Cornerstone Verses: John 13:35 “… if you have love”

35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another – John 13:35, NASB. 

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashPastor James Macdonald recently preached a series on what he called game changers. These were some of the individual verses that he said changed everything when it comes to our faith. A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.” As I listened to his recent podcast, I couldn’t help but wonder what verses I would add to such a list. What verses are cornerstone verses? What verses are fundamental to the way we do church, discipleship, faith, and Christianity? While all Scripture is “God-breathed and useful for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16), certainly some verses can be considered building blocks that all Christians should be familiar with and eager to live out in their lives.

As I considered which verses I would include on such a list, John 13:35 was among the first that occurred to me. We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but in this verse Jesus tells us that others will know we are His disciples because of our love for one another.

We are connected to Jesus by our love. It makes sense. When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior we become indwelled by the Holy Spirit. If God lives in us, and God is love, it is inevitable that His love will impact the way we view others. In fact, Scripture teaches that “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). It appears that the absence of love for other believers signifies there is something dreadfully wrong in the life of a believer. 

They Will Know Us By Our Love for One Another

We live amid a cultural climate that is characterized by many things, but love is not one 136aa4cc778661545ba36ff2d1069a2eof them. Divisiveness, bitterness, hatred, and outrage seem to be the themes of social media, but not love. A quick scan of Twitter will reveal that virtually everyone is mad about something. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. It seems everyone has picked a tribe and gone to war with others. We’re characterized by our skin color, politics, geography, sexual preferences, sports teams, and even diets. The vitriol can be smothering at times and it’s easy to get sucked in, but Jesus tells us that the Christian “tribe” should be identified by their love for one another. In fact, He tells us in John 13:34 that we should, love one another as He has loved us. Jesus is talking about sacrificial, unselfish, supernatural love. 

That’s a kind of love that will stand out in the world we live in. The love Jesus is talking about rises above mere tribalism. It’s bigger than skin color or nationality. It rises above politics. It puts others first and makes Christ the center of our lives. The love Jesus is talking about honors God. It is a kind of love that should naturally flow from Christians who are indwelled by the Spirit. In fact, its a kind of love that is impossible without the Holy Spirit. 

Too often, though, Christians choose to quench the Spirit by treating each other poorly. I’ve witnessed Christians on Social Media lambaste one another over politics, social causes, sports, and all sorts of other things that are inconsequential when compared to eternity. It’s even worse when such squabbles escape the confines of social media and infiltrate the local church. 

Let us never forget that we have been “raised to new life with Christ Jesus” (Colossians 3:1). It is a new life that should be characterized by our love for other believers. Everything we say and do should be filtered through that love because there is no cause greater than the cause of Christ. 

When in doubt, we should look to Christ as out example of love. And pray that others would see that love in us (John 13:15). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your Body is a Temple: So Why Live in Chains?

ky1w7eac5em-maarten-van-den-heuvelYour body is a temple. Everyone loves to quote this passage of Scripture. You’ll likely hear it anytime someone is encouraging you to work out or eat healthier. In it’s original context, however, Paul is talking about so much more than just exercise and diet:

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Paul begins this passage by pointing out that not all things are profitable for us and that we shouldn’t be mastered by anything. And while Paul is talking about food, specifically the levitical dietary laws of the Jewish people, he is encouraging his readers to live morally in all areas of their life. He writes that the body is not meant for immorality. This passage echoes the words of Peter that encourages us to “… be holy for He (Christ) is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The believer is to strive for holiness in all areas of their life; including their diet and fitness.

The line that speaks to me the loudest from this passage is, “but I will not be mastered by anything” (v. 12). When it comes to food, I am easily mastered. At 368 pounds, food was my master. And I must confess that even now, it tries repeatedly to put me back in chains.

Paul is calling on all believers to glorify God in their bodies. He tells us to flee immorality and not be mastered by anything be it food or sexual sins. Why does he specifically mention these two areas of our lives? Maybe he knew these would be the two areas most of us would struggle with the most.

We live in a world where we are constantly tempted toward sexual and dietary immorality. When you’re watching tv tonight, count the number of commercials that appeal to your desire for food, sex, or both. In our culture, you can’t watch a prime-time sitcom without seeing commercials featuring bikini-clad models eating bacon cheeseburgers. The world wants us to trip up and wants to place us in chains.

