Take care of yourself first—then you can take better care of others.
I heard this for the zillionth time but for the first time, I wondered if it was true. I have a circus and a farm—many children, lots of animals. Because we like animals and foster children, we keep the door open.
I have a lot of creation to tend to—how can I tend well? How do I love and serve and teach and protect without dissolving into a puddle by day’s end?
The answer I’m told is self-care.
Psychology Today extols the virtue of “me-time,” something we shouldn’t feel guilty for. “Learning how to eat right, reduce stress, exercise regularly and take a time-out when you need it are touchstones of self-care and can help you stay happy, healthy and resilient.” (Self-Care: 12 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself, December 28, 2018.)
I get that. If I’m incapacitated or dead because I haven’t taken time to eat with wisdom, sleep with peace and manage anxiety—which is just a fancy word for fear—then I’m of little use to my circus-farm.
I’m not sure this is self-care in my books though—seems more like common-sense survival skills. And maybe that’s why I’m pondering this modern gospel because it’s often ambiguous and self-defined.
We all agree that sleep, nutrition and stress management are essential. I have worked in the weight loss and nutrition industry for more than a decade—I believe this. But is that what the self-care gospel is really about? Is it simply reminding me to eat my veggies and go to bed early—or is it something else?
In 2019, prior to COVID, Americans spent 1.1 trillion dollars on travel. Trillion. (In full disclosure, a few of those dollars were mine.)
The average American spends a little more than $3000 per year on restaurant food. A study conducted by OnePoll for Groupon said women spend more than $225,360 over a lifetime on hair and skincare. As one writer for Byrdie put it, “we probably couldn't have guessed that on average, the amount of money we spend on our appearance could pay for four years of college tuition.”
And into this congregation of well-fed, professionally maintained, well-travelled parishioners, culture preaches: You first. You are useless to others unless you keep thinking of yourself.
Wait…does that even make sense?
I can look into the eyes of a Starbucks employee and order a menu-noun with eight adjectives—and be taken seriously. Or I can have faster food on wheels delivered to my doorstep courtesy of Uber Eats. I can book a trip around the world from my phone or order anything I want on Amazon and then—to make my joy complete, post a picture of me and it on social media and bask in the warmth of approval with a cascade of “likes” and the hashtag #selfcare.
Is this really the way? If it is, why aren’t we satisfied yet? Why are there so many people suffering when so many of us (talking to the mirror, here) have focused expertly on self. Shouldn’t I have enough “oxygen” by now so that I can metaphorically put the mask on my suffocating neighbor?
Creation has a creator. So I go to the Word, the Bible for help. Is there a verse where Jesus—or anyone really, teaches me to do this? A Self-Care Sermon on the Mount? A Psalm of Self? A pro-me proverb?
-Jesus, what’s the most important thing for me to do?
Dionne, love the Lord your God, love me, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And when your heart, soul and mind are saturated with the limitless, eternal, cleansing, healing love of Me let it overflow to your neighbor and love them the way you want to be loved. This is the greatest command (Matthew 22:36-40).
-But Lord if I give myself away so completely—what will be left? They said I’ve got to put my oxygen mask on first before I help someone else. Me first—then them.
Dionne—the lives of the travelers in the plane are not dependent on plastic masks but on the competency of the pilot and I have a way with storms. If a tube connected to recycled oxygen is helpful imagine what’s possible when God himself breathes the breath of life into you.
If you put yourself first, you will run empty before long (you know this; you do this!) but there’s another way. Me. Trust in me and I will supply all your needs according to my glorious wealth (Philippians 4:19).
Look at the birds. They’re terrible at self-care. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. You are so much more valuable than them! You don’t have to take care of yourself first because I’ll take care of you best (Matthew 6:26).
It’s not you first—but Me first. Seek my kingdom first, my righteousness first and I will share my power so that you will bless and be blessed.
Because it’s not two steps but one.
I will fill you as you fill others.
I will serve you as your serve others.
I am the vine. You are the branch. Abide in me and YOU WILL PRODUCE (John 15:5).
It’s not self-care but trusting God’s care that leads to caring for others well.
There’s more. Those commonsense survival skills—eating veggies and going to bed early, can be elevated from something small like “me-time” to glorious acts of worship—in fact, they’re supposed to be (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I don’t always get this right. Sometimes I’m still a puddle by day’s end. Sometimes I’ve poured it all out and still feel empty. Sometimes I feel that if I don’t hoard or gather or store-up resources for myself, no one else will or worse, I’ll have to take what God provides. And his “gifts” can be bitter at times. They can cut. They can pierce the self I’m trying hard to protect.
