Six Ways to Respond to God’s Steadfast Love

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Driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike can be rough, especially when you’re tired. The hills and farms all look the same, and it’s easy to get lulled to sleep by the endless pattern of signs: speed limit, exit, service plaza; speed limit, exit, service plaza.

Many of us read Psalm 136 this way. Every verse contains the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Though you may exult in this truth in verse one, you weary of it by verse 13. Your eyes skip along to the “interesting parts,” neglecting the other half.

But there’s gold in the repetition.

Behold the Promise of God’s Love

This psalm is a masterpiece, painting God’s work through history with the brushstrokes of his love.

The psalmist begins by highlighting God’s goodness and his supreme position above other gods (vv. 1–3). The next six verses describe God’s work as creator; he made the heavens, spread out the earth, and created the sun, moon, and stars (vv. 4–9).

Beginning in verse 10, the psalmist writes of the pivotal deliverance from Egypt. The psalm slows down, crediting God with each step along the way—the Passover, the Red Sea, and the defeat of Pharaoh (vv. 10–16).

In their journey through the wilderness, God gave his people victory over nations who opposed them. In verses 17–22, the psalmist rehearses God’s military might and his provision of land. This stanza connects God’s promise-keeping love (see God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:7 and 17:8) to his commitment to fight for his people.

The psalm closes with a summary: God remembered, rescued, and provides for his people (vv. 23–25), so we should thank him.

Sing the Refrain of God’s Love

Through all 26 verses, the refrain is the same: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Behind God’s creative work, his saving work, his fighting work, his providing work—through all the high drama, God’s love is the explanation.

And God’s love is not reserved for the mountain tops. His steadfast love is revealed in the valley of the wilderness years (v. 16) and the mundanity of mealtimes (v. 25).

God’s steadfast love is behind and underneath everything he does. None of his characteristics or actions can be separated from his love. We can easily affirm this integration when considering the exodus or promised land, but it applies equally to God’s justice and wrath (see vv. 15, 17–20). From top to bottom, God is love.

Grasp the Steadfastness of God’s Love

If the biblical authors highlight and underline their writing by repetition, we should pay careful attention to this refrain. It appears in each and every verse—26 times in all.

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Notice the whopping three references to time in this refrain. God’s love is steadfast. His love endures. His love endures forever.

It’s hard for finite humans to digest that word, forever. Everything we see, do, or know comes to an end. What is true for food and clothing we also witness in our emotions. We’d like to claim that our love (for a spouse, for a parent, for a child) is steadfast, but we know better. In anger or impatience, apathy or bitterness, we withhold our love from those most dear to us.

How different God’s love is from ours! His love is steadfast, never diminishing in volume, never weakening in strength, never retreating, never tainted. Though we may feel alone or unloved, reality is different—his love endures forever.

We struggle to digest this truth; we’re prone to dismiss or forget God’s love. In times of suffering, loss, or deep sadness, we often resist with our heart what we know with our mind. Like the psalmist, we need to repeat this truth as often as possible: God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Personalize the Beauty of God’s Love

Here are two ways to internalize God’s love.

Put the psalm on repeat. Read Psalm 136 every morning and evening for a month. (Read every word, careful not to skip the repeated line!) Listen to it on your phone or tablet. Like the woodpecker, a persistent tapping in the same spot sometimes yields a breakthrough.

Write your own version of this psalm. Take up a journal, recount God’s work in your life, and end each line or paragraph the same way: “For his steadfast love endures forever.”

Consider the Cost of God’s Steadfast Love

God’s love for his people reached a crescendo in the incarnation. He aimed to redeem his people, and he had to deal with their sin, once and for all. In his steadfast love, God sent his Son. For his love is a pursuing, costly love.

God demonstrated his abiding, enduring love in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. When Jesus was “made sin for us” on the cross, the Father withdrew his protective love for a time. The Father’s love for his people was manifest in wrath toward sin, and the Son was crushed for our iniquities. Jesus knew the Father’s full fury; he experienced the absence of God’s love so we would know it forever.

Give Thanks for God’s Steadfast Love

Why does the steadfast love of God matter? How does it change us?

One clear application comes out of this psalm: Give thanks. This is the only exhortation in the entire psalm, and it appears four times (vv. 1, 2, 3, 26). In fact, all of the descriptions of God, including the refrain about his love, are given as fuel for thanksgiving.

