5 Reasons to Work Harder on Becoming a Loving Person

Loving people in this world can be hard (see 5 Reasons Why It Is Hard to Love). We see things from our own perspective. Other people see things from theirs. This brings us into conflict with them. This inflicts wounds upon us. Why put in the work of becoming a loving person when it is often so hard to love?

There are plenty of reasons. The Christian faith offers us many motivations and reasons to work on becoming a loving person. In some ways, this is what the Christian faith is all about, helping us become loving people instead of selfish ones.

What are the reasons the Christian faith offers to work on it? The Apostle Paul wrote his famous “love” chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, but I think Romans 12 offers more insight into love, though it is less elegant. I want to look at the motivations that he offers there.

Reason #1: The love of God for us. When Paul tells us that we should love others, he begins with the love and mercy of God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God . . .” (Romans 12:1). If we have trouble loving, we should not first try harder. We should take a plunge into the infinite ocean of the love of God.

When we consider how little thought we have given to God and how much He has blessed us, it will motivate us to love. If God loved us, we also ought to love one another. God sought us out when we were going astray and didn’t even want to come back. How, then, can we not imitate our heavenly Father and show love?

Reason # 2: We are made for each other. We are not made to exist alone. We are social beings. We are made to work together and live together. When we don’t, we are living contrary to our nature. “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).

Paul speaks here of the body of Christ, but the same is true of humans in general. This is recognized more broadly in the Bible, but others have used the same metaphor. The Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away” (Meditations, 2.1). We are made to love. To not love is to act against what we were created to be.

Reason #3: Being a jerk is terrible. This goes back to Romans 1: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (29—31). Living this way is terrible. So, why would we let the world drag us down to this level? If someone wants to be a jerk, they harm themselves. We should not let them harm us by turning us into jerks. We should learn to love, which is excellent and beautiful.

Reason #4: The judgment of God. Christianity does not say that revenge is wrong. It just says that we are not competent or authorized to carry it out. We leave it to God. When we let go of wrongs and learn to love, even when it’s hard, we are not saying that wrong is not wrong. We are saying that we trust God to sort everything out and deal with other people. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). We can release ourselves to love because we can be confident that God will deal with everything in a satisfying way.

Reason #5: It is effective. Love conquers. That’s why the Apostle Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). When we can respond with love when others don’t, it can shine a light that dispels the darkness. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a great example. He sought to bring whites and blacks together, but he also said that the injustice of the white community was wrong. He used non-violence to protest while not turning away from a relationship with them. The result was a radical transformation of our society. That’s what bold love can do (to use the words of Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, whose book I highly recommend).

These are the central reasons in the book of Romans for working harder on becoming loving people. I hope that you feel encouraged to work on developing one of the most excellent virtues that you can have. You’re not in it alone, God stands behind you becoming a loving person! He’s for it. He is all in. That’s why He gives us so many reasons to pursue it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope it was a blessing. If you liked it, please share or subscribe below. I hope to see you here again soon!


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God Planned Better: What My New Colombian Family Taught Me About Travel

“[You say] ‘Heaven decreed it otherwise!’, rather . . . adopt a phrase which is braver and nearer the truth . . . “Heaven decreed better!” (Seneca, Letter XCVIII).

Travel doesn’t always work out how you planned. My plan was to travel from Ibague, Colombia to Medellin to Cartagena and then to our home in Tennessee. So, on Monday, April 3, my wife, three of my daughters, and my new son-in-law took two Ubers to the Ibague airport to fly to Medellin.

When we arrived at the Ibague airport, there were maybe three people there. There was no one at the ticket counter. It was like Night of the Living Dead minus the zombies.

After a few minutes, someone showed up at the ticket counter. I went up to talk to them. I showed them my tickets. He said, “These tickets are not from Ibague. They are from Bogota.” Bogota was 120 miles through the mountains away. There, in Bogota, the flight we paid for would leave in a mere two hours. I had bought the wrong ticket!

I stopped and thought. What was I going to do? We had to get to Cartagena, and we had to get to Medellin to fly to Cartagena. What to do? The only solution I could come up with was to fly directly to Cartagena the next day. I purchased six tickets for $100 a piece for the next day from Ibague (this time for sure!) to Cartagena. A friend of my son-in-law’s family had rented a three bedroom apartment and only needed one room, so she invited us to stay with her. $600 poorer, we went back to Ibague, but we had lodging and a way home.

The Family
So, we rejoined my son-in-law’s family. They all felt bad about what had happened. But their perspective on these events was interesting. They said, “Sometimes God’s plans are different than ours. But God’s plans are better.” “We don’t always understand what God is doing, but His will is always better.” “I’m so sorry, but we know that God has a plan that is better and wiser than ours.” It was rather remarkable. It was surprising how many of them had understood and imbibed this basic idea: we make our plans, but God’s plans supersede ours. And . . . God’s plans are better.

