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.

The Cure to One of the Most Common Human Emotions

I’m no sociologist or psychologist (although I wouldn’t mind being one), but I’m going to take a stab at something that would make you think I aspire to be both.

I think one of the most common human emotions is hopelessness.

I did some research this morning to see if my hypothesis could be backed up by research, and alas, I didn’t find anything to support my guess. But hear me out.

  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that, “in 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.”
  • The World Health Organization reports “globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.”
  • I stopped counting, but there are at least 20 songs on iTunes called “Hopeless.”

If you are hopeless, you are literally without hope. You’re likely to exhibit negative thoughts and feelings about life, your current situation, friendships, relationships, work, career, but particularly things you may have once expressed a lot of excitement about.

I know what it’s like to feel that way. Yes, me, a Christian, knows what it’s like to feel that way. In fact, I wrote a post yesterday in the depths of my hopelessness. By writing the post, I hoped to reveal that it’s possible for a Christian to experience this while still being a believer. Being a Christian doesn’t restrict you from feeling hopeless.

However, being a Christian gives you access to the greatest hope in the world. The cure for one of the most common human emotions is thinking on the thing that can give anyone hope. That thing is Jesus.

We crave hope. And hope is one of the best things in the world. It’s one of the things that Paul says “abides” in 1 Corinthians 13:13, along with faith and love.

But hope is not the greatest. Love is the greatest. For a minute I was thinking through why this was true. Why is love greater than hope? Why is love greater than faith? After all, isn’t it our faith in Jesus that is part of our salvation? What about our hope in Jesus?

I realized something huge: we have hope because of love. We have faith because of love. We have love because of love.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We have hope because of love.  God loved us and gave us Jesus, therefore those who believe in Him will have life everlasting. God’s love, shown through Christ, gives us hope of a life eternal with Him, of grace and mercy towards us in our sinful states, of an eternity separated from sin and worry and fear and pain.

We have faith because of love. God loved the world and gave us Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. We have faith in God because of the love He showed us in Jesus. We trust Him. We believe Him. We have faith that He will follow up on His promises.

We have love because of love. God loved the world. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). As a response to God’s love of us, we love not only Him but others, and even ourselves. We see what love looks like, and we seek to respond in kind.

Everything revolves around the God’s love for us. His forgiveness of our sin, His faithfulness to us, His setting us apart for special attention and care, His building a place for us when we go to heaven. All of it. Because of His love for us, we can have hope.

We often run into hopelessness this side of heaven. We face divorce, cancer, depression, kids not behaving how we want them to, a job we can’t stand, a church that lets us down. We feel as if we are without hope on this earth.

There is a sense to where we are without hope on this earth. We won’t find the fulfillment of our desires completely on the earth. We will consistently be disappointed.

But we can have hope in Jesus, hope in the Lord of all creation, because of His great love for us. We can hope that His Word, His truth, and His Spirit working in us will get us through the difficulties we face. We can hope in a future where pain and sorrow are non-existent, not even words in our vocabulary, a future in heaven with Jesus as our friend and comfort. Eternally.

There are days when I struggle to believe these things. There are days I do OK believing them. But the beautiful truth of this is that no emotion of mine or action of mine changes the truth of these facts. They’re not based on me, they’re based on Jesus and His faithfulness.

That’s a hope I can buy into. Particularly when my circumstances and my emotions feel so dire. It’s not always easy to buy into it, but it’s worth pursuing. You’re not always going to have the good feelings. But you can have the good thoughts, and the peace, comfort and joy that come with thinking those things.

It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. I promise.

Sometimes I Hate the Church. And That’s Never Good.

We are a people of extremes. It’s very rare we find ourselves in the middle of something.

I think of the presidential candidates who try to work both sides of the aisle in Congress as one of the more startling examples of trying to be in the middle. It’s not going to work. At the end of the day, for the most part, we are opinionated people who love taking sides. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily.

As I’ve reflected on what I’ve written over the last couple months, I’ve noticed a pattern. I’m very critical of the Church. I’m very critical of people in the Church. I examined my heart.

Sometimes I hate the Church.

Sometimes I hate Christians.

And that’s never good.

As much as I write about giving grace and love to people on this blog, I very seldom do it to the Christians. Not just on this blog, but in my heart. And I’m sorry.

I won’t apologize for thinking critically about the Church or even being critical of the Church. There aren’t enough Christians who are willing to take a step back and look at ourselves, our people, and point out what we’re missing, how we’re failing at keeping the commands of Christ. I’ll keep doing that.

Initially, the reason for me doing that was wanting to see the Church change, was wanting to see us become a people who give the grace and love of Jesus not only to the world but to each other. I wanted to see us become more like Christ. And I think there’s part of me that still wants that.

But if I can be honest with you, there’s also part of me now that doesn’t want it to change. If it changes for the better, I would have less to write about and I don’t have as much of a platform to stand on anymore. Not that there’s a platform I stand on anyways – I have, on average, about maybe 15-20 visitors to this blog a day. That’s not much.

