Come Home

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Luke 15:20b

Do you ever have a disconnect from the way God is portrayed in the Bible and your perception of God based on your own experiences or feelings? We may think that God will resemble our parents or authority figures from our childhood (cf. Psalm 50:21). For example, if you had a rigid and perfectionistic father or father figure, you could never measure up to his demands no matter how hard you tried. Because of this, you view God as Someone who is impossible to please. He does not forgive nor forget sins. And when you mess up!?! Watch out! His cruel side is manifested. He seems to delight in sending financial disaster or physical disease to emphasize His intolerance of your spiritual failures. Understandably, it is difficult for you to approach God and experience His forgiveness and love when you have this kind of distorted view of Him.

The Bible gives us a beautiful picture of God the Father in Luke 15. When “all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to” Jesus to listen to His teaching, the religious leaders of Israel were critical of Christ for associating with spiritual outcasts (Luke 15:1-2). Christ responds by telling three parables (parable = an earthly story that teaches spiritual truth) to teach these religious leaders that when a sinner returns to God it is reason for celebrating instead of complaining (15:3-32).

After telling parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin, Jesus tells a parable about the love of a father toward his two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The youngest son asked for his “portion” of his father’s inheritance, and the father graciously gave both sons theirs (15:12). Normally in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, the inheritance did not pass to the heirs until the death of the father. To request it prior to the father’s death, was like wishing for the father to die. The youngest son then “journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13). When a “severe famine” came to that land, the son “began to be in want” because of his wasteful living (15:14). He got a job in the fields feeding “swine,” which is something any self-respecting Jew would only do out of desperation (15:14-15). The son had sunk so low that he longed to eat pig’s food because “no one gave him anything” to eat (15:16).

Have you ever wasted the resources God has given you? Just as the youngest son “wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13), so also when we stray away from God, we waste the the resources God has placed in our possession. Time spent out of touch with God is an enormous waste of time, energy, strength, ability, and opportunity. When we are restored to the Lord, we may experience profound regret for what has been wasted during our time of separation from God. This is especially true when the separation has lasted for years, as it sometimes does.

I wonder how many of us have ever wandered so far away from God that we were willing to do anything just to survive? But no matter where we turned, we could not find one person on earth who showed us any compassion. We were all alone and destitute. Our stomach and our soul were empty. We may cry out, “Where are you God!?! Why have you abandoned me!?!” This is the place the youngest son had come to. Thankfully the story does not end there.

At this point of absolute brokenness, the son “came to himself” (15:17). He repented or changed his mind and decided to “go” back to his father (15:18a). He planned to confess his sin and his unworthiness to be his father’s son (15:18a-19a), and then ask to be one of his father’s “hired servants” because he knew his father paid his servants well (15:19b; cf. 15:17). This son thought he would have to work for His father’s love and acceptance.

How many of us perceive our Father in heaven to be this way? We think that when we fail God spiritually, the only way He could ever accept us and love us is to pay for our own sins with self-hatred and condemnation? We may rehearse in our minds what we will do for God before we approach Him. We assume that the only way God will ever accept us and forgive us is to work so hard or punish ourselves so much, God will eventually have compassion for us and forgive us.

This kind of thinking fails to understand the heart of our heavenly Father. Nor is this thinking from the Lord. It is from the father of lies (John 8:44) who delights in accusing God’s children (Revelation 12:10). When we fail, Satan whispers in our ear, “This is how God thinks of you. He thinks you are unloveable and unforgivable. He thinks you are worthless and pathetic. The only way He could possibly ever forgive you or love you is for you to do this and this and this and this…” These lies drive us deeper into a pit of shame, isolating us from God.

But let’s take a look at the father’s response when his son returns home. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (15:20). When the father “saw” his prodigal son coming home from “a great way off,” it suggests he was continually watching and waiting for his son’s return. He longed for his son to come home. This is the way God is with us when we wander away from Him. He leaves the porch light on every night, looking for our return.

The father did not reject his son by running into the house and locking the doors. He did not scold or condemn his repentant wayward son. Instead, he “had compassion” on his son. This shows that the father had some knowledge of his son’s immorality and misfortunes – probably from reports about him (cf. 15:13, 30). He empathized with his son’s brokenness and need for acceptance and love after his wayward journey. God is also this way with us. He is not quick to criticize or condemn us because He knows our weaknesses and how much we need His mercy and grace when we have failed (cf. Psalm 103:11-14).

When the father “ran” out toward his son, this was very unusual for any Jewish father to do. It was not acceptable for him to run out like that in the Jewish culture of that day. But in the father’s eagerness to restore his son to fellowship, the father ran to him while he was “still a great way off.” This was the father’s way of preserving his son’s dignity. By this time, all the neighbors knew how the son had wasted his inheritance on prostitutes (15:13, 30). So instead of letting his son walk by these gossiping neighbors by himself when he was most vulnerable to discouragement, the father runs out to his son to walk beside him as a show of his love and acceptance of him. Surely, no one would speak poorly of his son if he were to walk with him all the way home.

God is that way with us. He is not apathetic and cold toward us when we fail. He does not abandon us when we return home to Him. He is not bound by culturally acceptable expressions of love and forgiveness. He is eager to forgive us and restore us to fellowship or closeness with Him. He wants to restore our dignity which had been lost by our shameful choices and actions. While Christian peers or churches may shun us or speak down to us after we have failed the Lord, God is the first to run out to us and shoulder our brokenness and restore our closeness with Him. He will protect us from the accusations and condemnation of others.

When the father “fell on his neck” he embraces and hugs his repentant son. Then the father “kissed him” which was a friendly sign of greeting like a warm handshake in American culture. This is a very affectionate reception from the father. Imagine how this young man must have felt?! Before he could begin his rehearsed speech, he already had his father’s total unconditional love and acceptance. Likewise, God is not cold and calculating toward his repentant children. He embraces us and welcomes us home when we repent. But it does not stop there.

When the son began his rehearsed speech, he could not even get to the part about becoming a hired servant of his father (15:21). His father interrupted him and said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry” (15:22-23). What is the father doing here? I believe the father knew his son’s heart. He was not focused on all the immoral and shameful living of his son. He was not uptight about his son’s sin and shame. He saw the heart of his son which longed to be connected to his father’s heart. Instead of making his son a hired servant, the father bestowed the symbols of honor (“best robe”), authority (“ring”), and freedom (“sandals”) on him. Sandals were marks of a free man, but slaves went barefooted.

The forgiveness from the father is complete and his son does not need to feel as if he is a forever second-class Christian, as if he now served God as a mere hired servant. He is now able to enjoy all the privileges of sonship, symbolized by the robe, the ring, and the sandals.

Then his father prepared a banquet for his son because his “son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found” (15:24). The father felt the absence of his son as deeply as if he had died (“dead”), because he had totally lost contact with him. So, the death he is referring to is a separation from the father. Their reunion is like a glorious coming to life and a joyful rediscovery of the shared father-son experience. Any father who has long been separated from a son whom he loves dearly can fully relate to these words.

Years ago, a young man had a verbal argument with his father and left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother, and wanted very badly to come home for Christmas, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he didn’t feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white rag on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there was no rag, it would be better if he went on.

So, the young man started home. As the train drew near his home; he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, “I can’t bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I’ll tell you what the tree looks like, and you tell me whether there is a rag on it or not.” So, his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, “Oh yes, I see the tree.” The son asked, “Is there a white rag tied to it?” For a moment, the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, “There is a white rag tied to every limb of that tree!”

