(The below is a transcript, edited slightly, taken from an iBelieve video devotion.)

We know God commanded us to love, right? Sometimes, the “how” related to that seems clear, like when we serve at a homeless soup kitchen, pray with a hurting friend, or prioritize relationships with friends and family. But what if the person we reach out to consistently pushes us away? How do we know when to persevere, doing our best to initiate connection, and when to respectfully honor the other person’s wishes?

A while ago, I recorded two episodes on loving those who are hard to love. Matt Maciera, the founder of Be Bold Ministries, joined me, for one of the episodes. You can find the second HERE.) In both, I discussed some of the fears you and I might face when attempting to love others as Jesus does us. If fear tends to be your greatest outreach challenge, I encourage you to take a listen. 

What I didn’t cover, however, was how to respond when someone tells you to leave them alone. What is more loving? To honor their request or to persevere in an effort to break through whatever barriers are keeping them in isolation or bondage? 

Or, maybe you’re a parent trying to faithfully raise your kids, or lead children in a school or Sunday School classroom. When they misbehave, how do you know when to offer grace and when to enforce consequences? Perhaps you’re facing the same dilemma with adult employees or those on your ministry team. 

There are times when I find God’s call to love confusing, especially because my heart can be so self-deceptive. My pride and desire to self-protect can taint even my most benevolent acts and desires. I can even convince myself that my selfishly-motivated, prideful, or self-protecting inclinations are from God. 

Therefore, if I want to love well, I must regularly seek God’s deep soul-cleansing. In 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul, a first century apostle who wrote much of the New Testament stated, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith” (NIV).

quote pulled from post

Pure love flows from a pure heart. One without mixed motives or the infection of sin. I don’t believe we can reach that state apart from God. He sees gunk in us we’re not even aware of, and this deep-cleansing God does, it’s a continual process. Because if you’re anything like me, selfishness and pride can rise up mere moments after your prayer time. 

I don’t know who God is calling you to love today, or who He might call you to love tomorrow, or the day after that. I don’t know if that person will welcome your efforts or consistently push you away. Nor do I know how God wants you to respond. But I do know you’ll be better able to hear God’s voice, to sense His guidance, and to respond, when you, by His power and grace, maintain a pure heart. One regularly cleansed–and filled–by Christ. 

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Before you go, have you registered for Wholly Loved’s upcoming gala? It is going to be such fun! Find out more HERE.

A quick note, for those who connect with me on Facebook or through Messenger, FB has currently blocked my account (I have no idea why). Therefore I encourage you to reach out to me through this website or Instagram.

God’s Promise to Place The Lonely in Families – Ep. 104 Faith Over Fear

Sadly, we live in an increasingly disconnected culture where many people are forced to endure the pain of loneliness. Others, perhaps having felt isolated in the past, have developed a strong fear of loneliness. Still others, due to previous wounds, have come to expect rejection and, out of fear of future hurt, remain in emotional hiding. If any of these scenarios resonate with you, be encouraged: God planted the need for connection deep within the human heart, which means He doesn’t want us to live disconnected and He invites us to trust Him to lead us to those with whom we can feel seen, known, and loved. Find the Ephesians Bible Reading plan at:https://my.bible.com/reading-plans/25255Find Wholly Loved at:https://www.WhollyLoved.comFind out about Wholly Loved’s small groups at:https://whollyloved.com/resources/online-studies/Find Wholly Loved Ministries at:WhollyLoved.comJoin the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/442736966614671Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Group (also on Facebook):https://www.facebook.com/groups/443325386241769Group Discussion Questions:1. When have you felt unknown and unseen? 2. Consider your typical interactions. Do you tend to feel rejected or accepted? If you feel rejected, how have past hurts impacted this, if at all?3. When have you felt seen and known? 4. How does it feel to know that God cares about your relationships and doesn’t want you to feel alone? 5. If you struggle with loneliness, are there places you can go or clubs you can join in order to build connections? If so, where?6. How would you describe the health of your faith community?7. If you cannot go to people, how can you use technology in order to connect with others? 8. What are some truths you can remind yourself of the next time you feel unvalued and unseen?
  1. God’s Promise to Place The Lonely in Families – Ep. 104
  2. Trusting God’s Promise to Give Us Abundant Life – Ep. 103
  3. Trusting God’s Promise to Give Our Lives Purpose – Ep. 102
  4. Trusting God's Presence to Guide Us – Ep. 101
  5. Trusting God’s Promise to Remain Present – Ep. 100

Also, make sure to catch the latest Faith Over Fear episode:

Years ago, while fostering a particularly challenging teenager, a youth pastor made a statement I wish I’d paid more attention to. He said, in essence, “Never jeopardize the gospel.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand his meaning. Unfortunately, rather than pausing to prayerfully unpack his advice, I blindly, and forcefully pressed ahead, focusing on so many issues that felt super important in that season but that I’ve now come to realize hindered my access to the kid’s heart.

