Love God, Love People…But Yourself?

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31, NLT

You can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself. There are a number of variations of this quote. Often used to promote self-love and acceptance, and honor one’s self-worth. The idea of self-love, however, also has gotten a lot of criticism among evangelicals. Why? Self-love is selfish. Another often used quote. Arguing the idea that the concept of self-love is unholy, ungodly, and borne of selfish desire and conceit.

I disagree.

Let me offer another perspective.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:14-16, NLT

What is described above is a labor of love. A love so immense it cannot be put into words. It is something not found in the world. That cannot be recreated. God desires that we know this about ourselves. He desires that we know the care He took in making all our unique parts. All our talents. That we celebrate all the ways we are complex, and not like any other-before the world tells us we are broken, different, not enough, and too much of something. He desires that we know we are loved, before the world tells us we are unloveable. We cannot know this without knowing just how much we are loved by God. We must know the kind of love He has for us, and love all the ways in which He has made us. In turn, love ourselves.

Because we can’t pour out love to anyone, explain this immense love to others, that we don’t even have or understand for our own selves.

The self-love that others criticize so fervently is really what is referred to as “self-made.” This term indicates that one is “made by one’s own actions.” That everything someone has, whether it is their character, their success, their talents-they did that all on their own. They are the lord of their life, not God. And this is the self-love the “world” screams of-not the self-love that God desires.

He does desire that we love ourselves first, in the way He loves us. In the ways He made us. Remembering that He provided us with the talents, the strength, the gifts. That none of our success is possible without Him.

When we understand this-then we can go out, and REALLY love on others. In the way Jesus did.

Love God. Love yourself (because it’s biblical), and love others like God loves you!

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In the Isolation, He is There

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky, above or in the earth below-indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

I miss actual faces. I miss too loud, too rambunctious lunch groups that half the time never settle down. I miss telling preteens to get their “junk” together. I miss getting up, getting in my vehicle, and going to work. I miss being able to work. I miss the joy of a Saturday morning stroll through Target, Starbucks in hand. I miss conversations that occur over tables with food, and not Facetime with headphones. I love my home and the people in it, but I miss the outside world around me. -May 2020

Isolation. Separation. Cut off from people, places, and routines that were familiar. To enter into a world of unknowns. The sentiments expressed in what I journaled on some morning in 2020, I can only imagine could have been the thoughts of almost anyone during our time of quarantine and lockdown. Almost 2 years later, we probably still feel like this. It’s a grief that is complicated and not easy to understand, because we and the people we love are alive, but something has died. We mourn our previous way of life, yet, no one really knows how to help us through the mourning. We are all doing it together, in whatever ways we can manage.

Separation. Isolation. Grief.

We may feel abandoned. By people. By society. By disease. By our jobs.

Cut off. Lonely. Misunderstood. Uncertain.

Here’s some truth: A pandemic forced us to separate from our normal day to day routines. From people. From places. We may have lost some of these places. Some of the people in them due to circumstances, or the impact of the pandemics toll.

But even these-the changes, and this separation-it cannot separate us from God.

Jobs may have been lost. But He was there. Friends may have left. Ghosted. Passed. But He remained. Routines. People. Places all may have changed. God stayed the same.

And His love does, too.

In our isolation. In our despair. In our loneliness, even when we separate ourselves from Him-His love for us does not fail. He doesn’t leave. His love remains.

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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!

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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On a Journey to Real Love

When we finally begin to see God the way He truly sees us-with nothing but love; we begin to focus on old dreams and visions we let die with the opinions of the world around us. I documented the year long journey God took me to seek and find His true love for me (here and here). A love I thought I knew, but didn’t really.

I learned this: For so long I played small. I had allowed the voices of the world to dim my light, my gifts, and my purpose. I lowered my “posture,” stayed in corners because I believed I was too much of “something” to be used, when all along He had placed all the things I needed to do the things He desired in me. I just needed to look for them without the voices adding a bunch of noise.