That, in a sense, is what God is saying to us in Luke 15. The truth is all of us are like the prodigal son. He can represent a non-Christian whose repentance or change of mind about his sinful lifestyle leads him to come home to His Creator God and believe in Jesus for complete forgiveness of sins, much like Cornelius in Acts 10. You may be seeking God by going to church and giving money to it, or by trying to clean up your life. But you are not saved from your sins by any of those things you do in your search for God (Isaiah 64:6). You are saved by believing or trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of salvation (John 3:16; Ephes. 2:8-9). God is inviting you to come home to Him just as you are. He is waiting to welcome you into His family and make you His beloved son or daughter forever the moment you believe in Jesus alone to save you (John 1:12; 10:28-29).

But the prodigal son can also represent a Christian who has drifted away from fellowship with God to explore the pleasures of the world. Being dissatisfied with the world’s empty pleasures, he decides to “come home” to God by confessing his sin to the Lord and claiming His cleansing forgiveness (I John 1:9). We do not have to work for this restoration. There are no hoops to jump through or obligations to fulfill. Simply come home to your Father in heaven and He will lovingly welcome you and restore your fellowship or closeness to Him.

Whether we are coming home to God for the first time for salvation from hell through faith in Jesus or for the hundredth time as a believer to restore our fellowship with God, the Father is waiting with open arms and an open heart. Will you come home to Him now?

Prayer: Oh, gracious Father in heaven, how I have longed to hear these truths about You. Much of my understanding about You has been based on my own experiences and feelings as a child and as an adult with unavailable Christians. I have thought of You as a mean old man sitting up in heaven with a big hammer waiting to strike me the moment I say, think, or do something wrong. But Your Word tells me that You are not a mean-out-of-control man. You are a tender loving Father who eagerly waits and watches for His wayward child to come home so You can run out to him and wrap Your loving arms around him and tell him he is loved and safe in Your arms. Please, Father God, heal the holes in my heart so I may experience Your love more fully and begin to see myself as You see me. I am Your beloved child who has access to all that You possess because of my relationship with Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ. I am so glad to know that You are much more concerned about my heart than my past. My past is gone now. I am totally forgiven and loved by You. I am not a second-class Christian. I am a beloved child of God who can now enjoy all the privileges of sonship. And I am with You forever, never to be alone again. Thank You for restoring the joy of my salvation. Thank You that I am no longer defined by the darkness, but by the light of Your love. Please help me to walk in Your light and love. Please transform individual Christians and churches to respond to broken and wayward people with Your compassion and love so more people will come to Jesus in faith for His gift of salvation. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.

Another Reason Why Christ’s Death is Called Good Friday

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46

Today Christians refer to Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross as “Good Friday.” Why? To a watching world, there does not seem to be anything good about suffering an agonizing and humiliating death on a cross. The Bible explains this, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). A non-Christian does not view Christ’s death in the same way as a Christian does. To the non-Christian, there is nothing good about Jesus’ humiliating and agonizing death on a cross. But to the Christian, Christ’s crucifixion is a demonstration of “the power of God” to save them from an eternity in hell and from the power of sin in their Christian lives on earth.

For the Christian, it was a “Good Friday” the day Jesus died because of what Jesus accomplished on that day. While hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out to His Father in heaven, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Why did Jesus say those words? So that you and I who believe in Jesus would never have to. God rejected Jesus so He would never reject us after we come to Him in faith. God turned His back on His Son, so that He would never have to turn His back on those of us who believe in Christ.

This might surprise you, but God has endured more rejection than anyone else on the planet. Herod tried to kill Him when He was just an infant. His family refused to believe in Him initially. His disciples abandoned Him when He needed them most. One of His disciples, Peter, denied ever knowing Him. The crowd that could have influenced Pilate to let Him go chose the murderer, Barabbas, to release instead. He was crucified by the very people He created.

But that’s not the worst of it. It is one thing to be rejected by family… a spouse… a friend…a boss or your own countrymen. But nothing compares to being rejected by God. And this is what happened to Jesus when all the sin of the world was placed on Him as He hung on the cross in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18). The only time God has ever turned His back on His Son was at that moment on the cross.

Our sin separates us from God because He is holy and righteous and cannot be around our sin (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23a). So, when the sin of the world was place on Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross, God the Father turned away from His Son causing Jesus to cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Christ’s death on the cross finished paying the penalty for all our sin (John 19:30). Jesus did this for us so God would never have to reject us after we come to Him on His terms.

During His earthly ministry Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37). Christ guarantees that when we come to Him in faith just as we are, He will “by no means cast” us “out” of God’s family. We are forever His and He will never reject us!

No matter… what your record or what you have done… where you have been or how proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient you have been, when you come to Christ in faith you will be welcomed. You will not be cast out. Jesus will never reject you no matter what you do after you come to Him. This is God’s amazing grace. It cannot be earned, and it cannot be undone. Once you come to Christ in simple faith, you are God’s child forever.

Some of us come from backgrounds which are filled with rejection. The main reason some of us have a hard time trusting people today is because we have experienced so much rejection while growing up. Perhaps a parent criticized us for everything we did… a teacher humiliated us… a friend betrayed us… a spouse left us… an employer terminated us.

Jesus guarantees you will never be rejected by Him. His love and acceptance of you is unconditional. Many of us need to know this because we have experienced so much rejection in our lives. Jesus is challenging us to believe in Someone Who loves and accepts us regardless. That Someone is Jesus Christ who cried out to His Father while hanging on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” He did this so we who believe in Him would never have to. This is another reason why Christ’s death is said to take place on a Friday that was very good for those of us who put our faith in the Lord Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for taking our place on the cross when You received the punishment for sin that should have been ours. We are eternally grateful You cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” so we who believe in You would never have to. Although many of us have been deeply wounded by the rejection of others, please help us learn to trust You knowing you will never reject us regardless of what we or others do, say, or think. Heal us so we are no longer driven by the fear of rejection. Help us to rest in Your total acceptance of us. No longer do we need to seek the love and approval of others because we are totally loved and accepted by You. Hallelujah Lord Jesus! We love you and seek to live for You now. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 3

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16

In 2 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul is writing to his dear friend named Timothy. Paul was a dying old man as he wrote from prison in Rome to Timothy. He urged the younger man to visit him because he was lonely. We are learning from Paul some different causes and cures for loneliness. So far we have discovered that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8) and separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13) and recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a).

The third cause of loneliness is OPPOSITION (2 Timothy 4:14a). Although Demas had merely abandoned Paul (2 Timothy 4:10), Paul writes that “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.” (2 Timothy 4:14a).It’s likely that this is the same Alexander in Ephesus who was a false teacher and whom Paul ‘delivered to Satan’ (1 Tim 1:19-20) because Paul warns Timothy, who was ministering in Ephesus, to watch out for him and his opposition to sound teaching (2 Tim 4:15).” 1

Paul is saying, “Not only am I getting old and sitting here alone in prison separated from my dear friends, but I have also been attacked.” We don’t know exactly what Alexander did. He may have vigorously opposed Paul at his trial. Maybe he slandered Paul’s name or attacked his reputation. Maybe he was turning people against Paul – we don’t know for sure. But to be vigorously opposed creates a very lonely feeling inside of us.

Remember when you were a little kid on the playground at school and everybody ganged up on you? “You are not our friend anymore!” they said.You felt opposed and you felt all alone, didn’t you? It is a painful experience to face opposition when everyone else is having fun. It is lonely to be misunderstood, to be embarrassed, and humiliated. The temptation is to build walls of protection around ourselves. But doing that only makes us lonelier.

