Fullness of Life Through Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” 

If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, the first image likely to come into your mind is  Mel Gibson’s blue painted face screaming, “FRRREEEEEEDDDOOOMMM!” as he rides into battle to bravely defend Scotland.  And if you’re a proud American, you likely proclaim that our country is great because it is free.  Our beautiful National Anthem even resounds this triumph with the concluding words, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  No matter how many times I’ve heard it, those majestic lyrics are enough to bring me (or any other patriot) to tears.  

It’s amazing how much strong emotion is brought on by the word and concept of freedom.  And rightly so- for it is the inborn desire of every person to be free. We yearn for the ability to think, speak, and act without hinderance or restraint; to not be governed by a foreign entity; and to not be imprisoned or enslaved to any person or thing.  

The quest for freedom takes form in many aspects of our lives.  This is evidenced by advertisements aimed at helping us find financial freedom, or advertisements informing us how working at home allows freedom in schedule setting or travel.  We even seek freedom in our physical appearance, choosing clothing, accessories, and hairstyles that reflect who we are as a person. And when it comes to relationships (or even our appearance), we might lean into phrases like, “I’m free to be me.”  We go after freedom in every category of life because it brings relief, joy, and peace.  Some might even say freedom is the foundation for life itself.  

As much as I enjoy the freedoms of this country, or believe in the benefits of financial freedom, or value the right to self-expression and healthy relationships, the truth is, these are not the freedoms I really need.  They are the freedoms I love and enjoy…but they cannot save my soul.  

Galatians 5:1 tells us it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This freedom is twofold: 1)Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven. Meaning, no longer can Satan (or anyone else for that matter) accuse us before God.  Our sins have been paid for in full, and for those who are in Christ, we can stand before God Almighty, uncondemned, covered in His grace. And 2) We are no longer slaves to sin; sin has been dethroned as our master!  Instead, we become servants to Christ. If you find this unsettling or confusing, take comfort in Romans 6:22 which says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”  

It may seem paradoxical, but a life lived in service to the Savior of the world is the life of true freedom.  There is no lasting joy to be had when we are in slavery to our sin- for this is a slavery that leads to death.  There is however, infinite and eternal joy found in living obediently to Christ- for this is a servitude that leads to life.  

Indeed, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This freedom is the entire theme of this website as well as my book, Remade: Living Free.  I humbly invite you to join with me in the pursuit of understanding the depths of this freedom given to us by the God who loves us immeasurably.    

Welcome Home: Parenting with Respect

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of parenting with an attitude of humility.  As the last post focused on 3 practical applications of humility, this post will focus on the attitude of respect, and 4 practical ways we can demonstrate this in our parenting. 

When we talk about demonstrating respect for our kids, one important thought comes to mind: taking them seriously.  While we as parents have more years of life experience, more wisdom, and more knowledge, this does not mean we have a license to diminish the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of our kids.  In fact, we should be mindful to do the very opposite!  By keeping these four tips in mind, we can demonstrate respect for our children and build a home environment of emotional safety.  

  1.  Respecting their thoughts and opinions.  It’s easy to forget that our view of the world and all of the problems of life are vastly different than that of a child/teenager.  Just as we can’t help but think with a fully developed adult brain, our kids can’t help thinking with their still-developing brain!  Couple that with an ample difference in life experience, and we’re bound to have some disagreements! But here’s the catch: we need to listen to understand our kids rather than merely convince them that our way of thinking is right.  This, by the way, is very difficult and requires a great deal of patience and humility!    

While of course, we teach our children the truth and lovingly explain why we believe what we believe about any particular issue, we cannot neglect the importance of understanding as a major goal of communication.  Even when we disagree with our children’s perspectives, we can still show them respect by listening to understand, using the same skills previously discussed in this series: reflection and a curious stance. (For more on these, see the following post: https://nicolebyrum.com/2022/03/27/welcome-home-the-language-of-marriage-part-ii/ )  

As I shared above, it is critical that our kids know we take them seriously.  When we take the time to hear them- when we listen to understand- we demonstrate that we value and care about what they think.  Furthermore, we show them that they can trust us to respect them even if we disagree with them.  As an added bonus, having these types of conversations increases our children’s critical thinking skills and trains them to have productive discourse. 

  1.  Respecting their emotions.  As a counselor, I can’t emphasize enough how important this one is!  Can teenagers be dramatic?  Absolutely.  Are elementary kids unreasonable?  Sure.  But when we as parents minimize our children’s emotions it creates a disconnect in the relationship and enforces the idea that their emotions aren’t credible or valued. 

One of the best ways we can respond to our children’s feelings is to name the emotion they’re experiencing.  This lets them know that we get how they’re feeling- and that is so powerful!  Statements like, “I can see by your facial expression and tone how angry you are,” or “It sounds like you’re feeling really disappointed right now,” communicate empathy and understanding.  Affirming their emotions is also critical.  For example: “I can understand why you feel that way,” or, “I’d feel that way too if that happened to me,” express validation.  The more we use these kinds of statements, the safer our kids will feel with us, and the more likely they will be to come to us in any given situation.  