So give thanks to God for who he is. He is the Creator, Savior, Conqueror, and Provider that Israel needed then and that we need now. Thank God for all the ways his steadfast love has rung out in history and in your life. Don’t hesitate to include the routine aspects of your day; from the miraculous Red Sea crossing to God’s provision of food, everything flows from his love.

And as you give thanks to God, remind yourself and everyone around you about his love. It is steadfast, and it endures forever.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Ben Schumin, Creative Commons License

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Does God Just Tolerate Me?

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I have some close friends at church who are grandparents. For them, the cliché is true—they are over the moon about their grandchildren!

My friends would move mountains to spend time with their grandchildren. They soak up every moment of each visit and anticipate the next. They delight in their grandchildren.

Something that delights us does more than make us momentarily happy. It stirs our hearts, and the ripples wash lightness through our bodies. You might delight in a favorite place, a dear friend, or a treasured book or movie.

Have you ever pondered what delights God? The Bible provides a surprising answer.

The Anointed One

Our answer comes from the book of Isaiah. Aside from the Lord himself, the major characters in Isaiah are the Coming King, the Coming Servant, and the Coming Anointed One (the Messiah). We see pieces of Jesus’ mission in each of these prophetic figures.

At the end of Isaiah 61, the Anointed One rejoices in the task set before him (v. 10). He is dressed in “garments of salvation” in the same way that a couple prepares themselves for their wedding. These clothes mark the Messiah for his momentous work.

It’s no secret—the task of the Anointed One is salvation for God’s people (61:1) and the glory of God’s name (61:3). As surely as the earth brings forth plants, God guarantees that the Messiah’s mission will succeed (61:11).

Despite God’s promise, the Anointed One is not passive. He is determined, zealous, and vocal that the righteousness and glory of God’s people be displayed before all nations and kings (62:1–2).

God’s Delight

The results of the work of the Anointed One are astonishing and life-changing:

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 61:2–5)

God’s people will be a “crown of beauty” in his hand (v. 3). A king’s crown is the physical sign of his royal position and glory. Amazingly, God’s people are a sign of his kingship and evidence that he is glorious. It’s hard to believe when looking around (or in the mirror), but God says it will be so.

Perhaps even more dramatic is the renaming in verses 2 and 4. The people shall go from “Forsaken” to “My Delight Is in Her,” and the land will go from “Desolate” to “Married.” Why the change? Is it because of all the good the people have done, all the yield the land has produced? Not hardly.

God changes the people’s name for a simple, profound reason: love. “For the Lord delights in you” (v. 4). To highlight this in the brightest colors, Isaiah writes that God will rejoice over his people as a groom rejoices over his bride (v. 5).

What was predicted long ago is our reality now. What a reality!

I rarely imagine God rejoicing over me. I think he occasionally disapproves of me and that he mostly tolerates me. I can be persuaded that he loves me at times. But to delight in me? That seems too outlandish, too fantastic to believe. But it’s true!

For Isaiah, the good news has never been just for Israel. God is eager for others to join his family; Israel must “prepare the way” and “build up the highway” (v. 10). The references to “the people” and “the peoples” (v. 10) show how God welcomes both Israelites and Gentiles to his holy city. They will all be called “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord” (v. 12).

At the end of this chapter, God wraps all his people together, giving them the same name. In a nod back to verse 4, they will be called “A City Not Forsaken” (v. 12). The Lord delights in his people, and their new name reflects his abiding, promise-backed love.

The Forsaken One

It’s hard to read this passage without wondering about this dramatic change. Why will the people no longer be forsaken?

Over many years and in many ways, Israel sinned against God. Though God turned away from them for a time, his covenant promise pulsed in the background of history. Through his Anointed One, God would fulfill this promise at the pinnacle of his justice and mercy.

God delighted in his Son, but in his hour of greatest need, the Father turned away. Jesus felt this abandonment like a hot knife tearing into his soul. On the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

We deserve to be forsaken. But our name is “Forsaken” no longer because Jesus was forsaken for us. God delights in us because his Son—the one in whom he delighted the most—became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Loved Ones

What difference would it make if we absorbed these truths into our bones? How would our lives change if we were sure of God’s delight in us?

Two applications come to mind.

First, we’d be more willing to take gospel-driven risks. If the delight of our heavenly Father is secure, then the potential harm to our reputations or social networks won’t be scary. If God smiles, we can shrug off others’ frowns.