We may harbor resentment toward those who have opposed us. We may want to get back at them and make them pay for the hurt they have caused us. The way Paul responds to the opposition in his life provides the third way to deal with loneliness: RELEASE THE HURT (2 Timothy 4:16). Don’t exaggerate your loneliness and don’t rehearse it over and over: “I’m so alone. I’m so alone.” Also, don’t allow the loneliness to make you bitter and resentful.

Paul said, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul’s words are reminiscent of Jesus’ and Stephen’s words toward their enemies before they died (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).

Paul had a lot of time on his hands, but he did not have any time to become bitter and resentful. He chose to forgive those who wounded him. Paul knew that bitterness only makes you lonelier and builds a wall around your life because no one likes to be around a cynic – someone who is always resentful and complaining.

Paul is saying, “I want to be a better person, not a bitter person, so I will utilize my time, recognize God’s presence, and release my hurt.” Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances. We can choose to focus on our feelings, or we can choose to focus on the truth. The truth is forgiveness frees us from past hurts.

All of us have been hurt and wounded by others, especially those we trusted. From beginning to end, the Bible emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. God even commands us to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Therefore Jesus taught us to pray, 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. 2 God invites us to release the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

I am learning that there are three things that can hinder me from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. 3 When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. We may judge their motives and try to read their minds. We tell ourselves, “He or she is evil, selfish, and does not care about me or love me.” Christ warns us about making such judgments (Matthew 7:1-2). These judgments can cause heart wounds that keep us from healing and growing. When we refuse to forgive that person, we can bind ourselves to the person we are judging and become more like that person.It is important to repent of our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. 4

Not only do judgments about our offenders hinder us from forgiving them, but so do the vows we make. Jesus opposed the practice of distorting vows so they could convey or conceal a lie (Matthew 5:33-35). We can make inner vows to survive the hurts we have suffered. For example, when a person I trusted hurts me, I may make an inner vow that says, “I will never trust anyone again!” Or “If I need others they will take advantage of me!” These types of vows can become self-curses that result in isolation and loneliness, which cause us even more pain. These inner vows can often become subconscious and do not disappear with time. They are like a contract that must be renounced or broken.  It is important to ask God to forgive us and break these vows we have made. 5

False beliefs or lies can also prevent us from forgiving others. We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just (Romans 12:19). Or “If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.” The truth is that just because you forgive them does not mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

If you are struggling with loneliness because of unforgiveness, take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. 6 You may want to start with those closest to you (e.g., a parent, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, etc.). What wound did he or she cause to you? (e.g., abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, neglected, rejected, etc.).

What are the judgments or things you believe about them? (e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matthew 7:1-2).

What vows did you tell yourself to survive the wound? (e.g., “I don’t need or trust anyone,” or “whatever I do, it won’t be enough,” or “all men/women are ______,” etc.). Renounce and repent of these vows, asking God to forgive you and to break them.

What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? (e.g., anger, addiction, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.).

What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? (e.g., apologize, change their behavior, justice, make restitution, money, repent or seek your forgiveness, etc.). Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt.

What false belief or lie is keeping you from forgiving them? Say the following false beliefs below to yourself to see if they feel true. If they do, then focus on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true.

False belief: If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.

True belief: Only God know what is just (Romans 12:19).

False belief: Forgiveness means I must pretend that nothing ever happened.

True belief: Forgiveness is not denial. You must tell yourself the truth about what they did and how it affected you to really be able to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35; John 8:32).

False belief: If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.

True belief: Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

False belief: My unforgiveness punishes them and is justified because I am right; they will never see their wrong and repent if I let go.

True belief: The truth is, it is God’s mercy and kindness that leads us to repentance. Only He knows what will change them (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:24-32).

If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness:

Father God, Your Word says that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And so, I come to You in the name of Jesus, in obedience and love, and I bring (name) _____ before You. I cancel _____ debt to me (e.g., apology, change of behavior, humiliation, repentance, suffering, etc.). I choose to forgive this hurt against me, and I ask that You would not hold these sins against _____ on my account. I release _____ from any desire on my part to see _____ punished. In fact, as You have told me to do, I bless _____ in Your Son’s name, Jesus. You know _____ desires, needs, and hurts. You know what would bless _____. And so, I ask that You would pour out Your love and healing to _____ and bring _____ Your highest good, because Your name is Good and Love, and You are not willing that any should perish. Now also, Father, please heal my heart and set me free to love _____ as You do. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2220-2221.

2. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124.

3. Ibid., pp. 126-131.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. The following steps are adapted from Ibid., pp. 129-132.

7. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 132.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 2

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” 2 Timothy 4:17a

We are looking at different causes and cures for loneliness in 2 Timothy 4 where the apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul was near the end of his life, and he was having to deal with loneliness. The first cause of loneliness we learned was the transitions of life (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The cure for this was to utilize our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13).

The second cause for loneliness is SEPARATION FROM LOVED ONES (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). When we are separated from our friends or from our family (because of career, COVID, military deployment, health, or any reason) – that can cause loneliness.

Paul says to Timothy, Be diligent to come to me quickly.” (2 Timothy 4:9). Then Paul mentions his best friends, but none of them are with him except Luke: 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica — Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 4:10-12). Paul is in a foreign country in a prison, and he is saying, “I miss these people.” These were his best friends, his previous traveling companions. Paul was a “people person,” andhe loved to be among people. But now at the end of his life he experiences the loneliness of separation because his friends are in other countries.

Today you can contact people in other parts of the world using various electronic devices, but Paul did not have access to those devices. It took a long time to reach someone. Three times in this chapter Paul asks Timothy to come to him (2 Timothy 4:9, 13, 21). Why is he saying this? Because he may not be around much longer, and he really wants to see his dear friends.

Whom do you need to call or visit? Whom do you need to write a letter of appreciation to? You need to do it now while there is still time. Help relieve someone’s loneliness of separation by reaching out to them.

The second way to deal with loneliness is to RECOGNIZE GOD’S PRESENCE (2 Timothy 4:17a). Even though most of Paul’s friends were far away from him, the Lord was not. Although his companions abandoned him when he gave his first defense before the imperial court (2 Timothy 4:16b), 1 the Lord did not. Paul writes, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” (2 Timothy 4:17a). While Paul stood before his accusers and prosecutors, “the Lord stood with” him. God gave Paul the strength he needed to fight the good fight and finish the race and keep the faith even though others had forsaken him. God’s presence gave him all the support he needed.

While it does help to have others supporting us, it is also true that people cannot always be there for us twenty-four hours a day. Where is God when we are lonely? He is right next to us to give us all the support we need. God said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). There is no place where God is not. He is everywhere at every time, and we can constantly talk to Him. Prayer is a great tool to use during lonely times. Occasionally, when we are feeling lonely, our instinct is to turn inward and revel in self-pity. Like the apostle Paul, we can learn that loneliness is a signal that it is time for us to get better acquainted with our precious Savior Who replaces our loneliness with His loving presence.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, all of us go through times of loneliness and self-pity. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have experienced prolonged periods of separation from loved ones. Like the apostle Paul, some of us have also been abandoned by friends when we needed their support the most. As best we know how, we want to thank You, Lord, for these times when we feel lonely because they can remind us to get better acquainted with You. By Your grace, help us learn to talk to You when we feel all alone or abandoned. Because You are our Refuge, we can safely share our most intimate thoughts and feelings with You, knowing You still love and accept us. You understand what it feels like to be alone or abandoned. Your presence can give all the support we need when we find ourselves struggling with loneliness. When we are weak, Your presence makes us strong. In Your ever-present name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert W. Wilkin; J. B. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1216.