Paul writes, “I will not be mastered by anything.”

We need to embrace the notion that our bodies truly are temples of the Holy Spirit.  If God has called us to be holy in all aspects of our lives than what we eat and what we think about matters to Him. I’m not saying we’ll go to hell for eating pizza and cheeseburgers, but I am saying we need to foster a healthy relationship with the foods we eat.

If God has called us to be holy, we have a higher calling in diet and fitness than just looking good and feeling good. We are honoring Him when we eat healthy and exercise. 

I’m still striving for holiness when it comes to my diet. I’m thankful I’ve lost some weight, but I’m aware that I’m not there yet. I’m trying to embrace moderation in diet and regularity in my exercise. Why? Because I’ve been bought with a price and I want to glorify God in my body.

If your Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, why live in chains!

Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Growth: A Devotional

gfgm2hcq92s-aaron-burden“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, NASB)

In 2 Peter 3:17, Peter warns believers not to “… lose [their] footing and get swept off [their] feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers” (2 Peter 3:17, Message). Not only are believers prone to stumble on their journey with Christ, there are those who would intentionally trip us up if given the chance. There are false teachers who would lead us astray in our walk … this is why it’s crucial we stay faithful to the gospel as it has been passed down to us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of all the pitfalls that confront us in our walk, it is important that we take a proactive stance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Too often, we treat spiritual growth as something that just “happens” to us. We go to church, hang out with other Christians, and listen to Christian music in the hope that we will grow through some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis’ – and we will, to an extent. However, we will grow the most when we actively contribute to the growth process. When Peter admonishes believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior,” we must understand he is encouraging us to actively participate in the process.

Do you want to know the secret to avoiding pitfalls in your spiritual walk? Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When your feet hit the floor in the morning make it your daily goal to study God’s Word and put it into practice in your life. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to soak up some spirituality, rather, make spiritual growth a priority in your life every day of the week! Peter has warned us there are people who will lead us astray … we can avoid their traps if we know what we know what we know! Scripture equates this process with a baby who gets off of milk and begins to eat solid food (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Take command of your spiritual life and take responsibility for it. Never be satisfied with just milk. It is time we all begin eating solid food!

Food is a Cheap Replacement for God

g6g93jtu1ve-aaron-burden“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35, NIV).

Certainly, Jesus is speaking about spiritual matters when He calls Himself “the Bread of Life.” Jesus is declaring that those who believe in Him will never hunger or thirst spiritually. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence He speaks in terms of food.

Too often, we look at food and drink to find satisfaction. In this way, a glutton is much like a drunkard. We have a deep longing for something, and we are looking for it in the foods we consume and the beverages we drink.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Pascal that says we all have a God-shaped void or vacuum in our hearts. I believe this is true. When we face adversity, loss, anger, suffering, and trials we become even more aware of that void in our spirit. It’s at this precise moment we should seek God.

Too often, however, we try to fill that God-shaped void in our hearts with food.

Food shouldn’t replace God. We shouldn’t look to food for comfort. When we do, we are in essence making food our God. Why is it so easy to make that mistake? Perhaps it’s because we do find temporary comfort and solace in the foods we eat. For a moment, we do feel better. But that temporary satisfaction is always followed by regret, weight gain, and remorse. The temporary satisfaction we find in food is a cheap replacement for the eternal satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said whoever comes to Him will never go hungry again. We need to let our food be food and our God be God!

 

Junk Food is the Porn of Our Diet

fgyekt1e6hc-brandon-morganMy last post explored the spiritual side of food addiction, diet, and weight loss. In my case, my relationship with food and gluttony had reached a point where it was sinful. I suspect I’m not the only one in this boat. What we often mistake as a simple struggle with health and exercise is often a spiritual battle. God’s Word says:

12For Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

We often make the mistake of thinking weight loss, health, and fitness are merely physical battles when they are actually spiritual. When I was sick with diabetes and high blood pressure, I was often depressed which inflicted spiritual damage on me that went beyond the physical. I believe the enemy knows this. If Satan can attack us through food addiction, gluttony, weight gain, and lethargy, he knows it will eventually impact us spiritually and damage our relationship with God.

