You’ve Gotta See This: Tim Muehlhoff
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Tim MuehlhoffTim Muehlhoff (PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion, and gender. He is the author of I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting, and the coauthor of The God Conversation, Authentic Communication, and Winsome Persuasion, which received a 2018 Christianity Today...more
God’s working around people. So how can you convey, You gotta see this!? Author Tim Muehlhoff helps you talk about an unmissable God.
You’ve Gotta See This: Tim Muehlhoff
Tim: “When insulted, I do not want you to insult,”—Peter says—“Rather, I want you to give a blessing.” Now, everybody’s sitting there, going, “What?! How am I giving a blessing for an insult?”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Let me read you a quote—
Dave: —from a book I recently read; it says this: “If miraculous acts are God’s highlight reel, then common grace is the ever-present but oft-ignored elevator music that plays in the background of our lives 24/7.”
Ann: I read that same thing, and thought, “Wow! That’s so true”; because we often miss that background.
Dave: Well, it’s because we want to see that highlight reel, and we don’t realize there’s a highlight reel going all the time that we miss. We have Tim Muehlhoff, the author of that quote, [Laughter] sitting in the studio today. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, Tim.
Tim: Oh, it’s always good to get to be with you two.
Dave: Do you remember writing that quote? I mean, that is so well-said! You must be like a professor of communication, maybe? [Laughter]
Tim: I am a Professor of Communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California.
But I think that’s true, at least, in my life! I want the big and dramatic; and to be honest, I can count on one hand—I think like three events—that I would put in the category of: “This is the overtly supernatural.” But I’ve been a Christian since age 13; so if that’s all I’m going to praise God for, the cupboard’s kind of bare, a little bit.
Well, the doctrine of common grace is: you need to broaden your perspective, because there are things that should be in that cupboard that we just aren’t recognizing. And again, the book has a quote from C.S. Lewis: “We need to develop the seeing eye and see the many blessings that God has given to us every single day.”
Dave: Yes; and just to remind our listeners—the title of the book is Eyes to See—and it’s all about what you just said, this doctrine of common grace.
One of the things I love—that you say often in the book is—“It isn’t just for Christians. Non-Christians can see this; and actually, it’s one of the ways that we can reach people, far from God: is helping them see God’s been good in their lives, even though they may not be able to see it.”
Tim: Yes; I have a whole section on how to use Netflix® films to start conversations and The Walking Dead—I’m a huge fan of Walking Dead.
Ann: Are you really?
Tim: I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. It’s really not about zombies—it’s really not—it’s about human life in the midst of an apocalypse: there’s no government; there’s nothing to save you.
Tim: Survival. The themes that they deal with are just fascinating.
I struggle, just like your listeners; I just wish God would come up more in my conversations. Well, everybody knows about The Walking Dead; you can start a conversation about The Walking Dead. There’s a character named Herschel, who starts every morning, by reading from his King James Bible. A person walks by—and you can get the snarky comment, in a zombie apocalypse, like, “Hey, I’m kinda surprised you still read that thing!”—and Herschel’s response is: “No, faith is more important than ever before in a zombie apocalypse.” [Laughter]
I love bringing that up!—to say, “How do you keep your faith in the midst of a zombie apocalypse? [Laughter] I mean, how would you keep it?!”
Dave: Yes, exactly.
Tim: And I have used that to share with more people than you can imagine.
Dave: Taking modern art, and saying, “There’s common grace in there that we can learn from.” It’s the way I think God wants us to reach the world.
Tim: John Wesley once said—not about Netflix—but he said: “I think every believer should be able to take the newspaper, and from the front page, be able to transition to the gospel.” I really think that that’s true! We know that God speaks through non-Christians as well as through Christians; so I want to find points of contact, that we can have common vocabulary and conversations with my non-Christian friends.
Ann: —and even with our kids!
Tim: —and even with our kids!
Tim: Oh, entering their world, and sitting down, and seeing the things that they like! I really want to know what my students at Biola are watching; it gives me a little bit of a peek.
