What does love actually mean?

Hi person reading this! Hello. Shalom. Hola. *Insert random cultural greeting*.  It has been an interesting couple of weeks in the life of Aaron Israel (That’s me). Why should you care? Well, if I’m being real…you probably shouldn’t. Yeah. Probably a huge waste of your time honestly. Go do something meaningful with your life. Cool bye.

If you didn’t take my advice and are still here, well first, you are probably the only person who will read this. So congrats? But anywaysss, if you are still here, allow me to extend you an invitation into my current environment: as I write these words, I am seated in Appalachian State University’s student union with a couple of my buddies, Dakota and Matt. At this very moment, Dakota is staring intently out the window we’re sitting next to (he has no clue I’m currently writing about him). What or who is Dakota staring at? Well I’m not positive, but it looks like he is people-watching. Creepy, am I right? Ok ok, I’m just busting his chops…everyone does it. He is one weird dude though…for other reasons…love you bro 😉. But I digress. The people he is watching are hanging out on a grassy field that all ASU students know as Sanford mall. They know it as a place they can enjoy the outdoors; students congregate here to play frisbee, throw football, slack-line, or even just lay in the sun and read a good book. But a couple weeks ago, it was also a place where Dakota and I watched a preacher stand and berate students about how sinful they are and how they were going to hell.

Now, I could write an entire blog post that just focuses on belligerent campus preachers and why they grossly misrepresent Christianity. And I probably will in the future. But right now, I just want to use this opportunity to ask the question “what is love?”.  Because this man who was preaching to students on Sanford probably somehow saw what he was doing as loving. But I can assure you that the crowd he was preaching at didn’t see it as loving in the slightest. Myself included. But when it comes to defining what real love actually is, you would probably receive a myriad of opinions from that crowd of students. ASU is a liberal university, so in all likelihood, many of them would not only view this particular preacher’s message as unloving, but would also view, for example, the Biblical stance on sexuality as unloving as well. But those same people would also struggle to provide any meaningful, objective definition of what love is. And that is because our culture has a distorted understanding of love. It’s meaning is often viewed as purely subjective, which means that each and every individual decides for themselves what love means to them. Do you see the problem with that? If love is subjective and its meaning changes from individual to individual, then no one can ever call another person out for being unloving. Are you tracking with me? So, if love is subjective, we can’t say that an angry campus preacher yelling at students is being unloving, because according to his personal, subjective definition of love, he actually is being loving. If love is subjective, hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church aren’t actually hate groups, they just have a different definition of what love is. Do you see where I’m going with this? If love is subjective, love CAN MEAN ANYTHING. And when love can mean anything, it no longer has any defining characteristics…and it loses ALL meaning. This can’t be true right? Love DOES mean something. But what? What does it mean? To answer this question, we must first acknowledge that love does indeed have an inherent objective meaning. But then, we must also acknowledge that the only way love could have an objective meaning is if it is rooted in God’s nature. So, we must ask the question, “How does God define love”? Well turns out, he gives us a pretty solid definition in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Pretty good definition, right? This is what God says about love. One thing that is interesting about this; God defines love as primarily an action. Love is patient. Kind. Isn’t jealous. Isn’t arrogant. Does not act unbecomingly. Forgives. Rejoices with the truth. Now ask yourself, how do you recognize when someone is being patient or kind to you? By that person’s actions, right? You know someone is kind because of their kind actions. You know someone is patient because they act patiently with you. Forgiveness is also expressed through action. Someone who “Rejoices with the truth” is someone who strives to reflect truth with their actions. You get the idea. But God didn’t just tell us what love is, he demonstrated what love is when he gave up his life for us by dying on that cross. All that God says about love can be summed up by his selfless choice to suffer and die for all of humanity. Now THAT is love.

So what is love? It is a choice. An action. At it’s very core, love is a selfless, unconditional, sacrificial, action made for another person. Selfless sacrifice that is infused and guided by the desire for God’s truth to be fully realized in that person’s life.

Knowing this, let us strive to love others like God does, with reckless abandon, but always guided by his truth. Pastor Timothy Keller said it well:

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.”

