Archive for Devotional

The True Vine

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read John 15:1-8

God had carefully, lovingly tended His vineyard, Israel, for centuries, but it only yielded bad fruit. So He tore down all protection for His vineyard and let it be plundered.

But He promised that later, His vineyard would again be fruitful, protected, and blessed, and its fruit would fill the whole earth.

What would make the difference? What could make a hopelessly unfruitful vineyard now fruitful beyond all expectations?

For the answer, read John 15:1-8. God’s fruitful vine is no longer a human nation, but Jesus Christ. We His people are now branches in that vine.

Israel had been called to be God’s light to the nations, His servant to bring redemption to all peoples (Isaiah 44:1-2), and His fruitful vine (Isaiah 5:1-7). When it seemed that they had failed, Jesus Christ, growing from Israel, fulfilled all God’s purposes for His people.

  • He is now the Light of the World (Isaiah 49:6; John 8:12), and He lights the world through His people (Matthew 5:14).
  • He is God’s servant to bring redemption to all who will trust in Him (Isaiah 42:1; John 3:16). He sends us, His servants, to carry on His work (John 20:21).
  • He is the Father’s fruitful vine, and we are His branches as we live in the vine (John 15:1-8).

Do you remember Jesus’ very first miracle? He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). This was a close-up, personal version of a miracle our Creator does every day in every vineyard: He turns water into wine.

Our Creator does this miracle every day in and through His people as well. He turns ordinary human living into rich, flavorful, fruitful living as they abide in the vine – as they trust in Jesus Christ.

The Banquet

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Isaiah 24:1-3, 19-23; 25:1-10a

Are you ready for a sobering view of the future? Read Isaiah 24. It tells about the day when God judges the entire earth. As He has promised, He will cleanse this world of all evil in every form. He will remove everything that is not absolute truth, everything that is not love, everything that is not of Himself. Injustice, greed, lies, selfish lust – it will all be burned away. Imagine the devastation to the current world order! The entire earth will be shaken to its very core before the Unshakable Kingdom becomes reality:

Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed,
For the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem.
(Isaiah 24:23, NASB)

Or, in the words of Revelation 11:15:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever. (NASB)

Isaiah 25:1-5 is then a hymn of praise to the Almighty King who brought about such judgment and salvation.

But notice especially the verses that follow, Isaiah 25:6-10a. Now that the Holy and Sovereign Lord of the Universe has re-asserted His rule, He celebrates by throwing a lavish banquet.

Of course, He will spread out all the very best nourishment for all His people. But pause and imagine what He promises in verses 7-8:

  • God will finally “swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time” (v.7-8a, NASB). Wow! And this was written many centuries before Christ.
  • “The Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces” (v.8b, NASB).
  • All the cursed fruit of all our sin – all our suffering, all our disgrace, all the shame that has engulfed our entire race – will be removed forever. He has spoken, and He Himself will do it (v.8c).

After all God’s people have gone through, imagine them crying this together, with all their hearts:

“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited.
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” (v.9, NASB)

All that our hearts have longed for is coming. It will be full reality. Wait patiently.

How Do We Keep the Lord’s Supper Meaningful?

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

There is nothing magic about the Lord’s Supper. The eating and drinking in themselves won’t save us. They won’t draw us closer to God. They can become dry routine like anything else. How can we keep them meaningful?

  • The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance. Remember. Remember what He did, and remember He did it for you. Remember how dear was the price.
  • The Lord’s Supper is a celebration. Come joyfully! Rejoice in what He has done!
  • The Lord’s Supper is a feast. Your Banquet Host has spread a rich table of life and love for His people. Come and partake!
  • The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. Realize how unworthy you are. Come humbly. Come seeking. Come with thanksgiving.
  • The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste, an anticipation. Look ahead to what it will be to sit down with Christ and all His people at the marriage supper of the Lamb. 
  • The Lord’s Supper is for all God’s people. Come with them, as a member of His beloved family. Be conscious of the togetherness. Enjoy His grace with His other children.

True Food

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Isaiah 55

Isaiah ministered in the 700’s B.C., long before Judah’s exile. But the book that bears his name refers to times far in the future: their exile, their return, and beyond to the Messiah.

From Isaiah 40 on, God has been talking about the wonderful redemption and restoration that He would bring about through Messiah. With all that complete and available, in chapter 55 He issues an invitation.

In verses 1-2, who is He inviting? All who are thirsty, and those who have no money.

What is He offering? Water…but more: wine, milk, and bread, nourishing and delicious.

What are the terms of His offer? Everything is free. No money needed. All you have to do is want this food, and come to receive it.

This is true food and drink. Unlike our usual food, this won’t just nourish your body for a few hours. It will nourish your essential life, your complete self, and it will do so forever. It will totally satisfy you! It’s like a buffet of all the most delicious, nutritious foods. Just come, eat your fill for free, and “delight yourself in abundance” (Isaiah 55:2b, NASB).

What does this passage tell you about God? What picture does it draw of Him?

