Refocused Romance, Pt. 3: It’s About Commitment, Not Feeling.

Perhaps one of my favorite movie romances is between Will Hunting and Skylar in the 1999 film Good Will Hunting. I love the movie, but the romance is quite interesting.

Will hails from the dirty streets of Boston, while Skylar is an English lass who has come to America to get an education at Harvard. They couldn’t be more opposite. Will is a janitor at MIT who has a penchant for getting in fights and hangs out with a group of guys you’d avoid on the street. Skylar is intelligent, beautiful, gives piano lessons and is planning on going to medical school at Stanford.

In one of the movie’s many pivotal scenes, Skylar and Will have an intense argument which ends in them breaking up. Skylar asks Will to move to California with her, and Will says no. Skylar asks him why, asks him what he’s scared of.

“You live in this safe little world where no one challenges you and you’re scared s***less to do anything else because that means you’ll have to change,” Skylar says.

Will emotionally responds and ends the relationship. He’s clearly being led by his feelings. He’s afraid to commit, afraid to devote himself to something. He lives his life on emotion, he makes decision based on emotion. Earlier in the movie, he picks a fight out of nowhere with a guy who bullied him as a kid just because he felt like it.

So often, high schoolers approach relationships that way. Their relationships are based on how they feel. We lament the world of teenage dating because it’s so temporary and so fleeting. Well, look around at adult dating and marriage. How many marriages end in divorce? How many times is it because of “irreconcilable differences” where people are living off their feelings instead of the commitment they made?

It’s not necessarily the high schoolers’ fault that they think relationships work that way. That’s how things are displayed on television and movies and in songs. And often we don’t even take the time to explain it to them.

Here’s the crux of this: commitment, not feeling, is the center of any romantic relationship.

Some people might think that so far in this series I’ve been a little lax on things. Let me toughen up a bit.

Dating is not something to be messed around with. It’s not something you take lightly. It’s not something you flippantly enter without prayer, thought and counsel. It’s not something you do just because you want to. There’s got to be serious reason and foresight and purpose behind you dating someone. It’s a serious deal.

That’s why commitment is important. Feelings come and go. They are strong one day and weak the next. Feelings can be the start of something, it’s what can draw you into a relationship initially, but at the end of the day romantic relationships are all about commitment. There are going to be days you don’t want to pursue romance. There are going to be days you’re overwhelmed with other things that you don’t want to invest in a relationship. There are going to be days you simply don’t feel like it.

You don’t need to wait until you get to college or adulthood to be thinking this way. You can start right now. It’s simply an echo of how Jesus relates to us, a commitment.

Something to think about though: if you’re thinking about a relationship, you don’t need to be ready to make a lifelong commitment before dating someone. All you’re doing is committing to seeing if this is something you might eventually want to make a lifelong commitment.

And that’s why dating is a serious business. It’s a good thing, it’s a great thing. But we shouldn’t take this flippantly. And that’s one reason I’m writing this series. I want to help people take this more seriously, but not so seriously they never try. It’s worth it.


Refocused Romance, Pt. 2: High standards, not impossible ones

Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.

This second part is about how high standards are important to have, but not impossible ones when it comes to dating.

One of the most common things you’ll find as part of the discussion of dating in the Christian world is how to handle your “negotiables” and “non-negotiables.” Negotiables are the things that you’d ideally want in a spouse, but aren’t required and can be changed. Non-negotiable are the things that are requirements.

For example: a negotiable for me would be that the person I marry would be a soccer fan, particularly of my favorite team, Arsenal FC. That’s something that I could get over if she wasn’t. Fortunately, my lady is! Well, she became one. One of the reasons I love her.

But there’s really only one non-negotiable for believers, and this gets to my point.

Setting impossible standards for who you’re going to date is a waste of your time because you’ll never find anyone. The only non-negotiable that Scripture commands of believers is that they marry someone who is a Christian. That’s it.

I used to end up in this rut where I would have to evaluate the girl I was interested in by so many categories and so many things that I thought she “had to have” or “had to be.” Is she enough of this? Does she believe exactly this set of doctrines? It was overwhelming and exhausting.

What this kind of thought process often leads to is an impossible set of standards that absolutely no one can stand up to. We begin to expect perfection, and expecting perfection in a relationship is a waste of time.

Why? No one will ever be perfect. No one will ever be able to honestly say, “I am without sin.” 1 John 1:8 precludes that – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we expect the person that we date or marry to be perfect, we’re deceiving ourselves, we’re ignoring truth.

So when you’re looking for a date or a mate, don’t look for someone perfect. You won’t find them.