A word of caution: In our attempts to help our children feel better (or perhaps at times in our sinful, uncompassionate natures) we can minimize what our kids feel.  Statements like, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or, “You’re just grouchy right now,” are not helpful and do not communicate respect for their feelings.  Likewise, we should avoid comparing our life experiences to theirs.  For instance, “Well, when I went through my first break-up I just got on with it, I didn’t sit around and cry all day.”  Our kids are their own people and will respond differently than we did when they experience a similar situation.  Finally, we need to abstain from telling our kids they shouldn’t feel a certain emotion.  Nobody likes to be told how they should or shouldn’t feel, especially when they’re hurting or upset.  

3) Show enthusiasm for their interests.  When we are enthusiastic about the things our kids enjoy this is a way of demonstrating respect.  Alternatively, if we’re dismissive of something that’s important to them, this will only create distance- and possibly tension- in the relationship.  Even if we don’t get the appeal of their preferred activity or interest, we should still make a great effort to learn about not only what they enjoy, but why they enjoy it.  Engaging with our kids in their interests communicates support and encouragement and is a great way to build up the relationship.  This is also a wonderful opportunity for our kids to teach us something (see point #1 from the previous post).  When my son started golfing a few years ago, I knew pretty much nothing about the sport!  It’s been fun for both of us that he has been able to teach me about the game he loves.

4) Show an interest in their friends.  When I was a teenager, one of the qualities I appreciated most in my mom was her sincere and genuine interest in my friends.  As we’re well aware, friendships, especially during the teenage years, are a top priority!  By showing love and respect toward our kids’ friends, our kids will feel as though we are respecting them.  Getting to know- and enjoy- our kids’ friends is truly a gift we give to our kids.     

One way we can show our interest in their friends is by having conversations with their friends.  While we might be tempted at times to grill them with questions, this is not the way to go!  Instead, we should take time to ask sincere questions in order to generate conversation.  Another easy way to express interest is to ask our kids about their friends.  Simple questions like, “What’s Suzy been up to lately?” communicate that their friends matter to us.  Similarly, remembering details of what our kids have shared about their friends (or what their friends have shared with us) and then asking follow-up questions demonstrates our care for them.  Finally, being an enthusiastic supporter of their friends communicates we value them.  We should cheer their friends on at sporting events, musicals, or whatever else they’re into!  Not only does this build our relationship with our own kids, but it’s a wonderful way to be a light in their friends’ lives as well.  

One final note: As parents, it is our job to come alongside our kids to help them evaluate their friendships.  For sure, there will be some tough conversations concerning their friends.  Yet, these should always be done with an attitude of respect.  During these conversations, we must be careful not to demean our kids’ decision-making abilities or bad-mouth the people they care about.  “Suzy has a really great sense of humor, I can see why you enjoy being her friend! But I would like to talk to you about another quality of Suzy’s that concerns me,” will generate a very different response than if we say, “Suzy is no good and making terrible decisions for her life.  I don’t understand why in the world you would want to be friends with her.”       

Demonstrating an attitude of humility and respect towards our children reflects a desire to love our kids as Christ loves us.  This desire is a result of having a firm foundation and lives changed by the gospel.  It is also a reminder of why we need to continue to abide in Christ through his word and prayer.  We simply cannot do all of this in our own strength and wisdom!  Let’s continue to pursue Christ and give glory to him as he equips us in the good work of parenting.    

Welcome Home: Parenting with Humility

For those who have been following along in the series, you know we have focused on the following: building a firm foundation on Christ and the Gospel; marriage setting the tone for the home; the values of a home filled with emotional safety and joy; the language of marriage; and the theological (and subsequent practical applications) of joy in marriage.  As we shift our focus from marriage to parenting, we will keep the same principles in mind that have been previously discussed throughout this series.  

At first glance, some might bristle at this post’s title.  After all, aren’t parents supposed to be the ones in authority?  Don’t we need to be firm, especially in discipline?  The answer: Yes.  But please don’t be mistaken- this is not an either-or situation!  Kids need authoritative parents.  That is, parents who are nurturing, supportive, responsive, and firm.  Both firmness and support are needed, and one without the other spells disaster.  Firm parenting without a sense of love and support will lead to rebellion; lax parenting with a high degree of support and responsiveness will lead to entitlement and a lack of self-control.  While this post focuses on the parental attitude of humility and respect in creating an environment of emotional safety, please know that this safety is also created when parents firmly set and hold to rules and their subsequent consequences.  

Just as within marriage, an attitude of humility and respect is of the utmost importance in our relationships with our kids.  This is the attitude needed to create an environment of emotional safety and joy!  Remember, emotional safety is the comfort and security experienced in a trusted relationship; it is feeling safe from attack and ridicule and is the fuel for collaboration and connection.    

Let’s first turn our attention to the attitude of humility within the parent-child relationship.  Previously, we stated that true humility is non-threatening and invites security and trust.  It is the attitude described of Christ in Philippians 2:5-8 whereby he humbled himself as a servant.  How then, do we as parents demonstrate this attitude of humility? While this could be an entire book unto itself, today we will examine 3 practical ways: 

  1. Cooperation.  Whether our children are 3 or 16, we can demonstrate humility by asking for their help and input.  Of course, by doing this we are also teaching them practical skills and critical thinking skills.  Yet, something more is communicated: their help, as well as their thoughts and opinions, are of value to us.  When kids know that their thoughts matter- when they feel their voices have been heard- this greatly enhances their sense of confidence and security in general and deepens their trust and connection with us in particular.  It also lets our kids know that we don’t always have all of the answers and that we too need help- even as an adult.  By asking for their help, we model that it’s okay to not know everything and that it’s good and wise to ask others for assistance.  After all, the only way we can model humility is to be humble ourselves!

