Category  |  God

The Lord Rejoices

My grandmother recently sent me a folder full of old photographs, and as I thumbed through them, one caught my eye. In it, I’m two years old, and I’m sitting on one end of a hearth in front of a fireplace. On the other end, my dad has his arm around my mom’s shoulders. Both are gazing at me with expressions of love and delight.

I pinned this photo to my dresser, where I see it every morning. It’s a wonderful reminder of their love for me. The truth is, though, that even the love of good parents is imperfect. I saved this photo because it reminds me that although human love may fail sometimes, God’s love never fails—and according to Scripture, God looks at me the way my parents are looking at me in this picture.

The prophet Zephaniah described this love in a way that astounds me. He describes God as rejoicing over His people with singing. God’s people had not earned this love. They had failed to obey Him or to treat each other with compassion. But Zephaniah promised that in the end, God’s love would prevail over their failures. God would take away their punishment (Zephaniah 3:15) and He would rejoice over them (v. 17). He would gather His people into his arms, bring them home, and restore them (v. 20).

That’s a love worth reflecting on every morning.

Hide-and-Seek

“He’s going to find me,” I thought. I felt my little heart pound faster as I heard my five-year-old cousin’s footsteps round the corner. He was coming closer. Five steps away. Three. Two. “Found you!”

Hide-and-seek. Most recall fond memories of playing the game as children. Yet sometimes in life the fear of being found isn’t fun, but rooted in a deep instinct to flee. Run and hide. People may dislike what they see.

As children of a fallen world, we are prone to play what a friend of mine labels, “a mixed up game of hide-and-seek” between God and us. It’s more like a game of pretending to hide—because either way, He sees all the way through to our messy insides. We both know it, though we like to pretend He can’t really see.

Yet God continues to seek. “Come out,” He calls to us. “I want to see you, even your most shameful parts”—an echo of the same voice that called to the first human who hid out of fear: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Such a warm invitation voiced in the form of a piercing question. “Come out of hiding, dear child, and come back into relationship with me.”

It may seem far too risky, preposterous even. But there, within the safe confines of our Father’s care, any of us, no matter what we’ve done or failed to do, we can be fully known and loved.

The Savior Who Knows Us

“Dad, what time is it?” my son asked from the back seat. “It's 5:30.” I knew exactly what he'd say next. “No, it's 5:28!” I watched his face light up. Gotcha! his beaming smile said. I felt delight, too—the kind that comes from knowing your child the way only a parent can.

Like any attentive parent, I know my children I know how they'll respond when I wake them up. I know what they’ll want in their lunches. I know countless interests, desires, and preferences.

But for all that, I'll never know them perfectly, inside and out, the way our Lord knows us.

We catch a glimpse of the kind of intimate knowledge Jesus has of His people in John 1. As Nathanael, who Philip had urged to meet Jesus, moved toward Him, Jesus pronounced, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (v. 47). Startled, Nathanael responded, “How do you know me?” Somewhat mysteriously, Jesus replied that He’d seen him under the fig tree (v. 48).

We may not know why Jesus chose His knowledge of this particular moment to share, but it seems Nathaniel did! Overwhelmed, he responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (v. 49).

Jesus knows each of us like this: intimately, completely, and perfectly—the way we long to be known. And He accepts us completely—inviting us to be, not only His followers, but His beloved friends (John 15:15).

Finding Treasure

John and Mary were walking their dog on their property when they stumbled on a rusty can partially unearthed by recent rains. They took the can home and opened it, discovering a cache of gold coins over a century old! The couple returned to the spot and located seven more cans containing 1,427 coins in all. Then they protected their treasure by reburying it elsewhere.

The cache of coins (valued at $10 million) is called the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the largest find of its kind in US history. The story is strikingly reminiscent of a parable Jesus told: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Tales of buried treasure have captured imaginations for centuries, though such discoveries rarely happen. But Jesus tells of a treasure accessible to all who confess their sins and receive and follow Him (John 1:12).

We’ll never come to an end of that treasure. As we leave our old lives and pursue God and His purposes, we encounter His worth. Through “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), God offers us treasure beyond imagination—new life as His sons and daughters, new purpose on earth, and the incomprehensible joy of eternity with Him.

Night Watches

During my college days, my summers were spent working at a guest ranch in the stunningly beautiful mountains of Colorado. On a rotating basis, staff members were assigned “night watch” duty—to keep an eye out for forest fires in order to protect the guests as they slept. What initially seemed to be an exhausting and thankless task became a unique opportunity for me to be still, reflect, and find solace in the majesty of God’s presence.

King David earnestly sought and thirsted for the presence of God (Psalm 63:1), even from his bed and through the “watches of the night” (v. 6). The psalm makes it clear David was troubled. It’s possible the words contained in it reflect his deep sadness over the rebellion of his son Absalom. Yet the night became a time for David to find help and restoration in the “shadow of God’s wings” (v. 7)—in His power and presence.