They can crucify.
Just days before his flesh would tear, his mouth would run dry and his heart break with grief, Jesus, whose life was marked by others-care more than self-care, preached to his friends.
“It’s time for me to be glorified. Watch and learn. I won’t sit on a gilded throne and require the life of my citizens. As the King of kings I will give my life on a rugged cross for my citizens. This is the truth: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone—but if it dies, if that seed breaks open, it bears much fruit! Whoever lives for self, lives as a renter—paying rent for a lifetime and owning nothing in the end. Whoever lives for me owns spiritual property and will receive a deed to eternity” (John 12:23-26).
This is the Jesus-gospel. Repent of the self-life with its shelf-life in exchange for eternal life who is Christ. (Read that again.)
Maybe Jesus would say to me—to us, what we call “self-care” is an off-brand knock-off that isn’t beneficial to anyone long term. Maybe he would say, it’s a lie that doesn’t deliver what it promises. He would say, we are made for more because we are made for him.
So I tip my Ringmaster’s hat to another day, slide tired feet into farmer’s boots and step forward, cautiously, joyfully. I know Jesus will take better care of me than I could ever take of myself. I’m linked to truth through faith. I crush that piddly, plastic oxygen mask underfoot. I don’t need an emergency dose of canned air, I need the moment-by-moment inhalation of the eternal God who knows my needs before I ask.
And so do you.
Defilement is a horrible thing to experience. I remember once, when I was fifteen, thieves broke into our home. I awoke early to find a severed phone cord, scattered belongings and wide-open back door. They robbed several other homes on our street and when they were apprehended days later, we learned it was a team of three men.
Three men breaking, entering, searching, taking…steps from my closed but unlocked bedroom door. I was the only one who slept in a basement bedroom—my parents and three siblings safely upstairs. I could have been destroyed that night but was protected. Unseen sentinels stood at my door refusing to let them pass.
Watching the Capitol siege was a bit like that, after I realized I wasn’t seeing doctored images—because it was that unbelievable.
A pundit made the connection for me. “It was like watching a sacred space be defiled,” he said.
There are other issues too.
Race. DC would be aflame if the rioters were Black. We know this is true.
Distraction. So much of our time is time is spent thinking, talking and writing about these things. Our sense of peace compromised by the activity there and the trickle-down effect here. When I look on my screen—television, computer, phone—it’s a cacophony of chaos. When I look out my window screen, observe real life, it’s really lovely. That disconnect is disturbing.
But the real issue seems to be powerlust. A man who isn’t a servant-leader but a would-be despot who’d flip the country upside down, turn it inside out, suck his mob dry of worship—and still be hungry.
Is he just a flash of lightening that once captured by the rod, dispersed and grounded, goes away? Or is he representative of something else—a collective ideal (now heavily tarnished) that once sparkled like diamonds. We do love sparkly things, don’t we?
Our country (my adopted, beloved country) created the systems that put this man, this type of man, in charge. His wealth and power were worshipped long before he was elected. I remember the opening of The Apprentice, where he walked in slow motion with Anthony Jackson’s killer bassline from For the Love of Money searing every step.
He’s not revered like that anymore and the legacy of his presidency is going up in smoke—but the animosity surrounding him is spreading like contagion.
When I see people respond to his cruelty with their cruelty—storming buildings, intimidating, taking over AND unfriending, belittling, name-calling, calling-out, I fear we’ve got it backward.
Add fire to fire and you get an inferno. It’s so easy for people to wound other people over politics and so difficult to show mercy, grace and compassion. Politics exist to serve people—not the other way around.
Does this mean we eschew accountability or stifle individuality? Certainly not. But it does mean we don’t fight with the same weapons. Rage and outrage are still rage.
There’s a Psalm I love. David is recounting a time when the ‘cords of death’ encompassed him and ‘torrents of destruction’ assailed him—a time when the sacred was defiled. He called out to God and was delivered—restored. But not the way you may expect.
“You have given me the shield of your salvation and your right hand supported me and your gentleness made me great.” Psalm 18:35
Greatness, by way of God’s gentleness to us.
Lord, make America gentle, for the first time.
To extinguish the fire we need water from above. Rain from heaven that quells the flames and brings life to desolate ground.