As we go about our daily tasks, let’s be intentional in seeking opportunities to ask for our children’s help- even with tasks we could do ourselves.  And with discretion and appropriate boundaries, let’s (at times) ask our kids for their input concerning problems or stressors we may be facing.  After they have helped or shared with us, let’s express our humility and gratitude by thanking them for their time, efforts, and ideas.      

  1.  Apologize.  Few things in life require more humility than offering an apology.  To admit our mistakes, faults, and wrongs does not come naturally to us!  Rather, we prefer to hang on to the bitter end, preserving the last bit of our pride.  But as the book of Proverbs reminds us, pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).  Furthermore, Proverbs also teaches that a fool does what is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).  Certainly, hanging on to our pride is foolish- especially when it costs us peace and connection in our relationships.  

In light of these truths, we are left without excuse: when the situation requires it, we need to apologize.  As sinners, we will sin in every relationship we have.  If you’re a parent reading this, you no doubt know the depths to which this is true in the parent-child relationship.  And so, when we blow it as parents- when we lose our cool, use harsh words and tones, or fail to keep our word- our first recourse should be to apologize.  

Our apologies should be sincere, taking full responsibility for our actions and words, without placing blame on the child.  An effective apology also recognizes the emotion and hurt experienced by the one we have wronged.  Such apologies model humility as well as the proper way to apologize.  As example-setters, if we apologize well, our kids will be equipped to do likewise.  Most importantly, our apologies will lead to greater trust and safety within the relationship.    

  1. Curiosity.  In our prideful attitudes, we assume we know it all.  But a humble attitude makes the opposite assumption- that we have much to learn.  And when it comes to our kids, we will always be learning!  While we may (and do!) know much about our kids’ strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and demeanors, we cannot truly know everything about them.  This is why it’s so important that as parents, we stay curious.  

Being a curious parent means holding a genuine interest in what our kids think and feel.  It means caring about how they see themselves and how they interpret the world around them.  To be sure, these kinds of conversations take intentionality and time on our part.  But when we invest in these conversations- when we ask questions and attentively listen to their responses- we build connection.  

With humility, let’s be mindful to engage our kids in meaningful conversation.  Whether about school, world events, their interests, or friends, we can ask questions without assuming we already know their answers.  One last encouragement: if you haven’t already, please consider making topics related to faith and the Bible a regular part of your conversations.  This is a fantastic way for both you and your child(ren) to grow in your walk with God and in your relationship with one another.

Within the Veil

I wish I had known sooner.  For so many years, I failed to grasp the significance of the Old Testament tabernacle and sacrificial system.  Of course, I knew the tabernacle was beautiful and precisely created, just as God had instructed.  It was meant to reflect His glory and to be the place where His people met with Him.  As for the goats, lambs, and bulls, I knew they were sacrificed on behalf of the Israelites’ sin.  Yet, I didn’t see the fullness of this beautiful picture; they were but mere shadows of what was to come. 

Within the innermost part of the tabernacle was the Holy of Holies. This was the very dwelling place of God which was set apart from the rest of the tabernacle by a thick veil.  This veil was a visual representation of the sin that separates man from God’s presence; a signifier of the divide between a holy God and a sinful people.  It was clear: the two could not mix.  No man except for the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies- and then but once per year on the Day of Atonement.  

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice an animal for his own sins and for the sins of Israel.  He would then enter the Holy of Holies to spread the blood from this sacrifice (known as the sin offering) on the mercy seat.  The mercy seat was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and the place where God was seated among His people. It was here, in this place of meeting, that mercy flowed abundantly from the sacrificial blood.  

As I write these words it all seems so strange- so foreign.  We have not known this world of blood and sacrifice, of priests making offerings on our behalf.  We have not been like the worshipers of the Old Testament who could only approach God in the temple through sacrifice and prayer.  No, we have only known the benefit of the New Covenant by which we can boldly approach the throne of God. This is the Covenant ushered in through the sacrificial death of Christ.   

As his suffering came to an end, Jesus cried aloud and gave up his spirit.  What happened next was unimaginable: “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51).  The temple veil, that curtain which was at least 30 feet tall and approximately 4 inches thick, was torn.  That which had represented the barrier between man and God was now open.  The new message was clear: there was now a way to have direct access to the presence of God.  That way was- and is- through the veil, that is, the broken body of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:20).  

Amazingly, the earthly tabernacle had been but a copy of the heavenly one (Hebrews 8:5).  As our great high priest, Jesus entered into the heavenly tabernacle not with the blood of goats, rams, or bulls, but with his own blood- the blood he had spilled on our behalf as our substitute (Hebrews 9:24). Until that time, all the blood of the sacrificed animals had been but a shadow of the blood that can actually cleanse the conscience of a sinner.  His sacrifice was better: a completely sufficient once for all offering that secured our eternal redemption, making us holy forever (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-12; 10:14).  The blood of animals could never accomplish this.  Only by the perfect blood of the Lamb did this become a reality.

And so we rejoice that the earthly tabernacle and mercy seat are now obsolete- for our hope is now secured in the heavenly places.  As Hebrews 6:19-20 says: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  

Because Jesus is our superior high priest, we can draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  And because he holds his priesthood permanently, we can draw near whenever we have need, with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 7:24; 10:22).  As our high priest, he has anchored himself in heaven’s holiest place- and because we are joined with him, we are anchored there as well (https://www.1517.org/articles/whats-an-anchor-doing-in-the-holy-of-holies).

