Love Intentionally

by Erin Bird

I hope this week’s email finds you doing well. This week, as we continue our How to Love series, I want to talk about loving intentionally.

What I mean by “intentional” is loving others with a purpose and a plan. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for “accidental” acts of kindness that display the love of God to someone, like the spur-of-the-moment decision to let someone go in front of you at the checkout line. But I truly believe those spontaneous acts of love will be far more natural and far more regular if you engage in “intentional” love.

When we see Jesus in Mark 5 “accidentally” heal the woman who had been suffering from internal bleeding for twelve years, He was intentionally on his way to heal the synagogue leader’s daughter. When Jesus “spontaneously” decided to minister to the crowd of 5,000+ people in Mark 6, He intentionally displayed love to the throng of people by feeding them.

And even when it seemed a surprise to the disciples for Jesus to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and sentenced to death, He intentionally loved humanity to the full by willingly going to that cross. For the cross was not an accident or a spontaneous moment He stumbled into; it was part of God’s plan since the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. We see the mystery of that plan slowly revealed throughout the Old Testament and fully revealed through the events of Holy Week.

Since Jesus intentionally displayed His lavish love for you, He now calls for you to love others in a similar manner: to put together a plan to intentionally show others you love them because God loves them.

So why not this week:

  • buy someone a thoughtful gift?
  • send someone a text with how much you appreciate about them?
  • arrange to take a meal to someone who might be going through a difficult time?
  • set-up a time to take someone out for lunch?
  • call your friend group to throw a surprise party for one of your friends?
  • send a handwritten note (or even a full letter!) to someone?

The point is to not just wait for the spontaneous moments in which you can show God’s love to someone, but to also plan ahead to intentionally let someone know just how much they mean to God and you.

So happy planning! I’d love to hear what you end up doing!

Love Generously

By Erin Bird

This week, we continue our How to Love series by looking at the idea of giving generous love to those around us.

Oftentimes, when I hear the word “generous,” I usually think of money. And “loving generously” can definitely include financial giving. (A thoughtful gift can be a GREAT way to show love.)

But at Riverwood, when we talk about giving, we don’t think just of money. Instead, we talk about giving our FIST, our Finances, Influence, Skills, and Time. These are four things that we often hold on to with our metaphorical fists, but if we are going to be like Jesus, we need to give these things away.

What I want you to realize is that when you open your hands and give your FIST generously, this is an act of love. Your finances, or time, or expertise, or energy might be exactly what someone else needs to know that they matter to God.

Jesus is the perfect example of FIST giving. He gave to people healings, wisdom, food, presence, and ultimately His very life – all out of love. And where does Jesus get this type of love? From His Father! God is love, and He displays His generous love by giving us His one and only Son.

So what do you need to give this week to show someone God loves them? Perhaps you could

  • give some one-on-one time to a friend, your spouse, or one of your kids?
  • give a gift to a coworker or classmate going through a tough time?
  • give your energy to the monthly Food Pantry on March 9?
  • donate an air mattress to Friends of the Family (see more below)
  • join a local board (like a PTA or neighborhood association) to bring a Christ-centered influence?
  • help someone with a car repair or cooking them a meal?
  • give someone a gift certificate to Walmart or a local restaurant

Whatever you choose to do, do it with an open FIST, seeking to show the same type of generous love God has shown you through Christ.

Love Earfully

Love Earfully

By Erin Bird

Let’s get right to it, jumping back into our series about How to Love like Jesus.

This week, I am using a made up word to draw your attention to an important aspect of love. While we need to love humbly and selflessly (as we’ve seen the previous two weeks), part of living those types of love out is through your presence. And one of the most powerful ways to love via your presence is by fully listening to those you are with. In other words, we are to “love earfully.”

Listening with Both Ears
In case you didn’t know, you live with yourselves 100% of the time. (Shocking, I know.) Because of this, your thoughts often dwell on your life. The humans brain routinely expends energy thinking about when you are going to eat next, or when you’ll next get rest, or when you might get to indulge in a distraction, or what is coming up on your calendar or to-do list. These “selfish” thoughts, while in and of themselves aren’t wrong, can often crash into our conversations, where we either end up talking about ourselves (ignoring the other person), or allow our thoughts to distract us (keeping us from truly hearing the other person).

