The narthex of the church was full of noisy, excited teenagers eager for the week-long service project to begin. Even among the crowd, he stood out. He was shorter than average, slight of frame with an obvious “you can’t touch me” attitude and a hard shell of protection. I was immediately drawn to him and to the challenge his demeanor communicated. I made it a point to get to know him and slowly he let me discover his delightful sense of humor and revealed his amazing artistic ability. However, the hurt and sadness hung on him like a shroud. As the days went by, he began to give me the precious gift of his trust and one night after my talk he asked if he could speak with me privately. As we talked, his stories broke my heart. His life had been a series of rejections and messages that he had no significance and wasn’t worth anything. He was especially wounded by the confusion he felt about why his parents struggled to love him. He felt he could never measure up, that he was a constant disappointment and embarrassment. I prayed with him and told him about the ultimate Father who would never reject him or stop loving him. I was blessed to tell him how he could know this Father if he accepted His Son Jesus as his savior. After we prayed, I asked if I could give him a hug and as I did, I said, “If you were my son, I would cherish you.” That sweet child broke down sobbing uncontrollably. All he wanted was for someone to love and cherish him – just as he was. That next day this precious child accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and found a Father who would love him more than he would ever understand. Glory to God!
Aren’t we all like that young man? Isn’t there a little boy or girl inside each of us that is unsure if we could really be loved and accepted no matter what we’ve done, no matter other people think or say? I believe it is part of being human – this insecurity and doubt of our worth and significance. The evil one knows our weakness so he uses it to his advantage. It is where he often attacks us to draw us away for the very one we long for, to keep us from resting in the assurance we yearn. Knowing we are totally and completely loved and accepted just as we are is a powerful force in the human experience. Father Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who lives and ministers in the worst gang-infested area of Los Angeles. In his book “Tatoos on the Heart” he talks about the powerful transforming message of what he calls the “no matter whatness” of God. He has seen this powerful spiritual truth transform the most hardened gang member.
I would guess that most of us reading this blog aren’t hardened gang members, but we do deal with shame, disgrace, brokenness, insecurity, lies of the evil one, doubt, feelings of worthlessness as well as our old sinful natures that seem to cling so tenaciously. We need to be assured of the “no matter whatness” of God, too. We need to believe we are cherished and loved – just as we are – with all our imperfections. When I am feeling in need of assurance of the “no matter whatness” of God, I go to Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty enough to save you. He will take great delight in you. The quietness of his love will calm you down. He will sing with joy because of you.” There I find assurance of my worth and God’s unconditional love. I am comforted, encouraged and strengthened. But this week our Pastor, Peter Jonker added another depth of meaning to this verse that has brought me to my knees in worship and filled my heart with humble gratitude. Since he is far more eloquent than I will ever be, I have his permission to share part of his sermon:
“But the second fulfillment, the deeper fulfillment comes when Jesus, the warrior, chooses to let himself become the one who deals with sin and receives the punishment on Good Friday. And that means that, from our New Testament perspective, when we look at verse 17, when we see the warrior take off his sword, pick up the daughter of Zion and rejoice over her, we can see that it’s not just the daughter of Zion who is scarred from the struggle, the warrior is wounded, too. His hands and feet are shattered; he’s lived through all the fear and confusion and loneliness. When we look at verse 17 from a New Testament perspective we can hear that the joyful song the warrior is sung by a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief, and it is sung at great cost……He rejoices over us when we look like the daughter of Zion. Jesus sings over not when our skin is smooth and clean and we are beautiful. Jesus sings over us when we are a mess; when we are beat up by our sin and worn out by life, when we are limp and dirty, when we are people with a past. Because that’s what sanctification looks like. Jesus doesn’t walk the path of sunshine sweetness; he goes down into the sin and grit and struggle. He doesn’t float about the struggle on gossamer wings; he goes into the dust and dirt and dies. And as his followers, that’s the path sanctification follows for us. We expect to bleed. We expect to have to kill off parts of ourselves. On this journey we will face doubt and be called to keep going. We will face betrayal and be called upon to forgive. We will face death, either our own or the death of people we love, and we will be called to travel through the cold river. It’s a long road and the way is hard, but as we go, the song of salvation, the song that God sings over his people is always sounding over us and around us. And even though we are tired and perplexed sometimes, as we walk we join in the song. And there’s a joy in that kind of song; a deeper joy, a richer joy.”
Dear friend, embrace the “no matter whatness” of God and live in the reality that you are cherished – just as you are by the one who suffered for you, delights in you, and will never stop loving you! Praise be to God!!