Cultivating Sincere Love

 

Image of a sunrise peaking out from behind storm clouds and text pulled from the post.

We can’t feed bitterness and simultaneously cultivate joy. We won’t experience the full to overflowing life Jesus promised if we cling to unforgiveness. And perhaps most importantly, we can’t display the beautiful, grace-giving love our world needs when pride, envy, or malice clog our hearts.

I wish I could say I routinely radiate Christ, but unless I guard against this, when difficulties hit, I’m often quick to complain and slow to pray. I’m easily distracted by the imperfect, unexpected, or undesired rather than the abundance of blessings God’s provided.

In fact, there was a time when that was my default demeanor, until God woke me up through a series of encounters.

Initially, when I met Tracy*, compassion drew me to her. She was new to the area, appeared to be hurting, and I thought perhaps she could use a friend. So, I issued an invitation, and we began meeting for coffee.

Soon, our conversations felt repetitive, filled with complaining and bitterness. At first, I wondered if she was depressed, and she may have been, and if so, in need of patience and grace.

She may have been depressed. But I wasn’t, and yet, I’d been acting just like her.

In other words, though I had much to be thankful for, including a daily connection with God Himself—the source of all joy—I chose bitterness and negativity. I chose to focus on momentary “offenses”, what I didn’t have that I wanted, on expectations gone awry, and robbed myself of the peace and full to overflowing life Jesus died to give me.

Through my interactions with this other woman, God helped me see how my attitude, which I’d displayed without thinking, was choking my spiritual vitality, hindering my relationships, and diluting my prayers.

Worst of all, it was squelching my love, the one thing those I care for most needed from me.

In a letter bearing his name, Peter, an early church father who spent time with Jesus before His death, wrote to Christians experiencing oppression and persecution. Living under the evil emperor Nero, they needed not only encouragement but also incredible emotional Picture of two friends with text from 1 Peter 1:22support. So he urged them to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22, ESV).

We all know what casual love looks like—the type that offers kind words when it’s convenient but seems absent when needs arise. The kind that’s more self-protecting than sacrificing and prideful than initiating. The kind that might look good on the outside but lacks substance when it counts.

That’s not the kind of love Peter commanded. Instead, they were to demonstrate a sincere, unfeigned love free from hidden agendas and selfish motives.

Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I showed that type of love. Selfish motives often creep into my best, most altruistic intentions. This lessens, however, when I diligently practice Peter’s admonitions that follow in 2 Peter 2:1-3: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk”—Scripture— “that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted the Lord is good” (ESV).

In other words, we can’t harbor bitterness or envy in one area or in relation to one particular person and expect our other relationships to remain pure and sincere. Malice, deceit, and slander, and all their equally destructive sisters, once entertained, invade our hearts until everything becomes tainted.

To display the love, joy, and peace God commands, we need to both purge and fill. We need to actively and continually throw out everything that hinders while soaking in everything that ignites.

That is the only way we will truly be able to love others well, as Christ loves us.

Let’s talk about this. What’s hindering you from fully expressing the love of Christ? Is there an old offense you’re rehashing? Unforgiveness you’re feeding? If so, hand that to God. Ask Him to remove it from you, to replace it with truth, and then intentionally remember all the ways God has shown you that He is indeed good.

It’s really hard to remain angry or bitter when focused on the love and grace of Christ.

It’s equally hard to experience the full to overflowing life Jesus promised when we’ve chosen bitterness instead.

What resonated or challenged you most in today’s post? Share your thoughts, stories, examples, and questions in the comments below.

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Join the Wholly Loved team on March 23rd to discover how to live fully, vibrantly alive, prioritize your time according to God’s leading, and experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in your most enjoyable and difficult moments. Visit the Wholly Loved website to find out more and King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha to register. We also encourage you to grab a free copy of our Bible study, Becoming His Princess. You can do so HERE. Listen to each week’s opening session HERE.

Want Jennifer or her team to come to you? Contact her HERE.

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When Love Involves Risk

quote on love

Relationships can be messy and confusing. We long to build bridges, to point others to Jesus, and really, to love others well. But sometimes it can feel crazy hard to live that out. If only Scripture provided a clear road map: When they say X, respond with Y.

I felt the tension between grace and truth most acutely a few summers ago when my husband and I fostered a troubled teenager. We’d gone through extensive training and felt certain, prior to placement, that we knew when and how to set boundaries and for what behaviors.

The black and white decisions we saw on paper muddled into gray when transferred to the real world. We weren’t working with hypotheticals anymore. This was real life, a human life—a deeply broken teen rapidly spiraling into self-destruction.

