What Makes a Good Friend?

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Friendships can be fickle. Even putting aside the middle and high school years, many adult friendships have flimsy foundations. A hobby? A common interest in a sports team?

Other adults have few friends to speak of.

When Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), he wasn’t only predicting his own cross-directed future. He was giving a lesson on friendship.

Personal Preference?

If you ask ten Christians what it means to be a friend, you might get ten different answers. Some of this is due to personality, background, and preference. But the Bible teaches that all Christian friendships have some common elements.

The basics might be expressed differently. But, like a leaf burn in autumn, the aroma of Christian friendship is distinctive.

Wanting the Best

Good friends want the best for each other. In other words, friends love one another.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

We need to be committed to our friends for their good. We should get to know them, listen to them, and ask questions to figure out what that “good” is.

In good times and bad, friends remain loyal. Through sins, slights, and offences, they persevere in love.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

Doing Good

Love which only occupies intention is no love at all. A real friend takes action.

We should point our friends repeatedly to Jesus. Sometimes this means support and encouragement, and sometimes it means rebuke.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)

A good friend is quick to listen and slow to speak. He gives godly advice when appropriate.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)

Friends know each other’s weak points, temptations, and sin patterns. They give concrete help in the fight against sin, and they remind each other of God’s grace. They pray for one another.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

We can usually make more of an impact by being a close friend to a few than being a casual friend to many. We see in the life of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus was and is the best friend we could ever imagine. He is loyal, loving, and ever-present. He is full of grace and wisdom, and he gives both abundantly. He rebukes us and encourages us at the right time and in perfect proportion.

But Jesus is much more than an example. He makes friendship possible. He frees us from our self-focused obsession and gives us love for others.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.


Photo Credit: Steve Buissinne (2016), public domain

God May Postpone Your Relief for His Glory

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The beginning of Exodus overflows with the oppression of God’s people. The Egyptians employed slavery, torture, and murder to keep the Hebrew people under foot.

But God’s compassion is equally evident in those chapters. It’s striking to read how God identifies with his people.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2.23–25)

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…” (Exodus 3.7–8a)

The details of this story are familiar. God enlists Moses and Aaron in his rescue mission, and by the end of chapter 4 they have traveled back to Egypt from Midian. They are ready to confront Pharoah.

Because God is in control and cares for his suffering people, we might expect Pharoah to fold immediately. God snaps his fingers, and the Israelites drop their bricks and follow Moses out of town.

But that’s not how the story goes. In fact, Pharoah makes his slaves’ lives worse because of Moses’ intervention (Exodus 6). God told Moses that he would harden Pharoah’s heart, and it happens before our eyes.

Why is this? Why doesn’t God give immediate relief to his people?

God is the Lord

When we investigate the Biblical text, we see God is motivated by a concern for his glory.

Before God brings the first plague against Egypt, he tells Moses he will harden Pharoah’s heart. This message isn’t new, but this time we hear God’s design in the hardening.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:3, NASB)

And what’s the purpose of these signs and wonders?

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. (Exodus 7:5, NASB)

God wants the Egyptians to know that he is the Lord. He says he will accomplish this for Pharoah when the Nile turns to blood. (Ex. 7:17)

Instead of an immediate release, God will bring Israel out through great judgments (Ex. 7:4). These plagues will bring glory to God by showing the Egyptians (including Pharoah) that he is the Lord.

Do you feel the tension? As the plagues stretch on, Israel is still in slavery. They still have backbreaking work and unreasonable quotas in front of them every day. I can imagine the people asking, “How long, O Lord?”

Waiting and Faith

God’s deliverance for Israel doesn’t follow our timeline. But this isn’t an issue only for his ancient people.

Consider the young woman struggling with chronic pain. Or the teenager overwhelmed by depression. Or the middle-aged man trapped in a soul-sucking job or a loveless marriage. These people of God cry out for relief. They get no answer and God seems distant and uncaring.

But the beginning of Exodus teaches that God’s compassion isn’t bound to time. He can be full of love and “slow” in providing relief. Before Moses returned to Egypt, it had been 40 years since Israel cried out to God. But Israel had probably been under Egyptian rule for hundreds of years.

