“But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love” (Psalm 52:8, NLT).
We have olive trees scattered around our neighborhood, what’s left of a grove after the houses went in. They are always green and are a nice addition to the landscape. I’m glad the developers preserved this bit of the past.
When we trust in God, the tree that’s always green (see yesterday’s post), we become like a beautiful, vibrant tree too. His life in us infuses us with energy and his inexhaustible love helps us flourish.
“I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me” (Hosea 14:8, NLT).
Does God answer prayers? Yes he does and he cares for us too. God isn’t a distant being somewhere out in space, unfeeling, uncaring, oblivious to our suffering. Many people seem to think this is true, but if it were, I believe life would be even tougher than it is. He’s given us so much – the earth, each other and evidence of his goodness everywhere we look (that’s another verse: Romans 1:20).
As this verse indicates, God is the source of life and he shares his life with us like a tree bearing an abundance of fruit. He answers our prayers with himself and his loving care.
“Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 63:7, NLT).
We’ve all seen (at least in movies) a natural disaster or something evil approaching and suddenly everything goes eerily silent. The birds stop singing, the animals scurry to safety and even the air seems to go still. Birds don’t sing if they sense danger. They make themselves as invisible as they can until it’s safe again.
We’re like that too. We try to hide when we sense danger or evil. We stay quiet, either literally or figuratively, hoping it will pass. But when God is our helper, we can boldly sing, knowing we’re safe. We sing for joy, praising him and exulting in his protection, love and goodness.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NLT).
One of the worst things we can do is assume God thinks the way we do or that we know how he thinks. We get in trouble when we don’t even allow for the possibility he might just have a different opinion on something. Is it weakness or lack of faith to be less than dogmatic about some of the things we believe?
This is what I’m sure of: God exists, he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he loves me, he died for me and because of the finished work on the cross, I will be with him forever. After that, everything registers on my sure-0-meter under 100%. There is one more thing I know: even though we think we understand many things about God, I’m 100% sure he is keeping some secrets, which will only be revealed when he’s ready.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20, NLT).
Joseph’s story inspires me, with the twists and turns, imprisonments and good times. I marvel he didn’t get angry with God or give up hope with so many setbacks and seemingly impossible situations. The biggest twist is at the end, when we learn God worked everything out to save Joseph’s family, the whole nation that would come after and through his lineage, Christ would be born to save the entire world.
Perhaps God gave Joseph some glimmer of hope to keep him going – at some point, he forgave his brothers and saw the big picture: the evil his brothers did to him would be redeemed by the God he held onto and trusted from childhood. God’s purpose for all the evil in our world is redemption, lovingly planned from before the beginning by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NLT).
The parable of the prodigal or lost son is probably my favorite of all Jesus’ stories and one of the best looks into the character of God. The son had basically told his dad to drop dead, took his inheritance and ran off to live a wild, irresponsible life. What did the father do? Disown him and declare he had no son? No, he waited for his son to return to him, leaving the light on so to speak, watching for him, loving him and never giving up.
God grieves as his children – all of humanity – live as they please, backs turned, hearts hardened, but he is the dad who never gives up. God’s compassion encompasses all and he loves his prodigals (all of us) back home.
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15: 13, NLT).
Hope, the feeling things will turn out for the best, is what keeps us going. Without it, we get depressed, do desperate things or give up on life altogether. Hope is very important to our well-being and is what helps us get up every morning.
Sometimes hope is just that – a feeling. But if our hope is in God, it’s not a feeling, it’s a strong conviction that he has our best in mind and will bring it about. Our expectations can be confidently put in him because he is the source of hope and the only one with the power and will to make all our hopes into reality.
“But regarding Israel, God said, ‘All day long I opened my arms to them, but they were disobedient and rebellious'” (Romans 10:21, NLT).
For most of my life, I pictured God with arms crossed, foot tapping and a less than welcoming look on his face. I guess legalism does that to you. Worrying about disobedience and the resulting punishment skewed my perspective of many aspects of God’s character.
While much of the Old Testament seems to revolve around the cycle of laws given, laws broken, people punished then forgiven, laws broken again – God’s loving nature is evident throughout. He wasn’t anxious to punish his people; on the contrary, he held out loving arms to them again and again, waiting for them to accept his love and receive his blessings. But like many today, either out of guilt or fear, they ran the other way and experienced the consequences of their sins. His arms are always open and a smile is on his face, welcoming all to his loving embrace.
“You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else” (Hebrews 1:9, NLT).
Try to picture Jesus and what do you see? A man with a sad look on his face, perhaps with tears forming in his eyes? Most of us have grown up seeing the painting of a sad looking Jesus by Warner Sallman. I prefer the smiling Jesus portrayed by Bruce Marchiano in the movie The Visual Bible – Matthew. In preparation for the role, he read a book that talked about the joy Jesus experienced, suggesting he must have smiled a lot.
Yes, he was a man acquainted with sorrow (Isaiah 53:3) but as the verse above says, he was also a man of joy. I imagine Jesus enjoyed life more fully than anyone ever has. He would have appreciated life, knowing and understanding everything about it, including life at the side of the Father, as a human and the life to come. For the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). God’s joy is a joy unimaginable to us!
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matthew 23:37, NLT).
When I think of tenderness, I think of a mother with her baby. She protects, comforts, soothes and cares for her little one with softness and gentleness. Jesus compared himself to a mother hen in this verse, not that chickens are known for being tender, but the image of the mother protecting her young ones under her wing is comforting.
Jesus called God his father and fathers can be tender too. All the beautiful characteristics we value and admire come from God – he is the source of love, compassion, tenderness, care and concern. His tenderness toward us is something we can count on; we just have to be willing to come under his wing.