How much you matter to God – Part 5

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ ” Luke 19:8

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. So far we have discovered…

– No matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a).

– No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:5ab).

– No matter what I’ve done, Jesus accepts me (Luke 19:5c-6).

Today, we discover the final profound truth: NO MATTER HOW MUCH I’VE HURT OTHERS, JESUS CAN RESTORE MY RELATIONSHIPS (Luke 19:7-10). When Jesus gave Zacchaeus attention, affirmation, and acceptance, Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him (Luke 19:5-6; cf. John 1:12). At that moment of faith in Jesus, Zacchaeus was forever changed!

Zacchaeus probably came down out of the tree and began to walk with Jesus to his house. As they are walking along, Zacchaeus overhears the people grumbling right behind Jesus. “But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’ ” (Luke 19:7). When Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the reaction of the crowd was swift and brutal. They are complaining against Jesus because He is going to go and stay in the house of “a sinner.” We can hear their self-righteous anger come out: ”Jesus is going to stay in the house of this corrupt guy? This is absurd!”

When the crowd refers to Zacchaeus as “a sinner,” they are saying he does not appear to be righteous like they are. He doesn’t live his life the way society expects life to be lived. The crowd assumes that Jesus is losing something by accepting Zacchaeus and it disturbs them. “It was as though Jesus had become the guest of a Mafia godfather (cf. 5:29-30; 15:1-2). However, table fellowship implied even more comradeship then, than eating in someone else’s home does today. Staying in a person’s home amounted to sharing in his sins.” 1

But it does not bother the Lord Jesus. He knows His purpose for coming to Jericho (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus, however, is disturbed. He hears the grumbling against Jesus’ association with him and is troubled inwardly. But Jesus just keeps on walking. Christ is delighted that Zacchaeus has received Him as his Savior. But Zacchaeus is bothered and as he hears the crowd complaining against Jesus, he thinks to himself, “Oh my, I am getting the Lord into trouble! These people are turning against Jesus because He has affirmed me and accepted me!” Zacchaeus hears the people complaining about Jesus making friends with him and is troubled by this, so he wants to make things right.

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ ” (Luke 19:8). Notice Zacchaeus says, “I give.” The moment he trusted Jesus as his Savior, suddenly the most greedy man in all of Jericho became the most generous man. What happened? The love of Jesus Christ changed him. When we meet Jesus Christ and believe in Him for salvation, our attitudes change. You start thinking about other people. Why? Because you realize how much you have been given and you want to give back.

Zacchaeus is saying to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, I feel terrible about this. You are spending time with me – a rotten sinner – and these people are turning against You. I just want You to know that as a result of Your love and acceptance of me, I want to make things right for the wrongs I have done to these people.”

When Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor,” the people must have been dumbfounded when they heard this. But it doesn’t stop there. Then he says, “If I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation [and I have], I restore fourfold.” This is an amazing statement! Zacchaeus admits he has stolen from the people by falsely accusing them of withholding their taxes from the Roman government! And now he pledges to give back to them four times what he stole from them!

Zacchaeus serves as a sterling example of the repentance preached by John the Baptist and by Jesus (3:7-14; 5:27-32). In fact, Zacchaeus surpassed both John’s instructions and the OT requirement for reparations—the addition of 20 percent beyond the original value of the stolen goods (cf. Lev 5:14-26). Whereas the narrative of the blind man focused on salvation by faith alone, this story emphasizes repentance. Belief in Jesus and national repentance would have brought about the kingdom and the promised OT blessings. Now, the realization of the kingdom would have to await a future time (see Luke 19:11).” 2

“The Mosaic Law only required adding 20 percent to the amount due when restitution was necessary (cf. Lev. 5:16; Num. 5:7). When a Jew stole an animal that he could not restore, he had to repay about fourfold, but if he was caught with the stolen property, he had to repay double (Exod. 22:1, 4). Zacchaeus’ words were the signs of true repentance (cf. 3:8; 14:33; 18:22).” 3 He went beyond what the law required.

These are the spiritual results of his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the things that came of out of his new relationship with the Lord Jesus who loved him and accepted him. Zacchaeus was a defrauder and a sinner, but he was willing to change his ways as a result of his relationship with Jesus.

“That’s what repentance looks like. Repentance doesn’t merely say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it makes amends for wrongdoing. The crowds had complained that Jesus went to this wicked man’s home. But after Jesus got through with him, Zacchaeus would be a better man for the community and restore what he had taken from them.” 4

Zacchaeus was concerned that the wrong things he had done in the past were now getting the Lord Jesus into trouble with the people around Him. When we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we become more sensitive about how our decisions affect the Lord and the people around us. Is there anything in your life right now that could ruin Jesus’ reputation? Is there anything in your life that a non-Christian could look at and say if that’s what Christianity is about, then I don’t want anything to do with it. Some of us have done things to people that need to be made right because it’s hurting the Lord’s reputation and His church. All of us, including me, need to ask the Lord if there is anything in our lives that is getting Jesus into trouble with others.

Whether we like it or not, the world is watching us to see if we are going to live what we preach. Will we walk the talk? Perhaps we need to go back to people we have offended and we need to make it right with them. Say to them, “I was only thinking of myself back then, but Jesus has changed me and I ask for your forgiveness. I want to make things right with you.” The longer we put it off, the more it hurts the Lord and the testimony of His church.

When Jesus hears Zacchaeus’ pledge to make things right with people, He rejoices. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:9).  Does this mean Zacchaeus received salvation because he would give to the poor and restore fourfold what he had stolen? No, this would be contrary to the emphasis of the New Testament which teaches salvation from hell is based upon faith alone in Christ alone (cf. John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 9:35-38; 11:25-27; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; et al.).

While Zacchaeus was a physical son or descendant of Abraham, he became a spiritual “son of Abraham” through faith alone in Jesus. “Son of Abraham” is a term used by the apostle Paul. Paul and Luke, the author of the gospel of Luke, were traveling companions. So it is likely Luke used this term the same way Paul does. Paul writes, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7). Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because of his faith in the Lord Jesus.

Both ‘son of Abraham’ and the similar ‘daughter of Abraham’ (cf. Luke 13:10-17) describe a justified believer (see Gal 3:1-14). Whereas Zacchaeus’ fellow countrymen would have questioned his fidelity to his physical Jewish heritage, his belief in Jesus (which probably occurred sometime during the course of Jesus’ stay in his home) rendered him a spiritual son of Abraham as well. In fact, John the Baptist minimizes the claim to descendancy from Abraham when not accompanied by repentance. Zacchaeus’ belief in Jesus and his subsequent repentance rendered him a true Jew and Israelite in every sense of the word (cf. Rom 2:17-29; 9:6-8).” 5

Jesus then explains why Zacchaeus came to faith in Him. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Because Jesus, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” He came to Zacchaeus and saved him the moment Zacchaeus believed in Him.

Jesus is the One who seeks and saves. We do not save ourselves. We may think we are seeking God, but the truth is, God is the One seeking us. This is going on today. Our responsibility is to receive the One who seeks us. Christ constantly seeks to love and accept us. We must simply believe in Him to be saved (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). The “lost” refers to anyone who does not have a relationship with the heavenly Father through faith in Christ alone. Jesus does not wait for people to come to Him. He goes to them. He is seeking people who are up in a tree or out on a limb.

Many people today have a misunderstanding about God. We think we have to get our act together to come into God’s presence. We think we have to be worthy in some way to go into Jesus’ presence or to get His attention and acceptance. That is a gross misunderstanding of the relationship Jesus offers. The New Testament tells us that this Son of God seeks sinners. He seeks the helpless, hopeless, and humiliated. He comes to them. He give them attention where they are at. Even if they are up in a tree or out on a limb, He notices every detail in their lives without any conditions. That is the love of Jesus Christ!