Most posts would end there, but I want to add something: don’t expect yourself to be perfect either.

Like I said earlier, there can be a lot of pressure to feel like you have to fit a mold or be somebody specific before you get married or even start dating. You won’t be perfect either.

Of course, there’s some ideals you’d like to get to. When it comes to dating, it’s ideal that you’re able to afford to drive your date somewhere and you can pay for dinner. But besides that, there’s really no honest biblical restriction. Expecting yourself to reach perfection before you start dating means you won’t date, you won’t marry.

One thing I want to emphasize: dating when your identity is in that person instead of in Jesus is scary and potentially deadly. I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

As a teenager, there’s a lot of pressure from Christian sources as far as who you “have to be” before you start dating. You don’t have to be anything. You’re going to face a lot the same struggles in teenage dating that you’ll face in adult dating: placing God before that person, physical interaction temptations, arguments and disagreements, etc.

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect or even good at relationships. I hope I never get to a place where I think I’m good at relationships.

But I always want to be learning, striving to know more, be more, grow more. My lady, and my God, deserve more. Just because we won’t ever be perfect doesn’t mean we can’t grow. 

This is the Gospel displayed: God doesn’t ditch us because we’re not perfect. But He desires better for us. And it’s a good idea to bring into the dating world.

Refocused Romance, Pt. 1: Dating in High School is a Good Thing. Here’s Why.

Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.

This first part is about how dating in high school is a good idea. 

I remember not even as long as a year ago, maybe even six months, that I’d never allow my kids to date in high school. I said, “Not in my house.”

Since then I’ve realized two things. First, sometimes it doesn’t really matter all that much what you say as a parent. Kids will do things behind your back and “dating” in your eyes might be different than what “dating” looks like in your kid’s eyes. Second, dating in high school is a good thing.

Full disclosure: I had three dating relationships in high school. One lasted three months, one lasted three weeks and one lasted over a year. These were all Facebook official relationships, and they were cornerstones of my high school experience. I’ll share bits from them throughout this series.

Of course, one of the things to keep in mind when you talk about something like “dating” and “relationships” in the high school context is that there are different definitions for different people. For the sake of this piece, this is my working definition of relationship: you have romantic affection for one another and it’s mutually agreed upon that, at least for the foreseeable future, you’re not looking for anyone else.

OK cool. Now that we’ve got that established, let’s get into the real stuff.

One of the main reasons Christians give for not dating in high school is the “distraction” idea. Bloggers can go crazy on this idea. One blogger I read wrote this:

For the Christian teenager this whole business of dating can be very distracting.  As Christians, our primary focus, especially in our single years, should be on our relationship with God.  Rather than spending their energy pursuing the Lord, they are distracted by the dating culture.  Rather than spending their evening in prayer with the Lord, they spend it texting their girl friend. (FYI, Teens don’t talk on the phone anymore, they just text)  Teenage dating is unwise because it can distract you from pursuing the Lord.

First of all, I don’t know if anyone spends their entire evening in prayer with God. If you do, please know you don’t have to do that. God doesn’t judge us or our faithfulness based on how many minutes we pray.

Second, and this is the bigger point: every single situation in your life is going to have distractions. If you’re going to have this caveat that you can’t get into something if it’s going to distract you from your walk with Christ, might as well not get a job, get married, have kids, own a pet, have a hobby, etc. Maybe this is a logical fallacy, but if we follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, from my perspective at least, we shouldn’t do anything if it distracts us from following Jesus. Eating can distract us, going to the bathroom can distract us.

One of the reasons you date is so that you can learn how to be a Christian and to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. It can be a delicate balance, but it’s a balance you’re not going to learn by sitting on the sidelines.

Another reason some give is the temptations for sexual intimacy that come in dating relationships in high school. I can speak from personal experience – it’s not like it gets easier once you get older. I’d argue that it gets harder. If we ran away all the time because of that, we’d never get married.

Yet another reason I saw is that “break-ups are messy” and they’re likely to happen. Yet again, if we spent our whole life avoiding awkward situations, we’d never grow and we’d be nice, sheltered little Christians who never took risks.

Not dating in high school just because you might sin or you might do something bad is a cop-out of the highest order. We encourage kids to take this route in order to “follow God” when really we might be scaring them out of one of the most beneficial and beautiful experiences of their lives.

