Three Wise Insights from the Justin Bieber Interview. Yeah, I Said ‘Justin Bieber’ and ‘Wise’ in the Same Breath.

Yesterday, the magazine Complex published an extensive Q&A with pop star Justin Bieber on their website. The Q&A explored Bieber’s recent mistakes in the public eye, his relationship with fellow pop star Selena Gomez and his faith.

I thought there were some really interesting things he said, and I want to share some of them.

On having real relationships with people who won’t just tell you what you want to hear:

When you get famous, you get people that will encourage whatever you do. You’ll do something and they’ll be like, “That was dope, Justin!” When you’re young especially, you don’t know who’s bulls***ting you. I’m gonna make sure that I don’t have people around me who make me look like an idiot. You don’t understand—that’s a normal thing for human beings, but I never had that in my life. I didn’t even have that with my parents. I think they just didn’t know how. We never built the right relationships. Now I’m having real relationships where it’s two ways. I didn’t understand how that works because the way people would interact with me was always so weird and it was never completely 100 percent genuine.

The insight: Be around people who won’t fool with you. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the honest truth about yourself, people who will be 1oo percent honest and genuine with you.

On relationships and putting your identity in your significant other:

Your girl or your dude, they’re always going to disappoint you. Your full identity can’t be in that person. My identity was in her [ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez]. Her identity was in me. When stuff would happen, I would lose my freakin’ mind, and she would lose her mind, and we would fight so hard because we were so invested in each other. Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. People have made it seem in movies that it’s this fairy tale. That’s not what love is. You’re not gonna want to love your girl sometimes but you’re gonna choose to love her. That’s something in life that I had to figure out. I can’t lean on people. I got to lean on God. I gotta trust in him through all my situations. Then, hopefully, my other relationships will flourish around me. But if I’m gonna be so invested in you, if you die, or something happens to you, I’m gonna be so destroyed, I won’t be able to go on. If I can love you and know that I’m not who I am because you’re being nice to me, but that I love you and I think you’re an incredible person but you’re just as broken as I am on the inside. We’re all just trying to figure it out.

The insight: Love is a choice. It’s not a feeling. In relationships, you can’t just go around basing everything off your feelings. You’ll never end up in a lasting relationship with anyone because feelings come and go. And if you base your identity in your relationship with a human, it will never be stable because humans are naturally unstable.

On his faith and where his journey has brought him:

I’m not religious. I, personally, love Jesus and that was my salvation. I want to share what I’m going through and what I’m feeling and I think it shouldn’t be ostracized. I think that everybody should get their chance to share what they’re doing or where their journey is headed, whether they’re straight or gay or what they believe in. We’re in a place now in 2015 where people have gotta be open-minded. I actually feel better and more free now that I know what I can do and what I can’t do. My voice, I’m not gonna let it not be heard anymore. I’m gonna use my voice for a reason. I think that people, as soon as they start hearing me saying I’m a Christian, they’re like, “Whoa Justin, back up, take a step back.” Also, I do not want to shove this down anyone’s throat. I just wanna honestly live like Jesus. Not be Jesus—I could never—I don’t want that to come across weird. He created a pretty awesome template of how to love people and how to be gracious and kind. If you believe it, he died for our sins. Sometimes when I don’t feel like doing something, but I know it’s right, I remember, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross and dying so that we don’t have to feel what we should have to feel. What Jesus did when he came to the cross was basically say, “You don’t have to feel any of that stuff.” We could take out all of our insecurities, we could take away all of the hurt, all the pain, all the fear, all the trauma. That doesn’t need to be there. So all this healing that you’re trying to do, it’s unnecessary. We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ. And he really heals. This is it. It’s time that we all share our voice. Whatever you believe. Share it. I’m at a point where I’m not going to hold this in.

The insight: Jesus is our salvation. It’s not anything we do. It’s Him. We can never be Jesus, but our goal is to live like Him. And we can and should be open and honest and real about our relationship with Him.

I’m afraid that something we often do as the Church is write off people just because of their prior actions and think, “Well, I shouldn’t even care what they have to say. They’re idiots/immature/stupid/silly/etc., they’ve broken the law, they’ve cussed, they’ve sung something I don’t like, so I should just ignore them.”