Now, of course, discernment has to be used; and maybe we even confront, every once in a while, when we do watch what our kids are watching—and we’re a little bit horrified—then, you have one of those conversations like, “Is this really good for you to be watching?”
But that’s why the book is using illustrations to foster all of these conversations about: common grace, about God, “Where is He in the world today?”
Because I’m a communications professor, I absolutely had a chapter on communication; because Americans don’t agree on much today. But a study came out that 98 percent of Americans agree incivility is a threat to our country; 68 percent believe it’s already at crisis levels.
Tim: And 45 percent of Americans say: “I do not feel safe sharing my perspective publicly.” With that in mind, Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist, calls this the “argument culture.” Again, we can see it—just turn on the news—we see it all the time.
Well, has God abandoned us to the argument culture?—no! He gives us an interesting proverb in Proverbs 18:21: “Life and death is in the power of the tongue,” a very famous verse. But here’s the cool thing: “Did He just give that idea to ancient Jewish writers?” or “Did He give the idea to everybody?”
In the book, I created a chart of other spokespeople, who kind of said the same thing; so listen to this very quickly:
- Hinduism/one Hindu mystic says this: “Words can comfort or hurt. It is our pride that makes us use words to hurt.”
- Buddhism/Buddha said: “Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.”
- Even Mohammed, who writes in the Koran that: “People who truly follow Allah speak righteous words.”
Now, think about this for a second—we know there’s virtually no chance the Buddha had any opportunity to read the book of Proverbs—but listen to what he says when he says, “Words have the power to both destroy and heal.” Where did he get that idea from? Here’s what I think common grace does: “I’m [God] going to give you an idea of what positive communication can do and what hurtful communication can do. I’m going to give the human race a vision of how words can hurt and how they can heal.”
I think we need that today, just as a reminder: “He didn’t limit it just to Christians; He gave that message everywhere.” I quote Sam Harris, one of the most famous atheists today, who virtually says about communication/conversation: “It’s the last hope that we have.” God is flooding us with this idea of: “Your words matter.”
I quote a study, where these researchers say: “When I give you a $50 bill, how does your brain react?”—and then—“If I give you a compliment, how does it react? Is it similar?” Her research leads to the conclusion: receiving a compliment, your brain registers it the exact same way as if you just received a cash gift.
Tim: Now, God created us that way; I think we have this propensity, God-given, to receive life-giving words. I love that! So give life!—say, “Thank you,” to people—walk up to them and affirm them. We all know that from FamilyLife marriage conferences: our words make a huge difference.
I think God has primed us, in a world, that He knows—I mean, how many of the Proverbs have to do with: “Your words are like the thrust of a sword,” or “You can break a bone with your words”?—that’s the negative—but then, He gives us the positive. I think we desperately need both in today’s world.
Dave: Yes; and it’s interesting—you’re not saying that Buddha and Islam are true just because they hit on a truth—you’re saying: “There’s a God, who reveals common grace to all of us, regardless of who and what we believe.”
Tim: Yes; and we’ve been quoting a lot of C.S. Lewis—so here’s him in Mere Christianity—he said, “I think, in even the wackiest beliefs, there’s a hint of God’s truth; because God has saturated the world with His truth.” Augustine said, “All truth meets at the top”; which means, “If it is true, then it’s God’s truth, whether the Buddha recognizes that or not.”
Now, we know, Dave—not to go into detail—but what you said: “No doubt that same Holy Spirit is convicting Buddha’s heart that there’s spiritual truth out there that [he’s] not getting to”; you know what I mean?
Tim: But it does not mean that we can’t look at the writings of Buddha, and say, “I think there’s some truth there.” But that’s the kind of adeptness we’re going to have to have today:”—to look and find, like Easter eggs hidden—“’Where’s God’s truth throughout the entire world?’”