We need repentance, forgiveness and the rejection of hatred that casts ourselves and the like-minded as heroes and others as unworthy.
We need to learn to love our enemies. Hating is too easy. And anything that easy should be suspect.
I will be joining with countless others in praying for restoration for our country, wisdom, protection, peace and a good use of power for our new president and vice president, for a strengthening of our democracy and for the families who are suffering. There are so many.
We’ve experienced a season of defilement now I pray we experience grace that leads to healing and the restoration of sacred places.
I want the best for you and I am what's best for you.
I am rich but for your sake, became poor. I mourned and was comforted. I’m gentle and meek and the earth is mine. I hunger and thirst for righteousness and am satisfied. I am merciful and extend mercy to you. My heart is pure and I enjoy deep fellowship with our Father. I am a peacemaker—my message is the Gospel of Peace.
Blessed and happy are you when you do as I do! It’ll hurt at times. You will be misunderstood, reviled, even threatened—but don’t be intimidated. This is evidence of our connection. You will see my faithfulness.
You are salt so preserve truth and make the world more palatable for everyone you encounter.
You are light and cannot be hidden. So shine!
I have done more than uphold the law—I’ve fulfilled it. Join me in this adventure.
You remember they said, “don’t murder?” In my kingdom, we don’t even think hateful thoughts. Seek reconciliation. Befriend your enemy. Bring peace to a world set on war.
You remember they said, “don’t be unfaithful?” In my kingdom, we would sooner be blind or disabled than use our bodies to take from another. We’re a devoted, incorruptible, unwavering lot.
Honor marriage—yours and others.
Give freely to the one who asks.
Make peace with your enemies. The ones in your family, at school, at work, online. How? Pray for them—even when they hurt you.
Call out to Our Father, who is holy. His kingdom is here. Pray His will would be revered on earth the same way it's revered in heaven. Ask Him to meet your needs and forgive you when you fall short. Forgive others. Pray for rescue.
Give me your heart and I will hold your treasure.
This is my way. And you are mine. God is good to all, allowing His sun to rise on just and unjust people—so imitate your Father. Shine. If you show compassion to those who reciprocate—is that even love? Nearly anyone can do that. A characteristic of my people is they show mercy, forgiveness and sacrificial love to all--especially their enemies.
Pursue humility. Let your Father in heaven reward you for living the kingdom lifestyle. Resist the temptation to virtue signal. If you do, “likes” on your Facebook feed will be your only reward—and we’ve got greater things in store for you.
Talk to me, a lot—but not in a way that intimidates or impresses those within earshot. Speak to me, like you love me.
Remember to fast. It’s a profound way to invite God’s presence into your life but do it joyfully!
Can we talk about money? Wealth? Asset management? Beware. Many people, greater than you, have had their eyes and hearts darkened by greed. It’s impossible to serve God and money. So pick me…and while you’re at it, give me your anxiety too. I know you’re afraid and I want you to know, I’m with you. Always.
Don’t worry about what you’re making for dinner, what diet you need to try, what jeans are most flattering. Life is so much more than food and drink and clothes. I promise, I know you need these things. But more than another pair of shoes, dinner at your favorite restaurant or even a strong cup of coffee—you need me. You really do.
Seek me first by following in my footsteps.
Trust my words. Trust my love.
I am the way,
When writers take pen to paper, they mean to convey something. Word choice, tone, pacing and imagery are like the chisel and rasp in the hands of a sculptor—they remove blocky bits and file until points are smooth. If this is true of human writers, how much more of God who breathed life into both humanity (Genesis 2:7) and scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We know from the anonymous writer of Hebrews that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
One way biblical writers convey this sense of reality, is by choosing words and images that make invisible faith into something tangible—something we experience with God-given senses.
Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
The Shema given to Moses by God, is in the mouth of our Lord also, when asked to define the greatest command. How does obedience begin? By hearing.
“The most important (command),” answered Jesus, “is this, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31)
Or in Hebrews 3:15, where believers are commanded to listen with urgency: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)
Inhale the healing scent of spikenard, an amber-colored essential oil found in the hills of India and Nepal. Rare, costly and aromatic it fills not only the nostrils of the guests—or the room--but the whole house. This is Christ’s burial anointing—a prophetic fragrance for humanity.
From signs and dreams conveyed by the prophets of old to the restored sight of many during Christ’s lifetime—seeing rightly, has long been a characteristic of faith. With sight we can sin (Matthew 5:28), confront sin in ourselves and others (Matthew 7:3) and live out new lives of faith (John 20:29).