But this is a very vital part of my life. I pour out my heart on this blog. I’m sharing things I’m thinking through. What I write is very closely entwined with what I’m thinking. And I’m afraid that I’ve showed my hand on my strong dislike, sometimes hatred, for the body of Christ.

What is it that Jesus said to His disciples? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If someone looked at my blog, would they be able to tell I am a Christian? I don’t know. I hope so. But I can’t say for sure. They might look at it and simply be like, “Well, that Zach guy, he sure is critical.”

Perhaps in my attempt to stop being so judgmental about the world I’ve become super judgmental of Christians. And that’s not honoring to God. That’s not honoring to Jesus. That’s not giving the grace that I would want for myself and that I know God desires for the world to receive, even though most reject it and miss out on eternity with Him because of that rejection.

So here’s to a change, hopefully. I’ll still be critical of the Church if I feel the need to. But hopefully I’ll grow in giving grace to my brothers and sisters in Christ. God gives grace to me. I hope I can reflect Him.

Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard

Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid, do not be afraid

I’ve got to imagine that Jesus experienced some fear in the garden of Gethsemane. I’ve got to imagine that, along with the sorrow, He experienced fear. But, if I’m going to guess, He knew what He was called to do and loved us enough to go through it. After all, God so loved the world.

The idea of fear being easy and love being hard has been on my mind a lot the last 12-14 hours or so. There’s a Jason Gray song with that title and I feel like it captures the idea very well.

“Fear will leave you hiding in the dark.”

The dictionary definition of fear: “An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Fear is easy because it usually doesn’t require a lot of thought. All it takes is simply seeing a situation and rushing to a snap decision to be afraid. That’s easy. We do it all the time. And we hide.

Also, there are a lot of things to fear in this world. We can be afraid of God, others, the world, technology, the government, members of the opposite gender, even ourselves. Potential objects of fear stand around every corner, both in the world and in our hearts. There are times I’m afraid of what I think and the sin I commit.

“Love will bring a light into your heart.”

Love: “An intense feeling of deep affection; a great interest and pleasure in something.” Love is hard because it takes work and concentration and effort. There can sometimes be that intense feeling, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes love must exist in the absence of feeling. And that’s the hardest part.

There are very few things that we can confidently love in this world, very few things we are even encouraged to love. Even “loving” a sports team, something so trivial in the bigger picture, can be incredibly difficult when they can’t score to save a life (I’m looking at you sometimes, Arsenal). It can even be hard to love Jesus, who is literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

The beautiful thing about fear and love is that we can look at God’s example of those things toward us.

Romans 8 tells us that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39). We can find hope, joy and rest in that outworking of the Gospel. He loves us no matter what kind of mess we are or get ourselves into. Jason Gray again, in the song “Jesus We Are Grateful” – “You are right to judge my sinful heart/but Your glory is Your mercy/for You condescend to make a friend/of an enemy like me.” He does not fear us, but loves us.

And we can learn more about love in 1 John 4:18 – “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.” For God, love is nature because He is love. He is so dominated by love that fear never enters the equation at all.

And now we get to us. We can only love others when we begin to understand God’s love for us – “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love for us does two things. First, it makes us equipped to love. He gives us the Holy Spirit out of His love for us. We would be incapable of loving unless God, through the Holy Spirit, working in our hearts to change us. Second, it teaches us what love looks like so we can work it out. God’s love becomes the example for how we should love others. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loved us – sending Christ to die for us. So we learn how to love by looking at how God loves us.

Last part. God’s love brings a light to our heart. It kicks out the dark that fear insists on.

God’s love crushes the shame and guilt we carry because of our sin because God’s love put that on Jesus at the cross.

God’s love crushes the fear of the unknown because God’s love says He’ll work all things together for our good.

God’s love crushes the fear of making a mistake because God’s love says that, even if we make a million mistakes, He still loves us.

“So do not be afraid, do not be afraid.”

 

Compassionate Authority: Jesus Turns ‘Big Brother’ on Its Head

One of the greatest fears of Americans today seems to be the increasing attention the government is supposedly paying to everything we’re doing on our computers, phones, etc., the increasing surveillance. It even got a lengthy treatment on HBO’s popular Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which included an interview with the exiled Edward Snowden, a whistleblower on the topic.

It’s reminiscent of the world set up in the book 1984 by George Orwell. The Wikipedia description:

The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes.”

The tyranny is epitomized by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality but who may not even exist. The Party “seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.” The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

Perhaps Orwell’s world is a big exaggerated, but a lot of people are afraid that this would actually happen (read this opinion column on CNN to see what some people think). The idea is a popular one in society. We enjoy reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor where we get to peek in on real people living out their lives. We fear the government having the same ability to look into our life. I could write about that contradiction, but I’ve got something more important.

Jesus has the same kind of “Big Brother” power in our lives, but unlike “Big Brother,” He exerts His authority with a grace and love unlike any other leader in history.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives what is known in Christian circles as the “Great Commission,” the mission for all believers to live out. It goes like this:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The first thing Jesus tells the disciples is that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Him. This is backed up by the idea presented by Paul in Philippians 2:8-11.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus has all power and all authority. I’m of the camp that believes that Jesus is God, therefore He is indwelled with all the power and authority that God has. He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. God the Father and God the Son serve different purposes and different roles, but have similar power and authority. So Jesus rules and reigns, right?

