Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

What would our Christian life look like if we truly strove to love people like Jesus does?

Bob Goff is a man who writes with a gentle storytelling ease, but he is staunchly firm in this conviction: Love is not just a feeling. It is not a thought. Love is an active force that demands our participation. Love is not merely the willful decision to love someone, but the risky and sacrificial step of actually stepping out of our comfort zone to really do something about it. In short: Love does.

And in the book Love Does, Goff supports this thesis through a series of first-person stories, told breezily yet always compellingly. While calling the author Goff would better fit the critical standard, I get the sense that he would prefer that I call him Bob. So I will.

Bob is a courageous man of adventure, a Jesus-following lawyer with a family he loves fiercely, and someone who still maintains a measure of whimsy in his spirit. His tales travel from oceans to mountains, from Hawaii to Uganda, from broken-down cars to the finest meals, from romance to youthful indiscretion.

Do you remember the Chicken Soup books? Chicken Soup for the Soul. Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. Chicken Soup for the Accountant’s SoulChicken Soup for the Soul of a Church Plant Pastor Who Also Dabbles in Oil Pantings. I would compare the structure and tone of Love Does to a Chicken Soup book, except that it’s less like chicken soup and more like a can of beans heated over a campfire, or a few granola bars stuffed into a backpack on the way out your door.

Each chapter of Love Does begins with a little lesson Bob has learned, then proceeds with the experience that taught him. A few themes emerge consistently: You can achieve grand results when you step out in faith without a plan. When you love people like Jesus does, not everyone will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and that’s okay. A crucial component of Christian ministry is to be intentional in who you surround yourself and lock arms with.

I hesitate to call this “my one critique,” but something I did feel in my reading was the impression that Bob writes so conversationally, so informally, that if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide on how to love people more intentionally, I imagine many of the stories are not directly relatable — when Bob talks about taking his kids out of school to fly to Europe, or purchasing a fine painting just because he really likes it (even though it costs more than most of his cars), or living in a neighborhood where someone gives his son a truck as a gift, you may experience a disconnect. Maybe this is not an issue for most readers; but if it was, I think Bob would encourage the truth that you can live a lovingly adventuresome life no matter what stage you’re in, because it’s simply about trying to live like Christ.

This is the great feat of the book: By emphasizing the simple-yet-profound idea of loving people like Jesus loves people, Bob writes within a framework that is theologically unassailable. This work is not a dusty tome that dives headlong into the weeds of scriptural analysis and longform religiosity; rather, it sneaks Biblical messages into casual tales. For example, I was struck by the cleverness of a chapter all about performing loving deeds in secret, yet not once does it cite Jesus’s direct support for this line of thinking in Matthew 6. In fact, Love Does is not real big on citing specific verses at all, yet the references are there nonetheless.

Out of context, this may sound like a bad thing. “What do you mean it doesn’t cite the Bible when talking about Jesus?” But if you can imagine sitting with an acquaintance and teaching them by way of example, by way of story and analogy (similar to how Christ taught), you can appreciate the efficacy at work here.

The conversational tone, the use of storytelling over scripture, and the supposed simplicity of its ideas may lend one to believe that Love Does is best suited for young Christians. But let me be clear, and honest: Even the most ‘veteran’ Christian can use a refresher on loving like Jesus, and this book will touch anyone who is just seeking more out of their walk of faith. At the very least, it is entertaining.

Bob has a love for what he calls capers, these maybe-a-bit-mischievous adventures (and misadventures!) we launch into without much forethought, that may involve some danger and some very trusting friends, and result in a story that relays a truthful lesson. He is a fan of whimsy, and creativity, and stepping out of the norm.

On a personal note: This speaks to me. I used to be a capers guy. I’ve been in ministry settings where I was notorious for always being the last one in bed and the first one up, for having more energy than sense, and for sometimes waking up on a Saturday morning in the middle of a field or on a rooftop trying to remember how I got there.

