Two trips to the grocery store: parenting by grace in a performance world

Imagine heading over to your local grocery store. You pick up milk, bread, and eggs. You’ve got your kids in tow so you’re relieved when they don’t make too much of a scene. You head to the checkout counter. The cashier rings up your items and tells you your total. After you swipe your card and sign, she thanks you for shopping and hands you your receipt. As you walk out toward the parking lot, you look it over. That seems like a pretty normal trip to the grocer.

In the Bible, there are two basic kinds of relationship—contract relationships and covenant relationships.

In the Bible, there are two basic kinds of relationship—contract relationships and covenant relationships. A for-profit business—like a grocery store or coffee shop—typifies the contract relationship. A barista at your local coffee place provides you with an Americano and you leave a few dollars in return. In a contract negotiation, an arrival at a mutually satisfactory agreement is important. Like buying a car, it’s important to settle on a price before you take it off the lot.

Contracts have obligations and conditions that require performance. The terms must be fulfilled. If I go into business with you and I break one of the terms of our contract, our business relationship is over. And even when all of the terms are kept, some contracts—like the fading ink on a receipt—only last for a specified period of time. Because the parties in a contract are consumers, I may choose to break my contract on purpose if it no longer benefits me. Tim Keller describes it this way: "In a consumer relationship (a thing-oriented relationship), it could be said that the individual’s needs are more important than the relationship." If the grocery store down the street offers better quality produce or double coupons, I may walk away.

Now imagine a different trip to the store. This time, everyone there greets you by name, and when you head to the checkout, the manager begins to recount the history of your relationship with the store: “Donna first visited this location in 2005. She picked up puréed squash, peas, and bananas for her six-month old. We remember it like yesterday.” At this point, you’re thinking, “I know that they keep my purchase history with that Bonus Card, but this is pretty creepy.” Suddenly you see the manager is no longer reminiscing. He has his right hand raised, and he’s swearing an oath. We solemnly swear to provide you with non-GMO snack food choices and the most delectable selection of meats… Today’s shopping trip is our gift to you. We’re family. Take whatever you like.”

Covenant relationships arise out of a personal history and a desire for deeper intimacy.

Covenant relationships arise out of a personal history and the desire for a deeper intimacy. In a covenant, negotiation has no place. The stronger party, that is, the party who is greater in grace, makes a proposal and gives his friendship and help as a gift. Covenant relationships aren’t even maintained by performance. If I break promises that I’ve made to my wife—like failing to love and cherish her well when she is sick—that doesn’t mean that our marriage is over. Our relationship is maintained by loyalty and unconditional love.

Sociologists tell us the marketplace has become so dominant in our society that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships. It’s easy to slip into this mindset with our kids. We parent with hearts set on “getting a return on our investment.” When our kids are cute and we’re posting fun stories and pictures of family night on Instagram, we feel good. But, when the kids are screaming and pitching a fit on aisle 7, we may feel like cutting our losses.

Kids are not commodities. Children are gifts.

In those moments, we must remember that kids aren’t commodities. Children are gifts (Ps. 127:3). They are not the products of our success. They weren’t given to us for our pleasure and benefit. Our responsibility is to press in daily with unconditional covenant loyalty and love. We can do this, because we have a heavenly Father who loves us, his children, in the same way. He keeps covenant with us even when we close our ears to his instruction and pitch fits about what he allows into our lives. He loved us even when we were sinners with sacrificial, covenant love (Rom. 5:8).

One of the ways we've encouraged a covenant mentality in parenting at the church I've served is through our child dedication process. Check out the e-book, Before the Lord, Before the Church: 'How-to' Plan a Child Dedication Serviceto learn more about how we maximize child dedication to training our moms and dads in covenant parenting. 

This post originally appeared at

Family Friday Links 10.27.17

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Here’s what we’ve been reading online this week:

We are KidMin had a post about free resources. No matter how big your ministry is, it’s hard to pass on free. This is helpful, check it out!

Greg Baird had a post on leadership. He says, “We all want to lead well.” He goes on to list 6 habits of that leaders need to have. Pastors (of any ministry) make sure these are true of you.

Home Front Magazine had a post on parental fear. If you’re a parent, you have fears … some of which you carry needlessly. Read this post to help start sorting through them.

What have you been benefiting from online lately? Leave a link in the comment section for us to check out.

