3 Three-Word Phrases I Tell My Kids

Parents are always communicating with their children. A touch of restraint on the arm, an encouraging word after school, or a hug before bed all convey important truths. From the casual smile across the dinner table to the tear-filled conversation before bed, every exchange with my kids is an opportunity.

For Christian parents, one goal must shape every interaction: to help our children grow in their knowledge and love of God. We want them to believe and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ!

There are on-ramps to discuss the gospel in many of our conversations with our children. And many of these conversations with my kids can start with these three-word phrases.

“I love you”

I grew up in a home where I never questioned my parents’ love. My mother and father both told me (and showed me) that they loved me on a regular basis. I thank God for this—I now realize how much security and stability this gave me.

Children first learn what love is from their parents. So parents must communicate love to their children in a way that is not dependent on performance. My kids should not only know they are loved when they score a soccer goal, when they bring home a good report card, or when their painting wins a local prize.

If parents are teaching their children about real love—and ultimately about God’s love—they will remind their children of their love in good times and bad, during times of correction and praise. Every instance of instruction is an opportunity.

Parents must tell their children “I love you,” and they must say it in a way that is full of grace.

“Please forgive me”

Any two people living in close proximity will sin against each other. Often. This is a sad fact of our fractured world.

Before children turn two or three, parents must think about discipline. They will have hard talks during which they help their children confess their sins to God and others. But one of the most powerful conversations a parent can have with their children is when the shoe is on the other foot.

I have needed to seek forgiveness from my kids many times. I have yelled at them in anger and impatience, I have joked at their expense, I have been deliberately unkind as a form of retaliation. This is, sadly, only a partial list.

My confession to my kids is both necessary, because God commands it of me (James 5:16), and important, because it teaches them vital truths about being a Christian.

In my confession, I teach my children about sin. We are all sinners; we will not lay aside these selfish hearts as we age like some pair of toddler pajamas. And sin has consequences. Because sin offends God, we must confess our sin to Him. When we sin against others, we must seek reconciliation.

I try not to make excuses when I confess my sin to my children. I acknowledge the ways I have hurt them and express my sadness and regret for my actions. We discuss Jesus’s work on the cross for me: I can be sure God has forgiven me because Jesus died, was buried, and rose. And then I ask them to forgive me, explaining that they will bear a cost in forgiving me (not holding a grudge, not retaliating, not bringing the incident up as a weapon in the future). There is always a cost to forgiveness.

We talk and then we pray. We hug. I hope this practice creates a culture of humility, short accounts, and eager reconciliation in my family that my children will remember and take with them. What better way to get to the heart of Christianity than to forgive each other and treasure the work of Jesus together!

“God loves you”

This wonderful truth is the foundation of all gospel hope, and we must say it often to ourselves and everyone around us. God really does love you (1 John 4:10)!

God’s love is the foundation for all our belief and the proper motivation for our obedience. When children ask why our family goes to church, there’s an enormous difference between an answer that describes our duty and an answer like this: “God loves us and wants us to worship him” (see Romans 12:1).

When I remind my kids of God’s love, this provokes all kinds of related questions.

How does He show us His love? How can we know His love? Why does He love us? How do we experience His love? Where do we learn about His love? How should we respond to His love?

These are questions of discipleship—both ours and our children’s! They naturally lead to conversations about the cross, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, spiritual disciplines, and the local church.

Parents are long-term disciplers of their children, so we should seek out these conversations, even when our kids respond with questions that are difficult or unrelated.

Conversations Matter

Parents aim to surround their children with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our time, our actions, our sacrifices, and our priorities all speak loudly to those nearby.

Our conversations matter most of all. And big conversations—conversations of eternal importance—can begin with these smallest of phrases.

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The Answer to Selfishness isn’t Selflessness But Love

Children don’t need to learn selfishness. Unlike swimming or tying shoes, self-centeredness comes naturally. Self-focus is in our DNA. The boiling pot of a sinful heart releases the vapor of selfishness that animates us every hour of our lives. 