Dave: Well, go back to the communication idea. If I’m called by God to speak life—and it has power; you illustrated that—what about: “speak truth”? What’s the balance? Because when Ann and I wrote, in Vertical Marriage, marriage needs the spouse—we need to speak life rather than death to one another—the questions came: “Well, what about when I have to say something—a hard truth—to my spouse?” or “…hear a hard truth? How do you balance that out?” You’re a professor of communication; so if anybody can answer that, it’s you! [Laughter]
Tim: Well, I do think love has to precede truth. My ability to receive your truth is going to be based on what we call a “communication climate.” If the climate can support that, then I think you have a better chance that truth is actually going to change the person.
I mean, some of us just get frustrated: “Hey, I’m going to lay some truth on you,”—I don’t want to do all the hard work of making sure I’m civil, kind—all the things Paul talks about—compassion—"I’m just going to lay some truth on you.” Well, I don’t think that’s what we’re being called to in the New Testament. It’s love and truth—I love the beauty of that—and so I do want to lovingly tell the person the truth. If I can’t lovingly do it, I don’t think I’m ready to tell the truth.
I love the fact that it’s both. We need to have the courage to speak truth; but today, we’re just getting raw truth-telling without any of the love. There’s no respect in our political system; there’s no kindness—we’re just flat out—“Well, I’m telling you the truth,” and “I’m sorry if you can’t handle it!” Well, you know, the word “gentleness” is found throughout the entire New Testament. As Christians, we need to be gentle as we tell the truth.
Ann: I thought this quote was really interesting, too, as we’re talking about communication—and this is from the book, The Miracle of Dialogue, by Howe—he says, “Dialogue is to love.” Did you hear that? “Dialogue is to love what blood is to the body. When the flow of blood stops, the body dies.” And then you go through, physically, what’s happening to our bodies when we don’t have relationship; I’m going to read a couple of these:
- “People, who lack strong relationships, have two or three times the risk of early death, regardless of whether they smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, or exercise regularly.”
- Another one is: “Terminal cancer strikes socially-isolated people more often than those who have close personal relationships.”
- Another one: “Divorced, separated, and widowed people are five to ten times more likely to need mental hospitalization than other married counterparts.”
These are fascinating! That’s so important in our communication and what’s happening when we socially isolate.
Tim: And we know this from FamilyLife conferences—we all quote John Gottman, who, by the way, is not a Christian—and yet, we all use his research. Now, we have to, again, be discerning. But man, John Gottman is quoted by Christians researchers and writers as much as non-Christians.
Ann: And he’s brilliant!
Tim: And he’s brilliant; great insight! He talks about the 5:1 ratio—he says, “For every one negative comment, it takes five positives to overcome the negative.”
Think about that just for a second, in today’s argument culture: how much work we have to do, because we’re throwing that one negative all over the place. We have to step back, and say, “If God’s Word is true, my words are like the thrust of a sword; am I really going to do that to you right now?”
We are creatures who cannot only think about an object; right?—I can look at this table and analyze the table—“Do I like the table?—the shape of it?—the color of it?” The cool thing is, we can do that with ourselves—we literally can step back, and say, “How do I come across with my kids?”—“…my spouse?”—“…my co-worker?” That is what Aristotle said separated us from the animals: “I can reflect on myself!” And I think we need to do that.
Ann: I remember thinking about this—I was with a small group of moms—we all had teenagers at the time. We were talking about how this is such a tricky phase of their lives and our lives. We talked about how we were complaining about them to one another; but then, how we were doing that in the homes.
I remember saying, “You guys, I feel like I hardly ever compliment my teenager anymore.” And they were all agreeing, like, “You’re right! We’re saying: ‘You’re not doing this,’ ‘You need to do this,’ and ‘Why aren’t you doing this?’” We all agreed: “Let’s try, for one week, to say nothing negative to our teenagers.” It was the most eye-opening experience! And when we came back, a week later, I said, “You guys, how was it for you?” And they said, “It was nearly impossible!” We had no idea how much complaining we were doing/how much criticism. And the other thing that came out was how seldom we complimented them.