The Passover’s unleavened bread, Cana’s good wine and the sacrament of communion: whenever you eat and drink, remember me. Faith has texture and flavor. It simultaneously helps us reminisce and anticipate. It satisfies soul hunger. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8).
Read the story of the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8. Feel her desperation. Isolation. An outcast under Israel’s law, yet with trembling, faith-filled hands, she grasps the Healer’s garment—and experiences immediate restoration.
Use your senses to enjoy God as you experience faith. It's why they exist.
(Originally written in May 2020)
For more than two months Americans have been quarantined in their homes, many masked and gloved when not, for fear of a virus that has the power to steal breath.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, we were told the virus attacks the lungs—comprising the ability to breathe, particularly in immunocompromised patients. Ventilators, which help the body circulate oxygen, provide a critical last resort. And they were in short supply.
A rally cry went up and the production of these bedside breathing machines came from unlikely sources. Engineers from Mercedes developed a machine in less than a week. Tesla and SpaceX also made commitments. The need to breathe is fundamental. Human life is valuable.
Then on Monday May 25, a video showing the cruelest of ironies and the evil of systemic racism reverberated like a thunderclap.
A police officer rested calmly, his knee on another man’s neck.
“I can’t breathe.”
Crowds pleaded with law enforcement while recording the incident on cell phones.
“I can’t breathe.”
The man on the ground, George Floyd, begs for help and calls for his mother, gasping for breath--the very thing our nation has pulled out all stops, to preserve.
Racist roots have produced bitter fruit for decades—a scourge on the United States. It’s an assault on humanity and worse, a blatant attempt to undermine and deface the One in whose image both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin were made.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; (Gen 1:27).
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being, (Gen 2:7).
We are image-bearers of the living God who’ve received the breath of life—as a gift. We aren’t to imitate Cain who beat his brother dead out of jealousy, hatred and rage but like Jesus, who withstood the shame, indignity and agony of the cross to bring life.
There is no room in a Christian’s life to tend pet sins and racism is a common beast. The grace shown us isn’t merely leniency but power to grow beyond immature bigoted beliefs (1 Corinthians 13:11), repent (1 John 1:9) increase in love (2 Thessalonians 1:3) and lay down our lives for one another (John 15:13).
If there’s anyone who has the right to drive his knee into neck of sinner as breath hemorrhages—it’s Jesus Christ and he did the opposite.
Let’s go and do likewise.
The day began just like any other. I awoke expecting to have coffee with my husband before he left for work, fix the children breakfast, read stories, go for a walk—except I was troubled by a dream. It wasn’t a nightmare—but a warning. I didn’t know its significance but felt the weight of the phrase. It sizzled in my mind throughout the day.
Watch and pray.
Watch for what? Pray for whom? I spent my day wondering and contemplating as I went through our schedule. It took me three days to simply submit to this strange command and by the time I did, disaster had befallen us.
Out of the blue, my family was caught in a series of storms that threatened all we held dear. The first was a profound slashing to my husband’s salary. His employer had new obligations which resulted in a severe loss of benefits and income—effective immediately. The second was the housing crisis of 2008 which caused our precious home to hemorrhage equity—losing about 30% of its value. The third was a literal storm—a microburst that tore a 4-foot hole in the roof of our home and an insurance fiasco afterwards. Then while running errands, a car came tumbling down the highway like a bowling ball after its driver lost control. My husband swerved off the road—saving our lives but leaving us rattled. In short, every day brought new terror.
The future loomed with anxiety. The passage of time hurt. We had young children then—and there was a calendar in their room. It was a cute little thing with cube numbers that I would advance every night during our bedtime routine—it came to pass that moving that little calendar forward made me nauseous. I wanted time to stop or go backward. I did not want to endure another day.
As I reflect on these events—now more than a decade old—I still taste the fear. Feel the isolation. Remember the shame.
This dark time—which would stretch out over two years was my dismantling. Reckoning. I have never been the same since.
And that’s the point.
Just as those who are infected and recover with the Coronavirus are expected to develop antibodies to prohibit or limit future infections—affliction and suffering have the potential to do the same.
Today, COVID-19 threatens our economy, health and human relationships. Twelve years ago, my family endured a similar ravaging—only we weathered the storm in isolation—the mercy of our closest family, dearest friends and the living God our only salvation.