But our attention to and ambition for ourselves is dangerous:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:16)

If we take the Bible seriously, this is a four-alarm warning. Disorder and every vile practice! How should we, as Christians, fight against selfishness? 

Selflessness Is Not the Answer 

We might advocate for selflessness. On the surface, this seems right; instead of thinking so much about myself, I’ll try to think about myself less

But this approach still puts the self  in the spotlight on stage. We still focus on how frequently or deeply we think of ourselves. Not only is this unhealthy it’s also not what the Bible advocates.

The Answer is Love 

The greatest commandments, according to Jesus, offer a summary of the law as well as a foundation for all Christian ethics. 

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40) 

As we devote ourselves to loving God and loving our neighbors, we will inevitably turn our attention away from ourselves. This call to love is fundamental, demanding, and only possible for those who have been born again by the Spirit of God. 

Paul Guides Us 

Because of our self-centered instincts, we must follow the path away from selfishness all of our days. Paul gives us some guidance along this path in Philippians 2:1–11.  

He commands us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (v. 3), and the larger context offers positive pointers. 

Be of one mind 

Paul emphasizes the unity of the church body: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2).  

With the effort it takes to be “in full accord” and “of one mind” with our brothers and sisters, we will necessarily focus on others. 

Count others more significant 

At the end of verse 3, Paul writes that we must “in humility count others more significant than [ourselves].” We’re quite talented at asserting our own significance, but we’re not as good at highlighting others. 

Your brothers and sisters in Christ have great value and significance because they are both created in the image of God and adopted as his precious children. Thanking God for the blessings and contributions of others is a good way to highlight their significance. 

Look to the interests of others 

Paul isn’t finished pointing us toward others. He wants us to be invested in their interests: 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4) 

What do your brothers and sisters value? Where are they hurting? What do they need? How can you attend to their wounds or encourage them? 

Consider Christ 

This is Paul’s all-in play. In verses 5–11, he highlights Jesus’s humility and sacrifice. Paul’s goal is to show us Jesus not only as an example but also as the crucified servant who is now resurrected, exalted, and worthy of worldwide worship: 

  1. Jesus did not cling to his own status, glory, or importance (2:6). 
  2. Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant (2:7). 
  3. And, Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross (2:8). 
  4. God has highly exalted Jesus (2:9).
  5. At the name of Jesus every knee in all creation will bow and every tongue will confess his lordship, all to God’s glory (2:10-11).

Because God has brought us to himself, and because he is our sovereign, loving father, we can trust him to care for us. We don’t need to devote all of our attention to ourselves.  

Following the example and command of Christ, and empowered by his Spirit, we can now seek the good of others. 

Two Practical Suggestions 

In Philippians 2, Paul helps us consider what it means to love our God and love our neighbor. To obey faithfully, we must enter the practical realm. 

Worship with your local church.  

Yes, the church is messy. It’s often hard. But the local church is the expression of Christ’s body on earth.

If you haven’t yet found and joined a local church, I urge you to prayerfully seek out a Bible-based community in your area. Then, worship God with these people!

You will likely have different musical preferences than some and different theological positions than others, but the weekly gathering of the saints is a unique opportunity to love God and love others. 

Serve with your local church.  

Nothing binds Christians together as quickly or as deeply as shared ministry. And I guarantee your church has ministry needs!

Consider helping with the Bible study in the local nursing home, driving an elderly neighbor to the grocery store, or pitching in to prepare the coffee at church on Sunday morning. 

A Lifelong Path 

In our flesh, we love to sit in the dark, thinking of and serving only ourselves. And since the sinful flesh will not be completely eliminated on this side of heaven, our fight against selfishness is a war, not a battle. 

But God gives grace! Those who are in Christ are beloved by God. His great commandments are not only good for the world but also good for us. They are part of his plan to bring us into the light and make us conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

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Good News for Husbands

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God does not make demands without supplying grace.

