I’ve Looked Down That Road Too

So I work as a reporter at The Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C., and my world was shaken yesterday.

We were told there was a police-involved shooting in downtown Sanford, a few hundred yards from our office. We were waiting for more information from police. Then the news came in. I’ll copy our report below:

A 28-year-old male from Sanford died Thursday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Sanford police.

The incident occurred around 1 p.m. in front of an abandoned business at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and First Street. Police cars blocked off a section of Charlotte Avenue while the man stood outside of the abandoned business. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and shot himself after communicating with police detectives and other civilians for about 90 minutes.

During the 90 minutes, nearby businesses closed down and people eating at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, just yards away from the incident, were forced to stay inside the restaurant.

After the incident, EMS administered immediate medical assistance and he was transported to the emergency room at Central Carolina Hospital. He was pronounced dead by the medical examiner at the hospital.
 
The name of the man has not been released yet. Stay with The Herald for more.

I was shaken. Why? I’ve looked down that road before, that road of taking your own life, and it’s a dark one.

I didn’t get too far down that road, but I’ve heard stories of others that didn’t, like this young man. As I saw tributes on my Facebook feed to this guy yesterday, I saw that he was well-loved by people of all races, ages and political perspectives. People came together to remember him. I won’t print his name here out of respect for the fact I never met him, never knew him and had never even heard of him before yesterday.

But I want to believe that I’ve felt part of the pain that he felt. Obviously, something happened in his life or his mind that drove him to this drastic decision, and he felt he couldn’t go on.

I understand the impulse. I’ve struggled with enough in my life to make me think about that path — depression, anxiety, bullying, religious doubt, fear of man, despair over mistakes.

In this time, I struggle to think of what I could say to comfort those who might be hurting or mourning. I’ve never been intimately acquainted with someone who has taken their own life. I’ve known people — a former high school classmate, a distant relative, this man yesterday — that have done so. I’ve known people that have thought about it. Words just aren’t enough in this situation.

What I will recommend, and what I hope to do more of, is this: don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK?”

I think we’re nervous to get too invested in others’ lives for several reasons. First, we can be selfish people, and getting too much in others’ lives takes away time and attention to ourselves. Second, we don’t want to pry or make things awkward. And third, sometimes we just don’t know how to.

I’ll suggest it this way: Think about how often you start a conversation with someone and you ask, “How are you?” or in the case of Joey Tribbiani, “How you doin’?” It’s a common conversation starter. How often do you or the person you’re talking to say “fine” or “good”?

I recommend that we start taking the time to dig deeper into that. Obviously not with people you’ve just met or in professional settings, but with friends or relatives, be willing to ask, “How are you good?” or “How are you fine?” If they seem a little unsure, don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need to talk about something?”

The worst that can happen to you is that they say “no” and it’s a little awkward for a while. The best that can happen is that 1) you have a meaningful, productive conversation with another human being (talks that seem few and far between these days) and 2) you might bring a little hope and love into another person’s life.

Yeah, love. There’s not enough of that right now. And I’m not blaming the person’s family or friends or coworkers or whoever for not loving him enough. That’s not the point. I’m asking you who know people to show that love to others. Point them down the path of love.

I want to say one last thing, to send a message to my brother who passed on:

Yes, I know we never met, and you’ve probably never even heard my name. But you’re my brother because we’ve had similar struggles, I imagine. I love you, man. I hope and pray you’re in the arms of a Savior who loves you. I hope your life will spur others on to love. I hope your life will spur me on to love.

— Zach
Advertisements

What I’ve Learned About Faithfulness in Romantic Relationships from Popular Music

How many popular songs have you heard that talk about avoiding faithfulness in a relationship?

The ones that come to my mind primarily are “Leavin” by Jesse McCartney and “The Call” by the Backstreet Boys. In “Leavin,” Jesse encourages a girl tell her man that she’s “leavin, never to come back again.” The plea is primarily based on his ability to please her better sexually. In “The Call,” the man is making a call to his woman at home about some vague place he’s going. What he doesn’t say is that he’s going to be with an unnamed woman.

Faithfulness in romantic relationships is a foreign concept to half of America these days. True faithfulness is the reason that marriages end in death of one of the spouses. I’ve seen true faithfulness in my parents’ marriage, in the marriages of many others.