If we really applied that to everyone, here’s a list of people we would have to write off:

I’m not saying we need to start seeking after Justin Bieber for our theological foundation. He doesn’t proclaim to be, and I don’t propose him to be, a theologian of the highest order who we need to follow on Twitter to get all the spiritual wisdom we need. But can’t we just step back and not completely write off someone because their life doesn’t match up entirely with how we think a Christian life is supposed to look like?

Let’s be honest: none of us live that way. If you knew everything about my life, past and present, you’d probably never read this blog again. And I wouldn’t blame you.

Based on this article, Justin Bieber has a better grip on the Gospel than many Christians who go to church all the time and argue on Facebook do.

Cut him – and everybody else who sins – some slack. Jesus cuts us tons of slack and loves us in spite of our sins. Can’t we do that for others?

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Seven Types of People in Your Church Small Group, and Why You Need All of Them (Even the Annoying Ones)

One of my favorite parts of being a believer is having brothers and sisters in Christ that I can hang with, grow with, discuss things with and just enjoy life with. Being around those people is something Scripture encourages, and implies is incredible necessary for following Jesus:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

I love passages like these because they’re reminders to me that I need people. We need each other.

One way that we experience this community, this fellowship, is through small groups. I want to explore what I’ve seen as seven types of people in small groups, who they are and why we need them. Even the annoying ones, the ones that get on my nerves the most, are super important to have in those groups, and I hope to explain why.

(Note: There will be some exaggeration in this, hopefully for humor, but these aren’t to be taken super literally.)


 

The Bible Thumper

The profile: Brings at least two or three Bibles with different translations to small group. Constantly pointing to things in the Bible to back up his statements. Interrupts others with “But the Bible says…” often. First to come up with a verse to relate to the certain situation.

Why they’re needed: This person is important because they bring things back to the source. If God’s Word truly is a sword (1 Timothy 4:12) that is good “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), then it needs to be brought up. Can it get kind of annoying? Perhaps. Can this person make stretches to relate things to a certain verse? Maybe. But this person’s passion for the Word of God is super necessary.

The One Passion Person

The profile: Always finds a way to turn the conversation to whatever they’re most passionate about, whether it be mental health, politics, sexual sin, fatherlessness, racism, etc. Sometimes it’s kind of amazing how they can connect something in the Old Testament to whatever they’re interested in.

Why they’re needed: Maybe you think they go overboard with that one topic. And perhaps they do. But maybe they’re just trying to bring awareness to something you don’t even think about on a daily basis. It’s people like this that can help you be aware of and at least pray for whatever their issue is. We all have our passions. We can encourage and edify one another with our passions.

The America-Is-Going-to-Hell-in-a-Handbasket Stump Speaker

The profile: Attended the Values Voter Summit last weekend. This person is up on all the presidential candidates. This person probably hates Obama. Well, they say they love Obama but hate his politics. They fear for the future of America and say it’s the government’s fault that Planned Parenthood is funded, abortion is legal and gay marriage is allowed.

Why they’re needed: If you know me, you know I’m probably most annoyed by this person. But I need to hear this person out. They make good points. They’re very similar to the One Passion Person in that they want people to be aware of the political issues. And, let’s be fair, what goes on in D.C. is incredibly impactful on our day-to-day lives. I need to learn to give this person a fair shake just like I want to be given a fair shake for thinking the opposite the majority of the time.

The Silent-But-Deadly One (And I’m Not Talking About Farting)

The profile: Doesn’t really say a whole lot. They keep quiet for the majority of the meeting, but when called upon to say something, or perhaps prompted by a thought in their own head, they open their mouth and out comes something deeply profound.

Why they’re needed: Everyone’s opinion matters, even the one who doesn’t have anything to say 95 percent of the time. And this person’s insight, profound or not, is just as valuable as the one who is always talking.

The Counselor

The profile: Has a word of advice for anyone presenting a problem in their own life. Takes the prayer request time to really shine.

Why they’re needed: This person can be really annoying for me because sometimes I just want to be heard, not fixed. But two things to remember about this person. First, they just want to help. They care about other people, so they want to be a part of helping others find the solution(s) to their issues. Second, sometimes this person has really good insight. To write off everything they say as just meddling is unfair, because perhaps they have the answer you’ve been searching for.

The Group Leader

The profile: Last to share their thoughts. Keeps the group on task. Usually spends some time making sure people don’t go No. 2 in the bathroom closest to the living room. Leads by example by going back to the master bathroom to do so him/herself.