I trembled throughout that entire ordeal, unconvinced God saw, cared or loved. I remember saying, I believe God for eternal life, but rent’s due on the first! I didn’t believe him for that. Despite growing up in church my whole life, I didn’t even know who God was.
I was a Christian with a secular mindset. Seeing God as existing to serve my desires—especially when they were flavored with 'Jesuspice'. I thought he wanted me to be healthy, wealthy and influential. That’s what I wanted.
In truth, I didn’t value his wisdom or understand that he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). All things.
I was furious (and curious) as to why God hadn’t stopped calamity from finding me—yet I had no authority to demand a divine explanation because all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and (God) does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
I was powerless to save myself and powerless to condemn God. And in that wretched, fearful weakness he said, through his Word, something profound.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (1 Corinthians 12:9)
The pride and self-reliance I nurtured my whole life was ground to dust. I was dust.
We moved from the Midwest to Washington State to live with my parents. Once I got lost and drove through a rough part of town stopping in front of rundown house with tattered shutters and peeling paint. The yard was littered with trash. I thought two things: I would never want to live there. And, I couldn’t even afford to live there. I wept bitter tears that day.
But what I mourned most was the loss of a false reality and fallen gods . If my ability, education or spouse couldn't save me--I would be forced to rely on God and who knows what he would do to me! Upon reflecting, it's clear I had structured my life to avoid needing God at all.
They told me to succeed I needed a good education. I got two degrees.
They told me to marry a man with a future. I married a doctor.
They told me faith is important. I went to church.
I wasn’t promiscuous or addicted. I didn’t smoke or get drunk. I paid my bills on time and showed up early. I played by the rules of society. And I wanted my reward. Prosperity. Health. Happiness. And a side of Jesus. Obviously.
But Jesus didn't want to share me. So, his Spirit moved like a wrecking ball through my life. Disabling me, exposing the lies I believed and allowing devastating loss—including a career I had spent my life pursuing.
Today I know, it wasn’t really a wrecking ball but a scalpel that cut stone from flesh. And during post-op, God breathed life into me and my family again. Made us a strong and allowed us to love him and others in ways that weren’t possible before. And he let scars remain. Once you lose everything you know it can happen again.
Twelve years later—I’m on the precipice again. Only this time it’s not a personal pay cut and a microburst but a global pandemic that is devouring the economy and many lives. The Coronavirus is bad enough—but that little adjective ‘novel,’ imparts next-level fear—for this terror is something new, something we’ve never seen.
It took less than this to overcome my family last time—I don’t underestimate its power to snuff out lives, swallow the economy and leave an ugly scar on the face of the earth. I don’t doubt that I could be a casualty of this virus—or our business that we worked so hard to grow.
The difference is, today I know my God. And by his grace, I will fight fear every second with faith. Last time I walked the plank with limp hands and weak knees and today I stand with the old prophet Habakkuk and say:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
The sound of thunder from the mouth of a beast is fearsome to even the brave. The lion is an adversary wild and ferocious. Menacing. Intimidating. Before him, most recoil or flee. Who can prevail against this night hunter; the destroyer who roams, seeks to devour? How do we, in a sense, become undevourable? A foreign object lodged in the trachea that causes the beast to sputter, gag and spit us out—as Jonah’s fish did, exactly where we ought to be.
It’s a valid question because as our weak knees are strengthened by God’s Spirit to walk straight paths, Hell will roar. Leave your Bible unopened. Keep your mouth closed. Drift preoccupied, in culture’s current of trivial and fleshly desires and you will not hear the beast. Not because it’s not a threat but because you are already in its mouth.
The mouth of a lion is no place for a woman who desires life. Regardless of whether we’ve been swallowed by some grim circumstance or stumbled into a death-trap, Jesus Christ issues the same command he once offered a friend.
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43, ESV
Come out! A tomb is for the dead, a lion’s mouth for the nearly dead, but our God is God of the living.
So, we’ll read the Word. We’ll open our mouths to give Him praise. We’ll fill our minds with that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy. We’ll focus on that which is above and higher and better because the wisdom of God is eternal. We’ll repent. Forgive. Love.
And when that ancient beast of old rears its ugly head to spew venom laced with fear and doubt and condemnation, we’ll bow feeble knees, clutch trembling hands and call to our Redeemer as David did:
My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire--
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me. Psalm 57:4, 2-3
Death was forced to loosen its grip on Lazarus when Jesus called him to life. Soon after, death’s head was crushed by His bruised heel. And now, that holy Spirit is ours, in Christ.