Quote from post on dark teal background.

If asked, I would’ve told you, emphatically, of how desperately I longed to help this youth heal. I might’ve even said that I was committed to doing whatever it took to make that happen. But that wasn’t entirely true. In reality, my pride, desire for personal comfort, and aversion to pain frequently tainted my actions and confused and distorted my perception.

As a result, I routinely pushed the teen away from myself, relationship, and true and lasting change. I fear I created barriers between Him and the God able to heal and transform as well. 

A while ago, God reminded me of that situation while I wrestled with Him, in anxiety and angst, over another individual I believed He was asking me to walk beside. I had said some things that felt so necessary in the moment. And if you had asked me then, as the words built within my mind, ready to spill from my mouth, I could’ve provided numerous reasons as to why. I probably could’ve offered Scripture to back up each one as well—fully convinced of my rational. 

And utterly blind to the state of my heart, which I can now see was filled with love, yes, compassion, for sure, but also fear, selfishness, and pride. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV).

Quote from post on dark teal background.

Who is it our heart deceives? You and I. We might, at times, mislead others, but we’re most skilled at fooling ourselves. As a result, we often remain oblivious to our true, and often mixed, motives and are unable to discern them on our own. With Christ, we fare better in that God has given us new life, increased spiritual understanding and insight, and a God-given desire to please Him. But that doesn’t mean our actions and perceptions, our view of ourselves and others, immediately become accurate and honorable. 

Prior to conversion, many of us spent a lifetime absorbing all the false ideas and perspectives of our culture. Negative behaviors and attitudes have in many ways become so ingrained within us, it will take our entire lives for God to replace those lies with truth. 

In 1 Timothy, while instructing his “true son in the faith,” the apostle Paul told Timothy to encourage those in the Ephesus not to get caught up in pointless disputes, adding, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (NIV). 

That’s God’s call for me and you as well, that we would display the type of love that flows from: 

A pure heart: one completely free of sin. I’m not sure if I’ve ever reached that place. But I believe, if I continue to seek God, to meditate on Scripture, and learn to more consistently yield to and rely on Him, His righteousness in me will increase, progressively overpowering the residual ugliness within me.

A good conscience. A deep and growing awareness of what does and doesn’t please God and a commitment to pursue His will and His heart.

A sincere faith. Annihilating every trace of hypocrisy within, asking God to reveal and destroy my hidden agendas while igniting a passion for the things of eternity that are truly worth living for. 

We know, based on who Paul was and what he wrote in various places throughout Scripture, he wasn’t telling Timothy to forsake or downplay truth. Rather, I believe he was saying, “Make sure when you choose to fight, you fight for those things that move you and others toward increased life in Christ.” 

While each component Paul mentioned is an important spiritual trait, it’s the condition of my heart that tends to trip me up most. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s ever truly pure, completely free from selfishness, pride, and all the other self-defeating, relationship-harming sins that so grieve my father and have a tendency to inflict such pain. The more I recognize this, however, the more I remain alert to just how mixed my motives truly are, the more I’m able to prepare, through prayer, Bible reading, meditating on truth, and yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The moment I forget this, or think I’ve arrived at a certain level of spiritual maturity and therefore can quickly rush ahead based on what I already know or have already read, I almost inevitably wound someone else. 

This irresponsible tendency grieves God, inevitably damages others, and deeply saddens me. And while I recognize I’ll probably never experience complete victory over my sin, this side of heaven, by God’s grace, I’m determined to improve.

I want to heed the advice provided by that youth pastor so long ago to prioritize the gospel, God’s free gift of life, above everything else. 

Therefore, I must: 

  1. Seek then following Christ’s wisdom regarding when to speak, what to say, and when to remain silent. 
  2. Learn to doubt my perspective so that I will more consistently seek Christ’s. 
  3. Slow down and recognize that most of what feel so urgent today truly isn’t. (God is rarely, if ever, in a hurry, perhaps because He knows the outcome of that “crisis” today is much less consequential than the state of the individual’s soul.
  4. Regularly invite God to search and then cleanse my heart, knowing He will find gunk there, guaranteed, and that gunk, if not purged, will cause harm. 

Because I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather live with effectiveness than regret.  