However, many Christians and non-Christians are trying to become worthy to receive the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. They won’t go to God when they are in trouble because they think they have got to get everything together first. “As soon as I get my life together this week, then I will go to God in prayer.” If that happens, tell me how you did it because I have never met someone who has it altogether for God except this One Person named Jesus Christ.

God comes to those who do not have it altogether. He comes to the people who are treed like Zacchaeus, and feel unworthy. He comes to them and accepts them. How many of us have a relationship with Jesus like that? Don’t we want to be with Someone like that? Of course we do! All of us long to be with Someone who loves and accepts us as we are. But when we are in the presence of someone who is harsh, condemning, and unaccepting, we want to run and hide. If we see Jesus that way, we are not going to want to spend any time with Him. And if we are not spending time with Jesus, we are not going to change for the better.

I wonder how many of you reading this do not feel worthy? To be honest, this also comes up in my life in my interactions with others. People think they must be worthy to come into God’s presence. I tell them, “Jesus loves you and He is offering a free gift if you will simply receive it by faith. Eternal life can be yours forever if you simply believe in Jesus for it. You can have new life. You can possess an inward life that is real and can respond to problems and pressures in this life. A life that transforms your life from a hurtful life into a healing life.”  

People then tell me, “But I am not worthy! I have done so many shameful things that you don’t know about.” I say to them, “You are in the best position you could be in if you feel unworthy because Jesus Christ seeks the unworthy. He did this with Zacchaeus and He is doing this with you. In His compassion, Christ comes to the unworthy and accepts them. He is seeking you and wants to save you. Will you climb down out of your tree and receive Him joyfully today? He is waiting.”

Christians can also feel unworthy and refuse to spend time with Jesus. They don’t build a relationship with Christ. They look at their sins all the time while Jesus is saying, “Hey, I came to you when you were an enemy of Mine and now you are God’s child. You were not worthy then and you are not worthy now. But I still love you and want to spend time with you. I still come to you as your Savior and your Lord.  And I love you and accept you as you are. And I also love you enough to change you if you will permit Me.”

How do we view our relationship with Jesus? Do we see Him shaking His fist at us? Do we see Him as a cruel old man leaning over the balcony with a holy hammer, saying, “Hmmmm. Anyone having a good time? Stop it! Pow! Pow! Pow!”

Do we think we must work hard to enter God’s presence? Or is His love and acceptance tugging at our hearts? Is your heart drawn to Jesus Christ? Is there a pull on your heart to draw closer to Jesus? If not, why not? He is the most loving and accepting Person who has ever walked on the earth. He cared so much for you and for me that He let people spit on Him, beat Him, whip Him, and kill Him so He could pay for all our sins. Now that is the ultimate expression of love! Why do we stand off at a distance from Jesus like we cannot approach Him? Like He doesn’t care? Is it because we have a distorted view of Christ!?!

Jesus seeks and saves the lost. If you are saved, He still loves and accepts you. I have just as many problems today as I did forty-two years ago when Jesus saved me. My problems are just in different forms today. And I still need Jesus’ acceptance today, don’t you? I don’t feel worthy. I still need a Lord Who comes to me in my unworthiness and loves me. When I see Jesus like that, I want to spend time with Him and let Him speak truth into my life and work in and through me. Don’t you want that? I hope so.

Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? If not, why not? He loves you and longs to save you. Why not come down out of your tree and receive Him today?

If you already have a relationship with Jesus, are you enjoying your relationship with Him? If not, why not? He wants to build a close relationship with You.

When Jesus saves us, He wants to change us. As we spend time with Jesus, we start to value what He values. We start to seek out the lost and introduce them to Christ. We become more sensitive to the Lord and to others. If we have hurt others, Jesus wants to heal our relationships with them. Will You let Him show You how to do this? He can heal those we have wounded. It is true that hurting people hurt people. But it is equally true that healed people heal people. Our world needs the healing touch of Jesus Christ through those who love and follow Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when we look back on our lives, we realize that we were a lot like Zacchaeus. We had our own brand of selfishness which hurt others deeply. But You sought us out and saved us so Your life could live through ours. Lord, please show us if there are any people in our lives that we have hurt. People who want nothing to do with Christianity because we have wounded them with our words or actions. Show us how we can make things right with them. Lord Jesus, You are the God Who heals. Please heal us so we can be used by You to help others heal. In Your all powerful name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 272.

2. Alberto Samuel Valdés, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 382.

3. Constable, pg. 272.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

5. Valdes, pg. 383.

How much you matter to God – Part 4

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ ” Luke 19:5

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. So far we have discovered…

– No matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a).

– No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:5ab).

Zacchaeus’ appearance made him feel lonely and insecure. His accusers made him feel bitter and resentful. But it was Zacchaeus’ sins, his own lifestyle, his own choices, that made him feel guilty and ashamed. So Jesus Christ did something even more shocking. He didn’t just walk up to the tree and look up and notice Zacchaeus. And He didn’t just call him by name and affirm him as a pure one in front of everybody else who hated him. 

Jesus then said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. This is truly amazing!

Think about this. The Son of God, walked all the way through town to find the biggest scoundrel in town and says, “I’m going to go to your house. I’m going to be your guest. Out of all these thousands of people, I choose you, Zacchaeus.”

This leads us to our third profound truth: NO MATTER WHAT I’VE DONE, JESUS ACCEPTS ME (Luke 19:5c-6) and He wants a relationship with me. This is the biggest mind blower of all. Jesus knew that there was no way that Zacchaeus would ever invite Him to his house because Zacchaeus was carrying a lot of hidden guilt, perhaps like some of us today. Because in his mind, Zacchaeus was thinking, “I’m not good enough to have Jesus Christ at my house. I’m not good enough to have God as my guest. You don’t know the things that I have done. I am not good enough to have a relationship with Him.”

And many of us have felt that way. We say to ourselves, “I’m not good enough. If you knew all the shameful things I have done You could never love me or want to spend time with me.” But we are wrong. Spending time with Jesus is not based on our goodness. It is based on God’s incredible love and grace for us. Regardless of all we have done wrong, Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with us.

So Jesus takes the initiative and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Notice, that Jesus did not say, “I would like to stay at your house.” No, He said “I must stay at your house.” This was a divine appointment. It was a necessary visit. 1  Since Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He obviously knew Zacchaeus. He knew everything about him, but that did not deter Jesus from taking the initiative and inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

The truth is, like Zacchaeus, we have done a lot of things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people with our own brand of selfishness. Sometimes it is out in the open. Sometimes it is in secret. But we have hurt a lot of other people in our lives by the things we have said and done. Our choices have deeply wounded people. But Jesus wants to change us more than condemn us. Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). Christ came into the world to cleanse us, not condemn us. So He looks at you and me, and He says, “I know you, I love you, and I accept you in spite of all that you have done. And I want you to know and love Me and have a relationship with Me.”

Some of us may think, “If I come to Jesus Christ with all the dirt in my life, He is going to condemn me!” If this is how we think, then we don’t understand how much we matter to Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ in faith, no matter what we have done, Jesus still accepts us. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37b). Christ guarantees that when you come to Him in faith, He will never reject you. This may be difficult for us to understand if we have experienced a lot of rejection in our lives.