Why they’re needed: It’s really easy for people to get distracted by a particular issue in small group conversation. And while those issues can be important, and sometimes need to be expounded upon, keeping a group on task is extremely important, especially when there’s a time limit.

A Group Regular’s Relatively-New Significant Other

The profile: Doesn’t go to the church that the small group is based out of. The group regular is trying to see if he/she will fit in with their group of friends and figures a high-intensity spiritual setting will be a good test. Usually quiet.

Why they’re needed: As someone who has been the “group regular” in this situation, having these people in your group is helpful not just for the group regular but the significant other. In the context of that relationship, a small group setting is incredibly beneficial. For the group, don’t rule this person out. They may be what you need.


1 Corinthians 12:14-26 says:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

We can’t say to one of these people that we have no need of them just because they’re not who we are or they’re not who we think we need. We need each of these people and all the stereotypes that I didn’t list here in our small groups, in our community. In that way, we’ll be well-rounded and the body of Christ we’re called to be.

There’s a Difference Between Who You Are and What You Do.

In journalism, there’s a standard procedure for identifying someone you’re quoting in a story. You put the person’s name and then you put what they do.

For example, if I’m writing an article about the president’s latest policy idea and I’m quoting a college professor who has experience in the field, I would say something like this: “The President really has a grip on this situation,” said John Smith, professor of economics at Harvard University.

The identification is the name and then the profession, the job, what they do with their lives. It’s common practice for journalists. But it’s also commonplace for how we identify people we meet. The first two questions you usually ask are “What’s your name?” and “What do you do?” What happens in the mind is we begin to associate the person with what they do. Those two things become linked in a crazy way.

God doesn’t work that way. Even if sometimes it might seem like we think He does.

Let me ask you this: how many times have you asked yourself or someone else if a certain person is a Christian because of what they do? You say, “Well, they may be a Christian.” We look at one action and one instance of their behavior and we make an instant judgement. We don’t want to take the time to really get to know them.

Now I know what might be said here. “But the Bible says we must judge them by their fruits!” Let’s look at that verse in context, Matthew 7:15-20:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

The context of that phrase is in talking about false prophets. Should we take that and then apply it to every person we meet? There is something fair to looking at someone and making decisions based on what you’ve seen them do. That’s just common practice by humans. It’s how you hire people, sometimes how you decide who to marry, it’s a crucial thing to be aware of.

But what if you were judged solely by your fruits? Could you be called a Christian? Could you, without a shadow of a doubt, be called a follower of Christ?

Honestly, I don’t think I can. I see the sin in my life and say that, “Well, if I’m being judged as a Christian based on what I do, I don’t think I can claim Christ in good conscience.”

Being a Christian is not about what you do. It’s about what you believe. We’ll never do everything perfectly. We’ll never even believe perfectly. So linking who we are as a person to what we do would lead to all of us being filthy hypocrites with nothing to offer.

But God doesn’t see us that way. He is not necessarily pleased with our actions, but He doesn’t stop loving us because of them. It’s grace by faith that saves us, not our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you’re not a Christian, you will miss out on eternity with God because you didn’t believe rightly.

Give others, and yourself, a break. Just because you screw up doesn’t mean God loves you any less. It just means you need Him more. And if you’re a Christian, He loves you enough to give you the help of the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Gospel and the company of other believers. If you’re not a Christian, those things are offered freely to you. All you must do is believe.

You’re not defined by what you do. You’re defined by who you are in Christ. End of story.

Jesus Gives Second Chances. All the Time. Ask Peter.

I finally finished reading through the gospels yesterday afternoon.

It was quite a refreshing read. I had never read through them all at once. But I learned so much. Perhaps soon I’ll write a post with my general reflections as well as posts that I’ve written during this time that are directly tied to something I read.

One of the final things in the book of John is the story of Jesus and Peter having their whole “feed my sheep” conversation. It’s in v. 15-19:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

This is a classic passage that I’ve heard about hundreds of times. You could pull out a lot of things from this, but I want to focus on the redemption here.