God is vitally concerned about his glory, about humanity recognizing him for who he is. This includes the people around us, observing us as we wait for deliverance. It also includes we who wait. Waiting on God is the essence of faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Jesus didn’t get relief when he requested it. He didn’t get relief at all. The greatest display of God’s glory (the cross) involved God refusing relief to his own son. God was glorified in not showing compassion to Jesus so that his compassion could be multiplied to the nations.

As you ponder God’s delay, as you wait for his answer, remember that he is with you. He will glorify himself in your waiting.


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Photo Credit: Máté Holdosi (2013), public domain

Heaven Is Not Vacation

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We’ve all grappled with eternity. Whether groaning because of sin or looking forward to paradise, all Christians have pondered heaven. And one of the most mind-shattering realities of heaven is that it goes on forever. It doesn’t end.

We struggle with this concept because we are finite. We’re bound to time and everything we do and create has a beginning and an end.

We haven’t experienced eternity, so we learn mostly by contrast. Witness this statement from the apostle Peter (emphasis mine).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Any inheritance we receive in this life is perishable, defiled, and fading, and Peter tells us the glory won for us by Christ is just the opposite.

The Last Day of Vacation

I was thinking of eternity and heaven on a recent vacation.

I’m always excited at the beginning of vacation—there’s so much promise, hope, and adventure ahead. But I get wistful toward the end. I try to soak up all the sights, sounds, and tastes one last time before I return to normal life.

On that last day of vacation, I need to remind myself—I’m still on vacation. I’m still away from my job, the never-ending yard work, and the unfinished home repairs that taunt me daily. But I feel a bit of sadness and finality on that last day. I try to make a few more memories, take a few more pictures, enjoy that last visit to the ice cream shop.

Heaven is Different

Since our time in the new heavens and new earth won’t end, we won’t have this last-day-of-vacation feeling. We won’t need to squeeze in a last roller coaster ride or grab just a couple more shells. We won’t experience that creeping regret that we could have made the trip a little better.

And the center of our whole heavenly experience is gloriously different than any vacation spot in the world. It will be wonderful to have new bodies, to be free from sin, and to see beloved friends and family. But if you read the book of Revelation, you know heaven is about God.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3–5)

The Lord will be our light, so night will never come. We won’t ever have to say goodbye and count down the days until next summer. We won’t wish we’d booked a different room or traveled a different week.

We will see his face, and we will worship him. How’s that for an every-day experience?!


Photo Credit: anonymous (2015), public domain

Ruin Your Family Vacation in Six Easy Steps

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Taking a vacation with your family can make your year. Especially when they are young, children look forward to these trips for months and have piles of memories afterward.

Because a vacation can be such a balm for a family, parents want everything to be perfect. But there are so, so many ways to fall short of perfect! Most of us are okay with imperfection, but we’d like to avoid disaster.

Partly out of my own experience, I offer six ways to ruin your family vacation. Though it may be too late for this summer, file these suggestions away for the future.

1. Ignore your children.

The kids will want to do childish things on vacation, like build sand castles, play in the water, and visit amusement parks. If you want to rest, you need a break from your kids. Let your spouse or parents handle the children as much as possible.

You might think you’re missing an opportunity to spend time with your kids. But you work so hard, right? Put your feet up and nap. You’ve earned it.

2. Be tight with time and money.

Your children will ask for LOTS of things on vacation. But stay strong; don’t go beyond the minimum. Money is tight and time is precious. Let this be your mantra.

Say no to the extra scoop of ice cream, the additional hour at the park, and the last ride on the carousel. Your budget and schedule are more important than these simple joys.

3. Be distracted.

Vacations offer a great chance to build relationships and engage in conversations. But that doesn’t sound very relaxing, does it? So make sure you’re not present.

Hang around in the background, but take your mind and attention elsewhere. Put your nose in a device and convince everyone that you’re busy with Important Things. (Acting annoyed can help, just ask George Costanza.)

4. Insist on your own way.

Let your family know the places and activities you enjoy, and push hard to prioritize all of them.

