Is God Nice?

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“Are you nice?” My youngest posed this question about 5 minutes after I had yelled at her for jumping around on the couch.

“What?” I asked, confused by her question.

“Are you nice now? Or are you mad again?”

Ah. I see. She was testing the waters to see if it was safe to approach. She stood staring at me with wide, dark eyes, waiting timidly for my response. I wasn’t sure what to say. The closest thing to the truth would have been, “Yes, dear. Mommy’s eyes are no longer shooting angry laser beams, and the fire in her belly has been squelched for now.” After all, it wasn’t the first time I had told her not to jump on the couch. The volume of my tone had conveyed that the last straw had been dropped on the proverbial camel’s back and the end was near. My wrath resulted in an entire household cowering in their bedrooms to see if the runt of the family would survive the lightning that was sure to strike her where she stood.

Sigh…felt like a pretty big mom fail. I knelt down and opened my arms. She immediately ran to me so I could wrap her up in a big hug.

“Yes, Baby Girl. Mommy is nice now. I’m sorry I yelled. You shouldn’t have been jumping on the couch, and I shouldn’t have yelled. We were both wrong. We both need Jesus to help us do right.”

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As she snuggled in tighter, wrapping her little arms all the way around my neck, I thought about my early days as a Christian. There were years when I approached God just as my little one had approached me. I timidly tried to pray, knowing that I had messed up yet again, and wondered if God was nice, or mad at me. There were times when I knew I needed to pray, but I waited, feeling like maybe God needed some more time to calm down before we talked. I knew God hated sin, and it stood to reason that my sin would be met with a frown and possibly an angry voice from the heavens.

There were times in my faith when I thought that this was really too much. There was no way I could keep God happy all the time, and I decided I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore. Maybe I could just stop worrying about trying to please God and live how I wanted…but, I couldn’t. I kept finding myself longing to be right with God. There was no peace in my heart when I didn’t come to the Father and ask forgiveness. Yet, I really felt like God was angry with me all the time. Why wouldn’t he be? I kept making the same mistakes.

Sometimes, I would reach a point of determination where I’d decided that this time I would do better. This time, I wouldn’t make the same mistake. For a few days or weeks, I felt pretty good about myself. It would seem like I was finally getting the hang of this Christian life. Me and God were finally on good terms again. Then I’d find myself back at square one, where I knew I had messed up big time again. Surely, God would be completely peeved this time. Surely, this would be the last straw with him.

What I lacked during this season of my faith was an accurate understanding of the gospel. I knew Jesus’ death washed away my sin, but I didn’t understand that his sacrifice also appeased the wrath of God. I knew that Jesus’ death grieved God, but I didn’t understand that Jesus bore, not only my sin, but also the wrath of God towards my sin. I never have to experience the full cup of God’s wrath, because Jesus drank all of it for me!

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Without a better understanding of the Gospel, we will continue to feel like we are on the outs with God. Sure, he said he’ll forgive us, but we feel like we still have to earn back our good standing. Believing this lie will keep us from repenting, because it just seems too hard. It will keep us working hard to earn our place in his family.

It’s tempting to think that God is mad at us, because we would be mad if we were him, right? Yet, God is not a human. His anger is always right. Ours is not. When I get angry with my kids, I have to ask myself if my anger is because they have done something that could cause harm to themselves, or am I angry for selfish reasons. When my daughter runs into the street without stopping to check for cars, my anger towards her disobedience is right. Her disobedience could have resulted in serious harm, even death. But, when I am angry with them for interrupting me while I am busy, or because I’m tired of dealing with their misbehavior, then my anger is wrong. It is self-serving.

God’s anger is always right. He hates our sin because sin brings death to his children. He loves us and does not want to be separated from us. In fact, he separated himself from his own Son, temporarily, so that we could be reconciled to him forever. We will never see God’s brow furrowed at us in anger. Instead, when we sin, we are met with the grief of a loving Father, who hates the sin that is destroying his beloved child. He is a good Father, and his anger towards sin is right. What's more, his love toward us is steadfast, and this is what compels us to respond with obedience. His compassion and grace are what changes our hearts and transforms our behavior. Rather than obeying out of fear of his wrath, we want to obey out of gratitude for the underserved mercy he has offered us.

Milton Vincent talks about the appropriate response to God's forgiveness and loving kindness in his Gospel Primer:

I also found the grace of the gospel producing in me a huge passion to love and obey God. In moments of temptation, I enjoyed saying to myself, "You know, I can commit this sin, and God's grace would abound to me all the more as He maintains my justified status...But it is precisely for this reason that I choose not to commit this sin!" In such moments I would walk away from sin with laughter in my heart!