Satan is known as the deceiver (Revelation 12:9). His modus operandi is to take the good gifts of God and twist them into something sinful. He does it with sex all the time. What was meant to be a gift from God to a man and his wife has been twisted into pornography, adultery, rape, promiscuity, and deviance — the same is true with food. Food was meant to be a good gift from God and consumed with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides. In my life, however, it became twisted. I became addicted to fast food and junk food. I became a glutton. My physical being began to suffer, which led to my mental being suffering, and ultimately my spiritual relationship with God was damaged. Point for Satan.

Junk Food is to Food what pornography is to sex. When we settle for an unhealthy relationship with our food and choose fast food and junk food over the healthy and nutritious foods God has provided us, we are buying into Satan’s lies.

We have to recognize this fact. We have to see the spiritual side of the issue if we hope to overcome it. If we attack our struggle with weight loss and food addiction in a way that is purely physical, we may enjoy temporary success. It may even look like we’re winning the battle but, if I’m being honest, I’ve seen many people beat obesity and food addiction only to form a sinful and unhealthy relationship with fitness and health. Both issues are flip sides of the same coin and can damage us spiritually.

Once we recognize our battle is a spiritual one, we must fight it spiritually. That passage from Ephesians continues:

13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17, NIV).

If weight gain, food addiction, gluttony, and obesity is a spiritual attack, we better fight it spiritually. If not, we have no chance to truly beat it.


Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.

Food and Diet as a Spiritual Issue

1rm9glhv0ua-brooke-larkGenesis 9:3 “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

1 Timothy 4:1-5 “… deceiving spirits …. Order [people] to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a long and complicated relationship with food. My weight has fluctuated greatly throughout my adult life ranging from as high as 390+ pounds to as low as 178. I do not have a healthy relationship with the food I eat.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with a very bad case of Type II Diabetes to go along with the high blood pressure I was already being treated for. I weighed in at 368 pounds and, at 45 years old, things looked a little bleak. My health issues were exacerbated by mental and spiritual issues. I knew my diet and weight had become sinful. And I was deeply depressed as a result. So I confessed to some close Christian friends that my gluttony was a spiritual issue and I prayed for God to help me make a change.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I began dieting and exercising more. Cycling and running became staple exercises for me and my body responded well. I’ve lost weight (more on this later) and was taken off all my blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol medications. But I must confess that as I write this in January of 2017, I still don’t have a healthy relationship with food. I have tried nearly every diet out there. I did Weight Watchers. I have abstained from carbs, eaten an all-clean and natural diet, and even drank buttered-coffee while fasting from all foods in an attempt to get control over my gluttony.

Nothing has really worked.

I still struggle mightily. This morning I weighed in at 282 pounds. My lowest weight in 2016 was 249 pounds so I’ve gained some weight back over the winter … and I am frustrated. I feel like I’m standing at the crossroads. Either I’ll get a handle on this now or I’ll gain all my weight back … and I refuse to gain my weight back.

I am keenly aware that, for me, my weight is a spiritual issue. I cannot regain control of my food addiction without leaning on God Almighty. I am turning to Him in prayer and asking Him to speak to me through His Word. Today’s passages from Scripture suggest that a healthy relationship with food is one that partakes of “everything that lives and moves” and “all the food that God created” provided it is eaten with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides.

These passages leave me with some things to ponder and pray about. What types of food can be considered “provided by God”? Certainly, these passages suggest a person should eat from all food groups both plants and animals; but what about pizza or rich, decadent desserts? Did God provide these types of junk food or are they too tarnished by the hands of man?

As I ponder and pray over these questions, one thing is for certain. Whatever I eat, will be eaten in thanksgiving to God. I will stop and acknowledge Him before I put any food in my mouth. I will praise Him for supplying my needs and ask for His strength to help me moderate my food intake.

One thing is for certain … food and diet is a spiritual issue.

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Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.

The Erosion of Our Worth and Dignity

upmisxb0wd0-srikanta-h-uIn his proclamation declaring January 22, 1984, the National Sanctity of Human Rights Day, President Ronald Reagan wrote the following about abortion on demand:

“We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual.”

