Love Like My Mom

My Mom called on a Saturday night over two and a half years ago to tell me that my younger brother, Jeff, had died.[1]Picture is of my brother Jeff My Mom didn’t grow up in a family that knew the gospel. In fact, she was the first person in our family to trust Christ. Her parents were divorced at a time when a scoundrel husband could just move across a state border and avoid paying any child support. And her dad did just that. Life was harder for her.

Jeff was called mentally retarded when that term was acceptable in the ‘70s. He would never have been able to live on his own, and so he lived with my parents his entire life. My mom and dad would never think of institutionalizing him. He was actually a great help to them as an adult. He loved routine, so they gave him jobs to do regularly. He could bring wood in for the wood stove. He could shovel snow. He could bring up the laundry. He could put away dishes.

Sometime after I graduated from college Jeff started having seizures. He had never had any health problems related to his disability before. After a seizure he would need several days of rest before he was fully recovered. My mom would lovingly take care of him until he recovered.

My brother didn’t have Down Syndrome. In God’s grace many Down Syndrome children are incredibly compassionate and loving. They are tender and affectionate. That was not my brother. There really wasn’t much emotion in Jeff’s hugs. They were perfunctory not passionate. He wasn’t a robot; he could show frustration, and he even smiled quite a bit. But he didn’t do the normal things that a baby, a young child, and even young adults do to express love to their parents. My mom never got an affectionately clingy infant in my younger brother. He would hug when he was told to, he would even say “I love you” if you said it first, but it wasn’t like when other people said it. I don’t doubt that Jeff actually meant it as well as he could, but love was a concept that really was beyond his ability to understand. He was never able to understand the question, “why?” And you really have to understand that to understand love.

I’ve thought about this over the years, and it’s occurred to me that my Mom’s love for my brother was a wonderful example of what Christian love is supposed to be. We don’t define love like unbelievers. We don’t just love those that love us. We are able to love those who don’t return any love—even our enemies (Luke 6:27-29). Of course with those closest to us it can be hard to love as Christ loved and seemingly get very little in return… maybe even nothing in return.

But it is how God loved us.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (ESV)

In fact, we were his enemies and he still loved us.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10 (ESV)

My mom has been a living definition of biblical love to me my entire life. For a long time, I didn’t notice it. That’s just what a mom does. But now I’m enriched by it. My love is too often selfish. I give to get. But my mom, like God, just gave. And she did it because the gospel changed her. And she did it for my brother’s entire lifetime.

My brother is gone, but I still think of my mother’s love for him. It’s a sweet picture of God’s love for me, and it reminds me of how to love others.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Luke 6:35 (ESV)


1 Picture is of my brother Jeff

Personal Weaknesses & Patience

One of my sons was very forgetful as a young child; he was absentminded. He would forget his trombone on days he needed it for band. He would forget his lunch. He forgot his soccer cleats for games.

So we worked on it. We would have him place his trombone right in front of the front door along with his lunch. Problem solved, right? One would think so. Only he would step over his lunch and trombone on the way to the car and still forget them. How? I don’t know. I’m not wired that way.

When he was really young, he was reflecting on some consequences he had faced for being forgetful, maybe he didn’t have lunch that day, I don’t remember. But he was in bed and I was saying good night and he was practically crying. He said, “Dad, I don’t want to be this way.” Well, I didn’t want him to be that way either. We prayed.

And that didn’t change him either. He forgot more important things in high school. He would finish his assignments and bring them to class on the day they were due. However, our school had a rule that the assignment must be turned in at the start of class. He would forget and turn it in at the end of class. Points would be deducted for a late assignment. Other kids were turning in assignments, and it wouldn’t trigger his memory that he needed to turn in his.

One day they had an exam and he didn’t know there was an exam. And my wife said, “Didn’t the teacher go over a study sheet in the class before?” and my son said, “Well, now that’s making sense to me.”

So my wife would sit down with him every night and go through his calendar. It helped a lot. But he needed that because he was forgetful, distracted.

Is forgetfulness a moral issue? I wanted it to be at that time. I wanted to find some way that his forgetfulness was sin. But it’s not.

What Is Man? [1]The idea for this is based on a lecture by Edward Welch, Westminster D.Min, 8/14/2007

Every philosophy of life has an anthropology. It has a theology of what people are like. An anthropology includes why you do what you do –your motivation. It includes a belief in strengths and weaknesses or what can a person do and what can’t they do. What are they responsible for and why aren’t they responsible for other things.

Of course the only true anthropology is found in God’s Word. We’re described as sinners, worshippers, and seekers—but not after God.