We would also be more likely to trust God in uncertain times. God is not only sovereign and wise, he is good and loving. Even if we cannot connect the dots between our circumstances and God’s intentions, we can be sure there is a straight line from his heart to his providence in our lives.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

Christians Are Curious People

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We’re all familiar with Jesus’s summary of the law: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:34–40). These two commands capture what it means to follow the Lord.

Until recently I hadn’t seen the role that curiosity plays in obeying these commands. It’s easy to miss, but Barnabas Piper helped me see the connection in his new book, The Curious Christian.

Loving God

If we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we need curiosity. What is God like? What does it mean to love him? Will he love me? We need answers to these questions, and we find the answers in the Bible.

Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God, then we must know Him, and Scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason Scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. (The Curious Christian, p.160)

When we love God with our minds, we learn about him. We don’t hold onto our own ideas of what God must be like, but we humble ourselves and receive instruction.

Curiosity drives us to seek the deep truths of God. It leads us to discover aspects of His character and truths of His Word that hide behind a veil or aren’t readily visible in the mundane life. It overcomes the preconceptions we have of God that often make us like Him less, often from a legalistic background: God as boss, God as judge, God as distant, God as joyless, God as killjoy, God as impersonal, God as boring, God as powerless, God as puppet master. Curiosity enlarges God in our minds, or rather helps us see His largeness and His largesse, His closeness and His love, His plan and His promise. (The Curious Christian, pp.48–49)

And, amazingly, our curiosity will continue in heaven! We will get to know God better and better, and because he is infinite in all aspects of his character and person, we’ll never run out of material. We’ll be curious for eternity.

In this life every ounce of curiosity we have points toward God in some way. In eternity all curiosity goes deeper in relationship with Him. In this life there is a veil between us and the presence of God because of our sinfulness. In the next life we will live in the presence of God unhindered and unveiled. This is why heaven won’t get boring. (The Curious Christian, p.147)

What makes heaven heaven is not unlimited fun and games—though we will almost certainly have tons of unfettered fun. No, we would tire of those after a few centuries. What makes it a true paradise is being with God, fully and freely in His presence. Imagine a world unhindered by distraction or sin or pain. Imagine free access to the infinite depths of God’s person and character. You can’t. But in trying you may have seen that heaven can’t possibly become dull. (The Curious Christian, p.148)

Loving Our Neighbors

Curiosity is essential if we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can you love someone—especially in a beyond-the-surface-stuff way—if you don’t get to know them?

In short, curiosity turns us outward, away from selfishness. Our base desire is to turn every relationship to our benefit, to get what we can out of it. Curiosity, at its best, undermines this sinful desire because it locks in on the needs and interests and desires of the other person. Instead of “What can they do for me?” it becomes “Who is this person and what do they need?” (The Curious Christian, p.134)

Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper. We found out about their outward life—hobbies, preferences, history. But now we take the risk of finding out about their inner life—hopes, beliefs, passions, dreams, fears. Curiosity takes risks and steps into the unknown. It digs into shadowy places where there might be treasure or where there might be pain. This is the grounds for real friendship. The reality is that people are much more likely to open up to us than we think; we just need to go first. In fact, they’ve been hungering for someone to connect with as well. (The Curious Christian, p.46)

Curiosity will transform the church. Piper writes that if the church were full of curious people,

It would move toward being more diverse racially, socioeconomically, and educationally because people would be deeply interested in those different from themselves instead of frightened of them or intimidated by them. (The Curious Christian, p.53)

Takeaways

I’ve written about curiosity before, mostly in the context of asking good questions and being a good listener. But Piper’s book has convinced me that curiosity is an essential part of the whole life of the Christian.

If we’re to be faithful to God in the place where he’s put us, we need to make connections, ask questions, get to know our neighbors, and be good observers. If you’d like to learn more about how curiosity works itself out, I suggest you pick up The Curious Christian. (And check back next week—I’ll be giving away a copy of this book!)

Thanks to B&H Books for an advance reader’s copy of this book.


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: anonymous (2008), public domain

Your Feedback Must Come From Love

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Do you want to improve in one of your roles? Do you want to grow? Then seek out honest, detailed feedback. It may sting, but it can be eye-opening and transformative.

Anyone learning this lesson knows that not all feedback is created equal. For example, student evaluations have limited value for me as a teacher. Students often write about what would make my class less demanding for them. They want an easier semester and a higher grade. Since their objective in giving feedback doesn’t match my goals or priorities, I don’t usually gain much from their evaluations.