Grace. And power.
“O God,” David cried, “shatter their teeth in their mouth; Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them flow away like water that runs off.” Psalm 58:6-7, NASB
Against Heaven’s Champion, exposed by the light of His glory, the fire-breathing beast is but a wet, writhing cat stalking in shadow; hissing deception.
So, let that de-fanged lion roar—it is as nothing to the woman in Christ. Let the sound only be confirmation, that our eyes are fixed on Jesus and our feet are in step with the Spirit. Stand firm. It can only chase you if you run.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise-up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NASB)
This is the first part of the Shema, an ancient Jewish prayer that is so enduring, it’s still said today. The Shema is the focus of morning and evening Jewish prayer tradition and even if you’ve never heard it by that name, the words probably sound familiar to you.
Scot McKnight wrote about the Shema in The Jesus Creed: Loving God and Loving Others and The Bible Project has videos that can help you learn more.
This truth is simultaneously foundational and climactic. Simple to understand and beyond the scope of comprehension. The love of God is profound. Once you see it here, you’ll see it everywhere.
My prayer is that this scripture will do for you, what it’s done for me, namely, create a new framework to hang life on. A newer and truer way of hearing God and loving him by loving people.
The Shema, however, doesn’t start with God’s proclamation of love for us, but a command that we love him. We’re going to discuss a command, a problem and a promise.
Part 1: The Command
Shema means “hear” and Jewish concept of “hear” means listen and obey. God is holy and has extended Himself mercifully and mightily to the nation He built from a seed planted in the womb of an aged, barren woman. He has given Himself freely and worked powerfully on behalf of Israel and He expects a response: Uncompromising obedience to His law.
The Shema is a succinct expression of the main ideas of Judaism:
Does God have the right to command our love?
It’s fascinating that God has granted humanity such a complex essence, that we even ponder a truth the rest of creation submits to unquestioningly. All of creation does what it’s told--except us. God built us with the ability (and responsibility) to make choices--
Which is why it’s wise to acknowledge Deuteronomy, the “second-law giving” is ultimately a book about grace. God’s laws are not burdensome but exist preserve our joy in Him. His commands create and protect life. And the longer we walk with Him and the Spirit re-orients our loves, the more we’ll live out this “real” reality.
The Shema is the command, the call, the reminder for Israel—as they stand on the banks of promise, to orient their affection on God and nothing less. And everything else is less.
Their hearts are to be devoted; their foreheads inscribed. They belong to YAHWEH alone and His presence dwells among them.
They are the redeemed, the delivered who knew well the story of God striking down the first- born of Egypt, those with unbloodied doorposts who did not obey the LORD.
God is creator and deliverer. Lawgiver and lawkeeper. The Book of Hosea gives us the metaphor of God as husband who seeks intimacy with His covenant-partner and desires the best for her and her children. My mom often quotes a friend who said, If I want to know what people truly think of me, I watch how they treat my kids. The Shema shows that God WANTS to bless our children and blessing often
comes through our obedience to His Word.
The blessing is God’s presence and all the power, contentment, fruitfulness and giftedness he extends to generations. Israel is to hear the call of her Beloved and respond with utter devotion--because through this tiny nation will come the GREATEST blessing for ALL nations.
This one God, desires one people who are wholly-holy and as they stand on the cusp of a new Eden, abundant and delightful, Moses offers a remedy for their self-destructive desire to serve anything or anyone but YAHWEH: the Shema.
We might read “love God with your heart, soul and might” like it’s a sentimental, moral ideal. But it’s so much more. Here’s what heart, soul and might mean in Hebrew. Feel the weight of the command:
My translation is this: Hear O ’Israel: The LORD is our God. The Lord is ONE. You shall love the LORD your God with all understanding, your whole self and every desire and you shall love Him with FORCE.
Part 2: The Problem
While some submitted their hearts to God most didn’t. God told Moses the people would break the covenant and Moses acknowledged that if Israel was rebellious during his lifetime, they would be worse after his death. (Deuteronomy 31:27)
According to the Shema, the routines of life are supposed to express devotion to God yet so often, they fall flat. Are we “shema-ing” the commands of life? And if not, how do we start? Can we ring love out of our hearts, like water from a sponge? Pray more? Give more? Give-up because it’s impossible?