Most of evangelicalism—those that believe the Gospel—believe that man is made up of two parts: body and soul. The body is material, but the spirit and soul are immaterial. You cannot see them with your eyes. You cannot see them under a microscope. You can’t cut them out of the body. They are immaterial. They exist together but can be split apart—that’s what happens at death.

We could say that you are made up of both inner and outer elements. The body is your outer person and the spirit, soul, heart, etc. are the inner person.

So you have two types of problems: body issues and soul issues. Maybe this seems too simplistic to you. After all, how can you tell where body issues end and soul issues begin? That is the dilemma sometimes. They are often interrelated.

You’re one person with two interrelated parts. Your body is an instrument for either glorifying God or sinning. It carries out the desires of your heart.

How do the body and the soul, the material and the immaterial interact? Have you ever thought about that? How do they influence each other? Maybe I should ask it this way, what happens to your sanctification when you get tired? Or hungry? Or sick? Do those body issues influence your heart?

You are body and soul… and each influences the other. Any particular problem can have its source in both your body and your heart. For example, your worry (spiritual issue) can cause real physical problems, and your lack of sleep (body issue) can influence how you respond to your life (spiritual issue), can’t it? So how do we make sense of that? Is the body able to make you sin?

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

The body mediates our moral (good or bad) deeds; it doesn’t initiate them.

Ezekiel 18:20 (ESV) The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

My environment may have been bad, but I’m still responsible for my sin.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

For the believer, we are never tempted beyond our ability. Our body cannot make us sin; God says he won’t allow it.

All things spiritual are the inner person. Violations of God’s commands are always a heart issue.

2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV) So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

The Apostle Paul said that we have an outward man and an inward man. While our body is wasting away our spirit can be thriving.

How this Helps

So what? That might be what you’re thinking.

The outward person—the material part of you is not characterized by sin or obedience, but by strengths or weaknesses. What are you good at? What talents do you have? Those come from the outer man. The body is the mediator of moral action, not the initiator of it.

The body can never make us sin. It’s an outside influence on our heart like the world, friends, and the devil. We might add our past or experiences. They all influence, but cannot make us sin. This means that each of us will face greater or lesser temptations because of the peculiarities of our bodies and our history.

What are you good at? What talents do you have? Those come from the outer man.

  • Some can hear better
  • Some are stronger
  • Some are more athletic
  • Some can see better; don’t need corrective lenses.

One way we can identify body strengths and weaknesses is by asking ourselves whether what we’re considering is a moral issue or not. So are the following moral issues?

  • Figuring out directions?
  • Not seeing cultural cues? (Asperger’s Syndrome, nerdishness, close talkers). Some people are more skilled relationally. Others don’t get the nuances of interpersonal relationships.
  • Memory in general? “I told you to get milk on the way home. Why didn’t you?”
  • Being a detail person?
  • Punctuality? Ability to judge time and distance? Those of us that are punctual really struggle with the idea that this might not be a moral issue.
  • Ability to smell your own body odor? I’ve met some people lacking that ability. 😉
  • Or how about these?: “the physical experience of panic, hallucinations, disrupted sleep, physical agitation, a mind that races from one thing to another, or an inability to make useful and practical plans.” [2]Ed Welch, “Spiritual Growth in the Face of Psychiatric Disorders,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 29:3 (2015), 46. This is an excellent article that explains how understanding body weaknesses … Continue reading

Now is it possible for a non-moral weakness to become a moral issue? And if so, how? I think these weaknesses can be sin if I’m unwilling to work on them. Why? Because they are all ways that I can love my neighbor. Getting better at them means I love my neighbor better.

When you recognize that these issues are body weaknesses or strengths, not sin, you can be patient with them. This is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). So if your friend is forgetful, you can be patient. Their forgetfulness is not sin, and you are wrong if you try to make it a sin so you can justify your irritation.

My wife and I have different body strengths and weaknesses. Mostly we complement each other. It was easy early in our marriage for me to think that my wife needed to become more Kraig-like, not Christlike. But she doesn’t need to become more like me in areas that are not moral. Both of us need to become like Christ.

We need to be patient with our families. Understanding that some of our irritations with each other are body weaknesses can help us.


1 The idea for this is based on a lecture by Edward Welch, Westminster D.Min, 8/14/2007
2 Ed Welch, “Spiritual Growth in the Face of Psychiatric Disorders,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 29:3 (2015), 46. This is an excellent article that explains how understanding body weaknesses changes how we view people with certain psychiatric diagnoses like, ADD, Depression, and panic attacks, and it gives practical help for counseling them.

How Do We View Children?