Back in chapter 18, we saw Peter deny Jesus three times. In this passage, we see Jesus give Peter three opportunities to affirm his love for his Savior. And he does each and every time. Finally, after prophesying the way Peter was going to die, Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”

This hearkens back to the calling of the disciples. In Matthew 4:18-20, we see the calling of Peter and his brother Andrew:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Strange, isn’t it? The same command that was given at the beginning of Peter’s association with Jesus is given to him after perhaps the most notorious sin he had committed. Peter had straight up denied Jesus to others. He had denied ever knowing Him three times! You’d think by the third time he would have come around. But he didn’t. And then the rooster crowed, and he felt like crap.

Jesus doesn’t let any sin – even something as great as denying Him to others – get in the way of giving grace and allowing second chances. This is a radical thing! If there had been some kind of betrayal or denial like that of me, I’d be super hesitant to give a second chance.

But let’s not forget something. My guess is that Jesus had to make sure of Peter’s readiness for the task He was going to give him – building and leading the early Church on earth. So He asked him three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter said yes each time, and Jesus was ready with the response. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” But Peter brings up a good point: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

If Jesus knew that Peter loved Him, why did He ask? Perhaps it was towards restoration of Peter’s confidence or of his mission, I’m not sure exactly. But I love it. Jesus knew Peter’s heart, and we even get a glimpse into Peter’s heart when he says to Jesus eight chapters before that he would be willing to die for Him (John 13:37).

Jesus gives second chances of obedience to those who are willing to follow Him. And this is a beautiful and glorious thing! Unless we know we’ve screwed up our first chance, we would have no reason to go after a second chance.

We can learn from Peter and Jesus here: second chances are not very far away. You’ve just got to be willing. That’s all. You don’t have to do any crazy work. Just surrender.

I Can Be So Ashamed of My Need for the Gospel That I Reject It Sometimes.

When Christians my age talk about “116,” we’re either referring to the Christian rap group or the verse in Romans:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

We make a cry that we’re “unashamed,” that we’re willing to represent Christ wherever we go.

But as I thought about that idea this morning, another thought came to my mind.

Can we be so ashamed of our need for the Gospel that we reject it sometimes, that we disbelieve it?

The most important thing we can ever believe is the Gospel, is the fact that Jesus died for sins so that we could be made whole in God through Him, so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we could be put into right relationship with God. And the Gospel says we don’t need to do anything to be loved.

I’m very self-sufficient. Well, at least I like to think that I am. It’s one of my biggest flaws.

When you have a self-sufficient attitude, you’re more likely to reject help, whether that be from the people around you or even from God. When trying to fight sin, you’d rather not be accountable or let people into your life. If you’re frustrated with work, you’d rather just work things out yourself. You don’t like things being handed to you for free. If you see something wrong with yourself, you’ll only be satisfied when you fix it.

I can’t remember exactly when I realized this about myself, but it was some point last year. Last fall, I set a reminder on my phone that I would get daily at 8 a.m.

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It’s Proverbs 3:5. I emphasize the “not” because I am in desperate need of reminding myself that I suck and that I can’t rely on myself. I must trust in God for everything. I desperately need to!

And perhaps the biggest area I need to trust in God and lean not on my understanding is the area of the Gospel. I can be so self-sufficient and so ashamed of my need for the Gospel that I don’t even want to accept the grace.

If I’m a Christian, I’ve already accepted that grace for myself for a lifetime. But day-by-day, I have to make a choice to accept grace and let that guide how I think, how I speak and how I act.

I also just gotta believe that I’m forgiven and loved. That’s the most important thing you can ever believe. If you’re a Christian, it’s true for you.

We need to put ourselves aside, our desire to get everything done ourselves, and simply accept the grace of the Gospel. We need not be so ashamed of our need for it. That need must drive us to believe in the Gospel even more and trust it even more! Self-sufficiency is insufficiency in light of the Gospel. And that’s always a good thing.

So don’t be embarrassed of your need for the Gospel. Be excited for it, because it’s met in Christ.

#Salvation4Free Is the Ultimate Social Movement

People love themselves a good cause. It’s part of the human condition, I think, that we like something to rally behind, or at least show once that we rally behind something.

Perhaps the most notable outcome of this in recent years is what’s called “hashtag activism.” Perhaps the first notable instance of this was #Kony2012, started by the organization Invisible Children to try to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, an African cult leader and director of mass murders. Probably hundreds of hashtags have followed in the time since: #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls and more.

