Archive for January 2015

The God of Life

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Genesis 1

God gave both plants (vv.11-12) and animals (vv.21, 24-25) the ability to reproduce themselves. He made life self-perpetuating. What an amazing gift! He shared a portion of His life-giving ability with each of His creatures.

My wife will often ask me what is the purpose of some particular animal. I don’t really have an answer, except that life is the purpose. God is a God of life! Overflowing, abundant, infinitely varied life! Life fills earth’s macro-systems (some look at this entire earth as a single, living organism). And life fills our micro-systems, with tiny drops of water containing varied communities of their own.

When God created non-human life forms on this earth, He said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of creatures” (v.20, NASB) or “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” (v.24, NASB), but with human beings, He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (v.26a, NASB). All living things derive their life from God, but we in a special sense. 

God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NASB).

He patterned us after Himself – not physically, but spiritually, intellectually, morally. He shared Himself with us. He even shared a bit of His sovereignty, allowing us to rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (v.26b, NASB).

Life is a gift. We human beings didn’t originate ourselves, nor did we ask to be created. What’s more, our physical lives are in many ways self-perpetuating. Most of our physical functions are automatic and self-administering. Our heart beats without our input. We breathe without deciding to do so. Our cells do their work without our conscious involvement. About all we need to do is feed and water ourselves, and for that we’ve been given powerful drives as reminders. Life is truly a gift!

Even our physical bodies point to God as a magnificent, powerful, all-wise, and deeply-loving Creator. How should we respond? By thanking Him sincerely and often, and by treasuring His image in all human life, both in ourselves and in others.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Praise to You, Giver of Life!
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Perfect in Every Detail

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Genesis 1

As I read Genesis 1, not only does God’s youthful enthusiasm strike me, but the orderliness of His process.
In days 1-3, God prepares the earth, layer by layer.
In days 4-6, He goes back and populates the earth, layer by layer.

Or to put it another way:
In days 1-3, He sets the stage, room by room.
In days 4-6, He goes back and brings in the furniture, room by room.

The two halves of the process parallel each other. Specifically:
On day 1 (vv.3-5), He creates light.
On day 4 (vv.14-19), He creates the sun and moon.

On day 2 (vv.6-8), He places the sky as the separation between the waters above (the heavens) and the waters below (oceans, seas, etc.).
On day 5 (vv.20-23) He puts life in the water and sky.

On day 3 (vv.9-13), He creates the dry land and vegetation.
On day 6 (vv.24-26), He creates living creatures on the dry land, including man.

He creates our home as would any careful builder: layer by layer, starting from the general and working to the particulars.

This brand new, uncorrupted home speaks His love and careful attention in every detail. As Isaiah 45:18 says, He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited.” (NASB)

Examine human handiwork under a microscope, and the closer you look, the more rough edges you find. It’s inevitable. Our tools and manual abilities are limited. But look at God’s handiwork under a microscope, and the deeper you go, the more organization and detail you find.

Look at His creation from a broader and broader perspective, and you find more and more order and meaning. Look at smaller and smaller levels, and the same is true. His wisdom and care extend to infinity in both directions, to galaxies and beyond, and to sub-atomic worlds and below. His marvelous world speaks truths about Him that words cannot capture.

God’s Kingdom Comes

As I study the gospels, I repeatedly encounter events that appear small from a human perspective but loom large from God’s perspective.

The Transfiguration
(Matthew 16:28 – 17:9)

Jesus referred to the Transfiguration as “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28, NASB) and “the kingdom of God…come with power” (Mark 9:1, NASB). That’s quite a build-up. And to be sure, the transfiguration provided a spectacular glimpse of the true glory of Christ, in the face of His coming humiliation and suffering. But only three disciples experienced it, and apparently only for a few fleeting moments. How is that the powerful coming of Jesus in His Kingdom?

John the Baptist and Elijah
(Matthew 17:10-13)

The appearance of Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration caused the disciples to ask about Elijah. Prophecy had promised that he would return and prepare the people for the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5, NASB; read vv.5-6). Jesus said that Elijah would “restore all things” (Matthew 17:11, NASB) and that John the Baptist was this returned Elijah. But John the Baptist’s ministry was relatively short, and his acceptance was limited. Herod silenced him, bringing his life to a premature and brutal end. To say that John restored all things seems a wild overstatement.

The Triumphal Entry
(Matthew 21:1-11)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus had consistently discouraged any open proclamation of His being Messiah. But then He arranged His own parade, encouraging Jerusalem to welcome Him as their Messiah. When the Jewish leaders protested, Jesus emphasized the absolute necessity and inevitability of such praise, saying that if His followers were silent, the very stones would cry out. But on a human level, all this seems a false promise. In this very city, within the week the civil and religious leaders would arrest, humiliate, execute, and bury this Messiah as a pretender and a criminal.