I’m preparing a class on counseling children for the fall semester, so I’ve had some time to think about how our world views kids. Actually this is probably mostly a Western mindset about children. It’s clear the world doesn’t tend to think about children with a theological understanding.

Children Are Innocent
This is a common belief about children, isn’t it? The world believes that our environment corrupts children by the time they are adults, but when born, a child is innocent. And they do look innocent. They are cute and cuddly and they clean up well.

But have you ever thought about what keeps an infant from committing murder when he’s angry? Is it innocence or something else? [There’s a famous Christian quote about this I cannot recall.] It’s just that a baby doesn’t have the strength to murder you when he’s angry. A baby is a sinner… from birth. And if he could strike you when you weren’t bringing his bottle soon enough, he would.

While we can make allowances for a child’s immaturity in foreseeing consequences, we cannot treat children as if their sin doesn’t matter. Or as if children are not responsible for their sin. Their lack of considering obvious consequences is probably a mitigating circumstance, but they are still guilty. All of us are guilty from birth. Children are not innocent. Children are sinners by nature and by choice, just like adults.

Romans 3:10–13 (ESV) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”

Their sin affects their entire being.

Ephesians 4:17–19 (ESV) Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

I believe that’s true of children. Do you?

Children Are Wise
We even have a popular saying about this, “Out of the mouths of babes.” Some use it when a child says something unexpectedly wise. But if children say something wise, it’s normally an accident. Or it’s something they don’t really understand. Or it’s something they heard from an adult. They are not naturally wise.

Our world, however, believes they are. This is shown when a child says or does something that supposedly teaches the world. Greta Thunberg became a world-wide sensation as a Swedish teenager because she schooled adults on how to care for the environment. Adults will use children to make adult arguments because of the supposed wisdom coming from a child.

But children are not wise. They are naturally foolish.

Proverbs 9:6 (ESV) Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” 
Proverbs 22:15 (ESV) Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Children Are Autonomous
Some parents don’t think they should demand their children do things they don’t feel like doing. Parents are commended by the elites of Western culture for letting their children choose their gender or their sexual orientation. Why would you let a child choose? Because you believe they are wise—they can make a good decision, and you believe they are innocent—you believe their decision won’t be impacted by evil impulses or motivations, and you think they are independent or autonomous.

But that’s not what Scripture says.

Colossians 3:20 (ESV) Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1–3 (ESV) Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Children have to submit to parents. Parents have God-given authority over children. The reason a child obeys is because it’s a reflection of his relationship with Christ. No believing child is ultimately obeying his parents; they are obeying Christ. Which is why it doesn’t really matter if a child’s parents are even believers or even nice and kind. That would make it easier, but children can obey even ungodly parents because they are obeying Christ.

Ephesians treats children as if they can grow in their relationship with Christ, as if they are able to see the Jesus they serve behind their parents. That treats children just like it treats wives, husbands, fathers, employers, and employees. Paul expects children to be motivated by their relationship with Christ. How significant.

And he puts them under authority just like he does wives, husbands, fathers, employers and employees. Children don’t get to live any old way they want to. They are not autonomous. They need the direction of a parent who understands Scripture to help them grow in their relationship with Christ.

Those are 3 characteristics the world believes children possess. What would you add?

When Should My Teenager Date?

I wrote this a few years ago when I came across a blog [1]Marshall Segal, “Wait to Date Until You Can Marry,” Desiring God Ministries, … Continue reading and it prompted me to let my church know how my wife and I tried to think through this issue. I’m going to talk as if you already have teenagers; that’s how I thought through this, so just bear with me.

Our goal was for our kids to please God in how they related to the opposite sex. One of the best outcomes in our opinion was if our children developed friendships that were pure and holy. We didn’t want them to have regrets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your child could bring their spouse to meet an old high school romance and it wasn’t awkward—they didn’t have memories of sinning together? That was a scenario that we painted for our kids.

So I’m describing an ideal, and I am not embarrassed about holding out that ideal to my children. But the gospel teaches us that God takes messed up people, forgives their sins, and clothes them with Christ’s righteousness. Sinful failures in our relationships to the opposite sex don’t have to define us. Our identity in Christ is what defines us. God grants forgiveness to repentant sexual sinners. Praise God for that!

So what was our rule? Our kids weren’t allowed to have a dating relationship until they were able to get married. Our thought was that dating is for marriage. I’ve said that dozens of times to my children. So if you aren’t old enough to get married, then you aren’t old enough to date. Practically what that meant was they couldn’t have a dating relationship until they graduated from high school.