In the interest of fairness, you’ll probably have to go to some places you don’t love. As you get dragged along, make sure your mood is sufficiently sour to ruin the experience for everyone else. If you make your displeasure known (non-verbally, of course), then next time you’ll either be left out or the activity will be cut from the schedule. Either way, you win!

5. Don’t lift any burdens.

Though vacations present an opportunity to bless others, don’t go out of your way to do anything extra. You need your rest.

The person in your house who cooks, who does the laundry, who cares for the children most of the time? Let them carry on as usual, unless that happens to be you. In this case, insist on your right to a break. Enlist someone else to take up your slack (and try to ignore the hypocrisy).

6. Abandon all spiritual practices.

Vacation is about rest and fun. So, cast aside anything that feels like work, including your spiritual disciplines.

It’s easier to read a novel than the Bible, right? Who wants to pray as a family when you can watch TV instead?

By taking a break from your spiritual life, you tell your family (and especially your children) that there is no joy in following Christ, only duty. You also communicate that it’s okay to set aside your efforts to love and obey God whenever the mood strikes.

The Big Idea

There are lots of ways to ruin a family vacation; I’ve just picked the low-hanging fruit. The big idea is to make the vacation all about you. Don’t serve others, and don’t make any sacrifices.

If you follow these steps, you’ll not only ruin your vacation, but you’ll be well on your way to poisoning all of your family relationships.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2009), public domain

You Are Not the Bride of Christ

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You won’t find the phrase “bride of Christ” in your Bible. Just like the Trinity, this concept appears in Scripture without the wording we now use.

Though the biblical authors use this image to refer to the collective people of God, many today misapply it to individuals. This error has far-reaching and unexpected consequences.

The Old Testament

Let’s begin with the Bible. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was the people of God by virtue of God’s gracious covenant. In Isaiah 54 (and elsewhere), God used the language of marriage to describe his relationship with his people as a whole.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:4–8)

The Israelites understood marriage, so God employed this language to explain his covenant. The prophets regularly used this image to point out Israel’s many idolatries. So we read of the people “whoring” after other gods and abandoning their faithful husband. (See Ezekiel 16 for a detailed and graphic example.)

The New Testament

With the coming of Jesus, the people of God are no longer confined to one nation. Now those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior make up God’s community, the church.

The theme of the church as the bride of Christ comes from three New Testament passages. The famous passage about marriage in Ephesians 5:22–33 compares husbands to Christ and wives to the church. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he bethrothed them to one husband, Christ (2 Cor 11:2). Finally, the picture John develops in Revelation 21 shows the New Jerusalem as the bride of the Lamb (see verses 2 and 9–10).

Whether Old Testament or New, these references are all collective, not individual.

The Importance of Getting it Right

Teaching that individuals are the bride(s) of Christ is not just an innocent mistake. It can have serious consequences for our worship, our outreach, and our own sanctification. I see at least four reasons why it’s important to cling tightly to what the Bible says about this image.

1. Biblical accuracy is important.

When the Bible speaks about something, even by way of images, illustrations, and metaphors, we must interpret accurately.

2. We use this language in worship.

When we worship God corporately, we naturally use language that captures our relationship with him. This is true in prayer, preaching, and singing.

The church has been infected with Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs for many years now, and I wonder if a misunderstanding of this biblical image is to blame. When we urge our congregations to sing about being in love with God (instead of loving God), we evoke a romantic image that echoes the brides-of-Christ mistake. I see these solitary, romantic notions nowhere in the Bible.

3. We risk emasculating men.

Some men already feel the church is too feminine. When we ask men—especially men new to (or outside) the faith who don’t yet know our strangeness—to profess being in love with Jesus, they may not come back. Since this brushes against the hot-button topic of homosexuality, we need to be clear about the sort of love men should have for Jesus.

4. We risk sending the wrong message to women.

Some of the single women in our churches long to be married. Trying to encourage them by teaching that they are “married to Christ” now is not helpful. It’s dismissive in addition to being unbiblical.

I suspect the Catholic church’s teaching about nuns has crept into the larger church culture on this point. The Catholic church’s catechism (scroll down to paragraph 923) teaches that nuns are “betrothed mystically to Christ” and that they are “an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ.”