But this is where it gets awesome: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In 1984, Big Brother is this mysterious leader who comes up on screens and promises that he is taking care of and loving his people. But, as the Wikipedia description says, he may not even really exist. In the book, there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not he’s a real person. And there’s no questioning whether or not he’s real, or you get “re-educated.” He’s not “with” his people.

Jesus tells His disciples that He is with them always, to the end of time. He is with us. Emmanuel, another name for Jesus, means “God with us.” If you’re “with” someone, you’re on their side, you genuinely care for them, you genuinely love them, you’re genuinely interested in their best.

That’s the kind of authority we need in our lives, an authority that genuinely cares for us enough to be with us and to love us, to be on our side, to be for us. When Winston Smith rebelled against Big Brother in his thoughts, there was no forgiveness because there was no mercy. When we rebel against God in our thoughts and in our actions, He offers a forgiveness and a love that is greater than our sins and our shortcomings.

So when we sin, we don’t have to fear the authority Jesus has. He has the authority to forgive sins. So we should rejoice in His authority and the fact that He uses it to love us.

Love Means Backing Up What You Say (Even When You Screw Up)

I couldn’t tell you what the accurate statistics on divorce are, and I could post a bunch of links to studies that show different numbers on divorce in America, divorce in the church, divorce of this kind of couple or this kind.

I could just tell you that people say “till death do us part” and then don’t do that.

Maybe that will make my point. People swear love and faith and truth to one another on their wedding day and a certain number end up quitting for a number of reasons.Love-Fire

Then there’s the other side. The group that doesn’t commit to marriage because they’re scared of that level of commitment. What if I want to back out?, they ask. What if it gets hard? I admit that I find myself in that group sometimes.

I’ve been doing a study on love the last few days. And among the many things I’ve learned is that love isn’t about saying the right things or having the right emotional feelings. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do.

1 John is stocked with nuggets of jumbo truth about what love is, what love looks like, what love means, etc. I want to key in on two verses in particular.

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“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

John’s emphasis is on love being the action and not just the words. It’s really easy to love in words. It’s really easy to say the right things. It’s really easy for me to say to my brother, “Hey, I love you and I’ll always be there for you.” It’s really easy for me to say to my friends, “Hey, I love you guys and I’ll always be there for you.”

Thing is, they’re words. In the long run, they’re empty. In his spoken word “Refuge” on Alex Faith’s album ATLast, Christian rapper Odd Thomas says, “I need more than just words. I need God’s words. God’s word is the only word that brings me refuge.” He’s saying, in light of the words of God, our words are sometimes meaningless, oftentimes offered as a well-intentioned platitude during which people might mean well but have no real intention or discipline of trying to follow it up.

Unfortunately, I find myself saying those kinds of things often. God’s words are really the only words that have any lasting effect.

That’s not to dull the power of our tongue. Proverbs 18:21 notably says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” We can encourage or bring down with our words.

But John’s trying to saying our love is most notable in our actions. He gives an example.

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20

John gives the example of someone who says he loves God but then hates another, calling him a liar. He’s saying his words are false and mean little. I think he’s taking it more in the direction of “how can you love something you haven’t seen if you can’t love something/someone you have seen?,” and that makes sense.

But this is an example of someone who says one thing and then acts out another. That’s not love. When the couples who stand on the altar pledge “till death do us part” and then part a few years later, they haven’t kept their word. They promised one thing and then acted out another.

When I tell my brother, “Hey man, I love you, I’ll pray for you,” and then I don’t pray for him, have I really loved him? Have I really?

When I don’t tell my friend that I think he’s in sin and doesn’t see it, even though that’s what I want to do and have told him I will do, have I really loved him? Have I really?

If I say I love God, but disobey one of His commands, have I really loved Him? Have I really?

No.

What a wretched man I am. Who can save me from this body of death?

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But praise God that we have an example in Christ. Not only is it an example, it’s the hope we have when we fall short of displaying true 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.” – 1 John 4:9-10

God’s love is best displayed in His sending of Christ to earth to die to give us life. It was something He said and then it was something He did.

Said:

  • “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31,34b
  • “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Done:

  • “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:30
  • “In (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” – Ephesians 1:7-8a

Love is saying something, then doing it. It’s words that turn into action. Sometimes love doesn’t need words, but the most powerful example of love we’ve ever seen was something that was said and then done, accomplished by the God-man Himself, Jesus Christ. God’s the perfect example, once again.

Because of that love, I’m forgiven whenever I fail at loving others. But I’m also given the grace to get back up and try again. Let that sink in. Just think about it for a second. When (not if) we fail, if we’re in Christ, we’re forgiven and that’s not held against us. We’re forgiven so we can try again.

Whether it’s loving God or loving my wife (in the future) or my brother or my co-worker or my pastor or whoever, love is a word that requires some action. It’s a word that turns into an action. It’s saying you will do it/are that/are working to grow in that and then doing it.

God did it. Thank Him that He did.