Part 3: The Promise
In Mark Chapter 7 we’re told of a man who’s deaf and has a speech impediment. His friends bring him to Jesus, begging for healing. Jesus takes the man aside privately, puts his fingers in his ears, spits, touches the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, Jesus sighs and says “Ephphatha” which we’re told means, “be opened.” And he was. (Mark 7:31-37)
Notice the intimacy.
Jesus moves the man to a private location, so he won’t be scrutinized or shamed. Then he communicates in a way the disabled man will understand. The man can’t speak well or hear--but he can see and feel. Our Lord touches him. “Here?” The man nods. Just imagine them standing face to face. A disabled man before the God-Man. Imagine their eyes locking, tears streaming down cheeks as the broken man is seen, known, and loved in his sorry condition. Then looking up to Heaven, Jesus exhales. This is Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes up. Where does my help come from? From the LORD, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”
Then the command that creates life: “Ephphatha!” Be Opened! (Remember, God’s commands ALWAYS lead to life!)
You know that Jesus’ blood saves—but his spit is powerful too! There are three recorded miracles of Jesus’ healing saliva (Mark 8:23, John 9:6) Even so, this healing is unique and specific. Don’t you love a customized healing? Jesus knows what we need to be made whole!
With a face set towards the cross Jesus secures our salvation with his own blood. He ascends to the Father promising that the Great Helper will come next—and he does in fire and power igniting the hearts of blood-bought sinners empowering them with gifts to serve the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
The command of God becomes a promise in Christ.
In Christ the command “You MUST love God with your heart, soul and might” becomes the promise, “You WILL love God with your heart, soul and might.”
It will happen because He will do it: partially now, fully in eternity. Only God can obey God’s commands perfectly. Only God can satisfy His own judgment on sin. Only God in Christ can save. And that’s precisely what Jesus does. On the cross, he bled like a man but like God alone, his blood makes filthy souls white. And when a person grasps that by faith-- all Heaven breaks loose.
Remember Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew? This is the opposite. For our little bowl of faith, our modest scoop of obedience that we offer back to God we gain a “new-birth right” in Christ. Faith links generations. We the children’s children to whom the Shema was to be taught.
Here’s a foretaste of your inheritance:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
The Shema tells us, our God is one, that we’re united to Him and one another as we live out this sacrificial, kingdom-inspired, lifestyle-of-love, wherever we are, whatever the cost. We’re supposed to talk about it, write it down, tell our kids.
Loving God with our whole self involves serving Him with all the good stuff He’s blessed us with. Making space for others in our homes, at our tables, in our lives. But the Shema commands total surrender, total exposure, so God wants the “ugly” too.
He asked or for it, right? Bring Him your trauma, doubt, fear, disappointment, regret. Bring Him the “Lord if only you’d been here—” Bring Him the questions, “Why have you allowed this?” “Will you heal?” “Do you really care?”
He does care. He is the God of unsurpassed compassion.
He can heal and still does. Ask Him. Wait for Him. And trust Him when the healing you seek doesn’t come when you want or the way you want.
The Lord is our God. The Lord is One. We will love him with all our heart, all our soul and we’ll do it with power. That’s Jesus’ promise to us.
“Fostering is not for the faint of heart,” I said, instantly regretting my cliché response. In a world where anguish and uncertainty are served in heaps and hope rationed, it’s easy to assume only the strongest families, the most spiritual servants, the most gracious givers are best equipped to wade through the murky waters of the foster care system.
I think most people assume that. And most people are wrong.
If I had any notions of saving the world, one child at a time (and I did), fostering has done a fine job of scrubbing them away. Fostering is mainly about people and relationships. And both are decidedly complex.
The good guys aren’t flawless. The bad guys aren’t beyond redemption. And who's who, anyway? The big picture is revealed in pieces. The tension is thick as is the desire to dig in, dole out blame and demand justice. But what is justice? Can something even be made right after it's been wrong for so long? Fostering is not only about children in care but the families they come from.
Our kids’ parents are in prison, addicted, homeless, marginalized, afraid, confused, ricocheting through the courts like pinballs. Poverty is often a factor but it's not the kind of financial duress that can be solved with money alone. There is an impoverished skill set: Reading a pediatrician's prescription, negotiating with a landlord, even internet access (and all the information and efficiency it provides) can prove challenging. There are impoverished relationships: Familial connections and social circles have all too common struggles with unemployment or under-employment, discrimination, financial disparity, addiction, mental health, isolation, lack of modeling and mentors, spiritual desolation. There may even be an inability to dream and plan: Forethought, goal setting and creativity can inhibited due to existing in ‘survival mode.’ And on and on.
