Category  |  Salvation

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.

Only a Gypsy Boy

“Oh, it’s only a gypsy boy,” someone whispered with disgust when Rodney Smith walked to the front of the chapel to receive Christ during a service in 1877. Nobody thought much of this teenager, the son of uneducated gypsy parents. Yet, Rodney didn’t listen to those voices. He was certain that God had a purpose for his life so he bought himself a Bible and an English dictionary and taught himself how to read and write. He once said, “The way to Jesus is not by Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, or the poets. It is . . . an old-fashioned hill called Calvary.” Against all odds, Rodney became an evangelist who God used to bring many to Jesus in the UK and US.

Peter too was just a simple man—untrained in the religious rabbinic schools (Acts 4:13), a fisherman from Galilee—when Jesus called him with two simple words: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). Yet the same Peter, despite his upbringing and the failures he experienced along the way, later affirmed that those who follow Jesus are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9).

Through Jesus Christ all people—whatever their education, upbringing, gender, or ethnicity, can be a part of the family of God and be used by Him. Becoming God’s “special possession” is for all who believe in Jesus.

God of All People

Former Newsboys lead vocalist and songwriter Peter Furler describes the performance of the band’s praise song "He Reigns." The song paints a vivid picture of believers from every tribe and nation coming together to worship God in unity. Furler observed that whenever the Newsboys sang it he could sense the moving of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of believers.

Furler’s description of his experiences with He Reigns would likely have resonated with the crowds who converged upon Jerusalem at Pentecost. When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), things began to happen beyond anyone’s experience. As a result, Jews representing every nation under heaven came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken to proclaim God’s wonders (vv. 5–6, 11). Peter explained to the crowd that this was in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in when God said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (v. 17).

This all-inclusive display of God’s awesome power made the crowd receptive to Peter’s declaration of the gospel message, leading to three thousand converts that day alone (v. 41). Following this spectacular kickoff, these new believers then returned to their corner of the world, taking the good news with them.

The good news still resounds today—God’s message of hope for all people. As we praise God together, His Spirit moves among us, bringing people of every nation together in wonderful unity. He reigns!

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.

Divine Escape

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery The Clocks features antagonists who commit a series of murders. Although their initial plot targeted a single victim, they found it necessary to take more lives in order to cover up the original crime. When confronted by Poirot, one of the conspirators confessed, lamenting, “It was only supposed to be the one murder.”

Like the schemers in the story, the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s day formed a conspiracy of their own. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38–44), they called an emergency meeting and plotted to take His life (11:45–53). But they didn’t stop there. After Jesus rose from the dead, the religious leaders spread lies about what happened at the grave (Matthew 28:12–15). Then they began a campaign to silence Jesus’s followers (Acts 7:57–8:3). What started as a religious plot against one man for the “greater good” of the nation became a web of lies, deceit, and multiple casualties.

Sin plunges us down a road that often has no end in sight, but God always provides a way of escape. When Caiaphas the high priest said, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50) he didn’t understand the profound truth of his words. The chief priests’ and Pharisees’ conspiracy would help bring about the redemption of mankind.

Jesus saves us from sin’s vicious grip. Have you received the freedom He offers?

Seeing the Light

On the streets of Los Angeles, a homeless man struggling with addictions stepped into The Midnight Mission and asked for help. Thus began Brian’s long road to recovery.

In the process Brian rediscovered his love for music. Eventually he joined Street Symphony—a group of music professionals with a heart for the homeless. They asked Brian to perform a solo from Handel’s Messiah known as “The People That Walked in Darkness.” In words written by the prophet Isaiah during a dark period of Israel’s history he sang, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2 kjv). A music critic for The New Yorker magazine wrote that Brian “made the text sound as though it had been taken from his own life.”

The gospel writer Matthew quoted that same passage. Called by Jesus from a life of cheating his fellow Israelites, Matthew describes how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by taking His salvation “beyond the Jordan” to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:13–16).

Who would have believed one of Caesar’s tax collector thugs (see Matthew 9:9), a street addict like Brian, or people like us, would get a chance to show the difference between light and darkness in our own lives?

Who Is That?

When a man installed a security camera outside his house, he checked the video feature to ensure that the system was working. He was alarmed to see a broad-shouldered figure in dark clothing wandering around his yard. He watched intently to see what the man would do. Somehow, though, the interloper seemed familiar. Finally he realized he was not watching a stranger roam his property, but a recording of himself in his own back yard!

What might we see if we could step out of our skin and observe ourselves in certain situations? When David’s heart was hardened and he needed an outside perspective—a godly perspective—on his involvement with Bathsheba, God sent Nathan to the rescue (2 Samuel 12).

Nathan told David a story about a rich man who robbed a poor man of his only lamb. Though the rich man owned herds of animals, he slaughtered the poor man’s lamb and made it into a meal. When Nathan revealed that the story illustrated David’s actions, David saw how he had harmed Uriah. Nathan explained the consequences, but more important he assured David, “The Lord has taken away your sin” (v. 13).

If, through accountability with others, God reveals sin in our lives, His ultimate purpose is not to condemn us, but to restore us and to help us reconcile with those we’ve hurt. Repentance clears the way for renewed closeness with God through the power of His forgiveness and grace.

Need a New Heart?

The news was grim.

My father had been having chest pains, so his doctor had ordered a test to peer into his heart. The result? Blockage in three arteries.

Triple-bypass surgery was scheduled for February 14. My dad, though anxious, saw that date as a hopeful sign: "I'm getting a new heart for Valentine's Day!" And he did! The surgery went perfectly, restoring life-giving blood flow to his struggling heart. A “new” heart. A second chance.

My father's surgery reminded me that God offers us a new life as well. Because sin clogs our spiritual "arteries"—our capacity to connect with God—we need spiritual "surgery" to clear them.

That's what God promised His people in Ezekiel 36:26. He assured the Israelites, "I will give you a new heart. . . I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." He also promised, "I will cleanse you from all your impurities" (v. 25) and "put my Spirit in you" (v. 27). To a people who'd lost hope, God promised a fresh start as the One who could renew their lives.

That promise was ultimately fulfilled through Jesus's death and resurrection. When we trust in Jesus, we receive a new spiritual heart, one that's cleansed of our sin and despair. Filled with Christ's Spirit, our new heart beats with the spiritual lifeblood of Jesus, that "we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4). 

Homeless by Choice

Keith Wasserman has chosen to be homeless for a few days every year since 1989 in order to grow in love and compassion. “I go to live on the streets to expand my perspective and understanding” of people who have no homes to live in, says Keith, executive editor of Good Works.

I’m wondering whether Keith’s approach to become one with those he’s serving might be a small picture of what Jesus did for us. God Himself, the Creator of the universe, chose to confine Himself to the vulnerable state of a baby, to live as a human, to experience what we all experience, and to ultimately die at the hand of humans in order for humans to have a relationship with God.

The writer of the book of Hebrews stated that Jesus “shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (2:14). Jesus was made lower than the angels, even though He is their Creator (v. 9). He became human and died, even though He is immortal. And He suffered for us, even though He is the all-powerful God. Why would He do this? So that He could help us when we go through temptations and bring reconciliation between humans and God (vv. 17–18).

May we experience His love today, knowing He understands our humanity and has already provided the way for us to be cleansed from our sins.

 

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