But there is a big difference between people and God when it comes to forgetting our past. When we sin, people have a tendency to remind us of our past sins. But God forgets! The Bible says, “ ‘16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ 17 then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ ” (Hebrews 10:16-17). God was not teasing when He said He will remember our sins no more. God has a forgetful nature. “Just as it’s against your nature to eat tree or grow wings, it’s against God’s nature to remember forgiven sins.” 2

“You see, God is either the God of perfect grace… or He is not God. Grace forgets. Period. Grace does not judge! He who is perfect love cannot hold grudges. If He does, then He isn’t perfect love.” 3 Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us what we need instead of what we deserve. None of us deserve to be forgiven. None of us deserve to have our sins remembered no more. But God’s grace forgives and forgets!

Think about this. If God did not forget, how could we pray? How could we sing to Him? How could we dare enter into His presence if the moment He saw us He remembered all our sinful past? 4

Let me illustrate this with a $100 bill. If I took a $100 bill and crumpled it up in my hand, would you still want it? Yes. But what if I stomped on that $100 bill with my dirty shoes on? Would you still want it? Yes, of course you would. But why? Because it has not lost any of its value. Yes, your life may be crumpled and stained by sin. It may be a total mess. But your life has not lost any value to God! And, yes, you have blown it but Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with you. 

When we come to Jesus, He accepts us and He will never reject us. No matter what we have done, Jesus wants a relationship with us. Knowing that Jesus notices everything in our lives, He affirms us regardless of what anyone else says about us, and He still wants a relationship with us in spite of the fact that we have rejected Him in the past, how should you respond to Him?

The way Zacchaeus did. The Bible says, “So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:6). I think Zacchaeus was saved before he hit the ground. He thought, “This is a deal I am not going to get anywhere else. I am going to take advantage of it right now.” Zacchaeus didn’t just receive Jesus joyfully into his house that day, he joyfully received Jesus into his heart. His heart was filled with joy because no one had ever showed him such love and grace as Jesus just did!

With the God who notices… affirms… and accepts you and is waiting with open arms, give me one logical reason why you should refuse to receive him as your Savior. There is none. It is so simple. The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Believe and receive. Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him. God became His Father in heaven and Zacchaeus became God’s child forever at that moment of faith.

Today I want to invite you, like Zacchaeus, to jump out of the tree you are in or get off the limb you are out on or get out of the dark hole and receive Jesus Christ into your life. How can you do that? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Jesus is the promised Christ, the Messiah-God (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1, 14, 41; 20:31). When you believe this, you are born of God. You are placed in God’s family forever and He will never cast you out (John 6:37).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have done, separate us from God (Romans 6:23a). But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by dying on the cross for all our sins (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again. The Lord Jesus is alive today and He now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

Just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Your good life, religion, or prayers will not save you. Only Jesus can save you. The Bible says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Did you catch that? “No other name under heaven” can save us from eternal separation from God outside of Jesus Christ. Your monk, parent, pastor, peers, politician, priest, prophet, or imam, cannot save you from your sins. You and I cannot save ourselves. But Jesus Christ can.

And the moment you place your trust in Jesus for eternal life, you become God’s child and God comes to live inside you through His Spirit. He can change the way you see yourself.

If you just believed or trusted Christ alone today for His gift of salvation, I would like to give you a chance to tell God what you have done. You can pray this prayer in your heart, keeping in mind that prayer does not save, trusting Christ saves.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for noticing every detail of my life… for seeing my potential in spite of my sin… for wanting a relationship with me in spite of all that I have done wrong. Today I realize there is nothing I can do to deserve heaven. So right now as best I know how, I am trusting You alone, Jesus, to forgive all my sins and to give me eternal life. Thank You for the assurance that I will now be with you in heaven when I die. Thank You for not being ashamed of me. I do not want to be ashamed of You, Lord Jesus. Please help me to see myself as You see me – forgiven, redeemed, and saved forever. Help me to tell others what You have done for me. In Your mighty name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He placed you in God’s family forever (John 1:12; 6:37). All of your sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:13-14). God has forgotten all your sins so you can approach Him with boldness now through prayer (Hebrews 10:16-22). God is now Your Father in heaven and you are His child forever (Matthew 6:9). You now have many brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. And at that moment of faith in Jesus, everything changed in your life just as it did in Zacchaeus’ life. Lord willing, we will discover next time just how dramatically Zacchaeus’ life changed and how Jesus can change our lives too.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. Retrieved from Steve Siemen’s communion meditation at NewLife Church in Pleasant Hill, Iowa on August 8, 2021.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Ibid.

How much you matter to God – Part 2

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him.” Luke 19:5a

We are looking at Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus to discover how much we matter to God. When we begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes, God can make the greatest changes in our lives.

Last time we saw that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man living in the city of Jericho who was probably quite miserable. His misery was connected to his appearance and his actions. He was a “short” or small man who probably received a lot of teasing all his life for the way he looked (Luke 19:3). He was also a “chief tax collector” which meant he got rich by stealing from people (Luke 19:2). So he was not liked by others because of his profession. It is likely that Zacchaeus did not even like himself because of his guilty conscience. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful and dishonest. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life. Most likely he felt all alone and unwanted.

Can you identify with Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your actions? Do you feel all alone and unwanted? Or do you know someone who does? If so, then I think you will be very interested in what happens next in this account of Zacchaeus. We are going to look at three profound truths the next few days which can change our lives forever.

The first truth is NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS NOTICES ME (Luke 19:4-5a). When you transition to a new phase in life – graduate from high school and go to college, start a new job, move to a new community, or retire – you may feel lonely and insignificant, like no one notices you. But know this, Jesus Christ notices you.

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus had come to the city of Jericho he did two things that no wealthy Middle Eastern man would do. “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:4). One, he “ran” through a crowd, and two, he “climbed” a tree. These were things that little boys do in crowds, not wealthy well-known government officials. But Zacchaeus wanted to get ahead of the crowd and he found “a sycamore tree” where he hoped that Jesus would pass by and then he climbed up in that tree. 

His desperation caused him to do something a bit below his dignity. But Zacchaeus was willing to endure some public scorn to see the one everyone had been talking about.” 1

Luke may have been presenting Zacchaeus’ actions as a commentary on Jesus’ words that unless people become like little children they cannot enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:17).” 2 Constable also draws attention to this when he writes, “It is interesting that Zacchaeus did some childlike things, namely, running to see Jesus and climbing a tree, unusual activities for an adult government official. Jesus had formerly commended the tax collector in His parable for childlike faith (18:13). He had also taught the importance of childlike faith (cf. 18:16-17).” 3

Another commentator notes, “The crowd as [a] physical barrier and Zacchaeus’ strange position up in a tree can serve as spatial symbols of his isolation from his community.” 4

What Zacchaeus did was shocking, but what Jesus did was even more shocking. Jesus walks straight through the city past thousands of people packed in that crowd, and He walks right up to that tree and He stops. “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him” (Luke 19:5a). In a packed out crowd, Jesus notices Zacchaeus. Christ looks up into that tree and fixes his gaze on this miserable man.  

I can just imagine Zacchaeus’ heart starting to pound or more probably, feel like it was going to explode! Adrenaline was flowing through his body. His throat was all constricted. Zacchaeus may have turned around to see if someone was behind him up in the tree because he can’t believe Jesus would stop this parade just to look up at him. Then Zacchaeus realizes, “Jesus is looking at me! Out of all the people in Jericho, He is looking at me! Why did He stop here? Why did He look up? Why is the Son of God looking directly at me!” At that point in time I imagine Zacchaeus was in shock. 

Why did Jesus do this? Why did Jesus stop right at that tree and look up? Because He knew Zacchaeus’ heart and He knew exactly where Zacchaeus was. Luke presents Jesus as the Savior who has come into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus was isolated and lost. Jesus knew this. So He took action.