The merits and effectiveness of this strategy have been debated. Some call it “slacktivism,” basically a lazy activism that is supposed to make the person feel good about “what they’re doing for the cause.” Speaking specifically about #BringBackOurGirls, Fox News contributor George Will said, “I do not know how adults stand there facing a camera and say, ‘Bring Back Our Girls.’ Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh-oh Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior?’”

Whatever the case, social justice causes often draw a lot of people’s attention, and it’s something people rally behind.

The Church has its own forms of social justice. Sometimes it takes the form of social justice causes the world is about too. For instance, the Passion Conference-driven #endit movement focusing on worldwide sex slavery is brought up nearly every January. And sometimes it’s a special brand, such as the #DefundPP movement that’s popular nowadays focused on ending federal government funding of Planned Parenthood.

I’ve wrestled a lot with these things. Often my mind comes to a conclusion like this: “These things are good, but they can’t be primary. The Gospel has got to be primary.”

As I’ve read through the Gospels – which has been an inconsistent process – for the last few months, one thing for me has become clear. Jesus cared about the social injustices of the day, but His primary concern, and then the primary concern of His disciples, was salvation.

He cared about the poor and the outcast, but instead of rallying to get the government to change things, He actually went out to them, healed them, talked with them. And then He went and died on the cross to give them salvation. His last breath was proclaiming that the work was done, it is finished.

The most radical of all of these movements is the fact that we can be freed from the entanglements of sin – both here and after here – through the blood of Christ. It’s not something we have to work for, it’s not something we earn because of our good works, it’s something that’s freely given.

How incredible is that? It’s something that’s incredibly social in that it deals with people. And it’s justice being served, but the opposite of how we would consider justice to actually go down.

We are the oppressed. We are the ones in need of saving. We are the ones in need of help. And God sent Jesus to die on the cross to complete the task. It’s the ultimate #Salvation4Free plea. It’s much better than any tweet, much better than any protest, much better than any blog post.

I’m not saying that those other movements are worthless. We can echo the call of Jesus and of Scripture to help the widows and orphans and those oppressed by participating in these movements.

But only the Gospel truly rescues people from their deepest need.

God Used a Prostitute. You Ever Thought About How Crazy That Is?

Can God use me?

I feel like I’ve asked myself this question a million times. Am I worthy? Can I be used?

And I’d be willing to bet that many of us have.

Even within the Christian culture, sometimes we can be made to feel like we have nothing to offer, like we’ve sinned too much to actually contribute not only to the ministry efforts of our local church but even to the greater missional work of the body of Christ.

Maybe it’s just me who’s felt that way. Either way, it’s a life-sucking thought. It drains you of motivation and inspiration. Anything you thought you had before slowly seeps away until there’s nothing but just your thoughts of your perceived or real inadequacy.

In those moments, I hope you remember that God used a prostitute.

When we speak of Rahab today, we refer to her as a “harlot,” or, in the most “relevant” and blunt of Christian settings, a “whore.” She was a prostitute. We meet her in Joshua 2:1-7.

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.

A few things to note about the situation here: Rahab is a prostitute. She lied to authority. Not exactly the most “Christian” woman we can think of or would point out.

If we were to see a modern-day Rahab, who was a prostitute by profession and lied to authority, we might question the validity of her faith, even if she said things like this (v. 8-13):

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”

She acknowledges the “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She calls Him “the LORD.” And she acts in obedience. She walks by faith. She’s credited in Hebrews 11:31 as a woman of faith: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

God used a prostitute to accomplish His purposes, but it wasn’t just a use-and-leave situation. She was obedient and faithful, and she is praised in Scripture. This is the grace of the Gospel, that God can use someone who was in a profession that today we would consider, right or wrong, among the most sinful to work out His plan.

So if you’re addicted to pornography, have a gambling problem, smoke marijuana illegally twice a day, sell your body for sex, cheat on your taxes, yell at your spouse every day, whatever your deal is, you are not beyond being used by God. And you don’t have to change completely before being faithful. All you’ve got to do is make one little decision at a time. I’m not condoning what you do, but it doesn’t have to hold you back from being faithful and being used by God.

We have no evidence that Rahab was completely changed and ditched prostitution before she was faithful and obedient. And we have no evidence that she quit prostitution afterwards. We just know that she was faithful where she was and was rewarded for it with eternal life and a place in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11.

I hope and pray that you begin to defeat the sin in your life, but you don’t have to have it fully defeated before you can be used by God in great ways.