In his proclamation, Reagan claims that abortion has made this country poorer because it had eroded “our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual“. When the President wrote these words, 15 million babies had been aborted due to the ROE v. WADE decision. Today, that number stands at nearly 60 million babies. Sixty million lives lost due to abortion on demand. As a nation, we have been forced to develop a pretty thick callous over our hearts to ignore such a loss of life. There is even a huge segment of our population that justifies and defends abortion as a basic human right. President Reagan was correct — this callousness is beginning to permeate our culture in the way we treat all life.

Nearly every crime and injustice committed in this country can be attributed to a lack of respect for human life. Murder, discrimination, racism, hate crimes, rape, schoolyard, and cyber-bullying are all birthed amid this lack of respect for one another. It is a lack of respect that has existed since Cain first killed Abel but never had it been legitimized more than it was in 1973 when the United States legalized discrimination against its weakest citizens in the form of ROE v. WADE. And now, 44 years removed from that moment, respect for all human life is at an all-time low. Our hypocrisy is inescapable when we scream about the injustices so evident in our world yet encourage the murder of innocent babies. If we can’t defend the weakest among us, who is worth defending? 

The truth is, all lives matter in the sight of God and all lives are worth defending. However, the erosion President Reagan wrote of is a real thing. If our country doesn’t stand up and defend the rights of the unborn now, our culture’s respect for human life will continue to decline. Where will we be twenty years from now? What will be the state of crime in our country? Will we justify ending the lives of the elderly, sick, disabled, and obese prematurely? Heck, just look at the political landscape today. Ask yourselves, do the liberals in this country respect the conservatives and vice versa? If the lack of respect we’ve witnessed during our recent political season is any indication,  I have my doubts that our government will even be standing in its current form twenty years from now.

And it all started because we failed to protect the innocent.

God’s Word challenges us to defend those who can’t defend themselves:

“Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11, HCSB).

If we fail to do live up to this responsibility, Scripture makes it clear that we will someday answer to a God Who will “weigh our hearts” and “repay [us] according to [our] works” (Proverbs 24:12).

As difficult as it may be to put a cork back in the bottle that is ROE v. WADE, now is the time to do it. I call on our government to take every opportunity and every possible step needed to end abortion on demand in this country. If that means defunding Planned Parenthood, defund it. If it means stacking the deck on the Supreme Court than stack it.

We have reached a breaking point in this country and we can afford no further erosion to the dignity of our lives.

Obedience is Not Optional

“To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV emphasis mine).

mo9vkbg5csg-ben-whiteThe above passage is rich with theological implications. It contains trigger words that light the Bible student’s heart on fire such as ‘elect’ and ‘foreknowledge’. It also mentions each member of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit. However, when I read it this morning three other words grabbed my attention …

“… to be obedient …”

Why were God’s elect chosen according to the foreknowledge of God? To be obedient. Too often, Christians see obedience to God’s Word as optional. We tend to pick and choose the passages we’ll respond to. I’m not talking about the things we rule out after careful study and exegesis. It’s a truth of Scripture that not all commands within its pages apply to Christians today (hint: think shellfish!). What I’m talking about are the no-brainers — commands to worship God with all our heart, soul, and strength; to love others, worship together, and to be holy in all our conduct. We tend to pay attention to commands such as this when it’s convenient to do so, but the moment things get rough or difficult we abandon them.

When reading 1 Peter this morning I wrote the following words in the margins of my Bible:

Obedience is not optional. 

That phrase — obedience is not optional, is my new mantra. I will repeat it when things get rough. I will repeat it on the days I don’t feel God’s presence in my life. I will repeat it on those days I’m not feeling particularly Godly. Obedience is not optional!

It’s hard to justify disobedience when God’s Word says we were chosen to be obedient!

 

 

Do You Reciprocate​ God’s Love?

sunset-hands-love-womanIn his post “A Key Ingredient for Friendship“, blogger and pastor Lyn Perry identifies reciprocity as a key ingredient for friendship. He does so after reading about William Shatner’s damaged friendship with Leonard Nimoy in the book Leonard. Perry writes, “Without reciprocity, friendships fail.” And he’s right … it’s hard to love someone that doesn’t love you back.

