Sarah and I have started watching this cheesy WB drama called One Tree Hill. (Oh, the beauty and danger of Netflix.) The basic premise of the story is that there are these two high school age sons who both want their father’s love. One was rejected before birth when the teenage mother refused to have an abortion. The other grew up in his father’s house, but still never really felt loved and accepted. As the two boys compete on and off the basketball court, deep inside, it seems that they are trying to make up for what is missing in their father’s love.
That’s the story of our lives, isn’t it. Way down deep inside, we’re all trying to feel loved.
We all feel insecure in our fathers’ love - whether that’s our earthly fathers or our Heavenly Father. We never quite feel good enough. We never feel like we measure up. We always feel like we’re letting somebody down.
Paul throws us a lifeline in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:4-8)
These are my favorite verses in the entire Bible. God loves us. God chose us as his children. When Jesus was baptized, God said: “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matt. 3:17). Now, because we are in Christ, God says the same thing about us: This is my dearly loved son. This is my dearly loved daughter, who brings me great joy. Ephesians 1 tells us that God’s love for us is unconditional, lavish, and joyous. Let’s unpack that.
God loves us unconditionally.
I like to play poker, especially Texas Hold’em. (I don’t get to play very often, though, so if you have a game going, you better let me know.) Every now and then, you’ll see a player make a big bet blind. Without even looking at his cards, he’ll push in a big pile of chips saying, “I have a good feeling about this hand.”
Paul says, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us … God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family.” God looked way into the future and saw you and said: “I have a good feeling about this one. I’m all in.”
You may look at your life and your skill set and the interior condition of your heart and say, “I think God made a bad bet.” You may be feeling like a 7-2 off suit — which is the worst possible hand in Texas Hold’em.
Paul is honest about that too. We’re sinners. God doesn’t just love the good ones. There’d be no one left to love. We’re all sinners. In fact, our sin has got a hold on us. We’re in bondage to our sin. We get stuck in lives we don’t want because we can’t stop doing things we know aren’t good for us or for those around us. At some point, we all have to face the fact that we owe a debt that we cannot pay and that if it’s up to us, we’ll just destroy our lives from the inside out. Our debt is so high and our sin is so deep that the cost to purchase our freedom was Jesus blood. Jesus died to save us from our own self-destructive ways. Maybe God is wishing he hadn’t gone all in before looking at his cards and seeing that we are such a mess.
No way, says Paul. God is rich in kindness and grace. He knew what a mess we were, but he also knew that he could make things right through Jesus. I love a verse from Hebrews: “Because of the joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (12:2). What was the joy awaiting Jesus? Us. Jesus paid the all-in bet for us by laying his ALL on the line, and he was happy about it. “This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” He was making good on his bet so that he could adopt us into his family.
As Anne Lammott says, “You are pre-approved.” God chose you in advance. Nothing you can do can ever change God’s love for you.
We may be a 7-2 hand, but in Christ there are two 7s and a deuce on the flop. The good news of Jesus Christ is that we win with the worst hand ever. God loves you unconditionally. That will never change.
God loves us lavishly.
Sometimes we get this impression that God is stingy: “I’ll love you this much but no more. Yeah, I’ll give you grace, but three strikes and you’re out. That’s my limit.” It brings up memories of my Mom’s voice: “Boy! You’re getting on my nerves, and I’ve only got one left!”
But God’s not like that. Paul says God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (v 3). God has poured out glorious grace on us (v. 6). God is rich in kindness and grace (v. 7). God has showered or lavished his kindness on us (v. 8).
The thing about lavishness is that there’s way more than enough. My mom is a lavish giver and a garage-saler. That’s a dangerous combination. When I was growing up, she would fill up our Christmas stockings beyond the point of overflowing. Every year it got better. At first she just filled them to the point that the seems were popping. Then, she put each stocking on a separate chair and filled up the chair. By the time I was in high school - high school mind you - there would be the stocking on the chair with all kinds of random presents - gum, socks, books, CDs, who knows what else - overflowing in a circle around the chair. It was lavish.