When My Words Become My Sword, I’ve Got to Slow Down.

Perhaps one of the worst side effects of the social media epidemic is the incessant need to respond to things right away. You’ve got the platform, might as well do it, right?

Oh I’ve done that. Even on this blog. I’ve attempted to respond to things as quickly as possible, all the while thinking that I’m “thinking deeper” and “being wise” with what I’m doing and saying. I’ve got to defend this, explain that.

And it often turns out to be a mess.

I was reading through John 18 this morning. It starts with Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas Iscariot comes and Jesus prepares to turn Himself in. Verse 10: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

I was struck with the imagery, and I think it speaks directly to how we speak nowadays, particularly on social media, in response to world events or to what people are saying. I think there’s a direct parallel we can make.

We are Peter. We are just doing our thing, following Jesus, and then somebody does something that goes against Jesus in some way, or they post something that goes against how we believe, what we think, even what we know to be true.

We have a sword. I don’t know exactly why Peter had a sword – perhaps it was a cultural thing. But he had it, and when his way of thinking, his way of life, his Jesus, was threatened, his gut reaction was to use it. So often we get defensive when Christ is mocked or our favorite political candidate is disparaged or somebody says something that seems hypocritical. And we “have to have” a response.

(Also, fun fact: put the “s” in “words” at the beginning of the word, and you have “sword.” Coincidence? Probably. But still…)

So we attack. We cut off their ear. At least, we try. We argue back, we make our point, we have to have the last word. We call it “standing up for Christ” or “defending Jesus.”

But is this really what Jesus would desire for us? Jesus didn’t praise Peter for his “defense” of the Son of God. In fact, He told Him to put his sword away.

I know this isn’t a perfect parallel, but I think we can learn something from Jesus asking Peter to show restraint. I can learn so much too.

So often we like to be quick in our response to things, to make sure we have our two cents in, but how often does that make us look foolish? It sure makes me look foolish. Some of the posts on this blog in the last couple months have probably made me look really silly. We may think through the logical side of what we say, the argument, the debating points, but do we think through how we reflect God or how we love others?

I think there’s a big difference between this and what Peter covered later himself in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

We must be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us, and even then do it with gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect, I’m afraid, is missing from a lot of my interactions on social media, particularly when it comes to “standing up for Jesus” or “defending my position.” I’ve got to get my word in! And am I truly defending the hope in me, or am I just trying to make a point that probably doesn’t need to be made?

Ask yourself: when you “defend the faith” on social media, is it as Peter directs us to? Is it with a Gospel grace to the person with whom you’re “discussing” things? Are we loving one another? Or are we drawing the sword way too quickly and using it way too rashly?

I don’t know the appropriate way to “defend Jesus” in this. But I’m confident no one will be won over to Christ through our well-thought-out and smart arguments on Facebook. God can make it happen, for sure, He’s done far crazier.

But I can’t help but think I can spend my time doing things so much better than that.

Sin Is Nourishing and Beautiful. And It’s Always Been That Way.

When I’m depressed or frustrated, one of the things I like to do is eat candy.

Peanut M&M’s, Reese’s Cups, Skittles, peanut butter M&M’s and 3 Musketeers are my favorites. You hand me any of those, I’ll chow down. But when I’m depressed or frustrated or sad about something, the chances of me doing almost anything I can to get my hands on one of those go up significantly.

The thought process is this: I feel like crap. Candy tastes good. Things that taste good make me feel better. I want to feel better. I should eat candy.

The problem with candy is that it is unhealthy to eat in more than small doses. A study in 2014 said that those who eat too much added sugar are making themselves more susceptible to heart disease and death. Honestly though, I don’t think we needed a study to tell us that.

But isn’t sin the same way?

We get some insight into this idea in Genesis 3:6 –

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

You could dissect a lot of this verse, but I want to focus on the underlined parts.

The tree, the fruit of the tree, was “good for food.”

Food is something that we go to when we seek nourishment and fulfillment. You hungry? You eat a banana/apple/cheeseburger/steak/french fry/ice cream cone/whatever you want. Food was made so we could be nourished and fed.

What sin promises is nourishment. And, let’s be honest, it’s not a completely empty promise. There’s a sense of fulfillment that comes from partaking in sin. We get satisfied.