Even harder to bear, our kids’ parents were once where our kids are today. Listen to their stories and it’ll quickly be apparent that they are the strong ones. The fierce ones. They survived horrific sexual abuse and severe neglect. They cared for siblings best they could. They took the hit. Went without. Got laughed at. Figured it out. Survived hell. But the thing is, nobody emerges from hell unscathed.
Sure, I got a bit of a back story—but not that back. I actually rejoice in every bit of pain, insecurity and fear I’ve felt because it’s helped me feel, understand, get (or at least try to) the perspective of the parents we serve. I want to see what they see. Feel what they feel. Understand what matters most to them.
And this is precisely why foster parenting is for the weak. Because once you see, you can’t unsee. Once you understand, you are overwhelmed. Once you feel, you break.
It’s not unlike storming a castle to rescue captives then getting disoriented in dimly-lit corridors that twist and turn. How does one escape an ever-shifting labyrinth with everyone they love in one piece? The answer of course, is they don’t. They break in a thousand pieces and so does everyone else. Fostering is about people and relationships. We are all connected.
We demonstrate love of God by obeying the Son and Jesus teaches that loving God is synonymous with loving people. Because He is supremely valuable and we desire Him most of all, we love the ones He has made. And He made us all.
Christ's invitation of love extends across the tracks to the biological family. It goes up court steps beckoning judges, attorneys, social workers. It calls to the addicted and sober alike. The rich and poor. It reverberates from broken hearts that barely beat like it shone from Christ’s pierced body that still lives!
In Him, you are a blazing light that shines in the dark. A light that cannot be overcome.
They understood earthquakes. Felt the tremors. Watched dirt crack as the ground’s muddy mouth opened wide. Mothers lunged for children. Men grasped the dirty, sweaty hands of fellow laborers to hold them safe. A trembling earth was terrible but familiar. But that day, it was not the earth but the sky that quaked. Thunder growled. Storm-sounds from a nearly cloudless sky. The heavens split and earth’s pulse paused until a voice exploded from the expanse, sounding something like honey salted with fire.
“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well-pleased.” Mark 1:11
In You I Am.
Son of God. Son of Man. Died the death of His beloved but also lived the life she should have.
Jesus, the Anointed One of God, incarnate God, is the new Adam; the new Israel. He is the restorer, redeemer, reliever and re-doer. He is the new you.
The stars in the night sky number Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 22:17) and one star of a myriad lead magi from the East to worship at the little feet of one descendant (Matthew 2:2).
The first man eats then falls before the serpent in the garden (Genesis 3:6) yet the God-Man abstains from food and confounds the dragon in the wilderness (Mark 1:13).
Moses fasts 40 days before returning with the Law and a glow (Exodus 34:28) yet Israel’s heart remains stony so for 40 years they walk it out (Joshua 5:6). And all this time is reclaimed by Christ.
Immediately after His baptism by John, the Spirit impelled (forced, urged, sent) Jesus into the wilderness where one day for every year Israel wandered, He is tempted by His foe, faux, surrounded by wild beasts and angels. He doesn't succumb like they did but smashes the beast’s demonic histrionics like eggshells, returning not with heavier laws but limitless grace. He's not seeking robots or puppets, but lovers. A code of conduct can't make a stony heart beat but the Hound of Heaven* can.
And the cross. Death's defeat and the King's coronation. The One who is faithful and true reigns with justice and mercy. Bleeds like a man but like God alone, His blood makes filthy robes white (Revelation 7:14). His holy death births our holy life.
Jesus untangles sin’s knots and makes crooked paths, straight. He is God and the way back to God. The Cartographer of the new heaven, new earth. The Architect of the sacred city that comes from above.
God saw all that He had made, and it was good. True, a tongue-twisting traitor spewed venom on creation, taking unique interest in the image-bearers of the One he hates most. But God’s good is always good. So, God dressed himself in flesh and set out to redeem His bride and rid their house of vermin.
In You I am.
The Father speaks this to the Son. And then the son pours out his Spirit on you. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Therefore, be a witness of this truth in the strength the Spirit supplies. God’s good is always good. If you are in Christ, the Father’s authority abides in you. The earth may tremble under your feet, the sky may quake and set your heart racing, a slick-tongued serpent may even whisper lies in your ear.
Just remember if you’re in Him, the power of the almighty God is in you. Go in peace. And power.
*Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven, https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hound-of-heaven/
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "