Archive for Pictures of God

The Old Testament Law

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD
Read Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18; Matthew 7:24-27

The Old Testament law, contained in portions of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, has a bad reputation among many modern Christians. To them, it seems strange and completely outdated.

Read it, and yes, some of the specific regulations will seem odd. They were written for a different time, place, and situation. But the more I study the law, the more amazed I am at its beauty and depth. It legislates compassion on the needy, even at the expense of private rights of ownership. It works to shape a people of justice, righteousness, and generosity, a people who consider all fellow citizens to be their brothers and sisters, a people who, above everything else, love God with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).

This is the law God promised to write on the hearts of His people (Jeremiah 31:33). This is the law Jesus came, not to destroy, but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17). This is the law whose essence is loving God and loving others (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Whether the law was ever followed perfectly is not the point. It envisions a community of believers that will one day culminate in the Kingdom of God. For myself, I’m coming to think of the law, less as a set of specific rules tailored to a specific people in a specific cultural situation, and more as one step in God forming for Himself a holy people who are truly His own – a people of justice, mercy, faith, and love. The essence of the law is living at peace with God and thus at peace with each other.

The law also teaches another invaluable truth: God’s wisdom does us no good until we obey it. God’s wisdom demands trust. It demands response. It demands action. It demands change.

Remember Jesus’ parable about the wise man and the foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). Both men had heard God’s wisdom. Both men knew His wisdom. The entire difference between a wise life and a foolish life, between blessing and destruction, was simple obedience. God’s wisdom cannot bless us until we obey it. 

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Is There Any Word from the Lord?
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Wisdom Is More than Words

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD
Read Exodus 35:10 – 36:2

We usually associate wisdom with kings and prophets, with preachers, teachers, and writers. They use words to share God’s wisdom.

But words are not the only medium for expressing God’s wisdom. In this physical world, the Creator communicates His wisdom to and through the five senses.

Between Egypt and the Promised Land lay a desert wilderness, vast and inhospitable. God chose this setting to reshape Israel from slaves into a holy nation, a people of His very own. His generous provision would stand out more vividly in a land that provided almost none of life’s necessities. He wanted His new nation to experience His love and His presence as physical realities.

That’s one reason He commanded Moses to build a portable tabernacle. This tabernacle was no haphazard affair. God gave Moses complete instructions as to how every detail was to be constructed. This earthly tabernacle, made with human hands, was to be a copy and shadow of a heavenly tabernacle (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5).

Since this physical tabernacle was to communicate the glory of the transcendent God to the human senses, it was to be artistic and beautiful down to the finest detail. It was to be constructed of all the best materials. Where would they get such materials, far from civilization? God had already provided them by prompting the Egyptians to lavish expensive gifts on the Israelites as they left Egypt. The gold, silver, precious stones, fine woods, expensive cloth, and exotic animal skins needed for the tabernacle were donated by God’s people, who had carried them out of Egypt.

God also provided the artistic and technical expertise that would be needed to pull off such a huge project. God’s Spirit gave two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, the “wisdom” (Exodus 35:31) and craftsmanship they would need to work with all these varied materials. What’s more, they were given the desire and ability to teach other willing learners so that together, they would finish the work.

In this physical world filled with physical beings, God needs more than people skilled with words. He also needs artists, crafts people, builders, designers, and dedicated laborers. He calls them. He equips them. He inspires them to glorify Him through what they hold in their hands.

God will use and equip anyone with a heart for exalting their Creator God.

A Personal Reflection

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

I’ve been in full-time Christian ministry for forty-four years. I began in 1973, teaching at God’s Bible School in Cincinnati. Two years later I moved to Kansas City to work for Lillenas Publishing Company, where I spent 34 years. Since leaving there at the end of 2009, God has focused me on writing and publishing hymns and devotional material. All my adult life I’ve also been active in my local church, mostly teaching the Bible.

From my own experience, I offer this testimony:

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2 Corinthians 9:8, NASB).

God has fully equipped me for absolutely everything He has ever called me to do. Every task, every time.

Have I always felt confident in myself? Heavens, no. Usually the opposite. Though I’ve been teaching for all these years, public speaking has never come naturally to me. But God uses me, enables me, and always gives me a message that I know is from Him. He shares His wisdom with me, and He shares His wisdom through me.

I’ve written over 600 hymns, a number of books, a regular blog, and articles for a variety of uses and formats. But every morning as I get up to write, I deeply feel my total inadequacy for that day’s task. Every single morning. Before I get out of bed, I pray, reminding God of my total dependence on Him. I make myself available to Him, telling Him that I can only do what He enables me to do.

For my part, I pray, study, prepare thoroughly, rest, exercise, try to take care of myself, and work hard. I do my best with everything I write, whatever the task. And at the end of the day, sometimes I feel comfortable with the results of that day’s writing. Sometimes I don’t. But I keep it committed to Him, and I trust Him to work in His own way and time.