And from that learning of His love over again, I became bolder to do new things. I stopped thinking about the opinions of others, and walked with Him in mind. I started looking at myself as God looked at me, not as the people around me did.

And I am all the better for it. Healthier. Stronger. More free.

And you can be, too.

Here is one of those things I will not shy away from doing. Crouch in a corner until someone else tells me it’s time or it’s OK. Or that I am even worthy.

Reading the Bible each morning is an important portion of my day. I can tell when I haven’t. When I have neglected this in my morning. And there are so many who don’t understand the Bible, or continue to come up with reasons to not open it up to enjoy all the beautiful things it has to say.

It is a love letter from God. One you may never get from a living being in your life, but one you need to feel the love you so crave here on earth.

I want to help you. I want to help you make it a daily practice, even if it is just one verse. And I want you to discover the true love that only comes from ONE. It doesn’t come from the voices or opinions of others. It isn’t found during a certain month, and it doesn’t inhabit a single day in February.

It is freely given by the One who created you, and who desires that you know His love and feel loved.

February begins a monthly journey through the Bible with me, with a focus on what God says about love. The kind of love the world often gets wrong. Each day you will find both a blog post on what God is speaking to me through each verse, and a word on His love.

Was your desire to start reading the Bible daily this year, and you still haven’t? Well, this is your chance. Download the scripture calendar below, and start now! It’s never too late to learn about, feel, and accept real love!

It’s OK, God Knows

We were on our way to church. I was in the passenger seat. A rarity on this morning since both my husband and I are moving in different directions and towards church at different times on most Sundays. Behind one of those loud cars. A souped-up version of a car of old I once had.

And it began a conversation about that car. About the ways I used to make mine “race-car” like. Modify it so it was loud. And then the conversation turned to what happened to that car. A memory long forgotten. One of injustice.

It’s interesting the things people forget about the role they played in your story.

This is what I said at the end of that conversation. But I also thought of this: Before that ride to church, I may have forgotten all the details. Those people who played a part in that story may have forgotten, or simply may leave certain parts out, but God knows.

God only knows what you’ve been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it’s killing you
But there’s a kind of love that God only knows. (Source: for King and Country)

It’s not just those material things we remember being mishandled, it’s the mishandling of our hearts as well. You have likely been hurt. You have likely suffered things you don’t talk about. Maybe you feel a loss you just still don’t understand. You were never given closure. Able to defend yourself. Tell all you know to be true.

But He knows.

He protects you. He defends you. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you.

God knows.

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Through You They May Know Him

I didn’t know if I could do it. Yet again. Have another conversation with another grieving relative. The fourth in less than two weeks. Countless in the last couple years. The number of people who had lost loved ones due to various reasons over this pandemic is astounding. The number of times I have processed grief the same, while shutting off my own emotions on the topic.

I was hesitant to make the call. To check-in. To offer “condolences,” and all those words that are supposed to sound so pleasant and helpful but end up just sounding so flat. My heart was heavy, and I didn’t know how many more conversations I could have like this one. The phone interrupted my thoughts. Interrupted me as I dialed the number.

Yes, this is Ms. January. Sure, I have time to talk.

“She talks so much about you. She mentions Ms. January all the time, so I had to call to see if you could help.”

I didn’t get it. I hadn’t seen her in weeks. She had likely been avoiding me. Teens often do when adults hold them accountable, and I am the kind that well, holds them accountable.

This didn’t make sense to me.

Until it did.

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see. Matthew 5:16

Christ. He lives in me. Once accepted, he made me new. He placed a spirit within me that meant I also possess a certain light-the light of His love. His mercy. His grace. Sometimes it doesn’t require I say anything. Or that when I do, I do so in love. Still holding accountable for choices that are not the best, but always with the purpose of moving someone to a place of growth. Never condemnation or shame.

I may never speak the name of Jesus in the places I walk into. In the office spaces I occupy. In the halls in which I walk.

But…I can be certain of this: They will encounter Him though my actions. My words. My love.

If they never see a church pew. If they never sing a hymn, they will at least have encountered Him. They will see His grace and His light through me.