I find gems on occasion. A student will see what I’ve been trying to accomplish and let me know what’s working and what isn’t. These students don’t focus on themselves, but they relate their experience to my goals in an honest attempt to help me improve.

The posture of the person giving feedback makes all the difference.

Jethro and Moses

In Exodus 18, we read of a prolonged encounter between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro. This occurs just before Moses goes up Mount Sinai to meet with God.

After Jethro arrived at the Israelite camp, he observed Moses’s routine. He was troubled.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Exodus 18:17–18)

Jethro was concerned about both Moses and the people. He didn’t want them to wear out. His feedback was rooted in his care for Moses and the rest of the people.

In examining Jethro’s advice, we must not ignore the first half of the chapter. Jethro arrives with Moses’s wife and sons (v.5), greets Moses with warm affection (v.7), and hears about “all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake” (v.8).

Jethro’s response is striking. He rejoices (v.9), confesses God’s supremacy above all other gods (v.11), and worships God with Aaron and the elders of Israel (v.12). Given that Jethro enters the chapter as a priest of another religion (v.1), many interpreters view this as a turn toward God. If Jethro is not converted here, he is clearly interested and sympathetic to the Israelite religion.

It took me a while to connect the two halves of Exodus 18. Why do we need Moses’s testimony and Jethro’s reaction? Previously, Moses was connected to Jethro by marriage, but now he knows (and we know) more of Jethro’s heart. Jethro’s advice comes from love. Because Jethro cares for Moses and the Israelite people (with whom he may now identify religiously), he cautions them about a harmful practice.

Moses did all that Jethro suggested (v.24), and we can assume what Jethro predicted came to pass: Moses endured and the people went their way in peace (v.23).

Ground Your Feedback in Love

The debate over Jethro’s conversion is only tangentially related to my point. Because of God’s common grace, we should be open to feedback from outside the church.

But feedback given in love is powerful. It can make all the difference between someone hearing or ignoring your advice.

Of course, it’s far too easy to critique for reasons other than love. We’ve all done it.

  • You critique because you want things to be familiar.
  • You critique because you esteem another person or place highly.
  • You critique because you want to be correct.
  • You critique because your preferences aren’t shared.
  • You critique because you compare your situation to an unrealistic ideal.
  • You critique because you want your way.

When we give feedback like this, we act more like correctors or evaluators than loving, helpful friends. It’s a sure way to discourage, to make someone feel like they are always being measured or tested or rated. No one wants to be a project.

I’m prone to a critical spirit, and I’ve given plenty of lousy feedback in the past. By God’s grace, I’m trying to move away from harsh and relentless criticism. Toward this end, I’m trying to think through these questions as I give feedback.

  • Do I love this person/organization? — Hopefully the answer is yes, but even our best intentions can sour over time. Pray for this person, not only that God would use your feedback for their good, but that God would bless them richly in all aspects of their life. Pray that God would create or sustain love for them within you.
  • Am I too negative? — Even in the midst of criticism, we should find ways to encourage the other person by pointing out how God is at work in their life or in this situation. Remember that “to encourage” means “to give courage” — offering a mountain of unvarnished negativity doesn’t prepare anyone to face the next challenge.
  • Am I proud? — When giving feedback, a humble posture is essential. Acknowledge that any expertise or ability or wisdom you have is from God, and underline the fact that you haven’t arrived. We all need correction and we all need to grow. Acknowledge the difficulty of the hard tasks or the repentance you are suggesting. Point your friend to the depths of forgiveness, love, and power that God offers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tell your friend how God has been your strength and shield and deliverer.

Photo Credit: Siggy Nowak (2011), public domain

The Default Posture of Love

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It was a delightfully ordinary morning. I was well-rested, blessed by the routines of both the previous evening and the present day. I was enjoying the silence and stillness. Then my children awoke.

Though this happens every day, something was different. I was immediately on edge, listening critically to their conversation and actions. I felt like a coiled spring, ready to bounce upstairs to correct, scold, or yell at the slightest provocation.

Default Positions

We all know a bit about defaults. A default is a position assumed automatically without active choice. We’ve all accidentally subscribed to an email newsletter (or fifty) because we didn’t uncheck the proper box.

On this particular morning, my default position toward my children was one of suspicion and anger. Before they said or did anything, I took on an adversarial stance; I assumed they would soon need correction or discipline. I’m convicted as I remember this attitude, because it’s simply not the way a Christian should think about his kids.