But it’s only to a degree. And you see that in Adam and Eve’s response. They thought they would be satisfied, they thought they would be wise. The satisfaction was there for a moment in being made wise, but then there was regret and shame. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (v. 7).

Sin is nourishing, but only for a moment. It’s like eating a Reese’s Cup. You can’t have just one. You gotta have more. Why? Because one is not designed to completely satisfy you.

The tree, the fruit of the tree, was a “delight to the eyes.”

We’re attracted to things that are beautiful. We’re drawn to the beauty of the nature. Guys are drawn to beautiful women. A mother is captivated by the simple beauty of her child. Some appreciate the beauty of a well-constructed car.

Sin looks good. Sex outside of marriage looks good and appealing. People look at porn because it looks good to them. Lying to get out of trouble at work looks good. Showing yourself off to others pridefully looks good.

But it’s only to a degree. There’s consequences and end results that don’t look good. The heart-wrenching guilt of addiction, the legal troubles of fraud and the downcast glances of those tired of your bragging can be ugly. God’s words to Adam and Eve following their choice of sin did not look good.

To Eve:“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (v. 16). To Adam: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 17b-19).

Sin looks good, but only for a moment. It’s like looking at a Photoshopped picture and then seeing the original. It’s not nearly as pretty or appealing.

Yet we give in.

It’s natural. And based on these ideas, we shouldn’t be surprised when we give in. Our first parents showed us the way.

But my favorite part of the Genesis 3 story comes in what God tells the serpent, what He tells Satan. Verse 15:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Eve’s offspring? Jesus. So Jesus will bruise Satan’s head, and Satan will bruise Jesus’ heel. There’s a big difference in the pain caused by a heel bruise and a head bruise. Hitting a head is much more painful and does much more damage than hitting a heel. You know a head shot?

Jesus is gonna crush Satan! Well, He already did once, on the cross. Because He did that, we can be forgiven of our sin. That sin that we’re so susceptible to, God doesn’t keep that on your record if you’re a Christian. And then, at the end, Jesus will do much more than crush Satan. He’ll kick him out of earth! And God will have the victory!

That’s true beauty and true nourishment. Forever. Sin won’t last forever. Jesus will.

What Does ‘Truth in Love’ Really Mean?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

An idea I’ve been kicking around in my head a lot recently is the idea of “truth in love,” particularly as it pertains to the social issues of today and how the Christian culture responds to them.

The conservative evangelical crowd is very fond of this idea, particularly the “truth” part, I feel. I know that doesn’t necessarily describe everybody in the crowd, but I think there’s a sense where “truth” is often more emphasized than “love.” Making much of this one phrase gives people license to speak truth all the time, sometimes letting the “love” part of it go missing. But as long as we emphasize we’re speaking “truth in love,” we can feel good about ourselves, that we’re obeying God.

Then there’s the other side that’s all about “love” and doesn’t seem to care too much about “truth,” or they’re changing their definition of truth. Certain denominations have ditched biblical truth in an effort to appeal to all. They change doctrine and belief to accommodate everyone, something that is entirely unnecessary and, more importantly, unbiblical. That’s a dangerous path to walk down.

So we face the difficulty of trying to find the middle, trying to discover what it means to include both truth and love in the definition. Here’s how I’m working through it.

Standing on the Truths

Truth is essential to daily life. Without a truth to bank on, we are people of weak or no foundation. And when something doesn’t have a good foundation, it has no staying power, no stability.

Because the Bible is truth, we can bank on it because it will always hold the keys to salvation, to sanctification, to obedience, to holiness, etc. Because God is true, we can bank on Him because He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Truth is something we can’t escape. Truth exists outside of us. If you believe there is such a thing as absolute truth – as Christians do – we can’t get around certain things to be true. God created the world, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, salvation is by grace through faith alone. It is good for us that truth is inescapable. It gives us something t0 stand on, and that is a blessing.

I find that I am most unbalanced when I am not thinking on truth and I’m solely thinking in terms of uncertainties or potential realities. As someone who deals with a fair amount of anxiety, I think in those terms a lot. It’s super helpful for me to have truths I can consistently come back to and bank on. Some of those truths include things like Romans 8:28 (God is working everything together for my good), Psalm 16:11 (true joy is found in following God) and 1 Corinthians 10:31 (my purpose is glorifying God with everything I do).

The difficulty with truth is that it often steps on people’s toes.