Even though I am not confident in myself, I am confident in Him. And He never, ever lets me down. As long as I look to Him, He never abandons me to my own weakness and incompetency. Forty-four years and counting. 

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Speak Your Word, My Father
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Personal Encounters in Genesis

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD
Read Genesis 4:1-15

The book of Genesis begins with Adam and runs through Joseph. In that span of time, consider the various people to whom God revealed Himself in a personal way.

  • Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27-30; 3:8-19) – Even though they had disobeyed God and rejected His wisdom, He spoke to them person-to-person, revealing not only judgment but eventual salvation.
  • Cain (Genesis 4:2b-15) – Cain was a murderer, yet God conversed with him, listened to him, and acted to meet his concerns.
  • Noah (Genesis 6:7-14) – In a day when the human race had gone entirely wrong, God was pleased with Noah and saved our entire race on account of him and through him.
  • Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-9) – Abraham’s story takes up chapters 11-25. What an amazing odyssey of tested faith and gracious blessing!
  • Hagar (Genesis 16:7-13) – Hagar was an Egyptian slave who had run away from problems she had helped cause. Yet the living God came to her personally in her darkest moment.
  • Rebekah (Genesis 25:21-23) – When she became concerned about her unborn twins, God gave her a glimpse of the larger drama in which she was playing a part.
  • Isaac (Genesis 26:1-6) – God assured Isaac that as He had been with his father Abraham, He would be with him as well. God’s promises would prove sure generation after generation.
  • Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22) – Like Hagar above, Jacob was running from family problems he had helped to create. But God met Him personally in a way that would shape his entire life.

These encounters paint a picture of an Almighty God who delights to introduce Himself to all types of people, one-on-one. He reveals His wisdom for their situations, speaking demands and promises, comfort and challenge, providing both details and overall perspective. But the most striking aspect of His revelations is not the information He imparts, but the stunning reality of His presence. We human beings are given the great privilege of interacting with the Creator God person-to-person.

The Source of All Wisdom

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD
Read Proverbs 9

We say that God is omniscient. That means He knows everything. But it means more than God having all knowledge, with perfect perception and intelligence. As the Creator, all that is flows from Him. He has a complete, organic understanding of all reality, for it is from Him. He not only has perfect knowledge. He has complete and all-encompassing wisdom.

Thus if we want wisdom, if we want to understand reality and live in harmony with it, we need to know God. He is the source of all reality. He is the source of all wisdom.

Knowing Him and living in harmony with Him is the essence of wisdom. Or as the OT repeatedly affirms,

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
(Proverbs 9:10, NASB. See also Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 15:33)

The wonderful truth is this: God is not only willing to show Himself and share His wisdom. He is passionately eager to share Himself and His wisdom with us. This practical promise says it simply and clearly:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5, NASB)

Understand this: His wisdom involves more than factual knowledge. During difficult times in our lives, sometimes we impatiently wonder what lesson God is trying to teach us. But often the “lesson” is simply an opportunity to know Him better. He is allowing us to experience His love and faithfulness in a personal way. Wisdom is knowing Him.

God pours out His wisdom constantly and lavishly through many different avenues: through creation, through His written word, through the life of Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, through other believers, and through special revelation—that is, through personal encounters between God and individual believers.

God is generous with His wisdom! But the question is, are you listening? And once you hear Him, how are you responding?

Listen and sing:
Hymn: God Is Speaking
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The Key to Fruitfulness

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read John 15:1-8; Hebrews 12:1-11

How can you be fruitful – in your daily living, in your relationships, in your service, and in prayer life?

Remain in the vine. All your fruitfulness flows from Jesus Christ. Just as His relationship with the Father was the key to His fruitfulness, so it is with you. Your relationship with the Father through Jesus is the key to your fruitfulness. Do everything you can to nurture your relationship with Him. Make that the #1 priority in your life, just as Jesus’ relationship with the Father was His constant focus and deepest desire.

Our Father will do all He can to increase our fruitfulness. How?

Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit (John 15:2, NASB).

The Father prunes us. Such pruning is essential if vines are to produce the very best fruit possible. The vine’s precious sap cannot be wasted supporting branches that are unfruitful. Only the fruit-bearing branches may remain.

So it is with us. The Father prunes or cleans us of any unfruitful elements in our lives. As we allow Him, He cuts away anything in us that drains our time, attention, energy, and resources without bearing fruit.

How does God prune us? By His word (v.3). His revealed wisdom teaches us how to live fruitfully.

  • By His Spirit. His Spirit applies His word to our individual lives.
  • By other means of grace, such as the Church and our fellow believers.

Pruning is not a one-time process. As with branches in a vine, things grow up in our lives that drain away our attention without bearing fruit. If our lives are to bear the best fruit possible, these unfruitful elements must be regularly pruned away.