  • He is a Banquet Host who loves to give His very best.
  • He gives it all freely and joyfully. This host enjoys entertaining and giving.
  • He hates to see us wasting our entire lives on what is shallow and temporary, on what will only keep our bodies going for a few more hours. He is passionately concerned about our deepest, most lasting benefit.

Seven centuries later, this Banquet Host would send His only Son from heaven to earth to make the same offer in person:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. 

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water spring up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14, NASB)

New Driver

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…He does not treat us as our sins deserve…For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love…As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8, 10-11, 13-14, NIV)

I remember when my son was a new driver. He was so confident in his expertise, assured he could handle any situation (though he had no way of knowing what those situations would be). He was impatient with our parental concerns, eager for independence above all else. He said he could drive. The school said he could drive. The state said he could drive.

And he could drive, as long as it was smooth sailing. When situations were normal and all was clear, he was in control. But when the roads were crowded or unexpected demands were made, when quick thinking and experience were required, he bungled the basics. His reactions were not yet practiced or polished. His confidence suffered a sudden attack of realism, and he panicked, took chances, and sometimes used poor judgment.

For example, on his first Sunday in the church parking lot, he turned the wrong way down a one-way aisle, went too fast trying to pull into a parking space slanted the opposite direction, and scraped the side of a car. $285 in cash (we decided not to bother the insurance company).

Reflecting on this, I realize that to God my Father, I must seem much like my 16-year-old son did to me. I have so much experience as a Christian. I’ve studied and listened and lived. I know.

But when a crisis puts pressure on my faith; when my peace of mind is blind-sided by some anxiety; when a difficult situation demands that I set aside my own concerns and be thoroughly loving, I’m like a new driver. I lack the wisdom, the instincts, the reactions. I too often panic and blow it. In the process, I risk my Father’s reputation and the welfare of myself and those around me.

Yet I praise the Lord for His patience and His faithful persistence in teaching me. Though I panic, He does not. And I pray that He might help me listen more eagerly, reacting to His teaching as to loving wisdom, and not as if He were trying to meddle in my affairs or limit my freedom. I long for the day when I handle my daily demands as Christ would handle them, exercising His faith and His love.

What does a father do when his son blows it—when he makes a $285 mistake? I explained what he did wrong, then forgave him on the spot, gladly and completely. After all, he was doing his best. I was sympathetic with his struggles. It’s not easy, and I wanted to encourage him. I wanted him to succeed.

I was really rather proud of him. Still am.

Our Shepherd Forever

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Revelation 7:9-17

When God’s timeless purposes are complete, when He has done in Christ everything He ever wanted to do for His people, what will our relationship with Him be?

They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from the eyes. (Revelation 7:15-17, NASB)

Psalm 23:1 will be full reality for each of God’s people.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. (NIV)

As the Good Shepherd, the glorified Christ will pasture them:

They will hunger no longer. (Revelation 7:16a, NASB) 

He will lead them “beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2b, NASB):

“…nor will they thirst anymore…for the Lamb…will guide them to springs of the water of life.” (Revelation 7:16-17, NASB)

He will meet their every need in full measure: 

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17b, NASB)

As the Good Shepherd, God Himself will be their shelter and protection:

They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. (Revelation 7:15, NASB)

He will be with His flock personally, constantly, completely, and forever. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” What a beautiful picture of God’s love!

One Part of the Whole

We sometimes think that if we could only work alone, free from dependence on others, we would function better. But Ephesians 4:1-16 teaches that God intentionally made each of us dependent on others and others dependent on us. He made each of us only one member of the Body – a finger dependent on the hand, an eye dependent on the brain. He made us different and specific, not to divide us, but to draw us together. He made us partial so that we would learn to work together. Each of us is only one part of the whole, only one member of the glorious Body of the holy, eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Our supply-and-demand economy prods us to “broaden our market,” to generalize our work to appeal to a greater number of people. Even in Kingdom work the Spirit sometimes stretches us beyond our comfortable limits in order to make us more useful in Christ’s work. But remember that He has intentionally made each of us partial, each of us a role player, each of us only a small piece of the overall picture.

So in God’s work, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, be yourself. Be the best possible version of the unique person Almighty God is creating you to be. Others depend on your unique gifts, honed by the education, the experiences, and yes, the scars, that God is using to make you who you are.

Let me emphasize again: there is no substitute for the Spirit’s guidance. At times He will stretch you. At times He will keep you small and focused. But in the end, you will be only one piece of the whole, one specific member of the Body. Be content there. There is a hole you need to fill. There is a role that you need to play in an eternal purpose that is far grander than you can imagine.

Wait for His Time

In John 7:1-10, Jesus is in His home territory of Galilee, with the time drawing near for the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem. Faithful pilgrims would soon begin their long journeys.

Jesus’ brothers, not yet believers, were needling Him to go to the feast. They were cynically pushing Him to go and show off His “miracles”. “Why do these things in secret? Go show Yourself to the whole world!” they mocked.

Jesus responded, “My time is not yet here; for you anytime will do” (John 7:6, NIV).