Let’s be honest: the only difference between dating in high school and dating in college and beyond is the age and the likelihood of marriage. Everything else is exactly the same: overanalyzing text messages with your friends, awkwardly wondering when to go in for that first kiss, the nervousness of meeting the parents, the goofy nicknames, all of it. A dating experience is all about learning about yourself, your significant other and how to love someone, whether or not you use the word “love” in the dating relationship. And those are skills that are best developed, oftentimes, within the context of a dating relationship.

What we’re often afraid of is that our kids “can’t handle it” or “they’re too young” or “they don’t know what they’re doing.” I got engaged last week, and I don’t know what I’m doing.

The point of having God on your side is that He can help you through everything through His Holy Spirit, through His Word and through fellowship with believers. Even you teenagers who are dating in high school, pursuing things with your boyfriend/girlfriend in a godly way can be an exciting and challenging thing that, by God’s grace, you can learn a lot from.

Yes, odds are your relationship will fail. But that doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

The story is told about Thomas Edison when he invented the incandescent light bulb that he failed 999 times to get the construction and engineering of the bulb just right and succeeded on the 1,000th time. A reporter asked him what it was like to fail that many times. He reportedly responded with something like this: “I didn’t fail 999 times. I just found 999 ways to not make a lightbulb.”

If you date 30 girls and marry the 31st, you didn’t waste the 30 relationships prior. You just found 30 girls you weren’t going to marry.

Dating in high school isn’t a waste of time. I promise. And I hope over the next few posts to share some wisdom I’ve gotten, however little, in the dating scene, based on questions and thoughts I’ve heard from real teenagers about dating.

I think the Church has often failed youth on speaking to the real thoughts, real difficulties and real questions about dating because we treat it so superficially. There are people who do tackle it properly, who do go about it the right way. But it’s rare, so kids are still left with these questions.

Let’s go for it.

On Engagement: The Gospel and Christmas + An Announcement

If marriage is symbolic of the relationship between God and man once justification has happened, what is engagement?

This is the question I was asking myself this morning as I pondered my own engagement, which started around 5:45 p.m. yesterday. I asked my girlfriend if she would marry me, and she said yes. It’s a pretty big deal. Here’s a picture of us below:


Once it was posted on Facebook a few hours later, the notifications started pouring in: comments on the photo, comments on the “life event” and hundreds and hundreds of likes. I was trying to figure out how I could write about this (typical writer of me), and I had this thought.

Engagement is such an announcement. I’ve had Facebook and Instagram notifications out the wazoo. And I’m so thankful for all of them. I’m thankful for all the people who love and care for me enough to think about Sarah and me.

But of course, I had to think of some spiritual tie-in. And I thought of Christmas.

We often think about Christmas as an announcement that Christ has come and that the forgiveness of sins is at hand. And that’s what I think of when I think about engagement.

Giving Sarah a diamond ring means I’m planning on marrying her. It means I’m planning on making a lifelong commitment. It means I’m committing to be committed. And that’s wild for me, because I’m terrified of commitment, I’m terrified of absolutes.

But when I look at Christmas, I see an announcement. It’s announcing that a wedding is coming, a relationship and a unity is approaching, between God and man. It’s one based on unconditional love, one based not on feeling and emotion but on commitment and faithfulness. It’s God committing to be committed.

2 Timothy 2:13 says this about God: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God is faithful. He can’t stop being faithful. As Sarah and I prepare for marriage, I’m going to hope that I can be faithful as God is to me. He’s my guide for marriage.

Marriage is designed to reflect the Gospel, first and foremost. And I certainly hope Sarah and I can reflect the grace of God and the relationship between God and man in our relationship.

So whenever you see an engagement posting on Facebook, I encourage you to think about Christmas. Jesus coming is God saying, “Hey, relationship is upon you. Get ready. Prepare yourself. It’s going to be awesome.”

Just for fun, here’s a video I showed to Sarah before I proposed to her:

6 True Statements All Christians Should Be Saying But Most Don’t Say For Some Reason

I’ve seen a number of blog posts in the last few years that are titled something like this: “Things Christians Believe That Aren’t True.” There’s usually some number affixed to the beginning so it becomes a list.

There’s also funny lists of what Christians say. There’s even a really funny video:

I feel like I’ve seen hundreds of things like this. But nowhere have I seen statements that Christians don’t say but should say.

Here’s six for you.

1) “Your political views don’t improve or detract from your status as a Christian.”

For some reason, it becomes imperative that Christians must prove their Christianity by supporting or opposing particular political causes. If I had a quarter for every Christian who posted #DefundPP on their Facebook or Twitter over the past month, I could afford to subsidize the program myself. If I sat here and wrote an article supporting Planned Parenthood or being neutral on the issue, I think some Christians might question what happened to my head. (Yes, I’ve fallen on it a couple times in my life.)