And you know what? God knows exactly where you are today. You may be up in a tree. You may be out on a limb. You may be in a dark hole. You may think God has forgotten you and that He is thousands of miles away from you. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you (Psalm 17:8). There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never! He has seen every breath you have ever taken and every thought you have ever had. He has heard every word you have ever said and seen everything you have ever done – good or bad (cf. Psalm 139:1-18). And He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love.

It is may be difficult for us to imagine that God pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eyes on us. Jesus said, “… But God never overlooks a single [sparrow]. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head!” (Luke 12:6-7  MSG). For some of us, it is not very difficult to number all the hairs on our heads! God loves us with a love we have never imagined. He has always paid attention to us. He has never taken His eyes off of us.

When our daughters were much younger shooting baskets behind our house, they would constantly say, “Watch me Daddy! Watch me!” All of us have a deep need to be noticed. We want to be seen. So we say, “Watch me Daddy!”

Adults do this all the time. We are constantly saying, “Watch me! Watch me!” We don’t say it that openly. We do it by the kind of clothes or makeup we wear; by the way we fix up our houses or decorate our lawns. We may also do this by the way we talk or style our hair. We try to accomplish big things so people will pay attention to us. Deep down inside we are saying, “Watch me! Pay attention to me!” We do this because we have a deep need to be noticed. And only God can meet this need all the time.

Most of us – even those of us who have been Christians for a long time, have not fathomed how awesome the love of God is. It is like an ant trying to figure out a human being. Our brain is not big enough to figure out how much God loves us or how much He pays attention to us. God is teaching us that NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS CHRIST NOTICES ME. May God the Holy Spirit massage this truth into the depths of our souls so we can stop striving to get attention and rest in the loving gaze of our heavenly Father.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for this wonderful encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus did nothing to deserve Jesus’ loving gaze. If anything, he deserved a look of judgment and wrath. But instead, the Lord Jesus gave Zacchaeus something he had probably never received before – a look of compassion and understanding. Yet are any of us really any different than Zacchaeus? We also have a deep need to be noticed and understood. We too have felt ignored and unwanted. Perhaps our sin and shame has left us isolated and all alone. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for noticing every detail in our lives. Thank You for never taking Your loving eyes off of us. Others may have ignored or neglected us, but You have always noticed us. Our value comes from Your constant loving gaze which could never be earned. Thank You for knowing where we are and what we need. We love You, Lord Jesus. Please help us keep our eyes on You. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. John A. Martin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 506.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pp. 271-272.

4. Ibid., cites Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. 1: The Gospel according to Luke, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pg. 123.

How much you matter to God – Part 1

“And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.” Luke 19:3

One of our greatest needs in life is to feel valuable or important. Because of this, we are constantly looking around and in our minds we are evaluating other people and comparing ourselves to them. In our society we tend to base our importance or self-worth on four things.

First, we judge our worth by our appearance, asking ourselves, “How do I look?” If I look good then I think I must be good or valuable. People invest all kinds of time and money to improve their looks because this is how they measure their worth.

Second, we judge our worth by our achievements, asking ourselves, “What have I accomplished? How successful am I?” We invest many of our resources to accomplish big things because we think our importance is based upon our achievements.

Third, we judge our worth on approval, asking ourselves, “How well am I liked?” If a lot of people like me I must be important. We want people to like us so we concentrate on doing everything we can to win their approval.

Finally, we judge our worth on our affluence, asking ourselves, “What do I own? How many possessions do I have?” Deep down we believe that the more possessions we have, the more importance we possess.

The problem with these four standards is that none of them are stable. They can all change. For instance, can your appearance change? Absolutely! Beauty fades doesn’t it? Our successes are surpassed by other people, our records are broken, our possessions wear out and people we think love us, die or abandon us or sometimes even reject us. So if we want to build our self-worth on something that lasts, we must build it on something that cannot change. And there is only one thing that won’t change – what God thinks about you. The greatest changes in our lives take place when we see ourselves as God sees us.

A wonderful example of this principle is a man in the Bible we are going to look at the next few days. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a man who lived in the city of Jericho. One day Jesus came to Jericho and Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life. 

We see this in the Bible in Luke 19. 1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4). Zacchaeus didn’t want to talk to Jesus. He just wanted a glimpse of Christ. And if there was ever a man who needed his self-image built up, it was Zacchaeus. Because in the four ways we evaluate our worth, Zacchaeus struck out on the first three. But he was wealthy. He had a lot of money.   

In the first place, Zacchaeus didn’t like his appearance. The Bible tells us that he was “of short stature” (Luke 19:3). The Greek word for “short” (mikros) literally means “small.” Zacchaeus had the body of an undeveloped child. He wasn’t just short. He was a little person. His body had not developed fully into adulthood. He was probably ridiculed and teased all of his life about how he looked. You know how kids can be ruthless on the playgrounds. They can make fun of you and give you hurtful names. And all Zacchaeus’ life he had probably lived not liking the way he looked. 

Not only that, but this guy was hated by everyone in the city of Jericho. It says he was “a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). Tax collectors are never popular but in Roman days it was even worse. The Roman system of collecting taxes was absolutely corrupt. In the first place, you had to bribe an official for the privilege of becoming a tax collector. Second, you could collect and keep as many taxes as you wanted to keep as long as you paid Rome its due. For instance, maybe a family owed Rome $100, and you could say, “You owe Rome $1,000.” They would pay you the $1,000. And then you could give Rome $100 and keep $900 for yourself. So you could collect as much as you want.

This is how Zacchaeus became so wealthy. He got rich by stealing from other people. So he was hated by everybody not only because he was a tax collector, but because he was the “chief” tax collector which means he was in charge of the whole scam. So he probably didn’t like the way he looked. Plus people made fun of him and nobody liked what he did either. So as a result, Zacchaeus probably hated himself. How do I know that? Because you cannot have a guilty conscience and feel good about yourself at the same time. There is no way. He knew that he was ripping people off. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful, dishonest, and a lying scoundrel. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life.

What we have here is a guy who has a lot of money but doesn’t like himself. A man who is lonely and miserable. But one day everything changed. In one moment, he met Jesus and discovered how much he mattered to God. When you learn that, you will never be the same. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates three profound truths. If you will allow God to imprint these truths in your heart and mind, your life will never be the same.

Can you relate to Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your achievements? Do you feel all alone and unwanted like Zacchaeus? Or do you know someone who does? If so, it is time you join me next time as we look in on Jesus’ encounter with this miserable man.

Prayer: Father God, the world teaches us that our importance is based on our appearance, achievements, approval, and affluence. Most of us fall short in at least one or more of these areas. Some of us may have no respect for ourselves because we are not living the way You want us to live. We have taken advantage of others to build ourselves up. And now we find ourselves all alone and unwanted. Lord God, please speak truth to us. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Endnotes:

1.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 651.

Finding Completeness in Christ

“And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:10

The apostle Paul was writing to Christians in Colossae to encourage them to continue to embrace God’s Word and the Lord Jesus Christ so they would not be led away from Christ through the instruction of false teachers. Paul told these believers to beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). The teachings of these false teachers were not “according to Christ” in God’s Word, but were rooted in “philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men.”