As I reflect on all that I have written here, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the riches of God’s grace.  And yet, I cannot fathom a life otherwise.  I can only offer sacrifices of praise for the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls- Jesus Christ.  He alone bore our sins and redeemed us from the pit of hell.  And he alone is our high priest in the heavenly places.  Because of his sacrifice, we are no longer objects of wrath, but a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).  Once separated from God’s presence, our lives are now hidden with Him in God (Colossians 3:3).  To the glory of God, our anchor holds forever within the veil.  

*For more on the blood sacrifices, see my blogs: Nothing but the Blood (Part I and II)

For the Joy

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1b-2) 

The night before his crucifixion Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup before him might be taken.  Matthew records his words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  Three times Jesus prayed this prayer.  Troubled in his spirit, Jesus prayed so intensely that he began to sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  Luke describes Jesus’ condition as that of agony.  

Why this anguish?  What was the reason for his earnest and persistent plea? 

Our Savior knew full well what was to come.  The scourging, the mocking, the spitting.  The crown of thorns, the nakedness, the nails.  Being pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sin.  He saw it all before him.  But more than even that, he knew the cup he was to drink was that of the Father’s wrath.

On the cross, the wrath of God reserved for sinners was to be fully poured out on him. This was the source of his agony.  He was to become the object of the holy and righteous wrath of God stored up for the sins of mankind.  As our substitute, he would experience the torments and afflictions of hell that we so justly deserve.       

Jesus knew this wrath was coming.  He knew he would experience complete separation from the Father- that not one ounce of the Father’s goodness or love would be upon him.   On the cross, he would be utterly stricken, smitten, and afflicted.  The Father’s face would be turned from him.

Why we may ask, would he do this?  Why would Jesus take upon himself the absolute and deliberate wrath of God?  Why would he become the representative of wretches like us?  After all, Jesus made it very clear in John 10:18 that nobody takes his life from him: that he lays it down on his own accord.  What could possibly compel him to do this? 

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross.  What then was this joy?  

For the joy of obeying the Father.  For all eternity past, the Son enjoyed perfect union and love with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Yet, Jesus proclaimed his purpose for his time on earth was that of submission: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).  John also recorded this statement from Jesus concerning his purpose:  “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).  While in human flesh, the eternal Son of God submitted to the will of his Father; to carry out the plan of salvation that had existed before the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8). 

While on Earth, Jesus spent his life in perfect obedience to the Father.  He overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness and he perfectly fulfilled the Law.  In obedience, Jesus finished the course of suffering before him by his death on the cross.  Though his agony was greater than comprehension, his desire to obey and please his Father was greater still.  

For the joy of bringing glory to himself and the Father.  Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John 17 details the great desire our Savior had for his Father’s glory as well as his own.  The glory that could only be had on the other side of suffering (1 Peter 1:10-11).  In the garden before his arrest, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you….I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1, 4-5).    

Through his obedient death on the cross, glory would be given to God for bringing about the salvation of the elect; and glory would be given to Christ for accomplishing the work given him by the Father (John 17:2-3).  With joy, Jesus looked forward to being restored to the glory he previously experienced; though now he would be glorified in heaven as the God-man, not as the preincarnate eternal Son (Cara, 2020, Tabletalk Magazine).  

For the joy of his reward, being the Savior for his people.  In John 6:39 we learn that the will of the Father was this: that Jesus would lose none given to him by the Father and that he would raise them up on the last day.  Given to him by the Father.  This amazing phrase means that those chosen from the foundation of the world to be adopted as sons and daughters through Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5) are given to him as a gift– as a reward for his obedience to even death on a cross.  The elect are given to the Son by the Father, and the Son gives eternal life to all who believe in his name. 

Yet, Jesus knew the inheritance of a people for his own possession could only be accomplished through his death.  And so, by his own blood, he secured for himself a radiant bride composed of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 5:9).  This bride is the church (Ephesians 5:27, Acts 20:28).  And if we are among those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, this includes us.  By the riches of God’s grace, we are part of the Father’s gift to the Son.  Truly, for the joy of being our Savior and so that we may see his glory (John 17:24) Jesus endured the wrath of God. 

The unimaginable agony endured by Christ on the cross was sustained by the hope of the joy set before him.  For the joy of obeying his Father and for the joy of bringing glory to them both, he absorbed the wrath and horror of the cross. But oh follower of Christ, may we never forget how he delights in being our Savior.  For his joy included ransoming his bride, that he may present her to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 4:27).  In love and with joy, he has made wretches his treasure. 

To the End

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1) 

As I read the account of the most famous supper of all, I can see them all in my mind- the 12 chosen disciples and Jesus, ascending the stairs to the upper room.  The Twelve had no idea what was about to unfold; how nothing would be the same after that night.  

The Passover meal prepared, they took their seats and listened to Jesus declare his desire to eat this meal with them before he suffered.  They had heard this talk before, yet it never seemed to sink in.  Instead, they began to argue over who was the greatest.  Jesus quickly reminded them with his words, and then his actions, that true greatness is found by humbling oneself to serve.  