Here’s the truth: you can be a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party, whatever, and still be a Christian. Being a Republican doesn’t make you more of a Christian than being a Democrat. At the end of the day, your political views mean nothing in regards to your salvation, being a Christian. At the most, it might reveal what you view as important or less important, but it doesn’t deny your faith.

For instance, I’m not super all about defunding Planned Parenthood. I believe there are bigger fish to fry, particularly in the abortion game. I wrote a post about it here. But that doesn’t make me less of a Christian just because the majority of Christians might not agree with me, just like tweeting “#DefundPP” doesn’t make you more of a Christian.

2) “Jesus didn’t wait for people to stop sinning before loving them.”

I think this is something that is generally understood, but something that needs to be reiterated. And I think this goes two ways.

How often do you, in your life, think about having to clean yourself up before you pray/read your Bible/lead a group/share the Gospel? Jesus loves you and qualifies you for service in spite of your sin. You’re not thought of less because you sin. You just need Jesus more, and He loves you and wants you even in your sinful state.

And this goes for others and how we treat them as well. If we want to echo Christ in all we do, we’ll love people who are sinful. We’ll love people even the world, but particularly the Church, might consider unloveable. We’ll love the prostitutes, the porn addict, the murderer, the gay person, the rebellious child, all of them, even if they don’t think what they’re doing is sin. Jesus didn’t wait for us to figure out what sin was before offering His love freely to us.

3) “Cussing, drinking alcohol and listening to secular music doesn’t make you less of a Christian.”

Using cuss words is not a sin. There is no word that is naturally sinful. Drinking alcohol is not sinful in and of itself. Alcohol is not naturally sinful. Listening to “secular music” is not sinful in and of itself. Just because the person writing it isn’t a Christian doesn’t make the music sinful or bad.

There are obviously qualifications to each of those. I won’t cuss in certain situations because it won’t be edifying or enlightening to those around me. Drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is sinful because it’s against the law and it’s disregarding the authority God has placed over us. Secular music is like profanity – it depends on the situation.

What’s more important than the actions themselves is the heart behind them. While cuss words may not be sinful in and of themselves, they may be used disrespectfully towards another person or even God, and in those cases the use of them is sinful. Drinking alcohol to get drunk or underage is sinful because the heart behind it is either carelessness of mind or the wrong use of something to escape from issues or rebellion against authority. And listening to secular music to spite parental authority or for some self-seeking purpose that isn’t godly can be a reflection of a discontent or selfish heart.

So you can be a Christian and cuss, drink alcohol and listen to Jay-Z. Yes, it’s possible.

4) “You don’t have to go to church to be in community.”

Justin Bieber made news recently with his comment about church: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.” Funny comparison, but entirely true. Not that every Christian responded well. Laura Turner of Religion News Service wrote, “Bieber’s point about the church is important, and it shows us how far we have to go. But I also hope that anyone who calls themselves a Christian will, at some point, see the vitality and beauty of a church congregation, and see what’s missing when they’re not around it.”

The Bible is insistent on believers finding community, finding brothers and sisters in Christ to surround themselves with for encouragement and challenge. But nowhere is there a command that says, “Thou shalt visit a church building once a week for at least two hours.” Going to church is awesome and is an easy place to find community, but it’s not entirely necessary. You can be in community, you can be among believers without going to a church building.

If you’re purposefully avoiding church to avoid community, perhaps there might be an issue. But people who leave the church and are still Christians don’t need to be condemned for their decision. Maybe they’re just looking for real community they’re not finding there.

5) “We don’t condemn you for how you sin differently than we do.”

We have a nasty habit in the Church of judging certain sins to be greater than others. Because of this, we tend to treat people according to where their evident sin fits on the hierarchy. We’re more likely to be dismissive of the gay person than the person who struggles with pornography, more dismissive of the person who cusses than the guy who is a serial dater and cares little for women.

My point is this: we shouldn’t be dismissive of either. We should not condemn those who sin because it is only God who has the license to condemn, and those in Christ should never be condemned. We don’t say this enough. We don’t let people know that, just because they might sin differently than us, they’re loved less or thought of less by God.

6) “We suck at following Jesus. But He loves us anyways. How awesome is that?”

This statement is two-fold.

First, it displays the honesty that we must display as believers. In Scripture we get to see realness from people like David and Paul, a realness and honesty and transparency that encourages and comforts us. But we hesitate from it so often, especially when it comes to how we talk about our walk with Christ. Since we sin every day, it’s hard for us to honestly say we’re doing well following Christ. So admitting that we suck at following Jesus is perhaps the most honest thing we can say.