If any philosophy, religion, or science contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture, then it is wrong. The false teachers in Colossae were contradicting God’s Word with their teachings on spirituality, angels, self-abasement, and Christ. They were leading believers astray because their perverse teachings were not according to Christ. Many false teachings abound today on how to become ‘spiritual,’ and the best remedy has always been to rely on God’s Word alone to learn what is pleasing to God.” 1

Next Paul explains how to remain strong in Christ against the false teachings of others. He writes, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9). This is an amazing statement about Jesus Christ. What Christians have in Jesus Christ is completely adequate because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Jesus was not a spirit-form as some erroneously teach. He was fully God (“fullness of the Godhead”)and fully human (“bodily”). The word “fullness” (plḗrōma)means “that which is brought to fullness or completion, full number… sum total, fullness, even (super) abundance… the full measure of deity.” 2  Christ did not cease to be God when He became a man. Everything that God is Jesus Christ is. Nor did Jesus give up His humanity at His resurrection. He remains fully God and fully human in His resurrection body.

There is no “fullness”in the philosophies of this world or in the traditions of men (Colossians 2:8). The only fullness is found in Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no fullness. Only emptiness. 3

When Satan—the once glorious angel—rebelled, God judged him (see Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:12-16). Then God created man, a creature made ‘lower than the angels’ and ‘subjected everything under his feet’ (Heb 2:7-8). Man was to rule over creation on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26-28). God planned to show what he could do with ‘less’ (when less was devoted to him) in contrast to ‘more’ (when more was in rebellion against him). But Adam abdicated his role as manager of creation (Gen 3:1-19), turning rule over to Satan—’the god of this age’ (2 Cor 4:4) and ‘the ruler of the power of the air’ (Eph 2:2). But the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor 15:45), Jesus Christ, succeeded where the first Adam failed. He came to solve the problem. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he possesses ‘the entire fullness of God’s nature’ (Col 2:9). But he also became a man, because God the Father intended that man would rule over his kingdom on earth and defeat Satan. Through his sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan’s legal authority and reclaimed the earthly kingdom.” 4

This is why Paul then writes, “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:10). Since Christ is fully God and fully Man (Colossians 2:9), believers in Jesus are “complete in Him.” The word “complete” (plēróō) means “to make full, fill… persons with powers, qualities.” 5  A Christian’s fullness or completeness is found in Christ “who is the head of all principality and power.” Jesus has all authority (“is the head of”) over Satan and his followers (“all principality and power”), including false teachers who try to mislead believers away from Jesus Christ and His Word. Christians partake of Christ’s “fullness,” not in His deity. Believers are not gods.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive God’s righteousness so we are “complete in Him.” (cf. Romans 4:5). All our essential needs are met in Christ. Therefore as a believer in Jesus, I can know I am “complete” in Him, lacking nothing. False teachers were telling Paul’s readers that they needed more than Christ to be complete. They told these Christians to practice asceticism or self-abasement, and adhere to their secret knowledge (Colossians 2:8, 18, 20b-23) and legalism or self-made religion (Colossians 2:16-17) to find their fullness.  

Satan wants to deceive us into believing that we are not complete in Christ. He wants to lead us away from Christ because he knows when he does, he can control us. He may use philosophy, religion, science, technology, or a compassionate teacher to accomplish his purpose. He may use infatuation or a TV program to lead us away from Jesus. Satan has been around for thousands of years and he knows how to deceive people. The Devil is an expert at twisting the truth to lead someone away from Jesus who is “the truth” (John 14:6).

But apart from Christ, we cannot find fulfillment or completeness. We may try to find it in the things of this world or in the traditions of people, but all of these things fail to satisfy the longings of our souls.

Only Jesus can meet our deepest needs. Only in Christ can we find the fullness and completeness that satisfies our souls. Because in Christ we are complete, we do not need to seek something more to complete us. We can be content with what we have in Jesus. This is foundational to growing in our Christian lives.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus, because You are fully God and fully Man, I can find completeness in You. Only You can satisfy my deepest needs. Forgive me for looking outside of You to find that completeness that only You can provide. Right now, I ask You to restore my union with You, Lord. I give everything in me for union with You. I need more of You, God. Please fill me with more of You, Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Shawn Leach, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1104.

2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 829.

3. Norm Geisler,  The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, Kindle Edition, 2018), pg. 436.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2146-2147.

5. Walter Bauer, pg. 828.

Celebrated not condemned

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

I was drawn to a favorite verse today in the book of Zephaniah in the Old Testament. If you are like me, you may struggle with shame. I’m not talking about true shame. True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-8, 10). All of us experience this kind of shame because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).

But what I am talking about is false shame which can be at the core of our being. False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can actually experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” For example, a child who was verbally or sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I am bad because that happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”

True shame says, “I have done wrong.” But false shame says, “I am wrong.” Do you see the difference?  

When talking about false shame, we may believe deep down inside us that we are unacceptable or worthless before God. We may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but we do not believe it nor experience it in the deepest part of our being. Deep down we think we have to earn God’s love or that God would never love us as we are.

Shame-based lies keep us from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” “I don’t have what it takes to be a God-honoring child of God.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Our verse in Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zephaniah 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zephaniah 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

In the future, after King Jesus defeats all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation period (Zephaniah 3:15; cf. Revelation 19:11-21), He will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (Zephaniah 3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (Zephaniah 3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

Let’s get more personal in our application of this verse, especially as it relates to false shame. King Jesus has the “mighty” power to “save” us from shame-based memories or feelings from trauma in our past so they do not invade our present relationships, especially with those we care the most about. King Jesus “rejoices” over us, He does not reject us. He delights in us, He does not despise us. We bring King Jesus pleasure, not pain simply because we are His beloved children through faith in Him for everlasting life. King Jesus will “quiet” or calm us with His passionate “love” for us! His great love for us cannot be contained, but bursts into joyful celebration and “singing” over us.

King Jesus wants to celebrate us, not criticize or condemn us. He wants to delight in us, not despise us. Christ loves us, He does not loathe us. King Jesus rejoices over us, He does not reject us. He sings over us, He does not shame us.

Some of us are running from this false shame inside us. We stay busy to avoid these feelings of shame. We seek different coping behaviors to medicate our shame and fear inside us. They seem too overwhelming for us to face. But please hear me. Jesus wants to quiet your soul with His radical love. He wants us to stop running and rest in His loving presence.

For some of us, this may seem very disturbing because we have listened to shame-based lies all our lives. And if we slow down, we may start to feel unwanted emotions that we have buried under layers of self-protection. But King Jesus wants to walk with us through these painful emotions or memories to bring healing and restoration to our lives.

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:17-19; I John 4:9-11). We are His beloved. We are His delight. We are His precious possession by virtue of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be our true selves in the presence of God and other people.

Take a moment to picture in your mind what kind of look Jesus has on His face when His eyes are fixed on you. Does He have a look of anger and disapproval toward you? Does He look apathetic or distant? Or does He have a look of delight and love? Is He celebrating you by rejoicing and singing over you? If it causes you discomfort to picture the look on Jesus’ face, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus the way Zephaniah describes Him in our verse today. Christ can do this in your life through the Holy Spirit’s application of His Word and through Christlike believers who are overflowing with His love.

Prayer: Hallelujah, Lord God Almighty! Thank You for Your unchanging and everlasting Word. By Your Holy Spirit, please renew my mind this day as I focus on Your truth so I may see myself more as You do – as a beloved and prized child of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Please quiet my heart with Your radical love for me. Please enable me to see that You celebrate me, You do not criticize me; You delight in me, You do not despise me; You love me, You do not loathe me; You rejoice over me, You do not reject me; You sing over me, You do not shame me! Thank You my Lord and my God for showing me that I do not need to perform or work to earn Your love. Therefore, I will not seek to earn anyone’s love, because Yours is more than enough. Please fill me with more of You and the worth You alone can give to me so I am not threatened by what others say or think of me. Thank You King Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.