“For you anytime will do.” If our agenda is set by human desires – whether our own desires or the desires of others – it will always be time to act. Human desires are a constant craving. They will always push us to act NOW. Human wisdom shouts that we should set goals, then reach them by careful planning, diligence, and personal initiative. The time is always NOW. It’s all up to you! Don’t just sit there! Go for it!

But if you are following God’s agenda, you will need to await His time, as did Jesus. Realize that God has gifted all human beings with the power to make meaningful decisions. He then forces them to live with the consequences of those decisions. In order to respect our decisions and still surely accomplish His own purposes, He waits for the right time to take just the right action. He patiently works within human limitations.

For example, God knew that Jesus was the full and final solution for all our needs. He was the key to God’s entire plan of salvation. Yet He waited for thousands of years until “the fullness of time came” (Galatians 4:4, NASB) before sending Jesus.

If you want God’s will for your life, you will have to await His time. That wait can be days, months, years, or decades. Many of His choice servants have died without ever seeing the fruit they desired from their labors. God is never rushed, never surprised, never caught short. He always does the perfect thing at the perfect time. Wait on Him. Each day be content to do whatever task He has assigned you that day, however menial or meaningless it seems. Faithfully plant the seed He gives you, then leave the harvest in His hands.

A Personal Story

I had become a Christian at age 10 and had lived an active, committed Christian life. Upon graduation from high school, I elected to commute to the local state university (the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati). Though my older brother had gone to a Christian college, I knew the local university was the right place for me.

But there I began questioning my belief in the Bible and in God Himself. All the miracle stories now seemed far-fetched. So for the first two years of college, I was a sincere atheist, even though I continued to attend church and even directed the youth choir.

Over time, my intellectual struggle came to a stalemate. I realized that scientific reasoning alone couldn’t tell me whether there was a God. My mind and my senses were too limited, too small. There was so much I couldn’t observe and couldn’t know. But at that point I became convinced that God was real because I had seen Him in the lives of my parents and in many other Christians I had known.

So on that basis, without any emotional crisis, I recommitted myself to God. I have trusted and followed Him since, even through many dark and difficult times. I have never again had any doubts about His existence.

Irrefutable rational proof for God – or disproof – simply wasn’t available. In my opinion, it never is. Though faith in Him is totally reasonable, His reality cannot be proved purely by human observation and reasoning. We are tiny, brief, creatures of dust. He is an unbounded, eternal, Spirit being. Faith, not reason, is His chosen pathway to relationship with Him. He is not seeking people smart enough to perceive Him. He is seeking people humble enough to trust Him.

Miracles?

Some find Jesus’ miracles hard to believe. To them, the Gospel accounts sound like fantasy or myth, or at least superstitious exaggeration.

But look at the incredible natural wonders all around you. Our world overflows with miracles we would never believe if we didn’t see them for ourselves, or if scientists didn’t assure us they were so. Couldn’t the Being who created all this also easily do the miracles of Jesus?

Jesus turned six large jars of water into wine (John 2:1-11). But the Creator does that on the vine every day.

Jesus healed many people sick with various illnesses and conditions. But that’s a small thing to the Creator. He designed each of our bodies to continually heal themselves. Right now your body is healing and restoring itself in thousands of ways without you even being conscious of it.

Jesus calmed a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27). But picture our globe from the Creator’s point of view, with storms stirring and subsiding constantly around the world. To calm one storm is nothing for Him.

Perhaps the hardest miracle for us to accept is raising the dead. Jesus raised a widow’s only son (Luke 7:11-16), a twelve-year-old girl (Luke 8:41-56), and His friend Lazarus after he had been dead four days (John 11:1-45). Finally Jesus himself was raised from the dead.

All myths?

The Creator brought human life into being from the “dust of the earth”, that is, from the natural elements found on this planet. Now that’s a miracle! Could not such a One also resuscitate life whenever He chooses?

Look at a garden on a bitter day in winter. If we knew nothing of seasons, would we ever believe that same garden just a few weeks later, in the full bloom of spring?

Look at what rain can do to a desert that seems utterly barren. It is transformed to a garden of life – life unimagined just hours before.

Tiny seeds, seemingly dry and hardened, will blossom to life when conditions are right. In Japan, a single seed was excavated from an ancient settlement about two thousand years old. The seed was planted, watered, and brought to life. Further, it apparently proved to be a type of magnolia thought to be extinct for a thousand years.

Look around. Is it logical to believe that the One who created all this could not have done what Jesus did? Is it logical to impose human limitations on a Being who can speak a universe out of nothing?

The more we learn of our world, the more we recognize in Jesus the same power, the same astonishing wisdom, the same tender, intimate love.

That is what amazes me most about Jesus’ miracles – not what He did, but how He did it. He didn’t heal as we might expect a “god” to heal. He didn’t heal from a distance. He wasn’t detached or “professional” or condescending. He was moved with compassion. He gave of himself in deep love. He healed face-to-face, not just with absolute power but with a personal touch and a gentle word.

He loves us. The God of all the universe loves us. That is the miracle.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: One by One
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