Archive for Pictures of 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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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.
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