My prayer for us today, is that God will give us the faith to believe the truth about the full gospel of Jesus’ work on the cross. I pray that when we timidly test the waters to see if God is angry with us, we will find ourselves met with open arms and a celebration. I pray that we will open our own arms to our children when they have sinned, so they won’t grow up thinking God is still angry with them. I pray that we would be so overjoyed by the compassion of God, that we would respond with grateful obedience.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.            Luke 15:20-24

For further encouragement study Romans 5.

Creepy Critters

“Look at this flower! It’s so pretty!” My 7-year-old daughter jumped off of her bike and ran to the edge of the sidewalk leaving the rest of us behind. She knelt down and reached out her hand to pick the flower and that’s when I spotted it…

A two-foot black snake was not more than a foot away from her in the grass. I opened my mouth to scream at her to back away, but she spotted it at that very second and did what most of us would do. She screamed “SNAKE!” And turned and ran straight towards me, complete terror in her face. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my shirt. 

“It’s okay, Baby” I said rather breathlessly as shivers ran their course up and down my spine leaving my gut knotted. We all stood there quietly and watched as the snake (which honestly was probably just as terrified of my seemingly giant daughter) slowly slithered into the bushes and out of sight. I calmly picked up my daughter’s bike and pushed it home as she stayed right by my side, refusing to let go of my arm the rest of the way home. 

This week, as I am reading through the life of Jesus to my daughter’s, I was reminded of another snake. The Gospel of John records a conversation Jesus had with a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. Nic came to Jesus late at night to avoid being seen in order to ascertain exactly who Jesus was and what he came to do. Jesus starts talking about being born again and Nic just gets confused “How can a man go back into his mother’s womb?” He’s wondering. Nic and Jesus banter back and forth with Jesus making outrageous statements that Nic can’t get his head wrapped around, but then Jesus ends this discussion with something that was sure to click in Nic’s brain. He starts talking about the story of Moses lifting up the snake on a stick in the wilderness. This story is found in Numbers 21 and Nic, as a religious leader, would have had it memorized at an early age. 

Why would Jesus bring this up? You have to skip to the end- to the crucifixion story -to understand what Jesus was saying. He is telling Nic that just as the poison of the snakes in the wilderness brought death to the Israelites, so the poison of sin has brought death to the whole world. Just as the snake was lifted up on a stick in the wilderness and brought healing to those who had been poisoned, so Jesus himself would be lifted up and all who look to him will be healed of the sin that is poisoning their hearts. 

I don’t care how small he is…he doesn’t belong in my kitchen!!!!

I don’t care how small he is…he doesn’t belong in my kitchen!!!!

Snakes are kind of big deal in our house. All 5 of us girls are pretty terrified of them, and for good reason, as here in Texas we have some of the highest rates of poisonous snake bites. In fact, I walked downstairs one morning to find a small snake had crept through a crack in our back door and was in my kitchen. It was terrifying (that’s the “little guy” in this pic-he was obviously looking for his mommy and got lost). But, what is more terrifying than the poisonous snakes of Texas, is the sin that poisons our hearts. This is what I want my girls to understand. 

It is the snake in the first garden that we have to watch out for. The poison he has infected us with is the most dangerous of all, and the only cure is Jesus. The problem is, we often try to find other cures. We often look to our own ability to behave and make good choices. We often place our hope in our own performance, hoping that if we can do well long enough, we’ll eventually rid ourselves of this poison. Sometimes we try to cure ourselves with “things”. Fill in the blank with your particular brand of poison, be it food, drink, shopping, maybe even relationships that you hope will cure what ails you. This is as absurd as trying to cure a poisonous snake bite by drinking more of the same poison. There is no cure other than Jesus! Without him we will die from this poison! If there were another cure, we would have already administered it and be well, wouldn’t we? We don’t have any other antidote for sin. We must trust Jesus’ death on the cross. 

This past Sunday, we remembered Christ crucified and raised from death. We remembered through singing and hearing the Word of God preached that we were once dead in our sins, but are now alive in him. 

I want my daughter to remember the fear she felt when she saw that snake in hopes that she will remember how to respond to Satan’s temptation. We often do not run from sin because we’ve forgotten that sin brings death. Instead of running from the poison, as my daughter did that day, we move closer to it - maybe even pick it up and play with it for a little while. Then, when sin sinks it’s venomous fangs into our heart, we realize we have been foolish. We should have run like Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife. Adam and Eve should have run, too. 

And I want to remember how easily sin can creep through the cracks when we are not paying attention. When we find ourselves suddenly confronted by our own sin, it can be unbelievable. How did this happen? How can we keep this from happening again? How can a man be reborn from his mother’s womb?

Thankfully, God did not leave us in our foolishness. Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus in what is probably the most well-known verse from Scripture. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. At the end of John, we see Nicodemus respond to Jesus with saving faith. What is the evidence? He gave his entire life savings for Jesus’ burial (John 19:39). No one still dying from the poison of sin would have done such a generous thing. Some scholars argue that Nicodemus was the first convert to Christianity. He looked upon the Son of Man, lifted up on the cross for the sins of all, and believe.