It’s so hard, in fact, that I suspect even the best of us would eventually tire of an unreciprocated friendship. Heck, I’m only going to care for so long. Eventually, I’m going to write you off if you fail to love me back. I say that even though God role-models something much different.

The oft-quoted verse John 3:16 begins with the words “For God so loved the world …” God loved the world that would crucify His Son. God loved the world that would, by and large, reject Him. Yet God doesn’t write us off. In response to His unrequited love for the world, God displays patience and desires the best for us (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s unrequited love for the world is the most remarkable kind of love ever displayed. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God didn’t just love sinners, He put His Son on the cross for sinners.

That is remarkable!

I write all of this to arrive at a point. It’s not just an unbelieving world that fails to respond to God’s love. There are many of us Christians who are still failing to reciprocate God’s love for us. We give lip-service to our faith in Christ yet continue to live in a way that doesn’t reflect our profession of faith. This is what James was saying when he wrote, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

In the cross, Christ displayed the most remarkable kind of love for the world and Christians, of all people, should be responding to and reciprocating that love. If I’m being honest, I go through periods where my life doesn’t reflect God’s love. I am prone to selfishness. I sometimes allow my mountains to take my eyes off My Rock. My prayer is for that to change dramatically in 2017. I want to love people more. I want to serve myself less than I serve God. Mainly, I want to reciprocate the love God has shown me. Because His love is truly remarkable.

In Pursuit of the Truth: Is the news media capable of just reporting the truth?

nawkmlp3tvs-samantha-sophiaI watch a lot of news — probably too much if you ask my wife. I’m conservative, so most of the time my TV is tuned to Fox News, but I also try to be responsible and glean my news from additional sources. One of my favorite phone apps is “NPR News” because it instantly notifies me of breaking stories.

I must admit, however, that I have a problem with all my news sources — I don’t believe any of them anymore. Television, print, radio, internet … I’m convinced they’re all more concerned with peddling their personal agendas rather than reporting the news. One source wants to convince us that anyone who supports Obama and Hillary is a communist while the other tries to portray every Trump voter as a white supremacist. I simply refuse to believe such nonsense, however, the people that report the news seem to really believe it — and that’s a problem.

In the good old days, the news came on at six — the local news was first followed by the national news. The news anchors read the story and then moved on to the next one. They had to move quick because they generally had only a half an hour to get through it all. There was an order; news, weather, sports, goodnight.

I kind of miss those days.

With the advent of 24/7 news coverage, networks became pressured to fill time. That pressure resulted in more opinion pieces being woven into the news. When such “editorials” proved popular they began to dominate the timeslots more and more until there was no such thing as pure, unbiased news. Newspapers, blogs, and radio all followed suit. Some of the sources I see otherwise intelligent people cite actually frighten me with their bias. With all the talk of “fake news” in the media these days I feel like screaming, “It’s all fake news!”

It’s almost as if we’re no longer concerned with truth. We’d rather our opinions be validated than to learn the truth.

Scripture tells us that God is the God of Truth (Deuteronomy 32:4). Psalm 19:9 tells us that God’s judgments are true and righteous. Jesus even said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). When you read the Bible you can’t escape the idea that truth exists and is important to God. And if truth is important to God, it should be important to us.

By its very nature, truth is objective. I don’t get to determine truth. Truth is also no respecter of persons. What’s true for you is true for me. Because of its nature, only an objective God can determine what is true. Scripture teaches that Jesus was the Truth (John 14:6), that He spoke the Truth (John 18:37), and that He was executed for speaking that Truth.

Because the truth is objective, it is often offensive. When Jesus says “No one comes to the Father, but through Me” you may find it offensive, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

It’s the same with all truth. When we don’t like the truth we get offended. We attack. We argue. We cast aspersions. We do everything we can to nail the truth to a tree. Why? I suppose it’s easier to fight against the truth than it is to change our hearts.

We live in a day and age where news sources will knowingly report lies and then defend those lies by hiding behind the First Amendment. This will not change until we, as consumers of the news, begin to demand the truth.

Personally, I would rather my news sources just tell me what happened. Just tell me the truth so I can then turn to God through Scripture and prayer to discern how I should respond to that truth.

Then again, maybe Tom Cruise is right. Maybe we can’t handle the truth.