I must admit, I often wonder how in the world this happens. How do we get to the place where we can repel those temptations from people other than our spouses? What must we learn?

Surprise of surprises, I’ve learned some pointers from popular music. Here’s three lessons I’ve picked up from three different songs. Two are popular tracks from this past year, and the other is a little harder to come by but definitely worth a listen.

1.Don’t deny the temptations. Recognizing them is the first step to beating them.

Song: “Honey, I’m Good.” by Andy Grammer 

This song, Grammer’s most popular record, revolves around him being in a bar and seeing women around him who are tempting him. He acknowledges that they are good-looking, but he’s got someone much better at home.

“It’s been a long night here, and a long night there, and these long long legs are d*** near everywhere. Hold up now, you look good, I will not lie, but if you ask where I’m staying tonight, I gotta be like oh baby, no baby, you got me all wrong baby, my baby’s already got all of my love.”

Grammer acknowledges the attractiveness of the woman he’s speaking to. He’s not trying to deny it or ignore it. He even says that “better men than me have failed, drinking from that unholy grail,” that people have slipped in this area. He’s also aware of his own weakness, that if he stays he “might not leave alone.”

He uses these reasons to say that he’s gotta get the heck out of there. Grammer told the Miami Herald this about the inspiration behind the song:

Well, you know I’m married now. So when I go out on tour, well, there are always hot girls around. The song’s about staying honest and being like, “Yes, you are smoking hot, but I’m good. I got a lady at home who is incredible. It’s worth staying truthful.”

As with any temptation to sin, recognizing that they exist is the first step. If you recognize that there is a chance you will slip up, you’re more likely to set the safeguards in place to avoid falling to the temptation.

2. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you should.

Song: “Wanna” by Christon Gray feat. JGivens

The first verse of this track focuses on Gray spending time in a club or restaurant or bar and seeing a beautiful woman. He shares the thought process he goes through in this time.

“I feel like it don’t matter anymore, getting used to the way the world turns. But I must say it’s spinnin’ really fast when I look at her. I just. If I was just a few years younger, girl I could be your boy wonder, you could be my prima donna, when I’m away from my wife and my daughter.”

He talks about how the wedding ring on his finger feels so heavy, and it would be so easy to slip it off. The chorus repeats, “Shouldn’t but I wanna, shouldn’t but I wanna.”

Just because we want to do something doesn’t meant we should do it. The word “should” can be a dangerous word because it could lead us to legalism or doing things we don’t necessarily need to do. But within marriage, you should not cheat. You say in your vows, “‘Till death do us part.” That doesn’t mean, “‘Till there’s someone else who looks better. ‘Till there’s a time where she doesn’t fulfill me. ‘Till there’s a moment when he doesn’t love me as he should.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “should” here.

There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.

3. Your spouse is your cheerleader, and she should be cherished as such.

Song: “Cheerleader” by Omi

 

“All these other girls are tempting but I’m empty when you’re gone. And they say, ‘Do you need me? Do you think I’m pretty? Do I make you feel like cheating?’ And I’m like, ‘No, not really.’ Cause, oh, I think that I’ve found myself a cheerleader, she’s always right there when I need her.”

If you’ve chosen to settle down with someone for the rest of your life, hopefully you’ve seen something in that person that is worth giving the rest of your life to. What I’ve learned that I need to remember is that my future spouse is the best I’ll ever have, and because of that no one else is worth it. She’s my cheerleader. She’s the one who will support me until I die.

And this is the best reason to not cheat. If you’ve married well, you’ve married someone who will give everything they’ve got to the marriage. Will they be perfect at it? No. But they’re worth not cheating.

The song continues: “She gives me love and affection. Baby, did I mention you’re the only girl for me? No, I don’t need a next one. Mama loves you too, she thinks I made the right selection. Now all that’s left to do is just for me to pop the question.”

The best part about marriage is that you choose the person to spend the rest of your life with. Things will not be perfect, will never be perfect. But the point of marriage isn’t to have a perfect situation. It’s to have a partner to wander through the rest of your life with, together, seeking after the best.


If you’re a Christian, you’re challenged to love and cherish your spouse. They’re your No. 1 priority. You’re called to sacrifice for and serve them. This isn’t an optional thing. This is the real deal. It’s a real deal I’m stepping into pretty soon, and I’m so excited. I can’t think of cheating on my soon-to-be-wife.