We knew we needed to address her behaviors, to hold her accountable for them. But we longed to do so in a way that built or at least, didn’t harm, our relationships with her. I can’t say I always did that well, nor that my actions and reactions were always Christ centered.

Relational tension often reveals my weaknesses and insecurities, but more than that, they provide an opportunity for me to quote pulled from text on a hazy blue backgroundpress into Jesus. Only He knows the right response to every situation.

My responses more closely resemble His when I intentionally set myself aside—my pride, will, fears, and expectations—and yield to the Holy Spirit within me.

I imagine the apostle Paul felt a similar tension when he addressed his brothers and sisters in Corinth. I don’t know what all was going on, but Jewish believers had attacked Paul’s ministry and division and sin had infiltrated the church. Apparently, he’d written the Corinthians a “severe” letter, which scholars believe has been lost.

The Corinthians may have assumed, based on Paul’s letter, that he didn’t care for them. That his heart had turned against them. Those fears may have been magnified when one of Paul’s previously planned visits were delayed. But in 2 Corinthians 2:4, he assures them this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was because of his love for them that he wrote the letter, delayed his trip, and was now planning to visit them again.

He said, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV).

Can you sense Paul’s anguish? Having had his ministry and character attacked, while facing ministry challenges, persecution, and the constant threat of death, he was in need of support and encouragement. Of community. The easiest and most self-serving thing he could’ve done would’ve been to simply allow the issues in Corinth to slide.

But out of His love for them, he wrote a rebuking letter, one where he anguished over each word. Perhaps you’ve been there, when the most loving thing you can do is address a behavior, even if it causes someone pain. Temporary pain. A pain that, by God’s grace, can lead to healing and restoration.

That was Paul’s goal. He wasn’t lashing out in anger, frustration, or indignation. He was pouring every part of him out in love.

Sometimes that love is quiet; other times, like when Paul wrote his chastising letter, that love is bold. But when it comes from Jesus, it is always pure and honorable and truth—focused on others and centered in Christ.

Let’s talk about this! Pause to think of the people in your circle. What is the most loving way you can respond to them today? How might “self-love” (self-protection, pride, feeling offended, etc.) get in your way? What can you do to move past self-love tendencies? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Would you like Jennifer to speak at your next book club gathering, Bible study, or women’s event? Contact here HERE.

The Power of a Life Lived Well

Quote with background image of a strong woman

When all the violence, uncertainty, and hatred in the world bombards me, I have to remind myself I’m much more than a hopeless bystander. I possess great power—the power to impact lives, perhaps even entire communities, for good.

Do you remember the Saved by the Bell Days? When cartoons weren’t filled with sexual innuendo? When school shootings didn’t occur daily and parents’ concerns centered on their child’s grades and not whether they’d make it home alive.

Increasingly, this is the environment we live in, that my daughter is growing up in, and watching it all unfold, I can easily become paralyzed. I can believe the lie that our world is beyond hope and my choices don’t matter, not in the overall scheme of things.

But then I read about King Josiah, a young man who, upon discovering God’s forgotten law during a time of rampant and widespread idolatry, instituted complete and instant reform. (2 Kings 23:1-20) He burned altars erected for the Amorite and Moabite gods, annihilated pagan priests, and initiated a widespread return to godly living.

This took courage, perseverance, passion, and conviction—the kind that motivates one from merely seeing a problem to actually taking steps toward solving it.

Granted, as king, Josiah had much more power and influence than you and I, but no matter where we live or whom we encounter, we still have influence—and the power of the risen Savior residing within. So, in that sense, we actually have more power than an earthly, albeit godly, ancient king.

We know this intellectually, but I think sometimes we forget, or maybe we think, because we don’t always see the impact of our actions, that they have little effect. But God’s word says differently. Scripture promises every time I tear down idols in my heart and set it firmly on the things of God, more of the Holy Spirit’s power is unleashed in me. Whenever I choose love over hate, sacrifice and generosity over selfishness, and obedience over rebellion, God’s glory is revealed in me.

Through obedience, my life shines like a bright light or star in a culture of darkness, hatred, and pain. quote image with candles in the dark(Phil. 2:15) We likely will never physically tear down idols and pagan altars, like Josiah did, but each day, as we live for Jesus, our actions are tearing down strongholds. With each kind act offered, word of truth spoken, and life touched, we’re sending out ripples of hope and life that miraculously extend beyond us, our neighborhood, and even our generation.

Never underestimate the power of a life lived well.

The Result of Self-obsession

 

sad woman in the dark

“You don’t have to be so down, you know.”