In our last article, we studied Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 that husbands must “love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is a serious, heavy responsibility, focused on the wife’s spiritual growth (v. 27).

But in the midst of this command, we read that it is Christ’s mission to “present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” As a husband who falls far short of this mandate to love, I need this encouragement. Though I may fail to give myself up for my wife’s sanctification, I can be sure that Jesus gave himself up for mine!

As Christ Loves the Church

We have, however, only explored half of Paul’s instruction for husbands. First, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Then, he says husbands must also love their wives as Christ loves the church.

The key section of the passage is Ephesians 5:28–30:

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.

To apply this passage, we must consider two distinct but related questions: How do humans love their own bodies? And, How does Christ love the church?

As Your Own Body

Fortunately, we need not consider all possible ways a man cares for his body, for Paul speaks of nourishing and cherishing in verse 29.

Paul uses the word for “nourishes” later in the context of raising children to maturity (Ephesians 6:4). And the word for “cherishes” is translated as “tenderly cares” in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, where Paul describes his gentleness among the people.

So, how does a man care for his body? He nourishes his body by feeding and providing for it, through exercise, sleep, and nutrition. He strengthens and equips it. He cherishes his body by cleaning it, protecting it, and giving attention to any wounds or weaknesses.

Not all of these descriptions translate to the marriage relationship, but some do.

Just As Christ Does the Church

Christians often hear what Jesus has done for his people in history—and rightly so! His birth, life, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension are glorious and essential.

But we don’t often recall the ways that Jesus cares for his church today. This is what Paul points to in Ephesians 5:29 when he uses the present tense, and we are to use this example, in part, to learn obedience as husbands.

Paul has not left us in the dark about Christ’s present care for the church. Consider what he has already written in Ephesians:

1. In Christ, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is a pledge of our inheritance (1:13–14). Jesus gives us his promise and points to the glorious future we will share with him.

2. God has put all things in subjection under Jesus’ feet, who has been given as head over all things to the church (1:20–23). Jesus is the supreme ruler, governing all things for the good of his body.

3. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jesus has broken down the wall that divided Israelites from Gentiles. These are written in the past tense, but here is the present truth: Jesus is our peace. The reality of the ascended Jesus means we currently have peace with God; we are not excluded (2:11–16).

4. Because of Jesus, we have present-day access to God (2:18).

5. We are God’s household, growing into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:19–22).

6. Paul prays that Christ would dwell in the Ephesians’ hearts by faith, so that they “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (3:18–19). Christ’s presence gives a supernatural knowledge of his immense love, which fills us up to the fullness of God.

7. Christ has given gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, etc.) to equip the saints for the work of service. Since these gifts include pastors and teachers, this is a present-day work of Jesus, helping us grow in unity, knowledge, maturity, and love (4:11–16).

There are other ways that Jesus loves his church — in particular, he prays and advocates for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Isn’t his love for us lavish? Overflowing? Tender and generous?

So should a husband’s love be for his wife.

What Tender Love Looks Like

From these descriptions, we can make some practical conclusions about the ways a husband should love his wife.

Each husband must nourish and cherish his wife; this has physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Because each marriage is unique, instead of giving universal suggestions I have provided a list of questions for husbands to consider.

  • Are you tending to your wife’s health? Do you pray for her physical, emotional, and spiritual vitality? As much as it depends on you, are you working to provide for her in these areas? Do you talk with her about them?
  • In areas of weakness for your wife, are you tender? Does she have confidence that you are for her, protecting and covering and nurturing her, eager for her growth and flourishing?
  • Do you know the best ways to pray for her? Do you pray regularly and fervently for her?
  • Do you value her? Does she know how much you value her? Do you celebrate the woman she is and the woman she is becoming?
  • Do you give her gifts that let her know you love her? Do you make arrangements to share special times and make memories together?

Good News for Husbands

I love the way Paul injects hope into his commands. There is difficult work here for husbands, but there is so much good news too.

Remember—Jesus nourishes and cherishes the church. He does this not simply out of obligation or command, but because we are members of his body. In the same way that a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, so it is with Christ and the church.

Out of the overflow of infinite love, God the Father sent his Son to rescue his people. Because of the work of the Son in history, we are now joined to him—in love—forever.

Husbands, love your wives. Nourish and cherish her as your own body. Do so knowing that, as part of the church, Christ loves you with a tender, unbreakable, unending love. And in that love and strength you will be able to love your wife.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Anne Edgar (2016), public domain

 

Six Ways to Respond to God’s Steadfast Love

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Driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike can be rough, especially when you’re tired. The hills and farms all look the same, and it’s easy to get lulled to sleep by the endless pattern of signs: speed limit, exit, service plaza; speed limit, exit, service plaza.

Many of us read Psalm 136 this way. Every verse contains the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Though you may exult in this truth in verse one, you weary of it by verse 13. Your eyes skip along to the “interesting parts,” neglecting the other half.

But there’s gold in the repetition.

Behold the Promise of God’s Love

This psalm is a masterpiece, painting God’s work through history with the brushstrokes of his love.

The psalmist begins by highlighting God’s goodness and his supreme position above other gods (vv. 1–3). The next six verses describe God’s work as creator; he made the heavens, spread out the earth, and created the sun, moon, and stars (vv. 4–9).

Beginning in verse 10, the psalmist writes of the pivotal deliverance from Egypt. The psalm slows down, crediting God with each step along the way—the Passover, the Red Sea, and the defeat of Pharaoh (vv. 10–16).

In their journey through the wilderness, God gave his people victory over nations who opposed them. In verses 17–22, the psalmist rehearses God’s military might and his provision of land. This stanza connects God’s promise-keeping love (see God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:7 and 17:8) to his commitment to fight for his people.

The psalm closes with a summary: God remembered, rescued, and provides for his people (vv. 23–25), so we should thank him.

Sing the Refrain of God’s Love

Through all 26 verses, the refrain is the same: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Behind God’s creative work, his saving work, his fighting work, his providing work—through all the high drama, God’s love is the explanation.

And God’s love is not reserved for the mountain tops. His steadfast love is revealed in the valley of the wilderness years (v. 16) and the mundanity of mealtimes (v. 25).

God’s steadfast love is behind and underneath everything he does. None of his characteristics or actions can be separated from his love. We can easily affirm this integration when considering the exodus or promised land, but it applies equally to God’s justice and wrath (see vv. 15, 17–20). From top to bottom, God is love.

Grasp the Steadfastness of God’s Love

If the biblical authors highlight and underline their writing by repetition, we should pay careful attention to this refrain. It appears in each and every verse—26 times in all.

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Notice the whopping three references to time in this refrain. God’s love is steadfast. His love endures. His love endures forever.

It’s hard for finite humans to digest that word, forever. Everything we see, do, or know comes to an end. What is true for food and clothing we also witness in our emotions. We’d like to claim that our love (for a spouse, for a parent, for a child) is steadfast, but we know better. In anger or impatience, apathy or bitterness, we withhold our love from those most dear to us.

How different God’s love is from ours! His love is steadfast, never diminishing in volume, never weakening in strength, never retreating, never tainted. Though we may feel alone or unloved, reality is different—his love endures forever.

We struggle to digest this truth; we’re prone to dismiss or forget God’s love. In times of suffering, loss, or deep sadness, we often resist with our heart what we know with our mind. Like the psalmist, we need to repeat this truth as often as possible: God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Personalize the Beauty of God’s Love

Here are two ways to internalize God’s love.

Put the psalm on repeat. Read Psalm 136 every morning and evening for a month. (Read every word, careful not to skip the repeated line!) Listen to it on your phone or tablet. Like the woodpecker, a persistent tapping in the same spot sometimes yields a breakthrough.

Write your own version of this psalm. Take up a journal, recount God’s work in your life, and end each line or paragraph the same way: “For his steadfast love endures forever.”

Consider the Cost of God’s Steadfast Love

God’s love for his people reached a crescendo in the incarnation. He aimed to redeem his people, and he had to deal with their sin, once and for all. In his steadfast love, God sent his Son. For his love is a pursuing, costly love.

God demonstrated his abiding, enduring love in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. When Jesus was “made sin for us” on the cross, the Father withdrew his protective love for a time. The Father’s love for his people was manifest in wrath toward sin, and the Son was crushed for our iniquities. Jesus knew the Father’s full fury; he experienced the absence of God’s love so we would know it forever.

Give Thanks for God’s Steadfast Love

Why does the steadfast love of God matter? How does it change us?

One clear application comes out of this psalm: Give thanks. This is the only exhortation in the entire psalm, and it appears four times (vv. 1, 2, 3, 26). In fact, all of the descriptions of God, including the refrain about his love, are given as fuel for thanksgiving.

So give thanks to God for who he is. He is the Creator, Savior, Conqueror, and Provider that Israel needed then and that we need now. Thank God for all the ways his steadfast love has rung out in history and in your life. Don’t hesitate to include the routine aspects of your day; from the miraculous Red Sea crossing to God’s provision of food, everything flows from his love.

And as you give thanks to God, remind yourself and everyone around you about his love. It is steadfast, and it endures forever.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Ben Schumin, Creative Commons License

Does God Just Tolerate Me?

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I have some close friends at church who are grandparents. For them, the cliché is true—they are over the moon about their grandchildren!

My friends would move mountains to spend time with their grandchildren. They soak up every moment of each visit and anticipate the next. They delight in their grandchildren.

Something that delights us does more than make us momentarily happy. It stirs our hearts, and the ripples wash lightness through our bodies. You might delight in a favorite place, a dear friend, or a treasured book or movie.

Have you ever pondered what delights God? The Bible provides a surprising answer.

The Anointed One

Our answer comes from the book of Isaiah. Aside from the Lord himself, the major characters in Isaiah are the Coming King, the Coming Servant, and the Coming Anointed One (the Messiah). We see pieces of Jesus’ mission in each of these prophetic figures.

At the end of Isaiah 61, the Anointed One rejoices in the task set before him (v. 10). He is dressed in “garments of salvation” in the same way that a couple prepares themselves for their wedding. These clothes mark the Messiah for his momentous work.

It’s no secret—the task of the Anointed One is salvation for God’s people (61:1) and the glory of God’s name (61:3). As surely as the earth brings forth plants, God guarantees that the Messiah’s mission will succeed (61:11).

Despite God’s promise, the Anointed One is not passive. He is determined, zealous, and vocal that the righteousness and glory of God’s people be displayed before all nations and kings (62:1–2).

God’s Delight

The results of the work of the Anointed One are astonishing and life-changing:

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 61:2–5)

God’s people will be a “crown of beauty” in his hand (v. 3). A king’s crown is the physical sign of his royal position and glory. Amazingly, God’s people are a sign of his kingship and evidence that he is glorious. It’s hard to believe when looking around (or in the mirror), but God says it will be so.

Perhaps even more dramatic is the renaming in verses 2 and 4. The people shall go from “Forsaken” to “My Delight Is in Her,” and the land will go from “Desolate” to “Married.” Why the change? Is it because of all the good the people have done, all the yield the land has produced? Not hardly.

God changes the people’s name for a simple, profound reason: love. “For the Lord delights in you” (v. 4). To highlight this in the brightest colors, Isaiah writes that God will rejoice over his people as a groom rejoices over his bride (v. 5).

What was predicted long ago is our reality now. What a reality!

I rarely imagine God rejoicing over me. I think he occasionally disapproves of me and that he mostly tolerates me. I can be persuaded that he loves me at times. But to delight in me? That seems too outlandish, too fantastic to believe. But it’s true!

For Isaiah, the good news has never been just for Israel. God is eager for others to join his family; Israel must “prepare the way” and “build up the highway” (v. 10). The references to “the people” and “the peoples” (v. 10) show how God welcomes both Israelites and Gentiles to his holy city. They will all be called “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord” (v. 12).