The good thing about staying in Ibague is that we got to spend time with our new Colombian family to whom we were connected by my daughter’s recent marriage to a Colombian man. We had really enjoyed getting to know this family, and we were thankful for this opportunity.

To the Mountains
Since they all had taken the day off and had family in town, they did what they always did on these occasions. They went away to the mountains and the small towns that dotted them, and they took our family with them.

The first place we went was the Mirador de Juntas. This was a lookout platform a short ways up the mountain with a view of the surrounding mountains and valley below. It was breathtaking.

Then, we went back toward Ibague. We visited the picturesque pueblo or small town of Villa Restrepo. When Colombians think of vacations, they think of going to the pueblos. Often, they have family there. On the weekends and holidays, the cities empty out, and people return to the pueblos or visit new ones. Villa Restrepo was a great example of it.

There, in Villa Restrepo, we sampled local sweets and coffee with raw dark sugar. We enjoyed the varied architecture of the buildings in town and the scenery of the mountains around it. But the best was yet to come. We were going to ride horses to the tallest waterfall in the state or province of Tolima, Cascada La Plata, the silver waterfall.

Horseback Riding
We arrived at the home that would provide the horses and guides for us to ride to the waterfall. We had an inauspicious start. A cute little pug was walking up the road with his master. Suddenly, we heard a howl and the scuffle of dogs fighting. A pitbull-like dog had sunk its teeth into the neck of the pug. My son-in-law’s father went over and put the attacker in a chokehold, and his cousin, the owner of three pitbulls, pried its jaws open. The pug escaped, a little worse for wear, with his master. The children beat the attacking dog with their shoes. What is this horseback ride going to be like? I thought.

I have been horsebackriding several times in tourist areas in the United States. You can basically take a nap on the horse. They just follow the crowd. Not so in Colombia. There, you have to work at it. You have to keep the horse on the path. You have to trot to catch up. You have to connect with your house. You actually have to learn how to ride.

But it was awesome. The scenery was stunning. The trail was amazing. The horses were great. The company was enjoyable. The guides were helpful.

I thought, we are really doing this. We are riding horses through the Andes mountains like in the movies. It had been a great day. God had planned better. My wife and I looked around at our new Colombian family, our son-in-law, and our daughters. “This is one of the greatest experiences of my life.” She said. “To be here in this time with these people in this place on horses is just incredible.” I agreed.

When our plans don’t work out, it can be frustrating. It doesn’t always work out as well as it did that day. It’s not always clear that God has planned better. But that day we could see what is true even when we don’t see it: God planned better.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. Have you had experiences like this one? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. If you like this post, subscribe on the right hand side (laptop) or below (mobile). I hope to see you hear again.

Why Do We Lack Joy, Peace, and Hope? (Study of Romans, Part 2: Romans 1:18–3:19)

Key Thought: a lot of things can take our joy, peace, and hope, but the main problem is our alienation from God.

What is it that keeps us from joy, peace, and hope? Many things. We make many errors in our thinking that cause us to lose these things. We exaggerate threats, make outcomes too important, tie our happiness to the wrong things, don’t see the good that we have, etc.

But Paul saw all these things as rooted in one key problem: our failure to make God central to our thoughts and lives.

We do not do this because we do not know who God is. We do know. He has made Himself clearly known (Rom. 1:19–20). It is because we refuse to take this knowledge into account and give God the glory, praise, and place He deserves. We suppress the truth.

The result is that God gives us over to our own desires. One part of our error and sin is that we want things too much. Because we have given up on that which truly satisfies us (God), we have to try to find satisfaction elsewhere. We become obsessed with other things. We take whatever gives us pleasure and make life all about that.

When we make the pleasures or experiences of life the center of our lives, we will find other people blocking our way. That’s where wars, hatred, envy, jealousy, and rage come from. And that’s where we, as a human race, are stuck.

Into this failure to keep God in our hearts and thoughts as the supreme object of devotion, people offer religion as a way to get God back into our thoughts. God Himself gave a religious system to His people in the Old and New Testaments. However, oftentimes, those who possessed this religion used it to exalt and gratify themselves and clothed their injustice in the righteous claims of their religion. They knew the Words of God. They had them. But they didn’t obey them (see Romans 2).

People will use anything to exalt themselves and place themselves at the center. Ironically, religion can be a means of escaping God and exalting ourselves. We make ourselves bigger by identifying ourselves with the transcendent. This is not a problem simply of the Jewish people, though Paul addresses them. It is a human problem. There is no tool that we use to subdue pride that cannot become a tool of pride.