Perhaps I should’ve been offended, except I knew my husband was right. I’d been in a funk for a while. For no particular reason. Though I could’ve named numerous “causes”, I had to admit, I, not my circumstances, lay at the root of my gloom.

Bit by bit, one thought merging into another, I’d become self-obsessed, and it was making me miserable.

Our world tells us to focus on ourselves, to take care of number one, promising this is the key to happiness and fulfillment, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. The more I’m fixated on boring ol’ Jennifer Slattery—what I want or don’t want, what’s happened or hasn’t happened, what’s hard or disappointing—the more miserable I become. But when I take my eyes off myself, step out of my tiny little world and into someone else’s, the miraculous happens.

I experience joy. Peace. Fulfillment. And incredible intimacy with my Savior as He loves others through me. As some of you know, I routinely deal with pain and fatigue. When I was first diagnosed, I slipped into a funk, thinking of how difficult my days were and how unpleasant my condition.

foliage in the sunset image with quotation on loveFor a while, I retreated further and further into my own, miserable world. That’s what self-obsession does—it inevitably leads to isolation, and often, bitterness soon follows. But then, I began to listen as others shared their struggles. Of arthritis. Cancer. MS. Clinical depression. And I realized, we’ve all got something, and in fact, many were suffering much more than I.

Over time, and by God’s grace, my view began to shift, and my world began to widen as love for others squelched my self-obsession. Allowing room for joy and contentment to grow.

In 1 Corinthians 10:24, Paul says, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (NIV)

I’m convinced, not only is this a command and a tangible way to live out the great commission, but it’s also a huge piece of grabbing hold of joy.

Self-obsession is perhaps the most destructive, most insidious type of idolatry. There’s only one way to break this, and that’s by turning our view upward and outward—onto Jesus and those He loves.

I’ll still have down days on occasion, and there will be times when I regress to self-obsession, but I’m learning the more I lay my life—my wants, expectations, hurts and disappointments—down, the more I die to myself so that Christ may live unhindered through me, the more I experience the full and abundant life Christ died to give me.

*Please note, this post is not related to clinical depression. There are those with biochemical mental health challenges who need medical intervention. If that’s you, get help.

Let’s talk about this! Do you ever tend to self-obsess? What’s normally the result? Have you ever, while in the middle of a period of melancholy, focused on others? What happened? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (R) Copyright (c)1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. (R) Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Before you go, I encourage you to sign up for my free, quarterly newsletter to receive short stories, devotions, recipes, and more sent directly image of cover for study based on 1 Timothyto your inbox. When you sign up, you’ll also receive a free, 36-lesson study (ebook, sent separately) that springs from 1 Timothy You can sign up HERE. And make sure to visit me at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud to read more encouraging messages from myself and other authors. You can find my site HERE! I also encourage you to visit Wholly Loved Ministries for more inspirational messages that can help you discover, embrace, and live out who you are in Christ. You can find us HERE!

And some fun news! Coming soon:

Dancing in the Rain:

On the verge of college graduation, Loni Parker seeks employment as a music teacher, but no one will hire her since she’s blind. Or so she thinks. To take her mind off her troubles, her roommate invites her to spring retreat at Camp Hope in the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. Unbeknown to Loni, Michael Ackerman, the director, is an ex-con responsible for the accident that caused her blindness. When Loni warms up to camp and wants to return as a summer counselor, Michael opposes the idea, which only makes Loni want to prove herself all the more. Though she doesn’t expect to fall for the guy. Still, her need for independence and dream of teaching win out, taking her far away from her beloved Camp Hope . . . and a certain director.

Camp director Michael Ackerman recognizes Lonie instantly and wants to avoid her at all costs. Yet, despite the guilt pushing him from her, a growing attraction draws him to the determined woman. She sees more with her heart than the average person does with his eyes. But her presence also dredges up a long-buried anger toward his alcoholic father that he’d just as soon keep hidden. When circumstances spin out of control, Michael is forced to face a past that may destroy his present.

Releasing the first week of June!

The Fruit of an Obedient Heart–How God Makes Much of Our Little

Nail polish bottles of different colorsI felt ill-equipped and insufficient. Actually, I wasn’t supposed to be there at all. I planned to pop in, make sure all the volunteers had arrived and were good to go, then head off to another project I’d set up for the weekend.

But God had other plans, and it started—and perhaps ended—with my lack.

It was “Big Live” weekend, a time where the church I attended mobilized hundreds of people throughout the Metro to serve. As part of the leadership team organizing the event, I’d arranged numerous projects, one that included facilitating a “spa” night for women at a local shelter while other volunteers watched their children.

