Good to be an Uncle: Lessons from My Nephew

My five-month-old nephew Jackson is here visiting us (with his mother, of course).  As you might expect, he is amazingly cute.  I am not often around children his age.  I wish I were more.

A natural sense of compassion grips your heart when you’re around children of Jackson’s age.  Usually this compassion takes the form of goofy faces, unintelligible and high-voiced noises designed to make the child laugh, and tickling, among other things.  It also shows itself in protectiveness.  I drove to CityWalk with Jackson in the car.  I was much more careful than usual.  It would have been unnatural not to be.

As I watched Jackson fall asleep in Cindi’s arms at the restaurant tonight, I saw a picture of peace.  We were in the middle of a place where people go to be entertained.  Couples on dates strolled down the sidewalks.  High-schoolers gathered in the public square, doing what high-schoolers do.  An artist painted a portrait of Rocky a few feet away.  Lights and billboards filled the walls and sky.  Poorly-clothed women were flaunting what foolish women flaunt, and unself-controled men were making down payments on adultery by looking.  Normal world stuff.  Some moral, some amoral, some immoral.  But Jackson went to sleep.

I just watched him sleeping, and like anyone else would have, I thought, “This is beautiful.”  I could literally feel my spirit soften.  There is something magical about a sleeping baby (especially when he’s your first nephew).  But it’s more than just cuteness.

I’ve been reading Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur over the last few days.  It’s MacArthur’s attempt to answer the question, “Where does a child go when he dies?”  He makes some very good points.  He also says things that I couldn’t say, or at least with the certainty with which he says them.  But a point that he makes clearly and legitimately from the Bible is that God has a special, deep, and beautiful love for children.

This is perhaps best reflected in the life of Jesus.  Mark tells how Jesus was indignant with the disciples because they tried to keep children from coming to Him (Mark 10:13-16).  Imagine Jesus angrily rebuking you because He wanted to hold and bless the children around Him, and you wouldn’t let Him.  I think the point would stick.  You wouldn’t forget it.  He said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”  And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.  Jesus had a big heart.  A beautiful heart.  He said that the kingdom of God belonged to such children as these.  He also said that all who desire to enter the kingdom of God must become like these children.  They must become like Jackson.

Another time (Matthew 18:1-6), the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me…”  At this point, Jesus gets protective: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

(Sidenote: You don’t want to do anything to hurt Jackson (metaphorically representing any child of God).  In fact, were you to do so, it would be better to hang a boat anchor around your neck and jump off an off-shore drilling station into the Pacific.  Because God wants you and your stumbling block at the bottom of the Pacific more than He wants His children stumbling.  This is how precious God’s children are to Him.)

In the middle of CityWalk, Jackson was not just really cute (although he was definitely really cute); he was a peaceful picture of the kingdom.  He was humble and dependent.  He leaned on others for his protection.  He was (and is) what I ought to be.  Jesus said so.  The greatest Christian is not necessarily the greatest preacher.  It’s not the most gifted soloist at the biggest church, the best Christian writer, or the valedictorian at the Christian school.  It’s not the RA, the one with the most radical testimony, or the one who’s gung-ho for missions.  You don’t become great in the kingdom of heaven by having an insightful journal, writing good spiritual poetry, or feeling more emotional than everyone else when you sing in church.  All of these things are things to be valued.  They can be beneficial, godly, and genuinely spiritual.  If you have one of these gifts or passions, cultivate it.  But don’t get sucked into any spiritual value system that doesn’t have child-like humility at the top of the list.  Full faith, naive obedience, innocent heart, and genuine humility are deeply beloved by God.  And one of the best representations of this pure humility is Jackson Ryan Heck, my nephew.  He is not a perfect picture of it, because he carries with him a sin nature which will bloom as he grows.  But he is still one of the purest pictures that you’ll ever see.  You can’t enter the kingdom of God without being like him.

Tonight, Jackson wasn’t just cute.  He was revelatory.  He reminded me of the tender love that God has for children, a tender love that is echoed even by my sinful heart, since I bear God’s image.  And if my heart is softened when I look at Jackson, how precious must be the softness of the heart of God toward him.

He also reminded me of what I most desire among all the Christian graces: humility.  If I could have one thing in this world–just one thing–it would be humility.  It is beautiful, right, and greatly to be cherished.

Jackson has already taught me much more than I may ever teach him.  That’s humbling.

It’s good to be an uncle.


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