At the end of this chapter, God wraps all his people together, giving them the same name. In a nod back to verse 4, they will be called “A City Not Forsaken” (v. 12). The Lord delights in his people, and their new name reflects his abiding, promise-backed love.

The Forsaken One

It’s hard to read this passage without wondering about this dramatic change. Why will the people no longer be forsaken?

Over many years and in many ways, Israel sinned against God. Though God turned away from them for a time, his covenant promise pulsed in the background of history. Through his Anointed One, God would fulfill this promise at the pinnacle of his justice and mercy.

God delighted in his Son, but in his hour of greatest need, the Father turned away. Jesus felt this abandonment like a hot knife tearing into his soul. On the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

We deserve to be forsaken. But our name is “Forsaken” no longer because Jesus was forsaken for us. God delights in us because his Son—the one in whom he delighted the most—became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Loved Ones

What difference would it make if we absorbed these truths into our bones? How would our lives change if we were sure of God’s delight in us?

Two applications come to mind.

First, we’d be more willing to take gospel-driven risks. If the delight of our heavenly Father is secure, then the potential harm to our reputations or social networks won’t be scary. If God smiles, we can shrug off others’ frowns.

We would also be more likely to trust God in uncertain times. God is not only sovereign and wise, he is good and loving. Even if we cannot connect the dots between our circumstances and God’s intentions, we can be sure there is a straight line from his heart to his providence in our lives.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

Christians Are Curious People

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We’re all familiar with Jesus’s summary of the law: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:34–40). These two commands capture what it means to follow the Lord.

Until recently I hadn’t seen the role that curiosity plays in obeying these commands. It’s easy to miss, but Barnabas Piper helped me see the connection in his new book, The Curious Christian.

Loving God

If we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we need curiosity. What is God like? What does it mean to love him? Will he love me? We need answers to these questions, and we find the answers in the Bible.

Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God, then we must know Him, and Scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason Scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. (The Curious Christian, p.160)

When we love God with our minds, we learn about him. We don’t hold onto our own ideas of what God must be like, but we humble ourselves and receive instruction.

Curiosity drives us to seek the deep truths of God. It leads us to discover aspects of His character and truths of His Word that hide behind a veil or aren’t readily visible in the mundane life. It overcomes the preconceptions we have of God that often make us like Him less, often from a legalistic background: God as boss, God as judge, God as distant, God as joyless, God as killjoy, God as impersonal, God as boring, God as powerless, God as puppet master. Curiosity enlarges God in our minds, or rather helps us see His largeness and His largesse, His closeness and His love, His plan and His promise. (The Curious Christian, pp.48–49)

And, amazingly, our curiosity will continue in heaven! We will get to know God better and better, and because he is infinite in all aspects of his character and person, we’ll never run out of material. We’ll be curious for eternity.

In this life every ounce of curiosity we have points toward God in some way. In eternity all curiosity goes deeper in relationship with Him. In this life there is a veil between us and the presence of God because of our sinfulness. In the next life we will live in the presence of God unhindered and unveiled. This is why heaven won’t get boring. (The Curious Christian, p.147)

What makes heaven heaven is not unlimited fun and games—though we will almost certainly have tons of unfettered fun. No, we would tire of those after a few centuries. What makes it a true paradise is being with God, fully and freely in His presence. Imagine a world unhindered by distraction or sin or pain. Imagine free access to the infinite depths of God’s person and character. You can’t. But in trying you may have seen that heaven can’t possibly become dull. (The Curious Christian, p.148)

Loving Our Neighbors

Curiosity is essential if we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can you love someone—especially in a beyond-the-surface-stuff way—if you don’t get to know them?