What are some ways you prioritize the gospel in your relationships and interactions? Share your thoughts and insights with us in the comments below. And if you haven’t done so, make sure to check out the latest Faith Over Fear episode.

God’s Promise to Place The Lonely in Families – Ep. 104 Faith Over Fear

Sadly, we live in an increasingly disconnected culture where many people are forced to endure the pain of loneliness. Others, perhaps having felt isolated in the past, have developed a strong fear of loneliness. Still others, due to previous wounds, have come to expect rejection and, out of fear of future hurt, remain in emotional hiding. If any of these scenarios resonate with you, be encouraged: God planted the need for connection deep within the human heart, which means He doesn’t want us to live disconnected and He invites us to trust Him to lead us to those with whom we can feel seen, known, and loved. Find the Ephesians Bible Reading plan at:https://my.bible.com/reading-plans/25255Find Wholly Loved at:https://www.WhollyLoved.comFind out about Wholly Loved’s small groups at:https://whollyloved.com/resources/online-studies/Find Wholly Loved Ministries at:WhollyLoved.comJoin the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/442736966614671Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Group (also on Facebook):https://www.facebook.com/groups/443325386241769Group Discussion Questions:1. When have you felt unknown and unseen? 2. Consider your typical interactions. Do you tend to feel rejected or accepted? If you feel rejected, how have past hurts impacted this, if at all?3. When have you felt seen and known? 4. How does it feel to know that God cares about your relationships and doesn’t want you to feel alone? 5. If you struggle with loneliness, are there places you can go or clubs you can join in order to build connections? If so, where?6. How would you describe the health of your faith community?7. If you cannot go to people, how can you use technology in order to connect with others? 8. What are some truths you can remind yourself of the next time you feel unvalued and unseen?
  1. God’s Promise to Place The Lonely in Families – Ep. 104
  2. Trusting God’s Promise to Give Us Abundant Life – Ep. 103
  3. Trusting God’s Promise to Give Our Lives Purpose – Ep. 102
  4. Trusting God's Presence to Guide Us – Ep. 101
  5. Trusting God’s Promise to Remain Present – Ep. 100

Woman standing on a country road with quote pulled from post.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s this: Life will be tough, and you can’t plan for everything. We can wear ourselves out trying, fill our brains with all sorts of information we hope will help us stand firm through the next recession or global pandemic. Or we can travel light and alert, releasing our fear and expectations, with our arms linked and our hearts set on Christ. 

That’s the only way we can truly run this race well, and we’ll need God’s help to do so. May He inform our prayers and our steps. 

Like many of you, I’m anticipating a busy fall, and honestly, I’m feeling a bit nervous. I know God is leading me and more than sufficient for all I and my team might need. But I also know I’m going to be more dependent on Him, and potentially, others, than ever before. I know, if He doesn’t “come through” I’ll fail, in so many areas. 

And yet, I’m determined not to evaluate my time and assignments through my abilities and limited perspective. Instead, I’m trusting God to lead me step by step and to give me all that I need.

He’s been so faithful. Each morning, as I open my Bible, He lovingly, gently, speaks to my soul, encouraging and preparing me for all that’s ahead. Alerting me to challenges, those obstacles and storms I can’t yet see but He can. 

In response, He urges me to unite myself with His mission-minded children, and to pray, as He instructed His disciples when He sent them out in pairs to preach His truth. 

Scripture says, “Now after this,” likely referring to when He sent out the 12 in the chapter prior, “the Lord appointed seventy-two others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one along the way’” (Luke 10:1-4, NASB).

Jesus wanted His disciples to travel light and to remain dependent on Him, but He didn’t want them to journey alone. Not only did He pair them up, thus providing them with the support they’d need to stand confident and firm when surrounded by “wolves.” But He also told them to ask God to raise others up to help further His mission.

Women friends with quote from post

I was struck by how often I get this backwards. When I see a large assignment, I tend to take off running, recruiting people to help along the way. But notice, Jesus told His disciples to pray first, and not just to pray but to “plead” with God that He would raise up allies and coworkers. This reminds me of the importance of the mission and how much I need co-laborers. I’m to pray for them with the desperation as if I was praying for myself. 

I’m left wrestling with this: When was the last time I felt that level of urgency for those who don’t know Jesus? 

When did I last surround myself with those brought to tears over the condition of someone’s soul? 

How might you answer those same questions?

Lord, help us to live with deeper dependence. Dependence on You and one another, because we know this mission of breaking through darkness with light is too big and too important for us to race forward alone. Touch our heart afresh. Draw us so close to Yourself that our hearts and prayers resembles Yours. And raise up Your children. Ignite our souls, link our arms, and mobilize our feet.  