The idea seemed like a good one in the beginning, back in the planning stages when I envisioned a sizable group from my church, sitting around a table, giving mani-peds to these poor, broken women who were fighting addiction, healing, and learning how to parent.

But as the scheduled night approached, I began to worry. We were short on help. In fact, in the most crucial area, the actual spa portion, we didn’t have anyone.

Zero manicurists. Zero women who even felt comfortable pretending to be manicurists.

Simply myself—who routinely makes a mess of my nails whenever I attempt to paint them. And three others who’d come to watch children.

In other words, who also felt completely ill-equipped to paint other people’s fingernails. But as the women from the shelter began to arrive, one of the volunteers stepped up and said, “I’ll stay” (in the spa room). “I’m not very good at it, but I’ll stay.”

I could’ve hugged her. I may have squealed. But then, watching yet more women trickle in, and eyeing my very meager supplies, my moment of joy was replaced by sadness. I’d so wanted to spoil these women, to make them feel special. To give them an evening of pampering that would make them feel, but for a moment, as if they were truly at a spa. Or at the very least, beautiful.

And all I could think of was my lack. I didn’t have those smelly scrubs one rubs on women’s hands after they’ve soaked in rose-scented water. I didn’t even have the rose-scented water. I had dish soap. (And soon even that ran out.) I didn’t have nice-smelling lotion, emery boards or pumice to sooth their cracked and tired feet.

These ladies had been looking forward to a luxurious spa night, and I soaked their feet in plastic bowls filled with generic dish soap then dried them with whatever hand towels and dishrags the staff had managed to scrounge up.

I couldn’t paint beautiful designs. I could do base coats—though I messed that up. I could do simple flowers using toothpicks, but yep, I messed that up as well.

I was failing. And as I sat across from one of the ladies barely four months out of prison, having just rubbed her feet with an old tattered rag, I was ready to apologize. For the night, my blunders, the disappointment I know I must have caused her.

But before I could, she looked me in the eye with a grin so large it was contagious and said, “I feel like I’m at one of those fancy spas.”

Tears filled my eyes as I realized how little it took to make these women happy. To make them feel special. I’m sure they would’ve enjoyed the fancy lotions and hand massages. The pumice stones would’ve been nice. They would’ve oohed and ahhhed, had I known how to make fancy nail polish decorations.two women standing together

But none of those things trumped what they needed most—love. Someone to look them in the eye and say, “I see you. You have value. God loves you.”

That is how God makes much of our little.

Let’s talk about this! When have you stepped out to serve or help someone and felt insufficient and ill-equipped? How did you handle that? What was the end result? When has God shown you, perhaps through your insufficiency, that your role was simply to love? Share your thoughts and examples in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Visit John 6:1-14 to read another “When God Makes Much of Our Little” stories–this one told in Scripture.

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The Danger of Words

It’s interesting how vehemently the Christian community come against some sins while others are tolerated. Almost expected. Entertained even.

When we lived in Southern California, our church went through an ugly split. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew people were hurt. I could hear it in our pastor’s voice, when he spoke to the congregation. I could see it on his wife’s face, when her tears flowed during worship.

Though I was ignorant to the issue, I could feel the toxic tension every Sunday.

I wonder if this was what Timothy felt whenever he stepped up to speak. Did he sense the tension that arose from the false teachers who, though small in number, had such influence over the congregation? And what was going on with the women who appeared to be jockeying for position and fighting for prestige. (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

What did their conversations look like?

You’ve probably encountered women like them—ladies who are so consumed with pride, in impressing others and gaining power, they don’t care who they hurt. Under the guise of venting, they gossip and slander, creating an infectious mess that hinders the work of Christ.

When you read 1 Timothy 3, you may notice, verse 11 is directed specifically to women. Why do you think that is?

Perhaps because we tend to sin with our tongues?

Paul tells Timothy the women “must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do” (NLT).

The Greek word translated as slander (or slanderer) here means an accuser or one who makes charges that bring others down.

John MacArthur says, “It’s a title frequently given to Satan.” (Matt. 4:5, 8, 11, 13:39; Luke 4:3, 5, 6, 13; 8:12 …)

That doesn’t surprise me. Satan is a destroyer bent on thwarting God’s plans, causing confusion and disunity, and shattering the most sacred of all relationships.

In Southern California I had a friend with a child my daughter’s age. We’d meet on occasion, at the park, her house, or mine. Most of the time, our conversations remained surface level, until one day she started to “vent.”