Why is this? Why do we take the best things and abuse them? Because humans are bent in the wrong direction. They have a sort of acquired allergy to God that keeps them from doing the right thing. Even the people who had the clearest instruction on God went the wrong way, including Paul himself! We cannot not establish righteousness and goodness on our own. We can’t get back to joy, peace, and hope without intervention.

At this point, it is important to remember that our problem is not simply that we cannot be what God has made us to be. God is opposed to what we have become. Sin is offensive to Him. The wrath of God is being revealed against all the bad things people do (Rom. 1:18).

Some people may be offended at this idea, but here is the problem. Would we really want a God who didn’t care that people did bad things? No. We would not want to worship a God like that. We would think He was unjust. The trouble is that we think all the bad things are outside us. Instead, we need to see that they are also inside us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 and see Paul’s summary of this in Romans 3:1-20).

When we get that, we will understand our need for reconciliation with God and transformation into a new people.

So, what is needed? A righteousness from God. That is what is revealed in the Gospel, the good news. That is what we will explore in the next section.


Outline for Making Your Own Study of Romans 1–3

  • Paul sees the basic problem as a failure to acknowledge God, think of God, and thank God.
  • This failure leads us to try and illegitimately find our satisfaction in things that can’t satisfy us.
  • This makes us mad at other people and causes all sorts of envy and evil thinking.
  • Religion seemed to be a help to this, but human pride even used this as a tool to escape God and His claims and look down on others.
  • The reason religion (even God-given religion) failed was because of human sinfulness, or our basic bent away from God.

Questions for Reflection

  • Where are you in your relationship with God?
  • What do you often seek to satisfy you? What happens when you don’t get there?
  • What can you use to make you feel good about your relationship with God that might hide your real need?
  • How do you feel about Paul’s evaluation of human beings as sinners?


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The Advantage of Listening More

Listening more can be a scary thing. If you listen more, you may fear that you will not be heard. You may feel that people will walk all over you.

A few weeks ago, I was having similar thoughts. I was seeing some ways that I should listen more, and I had a hard time embracing them. I had similar fears.

But the Bible is clear: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” (James 1:19).

One thing I noticed about myself was that I often can think about other things when people talk. Sometimes I am planning how the conversation should go. At other times, people say something that evokes an idea that I then want to think about or share.

The thought occurred to me in light of this, what if I stopped doing this? What if I just listened and didn’t worry about where the conversation would go? What if I just focused on what people said and received them passively?

My first thought was that I would lose something of myself. I did fear that I would not be heard or that I would not be able to speak or that I would lose my own thoughts.

In spite of this, I tried it. I just said that I would do my best to only listen and not formulate a response until the person was done speaking. It was an interesting experience.

Here’s what I found. I listened more, and I heard more. I learned more. I laughed more. And, I realized that I would still get to share my ideas. After I listened to people, people were more ready to listen to me. When people felt heard, they were more ready to listen. So, I had no problem sharing my own ideas.

In short, by listening more, I hadn’t lost anything and had gained much.

Besides talking with people, I realized that I often don’t listen to God. When I read the Bible, my mind wanders. The words evoke a thought. I can look at all the words or hear them without listening to them. I can even think of other things while I am reading out loud.

But you know what? Now that I am listening more, I am hearing more.

This is important because there is much more outside me that I need to learn than what I have inside me. Listening is the beginning of wisdom. It is an openness to receiving reality, God, and other people that will enable us to really grow.

The Goal of Counseling: What Is Our Vision for the People We Talk to?

Why do people go to counseling? It is because they see something in their life or the life of others that is not what it is supposed to be. They are depressed. They can’t find a job. Their financial situation is grim. Their marriage is falling apart. They are bitter. They can’t move forward from loss. Their children are misbehaving. Their work is going badly.

All these reasons presuppose a certain vision of life. This vision exists in the mind of the counselor and the counselee. If the counselee had no goal, then they wouldn’t go to counseling. If the counselor believed people were fine the way they were, then she wouldn’t try to help them.

The question is, what is that vision? How clear is it in our minds?

For many, it is simply the vision of what we might call common or normal life. This is life where you feel OK, make a reasonable amount of money, get along reasonably well with your family, do fine in your job or school, and don’t get into big trouble.

When one of these things are disrupted, people can really start to struggle. This is what leads people to seek counseling. They seek help with these problems so that they can get back to normal life. Often, when that goal is met, counseling comes to an end.

But what if the goal of counseling is not simply the common life? Then, this will have an effect on counseling from the beginning. What if counseling has a bigger vision for life than just getting along reasonably well? Continue reading “The Goal of Counseling: What Is Our Vision for the People We Talk to?”