Connect with Jennifer on Facebook and Instagram.

And check out the latest Faith Over Fear podcast:

God’s Promise to Place The Lonely in Families – Ep. 104 Faith Over Fear

Sadly, we live in an increasingly disconnected culture where many people are forced to endure the pain of loneliness. Others, perhaps having felt isolated in the past, have developed a strong fear of loneliness. Still others, due to previous wounds, have come to expect rejection and, out of fear of future hurt, remain in emotional hiding. If any of these scenarios resonate with you, be encouraged: God planted the need for connection deep within the human heart, which means He doesn’t want us to live disconnected and He invites us to trust Him to lead us to those with whom we can feel seen, known, and loved. Find the Ephesians Bible Reading plan at:https://my.bible.com/reading-plans/25255Find Wholly Loved at:https://www.WhollyLoved.comFind out about Wholly Loved’s small groups at:https://whollyloved.com/resources/online-studies/Find Wholly Loved Ministries at:WhollyLoved.comJoin the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/442736966614671Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Group (also on Facebook):https://www.facebook.com/groups/443325386241769Group Discussion Questions:1. When have you felt unknown and unseen? 2. Consider your typical interactions. Do you tend to feel rejected or accepted? If you feel rejected, how have past hurts impacted this, if at all?3. When have you felt seen and known? 4. How does it feel to know that God cares about your relationships and doesn’t want you to feel alone? 5. If you struggle with loneliness, are there places you can go or clubs you can join in order to build connections? If so, where?6. How would you describe the health of your faith community?7. If you cannot go to people, how can you use technology in order to connect with others? 8. What are some truths you can remind yourself of the next time you feel unvalued and unseen?
  1. God’s Promise to Place The Lonely in Families – Ep. 104
  2. Trusting God’s Promise to Give Us Abundant Life – Ep. 103
  3. Trusting God’s Promise to Give Our Lives Purpose – Ep. 102
  4. Trusting God's Presence to Guide Us – Ep. 101
  5. Trusting God’s Promise to Remain Present – Ep. 100

Woman in yellow sun dress jumping.

How salty are you? When people encounter you, when they view your actions and your relationships, do they walk away intrigued? Maybe even enticed to experience the life you have? Or do they sputter and spit, thinking, “Man, I do not want more of that”?

My family and anyone who’s ever visited my house for dinner will be the first to tell you, I stink at cooking. I won’t entice anyone with a fresh cooked meal. I do hope, however, that you’ll join us for relational reasons. That you’ll discover that we’re loving and gracious people of integrity and be drawn to that. To us and, hopefully, the God who empowers us.

Love. Grace. Integrity. I believe that’s a powerful combination able to dispel the false and often negative associations our culture attaches to Christianity. When we live what we claim to believe, consistently yielding to the Holy Spirit within, many times, we find our words aren’t all that necessary.

Quote from post on yellow background

Now, please don’t mishear me. I’m not saying we shouldn’t share truth. As a faith-based writer and speaker, I spend a good deal of time doing that, after all. What I am saying, however, is that our day-to-day actions should speak loudest and clearest. And if they don’t? Then we’ve probably become one of two things: A bland Christian who has allowed their flavor to become leached out by our culture or sin. Or, an angry and hostile religious person who puckers everyone’s mouths, even those who agree with our truth claims.

Living with radiance and flavor, however, means doing all we can to model Christ in every area of our lives. How we speak, how we serve, how we love, how we give, and how we react. We mustn’t separate Christ’s call to live as the salt of the earth and light of the world from the context in which He spoke this. (Matthew 5)

He began by telling us all the seemingly contradictory ways we’d be blessed.

  • Blessed are those who are poor in spirit. Destitute on their own and recognize their constant need for Christ. (Matthew 5:3)
  • Blessed are those who mourn, because it’s often during the hard times that we most experience our Savior. (Matthew 5:4)
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—who long to know and please God. (Matthew 5:5)
  • Blessed are the meek, who demonstrate strength under control. In other words, who are able to speak truth with love, gentleness, and grace and don’t lose their cool in Facebook arguments or endless political debates. (Matthew 5:6)
  • Blessed are those who seek justice, absolutely, but are most known for their mercy. (Matthew 5:7)    
  • Blessed are those whose hearts are pure—free from pride, selfish ambition, bitterness and sin. (Matthew 5:8)
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—those who actively join God’s mission to bring relational, emotional, and spiritual health to our broken world. (Matthew 5:9)
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted, insulted, mocked, and disdained, for the sake of Christ, because our love often shines brightest in the face of hatred. (Matthew 5:10-12)