This past week, a friend called me seeking advice. Normally, this friend does a great job of asking, “How are you doing?” (and truly meaning it!). But this time around, my friend was struggling with a decision and needed input. So I sat and listened, asked a few questions, then tried to give him direction based on the Gospel and the teaching of the Scriptures. When we got done, my friend’s issue wasn’t solved, but he concluded with “Erin, thanks. I really appreciate your friendship.”

Those words didn’t come because he thought I gave good advice (in truth, I sense he might actually go the opposite route of my advice!). Those words instead came because I listened. And by being fully present in the call, he felt loved.

But before you think I am some sort of model Christian, I am far from having a  perfect record at “loving earfully.” LeAnn and my kids could tell you of numerous times I let them down by only half-listening to them. And in those moments, they felt unloved, unappreciated, or un-valued.

When we look at Jesus, we don’t see Him only give one ear to the conversation. With each person we see Him interact with, He seems to be fully present with them. (Matthew 15:21-28 is one intentional exception to this.) Whether it was desperate dads, bleeding women, or deaf men, we see Jesus “love earfully” by being fully present with each person.

So when you are with someone, whether on the phone, on Zoom, or in the same room, be fully there. Give them both of your ears:

  • Take out both earbuds,
  • set down your phone,
  • fold the newspaper and set it aside,
  • mute or even turn off the TV,
  • turn your body toward the person,
  • and listen!

And when you listen, not only use your ears, but listen with your eyes and your body posture. In other words, listen with your full presence. Let them know they matter and that you are with them in the moment.

Yes, it might be hard to “be all there” when…

  • your child is telling you all about their video game or the drama in the dollhouse.
  • your coworker is complaining about a minor inconvenience.
  • the teacher or conference speaker or Zoom host is droning on and on.

But let them know they matter to God (so therefore matter to you) by loving them “earfully.”

Love Selflessly

Love Selflessly

By Erin Bird

This week, we continue our How to Love series. Last week, we looked at God’s call for us to “Love Humbly.” We saw that humility isn’t thinking lowly of yourself, rather it is thinking less of yourself, which in turn allows you to consider the needs of others before yourself. This week’s topic extends this idea even further.

Let me begin by admitting the obvious: it is incredibly hard  to truly love “selflessly.” However, I think for many of us that it is impossibly hard to be truly “selfless” because we have the wrong definition of “selfless” in our minds. When many people think of what it means to be “selfless,” they think they have to live with an “absence of self.” Many Eastern religions (or Eastern-influenced spiritual practices) encourage people to “empty themselves” through meditation or other practices.

However, I don’t believe this is truly a biblical definition of “selfless.” I think the Oxford Dictionary helps us get closer:“[C]oncerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own.”

You see, selflessness isn’t the “absence of self.” It is simply a shift of focus away from self to the needs and wishes of others. It is setting aside your own desires to attend to the needs of those around you. And we see this most clearly in the person and work of Christ:

  • As we saw in chapter 6 of the book of Mark last year, when Jesus was mourning the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, we see Him selflessly set aside his desire to go be alone to minister to the crowds. He eventually gets the alone time later in the chapter, but not until after he sets aside his own desires to care for the spiritual and physical needs of the people.
  • As we also saw in Mark 5, when Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of the local synagogue ruler, He stops everything to give His time and attention to a woman who had secretly touched His robes. He eventually makes it to the home of the synagogue ruler, but not until after He gives the attention, restoration, and love the woman needed.
  • But most of all, we see the selflessness of Jesus, the only person to have ever lived on earth without sin, through His willingness to die in the place of sinners (that’s you and me!). That is the most powerful visual of selflessness you will ever see!

But note: Even in the world’s most selfless act of dying on the cross for humanity, Jesus did not flush His desires from His heart.  Hebrews 12:2 tells us Jesus did desire something as He faced the cross: joy! But rather than seek joy in a selfish manner, He set aside His righteousness and heavenly throne to die our earthly death as payment for our sins so He could give us true, eternal life. And seeing us come back into a relationship with Him and His Father is what brought Him joy.

So when you love someone with humility, it’s okay to experience joy in it. Your love for those around you isn’t to come through an emptied heart. Rather, your love should be expressed because of the overflow of your heart. And out of the overflow of the gospel at work within you, your love with shift from a self-focus to an others-focus. And THAT is what selfless love is all about.

So may you selflessly love someone this week. And if you experience some joy in the wake of it, may you thank God for it!

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