Study and prayerfully apply God’s word. Be diligent about the means of grace. Stay tuned to the Spirit’s voice. The writer of Hebrews likened this pruning to parental discipline when he wrote: 

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11, NASB)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Remain in Me
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Fruitful Prayer

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read John 14:12-14; 15:7-8; 16:23-28

Part of a fruitful relationship with God is prayer. As Jesus taught His disciples for the final time before His crucifixion, three times He talked about prayer. Three times He made the lavish promise, “Ask, and you will receive.”

What did He mean by this? Is this a blank check to indulge all our desires?

Whenever we want to understand what a person is saying, we have to take it in context, in the flow of what he or she is communicating. Taking isolated sentences out of context is a recipe for disaster, whether in daily conversation or in interpreting the Bible.

Read today’s scriptures, and notice the contexts for Jesus’ promises about prayer. The context is always Christian service. He is talking about asking for ministry purposes, not for personal reasons. The focus is on bearing fruit for the Father. There will be times in God’s work when we will either ask the Father plainly for what is needed, or the job won’t get done. So ask!

Ask for the Father’s benefit, not your own. Ask in Jesus’ name, for His purposes, for the Father’s glory. Prayer is not drawing the all-wise, all-loving Father down to your petty, personal viewpoint. Prayer is drawing us upward into His perspective and His concerns. Sovereign God is not going to dance to your tune. He wants to teach you to dance to His. Note what James says: 

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3, NASB)

Pray as a branch in the Vine. Pray out of the life you share with Jesus Christ. Pray as standing in the loving Father’s presence, as a brother or sister of Jesus Christ, as His friend and servant.

Pray as Jesus would pray, and the Father will answer you as He would answer Jesus.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Ever Standing in Your Presence
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Fruitful Living

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Matthew 7:15-20; 12:33-35; John 15:9-17

Our Father is like any other vinedresser: he wants fruit from His vine. What fruit does God want from you?

As you live in the Vine, Jesus Christ, His Spirit lives in you. As you are led by the Spirit of Christ, you think and speak and live like Christ. You bear the same fruit that the Father prized so highly from Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB).

Read Matthew 7:15-20 and 12:33-35. A good tree produces good fruit. As you remain as a branch in Jesus Christ, His Spirit will grow His character in your life.

Notice what is listed first among the fruits of the Spirit of Christ: The fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22, NASB). As Jesus taught His disciples for the final time before His crucifixion, notice what He repeatedly emphasized:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35, NASB)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you (John 15:12, NASB)

This I command you, that you love one another (John 15:17, NASB).

The Spirit of Christ unites us with the Father, Son, and Spirit. We grow to breathe the love and unity that makes them one. We love as the Father loves the Son. We love as the Son loves the Father and freely, joyfully, completely submits to Him.

As we share life and love with the Father, Son, and Spirit, we grow to love as they love. I am finding this true in my own experience. I feel disinclined to talk badly about a person my Father loves. As I love Him, how can I not love someone who is so dear to Him? By my words or deeds, how can I hurt one about whom He cares so deeply?

This love, the love of Christ, is one of the precious fruits that grow in us as we abide in the Vine.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: I Look to You, and You Are Love
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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.

Marriage Supper of the Lamb

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Revelation 19:7-9

In New Testament times, marriages actually began with the betrothal. For a time, the two individuals were considered husband and wife, even though they didn’t live together. They were fully obligated to be faithful to each other. The wedding itself took place after the betrothal period and began with a procession to the bride’s house. The wedding party then returned to the house of the groom for the marriage feast.

In the same way, we the Church are engaged to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). We are eagerly awaiting our wedding day, when the Groom will return for His bride and take us with Him to heaven for the marriage feast, which will go on through all eternity.

To imagine what all that will be like, visualize a perfect marriage between Jesus and His people – an eternal union full of intimacy, love, joy, and all the very best of life. Forever we will celebrate together with a grand marriage feast.

Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments help us anticipate this marriage supper of the Lamb:

  • Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Lord’s lavish banquet for all peoples (Isaiah 25:6-10a)
  • The Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
  • The parable of the marriage feast (Luke 14:15-24)
  • The Emmaus meal (Luke 24:13-35)
  • Breakfast with His disciples (John 21)

To our surprise, however, Revelation refers to this feast yet gives us no details about it. But elsewhere scripture gives us glimpses:

  • We will feast on all the best nourishment of life. God will remove forever all death, all crying, and all our shame. Our long wait for the fullness of God will finally be over (Isaiah 25:6-10a).
  • People will gather from all over the earth and feast together (Luke 13:29).
  • Christ will have fully cleansed His bride and made her holy, spotless, and beautiful, fully adorned for her Husband (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:1-4).

What will it be like when this long-awaited occasion is not just metaphor, but full reality?

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Come, Our Lord!
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