But I can’t assume that I’m immune. As Andy Grammer said, “Better men than me have failed.” I’ve got to keep these things in mind so that I can stay true to my lady love.

What Christmastime Has Taught Me About Love and Marriage

One word that is associated very much with Christmas is “give.”

It’s all over the place. We give gifts to one another. We give time towards hanging out with family. God gives Jesus to us for the salvation of our sins.

It’s all indicative of sacrifice, showing giving up something for the better of someone else. We give our money to stores so we can give gifts to others. God gives up His Son so we can find eternal life one day.

One thing that being engaged during this season has taught me is that, within marriage, I need to act like it’s Christmas all year round.

Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That simple idea of a husband loving his wife like Christ loved the church, giving of Himself for her, is what marriage is supposed to look like in a nutshell. There’s a continual attitude of sacrifice and love, echoing the love that God showed for us in Christ on the cross.

And Christmas is a great time to reflect on those things. We can think about the gifts we give to our spouse/finacé(e)/significant other as a reflection of the gift God gives to us. We can think about going with them to the in-laws/future in-laws not as a chore, but as a joyous occasion to celebrate the season and to celebrate the bond of family.

By the way, I love my future in-laws. It’s not a chore for me at all. Just wanted to clear that up.

Christmas is a season of giving. So let’s see how we can echo the giving spirit of Christmas within our own romantic relationships not just in December, but year-round.

Jesus Loves Porn Stars. Just Making Sure We Were All Aware.

One of my favorite ministries is Fireproof Ministries. It’s a multi-faceted ministry with several branches, including XXX Church. One of their primary goals is to reach out to those that work in porn and simply love them by showing them the love of Christ.

I recently received, as a perk for donating to a recent fundraiser, a copy of the Bible in the picture above. It’s the Gideons-like copies of the book of Luke they hand out at porn conventions and other events. It says on the front, coupled with a drawing of a man with a “porn ‘stache,” “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”

I wanted to get a physical copy of this Book of Luke because I wanted to see what exactly they were handing out. I love the work they do and would love to be a part of it some day, Lord-willing.

As part of the colorful intro, Craig Gross, the founder of XXX Church, wrote this:

You see, the Bible says we’ve all blown it. Whether we’re making porn, working in a coffee shop, or running a church, we are all sinners who have “stuff” we need to clean up. It doesn’t matter how much stuff we have; it all makes us imperfect.

The good news is that Jesus knows this and loves us anyway. It doesn’t matter if you got high yesterday or masturbated five minutes ago. He still loves you. In fact, he desperately wants to have a relationship with you. Your “stuff” doesn’t change this fact.

Whether it’s liberals, murderers or porn stars, we in the Church have a complex of avoiding people we disagree with or people whose lifestyles we don’t like. I’m entirely guilty of doing this.I don’t like hanging out with super crazy, Westboro Baptist-echoing, super-Republican fundamentalist Christians.

But when I read things like that, I’m convicted. If my call is to love like Jesus loved, no matter who I’m around, then I’m failing miserably. The Church, for the most part is failing miserably.

What I love about XXX Church is that they’re not going to try to get people out of the industry. That’s not their main goal. I’ve read and heard interviews with Craig Gross and other XXX Church staff. They would love for that to happen, they would love for these guys and girls to get out, but their main hope is that they feel and know the love of Christ.

In their work I see what the Church could and probably should be. Instead of first trying to change behavior, perhaps we should simply try to look at ourselves first and ask ourselves: are we really loving the porn stars? Are we really loving the Democrat in our workplace who vehemently disagrees with our stance on abortion? Are we really loving that guy we saw on the news who murdered his wife?

And I’m not necessarily saying we have to go all out and love by taking action, although that is the ultimate form of love. The question is this: at the base level, is our heart at a posture of love towards that person? Even if we never meet them, do we love them? We can love people without ever meeting them.

I can love the person on Facebook I haven’t seen in years who negatively comments on my blog post. I can love the politician who says everything I don’t like. I can love the woman who drowns her baby in a bathtub.

Why? Jesus did. And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

And so can we, the Church, the people Jesus has called His own.

What Is It That Is Desired Most in a Man?

OK, so a little personal embarrassing confession time here.

