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What image comes to mind when you think of God?  Some people think of a loving, compassionate father.  Other people can’t relate to God as father because they had a terrible father.  Some people think of God as a priest absolving them of their sins.  Other people can’t relate to God as a priest for a variety of reasons.  Some people think of God as a shepherd or king.  Other people can’t relate to God as either of those for cultural reasons.

I mentioned in my last post that sometimes people get the God that they want, that they can imagine and relate to.  In the parable of the talents or bags of gold, the first two servants saw their master as a kind man who saw their abilities and trusted them with his wealth.  The master rewarded their perception of him by inviting them to share his happiness.  The third servant saw his master as a hard, greedy, stingy man, and the master fulfilled his perception by throwing him out into darkness to grind his teeth.

Allen Coppedge, in his book Portraits of God, searched the Bible for the primary ways that God has chosen to reveal himself to us.  He found eight different images that God uses to help us relate to him, all based on God as a holy God.  Those images are God as Transcendent Creator, Sovereign King, Personal Revealer, Priest, Righteous Judge, Loving Father, Powerful Redeemer, and Good Shepherd.

Why does God use so many different pictures to reveal himself to us?  Because no one portrait of God is fully adequate to describe him.  Coppedge says that “multiple images are necessary for a holistic picture of God.”  Individual Christians, churches and periods in the history of the church, sometimes have had major problems because they emphasize one or two roles at the expense of others.  This gives an unbalanced picture of God and results in an unbalanced relationship with God.  If we want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we need to realize, appreciate and take hold of all the various ways God presents himself to us in  scripture.

I especially relate to God as Father and as Shepherd.  It makes me happy to think of God as a compassionate, loving Father who cares for me and supplies my needs.  Likewise the shepherd, the Good Shepherd who leads me to green pastures, cool waters and makes sure that I want for nothing.  But if that is my entire concept of God, and I don’t also consider God as King, Creator, Redeemer and Priest, then my relationship with God will be skewed and I will not be as happy and fulfilled as I otherwise would.

God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Seeing God in all his roles should make us happy, for in all His roles, he gives us good and happy gifts.  As Creator, he gives us life and a beautiful creation to enjoy.  As King, he gives us protection and boundaries to keep us safe.  As Personal Revealer, he  gives us insight into his nature.  As Priest he forgives our sins.  As Judge,  he shows us our great need for him and his help.  As Father he nurtures us.  As Redeemer he rescues us from slavery.  As Shepherd he leads us and guides us along the path of abundant life.  Our lives our less complete if we neglect to relate to God in any one of these roles.

As we read the Bible, meditate on the nature of God and appropriate the various roles of God into our hearts and minds, we will be truly happy people.

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The concept of God is the most determinative factor for all Christian theology and spiritual life.  A right understanding of the nature of God sets a proper pattern for systematic theology as well as for personal knowledge of God.  The most crucial question for any individual or church is, “What is God like?”  The answer to this question will determine both their doctrine and experience.  Allan Coppedge in Portraits of God

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When you think of a ruler, a  person of power, who comes to mind?  How about when you think of a shepherd?  What images come to mind.  The thoughts that come to mind when we think of Rulers and  Shepherds are normally at both ends of the human spectrum.  When we think of Rulers, we think of kings, presidents, dictators and prime ministers.  When we consider what a Shepherd is, we think of humility, kindness, gentleness and meekness.  Not normally qualities found in most Rulers.

Wouldn’t it be great, if a ruler governed like a shepherd, or if a shepherd had the power to rule?  I think so, and thankfully, the combination of the two is not just wishful thinking. I have started to read the book of Matthew recently.  In chapter two we have the story of the Magi, the Wise Men, traveling to Jerusalem in search of the one “born kind of the Jews.”  This gets King Herod’s attention.  He doesn’t like the idea of any competition to his vaulted position.  He calls together the religious leaders and teachers together and asks them where the Messiah, the Anointed One, the  great King, is to be born.  They tell King Herod and the Magi, that the scriptures prophesy that the New King is to be born in Bethlehem.  The prophet Micah had foretold hundreds of years earlier that out of Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

When I read that, I smiled and thought “Wlhat a great idea.  A Ruler who Shepherds.”  Then I thought about Bethlehem, otherwise known as the City of David.  David was born in Bethlehem.  David was a shepherd who became a great ruler.  David wrote the 23rd Psalm describing the LORD as a shepherd, who leads His flock to green pastures and still waters.  Who protects His flock with His rod, much as David had done when he  killed a lion and a bear who tried to harm his sheep.  This Shepherd David became the great King David, a man after God’s own heart.

Now we hear the good news of a  King which is to be born who will rule his people like a shepherd. King Herod had no intentions of ruling his people like a shepherd.  Hearing the prophecy of Micah, he was plotting to kill the new born king.  He sent the Magi on their way to Bethlehem with the instructions that when they found the baby king, they were to send word to him, so that he too could go and worship the newborn king.  The Magi found the child, were overjoyed and worshiped Him.  They did not, however, tell King Herod, as they were warned in a dream not to.  When the Magi did not report back, the wicked King Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem.  Not much gentleness and kindness in that act.

Later on in His life, Jesus lamented the lack of shepherding qualities in the secular and religious leaders of Isreal.  In the jesus shepherdGospel of Mark, chapter 6, we read that  “when he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” One of the most important things that Jesus taught the people in the Gospel of John is that He is the Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;                                                                                                                                         and I lay down my life for the sheep.                                                                                                                                                                        And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.                                                                                                                                                      I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.                                                                                                                                  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.                                                                                                                                                               For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

Jesus, the  King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ultimate, supreme Ruler, gave His life for His sheep.  The Good Shepherd died, so that we might live.  Then He rose from the dead, rose to heaven in glory, and now rules His people with the heart of a shepherd, because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

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The picture of God as Shepherd demands a God who cares.  Being a Shepherd is about caring.  The motivation for God’s care is his goodness.  Allan Coppedge, from his book, Portraits of God