At the onset, it seemed this would be an occasion for frustration and annoyance on the part of Jesus.  After all, these men had been with him for three years.  Had they not learned anything? Did they not understand?  Yet, John began his account of the upper room with these words: Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  

Kneeling on the ground, he began to wash their feet, one by one.  One more lesson.  One more act of everyday love before demonstrating the greatest love of all.  Through the years, Jesus had healed a disciple’s family member, provided them with food, calmed the raging sea, and patiently taught them when they were slow to understand.  The washing of their dusty, dirty feet was his final act of servant love before his arrest later that night.   

He loved them to the end.  What a beautiful way to describe the thorough love of our Savior; and what confidence this gives that he will also love us- those who are his own- to the end. 

Earlier in John’s gospel account, he recorded these words of Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand”  (John 10:27-18).  What utter grace and amazing love!  Our Shepherd has made our salvation secure.  We who are his sheep can never be taken from him.  

A few short years later, the Apostle Paul gave us this same encouragement in his letter to the Philippians.  He wrote, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  By His grace, God’s saving purpose will be fulfilled when Christ returns in glory.  Until that appointed time, he will keep his sheep so that they might reign with him forever. 

Later in his life, John wrote about this most glorious and anticipated day.  In the last few chapters of Revelation, he described the new Heaven and the new Earth- a place where all things will be made new, and our tears will be wiped away.  Truly, those written in the Lamb’s book of life will be kept and loved not only until the end but through eternity. 

And so my mind goes back once more to those men in the upper room.  They really didn’t know how their lives were about to change, or what this would mean for all of humanity.  As the night would continue to unfold, they would witness the betrayer leave their midst, and they would become the first partakers of the elements of the new covenant.  To their surprise, their night would end in a garden with the arrest of their Lord; an arrest that would lead to many sons being brought to glory.     

I can only imagine how John must have replayed all of this in his mind as he sat down to write the account of that night.  It’s impossible to know what he must have felt, or if he wrote through many tears.  Yet, we know his reflection in accordance with the Holy Spirit left us with this beautiful beginning: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  This is the love of our Savior.  The love that secures us forever in him. 

Faith of a Thief

Sometimes I just can’t believe that it’s real- that our Savior has really prepared a place for those who believe in him.  Whether through my own death or his return, that I will really be in heaven one day seems…distant and strange.  It is simultaneously my glorious hope and a source of unbelief.  For some reason, I know with everything in me that Jesus died for sinners; that my sin has been completely covered by his blood, and that he has risen indeed!  Death could not hold him and he now sits at the right hand of the Father.  But to imagine being with him in heaven?  Sometimes I just can’t grasp it.  

Yet, when I read Revelation 21 and 22 my heart swells at the very truth John recorded.  He shall wipe away every tear; There will be no night there; They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  

Before John was given the beatific vision of heaven, he recorded these words spoken by Jesus: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3).  As every word Jesus spoke has proven true, how could I doubt these words?  Like the possessed boy’s father I can only pray, I believe!  Help my unbelief!  (Mark 9:24)

As is the way of God, he has chosen the foolish things to shame the wise, the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are.  I find this again in the thief on the cross.  

There he was, a common criminal nailed to a tree, reaping the punishment he had sown by his crimes.  I don’t know what he knew of a coming Messiah or if he had read the words of the prophets.  He was not a follower of Jesus and had never heard him speak. Yet, this man next to Jesus became a believer who exercised faith.  His words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” were bold.  But this dying man had everything to gain, and nothing to lose.  Still, I wonder what he expected Jesus to say.  Did he think his boldness would pay off?  Whether he did or not, he spoke the words nonetheless.  He professed belief and made his request.  

I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear Jesus’ reply: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Oh, how I wish the thief’s response was recorded for us in Scripture!  No greater words could be heard by any human ear, let alone a dying criminal.   What a beautiful irony that his greatest joy on earth came as he hung with outstretched arms on a cross, gasping his last breaths.  He was now a man saved by grace through faith awaiting an eternity with the Suffering Servant beside him.  

Contrasted with the thief I have had years upon years of solid Bible reading and teaching.  I know the covenants and the fulfilled prophecies; I see the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New.  I know he rises again as our living hope, and I know the ending of Revelation.  Moreover, I know how He has changed my life.  

And yet, this common thief’s faith was based on none of that.  He saw Jesus for who he was, trusted him, and called out to be saved.  A convicting reminder that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.        

Like the thief, I am a sinner saved by grace.  As such, I will hold fast to the Savior’s promise of Paradise, and I will trust the Spirit-inspired words of the apostles: that for those who believe in the name of Jesus, a glorious inheritance is waiting.  One that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading; the likes of which no eye has seen, nor ear heard.  

This I know and believe, even though I struggle to comprehend it.  Yet, I will pray for the Lord to hasten the day when my faith shall be sight.  I will pray to have the faith of a thief.    

Welcome Home: Pursuing Joy in Marriage

 Over the last several posts we covered some challenging ground!  We began by talking about choosing Whom we will serve and what it means to build our homes on the firm foundation of Christ and the gospel.  We’ve also talked about the attitude, values, and language characteristics of a household culture of emotional safety and joy.  Throughout this series, we’ve emphasized that marriage sets the tone for this culture and have focused heavily on the aspect of emotional safety.  Today’s post will continue to focus on marriage as the tone-setter, but as the title implies, the spotlight will be on creating a culture of joy.    