It’s encouraging, then, to be reminded that even as an Adult with a day job and a family, there is still room for whimsy and lighthearted excitement in my faith. Jesus was not content to follow the same everyday routine of waking up, going to work, coming home, then watching TV before falling asleep. Neither will I be.

I would recommend Love Does for any Christian, really. It is an easy read that communicates truth through enjoyable stories. It is a call to action that tugs at the heart. It will speak especially well to anyone who just wants to love people like Jesus does, and is willing to start stepping out of their safety net in order to do so.

On the Nature of Humans and Their Guns

I am no great authority, and claim no superior wisdom. I just have thoughts.

“When did our country get like this?”

I have read a couple social media posts like this today, and I can only answer: When human beings began living in it. As long as humans occupy a space, awful acts will happen in that space. This is a perpetual truth, with a veracity that is interdependent of your distaste for it. In other words: It is absolutely true, even if you do not like my saying so.

Whether it is violence against indigenous, blacks, gays, etc. — brains too small to comprehend individuality will overemphasize differences in groups and labels to a potentially dangerous extent. You can certainly see a history of this violence in America, along with acts more random in their targeting as well. I see no reason why it would cease any time soon.

Intellectual honesty

For Americans to claim there is no solution to mass shootings is to ignore the existence of entire countries where they occur at a statistically significantly lower rate. For example, Canada and Australia, combined, had 5 mass shootings in the years 2000 through 2014. If there were less guns, there would be less shootings. That is math, not ideology. Let me address any counterpoints with a single, simple question: In a world with 0 guns, how many shootings would there be?

Of course, in America, yanking guns away from its citizenry is no longer a realistic measure nor a politically attractive message. I just wish those who were so passionate about guns would be honest enough to admit that mass shootings occur because of them. There is plenty of room for great conversation around opinions such as “I believe Americans should have the right to own firearms, but mass shootings are terrible.” I can respect such a view (and basically hold it myself). However, I would remind people that the ideas of gun rights and gun consequences are inseparable: As long as people own guns, some of those people will use them to murder other people. If you believe those people should have the right to own the guns they are using to murder others, at some point you have had to either reconcile this inseparability with yourself or you have ignored it altogether.

I suspect that many “gun nuts” have a fondness for weapons that outweighs their compassion. I wonder if one could be honest, then, and say, “Hey, I do not mind if there are mass shootings. I understand this is an inevitable consequence of humans having guns. I just believe that the benefit I gain from having one myself is greater than such costs incurred elsewhere.” Some probably have, to some extent or another, I guess.

Phrases such as “guns don’t kill people” are meant to instill a sense that guns have no inherent moral standing, that they are merely a tool like a hammer or a screwdriver that is potentially misused for violence by a wielder of ill intent. Consider, though, that the intended function of a gun is to harm. Again, I am not entirely anti-gun; after all, if you need to bring deadly force on a target, a gun can be a very effective option. I suspect that the most staunchly pro-gun advocate would still at least agree with the idea that guns are to be taken seriously, not lightly.

The nature of guns is perfectly suited to the nature of humanity: Both are inevitably destructive.

Anything can be an idol. I do not believe it would be a stretch to say that many Americans worship guns, and/or the country itself. The bizarre juxtaposition that America often has between its militant patriotism and its God-Bless-America Christianity is an odd brew, for sure. I often get the feeling that many Americans would be surprised to learn that the Bible has very little to say about this country, specifically. The sentiment that God should bless America in some special sense is a strange one.

Again: I am not saying America is not a great country full of fantastic things. I am grateful to live here. I have no intentions to move out, no matter who wins the big election. I think it is okay to have a nuanced, admit-its-faults opinion of this country, or often other subjects, rather than immediately kneejerk to one side of a very black-and-white spectrum.

Neither ‘side’ of these debates are ever innocent, after all, as much as they like to act like they are. Seeing people call for Muslims not to be judged as a whole due to the actions of one seem to conveniently forget this sentiment when railing against Christianity, but any Christian who believes a difference in faith makes all of that faith’s members perfect are profoundly unaware of the message of the Word they purport to follow. Lord knows Christians spew plenty of venom following violent events.

