Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)
As I sit here at my keyboard, I am overwhelmed with joy because I know that I am well and truly loved. It’s nothing to do with how beautiful I am or even how good a person I am. And that is what brings me joy. I know that no matter what I do or how low I sink, my Father in Heaven will always love me.
Throughout the history of mankind, people have got it wrong. We’ve believed that our Creator is mean and cranky and judgemental; that one misstep in life means being condemned to life outside of His presence and goodness and love forever. The ancient Jews got it wrong. And over the centuries, the Christian church has got it wrong. And that’s why God sent Jesus; to try to change our minds about who He is.
Jesus went from town to village to city preaching, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” But throughout the centuries since Jesus spoke it, many have interpreted that statement as a threat used to make people stop doing bad things, because Jesus also told people to repent. That word, repent, carries a whallop that religious leaders have tried to use to manipulate their flocks – and the church has tried to use to change non-believers – for centuries. It has a religious connotation that Jesus never meant it to have. In fact, if you look at the meaning of the word “repent” in the Greek, which is the language the Gospels of Christ were written in, it actually means “to change one’s mind” or to change how you think.
So what Jesus was actually saying when He said, “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” was: “Change the way you think about God. The Kingdom of Heaven and all its power and blessings is so close to you that you can reach out and grasp it, right where you are!” And it’s true, even today!
I always believed in God. As a child I loved Him and believed in Jesus and I believed He loved me too. But I lost my faith when I was ten years old, and then most of my adult life I believed He was distant and cold and uncaring. That He loved mankind as a whole, but had too much to do with running the universe and everything in it to care about me and my puny little life. I prayed to God but was afraid to put my trust in Him. I was afraid He would reject me or abandon me just when I started to lean on Him.
But one day, after coming to the end of my own strength and being stripped of my pride – hitting bottom as AA calls it – I humbled myself and surrendered my need for control. I gave up trying to understand the Cross and why Jesus had to die. I just knew I needed him, and so I asked Him to come into my life and have His way in me. And in that moment I experienced the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven for the first time. It flooded into my life, permeating my mind, my heart, my soul, my spirit, and even my body, with a sensation that felt like warm oil or honey pouring down from above, covering me and penetrating every part of me. In that warmth was an intense and powerful feeling of being loved as I had never been loved before, and I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God loved me just as I was; that I was precious to Him. It changed me forever.
I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. (Psalm 13:5)
I still have my struggles with believing God loves me sometimes, and I have been through many serious trials in my life since inviting Jesus in, but I have had the strength and the courage to weather every storm because I know that the Kingdom of Heaven and all its resources and power are at hand. All I have to do is reach out and grasp hold of it; and remember my Father’s love for me once again. If I can’t feel it at first, I rest in the knowledge of His goodness and love, and I read the words of Jesus, because He came to teach us that God is not a bean-counting judgemental God, but a compassionate, loving Father, who made a way for us to enter into His love and His presence by sending His One and Only Son to take “all the bad stuff”, as my granddaughter puts it, on Himself so that we could be free to know our Father’s love and goodness, and to be the individuals He created us to be.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” John 3:16
It’s a free gift, and it’s there for the taking – close enough to touch! You don’t have to clean up or smarten up or grow up, you just have to humble yourself and ask, and then reach out and take hold of what is offered. God is waiting for you. And I can promise you will never regret inviting Him in, because He is good and His unfailing love endures forever!
But to all who have received Him – those who believe in His name – He has given the right to become God’s children. John 1:12