And here’s what I discovered: I had the best week with my teenager that week than I had had in months! It’s interesting: I’m thinking I have this terrible teenager, not really realizing the effect my negativity was having on him.
Dave: Yes, and I think we do the same thing in our marriage.
Dave: I mean, we can do it with our teen; but I know that—you know, we’ve said this before many times—when Ann started speaking life-giving words to me, it made me a better husband—not because I was any better—I wanted to be better, because I’m like, “She thinks I’m good?—what? I’ve never heard that! She’s like praising me.” I’m like, “I’m going to be better than you’ve ever imagined!” It’s just the power—
Tim: —of praise.
Ann: —of praise.
Dave: Again, it goes back to common grace: it’s like eyes to see the good in your spouse, in your son or daughter, that you may not see. That’s God giving you different eyes to see; and then, when you speak that out, it changes everything.
Tim: And maybe we need to start with some self-reflection.
We’re all speakers for FamilyLife marriage conferences. One speaker said a stupid thing, and I went and did it. Here was the stupid thing he said [Laughter]—he said—“Go home and ask your kids how you come across to them.” Dave, don’t ever do that; well, I did.
Dave: What did you hear?
Ann: What did they say?
Tim: I pulled my three kids together; I said, “Okay, talk to me. If there’s one thing you could change about Dad, what would you change?” Three hands went up instantly! You know, it was like, “That was way too quick!” And all of them were like, “You know, when you get irritable, you kind of shout a little bit at us.” I was like, “What?!!” [Laughter]
Now, listen: you can either receive that or not. That’s a huge moment! I will say my feelings were hurt; but now, I’m going to get defensive or not.
The book of Proverbs compares life-giving words to honey for the soul—Ann, that’s exactly what you were saying—I had just gotten into a pattern of just being irritable about everything. The cool thing is: you can rewire yourself to go back, and say, “I’m going to say positives!”—it’s the 5:1 ratio.
I would challenge listeners to do that: that ability to reflect on yourself is totally unique to human beings. My dog never says: “I just wonder how good a family pet I’ve been [being] today?” [Laughter] “Have I been living up to expectations when they got me from the shelter?” My dog never does that! But we, as human beings, can do that; and I think that is God’s common grace. He has wired our brains to receive these compliments in a life-altering way.
Remember the movie, The Help?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: I loved that movie.
Tim: It’s a great movie—The Help—where you get African American women, who have been brought into a lot of wealthy white women’s homes to help raise the children. One woman has been brought in—and there’s a rather pudgy girl—and the mom is always saying hard things to this girl, like: “Hey! No dessert for you. You have to eat that,” “Sit up straight!” “Why don’t you do your homework?” It’s soul-crushing to watch!
But when the parents leave—remember, she takes this child, puts her on her lap—
Tim: —and they do this daily routine—and you all know—we could all do it together; couldn’t we?
All: “You is kind,” “You is nice”; right? It’s just beautiful!”
Ann: “You is smart.”
Tim: “You is smart”; we can do that.
Now, here’s the really cool thing about Christianity: Paul says, “Do that to your enemies.”
Ann: Oh, now, you’ve stepped into a hard area!
Tim: See what I mean?
Tim: “Don’t just do that to people you like and agree with!” What does Peter say?—
1 Peter 3:9: “When insulted, I do not want you to insult,”—Peter says—“Rather, I want you to give a blessing.” Now, everybody’s sitting there, going, “What?! How am I giving a blessing for an insult?” Well, we have to know what he means by blessing.
That blessing isn’t: “Forget about all the bad things you’ve done to us,”—that’s not what is meant by a blessing. A blessing would be:
- “Even though you are harsh toward me, I’m going to be gentle toward you.”
- “Even though you are not kind to me, I will be kind to you.”
- “Even though your words towards me are meant to be hurtful, I will speak life-giving words.”
- “Even as I disagree with your position/even as I confront you on the mean words you have said to me, I am committed to you that I’ll do it in such a way that the tone is one that reflects who Christ is.”