When I was younger, I liked the music of Clay Aiken. I actually got made fun of at school for it. But I liked it. One of his standout songs was “Measure of a Man.” The chorus is catchy, and it gets stuck in my head every now and then even though I can’t remember the last time I listened to it.

It goes like this:

Would he walk on water?
Would he run through fire?
Would he stand before you, when it’s down to the wire?
Would he give his life up to be all he can?
Is that, is that, is that how you measure a man?

Say what you will about Clay Aiken and his musical prowess or lack thereof, but I think there’s something quite insightful about those lyrics.

What defines how you measure a man? According to Proverbs, it’s something you might not expect.

Proverbs 19:22 and 20:6 say,

What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar…Many a man proclaims his steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?

Steadfast love is to be most desired in someone. Not an overwhelming amount of knowledge, not skill at a trade, not even spiritual acumen, but the trait most desired is steadfast love.

What is steadfast love? It’s love that doesn’t sway or change due to feelings, circumstances, obstacles, whatever. It’s a love that stays the same. Really, it’s the way God loves.

So what’s most important for someone, what’s most desired, is steadfast love, a love that doesn’t change, a love that stays the same through the ages. A love that looks like this:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That is what is most desired in a man.

As Far As It Depends on You, Just Get Along With People on Social Media

We live in a culture of vehement disagreement. Just take a look at your News Feed.

Every day, I see (and am sometimes involved in) conversations on someone’s Facebook post that revolves around a vehement disagreement on some political or societal issue. Sometimes that disagreement can be over something trivial and the disagreement can be joking and playful. But sometimes it can be bad and vitriolic.

These kinds of interactions have led some people I know to stay out of conversations on Facebook altogether, and I applaud them. Perhaps it would be better for me to take that route. I’ve been in quite a few of those bad conversations and said some things that were out-of-line or had a sinful attitude and approach.

Romans 12 has some words for me. Verses 16-18:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Live in harmony. Live peaceably. If we look at social media, there’s not a lot of harmony and peace.

There is a place in society for disagreement and people having a conversation in which opposing viewpoints are presented. People are different, so we’ll have different ideas and opinions on how certain things “should” or “ought to be” run or thought about. That’s just part of being human.

But we shoot ourselves in the foot as a society and as the body of Christ when we resort to vehement vitriolic disagreement.

I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to stay away from being mean in my comments but my attitude has gotten sour over some things said on Facebook. I have done little to create an environment of harmony and peace on social media.

But these verses challenge me, and hopefully challenge you who might read this, to think through how we behave on social media. Are we creating an environment of peace and harmony on social media?

To be fair, there’s only so much we can do, right? We can’t control how other people behave on their Facebooks and Twitters. Romans 12:18 takes care of that, saying that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” It’s saying that we must do whatever we can to pursue peace in our relationships with everyone. There are going to be times where the other party isn’t as willing to pursue peace, and in those times we can be content knowing that we’re trying to do the right thing. But remember that doesn’t give us license to be spiteful and unfairly critical of the other party.

My fiancée once told me something very wise. We were talking about fighting sin and she said, “You need to do what you need to do to not do what you don’t need to do.” I was like, “Brilliant!” We need to take whatever steps necessary to avoid sinful behavior. Particularly online.

I need to think five times about what I’m about to post. I need to think about something that my dad tells me all the time – “Is this thought helpful?” I need to think about how what I’m about to say can create an environment of peace, even in the midst of disagreement.

It is possible to disagree well.

 

Don’t Give Up: Even When Relationships Are Stressing You Out

“Actually, there is a word for that. It’s love. I’m in love with her, okay? If you’re looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want no matter how much it destroys you, it’s love.”

I’ve mentioned before how one of my favorite shows is How I Met Your Mother. Just in case you’ve missed the posts where I’ve mentioned it before, it’s a show about Ted Mosby, a young guy living in NYC trying to find the woman of his dreams, the mother of his kids. It’s narrated by an older Ted Mosby to his two kids. It’s him saying to his kids, “Hey, here’s how I met your mother.” Classic.

Ted Mosby is a romantic. Easily. Throughout the whole series you see him pining for different women. Sometimes it’s a mess.

