I love you.

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"I love you." 

I currently have some people in my life that hear those words from me on a regular basis. Most of them hear it because of my reaction to cultural norms requires me to utter them back when I am prompted with the same statement. A few people hear them because I want to make sure my heart is represented well just incase there is any doubt in my actions.

In 1990 I uttered those words to Kathy right before I kissed her on the cheek for the first (and last) time. Kathy was the first girl (other than my mom) that I had kissed. I'd known her a total of 10 months and maybe had 8-9 conversations with her. I really didn't know much about Kathy. Her dad was a police officer in town and I thought it cool that on occasion she would have a squad car parked in her driveway. Like any police officer worth their salt back in 1990 Minnesota - he handed out Vikings football cards; that was awesome. I assumed Kathy had direct access to whole team packs of cards and that by telling her I loved her she might hook me up. I'd never had a girlfriend before, but I also had never met a girl who had access to Vikings football cards - so it made sense. 

Kathy was the first girl I said "I love you" to because of what she could get/give me. She wasn't the last. The last one was Melissa. I feel confident that Melissa will never speak to me again. 

Genuine love is not self-focused. Ever. The chance that we ever experience consistent genuine love from a person in our life is virtually non-existent. Genuine love is NEVER self-focused. That is craziness. 

"There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

John 15:13

"Lay down one's life for one's friends." Let me be clear - This verse is definitely including death, but it is including much more than death. At least at death you never have to lay down your life again. Laying down your life in a way that doesn't end in death allows you to, again, lay down your life another time. 

"I love you." are words with lots of meaning(s). I crafted a meaning in my own life that lowers the value of these words when spoken by someone else to me. It generally speaks: "I need you", "thanks for giving to me", "thanks for making me laugh", "you do things for me"... I'm not exactly sure why people tell me they love me - but I have found, most times, it is tied to one of the above meanings. I can count on one hand the number of people in my life that genuinely love me in a John 15:13 way. I'm not entirely sure that I can fill up the other hand with names of people I genuinely love in a John 15:13 way. At times, sure - but consistently - whew!

I'm WAY better than I was with Kathy & Melissa - but this isn't over yet. The challenge is to do it over and over and over. When we are worn out - we lay our lives down. When we feel taken advantage of - we lay our lives down. When we don't deserve the pain we are experiencing - we lay our lives down. Again and again and again.

Jesus set his goal (and meets it) as genuinely loving the whole world. That goal seems like a lofty one for me - but I can identify a smaller goal to try and work towards today. How about: identify 3 people in my life that I will start to love genuinely this week. Or, "what aspects do I need to lay down in my life to make sure I am loving my spouse/kids/parents genuinely?"

Loving Genuinely is a large goal and a lifetime of work. Get started. Good luck.

Prayer: "God - there is no denying that you have called us to a life of sacrifice in order to love people the way you have loved us. We need your power, we need your spirit to help us. Remind us when we aren't laying down what we should."

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Luke Ramey is the Creative Director here at the River. When he isn’t working on (or networking with) the creative, Luke spends all of his free time with his two amazing kids: Andrew (9) and Bristol (4). 

River Community Church