More Than Words

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-2, MSG

Love is more than words.

These are the words on the sign that sits above our TV. A sign. A big joke with our kids-mom’s love of signs with phrases and sayings, slathered all around the house. When we shop, the common refrain is, “You don’t need another sign!”

But this one, it had a purpose. A meaning. It was bought to represent a journey in this home. A reminder to all of us. That words at times were meaningless. Especially if they were hard to express.

Love is more than words.

Our son, Hunter, was diagnosed with autism before the age of 3. For many years, words were very hard for him, especially words that expressed any kind of feeling. Emotions did not come out in eloquent speech, but rather kicks, screams, and grunts. While there are many conversations these days in which I wonder if he will stop talking, those are courtesy of many hours of speech therapy, and years of early intervention services.

One thing was always certain.

He can’t at times say he is simply hungry. He has a hard time expressing worry. Anger. Sadness. But he knows the language of love. Without words. And we in turn have learned it, too.

It is expressed in the endurance it takes to sit through one of his tantrums. The patience. The understanding. Knowing it is nothing personal. It is just the internal battle in this kid’s system.

It is in the way he gives. He is a giver. He has spent his last dollar at the school book fair, so his sister can have something, too. Bringing home a poster for her room. Her favorite at the time. Unicorns.

It is in the hugs. Though he can’t always speak love, he can feel love. He is a cuddler, and has been since the beginning. A child who has always craved touch. A bear hug. A deep back rub. A squeeze to calm him down and let him know he is OK.

It is in the patience it takes at times to practice the things that come easier to others. Jumping rope for instance. For several nights in a living room, because balance issues are a thing, too. Anxiety runs in tandem, and jumping rope wasn’t second nature. Using words to teach this lesson wouldn’t do the trick.

Love is more than these.

Words are often superfluous. Used as fillers. Used to tout knowledge. Used at times to get one’s way. Feed desires. Sometimes deceive. They can mean a variety of things. Be taken out of context. And I am saying this as a writer!

For someone who takes them literally, like Hunter, words can be difficult. The action of love-not so much.

Do your words line up with your actions? If you had to experience a life without the use of language, or a different understanding of the use of it, how would your expression of love measure up? Would you be a rusty gate?

Love. It’s more than just words. It’s the small things we do each and every day.

How are you doing when you don’t use words?

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On Trend: Love

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14

The teen years. It’s a rite of passage. And if you, as we are, are raising a teen; it can also be a day by day struggle to build a healthy sense of self. How exactly? Well, as it is with adults at times, what you wear, and how you present yourself to the world…well, it determines your social status. Put on the wrong pair of pants, and you could just be the laughing stock of the entire school! How embarrassing!

Paul in Colossians 3 discusses a different type of dress. One that has nothing to do with the outward appearance that we seem to be so obsessed with. As he mentions in verse 14, the most important part of this outfit is love. He lists it as the one thing that binds everything together.

How true this is.

Without love we cannot wear patience and mercy. We simply don’t have the capacity to do so. To extend these virtues out to others who get on our nerves or hurt us.

Without God’s love, we also don’t have the desire to remove our sin clothing. Those outfits that simply don’t belong in our closets anymore when we begin to walk with Christ. Those garments such as anger, lust, and greed. We have no use for them anymore. It’s time to purge them to make more room for the love God desires we wear instead.

Look, we could put on the trendiest outfit, but not put on love, and walk around with a downright rusty, crusty heart. The world may be satisfied, but God wouldn’t be.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather someone judge my ‘fit harshly, and see a heart that reflects God.

His outfit is the only one that is worthy of wearing. His is the only ‘fit that’s gonna get you His Kingdom garments.

Clothe yourselves with love.

As He Has Loved You

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:12

There are ten commandments provided by God. Spoken through Moses. Then there is the commandment given by Jesus, not canceling the first ten; but making them all possible to do.

Through love.

In John 15, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. This isn’t one of his many lessons or parables he was teaching throughout his ministry. This was THE message. His last to them before he would sacrifice himself for them. Display the ultimate act of love.

Is Jesus instructing us to die for others? Not necessarily. He is asking us to make sacrifices for others in order to demonstrate his love. To give up our own desires. To deny ourselves. Not our values, but our pleasures.

How do we love as Jesus loved us?

We encourage. We speak kind words to others, over others, and about others. We walk away from gossip and conversations that seek to tear others down.

We listen. We don’t always need to have the answer or last word. We don’t even have to agree. But we can simply be an ear for someone who needs to be heard.

We help and we give. Of our time. Our resources. Our talents. Our wisdom. We don’t keep these things to ourselves, and for our own personal success and gain, but to give to others. And sometimes this means we have to give up something “fun,” to be Jesus to someone.

We forgive. We don’t have to die to offer forgiveness. Nor do we have to continue to allow abuse and disrespect. We do have to pray. For the salvation of those who hurt us. For our hearts to heal. Then we move on. Loving from afar, with this in mind: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)

That’s what Jesus did, and it is what we are called to do.

Go out and love like Jesus-today, tomorrow, and the next day. Just as he loves you!

We Can’t “Hate,” and Love

If someone says “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar, for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we can’t see? 1 John 4:20

Ouch. It’s only Day 3 of this love journey, and God has just punched me in the gut. But wait…you are a pastor? I know. But I still struggle with people. But hate? Yes, I’ll get to that word.

Growing up I learned there were several words you just did NOT say. Anything using God’s name if you were not specifically praising Him. Shut-up. Certain potty words. Whatever (mainly me, as a teen, to my mom). And hate. Why hate? Hate was considered too strong a word to use. We were told we “may not like their ways, but we don’t HATE.”

Hate in this instance meant contempt. It meant a sheer dislike. A desire to see someone suffer. And growing up this was considered something of bad character.

God doesn’t like it either. Especially among His believers. Especially in His churches.

Why is this such a big deal to Him?

First, the Greek translation of hate is “miso,”which means to loathe, detest, abominate. If you look at the definitions of these words they all imply intensity of emotion. Utter disgust for someone. It is usually accompanied by malice, and a desire to see someone pay.

You ever felt that? Don’t lie. I’m not going to. I have. When someone hurts me, I want them to feel the hurt I have. If they prosper, it makes me angry. I wonder why in the world they would be blessed, and I want the whole world to know their true character.

But these things are not characteristic of God. God detests evil, yes. And He will take care of evil people, but His overall nature is loving.

So we can’t hate someone, and love God at the same time. We can’t hate someone, and display His character. We can’t curse someone else, and praise Him with the same lips.

If we find ourselves in this state of emotion, we must use our lips for something good-prayer.

Pray for God to excise our hearts of resentment and anger. Pray we have hearts that see those who have hurt us in the way He sees them. Pray we wish them well, and not ill.

We don’t have to like everyone we meet. Everyone we are around. Everyone who has hurt us. But we do have to have hearts that are free from hatred in order to display the love of God to others. We are called to live in harmony. With all his children. With the people we see around us.

This is what He desires.

He would love nothing more than this from His children.

The Original “Ride or Die”

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

Ride or die.

It’s a term actually originated in the 1950’s by bikers referring to the fact that if they couldn’t ride, they would rather die. It is now being used to refer to relationships-those that are romantic in nature, friendly, and some even toxic (think “Bonnie and Clyde” here).

When we use the phrase, what are we referring to? What are the qualities that make someone a “ride or die?” It is usually someone who is fiercely loyal. Someone who will face problems with you head-on, alongside you. Someone who will “ride” with you, even when the ride becomes bumpy, filled with potholes, and may even be filled with danger. They will sacrifice themselves for you.

Do you know anyone like this? A partner? A friend?

I do.

His name is Jesus.

The OG “ride or die.”

Let’s fact check this one. Does Jesus fit our modern description?

Loyal? Check. He was about his Father’s business, no one else’s (Luke 2:49).

Encourager? Check. Jesus did not desire that those close to him would remain the way they were. Trapped by their past, or doubting their gifts. He took some of those rejected by society and made them his disciples-teaching them how to lead others after he was gone.

Honest? Check. Jesus did not dodge the truth. He didn’t sugar coat to make his disciples feel better. He spoke the truth in love. Even when it wasn’t popular.

Supportive at all times? Check. Jesus provided a way back to him when others went astray, offering mercy and forgiveness to those who were truly repentant (See Luke 22:54-62 and John 21:15-17)

Willing to sacrifice? Check. Jesus would rather die than allow us to continue in our own path of destruction. He sacrificed himself, not just for a few, but for the entire gang of us.

I would say that makes him the original “ride or die.” The truest definition of the term. The example of sacrifice and laying down one’s life for those we love.

There is no greater love than that one.

That One Verse

It very well could be one of the first verses you memorized. Perhaps it is the verse you have heard recited the most often in church services. It is certainly probably one of the most widely quoted, even written in paint under the eyes of football players. You are likely saying it to yourself at this very moment.

He (God) gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16. NLT

It makes complete sense to start this journey of love with this verse. Why?

From the beginning God displayed himself as a loving God. He fashioned creation with the work of His hands, and he didn’t make the world evil. He made the world “good,” until we messed up. And it has always been His desire to make this right. God doesn’t desire that we be anything but “good,” as He originally intended. Even throughout the Old Testament displays of His love and faithfulness abound, despite the continued rejection of God for false idols and things of the world.

God’s sacrifice of His own son was completed out of profound love for His people, and a desire to place us into right position with Him again. God loves us too much to let us die to our sins. To watch us perish, and He offered a sacrifice of His One and Only so we could all be provided with the acceptance of this position.

I am not sure I have known a greater love than that. One that would pour out everything. Give everything. Sacrifice everything so someone else could be let off the hook. So someone else could walk free.

But that is exactly what He did for us.

And we get to show our love to Him. How? While the verse suggests a “belief” this is only a start. Those that came before believed and still walked in utter darkness. God desires that we follow the ways of His Son. That we not only simply believe in His sacrifice of love, but that we grow to be like Him, and that we show His love to others, as well. So that others can come to know, believe in this love, and accept this love, too.

Today begins the God is Love Bible Reading plan for February. If you want to join me, you only need the printable linked below, and a Bible or Bible app.

You can also subscribe via email to ensure you don’t miss the daily devotional to be posted along with each day’s Scripture.

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Are you a “bumper sticker” Christian?

I had some extra time between counseling placements. Rare time. Shuffling between many different schools and offices means a ton of driving time, and less time to actually run the errands I need to get done to make these sessions (and home life) a success. Less than 1 mile to my intended destination. 1 mile. Should take about 10 min. To get to where I needed to be. To get that last errand complete before the mad dash to the next spot I needed to be. With some time to spare.

I wasn’t in a huge hurry. I wanted to relish this time I didn’t often get, and so I must have zoned out right before that light turned green. Or so the loud blare from the beeping behind me let me know.

And I must have certainly been in some kind of euphoric mood to completely misunderstand that the lady who backed into the space in the parking lot, wasn’t backing in-she was trying to turn around. In the middle of the parking lot. Her cursing and middle finger salute should have told me I was completely misunderstanding her intentions.

Everyone was in such a hurry, and was just truly so mean about it, that the encounter with the backed-in lady nearly brought me to tears.

How could this type of temper and anger be our norm in our daily interactions, even in traffic? But I recalled a time when I used to be the same way. Giving people that same salute, and yelling at them when they cut me off, didn’t use a turn signal or drove too slow. I am a reformed road-rager.

The power perceived when receiving that first set of keys is amazing. There is an independence and a freedom that comes from being able to freely get in and go where one wants. A power that often takes control of our choices, and even our interactions.

But there are rules.

There is also power in anger. Its strength can be amazing. It can move people to act. Break rules.

It can also be damaging. Damaging to your witness.

I drive a yellow vehicle. My personalized license plate announces my trust in Him. I have stickers on the back professing the power of the cross, and letting drivers know that it is Jesus before myself. But if I start to act sideways in that car, I could damage any view others have of Christ.

I can put all the pretty stickers I want on that automobile, but if I drive it with anger and hate in the drivers seat, those stickers are well….just decorations. Nice things to look at. Nothing more than a bumper sticker.

And I don’t want to be a “bumper sticker” Christian. I want to be truly like Him, at all times. Including when confronted in a dollar store parking lot.

So, how did I handle that finger-flicking rager. I simply waved. I rolled into my spot, and as she blew off in a tizzy, I prayed for her. For her safety; and that of the kids in the back seat. Prayed her kids didn’t witness this, and prayed that once she got to her destination, more than likely frazzled and angered; that she met Jesus there in someone else. That her encounter with me wasn’t the last one with Him.

This is how we become more than just mere “bumper stickers.”