This is nowhere in the Bible. We need to care for the single women in our churches with biblical comfort and love.

A Beautiful Image

The image in Scripture is clear: God is preparing and purifying his people for a great gathering at the end of time. The victorious Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, will meet his bride, the church, and there will be a great feast of celebration.

Let’s not dilute or distract from this great biblical image. You are not the bride of Christ; we are.


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Photo Credit: Andreas (2008), public domain

Love at Work: Malcolm Gladwell on Reporting

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What does it look like to glorify God at work?

Our answers will be as diverse as our jobs. I’m trying to figure it out as a college professor, but what I learn can’t be adopted verbatim by my friends who work for engineering firms.

Yet I’ve found it helpful to think through the principles by listening to people in different careers. So, while I know little about journalism, I can learn from someone like Malcolm Gladwell.

A Short Bio

Malcolm Gladwell is a writer for The New Yorker and the author of some mega-selling books. (My favorites of his are The Tipping Point and Outliers, though I haven’t read David and Goliath.) He has recently gotten into podcasting, releasing the first season of Revisionist History this summer.

I don’t know whether Malcolm Gladwell is a Christian. In a 2013 interview he said he would call himself a Christian but that he wasn’t part of any church or group at the time. He was raised in the Mennonite tradition.

Gladwell on Reporting

I listened to an interview with Malcolm Gladwell on a recent episode of the Longform podcast. He was promoting Revisionist History.

In an earlier appearance on the same show (back in 2013), Gladwell discussed some of his foundational commitments as a reporter. (These quotes begin around the 44-minute mark of this podcast.)

Gladwell: I try to follow the rule: if I write about you, I do not want you ever to regret having talked to me. In cases where I think the person will regret having talked to me, I usually don’t do the story or don’t use the person’s interview or don’t use the parts I think they’ll regret having said.

Gladwell clarified his position in the 2016 interview. (These quotes start at 6:40.)

Gladwell: The great temptation of a journalist is—you go in, talk to someone, and they say something in an unguarded moment, that they probably shouldn’t have said. And those kinds of statements fall into two categories. They say something that they didn’t mean. Or they say something that they did mean but didn’t intend to disclose. And when I’m writing, I’ve always tried very hard to identify those moments and never to use them.

He acknowledges this is a point of departure between him and other journalists. (These quotes are from the 2013 interview.)

Gladwell: I really object to this notion of journalism as a kind of…if they said it, you print it. NO. If they said it, you think long and hard about whether it’s necessary. And you think long and hard about the sense in which they were speaking, and you think long and hard about whether if you asked them that question again they would answer the same way. And if you don’t think they would answer it the same way a second time, you can’t use it. It’s not a game of gotcha.

Evan Ratliff (interviewer): And would you ask them again?

Gladwell: Absolutely. I can’t tell you how many times I call someone up and I say, “Well you said this. Did you really mean that?” And they’ll send me back an email and they’ll rephrase it and I’ll use the rephrase. Most people who do not explain themselves for a living aren’t expert at it. […]

Gladwell: Most people spend 95% of their time talking to people who are by definition generous listeners. Your wife is a generous listener. She knows what you mean. She’s not taking the worst possible interpretation of what you say. They’re not governing their speech in the way that you would if you’re Obama…If you’re talking to someone who is naive in that sense…you have to protect them. That’s part of the deal.

Did you catch that? Gladwell strives to be a generous listener when he interviews people for his job. He doesn’t play gotcha, he doesn’t use quotations offered in an unguarded moment.

He is practicing the Golden Rule. He is practicing love.

The Golden Rule at Work

Glorifying God at work means much more than praying for the conversion of our coworkers and customers. We need to think about doing good works and blessing others in ways that honor Christ.

I’m grateful for Malcolm Gladwell’s simple yet profound application of the Golden Rule to his work as a reporter. If you’re learning how to honor God with your job, that’s as good a place to start as any.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: United States Mission Geneva (2011), Creative Commons License

When God Promises His Presence

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Moses’ call is one of the most striking in the Bible. A miracle, dialogue (with God!), promises—it’s all there.

