bathroom gags, vulgarity, or stereotypes; at its heart, a dad joke says Can you believe I thought this was funny? In telling dad jokes, fathers help their children to learn what is funny at their own expense.

Beyond Dad Jokes

Dad jokes are the baby food of humor. They help children develop their palate, learning what is funny and what isn’t. They tickle and prompt a child to chew over language and delight in their circumstances.

If you only tell dad jokes, you’re probably not very funny. But dad jokes are a valuable part of a faithful father’s joke arsenal. They help him prepare his children to enjoy God and his world and to be salt and light to those around them.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

A Christmas Lament

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Almighty God,

You created a good world, but right now it is hard to see.

In so many places, your world is marred, defaced, and ugly. I see hatred, fear, and sin across the globe, throughout this country, and in the mirror. Without your intervention, I have no hope.

How long, O Lord, will men, women, and children be murdered by their own government? The images and stories coming from Aleppo are nightmarish. These people made in your image, trapped and tortured and terrified—they need you. Please bring relief, please bring peace, please bring daily bread, shelter, and aid to those who need it.

How long, O Lord, will the United States be fractured and divided? We are so quick to be suspicious of a skin color or accent or background different from our own. And our problems run deep. Much of the structure of our country favors the already-privileged and leaves the disadvantaged without hope. Our recent election has made reasonable people fearful, angry, and dispirited.

Within your church, the situation seems no better. We ignore or belittle those in our communities who need love and help. We make little effort to speak with or understand those who are different. Instead of being known by our love, we are often known by hate, ignorance, and apathy. O God, help us love our neighbors! Send the gospel of your son and your common grace for peace within our nation.

How long, O Lord, will you leave me to battle my sin? I feel alone so often when facing temptation, and I do not have the strength to resist. Why do these same patterns of rebellion remain after so many years? You are not weak or uncaring—why won’t you change my heart? Please equip me in the fight against sin; remind me of your love, your work, and your presence with me. Despite my repeated failure, do not turn away.

I mourn, O Lord, because your world is not the way it should be. But I do not mourn as one without hope.

You have already intervened in the most dramatic way possible, so I know you can intervene now. Christmas shows that you love your world and that you are unwilling to leave us to ourselves. Your son felt the ragged edges of this earth. He felt the sword of a wicked government; he felt the suspicion and hate of his countrymen and your people; he felt my sin more acutely than I do.

Do not abandon us. We need your grace as much as ever. We need Christmas.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!


Photo Credit: Ulrike Mai (2015), public domain

3 Skills Christians Can Learn from a Great Interviewer

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What keeps you from being a better friend to the people in your life?

As we grow in grace, we should become better friends. But it’s a hard climb; we should learn from whomever we can.

Krista Tippett hosts a public radio show/podcast called On Being. (I haven’t heard it.) She was interviewed on the Longform podcast back in October, and the episode gave me a lot of food for thought.

Practice Gracious Listening

Around the 33:35 mark, Tippett is asked about the phrase “gracious listening” which she uses in her 2016 book, Becoming Wise. What does she mean by this phrase?

I put words in front of the word “listening”—gracious, generous—because the word listening and the act of listening, there’s a lot of lack of self-awareness around that. I think that I grew up, and a lot of people in this culture grew up, experiencing listening as being quiet while the other person talks, basically. Right? So that eventually you can say what you have to say. Listening is basic social art, but it’s something we have to learn and practice. And we really haven’t practiced a robust listening—generous, gracious listening—which is not just about being quiet, but about actually, truly being curious, really mustering curiosity. Which can be as simple as being willing to be surprised.

She contrasts this curiosity with making assumptions about others.

We tend to go into encounters pretty much thinking we know who that other person is. We know who they voted for, we know what they do. So, curiosity I think is something that is a virtue that can be really complex and it’s counter-intuitive to how we walk through the world, especially how we walk through the public world.

I love that phrase be willing to be surprised. So often I assume I know another person by applying stereotypes. But this is far from loving. Being curious means, in part, acknowledging your incomplete understanding about another person. (Even your best friend or spouse!)

Because I am accepted by God and fully known by him, I don’t need to pretend to have everyone figured out. By his power I can put to death the insecurity and pride that puts up this front.