While we will get into the practicality of cultivating joy in marriage later in this post, let’s first look at this topic theologically.

As stated previously in this series, one purpose of marriage is to reflect the joy of the union between Christ and His Church.  Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that it was for the joy set before him that Jesus endured the cross.  And what was that joy?  It was the joy of being our Savior, of reconciling his bride to himself.  Although he suffered more than we could ever imagine, it was the joy before him that kept him on that cross.  John Owen described this perfectly when he wrote,  “He did all this that he might enjoy his bride, that he might be for her, and she for him, and not for another” (from his book, Communion with God.)  While we will experience this joy fully only when we are with him in heaven, we have a piece of it even now as we have fellowship with his Spirit that is within us.  

If this is not enough to convince us that God created marriage to be joyful, consider the following verses:   

Proverbs 5:18- “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.” 

Proverbs 31:10-11- “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”  

Song of Solomon 8:6-7a- “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”  

These verses demonstrate that husbands and wives are to rejoice and delight in one another.  Yet so often marriage lacks this joy.  This happens for a myriad of reasons: we become easily preoccupied with our jobs, household tasks, and childrearing; we get tired in all the ways- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; we harbor resentments toward one another; or, we may even forget that marriage is meant to be joyful.  Whatever the reason, it is well worth our effort to intentionally cultivate joy within our marriage; for as joy in the marriage increases, so does the joy of the entire family.  But most importantly, a joyful marriage is a true picture of the joy of Christ toward his bride.  

Let’s turn our attention now to 4 ways we can intentionally cultivate joy in our marriages: 

  1.  Joyful Greetings and Partings.  Part of everyday life includes the comings and goings of our day.  These are prime opportunities for connection.  Don’t waste these moments!  Take the time to wish your spouse a good day and give some affection before parting ways.  Similarly, take a moment to greet one another upon return.  As the title of the entire series implies, the idea of “Welcome Home” is to make our homes a welcoming, inviting, safe place to be.  A simple way to create this culture is with a smile and warm greeting when our spouse walks through the door.  Even on the days we’re feeling tired, stressed, or annoyed with our spouse, we can still choose to be intentional about the way we part with and greet one another.    
  1.  Cheer in Shared Activities.  It’s always a great thing when spouses enjoy the same activities/hobbies.  If this is true of you and your spouse I encourage you to set aside time in your week to engage in that activity together.  If shared activities have been lacking in your marriage, think back to the activities you enjoyed together when you were first dating/married and make a point to begin doing these again.  (And if this means hiring a sitter to make this happen, then, by all means, hire the sitter!)  

If you and your spouse struggle to have a commonality in your preferred hobbies, this is an opportunity for compromise.  For example, fishing may not be your thing but if your spouse asks you to tag along, then do it!  Or, maybe you don’t really love going on walks but your spouse has been asking you to join them…again, just do it!  But here’s the catch: leave any grumbling behind.  Just as God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) we create joy in our marriage when we cheerfully compromise and give of ourselves to one another.   

  1.  Keep the Conversations Going.  It’s easy for our conversations with our spouse to center on the day-to-day things such as finances, schedules, work, and the kids.  All of these transactional topics are good and necessary!  But there is much joy to be had when we share in transformative conversations.  These are the conversations that allow us to really know our spouse.  Transformative topics can be heavy or light.  For example, we can discuss goals, fears, struggles, politics, or spiritual matters.  But we can also take time to talk about lighter matters such as favorite childhood memories or lighthearted hypotheticals.  The point of all of these conversations is to know and enjoy our spouse more intimately.  One great way to get these transformative conversations started is by using the Gottman Card Decks app.  This app has so many great categories of questions!  It’s free and awesome, so check it out! 
  1.  Keep the Gospel Central.  From the beginning of this series, we have stated that Christ and the gospel are the firm foundation on which we build our homes.  As we continue abiding in Christ through prayer and time in the word, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  All of these fruits add immeasurably to the quality of our marriages- and I especially love that joy is named among them.  The more we continue to grow in our walk with God, the joy within us will be displayed in our homes and in our marriages.  While this point may be less practical in nature than the previous three, I wanted to include it as a way to encourage a continued gospel focus within your own life as well as your marriage.   

Joy is needed to reflect the glory of Christ and his Church and it is needed to create a stable and loving home environment. I pray this post has renewed your perspective on joy within marriage.  As the one writing these words, I can attest that this post has been just as much for me as anyone else.   May we spur one another on as we intentionally pursue joy together.

Welcome Home: The Language of Marriage (Part II)

Last week we talked about the key principles of edifying language and speaking the truth in love. Today we’ll look at four practical applications of these principles for everyday conversation.   

  1.  Listen to understand.  This might seem like an odd first choice as this whole post has been about our words!  But when we listen to understand rather than respond, emotional safety increases.  And while yes, we need to close our mouths to listen well, our words can also be used in a way to help us truly understand our spouse’s point of view. Here’s how: 

We can use our words to reflect what has been said.  It’s often our tendency to immediately respond to our spouse’s words rather than ensure we have an accurate understanding of what has been communicated.  However, when we use reflection the flow of conversation is slowed and our desire to understand is communicated.  Reflection also gives our spouse the chance to clarify their point or to affirm we have understood them.  Consider these examples: “I want to make sure I understand. You’re saying…” Or, ”You just said….is that correct?”  Taking the time to reflect on what we’ve heard is a simple but effective way to have productive end edifying conversations.  