Perhaps the most pertinent example of this recently is the rise of discussion over LGBT rights and homosexual behavior in America. The majority of evangelical Christians have spoken out against homosexuality as an “abomination,” as a sin. Using the “truth in love” idea, these Christians use the similar idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner” as a platform to write blog posts and preach sermons against homosexuality as the sin of this generation, against the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage as a dangerous step in America.

I believe that many of these people legitimately do want to love members of the LGBT community. I can’t make a judgement on their hearts just as much as I don’t want them to make a judgement on my heart. But I’m afraid that sometimes we can miss what the true definition of “love” is as we speak truth.

Love Is the Greatest of These

1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Love is something that will last until the end, and then beyond that end. God is love, 1 John 4 tells us, and everything God does is based out of love for Himself, love for His Son or love for us. It is a pure kind of love, a pure affection and attachment to someone or something else. It’s a sacrificial, unselfish love, best displayed by the death of Jesus on the cross for our salvation – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

In response to God’s love, we love others. I can’t get around this idea that love is the greatest thing that will last forever. If the second greatest commandment after love God is to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s vitally important to living as a believer, living as someone God loves.

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? I think it’s very much tied into the idea that you want them to treat you as you wish to be treated, the “golden rule.” Love is a verb, right? So it’s super tied-in with our actions. But it’s also a state of our heart. There’s an attitude of love, something that drives how we behave. Love is double-sided: it’s an emotion (a noun) that goes into an action (a verb). But one is not necessary for the other – you can often do the action without the emotion, or have the emotion but do nothing about it.

So love is huge. From my perspective, it’s God’s primary attribute. Everything else that He is derives from His love. And if we’re going to emulate God, which is our goal, everything we must do should derive from love.

So What Really Is Truth in Love?

This is the biggest question.

But it’s a question that often goes unasked. We assume we have the right answer for what “truth in love” really means. That goes for me too. What usually happens is people tend towards one of two extremes, as we talked about earlier. We either focus more on the truth or more on the love.

I often fall into the love camp where I’m more, “Hey, let’s not go so overboard with the truth that we forget to love people.” I’m not saying we need to water down the truth, but let’s give it gradually. Way too much truth at one time easily overwhelms someone.

For example, let’s talk about the LGBT community for a minute. We want to tell them that their lifestyle is sinful. I’m not arguing that. My idea is two things. First, let’s learn to love them as human beings first without approaching that subject. Second, let’s accept and admit that we have lifestyles that are sinful and that we’re no better, no different. Just because people sin the sin of the moment doesn’t mean they’re worse.

That kind of attitude, I think, displays truth in love. There is an acknowledgement of truth and a drive to love. We acknowledge that homosexual behavior is a sin, but we also acknowledge that the choices we make are just as sinful, and therefore we have no high ground to stand on. We then seek to live like Jesus and love them and all sinners – meaning, all people – the same, desiring to love as we would love.

We speak the truth in love, but I think there’s also a sense where we live out truth in love. Are we really living out the truth of the Bible? Are we acknowledging the truth of the Gospel? Are we living out the truth in our love for others? Are we living out love in our standing for the truth?

I must be honest here: I don’t do this well. I’m quick to judge those who sin differently than me. If there are people that struggle with the same sins as me, I’m quicker to emphasize grace and mercy and love because that’s what I would desire for me. But if they sin differently, I’m more likely to point out the truth and skip the love. I’ve got to grow in this immensely.

Truth Is Love. Love Is Truth.

If you’re following Jesus, we’ve got to remember that truth is love and love is truth. This is the lifestyle of a Christian. Let me explain.

Truth is love. God loves us and shows us His love by speaking truth to us. So if we truly love the people around us, we will speak truth. But we can’t forget that love is truth. If we want to live truthfully, we will love. Everything we do will ideally emanate from love for God and love for others.

So being a Christian, living out our faith, is learning how to do that. You could make the point that we’re making a big deal out of one phrase in one verse in Scripture – a point I was about to make – but I think this is a good summary of what it means to live as a Christian. We don’t just speak truth in love, we live out truth in love, we live out love in truth.

Perhaps the most difficult part is that there’s no one way to handle every situation with truth in love, love in truth. It definitely depends on the circumstances. But each and every day, our charge is to figure out what “truth in love” means for where we are right then, who we’re with, what we’re feeling, how we’re living.

And in that, we glorify God the most.