However, I’m not saying that the first person they date after high school should be whom they marry. No. Dating is for marriage, but that doesn’t mean that each dating experience should lead inevitably to marriage with that person. An adult might date several people less seriously and maybe a few more seriously before moving toward marriage with one particular person. Dating should be leading somewhere though. Even a bad date can help them on the road to marriage because they probably just learned some things that they don’t want in a future spouse. 😉

This is not the gospel. This is not biblically mandated. It’s an area of Christian liberty where we tried to help our kids make wise decisions. Of course we can’t prevent them from liking a particular person of the opposite sex nor would we even try to. But they couldn’t go on dates with that person. The only exceptions were a formal date like our school’s Junior-Senior Banquet because that is chaperoned and because it helps them learn how to properly relate to the opposite sex in a formal situation.

And even if our son/daughter had a girl/guy that they were really good friends with, we regularly ask them if they are looking at them as a good friend, which is okay, or a dating relationship, which isn’t. How would they know? Are they relating to the person in ways that they wouldn’t relate to a good friend of the opposite sex?

This doesn’t have to be everyone’s family rule. However, I do wonder why Christian parents are sometimes in such a rush to have their kids date. What’s the hurry?

Frankly I’ve seen enough social media posts to doubt that Christian teens are handling their dating relationships wisely while they’re in them, and the aftermath when they break up sometimes shows their misplaced values and immature search for identity. And you’re never going to convince me that a history of dating early and intensely and then breaking up has prepared a teen better for eventual Christian marriage than not dating would have. Seriously, can you name one spiritual benefit from dating in high school? Maybe you can. I’ve not thought of one. And I can think of several temptations dating could bring.

Our children are encouraged to have wholesome relationships with the opposite sex through school and church events or other group activities. They don’t need the pressure of finding a girlfriend or boyfriend in junior high or high school.

You are not helping your child find satisfaction in Jesus if even unintentionally you encourage them to find their identity in a boyfriend or girlfriend. Like I said, it’s not the gospel. It’s just something to think about.


1 Marshall Segal, “Wait to Date Until You Can Marry,” Desiring God Ministries,,

Young Man, Pursue Holiness; Pursue Humility

As I’ve prayed for my two adult sons over the past few months, my main requests have been alliterated: that they will grow in holiness and humility. My premise is that these two virtues are especially necessary in young men today.

Of course pride and lust are not just the temptations of young men, but they do seem to be especially prevalent in young men. When I was a temptable teen, it was hard to get pornography, and the few times I was exposed to it weren’t enough to develop an ungoverned habit. While sexual lust is a temptation for me—I doubt I’ll ever outgrow that in this life, I have a decades-long habit of fighting it. Young men today are exposed to pornography earlier and longer than I was at that age.

That’s why today no one is surprised when a young man is snared by internet pornography. In fact, it’s the rare young man that isn’t. He’s the oddity. So holiness might seem an obvious prayer for young men.

But I also pray for my sons to grow in humility. I don’t think this is nearly as important to most parents as it should be. We fear our child being caught by pornography, but we don’t care that much about pride. In Scripture, pride seems the bigger concern of God. He hates it (Prov 6:16-19). It’s interesting that in that list sexual sin isn’t even mentioned. It’s sin so surely God hates it too, but it didn’t make the top seven of that list in Proverbs. Pride did.

In one epistle we find both holiness and humility commanded.

1 Peter 1:14–16 (ESV) As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

The Apostle Peter tells us that children of God shouldn’t pursue their former lusts. That means more than just sexual lust, but it means that as well. Looking at pornography in a darkened room by the light of a screen is not holy conduct. It’s anti-holy behavior. Instead, pursue holiness because God is holy.

Later, Peter also talks about humility.

1 Peter 5:5–6 (ESV) Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

Here Peter addresses young men specifically and tells them to be clothed with humility. In fact, they are commanded to humble themselves. There’s a warning and a promise. The promise is that at the right time, God exalts the humble. The warning is that God is opposed to the proud. To the degree that a man is proud, to that degree God resists him.

I believe pride is linked to pornography in two ways: First, the young man given to porn imagines that others exist to please him with their bodies. He’s the sun in his universe. But others don’t exist for you; they exist for God’s glory. Porn is selfish, not selfless.

Second, the lustful man doesn’t get help unless he humbly admits his sin to someone else. Those that try to fight porn in the dark, don’t win. The shame of this sin prevents many proud young men from ever getting victory. Growing in humility helps growing in holiness.

That’s backed up by a helpful phrase in 5:5 that says God gives grace to the humble. Do you need grace to fight porn? Then humble yourself under God’s mighty hand. He lavishly gives grace to the humble.

So, young man, pursue holiness and humility.

The young Christian man that is both holy and humble will be refreshing to his pastor, his friends, and his family. But mostly, he will be pleasing to his God.