The whole story—from big plot points to small details—is fascinating. At the center, we see a man questioning his call. We have a lot to learn from God’s response.

The Background

The beginning of Exodus 3 finds Moses in Midian, the country to which he ran when Egypt was no longer safe. He has a wife and family, and he works for his father-in-law as a shepherd.

While carrying out his shepherdly duties, Moses is confronted not only with the famous burning bush but also with God himself (Ex. 3:6). God announces his compassionate intention to free his people and take them to a good land, and he plans to send Moses to do this enormous work. Moses isn’t exactly ready for this.

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11)

The Question

Moses might deserve some criticism for his later excuses (recorded in Exodus 4), but this seems like an honest, natural response. Who am I to do this? Consider some of the reasons behind his question.

Moses doesn’t have a great history with Pharoahs. Though he grew up in a previous king’s home, that same man tried to kill him (Ex. 2:15).

Moses has been away from Egypt for about 40 years. The Hebrew people last saw him as nosy and scared (Ex. 2:14). Will they remember him? Will they follow him?

Not being a military or political leader, Moses wasn’t an obvious choice for this job. He was just a shepherd in the wilderness. He didn’t seem prepared or qualified.

Finally, Moses tried to stand up to Egyptian oppression once before, and it did not end well. Moses killed an Egyptian he saw beating a Hebrew (Ex. 2:12). But instead of being grateful, the Hebrews resented Moses putting himself in the place of “prince and judge” (Ex. 2:14). What would they say if he tried to take charge, give orders, and lead the nation?

God’s Answer

On a first reading, it doesn’t seem like God answers Moses’ question.

He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)

God gives Moses a personal promise and an outward sign. The promise is simply I will be with you. Is this answer supposed to be reassuring?

Yes! If we consider how God has revealed himself to Moses, we’ll see why this promise is comforting.

God is sovereign and mighty. He began to call Moses with a miracle (the burning bush). He makes the very place where he appears holy (Ex. 3:5). He is the covenant-keeping, faithful God of Moses’ ancestors (Ex. 3:6).

But God is also tender and compassionate. He has seen the hardships of his people, he has heard their cries. He knows their sufferings and has come down to deliver them. (See Exodus 3:7–9.)

God wasn’t concerned about Moses being lonely. His presence isn’t that of a stuffed animal, a guard dog, or even a best friend.

God promises his holy, fiery, powerful, loving presence. With his own background and qualifications, Moses didn’t know where to start. But with God’s presence, he would be unstoppable.

God Qualifies Us

There’s at least one lesson for us to learn here. By God’s presence, he qualifies us for our callings.

The Bible frequently uses Moses and the Exodus to point to Jesus and the cross, and this is no exception. The calling of Moses corresponds to Jesus’ baptism. God anointed Jesus for his saving task by sending the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:9–11).

God makes the same promise to each Christian that he made to Moses. By his Spirit, he will be with us. (See John 14:15–17 and Hebrews 13:5.) God calls us to himself and then to particular roles and tasks. His ongoing, holy presence with us qualifies us for our calling.

This doesn’t make our calling easy or even something we’re supposed to face on our own. But God’s abiding presence means we can face even the scariest challenges with confidence.

Naomi and the Names We Call Ourselves

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Despite our best intentions to resist, our circumstances inevitably affect our outlook on life. I’m stuck in this job. I’ll never get married. I must be a lousy father.

This isn’t new.

The Story of Naomi

Naomi is a central figure in the book of Ruth. After a famine-prompted move from Bethlehem to Moab, her husband and two sons died. Naomi was left with only her daughters-in-law.

Hearing that the famine had ended, Naomi headed back to Bethlehem. She freed her daughters-in-law from any obligation to go with her, but in a heart-warming statement of love and loyalty, Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side (Ruth 1:16–17).

Though she had a steadfast companion, Naomi’s life had fallen apart. Without a husband and with no other men in her family, she re-entered Bethlehem in low spirits.