But one instance that strikes me so deeply is early on in season one. He’s dating a girl named Natalie, someone with whom he has a messy history, for the second time. The first time he broke up with her, he dumped her on her birthday via a message on her answering machine with a bunch of people in her apartment waiting to surprise her hearing every word. After they restart dating, Ted suddenly says, “I have to break up with her…She’s terrific but I have to break up with her…I should be in love with her, but I’m not feeling that thing. It’s ineffable.”

They had only dated – this second time around – for three weeks. Ted’s issue in this episode was that he was basing all his decisions on feelings and giving up really easily. It reminded me how easily people give up on relationships.

True, Ted is kinda clueless half the time. But just look at the statistics on divorce. Some studies say it’s 50 percent of marriages, some say it’s less. Either way, people give up on relationships all the time.

Sometimes giving up on relationships is what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s just not going anywhere. But there are two instances when giving up isn’t an option.

When you’re married, you don’t give up.

There are specific exceptions that are really hard and messy to deal with here, but 99 percent of the time, you say, “Till death do us part,” and you stick with that.

The American Psychological Association says that 40-50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. That’s crazy. That’s a lot of people giving up.

I can’t speak specifically to the difficulties that come within marriage because I’m still a few months away from experiencing it myself. But all that I’ve heard is that marriage is hard, and that it can be somewhat easy to want to ditch it.

But all I’ve heard about quitting marriage is that it’s not worth it.

As I’ve thought about the possibility of being married, I can think of several reasons why one would want to quit: arguments that never seem to end, the financial difficulty of managing money for two people, and many more. But when you say, “I do,” you’re committing for life.

One thing I’m learning about love is that it’s more about commitment. When you say, “I love you,” it’s more than a feeling. It’s saying, “Hey, I’m committing to you. I’m promising to stick with you, no matter how I feel. Even if I don’t feel the love.” Love means commitment more than anything else. Yes, there are feelings in there too, but it’s more about a promise. Love is a promise. What I’ve heard is that going through the tough times will only make your relationship stronger.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up just because you’re scared.

Fear of commitment/relationships is one of the most powerful fears out there. I’ve experienced it in my own life, and had to overcome it to start pursuing my now-fiancée.

Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it can also be a powerful de-motivator. It can suck the life and desire and drive out of you.

I know how terrifying commitment can be. You’re offering to give yourself up for someone else.

But I can tell you from personal experience that it’s worth it. The months that I have spent dating and now engaged to my fiancée have been hard sometimes, but they’ve also been incredibly joyful and rewarding. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.

So if you’ve got the opportunity to pursue a romance, but you’re sacred, please, don’t give up. Push on.

Don’t give up.

Ben Rector Has It Right. I Just Wanna Look More Like Love.

One of my favorite Ben Rector songs is off his new album Brand New. The song is called “More Like Love.”

It ends like this:

I find the farther that I climb
There’s always another line
Of mountain tops
It’s never going to stop
And the more of anything I do
The thing that always ends up true
Is getting what I want
Will never be enough

So I just wanna look more like love
I just wanna look more like love
This whole world is spinning crazy
I can’t quite keep up
It’s the one thing around here
That we don’t have quite enough of
So I just wanna look a little more
Like love

It’s a beautifully-arranged song, with piano mixing well with strings in the background and Ben’s fantastic voice. But the songwriting is the best here. It’s penned with a heartfelt honesty and vulnerability that’s beginning to populate modern music, and I love that, as (all seven of) you who read this blog regularly will know.

I read Titus this morning as I ate my sausage and egg sandwich before showering and heading to work. One of the themes of Titus is “good works” – that phrase itself or a slight variation is mentioned five times in the text of the letter:

  1. “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works…” (2:7)
  2. “…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (2:14)
  3. “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work…” (3:1)
  4. “…I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works…” (3:8)
  5. “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (3:14)

Pondering the emphasis on “good works” made me think of my life and the good works that I’m doing. Or am I doing any good works? What does “good works” look like? What’s the basis for my good works?

Sometimes I feel like our “good works” often become our ability to not do bad things. And I don’t think that’s the point of pursuing obedience, of pursuing Christ. Pursuing good works is about intentionally setting our mind to doing good things for other people, to honor God, to serve the world.

And that’s where Ben Rector’s song becomes a good tentpole for our aim. What does love look like?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

This kind of attitude is at the base of every good work. Against love, there is no law. Pursuing loving others is the highest of callings, and it’s the calling we have as Christians.