A False View of God

Christian fathers have a weighty task. Whenever they interact with their children, they speak about God’s fatherhood. Like it or not, kids will learn what God is like as a father (in part) by watching, playing with, and listening to their dad.

In my posture toward my children, I was promoting a false view of God.

The culture at large thinks of God as a scold, a grade-school nun eager to draw blood from knuckles with a ruler. The clear, Scriptural evidences of God’s holiness and judgment are used to paint God as perpetually angry, just waiting for us to sin so he can strike. He may be merciful, but only as a last-second shield from his wrath.

These conceptions of God do not square with the biblical picture, especially for Christians.

The True View of God

If you are a Christian, God loves you (1 John 4:10). Your faith is an evidence of his love. He cannot love you any more, and he cannot love you any less. Full stop.

There is not a drop of his wrath remaining toward you (Rom 8:1). Every last ounce was wrung out on Jesus in your place (Rom 5:6–11). Because he is just, God is not waiting for you to fall. (Though he will pick you up when you do.)

Of course, God disciplines us as a loving father (Heb 12:3–11). But God’s discipline comes as needed, in just the right measure and at just the right time. It is never extraneous or excessive; it is never vengeful or disproportionate. His discipline is perfect and perfectly loving.

In short, God’s posture toward us is one of love.

A Godly Vision of Fatherhood

Perhaps the application for parents is clear. Our default posture toward our children must be one of love and peace. We should rejoice at the God-given relationship we have. Friends come and go, but these will be our children forever. Instead of suspicion and anger, my resting state with my children must be warmth and joy, especially if I am to teach them about God.

This posture doesn’t excuse sin or disobedience. In fact, it provides the biblical context for addressing disobedience.

I can love because I am loved. I can help because I have been helped. I can forgive because I have been forgiven. I can correct, guide, and instruct because my Father does the same for me.

For yourself, and for your children, this makes all the difference in the world.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

3 Skills Christians Can Learn from a Great Interviewer

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What keeps you from being a better friend to the people in your life?

As we grow in grace, we should become better friends. But it’s a hard climb; we should learn from whomever we can.

Krista Tippett hosts a public radio show/podcast called On Being. (I haven’t heard it.) She was interviewed on the Longform podcast back in October, and the episode gave me a lot of food for thought.

Practice Gracious Listening

Around the 33:35 mark, Tippett is asked about the phrase “gracious listening” which she uses in her 2016 book, Becoming Wise. What does she mean by this phrase?

I put words in front of the word “listening”—gracious, generous—because the word listening and the act of listening, there’s a lot of lack of self-awareness around that. I think that I grew up, and a lot of people in this culture grew up, experiencing listening as being quiet while the other person talks, basically. Right? So that eventually you can say what you have to say. Listening is basic social art, but it’s something we have to learn and practice. And we really haven’t practiced a robust listening—generous, gracious listening—which is not just about being quiet, but about actually, truly being curious, really mustering curiosity. Which can be as simple as being willing to be surprised.

She contrasts this curiosity with making assumptions about others.

We tend to go into encounters pretty much thinking we know who that other person is. We know who they voted for, we know what they do. So, curiosity I think is something that is a virtue that can be really complex and it’s counter-intuitive to how we walk through the world, especially how we walk through the public world.

I love that phrase be willing to be surprised. So often I assume I know another person by applying stereotypes. But this is far from loving. Being curious means, in part, acknowledging your incomplete understanding about another person. (Even your best friend or spouse!)

Because I am accepted by God and fully known by him, I don’t need to pretend to have everyone figured out. By his power I can put to death the insecurity and pride that puts up this front.

Create a Hospitable Atmosphere

Later in the podcast, Tippett is asked how she prepares for an interview. She talks about trying to get to know someone by immersing herself in what they’ve written and/or said in the past.

What I’m trying to do is not so much understand what people know, but how they think. And then, if I have just a sensitivity to that, that really creates a hospitable space for them to think out loud with me. And this transmits itself viscerally, within a very few moments of meeting somebody. We’ve all had this experience of walking into a room and […] you know you’re going to have to defend yourself or explain yourself. And that creates a certain amount of tension and it puts you in a certain mode of what you are going to talk about and what you’re not going to talk about. And I’m trying to create an atmosphere, an intellectually hospitable atmosphere, where people have this sense very quickly that I get them. And then, you just relax inside.