We can take a curious stance.  Rather than jump to conclusions or rush to judgment about what our spouse is saying, we can ask questions first.  Of note: tone and intention are important here!  When we take a genuine interest in our spouse’s view and approach the conversation from a curious standpoint, we invite open dialogue and increase safety.           

  1. Compassionate Responses.  In order to respond to our spouse in a meaningful, compassionate way, two things are needed: empathy and undivided attention.  When it comes to undivided attention, let’s face it- we can’t be all that compassionate if we’re scrolling through Facebook while our spouse is speaking.  (Trust me, I’m preaching to myself here.)  Giving our spouse undivided attention when they speak communicates love, respect, and interest.  It also allows us to practice point #1 and arrive at a better understanding of what is being said.  

Once we have a clear understanding of what our spouse is communicating we can offer a compassionate (rather than judgemental) response.  As noted above, this requires empathy; being able to identify and feel what our spouse is feeling.  This may seem like an inconsequential matter, but being able to reflect our spouse’s feelings is a superpower.  Rather than rushing to give advice or piping up with a quick, “I told ya so,” try first reflecting their emotion.  Statements such as: “That sounds like a really frustrating situation”, or,  “I know you worked hard on that project and feel disappointed it didn’t work out like you planned,” are great ways to increase emotional safety in the relationship.  

So often couples stop talking to one another because they either fear their spouse’s harsh response or believe their spouse won’t understand them.  Compassionate responses are a key way to build safety, connection, and assurance in marriage.   

  1.  Repairs.  We’re not always going to get it right.  Our self-control and tempers may wane or our words may not come out the way we intended.  When this is the case we need to remember our keyword, humility.  (For more on this see Welcome Home: Marriage Sets the Tone.)  In humility, we value the relationship over being “right” and prioritize reconciliation over pride.  It is humility that allows us to recognize our faults and make repairs.  

John Gottman, the founder of the Gottman Institute, defines a repair as “any action or statement- silly or otherwise- that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”  (For more on repairs see https://www.gottman.com/blog/r-is-for-repair/).  The language of repairs involves taking ownership of personal faults and extending an invitation to calmly continue the conversation.  Examples of repair statements include: “Let me say that again in a softer way,” “I can see my part in all of this,” and, “My reaction was too extreme, I’m sorry.” 

Conflict may never feel comfortable.  But when repairs become commonplace during emotionally charged topics, both spouses can enter the discussion with confidence that they will be respected.  They will know their spouse is for the relationship rather than just themselves.             

  1.  Assertive Statements.  As discussed in principle #2, speaking the truth regarding our thoughts and feelings is essential to marriage.  The key here is the combination of direct speech and a respectful attitude.  Remember, our intention in conversation should be connection rather than alienation.  Assertive communication aids us in this goal in two important ways:    

Assertive statements express emotion while taking ownership of the emotion.  

It’s commonplace to blame others for how we feel (i.e. you make me so mad!).  However, when we own the emotion rather than blame, safety is created.  Beginning a statement with “I feel” is a good way to do this…provided the third word is an actual emotion!  It’s common in our culture to use the phrase “I feel” but then proceed to not actually name an emotion (i.e. I feel like you’re not listening to me).  This is not the proper use of “I feel!”  Instead, express the specific emotion and connect it to a specific fact.  For example, “I feel frustrated when you scroll Facebook on your phone when I tell you about my day.”  Once we’re able to identify and express our emotions we’re ready for the next step.

Assertive communication expresses a need or a request.       

As much as we would like our spouse to magically know what we need (or as obvious as we think it might be) it’s our responsibility to directly and specifically communicate it.   For example, the statement “I want you to help out more around the house,” is very vague!  Alternatively, a specific request might sound like this: “My Mondays are so hectic. Can you please do the dishes on Monday evenings?”   To use our above example about phone scrolling, the request might go something like this: “What I request is that you put your phone down when we’re having a conversation.”  Lastly, be sure to add your emotion about the fulfillment of your request.  Let your spouse know you would feel loved, appreciated, or cared for should they do what you ask.      

In writing this post I fully realize that none of the principles and applications discussed have been complex concepts.  However, as is often the case, the simplest of instructions come with the most difficult applications.  And yet, it is through the application of these simple truths that we reap a great reward; the reward of a strengthened marriage and a home culture of emotional safety.  

Welcome Home: The Language of Marriage (Part I)

Every culture has a language and the culture of emotional safety and joy is no different.  As in the previous posts, we will look at this topic within the context of marriage.  Why? Because marriage sets the tone.  Remember, this series is all about creating a culture which makes home a desirable place to be.  Language plays a huge role in this endeavor!  How we speak to our spouse matters tremendously and has the ability to create- or destroy- emotional safety in the home.  In today’s post we will look at two guiding principles of the language that creates emotional safety.

Pricinciple #1:  Language must be edifying.  The language we use with our spouse must be aimed at building up rather than tearing down.  Can you imagine how different our marriages would be if everything we said were put through this filter?  How much more loving, uplifting, and emotionally safe they would be?  It’s unsurprising then that God’s word is not silent on the topic of language.  Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is good for building others up according to their needs.  When life gets busy and/or when tensions run high, it’s easy to forget this principle.  But the reality is we have the tremendous opportunity and privilege of building our partners up by encouraging, guiding, and equipping them with our words.    