As you lead your children towards deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus, remember the death from which you have been saved. Remember the Son of Man lifted up and the hope that can only be found in trusting him. Remember to teach your children to run from snakes (both literally and figuratively) and run to the only Father who can protect and remove the poison from their soul. 

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”…she took of its fruit and ate…. Genesis 3:4-6

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.    1 John 4:10

For further study and encouragement, read John 3; John 19-20; Romans 5. 

Overcome By Light

Death and darkness seem to be everywhere. I find myself wanting to pull my children close and bar the doors and windows. Abortion, shootings, sex trafficking, abuse, abandonment, rioting, anger, all-encompassing hate… These repulsive monsters seem to be slithering into the corners of our homes to devour the weakest and most vulnerable of us. The terrifying reality is that all of us are weak and vulnerable. No one is able to overcome this darkness. I want to weep and I also want to rage against the suffering that is all around. 

I’ve been thinking lately about a painting that used to hang in the spare room of my grandma’s house. There’s a good chance your grandma also had a copy as it was the decorative trend in the 1950’s among evangelical families. Hans Zatska was the artist who painted it for postcards in 1918, calling it The Guardian.

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I remember laying in the spare room at night after my grandma tucked me in and staring at this painting. In the amber glow of the night light that she always left on for me, it almost felt as though I was walking across the bridge with those barefoot, Dutch children. The dark corners of the room on either side of me seemed to close in as I focused on the angel. I would close my eyes tight as shivers of fear ran through my spine. Then I would call for my grandma to come in and tell me one more time about how God sends his angels to watch over little children, which of course, she always would with great expression and complete confidence. 

My grandma is with the angels and Jesus now. She is safe from all darkness. She has overcome death. Though I wish sometimes I could hear her steady voice tell me again about Jesus and his love and care for me, I understand now that it is God’s love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

My grandma’s confidence in Jesus always pointed me to him and every time she did, I could feel the light and glory of God at work in my soul. She had a way of expressing the truth about Jesus that confirmed what I already knew in my heart to be true…

Jesus is the light and the darkness cannot overwhelm him. 

I am holding tighter to that truth these days. It is my steady voice that now calms the fear of the darkness for my children. While darkness and death threaten to overwhelm us - they never will. Darkness is held at bay and we are kept from the evil one. This is the prayer of Jesus, and the truth of his words right before he walked into the darkness and death of the cross. 

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him…Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17).

Jesus is still praying these things for us. As the Son of God, he has the authority to do so. He has come to give us “life abundantly” (John 10:10) and that life “was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) Jesus is “the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

The prayer to keep us is not about our physical safety. In fact, we all will face death physically. Jesus’ prayer is about our trust in God. Jesus is praying that the Father will keep us faithful to him while we are living in the darkness. It is not physical harm that the enemy is trying to accomplish, it is distrust of the Father. This was his goal in the first garden when the dark words, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil”, gushed from his decaying tongue. He lustily drew Eve into the darkness by inviting her to believe that she could be like God, oh and by the way, “did God actually say…?”. Is God really trustworthy? Open your eyes, Eve! Why would a good God keep you from this tasty tree? Unless he is holding out. Keeping something better for himself, perhaps? “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew…” (Genesis 3:7).

Enter darkness and death…and the stench that has followed in its wake.

The greatest danger for us and our children is the lie that there is something in the darkness that is more trustworthy than God. While I fear for my children’s safety, and have since they were nestled cozy in my womb, my greatest fear is that they would be lured by that same vile snake.  My mission as a mother is to shine light in the darkness by daily reminding them of God’s faithfulness and of his great love that sent Jesus to the cross on their behalf. I remind them daily of the good Shepherd who has lain down his life for them. 

Fearful Momma, in those moments when you feel overcome by this dark world, your only hope is to do what Eve in that dreadful moment failed to do - trust the Father’s love. Read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and remember these three truths.,

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  1. Jesus is praying for us - that is his full-time job until he comes to get us.

  2. Jesus has already overcome the darkness on our behalf.

  3. Jesus has prayed that we would remain in this dark world so that we may shine his light, that is now inside us, so that those little ones who are still wandering in the dark can find their way to him. 

We are tempted to avoid the darkness because it is scary. We are tempted to insulate our children from the darkness in order to keep them safe. The truth is that we can do neither. The darkness is everywhere…even inside our own hearts. We have no power of our own to protect our children from this darkness. Thankfully, we have the greater power of the Spirit, not to hide, but to shine light into the darkness. The Spirit grants us power to trust God and to live faithfully for his purpose and mission. 

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.  2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.   Psalm 34:4-8

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   Matthew 5:14-16

I am praying that we will give light to all who are in our house! Stay faithful to the mission, Dear Momma!

For further study and encouragement read: John 14-17