It’s being patient and kind with one another. It’s pushing aside pride and boastfulness. It’s putting others first, rejoicing at what is true, bearing, believing, hoping, enduring. It’s echoing Christ’s love of us towards others.

If we pursue those things, we’ll start to look a little more like love.

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.

God Is Love. Jesus Is Hope.

1 John 4 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It’s come over the last year or so, and it was huge timing.

I had been struggling with a long time for believing God’s love for me was true. It was that chapter which gave me several assurances of God’s love:

  • “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.” (v. 9-10)
  • “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (v. 16)
  • “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (v. 18-19)

That last set of verses was especially pertinent to me. I had a lot of fear of God, fear of people, fear of the unknown. Knowing that God loves me and works all things together for my good (Romans 8:28) has been such a relief when I’m overwhelmed by my sin, when I wonder about the future. God loves me, all will work out in the end. That kills a good bit of that fear.

But recently I’ve been feeling hopeless. I know I am not hopeless, I know there is true hope. But it’s recently been hard for me to believe it.

One passage that really hit me over the head with a truth yesterday was John 16:33-17:3. It’s incredibly powerful:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Some context: Jesus had just finished telling the disciples that “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and believed that I came from God” (16:28). So the disciples were told that God loves them.

In this passage, Jesus gives the disciples, and us, three reasons to have hope, and they all come from Jesus Himself.

Jesus brings us hope of peace here and now.

Jesus says He tells them these things “that in me you may have peace.” Peace can be a feeling. It can be an emotional response to something. But more than anything, peace is a state of being that is not necessarily swayed by emotion.

Jesus says all these things so that they can have peace. There’s a peace that comes from God that is objective. It’s established through the love of God shown through Christ. Jesus earned that peace for us on the Christ. It’s the peace between God and man that could only be won by Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 describes it as “reconciliation”:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

The peace we have earned is a reconciliation to God that we lost at the fall, that we lost when sin entered the world. Jesus has made the way for us to be reconciled to God and achieve a great peace.

There’s also a sense where there is emotional or mental peace. That truth, that we’ve achieved an objective peace with God, can at times bring us an attitude of peace. We don’t have to worry about our eternal resting place. We don’t have to worry about our salvation. It was earned through Christ.

Because of Him, we can hope.

Jesus brings us hope of overcoming the world.

Jesus tells the disciples that, in the world, they will face difficulties and tribulation. Each and every one of us faces tribulations, difficulties, on a nearly-daily basis, if not a daily basis.

Jesus has overcome all of that. He faced everything the world had to throw at Him and came out on the other side victorious. Granted, He was God and could do that.

But through Christ, we have hope of doing the same thing. We have hope that we can make it to the end because Jesus paved the way for us. He showed us how to live. He gave us the opportunity for grace and mercy through His death on the cross.

One practical example: He can help us defeat sinful temptation in our life when it attacks. Hebrews 4:14-16 explains it perfectly:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus faced every temptation we did. And He beat it! Because of this (that’s what the “let us then” means), we can come near to Christ when tempted, and we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We pray. We read what Jesus said in His Word. We observe His behavior in the Word. After all, He is “the Word” (John 1:1).

Because of Him, we can hope.

Jesus brings us hope of life after death with Him.

In His high priestly prayer after speaking with the disciples, Jesus prays and says that God the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (17:2).

What God the Father gave God the Son was the ability to grant eternal life to those He calls His own. I’m not going to dive into the Trinitarian aspect of this because honestly I have no idea how that works and I don’t think we fully will until we get to heaven. And then it still might remain a mystery.

But what remains is that, through Christ, we are given the gift of life eternal with God. And this life eternal is beautiful. Revelation 22:1-5 captures just a sliver of it:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Sometimes I get chills thinking about what this might look like. Again, this is just part of what that eternal life will look like. And we have hope that this is our end because of Jesus. If He hadn’t died on the cross, we would have no hope of this. If He didn’t save us, we would have no hope of this.

This is a thing to rejoice over! This is something we get to be pumped about! Our eternal destiny is secured because of the cross of Christ. In a world where our futures can often be everything and anything but secure, our eternal future is completely set in stone, untouchable by anything on or off earth.

Because of Him, we can hope.

And hope is a beautiful thing in a hopeless world.