The Story of Mara

Naomi already admitted her anguish (Ruth 1:13), but her bitterness boiled over when she met the women of Bethlehem.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20–21)

Naomi felt so crushed by God she rejected her given name (“Naomi” means pleasant) for another (“Mara” means bitter). How could she remain “Naomi” when life seemed anything but pleasant?

She was empty and God was to blame. From that moment on, her new name would announce her deep bitterness to everyone.

What Happened to Mara?

With this background, it’s surprising to reach the end of Ruth without another mention of the name “Mara.” Everyone uses “Naomi” without a second thought.

In Ruth 2:6, one of Boaz’s servants refers to Naomi. Boaz himself refers to Naomi in Ruth 4:3, 4:5, and 4:9. The women of Bethlehem, whom Naomi had urged to call her Mara, use her original name in Ruth 4:17. Finally, the author of Ruth doesn’t use the name Mara again.

What do we make of this?

Our Names

Like Naomi, sometimes we name ourselves based on God’s difficult providences or our feelings.

Sometimes we adopt new names out of self pity, sometimes out of outright defiance. We think these new names define us, that they tell a complete, set-in-stone story from now on and forever.

Victim. Fearful. Outcast. Impatient. Guilty. Angry.

These descriptions might be accurate. They might describe you. But if you are a Christian, they do not define you. You don’t have the authority to name yourself.

Christians are given new names by God Almighty. These names define us. His authority is greater than ours, so his names for us stick. What are some of those names?

Child.
Redeemed.
Free.
Heir.
Saint.
New Creation.
Righteous.
Chosen.
Holy.
Forgiven.
Alive.
Citizen of heaven.
Loved.

Whose Voice?

There’s a great quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones about self-talk for the Christian. It contains this gem.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that we must speak essential truths to our souls: “…remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Search the Bible. Embrace all that God has done for you in Jesus. Instead of the names spit out by your flesh, wear the names God gives you with thanksgiving.

Fireworks and the Gospel

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Like many other families in the States, we enjoyed fireworks a few weeks ago. As long as we can keep our hearing intact, my children love fireworks. But their reaction this year was off the charts.

One of my daughters was awestruck. She clapped, laughed, and shouted in delight. She cheered just as loudly at the end as she did at the beginning, thrilled at each explosion as if it were her first. It was 20 minutes of pure enjoyment—she did not hold back, and she was not embarrassed.

Lack of Joy

Adults rarely express such unashamed joy. Exuberance just isn’t cool; and we, of course, must be cool.

This distance makes sense in our culture, but life should be different within the church. Though we have the best of all reasons for joy, some Christians are the least joyful people around. We’ve taken sober-mindedness (see 1 Peter 1:13) in the wrong direction.

A Dangerous Immunity

We’ve developed a dangerous immunity to the wonder of the gospel. Though the good news about Jesus is serious and important, it should produce rejoicing not reluctance.

In most evangelical churches we hear the gospel a lot, and we start to tune out. We treat the most glorious, earth-shattering news like numbers on a stock ticker. If we’re honest, the gospel bores us at times. And nobody shares a boring message.

The gospel we believed at the beginning of our Christian lives is the same gospel we need every day. The good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is what should energize our obedience and fuel our hope. The gospel is not the door to the house of God’s kingdom—it is the whole house. We live and move and have our being in the shelter of what God has done for us.

Cultivate Wonder

Some people, when bored with one message, add to that message or turn to another. Instead, we need to cultivate wonder at what God has done, how he accomplished it, and what it secures for us. In other words, the solution is not less gospel but more.

With the eyes of faith, and with the Spirit’s help, we need to look at the gospel again. We need to consider our sin and our hopeless state without Christ. We need to meditate on what Jesus gave up in coming to earth, his spotless obedience, and his suffering. We need to ponder the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look forward to the new heavens and earth, new bodies, and the end of the curse.

If you need to wonder afresh at the gospel, read through the two lists below. They are not exhaustive, but they survey how Spirit-inspired authors in the New Testament talk about the gospel. I grouped them into two categories. What is the gospel? And what does the gospel do?

If you find yourself bored with the gospel, listen to the way God describes its function and glory. Then dive back into the Bible and ask God to restore to you the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12).