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Once a Roman emperor threw a birthday party…what happened next impacted me 1700 years later

Why is the title of my blog “Charge Bears”? I’m glad you asked…oh wait…you didn’t ask? Oh. Well too bad, I’m telling you anyway. To answer this question that you may or may not have asked, allow me to take you back in history to a specific time and place. The year is 306 A.D.. It’s a typical Friday in November for citizens of the city of Caesarea, except for one thing…the Roman emperor Maximinus is in town and it is his birthday! Now personally, it’s kinda weird for me to imagine a Roman emperor throwing down for his birthday (mostly because I usually picture them as stern, straitlaced little Italian men for some reason), but apparently Roman emperors loved to party hard on their birthdays. It’s totally a thing. That said, early 4th century birthday festivities were somewhat different than they are now, especially for an emperor. So to paint a picture of what these “festivities” looked like, let’s get an assist from early church historian Eusebius: “…it was an ancient custom to furnish the spectators more splendid shows when the emperors were present than at other times, new and foreign spectacles taking the place of the customary amusements, such as animals brought from India or Ethiopia or other places, or men who could astonish the beholders with skillful bodily exercises…”  Sounds like quite the party right? But here’s the plot twist: the emperor’s appetite for entertainment takes a DARK turn, and the following ensues: two prisoners are brought into the arena before him. One is a murderer, the other is a Christian named Agapius. The murderer is set free amidst cheers of approval from the spectators. Maximinus then offers Agapius freedom on the condition that he denies Christ; but Agapius refuses to do so, and says he is happy to suffer, whatever the penalty. So the emperor releases a bear into the arena. Now Agapius would still be remembered as a courageous martyr of the faith if he sank to his knees, and peacefully waited for the bear to end his life — but that is not what he did. No, instead our boy Agapius CHARGES THE BEAR. He runs at the bear, and is severely mauled, but lives. He is thrown back in prison and the next day stones are attached to his feet and he is tossed into the Mediterranean.

The courage and tenacity Agapius exhibited is astounding. His story inspires me to not be a stereotypically complacent 21st century Christian, but to fight for what I believe in. I probably will never face an actual bear at any point in my life, but I do resolve to emulate Agapius as much as I can, not waiting for obstacles to immobilize me, but instead charging the “bears” I encounter in my life head-on. I want to live an unapologetically Christian life, no matter what challenges come my way. It makes me blush with shame when I think of the church in America and it’s general unwillingness to do the uncomfortable for Christ. We think, “Talk to others about Jesus? That would just be too awkward”, but when we look back at the early Christians we see they died excruciatingly painful deaths for proclaiming the Gospel. And they did so JOYFULLY. They not only shared God’s truth at all costs, they WELCOMED those costs! So let us strive to live like that as Christians. Let us stop being satisfied with a shallow, selfish caricature of Christianity. It’s not the real thing. I don’t know the details of Agapius’ evangelistic efforts, but I’m pretty sure the Romans didn’t feed him to a bear for being a “nice Christian” who sat on his butt all day and kept the Gospel to himself. He lived his life for Christ with the same tenacity and fearlessness that he embodied as he charged that bear at the arena in Caesarea. My hope for you and I, is that we do the same in our pursuit of Christ. CHARGE BEARS.

About me! And what this blog is about.

Well first off, I’m weird. Like super weird. Just want to be up front about that. Cool? Ok. Hi, nice to meet you. I am a 22 year-old guy who loves truth. Because I love truth, I love Jesus. Or maybe it’s the other way around…I love truth because I love Jesus. Because turns out, he is truth. I am not a Christian because it “works for me”, or because it gives me comfort about the afterlife. I am a Christian because through investigating the truth claims of Christianity, I have discovered that they hold up under scrutiny. The evidence says they are true. So I strive to be a radical follower of Jesus, because he is really REAL. He really is LORD of the universe, and he really came down into human history to die for me. Not just me, but EVERYONE. The whole world. I hope you know him like I know him. He is a loving father who cares about you more than you could ever fully comprehend. The more a person gets to know him, the more they will be astounded by his infinitely powerful and perfectly loving nature. The purpose of this blog is ultimately to point to him and share truth about him. The driving mindset behind a lot of my posts will often be this: God is the divine author of reality and he designed the world to work in a certain way…yet we as individuals, and as a society, tend to fight his design in every important aspect of life. I will post on all sorts of different topics: relationships, social issues, morality, the evidence for Christianity, and other things as well.  If you are a Christian reading my blog, I hope my posts help, encourage, and challenge you in your Christian walk. If you are not a Christian, I hope my posts encourage you to consider becoming one. Whatever you believe, feel free to reach out to me via email or comment, I would love to discuss religion, philosophy, or just about anything with you. Yes, I’m that nerdy.