That is really unique to Christian speakers; and sadly, I wonder how much we’re living up to that in today’s argument culture. How much has the argument culture infiltrated the church? We probably could have some good, self-reflective thinking about that.
Dave: We’ve said this before—it goes back to us—as parents, modeling this in our homes, for our kids. You know, we had Joe Rigny on here a few weeks back—president of [Bethlehem] College and Seminary. He made a comment about the power of a dad in this area. I want to play it; and Tim, I want to hear you just respond to this.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Joe: “The heavens declare the glory of God [Psalm 119:1],”—it’s that principle, and then you just run it—"It’s not just the heavens that do that; everything does that! Honey does that; pumpkin crunch cake does that; which means, made things make invisible realities visible.”
Ann: —general revelation.
Joe: —general revelation; that’s exactly—see?—you’re like,—
Joe: —“I want to come to college!” She’s already got the seminary…” [Laughter]
The idea there is that God has revealed Himself in the things that He has made—His invisible attributes, His eternal power, His divine nature—clearly perceived in the things that are made. Now:
“Made things make invisible realities visible”; that’s step one.
Step two: “You are a made-thing; you are a made-thing. You’re made.” Well, okay; follow the logic: “Therefore, you make invisible attributes visible. That’s why God made you,”—which means: “Now, then, you go/okay, now, right to the home—which means, ‘What’s my role in the home, as a dad? I want to tell the truth about what God is like.’”
Tim: That’s really good!
Dave: Yes, it really was.
Tim: I love it! We incarnate the attributes of God in our home; and we know, from research, that early on, attachment styles are formed, early on, with our children. They are seeing, at a very young age: “This is what a dad is supposed to do,” “This is what a mom is supposed to do,” “This is how God relates to me.” That’s the power of attachment styles is: “I connect to you, and will eventually connect to God, based on your lovingkindness.”
We want to change the world!—all of us do—it’s kind of above our pay grade; let’s start in our own house.
My friend, Rick Langer, who’s part of the Winsome Conviction Project—I’m the co-director—he said, “If we all swept out in front of our front step, we’d pretty soon get pretty clean cities.” And we all need to take care of our own house first. All this stuff about common grace just needs to be shown in how we interact with each other—within our houses, within our communities, within our cities—and then, maybe, we will see a revival that can even sweep the whole country! We’ve seen revivals before.
Shelby: We’re going to hear from Dave and Ann, again, in just a second; but first, our guest today has been Tim Muehlhoff, and he’s written a book called Eyes to See: Recognizing God’s Common Grace in an Unsettled World. We’d love to send you a copy as our “Thanks,” when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and give to help more families learn about God’s common grace.
Now, Dave and Ann, we love hearing stories about how God is changing families. It’s one of our favorite things; isn’t it?
Dave: I tell you, there’s nothing better than getting an email or an actual letter sent to us about the impact that FamilyLife Today is having on a marriage and their family.
Ann: It’s my favorite! [Emotion in voice] I cry when I read them; because God is really changing hearts, legacies, families.
Dave: And you talk about eyes to see what God’s doing!—that letter or that email—it’s like, “Oh!” You know, we sit in the studio; we produce content that we hope helps; and then, we hear: “God meets people through this program.”
Ann: Yes; I wish every listener/every financial partner could see the impact you’re making through your donation.
Dave: Yes; and keep sending those letters. Your gifts enable those kind of impacts to happen. If you’ve never joined in, as a FamilyLife Partner, and given financially—one time or twelve times—jump in! I’m telling you: your gift gets those kinds of letters sent in, because God uses that to impact lives and generations to come.
Shelby: Yes, and you can give, online, by going to FamilyLifeToday.com. This week, when you partner financially with FamilyLife, we’d love to say, “Thanks,” by sending you a copy of Tim Muehlhoff’s book, Eyes to See. You can get your copy when you give at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by Peter Mutabazi, who shares an intense story of leaving his abusive dad, making a life for himself as a homeless street kid, losing his identity; and then, everything turning around when someone calls him by his name. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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