Leadership Lessons from King Nebuchadnezzar

I once taught the book of Daniel in Vacation Bible School. I expected to learn a lot from Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the stories. But what surprised me, as I was preparing to teach, was just how much I learned from King Nebuchadnezzar... 

 Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from   The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible   by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017)

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017)

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful man with a short fuse--far from the model of emotional health. In Daniel 2, he's ready to put every one of his advisors to death just because they can't read his mind (Daniel 2:8-9). And it seems that the only thing more powerful than Nebuchadnezzar's temper is his pride. But God didn't give up on Nebuchadnezzar. He sent faithful men into captivity in Babylon, and he humbled the king. You can see his amazing testimony unfold in three stages:

  • At first, Nebuchadnezzar is delusional (Daniel 3:4-6). In a fantastic dream, God revealed to king Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom would not last. Another king would succeed him. Ultimately God's forever kingdom would crush Babylon and every other human dominion (Daniel 2:44-45). But somehow that powerful message was lost on Nebuchadnezzar. He completely missed the point. Instead of reacting to God's vision of the future with humility, he apparently only remembered that he was the "head of gold." So the king set up a 90 foot high image of himself and summoned all of his royal leaders as well as all nations and peoples of every language to come and bow down. He led the people in an idolatrous direction, and he led them there with threats: "Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace."
  • Nebuchadnezzar becomes aware of God's goodness and greatness (Daniel 3:29). After God delivers the three friends--Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego--from the fiery furnace, it seems that Nebuchadnezzar has his first major realization. The friends refused to bend or bow, and the king was enraged. So he heated the furnace seven times hotter and threw them in. At that moment, Nebuchadnezzar witnessed God show up. He was amazed. There was a fourth man in the fire--someone like a son of the gods (Daniel 3:25). The king inspected the men and discovered the fire hadn't touched them. They didn't even smell like smoke! So he immediately issued another decree. Once again he wrote to the people of any language or nation. Now he was leading the people toward the true God. But he was still leading with threats: Anyone who "says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego will be cut into pieces and their houses will be turned into a pile of rubble (Yikes!), for no other god can save in this way."
  • Nebuchadnezzar becomes aware of his sin (Daniel 4:1). Daniel chapter 4 begins with another decree from the king. Once again he writes to the nations and peoples of every language who live in the earth. The opening reminds us of the king's two earlier attempts at directing the people's worship. But this time the threats are gone. As commentator Ernest C. Lucas observes, "He no longer relies on the power of physical force but the power of personal testimony." In light of what's happened before, the king's words are amazing: "It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me." Nebuchadnezzar was humbled. He'd stood on the pinnacle of power and the roof of his palace and he bragged about all he'd done for his own glory and fame (Daniel 4:30). Then he broke. God drove him from men. Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind. He lived in a field and ate grass like an ox until he acknowledged God's sovereignty and his own weakness: "I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride, he is able to humble" (Daniel 4:37).

Too often I lead like young Nebuchadnezzar. I'm short tempered and proud. I might lead in the right direction, but I don't lead in the right way. And I don't think I'm alone. Sadly, Christian leadership often looks more like the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 3:29 than the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 4:1--using what power we have in a coercive way to our own ends. May the Lord help us grow in self-awareness. May he help us see both the greatness of his salvation and the depth of our own need and sin. I thank God that he humbles the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Do you have a testimony to share about a way God has humbled you? Share it in the comments below.

The illustrations in this post are from my book, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible. Check out the New Growth Press website to purchase a copy or learn more.

Family Friday Links 10.20.17

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Here’s what we’ve found helpful and encouraging this week online:

Colin Smith as a post about fighting sin. He starts his post out this way, “As you come to know God better, you will become more aware of your sin.” He goes on to list 3 ways to fight against our sin. This is a great reminder for all believers.

Justin Buzzard currently has a series of posts on discipling your kids. In this post he’s asking the question of motives. What is your motive to disciple your kids? He says, “Desire is the one motive that powers biblical, healthy, sustainable discipleship.” Parents, this is a great series so far and very worthy of your attention.

My friend, Scott Kedersha had a post on the importance of prayer. He says, “Most of us desire to pray, but for many reasons (as shared in part one of this series), we choose to NOT make prayer a priority in our lives and relationships.” If you are like me and struggle with prayer, this series is for us.

What have you found online that we need to check out? Leave a link in the comment section.