When Emma was born, my mom showed up with a station wagon so full of clothes and diapers and toys that - not only could they not see out of the back mirror, but my mom and dad could barely see each other while they were both sitting in the front seat! They barely brought a change of clothes for themselves because they wanted to save room for more presents for us. My mom’s love is lavish!
God’s love is lavish like that. He just gives and gives and gives. There is no way you could ever exhaust its quantity or variety. It goes on and on and on.
We come to God asking for a pittance - just what we need to survive - and he fills our hands and our pockets and our bags with grace to overflowing. God’s love for us us is lavish.
God loves us joyously.
We can also get the feeling that God only loves us because he has to. I mean, he’s God right. That’s kind of his job. But if he wasn’t God, if he had a choice in the matter, maybe he would just kick us to the curb, or tell us to go watch TV and leave him alone for a while. — Maybe God is a parent like us on our worst days.
But that’s not God. “God loved us and chose us … God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family … This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (1:4-5). Bringing us into his family is part of God’s “plan to fulfill his own good pleasure” (1:9). The simple truth is — we make God happy.
There is a beautiful little verse hidden in one of the minor prophets: Zephaniah 3:17. “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”
That verse takes me back to my Texas high school days when Tim McGraw was always on the radio. In the verses of this one song, he talks about all the crazy things he does for love, and then he busts out the chorus:
But I like it, I love it, I want some more of it I try so hard I can't rise above it Don't know what it is ‘bout that little gal's loving But I like it, I love it, I want some more of it
God likes you. God loves you. God wants some more of you.
And that my friends is good news. God loves you joyously.
Loving you isn’t hard for God. It’s not a chore. It’s not something he has to do just to keep up his reputation. You add joy to God’s life. God loves you joyously.
God loves you like a chubby Korean farmer.
One of my favorite movies of all time is called: Noh-neun Nae Oonmyoung - You Are My Destiny. Side note: Korean for “my destiny” (Nae Oonmyoung) sounds like another Korean word (Naengmyoun), so at first I thought the title of this movie was “You Are My Cold Noodles.” You Are My Destiny is a much better title.
In this movie, Eun-Ha was a victim of sex trafficking, but she escapes her trafficker and runs away to a tiny farming village where she supports herself through prostitution. Somehow, a clumsy farmer named Seok-Joong falls in love with Eun-ha. Slowly, awkwardly, relentlessly, he wins her heart, and against his family’s wishes, they get married.
But the honeymoon doesn’t last long. After a confrontation with her former trafficker and a string of confusing and disorienting events, Eun-Ha runs away and returns to her life of prostitution. She eventually goes to jail, and she finds out that she has AIDS.
But Seok-Joong doesn’t give up on her. He sends her letters and tries to visit her over and over again, but she always rejects his letters and refuses his visits. She is convinced that she is not good enough for his love. Seok-Joong wavers between despair and hope. He even injures his throat in a failed suicide attempt. Finally, near the end of the movie, Eun-Ha agrees to see Seok-Joong. Watch what happens:
We are all Eun-ha. We know we’re broken and messed up on the inside.
Sometimes, in our darkest moments, we all want to cry out with Eun-ha: “Don’t you hate me? Aren’t you disgusted with me?” We know we don’t deserve God’s love. And part of us wants to push God away because we think it can’t possibly be true that he would love someone like us.
But the good news of Jesus Christ is that God is like that chubby Korean farmer who just won’t give up on the one he loves.
God loves us unconditionally, lavishly, and joyously. No matter what we’ve done, no matter what is inside, no matter what we think of ourselves, no matter what other people say about us, God loves us, and he always will. We make God happy. God loves us unconditionally, lavishly, and joyously. And that changes everything.
Pause with me for a few minutes of reflection.
- What is your deepest wound?
- What is your greatest shame?
- What is that part of you that you hope no one ever finds out about?
- What is that dark corner of your soul that refuses to be loved or forgiven?
Just sit in that place for a moment. Feel that pain.
In that deepest, darkest place, God says to you: “You are my beloved child. I love you anyway. I am pleased with you. I am proud of you. You bring me great joy. I have more grace than you could ever use up. You are pre-approved. I love you unconditionally forever.”
And that changes everything.