Looking ahead

As I have tried to make clear: I can respect responsible gun ownership, I can be fond of America, I just feel a little saddened by some of the thoughts I see expressed out there, too. A world without guns would have a lot less shootings — but I can acknowledge the reality of the complex world we do live in, the one with guns, one that has many different issues intersecting with any particular person or time. Lots of people who are passionate about lots of things may be served well to take a breath and consider their words before lashing out in response to the latest news cycle.

Perhaps I am possibly only adding fuel to the fire by blogging about such issues. I am a cynic, but I also believe people are capable of greatness, I promise. I am imperfect. I do not have supreme answers. But many seem to think that they do, and that is disheartening. I would love to see more people admit that stuff is complicated and they do not know everything. Saddest to me, though, might be my fellow believers who are quicker to jump to the defense of guns than they are to the cause of Christ.

So I have to wonder: As a Christian, what is my proper response to tragedy? There is room for thought and conversation there, as well. There will be other opportunities, for sure.

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“But avoid foolish controversies…” — Titus 3:9.

“Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” — Isaiah 40:8.

“… what does the Lord require of you? Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8.

Gymnastic Jesus

I believe that Jesus encompasses more than we could ever fully discuss.

In my own modest attempts to encapsulate the Almighty, there is one particular tidbit I keep coming back to. If you have known me for long enough, this is likely a bit you have heard before.

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When I was a child, I heard about this idea that Jesus could do anything. I would hear this expressed in classic Bible stories: Jesus can grant sight to a blind man, he can walk on water, he can even raise the dead.

“With God, all things are possible.” This is the verse (Matthew 19:26) they unpack in Veggietales’ Dave and the Giant Pickle. In this segment, Larry the Cucumber is shown to struggle with this thought as he asked, in a way I found unforgettable, “Do you think God would turn me into a chicken?” Why not? God can do anything, yeah?

In an interpersonal sense, we learned that when we pray, Jesus hears us. There was no limit on how many people he could hear, or what languages he understood. This Savior we learned about was an all-powerful, limitless figure.

How could a child, a boy like me, wrap his mind around that grand concept?

… Honestly? Whenever I came across the sentiment of Jesus being able to do anything — I always imagined him doing cartwheels.

No, seriously!

I would visualize myself looking out the living room window and catching a privileged glimpse of Christ performing effortless, flawless cartwheels in our yard.

Why? Because I couldn’t do cartwheels. [ Still can’t, as long as we’re being honest. ] I think there is a lot to be said on the idea that we often measure God against our weaknesses (the Bible may even speak to this as well, hm), but as a kid, that was the illustration I gravitated toward for years to come. Jesus doing cartwheels. Because I couldn’t.

That’s kinda silly, right? Childish, even.

I can’t help but still think, though, I guess, just sorta wonder a little bit, if Jesus will greet me in Paradise with a deft little cartwheel. Can you imagine that? Just for me. Just to  delight me all the more, in a way only he could.

I can see him yelling “ERIC!!!” across a palatial courtyard, with an impropriety only an old friend could muster, before catching my sight and performing that long-awaited divine cartwheel, my Heavenly eyes watering with joy beyond measure before we embrace in a fit of fond laughter.

I mean, I doubt that’s how it works; but, hey, Jesus can do anything.

New blog: Faith, Family, Fun

This is a new personal blog I am starting.

It has been a while since I have had a personal blog, yet I still enjoy writing informal thoughts, so I figure this will be a good space for me to dive into from time to time. I may not even stick around, but I believe this is worth trying.

Faith, Family, Fun: These are my highest values, my most important priorities, in life. This is not to say that my aim was just to form a strict ranking here, no; but, to be clear, I will be writing about my faith in Jesus. I will be writing about my immediate family. And… I will be writing about whatever else I want to, frankly, and that will be fun for me.

I look forward to tinkering with the theme and branding a bit until this feels more like a cozy online home. More so, though, I look forward to trying to place words into meaningful sequences.

I hope you enjoy your visits here.

You can also follow me on Twitter: @FFF_Blog.