She’d gotten herself swept up with whatever was going on in the church and “verbally processed” her feelings and conclusions to me., much of which involved not facts but her opinion of our pastor.

I left confused and concerned. I still didn’t know the full situation—only this one woman’s perceptions. And even though I didn’t want to be involved, even though I had no business being involved, I began to question.

Was our pastor really like she said? As I was driving home processing all this, a thought emerged: This is how Satan works. This is how he destroys churches and relationships.

That ended my “musings” immediately.

Granted, there are things we should investigate and get concerned about. We must protect truth. We should lovingly confront sin. But not through “venting,” or gossip or trying to pull everyone else into the mess. Jesus laid out clear instructions for how we should handle conflict in Matthew 18:15-19, and if you’ll read them, you’ll notice, never once does He tell us to stir the pot or spew our feelings to whoever will listen or even to our besties. We’re to go directly to the individual.

Our tongues can speak life or death, can foster unity or disunity, can create healing and reconciliation or hurt and destruction. If we want to verbally process, may we go to God. He’s the only One who knows the full situation—and solution—anyway. And in everything we do say, may we follow Paul’s commands in Ephesians 4:29:

“No foul (unwholesome, useless, rotten, or of poor quality) words come from [our mouths], but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.”

Can you sense God’s call to love in that verse? Not self-love that focuses on our feelings, the offense done to us, or our need to verbally unload, but rather what is good for the body of Christ and God’s kingdom. Rooted in a love that is other’s focused—a love that comes from “a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

What are some things can you do when your in a conversation where a person or the group begins to gossip or slanderous things?

The Love That Destroys — a 1 Timothy Study

It brings out the ugly in me. It makes me fight to be right, to elevate myself, and seek temporary fillers like accolades and admiration that feed my pride but fail to feed my soul. This thing lurking within my heart causes me to avoid difficult conversations and engage in those I shouldn’t.

But worst of all, it distorts Christ in me.

Love is the root of this nasty, unity-destroying behavior. Self-love.

I’ve lived the truth of 1 Corinthians 8:1: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (NIV).

Puffs up, like an inflated balloon or a puffer fish with its cheeks swelled and spikes protruding—seeking to elevate myself at the expense of others. But love, pure love, agape love, the kind that flows from God, doesn’t focus on self at all.

About ten years ago, I began to ask some hard questions regarding my faith and the credibility of the Bible. I wanted to know—was Jonah really swallowed by a big fish? Was there really a worldwide flood? Did Lot’s wife really turn into a pillar of salt?

Those questions led to an in-depth study I soon wanted to share with others. My motives were pure and stemmed from my love for God and His Word. The results were beautiful. Each week, I’d meet with a group of women while volunteers taught our little ones arts and crafts.

Until Sue* arrived and quickly turned argumentative. I took her challenge as an invitation and, puffed up with “knowledge”, accepted. Like the elders who were creating such division in Ephesus, I stopped focusing on making God known and instead focused on making myself look good and smart. Before long, the pleasant, Christ-centered discussion among a handful of moms turned into a tense battle over words.

No longer was I focused on God, others, and the truth. Instead, I wanted to win the argument. My self-love, my pride, pulled me in when I should’ve walked away, and I allowed the woman to dominate and divert the focus of the conversation.

Though I wasn’t blasphemous like the elders Paul spoke about in 1 Timothy 1:3-6, I became like them when I veered from the love that comes from Christ.

I’ve erred in the other direction also, when, remaining silent, I watched a young lady become enslaved in legalism and drift further and further from Christ.

She’s since abandoned the faith entirely.

I had numerous opportunities to speak, as Paul urged Timothy to do, but I chose to walk away. Out of fear that the woman would become angry and our relationship would crumble. In other words, out of self-protection. Self-love.

Truth and love, real love, are intertwined. Scripture tells us God has entrusted us with the gospel. This saving truth has the power to set man free—from sin, self-destruction, emptiness, death. With each word, we’re either pointing others to our Savior and an eternity with Him, or we’re getting in the way.

And how do we know which is which? We do a heart check and ask God to cleanse us from everything within not motivated by the love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith (1 Tim. 1:5 NLT).

May we, regularly, pray David’s words in Psalm 19:12-14:

“How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer” (NLT).

Let’s talk about this! Can you relate to either of my stories? When has fear (self-love) caused you to walk away from a conversation you knew God was calling you to engage in? Can you relate to the converse? When has your pride motivated you to elevate yourself and fight to be right? What are some ways we can guard against this?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below then visit our Facebook discussion page for suggested reading, further discussion, and daily devotional questions.

*Name changed to protect privacy.