WWJD: Do Good Anyway

Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand. Psalm 37:24, NLT

David. David was the chosen King. Anointed to be King as a young boy, at the surprise of his brothers. His brothers who all believed they should be chosen. They were older. Stronger. David was just a shepherd boy. A runt.

David. The man with a colored past. An adulterer. Who covered up his sin by sending the woman’s husband to be killed. A murderer. Yet, still chosen.

The writer of many Psalms. Both beautiful and angry. He was hunted by men who believed he should pay for his past. Who believed he was unworthy to be a king. No good. That God had made a mistake.

Saul believed God had made a mistake. But David and God knew differently.

See, David had failed in many ways. He knew he had. But, prior to his writing of his many praises. His many songs, he has his reckoning with God. He came clean. David confessed his sins.

But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him. “One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.” David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!” “You’re the man!” said Nathan. 1 Samuel 12:1-7

Nathan proceeds to tell David all he had done, letting him know what God planned to do about this sin David had committed, and David replies in this manner: “I’ve sinned against God.” (verse 13). David confesses. God forgives. David then sins no more.

And here in the Psalms we see that no, David doesn’t die just as God promises in verse 14, but he is tormented. Just as the Word promised, He was punished by God. His son died, and later on his other turned against him. He did not live a life without trials. However, he did something that was especially important-he did not sin again. He did not repeat his past. And God never brought it up.

It’s why he was known as a “man after God’s heart.” He vowed to be holy. He vowed to live a life that God would be proud of. He wanted to live a life that was worthy of the lineage of Jesus.

See, David understood this:

Turn from evil and do good,
    and you will live in the land forever.
 For the Lord loves justice,
    and he will never abandon the godly. Psalm 37:27-28,
NLT

God gives us the opportunity to ask Him for another chance. He gives us the ability to walk in righteousness again, not because we are good. Not because we even deserve it, but because HE is good. And see David? He was called a “man after God’s heart,” because he knew what it was like to be separated from Him. To live tormented by the pain he had caused God for not doing what He had asked, and he never wanted to do it again. He only wanted to do good. He decided to turn around, and walk a different way.

And people didn’t like it. They didn’t like that he could make mistakes, and still be seen as “good.”

You know why? Because we judge the past of others. We judge people based on their choices, not on their hearts. The Bible tells us this: The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

It’s true. We judge. And appearances are not just what others look like. We judge the past. We judge failure. We judge mistakes. Whether they are overcome or not. We hold onto the sins of others as if they define that person forever. Even if they repent and never do it again.

But there is good news. God doesn’t do this. No, once we do as David did, no matter the sinful deed-big or small. When we say, “God, I confess. I sinned against you.” He offers us forgiveness. In fact, God will have compassion on us. He will trample our sins under His feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:19)

We may be slandered. We may be mocked. We may still have our sins held onto by people. We may be cast out of certain places. People may not believe we have changed. May continue to only see us as a mistake, but it doesn’t matter, because God knows we are after His heart, and because of this, we can continue to do good anyway.

WWJD-First, Let Me…?

I had the immense honor and pleasure a bit ago of baptizing my mother-in-law. I’ll share the details of the day in a different post (one related to silly prayers), but I have to say..the feeling was incredible. The honor of being the one chosen to participate with the Holy Spirit is one that really is indescribable. It was my first baptism. And of course Satan beat me up before and after. 

Before is for that other post. After? You know what he beat me up about after? Pictures. There wasn’t some glorious picture to be shared. No one was standing around snapping photos for social media fame.

Yes. I am ashamed to admit THAT is what the devil used to make me feel inadequate for that entire week after. The fact that I didn’t have anyone cheering this honor on with me. Well, in terms of social media likes, anyway.

The week wore on. I battled the devilish monster some more. Considered myself inadequate alongside the pictures of others’ “honors.” Until I considered this: I thought about the time Jesus walked along this earth. I considered Jesus’ baptism.

After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” Matthew 3:16-17, NLT

Jesus. Baptized. We still talk about this day. Yet, it was never posted on any social media platform.

Jesus. Performed a number of miracles. He healed a leper. He brought sight to a blind man. He raised a man from the dead. We still talk about these events that took place long before any camera was even thought of.

Does the absence of any form of physical evidence make these occurrences any less powerful? The witnesses to the events any less honored?