Cleansing the Temple
(Matthew 21:12-13)

After triumphantly entering Jerusalem as a conqueror, Jesus went to the temple and cleared it of commercial interests. He did this in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3, which foretold that the Lord would come suddenly to His temple and purify it completely. Jesus also connected His actions to Isaiah 56:3-8, where God promised to make His house a house of prayer for all nations, a place where outsiders would be welcomed and blessed. Yet it is unlikely that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple had any lasting effect. It doesn’t seem to measure up to the dramatic promises of Malachi and Isaiah.

The Resurrection
(Matthew 28:1-8)

We Christians make much of the resurrection of Jesus. But apparently the risen Christ appeared only to His followers, not to anyone else. Forty days later He was gone. Meanwhile, this whole world suffers on in the iron grip of death. Every one of us continues to die.

So why did Jesus and why does Scripture make so much of these events? To human eyes, they seem so partial and passing.

But indeed, the changes begun by each of these events are dramatic, deep, and very real:

  • The Kingdom of God—the presence and rulership of God—has come to us in Jesus. It has come in power and glory. By faith we see and interact daily with the glorified Christ.
  • The repentance and forgiveness preached by John are even now restoring right relationships between God and us and among His people. We are living in the peace of these restored relationships.
  • With exuberant praise, we His disciples welcome Jesus as our Messiah, our conquering hero who is delivering us from all oppression.
  • Jesus Christ is Himself the holy temple of God among us. He is purifying us to make us part of that holy temple.
  • Even now we are breathing the undying, unbounded life of Christ, and we will breathe it forever.

The Kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus Christ! It is growing in and among us through His Spirit. And in Him, it will soon come in all its power and glory.

Jesus’ life is a promise of all that soon will be for each and all of His people.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: See His Kingdom Come in Power
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Our Relationship with God

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Genesis 1:26 – 2:9

What is the basis for God’s claim on us? Why is He interested in us, and why are we obligated to Him? Why can’t we simply ignore Him the way we ignore many other beings in our universe? Does He demand our obedience because of His raw power? Does He get attention because He’s simply the biggest bully on the block?

God created us. We cannot ignore Him because we are His. We are permanently, totally, inescapably linked to Him.

Specifically, He created us from Himself. We are patterned after Him. To understand ourselves, we must understand Him. He is deeply, unavoidably relevant to us. He is the source, the pattern, and the goal for all we are. Our entire existence, our whole being is wrapped up in Him.

In Him we live and move and exist. (Acts 17:28, NASB)

From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. (Romans 11:36, NASB)

Get the big picture: dwelling in unmeasured eternity is a self-existent Being, complete and at peace in Himself. He is complete in power, wisdom, and love. His love comes not from need – need for us, or for fellowship, or for anything else. The opposite is true. His love comes from His fullness, not need. He is forever full to overflowing. From this overflowing, this giving, this love, He conceives the idea of creating…creating a race of beings somehow like Himself. He sets about to create a home for these beings, a home that meets all their needs – not just physical needs, but needs for beauty, order, rulership, challenge, discovery, and responsibility…the need to know their Creator.

God created all that is, and specifically, He created us from Himself and for Himself. That truth should transform our entire understanding of Him, ourselves, life, and all of reality.

Father, Save Us from Fear

Salvation, in its broadest sense, is deliverance from anything that
pinches us,
oppresses us,
narrows us, or
restricts the free flow of God’s life in us and through us.
We need this salvation not only in moments of crisis, but
daily,
constantly,
need by need.

One of our most constant temptations,
one of the greatest hindrances to our life in Christ, is
fear –
fear of anything but God Himself.

Fear threatens all the most precious gifts and graces
our loving Father longs to pour through us:
love,
joy,
peace,
patience,
kindness,
generosity,
thankfulness, and
wholehearted praise.
When fear takes hold, all these are choked out.
Fear plunges us into a false reality where
God is not God.
Fear causes us to think and act as if God is not
all-powerful,
all-wise, and
all-loving.

Sometimes fear expresses itself as outright worry.
It stares us in the face and
grabs us by the throat.
But sometimes it is more subtle.
We’re not fully aware of its presence.
It simmers beneath the surface,
making us vaguely unsettled and uneasy.

As soon as anything concerns you,
no matter how big or small,
drag it out into the full light of day and pray,
“Father, I am concerned about _______.
If there is anything I should do about it,
lead me, and
I will follow.
Otherwise, I simply trust it to You.”
Pray this way every time that concern comes to mind.

Don’t let the Enemy clutter your mind and disturb your peace
with concerns that are
unexamined and
unnecessary.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread? (Psalm 27:1, NASB)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: As I Trust You
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Follow Jesus

We hear no smooth-talking persuasion from Jesus. He describes the path ahead of us clearly and plainly:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and
follow me.” (Mark 8:34, NIV)

Who would want to follow Jesus straight into His storm of suffering?

But look at Him. See the person He is and the way He lives. He has experienced all that we have, and so much more. Yet see His peace, His patience, His sufficiency in every situation. See His deep, constant relationship with the Father. See His love, never fearful and never strained.

I want to follow Him. I want to finally lay down this perpetual burden of petty self-concern. I want to pick up my cross and go with Him wherever He goes. I am held captive by the magnificence of Jesus Christ.

