My high-school basketball coach was a classic, old-school screamer who motivated with fear and shame. His voice was powerful, but I heard it only when I did something wrong. If I turned the ball over on offense or blew my assignment on defense, practice would stop, and the shaming would begin. Red in the cheeks and foaming at the mouth, he would scream until I had to wipe the spit off the side of my face. I never really knew him outside of basketball practice, but I know he was an angry man.

Many people have a similar view of God. They believe he’s a grumpy old man who has to get his way, and that when he doesn’t, he will shame, guilt, and scare people to get them in line. Although most wouldn’t say it out loud, deep down even many believers think of God as “the God who is out to get me,” that he is waiting for us to mess up so he can meet his divine quota for punishing sin. Perhaps this comes from a particular teaching or from a bad experience with a church or a Christian, but either way, this is how many functionally view God.

When we open the Bible, we encounter a very different God. The God who delights. The God who sings. The God who saves.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17)

This is one of the most inspiring and encouraging verses that you will ever read—but not in a “power of positive thinking” way. To read this passage merely as an inspirational pick-me-up would cheapen it and obscure its true meaning. To lift the verse out of its Old Testament context and surround it with clouds and doves is to miss the substantive joy ...

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