After laying out precisely what a Christ-honoring life looks like, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-15) So shine brightly, “That [others] may see” your arguments and hear all the verses you’ve memorized? No. “That they may see your good deeds and praise Your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Matthew 5:16 on yellow background

Because, in short, they will know us by our love, one displayed with equal parts truth and grace. Because as I’ve said before, love without truth isn’t truly love. It’s dangerous. Morally and ethically negligent. And truth without love is destructive. A life characterized by both, in deed even more than word? Such a life truly does have the power to change the world.

You and I have the power to change the world, one heart at a time. And Jesus has both shown and told us precisely how. The question is, will we follow His example?  

Share your thoughts, insights, examples of living brightly, and questions in the comments below. If you’re following our chronological New Testament reading plan, scroll down to view this week’s suggested reading.

For those struggling to live as salt and light in challenging circumstances, I encourage you to listen to the latest Faith Over Fear Podcast episode on Responding With Courage When Others Act Foolishly. You can find it here.

I also invite you to check out Wholly Loved’s latest Bible reading plan: Joy in Chaos. You can find it, and the “read to me” option HERE.

And make sure to connect with me on Facebook and Instagram!

Have you signed up for Wholly Loved’s mother-daughter conference yet? Can’t make it on April 16th & 17th? No worries! All registrants will receive a link and password granting them full access to all the conference content.

Find out more HERE.

Watch the promo clip here:

Bible reading plan week 13

Quote on sitting with those who are hurting

(Today’s devotion comes from this week’s first day’s Bible reading passage. See plan below.)

My pride, insecurity, and fierce hold on my comfort level challenge my ability to love others well. I give of my time and my money, my energy … but only so much.  To love deeper, I need to sit. Sit with my Savior, the One who floods my soul with everything good and right and lovely. And I need to sit in other people’s pain so that it becomes my own.

Years ago, I watched a profound video that halted my thoughts and convicted my soul. In it, a man was advocating for orphans he’d encountered personally while visiting a developing country. Seeing them face-to-face as they scrounged through garbage cans, those children, once statistics easily forgotten, became real. And in that moment, God asked him how he’d respond if the child digging through trash were his child. Then God told him the child was His—God’s.

I have to pause there. I know I can’t take on every wrong, but I can speak love and hope to those God brings near. Through grace and truth-filled actions, I can introduce them to my Savior. Even if that means actively tearing through the barriers that keep them from Him.

I can follow the example of the men who carried a paralytic—perhaps a friend or family member—to Christ. Scripture doesn’t tell us how far they’d traveled, whether a mile or ten. During this time many considered paralytics cursed by God. As a result, these individuals often experienced ongoing rejection. I imagine the loneliness hurt most. But the men in John 12 stood by their friend. Even if that meant pushing through a throng of desperate people, embracing the stigma of that of that time of associating with a paralytic, and potentially angering the religious elite—those with the power to expel people from their faith community. (John 12:42.)

The Bible says everyone “gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door …” (Mark 2:2, NIV).

Pause to envision these men standing on the outskirts, surveying the crowd. Place yourself in that position for a moment, needing to push through with someone our culture stigmatized.

Who is that person for you? The one our society keeps on the fringe, ignores, and even disdains?

If you were those men, would you have hung back, telling yourself all the reasons Jesus didn’t have time for your friend?

That’s not how these men responded. Verses 2-5 tells us,  “Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.”

That’d be the equivalent of someone removing your window to crawl inside your house. Polite, civilized people just don’t do that sort of thing.

Those desperate to see their loved ones encounter Christ do.

The result? Verse 5 states, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

When Jesus saw their faith.

Their faith propelled these men into action. They knew their friend needed Jesus and faith propels lovecouldn’t reach Him on his own, so they bridged the gap. They broke through the barriers keeping the paralytic from life, and received what they longed for and more.

Reading this, I wonder—who does God want me to step into the gap for? What “roof” might I need to unhinge or “crowd” might I need to push through? More importantly, will I? Or will I stand on the fringe, waiting for an easy opening, one that fits my schedule, my comfort level?

What about you? Who might God be asking you to bring to Him? Will you?

For those following our chronological New Testament Bible reading plan:

Bible reading plan week 10

Speaking of loving one another well, let’s start with one of our most precious relationships. Join me and my Wholly Loved team for our upcoming mother-daughter conference, Beautiful Mess.

Find out more HERE.