Perhaps you’re dealing with some crisis or difficulty in your life, and the night watches have been anything but comforting. Perhaps your own “Absalom” weighs heavy on your heart and soul. Or other burdens of family, work, or finances plague your times of rest. If so, consider these sleepless moments to be opportunities to call out and cling to God—allowing His loving hand to uphold you (v. 8).

Fearless Love

For years I wore a shield of fear to protect my heart. Eventually, my fear became an excuse to avoid trying new things, following my dreams, and obeying God. But more importantly, fear of loss, heartache, and rejection hindered me from developing loving relationships with God and others. Fear made me an insecure, anxious, and jealous wife, and an overprotective, worrying mother. As I continue learning how much God loves me, however, He’s changing the way I relate to Him and to others. Because I know my loving God will care for me, I feel more secure, more willing to place the needs others before mine.

God is love (1 John 4:7–8). Christ’s death on the cross—the ultimate demonstration of love—displays the depth of His passion for us (vv. 9–10). Because God loves us and lives in us, we can love others based on who He is and what He’s done (vv. 11–12).

When we receive Christ as our Savior, He gives us His Holy Spirit (vv. 13–15). As the Spirit helps us know and rely on God’s love, He makes us more like Jesus (vv. 16–17). Growing in trust and faith can gradually eliminate fear, simply because we know without a doubt that God loves us deeply and completely (vv. 18–19).

As we experience God’s personal and unconditional love for us, we grow and can risk relating to Him and others with fearless love.

 

The Crooked Steeple

Turns out that crooked church steeples make people nervous. When we visited with some friends, they shared how, after a fierce windstorm, their church's proud steeple was . . . crooked, causing some alarm.

Of course, the church quickly repaired the flagging spire, but the humorous image got me thinking. Often church is seen as a place where everything is expected to look perfect; it’s not seen as a place where we can show up… crooked. Right?

But in a fallen, broken world, all of us are “crooked,” each with our own collection of natural weaknesses. We might be tempted to keep our vulnerabilities under wraps, but Scripture encourages the opposite attitude. In 2 Corinthians 12, for example, Paul suggests that it’s in our weaknesses—for him, an unnamed struggle he calls a “thorn in the flesh” (v. 7)—that Christ is most likely to reveal His power. For Jesus had told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness" (v. 9). So Paul concluded, "For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (v. 10).

We may not like our imperfections, but hiding them only denies Jesus’s power to work within those aspects of ourselves. When we invite Christ into the crooked places in us, He gently mends and redeems in ways our effort could never accomplish.

 

God’s Amazing Hands

Twenty minutes into a flight from New York to San Antonio, the flight plan changed as calm gave way to chaos. When one of the plane’s engines failed, debris from the engine smashed through a window causing the cabin to decompress. Sadly, several passengers were injured and one person was killed. Had not a calm, capable pilot been in the cockpit—one trained as a Navy fighter pilot—things could have been tragically worse. The headline in our local paper read, “In Amazing Hands.”

In Psalm 31, David revealed that he knew something about the Lord’s amazing, caring hands. That’s why he could confidently say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31: 5). David believed that the Lord could be trusted even when life got bumpy. Because he was targeted by unfriendly forces, life was very uncomfortable for David. Though vulnerable, he was not without hope. In the midst of harassment David could breathe sighs of relief and rejoice because his faithful, loving God was his source of confidence (vv. 5–7).

Perhaps you find yourself in a season of life when things are coming at you from every direction, and it’s difficult to see what’s ahead. In the midst of uncertainty, confusion, and chaos one thing remains absolutely certain: those who are secure in the Lord are in amazing hands.

 

Bear Hug

“Bear” was a gift for my grandchild—a heaping helping of love contained in a giant stuffed animal frame. Baby D’s response? First, wonder. Next, an amazed awe. Then, a curiosity that nudged a daring exploration. He poked his pudgy finger at Bear’s nose, and when the Bear tumbled forward into his arms he responded with joy joy JOY! Baby D laid his toddler head down on Bear’s fluffy chest and hugged him tightly. A dimpled smile spread across his cheeks as he burrowed deeply into Bear’s cushiony softness. The child had no idea of Bear’s inability to truly love him. Innocently and naturally, he felt love from Bear and returned it with all his heart.

In his first of three letters to early Christians, the apostle John boldly states that God Himself is love. “We know and rely on the love God has for us,” he writes. “God is love” (1 John 4:16).

God loves. Not in the pillow of a pretend animal but rather, with the outstretched arms of a real human body encasing a beating but breaking heart (John 3:16). Through Jesus, God communicated His extravagant and sacrificial love for us.

John goes on in verse 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” When we believe we are loved, we love back. God’s real love makes it possible for us to love God and others. With all our hearts.

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