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…I want to know Christ…and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Philippians 3:8-9, 10, NIV)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Come See Our God
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Help Me to Know You

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

You are the Creator.
I am Your creature.
Help me to know You.

You are Spirit.
I am dust.
Help me to know You.

I want to see You,
but You overflow every object and every image.
Help me to know You.

I am small and fragmented.
You are beautifully, wonderfully complete.
You are Father and Friend,
Warrior and Shepherd,
Potter and Teacher and King.
You speak Your truth through stories.
You express Your heart through songs.
You show me Yourself
through history and law,
through poems and visions,
through every season and every sensation of life.

Unseen God,
Who You are determines
who I am and
who I am becoming.
Help me to know You.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: The Truth of God Is Greater Far
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Why Study the Old Testament?

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Matthew 5:17-19; 13:52; Luke 24:13-27

Jesus Christ is the full and final picture of God, and the New Testament is the definitive account of His life and teachings. So why should we study the Old Testament? Isn’t it completely outmoded and replaced by the New Testament? Isn’t it now irrelevant?

Without the Old Testament—without the law, the history, the Psalms, and the prophets—we cannot fully understand and appreciate Jesus Christ. They form the necessary backdrop for all He is and all He has done. Without them, we can’t fully receive Him as the fulfillment of all God’s promises and purposes, as our Sacrifice, our Great High Priest, our Redeemer, and our King. The Old Testament places Jesus in the full context of God’s magnificent plan to save us, bless us, and draw us to Himself.

Remember:

  • In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus said that He didn’t come to replace the Old Testament but to fulfill it…to accomplish it…to bring it to its full importance.
  • The Old Testament was the Word of God for Jesus, Paul, and all the New Testament writers. It fully informed their understanding of God and salvation.
  • The Bible is a history of God’s dealings with His people. We watch as God interacts with them…with us…in all kinds of settings and needs. The New Testament provides about 60 years of that history. The Old Testament provides over 1,000 years of that history. It is a vast picture of our unchanging God. Actually, it is many pictures. It is the foundation and context for everything the New Testament says.

If you long to know Jesus better, read the Old Testament. Its beauty, depth, and importance will speak for themselves.

Live Love

Imagine a world where everyone loves everyone else, sincerely, from the heart.

Imagine a place where people speak of each other only what is true, and only what will build each other up;

  • a place where everyone treats others the way they themselves want to be treated;
  • a place where self-centeredness, greed, and fighting are gone;
  • a place where people live each day as joined to everyone else, as part of each other, as members of one body;
  • a place where gentleness and kindness are highly prized;
  • a place where forgiveness, patience, and forbearance are the norm;
  • a place where need is no more, since each person shares what they have, freely and unafraid;
  • a place where everything, everything is done in love.

Wouldn’t you like to live in such a place? That’s the kind of world our Creator is building. And that’s the kind of life He wants for you. He wants to grow it in you. He wants to help you live such love in your home, on your job, in your neighborhood, among your friends. And He wants to start today.

But how could anyone live such a life in this world of greed and brute force? What’s more, how can we live that kind of love when selfishness is so deeply rooted within us?

The good news is this: God is love (1 John 4:16). Our Creator is love. The One who designed this world designed it for love. The One who designed us designed us for love. Love is our purpose, our heritage, our destiny. Love is the rich life, the full life, the natural life that He is giving to every one of us.

A life of love is not an heroic feat of self-control. As we trust Him simply, step-by-step, we grow in Him. As we grow in Him, He grows in us. His love grows in us. It begins as a tiny seed and grows into a beautiful tree that gives shelter and nourishment to everyone around.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Lord, You Are Love
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Does It Matter How We Picture God?

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Hosea 6:1-6

If all our mental pictures of God are inevitably incomplete, does it matter how we think of Him? If knowing Him fully is impossible, why try?

Think about this:

  • If we believe that God is like the Greek and Roman gods, powerful yet as flawed and selfish as human beings, how will we live?
  • If we believe that He is violent, heavy-handed, and vengeful toward his enemies, how will we live?
  • If we think of Him like the deists, as a cosmic clock-maker who created the world, wound it up, then walked off to let it run on its own, how will we live?

Some people picture God as a harsh, narrow-minded taskmaster, always pushing them around, always eager to swoop down on them whenever they do the slightest wrong. Often such people live fearful lives, never learning to love and trust Him. They never find peace, acceptance, and belonging in His arms.

For others, God is like Santa Claus or a kindly old grandfather. His only role is to smile and hand out treats. But if our God doesn’t provide or demand discipline, how will we withstand the onslaught of temptation?

But what is more, knowing God is not just a means to an end. It is not just a path to a good life. Knowing God—not simply knowing about Him, but knowing Him—is itself life’s greatest privilege, joy, and fulfillment. Knowing Him aligns us with the truth, with reality. It puts us in harmony with Him and at peace with Him.

God has fully invested Himself in helping us to truly, deeply, personally know Him. Does it matter how we picture Him? Does it matter how we think of Him and how well we know Him? It matters. It matters very much. It matters now, and it will matter throughout eternity.

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