“What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts. What festivities await us inside your holy Temple” (Psalm 65:4, NLT).
A lot of people have the impression Christians never have any fun. They think we go around either with sad or judgmental expressions on our faces all the time. Although there is way too much judging going on toward those within churches and without, Christians do know how to have fun.
God is the inventor of laughter. Jesus was a man of joy who definitely had a sense of humor and enjoyed a good laugh. Joy is a wonderful result of living close to God, which everyone, Christians included, can enjoy, and heaven is a happy place, full of life, love and laughter. And the festivities mentioned in this verse? Sounds like a real party to me!
“Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved” (Psalm 80:19, NLT).
Sometimes my kids didn’t listen too well, especially when they were toddlers. I remember having to place my hands on either side of their heads to turn their faces toward me. That’s when they looked me in the eyes and I knew I had their attention.
Adults are the same, especially when it comes to listening to God. We get distracted and focused on everything but him. God knows this about us and doesn’t necessarily expect us to have the strength or discipline to keep focused, so he brings our attention back to him. In the bigger sense, he is also the one who turns our lives to him. Left to ourselves, we would go our merry way, ignorant of his grace and oblivious to how much he loves us. With patience and mercy, he turns our faces around (which is the meaning of repentance) and shines his own on us.
“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” Titus 3:5a, NLT).
Many people, both inside and outside church, believe the only way to be in God’s favor is to be good and to do good things for others. Even some who believe in grace often hold fears deep inside that it might not be enough. Or they think grace and forgiveness are God’s side of the deal, and we still have to do our part, including racking up points for a reward in heaven.
All we know is the system of works and rewards, so we mistakenly think God’s system is the same. God could have set it up that way, much the way things work on earth, but he didn’t. He doesn’t practice noblesse oblige, which is “the moral obligation of those of high birth, powerful social position, etc., to act with honor, kindliness, generosity, etc.” (dictionary.com). He saves out of his incredible mercy, pure and simple. It’s mercy that extends from the most evil of sinners to the sweetest grandmas, high, wide and deep enough for the whole world. And there is no “our part.” He’s done it all.
“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us” (1 Thessalonians 5:9, NLT).
When some people hear Christians talk about being the chosen of God, they feel a little uneasy and might even get defensive. The word chosen makes Christianity seem like an exclusive group or an organization with secret passwords and handshakes, accessible only to a few. Unfortunately, some churches perpetuate that impression.
Being chosen by God means chosen to be saved and as we know, Jesus came to save the whole world. The only secret being kept by mainstream Christianity is how much God loves everyone and what grace really means. Both are unconditional, generously given by the One who died to make all people free, and openly available to everyone. There could be one more secret that needs to get out—just how easy it is to receive God’s love and forgiveness. All anyone has to say is yes!
“But you are not like that [disobedient], for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NLT).
I have two kids, a boy and a girl. I didn’t get to choose them or anything about them, their genders, what they would look like, who they would be. They were gifts and I couldn’t have chosen better if I’d had the chance. They are both delightful young adults now and I love them dearly.
The Father of all did choose us. We are his children by choice. Even though this verse is directed at believers in some foreign provinces, who were at one time Gentiles, salvation is open to all. That’s how they became believers, after all. God’s chosen generation is not an exclusive club, though some have read this verse that way. God’s chosen includes everyone, because everyone is included in the forgiving work of the cross.
“For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality” (Colossians 2:17, NLT).
For many people, it’s easy to get bogged down with rule-keeping. Some churches get so hung up on rules, they lose sight of the people they are supposed to be serving. For many years, I thought the laws were all that mattered. They were more real to me than Jesus.
But the laws and rules are only shadows. They are like cardboard people and fake furniture on a stage that are only revealed when the lights come up. Jesus is the bright light center stage, whose illumination shows everything else to be shadows. All the laws and rules fade to black in the face of Jesus, our reality.
“Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, NLT).
I’ve stated many times here how we need to be careful not to anthropomorphize God—to ascribe human thoughts, feelings or characteristics to him, to make him like us. But it’s also important to realize that when God came to earth as a human being, he did become just like us. He was still God, which is hard to wrap our minds around and presents us with a bit of a challenge when trying to know and understand God. He will always be a mystery in many ways and that’s a good thing.
One way he became like us was in his suffering. Jesus experienced all the pain and anguish this world has to offer, including a horrendous death on a cross. He entered into our suffering and let it enter him. Because he was willing to become a human in every way, he can understand and relate to our pain and even feel it with us—and help us through it.