In short, curiosity turns us outward, away from selfishness. Our base desire is to turn every relationship to our benefit, to get what we can out of it. Curiosity, at its best, undermines this sinful desire because it locks in on the needs and interests and desires of the other person. Instead of “What can they do for me?” it becomes “Who is this person and what do they need?” (The Curious Christian, p.134)

Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper. We found out about their outward life—hobbies, preferences, history. But now we take the risk of finding out about their inner life—hopes, beliefs, passions, dreams, fears. Curiosity takes risks and steps into the unknown. It digs into shadowy places where there might be treasure or where there might be pain. This is the grounds for real friendship. The reality is that people are much more likely to open up to us than we think; we just need to go first. In fact, they’ve been hungering for someone to connect with as well. (The Curious Christian, p.46)

Curiosity will transform the church. Piper writes that if the church were full of curious people,

It would move toward being more diverse racially, socioeconomically, and educationally because people would be deeply interested in those different from themselves instead of frightened of them or intimidated by them. (The Curious Christian, p.53)

Takeaways

I’ve written about curiosity before, mostly in the context of asking good questions and being a good listener. But Piper’s book has convinced me that curiosity is an essential part of the whole life of the Christian.

If we’re to be faithful to God in the place where he’s put us, we need to make connections, ask questions, get to know our neighbors, and be good observers. If you’d like to learn more about how curiosity works itself out, I suggest you pick up The Curious Christian. (And check back next week—I’ll be giving away a copy of this book!)

Thanks to B&H Books for an advance reader’s copy of this book.


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: anonymous (2008), public domain

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 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

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

Telemarketers Are People Too

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Imagine you’re sitting down to dinner with your family. As you start the meal, you hear an unexpected knock at your front door.

You don’t recognize the person, but you know this is not a conversation you want to have, not now. The visitor will be selling a product, asking for votes, or collecting donations.

How do you react? Ideally, you’ll treat them with kindness and respect, even as you explain that this is a bad time.

Now replace the knock at the door with a phone call. In a nutshell, this is the telemarketing industry. So why do we treat those at our doors differently than those on our phones?

My Weakness

I shouldn’t speak for everyone. Perhaps you have more patience, grace, and love for telemarketers than I do. (You almost surely do.)

A cable company representative called recently and tried to up-sell me. In the process, the caller put me on hold twice. I got angry, and I spoke in a way I immediately regretted.

Whether from a saleman, a pollster, or someone raising money for charity, I’m not inclined to listen to unsolicited phone calls for very long. I assume I’ve heard everything they have to say, I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and I dismiss them quickly. This has been my pattern.

Loving My Neighbor

God convicted me through this phone call. He made each of these people; they are my neighbors. They deserve love and respect.

Though their work interrupts and annoys me, it is legitimate work. I shouldn’t treat them poorly just because I am inconvenienced.

So often I get my standards wrong. If I think someone doesn’t deserve my respect, they don’t get it. But that’s obviously the wrong approach!

The gospel changes everything. God didn’t treat me the way I deserve. In fact, he treated Jesus the way I deserve (with wrath) and he treats me as his son. This is amazing, glorious, life-altering love.

And this love now fuels our behavior. We can treat others better than they deserve because that’s how we’ve been treated. Our standard of love must be Jesus’s standard. He doesn’t just provide an example; he gives me the power to change and to love those who annoy and interrupt me.

Can I Hang Up?

One last thought. Is it ever acceptable to hang up on a telemarketer?

Treating someone with love and respect doesn’t mean we always do what they want. Though we’re called to die to ourselves, this doesn’t mean we’re always pushovers.

We’ve all probably been on the phone in the telemarketer spiral. You say no; they protest, provide a reason, and ask for something slightly different. This pattern continues, and at some point they stopped listening to you. (Has anyone ever changed their mind because of this persistence? I’ve said no five times already, but since you asked a sixth time, sign me up!)

I think it’s fine to hang up the phone in certain situations. The caller is following their company-dictated script. If, after respectfully telling them you’re not interested, they ignore you and press ahead, I think they lose their right to your attention. I usually hang up at this point, trying not to be angry at the person.


Photo Credit: Levente Lenart (2008), public domain