Which leaves me wondering: What would Jesus do with social media? Would he be worried about being “famous?” Loved? Wanted? Accepted? Getting “likes?” “Shares?” A thumbs up? Prior to helping the lady who had the bleeding condition, would he say, “Wait. Let me get a selfie?” Or would he be more worried about “being about his Father’s business;” sharing the message of truth, and his Father’s love?

I would like to think Jesus’ Insta page would not be filled with heavily filtered selfies, but words of the Father’s love. Messages of hope and compassion for those that desperately need to know about true love, mercy and grace. That his Facebook page would not be filled with only his happy moments, but he would be telling others of the 40 days he fasted, and was tempted by the devil, so others would be aware of his prowling. Yes, even his prowling around on their Facebook feeds. The ways in which social media can become our fuel for affirmation, and not the Lord.

Case in point:

I saw the much anticipated envelope waiting for me. I ripped into it with excitement, holding my breath, hoping it really was what I thought was inside. The final piece of confirmation I needed as proof that all the years of work I had put into this long journey had finally paid off. “Here it is!” I said to my husband, commenting that I needed a frame to place it in, so it could be displayed each year once it was renewed. 

His response? “Don’t you want a picture? You know, to humble brag?”

Did I? Did I need one? If I didn’t post one for comments and likes, did it mean the time spent. The work put in. The effort. Did it mean it didn’t occur?

No, that’s not what it meant. It meant I didn’t need to post the picture to feel accomplished. I didn’t need to post the picture to feel honored. I didn’t need the likes to know I had made it.

Just like that baptism. It still occurred. Despite the lack of a picture. God was still witness to it. The Holy Spirit still showed up, even if social media never got to see it.

Perhaps you like to commemorate great moments to “celebrate” the milestones. That’s great. If that works for you. Wonderful. I do ask you take heed to one command from Paul as he writes to the church in Colossae: And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17, NLT

Perhaps you like to scroll through all the accomplishments of others, and you don’t feel the need to compare yours to theirs. I applaud you. I wish I had that willpower at times. I wish the devil didn’t know this is a deep insecurity of mine and didn’t use this to beat on me. If you are an encourager: So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT

Or perhaps we could all be more like Jesus, and just let our accomplishments, our works, our efforts speak for themselves. Knowing that even if no one ever took a picture, God is looking down from heaven saying, “This one, this one right here. That is one with whom I am well pleased. That one brings me so much joy!”

WWJD: Pray for those who hurt you

I went to therapy the other day. I am not too proud to admit that I am a Christian. A mental health provider. A pastor. And I am in therapy. I can imagine that during this time of upheaval and isolation many people are. As a therapist, I can attest to the growing numbers. So yes, I am one of those numbers. I am also a diligent believer in its ability to bring about change if one does their part in the process.

As I sat in my session, discussing past hurts that played a part in my anxiety when starting new things, my therapist challenged me to pray for those who hurt me. This isn’t a new concept.

In fact, it’s biblical. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

The very next morning I woke up, made my coffee, and sat down. I opened my devotional, and then I saw it. A call to live at peace with everyone, and a prayer to release those for which we were still seeking justice for our hurts. The days assignment even requested that we list them by name.

So I did. I pulled out my pen. I wrote down this verse: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath. Romans 12:17-19

And then I wrote down this prayer: Right now, by faith, I release every person from whom I feel entitled to demand justice. I release……

And after that blank, I wrote down the names of those for which I was still holding onto bitterness. The names of those who still caused me grief every time I simply heard their name. The names of those who I knew had caused this adult “first day of school” anxiety. And I asked God to bless them, and to change their ways so that they would hurt no one else any longer in the ways I had been hurt. And I asked that they would one day know Him as their own. 

It wasn’t easy. And it didn’t make my day easier. I still walked into that new school anxious. I cried all the way to work actually. But my meeting went well. I know that I may not find favor with everyone, for some I’m just not meant to. It’s ok, but with God I have, and I will be immensely blessed for putting aside the bitterness I feel for those who have chosen to take advantage or hurt me.

Maybe today you are holding onto something that someone has done to you. Maybe it even makes you anxious to walk into new rooms, too. I encourage you to try what I did above. Make a list. Write out those names and surrender them to God. Then pray a blessing of His favor over them. 

It’s not easy, but it’s exactly what Jesus would do.