Tippett’s description makes me wonder what sort of atmosphere I create in my conversations. Are people encouraged to think out loud with me? Or am I making them feel defensive and interrogated? This idea of a hospitable atmosphere has huge implications when it comes to apologetics, evangelism, and discipleship.

Ask Good Questions

Tippett’s definition of a good question is “one that elicits honesty.” She was asked what she means by that definition.

I think one thing a lot of people do is ask questions that are interesting to them. Like, “I’ve always wanted to know.” […] Often when I start out preparing for an interview, I will have my questions that I think going into this I’m probably going to want to ask this person. But in the course of preparation, a lot of them will fall away. And what will come in their place is the question that’s going to be interesting to them. And I can formulate that question because I’m immersing in their thinking. So then the questions I’m writing are coming out of that rather than out of my head. And if you ask somebody a question that’s interesting to them, they immediately—you’ll hear it, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s an interesting question.” And then they stop realizing they’re being interviewed, and they’re not even giving an answer, they’re thinking in real time.

This definition of a good question is fairly specific to the context of an interview, but there’s still a lot to learn. My default setting is to ask questions I find interesting, and I never considered that this might be selfish. It is a challenge to know someone well enough to ask a question that interests them. What works in one conversation might not work in the next.

Perhaps a common theme that holds these skills together (for the Christian) is dependence. If we depend on the Holy Spirit, discarding the notion we must control the conversation, we’ll be more likely to love the other person. We won’t make assumptions, we won’t focus on ourselves, and we’ll serve.

As Tippett says (in the first quote), this takes practice. But it’s worth it! And it reflects our God as well—he knows us completely and welcomes us in relationship and conversation. By his strength, let’s do the same for each other.


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Photo Credit: Ben Kerckx (2014), public domain

Telemarketers Are People Too

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Imagine you’re sitting down to dinner with your family. As you start the meal, you hear an unexpected knock at your front door.

You don’t recognize the person, but you know this is not a conversation you want to have, not now. The visitor will be selling a product, asking for votes, or collecting donations.

How do you react? Ideally, you’ll treat them with kindness and respect, even as you explain that this is a bad time.

Now replace the knock at the door with a phone call. In a nutshell, this is the telemarketing industry. So why do we treat those at our doors differently than those on our phones?

My Weakness

I shouldn’t speak for everyone. Perhaps you have more patience, grace, and love for telemarketers than I do. (You almost surely do.)

A cable company representative called recently and tried to up-sell me. In the process, the caller put me on hold twice. I got angry, and I spoke in a way I immediately regretted.

Whether from a saleman, a pollster, or someone raising money for charity, I’m not inclined to listen to unsolicited phone calls for very long. I assume I’ve heard everything they have to say, I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and I dismiss them quickly. This has been my pattern.

Loving My Neighbor

God convicted me through this phone call. He made each of these people; they are my neighbors. They deserve love and respect.

Though their work interrupts and annoys me, it is legitimate work. I shouldn’t treat them poorly just because I am inconvenienced.

So often I get my standards wrong. If I think someone doesn’t deserve my respect, they don’t get it. But that’s obviously the wrong approach!

The gospel changes everything. God didn’t treat me the way I deserve. In fact, he treated Jesus the way I deserve (with wrath) and he treats me as his son. This is amazing, glorious, life-altering love.

And this love now fuels our behavior. We can treat others better than they deserve because that’s how we’ve been treated. Our standard of love must be Jesus’s standard. He doesn’t just provide an example; he gives me the power to change and to love those who annoy and interrupt me.

Can I Hang Up?

One last thought. Is it ever acceptable to hang up on a telemarketer?

Treating someone with love and respect doesn’t mean we always do what they want. Though we’re called to die to ourselves, this doesn’t mean we’re always pushovers.

We’ve all probably been on the phone in the telemarketer spiral. You say no; they protest, provide a reason, and ask for something slightly different. This pattern continues, and at some point they stopped listening to you. (Has anyone ever changed their mind because of this persistence? I’ve said no five times already, but since you asked a sixth time, sign me up!)

I think it’s fine to hang up the phone in certain situations. The caller is following their company-dictated script. If, after respectfully telling them you’re not interested, they ignore you and press ahead, I think they lose their right to your attention. I usually hang up at this point, trying not to be angry at the person.


Photo Credit: Levente Lenart (2008), public domain

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

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.


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