But the coolest part is this: Jesus loves us when we suck at following Him. He loves us when we’re doing well at following Him. He loves us no matter what. How awesome is that?

This is the crux of the Gospel. And if we’re going to be saying any of these six things more, it’s this one. It’s the one message that will save people from eternity apart from God.

Christians on Social Media Tell Me I Need to Tell Others How to Behave. Is That Really What I’m Supposed to Do?

Christians often do an awful good job of telling people how to behave or complaining when people don’t behave as they ought. I’m guilty. I keep telling whoever reads these posts to lighten up, to love people no matter what and to stop idolizing virginity as a perfect thing.

So I wrestled with this question this morning. Where does “get the log out of your own eye” fit in with the command to “make disciples of all nations”? How do we balance our calling as ministers of the Gospel with the command to deal with your own sin before trying to nitpick others?

It’s a question I wrestle with often because there are thousands of tweets, blog posts and other forms of media that every day tell us what we’re doing wrong and what we need to change. And I think God has given us these tools to help and encourage one another, to challenge each other in our following of Jesus.

But is there a degree in which we go overboard in telling people how to behave differently?

It’s this kind of question that I think we don’t like asking or answering because we’re afraid that it’s going to make us feel guilty for how we’ve approached other people. It’s also such a nuanced issue, a matter of levels and intensity instead of something black-and-white.

Here’s the black-and-white:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These things are the words of Jesus, straight from the Bible, so they’re irrefutable. Let’s key in on specifics.

Let’s start with the second passage. We are called to make disciples of all nations. What are the aspects of making disciples of all nations? Two things: baptizing people, and teaching them to observe what Jesus commands. So there is a command to instruct others how to live. And, to be honest, I don’t like it. But there’s a truth to that I can’t deny.

Here’s where I think it goes wrong: we take that command to the highest extreme, which we are prone to do as people. Just ask my friends, I do it all the flippin’ time. We go overboard on telling people what to do so much so that we forget that we’re called to examine ourselves first.

Then Matthew 7 comes into play. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t tell people that they’re screwing up.” What He does say is this: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus sets up the order for how we are to help others see the faults in their lives.

First, He says, we must examine ourselves.

This is probably one of the hardest things to do as a Christian, at least emotionally. Actually looking at your life for the crap strewn throughout it isn’t that hard – all you have to do is look at your last 24 hours and compare it to what the Bible instructs us to do. But wrestling with the fact that, if we look at ourselves honestly, we fall short can be really tough. For some, it can be a huge blow to the ego and to the pride they’ve built up. For others, it can be incredibly discouraging and can make us forget the Gospel, forget what it means to be forgiven and loved by the Creator of the Universe.

But if we are to fairly look at others’ lives and say, “Hey, you’re missing this,” or, “These people are sinning in this way,” Jesus says we must first examine ourselves and deal with the issue in front of us.

Here’s another question: to what degree do we have to deal with our own sin before we can rightly instruct others? I don’t know the exact answer to that. But what I think (and I could be entirely wrong) Jesus is saying is, “Hey, deal with yourself and make sure you’re doing everything possible to kill the sin in your own life before you go nit-picking in others’ lives.”

One last thing: through His excellent forestry analogy, we see Jesus’ ideal hierarchy for sins. No, it’s not one sin is greater than another.

Your sin, your personal individual sin, is a log. That other person’s sin, it’s a speck. For comparison’s sake:

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.13.30 AM

Compare an individual speck of wood to the log. That’s how others’ sin should look in comparison to ours.

If I see a speck in someone else’s eye, I want to help them out by sharing with them. But I can’t see it properly unless I get rid of the log in my own eye first. This is how we are called tell others about their sin.

But how often do we act differently? And not just in our own minds, but publicly? Do we go to social media to condemn others and their sin, or can we use those tools to also step back and say, “Yeah, I screw up too, and here’s how I do it, and here’s how God is helping me through this and can also help you too!” as well?

I think we could be a lot better witnesses of Christ and follow what the Bible says a lot closer if we took this approach. By sharing our own sin first, we could give God tons more glory and praise than He already gets, and make the Gospel look 10 million times better.

Hyperbole, yes. But the Gospel is worth all the hyperbole we can give it. It’s that awesome. It means the sins we commit – and the sins of others, if they are believers – are forgiven and no longer held against them. I’ll talk about that all day long.

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?

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.

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.

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.