Create a Hospitable Atmosphere

Later in the podcast, Tippett is asked how she prepares for an interview. She talks about trying to get to know someone by immersing herself in what they’ve written and/or said in the past.

What I’m trying to do is not so much understand what people know, but how they think. And then, if I have just a sensitivity to that, that really creates a hospitable space for them to think out loud with me. And this transmits itself viscerally, within a very few moments of meeting somebody. We’ve all had this experience of walking into a room and […] you know you’re going to have to defend yourself or explain yourself. And that creates a certain amount of tension and it puts you in a certain mode of what you are going to talk about and what you’re not going to talk about. And I’m trying to create an atmosphere, an intellectually hospitable atmosphere, where people have this sense very quickly that I get them. And then, you just relax inside.

Tippett’s description makes me wonder what sort of atmosphere I create in my conversations. Are people encouraged to think out loud with me? Or am I making them feel defensive and interrogated? This idea of a hospitable atmosphere has huge implications when it comes to apologetics, evangelism, and discipleship.

Ask Good Questions

Tippett’s definition of a good question is “one that elicits honesty.” She was asked what she means by that definition.

I think one thing a lot of people do is ask questions that are interesting to them. Like, “I’ve always wanted to know.” […] Often when I start out preparing for an interview, I will have my questions that I think going into this I’m probably going to want to ask this person. But in the course of preparation, a lot of them will fall away. And what will come in their place is the question that’s going to be interesting to them. And I can formulate that question because I’m immersing in their thinking. So then the questions I’m writing are coming out of that rather than out of my head. And if you ask somebody a question that’s interesting to them, they immediately—you’ll hear it, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s an interesting question.” And then they stop realizing they’re being interviewed, and they’re not even giving an answer, they’re thinking in real time.

This definition of a good question is fairly specific to the context of an interview, but there’s still a lot to learn. My default setting is to ask questions I find interesting, and I never considered that this might be selfish. It is a challenge to know someone well enough to ask a question that interests them. What works in one conversation might not work in the next.

Perhaps a common theme that holds these skills together (for the Christian) is dependence. If we depend on the Holy Spirit, discarding the notion we must control the conversation, we’ll be more likely to love the other person. We won’t make assumptions, we won’t focus on ourselves, and we’ll serve.

As Tippett says (in the first quote), this takes practice. But it’s worth it! And it reflects our God as well—he knows us completely and welcomes us in relationship and conversation. By his strength, let’s do the same for each other.


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Photo Credit: Ben Kerckx (2014), public domain

A Writer’s Honest Prayer

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Almighty God,

In light of your holiness and generosity, I’m aware of my unworthiness and sin. My pride and self-focus are bulging and monstrous; I confess these sins to you.

I confess that I long for the attention and praise of men. I want people to say that I’m important; I dream of the admiration of others.

My self-worth rises and falls too often with page views, comments, and incoming links. I check my blog stats more frequently than I should, more frequently than I would admit.

As I write, I am tempted to draw attention to myself. Instead of using humor and playful word choices to serve readers, I have chosen phrases so others will think I’m clever.

I have not always used my words to glorify you. Instead, I have written to impress other people and make a name for myself.

In these sins of self-exaltation, I have walked in the opposite direction from Jesus. Your son made himself nothing, while I have tried to make something of myself. Though your love frees me to pour out my life and energy for others, I have too often only paid attention to me.

For the sake of your son, please forgive me.

In light of my sin which only you can forgive, I need change only you can bring. Merciful God, please change me. Turn my bent-inwardness around and renovate my heart.

Use my writing for your glory. Help me write in service of your people.

Give me only the opportunities that would point others to you and bless your church. Keep me from projects and outlets that would bring me spiritual harm.

Please give me ideas. Help me think well about you and your world. Tether me to your life-giving word.

When I sit to write, give me words. I depend on you. Give me helpful, persuasive, wise, gracious, godly, timely words.

Empower my friends to speak to me honestly. Rebuke and correct me by your Spirit and your people. Strengthen my elders to shepherd me.

Help me remember the gospel. Whether my writing is well-received or ignored, remind me of your unfailing love and the bedrock work of Jesus. Thank you that no amount of writing, good or bad, can make you love me any more or less than you do right now. You are full of grace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Photo Credit: Ursula (2015), public domain