The Old Testament was not silent on this topic either!  Proverbs 25:11 says,A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  While apples of gold in a setting of silver may not mean much to us, this is likely a reference to a column of silver adorned by carved fruit of gold.  Such a piece of art was considered opulent and beautiful. (https://www.gotquestions.org/apples-gold-settings-silver.html).  The point of this verse is that our words- when rightly spoken and fitting to the situation- are just as beautiful and valuable.  A wonderful reminder of the power of our words and the importance of being intentional with them.    

Principle #2: Speaking Truth in Love.  As we well know, difficult conversations are necessary within marriage.  We can’t escape this reality!  Speaking truth matters.  Being honest with our partners about our thoughts and feelings matters.  Confronting sin matters.  And yet, without love our words become the resounding gong or clanging cymbal of 1 Corinthians 13.  As in the first principle above, the intention of speaking truth should be our spouse’s edification.  If we’re using our words as weapons to “prove a point” or “win the argument,” our own interests, rather than our spouse’s, are likely in view.          

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul communicated some hard truths regarding both their behavior and division within the church.  He communicates very clearly and directly in chapters 3 and 4 for the purpose of the church’s edification.  Yet, his tone of love and concern prevails.  “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children” (1 Corinthians 4:14).  As we communicate truth to our spouses, may we make it our goal to emulate Paul’s example.   

With these principles in mind, tomorrow we will turn our attention to 4 practical applications for everyday conversation with our spouse.

Welcome Home: The Values of it All

So far in this series we have established the following: 

  1.  Building our homes takes intentionality and persistent work- but the reward far outweighs the cost.  
  2. We must choose Whom we will serve.  If it is the Lord, then we build our homes on the firm foundation of Christ and the gospel.  Everything flows from this!
  3. Marriage is the next building block upon the firm foundation and sets the tone for the culture of the home.  A culture of emotional safety is built by exhibiting an attitude of humble servanthood within the marriage.  

Today we will continue to focus on marriage, highlighting three values needed to create a home culture of emotional safety and joy.  

  1. Growth in the knowledge and love of God.  We build our homes on Christ not just through a one time confession or choice but by continuously abiding in him through time in prayer and the word, and through regular corporate worship.  As stated in a previous post, all these actions require discipline.  However, when we value growing in the knowledge and love of God we are motivated to stay consistent in these actions.  A cycle then emerges: the more consistent we are, the more we grow; the more we grow, the more we want to stay consistent.  

To be clear, loving and glorifying God (by growing in knowledge and love of Him) is to be our number one priority in life, whether married or not.  But when this is the top priority of both individuals in the marriage, the result will be an increase in the fruit of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22 tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control- all things needed to develop a home culture of emotional safety.  Of course, we will never possess these qualities in perfect measure, but as we grow in our sanctification, our marriages and families will be strengthened.   

One more note on this topic: as parents, we cannot expect our children to value prayer, Bible study/reading, and corporate worship if we do not model this.  The marriage sets the tone.  As our kids age, they will be especially aware (and critical) if we do not live out what we preach to them.  This goes not only for our time in prayer and the word, but in our obedience to it.  I praise God that this is not dependent on our own strength!  As we abide in Him, we will be changed and strengthened by His Spirit.     

  1.  Family: Marriage and Children.  This may seem like an obvious observation, but I thought it was one worth noting.  Creating a household of emotional safety and joy happens when those in the marriage value marriage and children.  Whatever other careers, hobbies, and interests there may be between the husband and wife, valuing the marriage must be second only to God.  When marriage is valued we strive to intentionally live out the ways God has commanded us to love and treat one another within this relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33).  Ultimately, we will care for, honor, and cherish most that which we value most. 

The same is true when we value our children and the great honor of parenting.  In His grace God gives us children that they should be highly valued and cherished.  As Psalm 127:3-5a days, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  It is our great privilege to love our children and raise them up in the ways of the Lord.  

When both the husband and wife feel valued by one another there will be comfort and safety in the home.  The same holds true when children feel valued by their parents.  With the value of marriage and children present, a sense of acceptance and belonging is created- and this is felt by all.  When all in the family know they are wanted and valued, emotional safety is increased.    

  1.  Fun.  Last but not least is the value of fun.  To be sure, marriage and parenting is serious business in that they are to be taken seriously!  However, the institution of marriage not only exists to demonstrate the union between Christ and His Church, but to reflect the joy of this union.  Christ delights in his bride!  We then should delight in one another.  Although there are differing interpretations of the Song of Solomon, it is quite clear from this portion of Scripture that the marital relationship is to be full of love and joy.  It is this enjoyment of each other that sets the tone for joy within the family. 

A home full of laughter and playfulness is a place where all (even guests and friends!) long to be.  As Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.”  While we maintain the attitude of humble servanthood in our marriages, let us also remember to value the enjoyment of one another.  Our heavenly Father delights in us when we enjoy the good gifts He has given us- and our marriages and children are without question among the most precious of these.  

I will close out this post with a few considerations: 1) Let us consider how we can continue to grow in our knowledge and love of God, both individually and within our marriages.  If you haven’t already, consider making this a regular topic of conversation between you and your spouse.  2) Let’s also consider how we can communicate our love and appreciation for one another.  By what means can we consistently communicate to our spouses and children that they are valued?  3) Lastly, let us be mindful to make ‘fun’ a priority.  How can we enjoy our spouses and children today?   

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