The gospel is

  • to be believed (Mark 1:15)
  • a reason for long life (Mark 8:35)
  • a reason for leaving land and family (Mark 10:29)
  • to be proclaimed to all nations (Mark 13:10)
  • the message by which Gentiles believe (Acts 15:7)
  • a reason for Paul to be set apart (Rom 1:1)
  • the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16)
  • something to obey (Rom 10:16)
  • a means of spiritual fatherhood (1 Cor 4:15)
  • about the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4)
  • veiled to some people (2 Cor 4:3)
  • true (Gal 2:5)
  • about salvation (Eph 1:13)
  • the occasion for partnership (Phil 1:5)
  • to be defended (Phil 1:16)
  • the word of truth (Col 1:5)
  • a means of calling (2 Thess 2:14)
  • a means of bringing life and immortality to light (2 Tim 1:10)
  • eternal (Rev 14:6)

The gospel

  • reveals God’s righteousness (Rom 1:17)
  • predicts God’s judgment (Rom 2:16)
  • provides strength (Rom 16:25)
  • blesses (1 Cor 9:23)
  • provokes counterfeits (2 Cor 11:4, Gal 1:6–9)
  • belongs to God (2 Cor 11:7)
  • must be entrusted to others (Gal 2:7)
  • was preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8)
  • involves mystery (Eph 6:19)
  • bears fruit (Col 1:6)
  • gives hope (Col 1:23)
  • comes in power and the Holy Spirit, with conviction (1 Thess 1:5)
  • brings suffering (2 Tim 1:8)

Photo Credit: Jill Wellington (2000), public domain

Why Do You Read?

books

A few banner commands fly over each Christian’s life. As loved, redeemed children of God, these commands teach us how to act like God’s people.

First, we have the two-part summary of the law courtesy of Jesus. Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. (See Matthew 22:37–39.)

Most Christians also know this sweeping verse from Paul: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). This wide umbrella covers all our work and all our play, every possible job or hobby.

This, of course, includes our reading.

Must We Only Read Christian Books?

For many, the act of reading is second nature. They don’t ask why. But faithful Christians need to ponder: Does my reading glorify God? What is my motivation to read?

We must avoid simplistic answers. It’s easy to justify reading Christian biographies and books of theology or Christian living. But must we limit ourselves to Christian titles and authors? Can we glorify God as we read “secular” fiction, for example?

Think about the reading pile in your house. Will those books help you love God? Will they help you love your neighbor?

Read for God’s Glory

If forced, readers might explain their hobby in a host of ways. Many would say reading helps them relax. Others want to engage the ideas or culture of our time. Still others want to learn or grow or laugh or think, and they meet these goals by reading.

Can these reasons for reading live in harmony with our duty to read to the glory of God?

Read with the End in Mind

The effect of our reading is more cumulative than immediate. Reading shapes us over time. Hence the phrase “reading diet”—as healthy eating bears good long-term fruit in our lives, so does healthy reading.

But what does “healthy” mean? Certainly the Bible should be at the top of our list. We cannot live without the bread of life, the very words of God.

Also, each person might have “allergies” (to continue the metaphor). Based on your history, station in life, and individual temptations, there are likely books you should not read. There might also be books/blogs/magazines which it would be unwise (though not necessarily sinful) for you to read. If you don’t know your reading allergies, seek counsel from a good friend.

With the negatives out of the way, now think broadly. Trace the connection between the reason you read to the God-glorifying person you want to be.

For example, suppose you read primarily to relax. You should embrace books that help you detach and unwind, because resting glorifies God. (He built rest into creation, after all.) You will love God—along with your family, neighbors, and coworkers—better as a rested person than as someone who doesn’t observe this creation rhythm.

Consecrate Your Reading

This isn’t to say you can justify every possible motive for reading. There are some legitimately bad reasons for reading, such as coveting, procrastination, ignoring others, or seeking distraction and titillation.

But if God has given you a love for reading, embrace it! Think about the reasons behind this passion, and select reading material that resonates with these purposes.

Finally, pray. Seek his wisdom. We honor God when we take our reading to God and ask him to use it for his glory.


Photo Credit: Henryk Niestrój, public domain