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Truth For Now

This Week's Study

 

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THE BAKER OF CAPERNAUM,
a new novel, plays out in the time of Jesus. How does the baker
of the village perceive the young rabbi? Read more...

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Last updated: 2014-07-27

New studies are put on top. Scroll down for previous ones.

 

FAMILY

3. The Church is a family

The Bible compares Christ and the church to husband and wife (Eph. 5). Their mutual love and respect sustain a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship. The book of Revelation looks forward to the wedding feast of Christ and his bride (Rev. 19). It is fitting that Jesus started his public ministry with a wedding, and that he told several parables about weddings.

One of the purposes of marriage is to have children. Peter says we have to desire like new-born babies the pure milk of Godís word so that we may grow (1 Pet 2:2). Paul urges us to proceed from milk to solid food in our spiritual lives (1 Cor. 3:2). If we read only the beautiful promises of God in his word, we feed on milk only. We have to struggle with the tough parts of the Bible as well to absorb solid food.

Jesus emphasized the importance of children, saying, ďLet the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as theseĒ (Luke 18:16). On another occasion he said that those who make children stumble, should be thrown into the sea with a heavy millstone tied to their necks (Mark 9:42).

Jesus healed two demon-possessed children and the son of a nobleman. He raised the daughter of Jairus and the son of a widow from the dead. He used the loaves and fish of a boy to feed 5000.

Psalm 68 praises God as the Father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, and the One who sets the lonely in a family. Psalm 103 affirms: As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father who is in heaven. ďOurĒ points to a family, not only to me.

Jesus sent the demoniac Legion back to his family to tell them about the great things God had done for him. Paul led the jailor of Philippi, including his family, to Christ.

In the first century, Christians met in homes and became one family. They were brothers and sisters, participating in love-meals, showing unity by eating together.

Families as well as single people are welcome in the church family. By song, prayer, word, sacrament and fellowship they are bound together with each other and with God. As one bread is made of many grains of wheat, and one drink is made of many clusters of grapes, so many believers are united in the community of faith, bound together by their love for one Saviour. By sharing their good and bad times with church friends, they double their joy and diminish their pain.

 

2. Changing family patterns

In family life, one learns to interact with other people. Parents provide love, care, and encouragement to promote good behaviour, and they supply guidance, warning and discipline to curb bad behaviour. Children learn that choices have consequences. By their authority, parents help children to relate to the authority figures of society. Parents also influence the growth of self-esteem and gender-roles in their children.

Interaction with siblings gives children the opportunity to test their ideas, practice their values and roles, handle hierarchy, and participate in the give-and-receive process.

 There are no perfect families, but they donít have to be dysfunctional. Differences of opinion help the family to solve disputes in a way that benefits both parties, instead of keep fighting for dominance. Even animals know when to quit, and so prevent injuries.

What children see in their parents, they will most likely repeat in their own lives, such as the way sex and anger are handled. King David committed adultery, and his son Amnon followed his example of loose sex by raping his half-sister Tamar. David planned Uriahís death, and his son Absalom followed in his footsteps by murdering his half-brother Amnon. Absalomís unbridled anger and rebellion made him end up an exiled murderer and an executed rebel.

However, children can decide to stop the cycle of immorality and violence that jumps from one generation to the next. King Hezekiah did not follow the wicked ways of his father Ahaz, but instead became one of the best kings of Judah. He initiated social and religious reforms that stopped Judahís slide to self-destruction for 29 years.

For centuries, painters and sculptors have portrayed the Holy Family as happy, serene and unified. Jesus was without sin, but the rest of the family was ordinary human beings. Jesus developed physically, but he was indwelled by the second and third Persons of the Trinity. He knew who he was and would become. At age 12 he said to his parents, ďDid you not know that I have to be in the house of my Father?Ē

This remarkable child had to endure the usual sibling rivalry and parental discipline one finds in every household. As the eldest, he would have helped the others to solve their differences, stay in line, and do their chores. Naturally, the younger ones would  have questioned his wisdom. When Jesus later attracted great crowds, his mother and brothers tried to talk some sense into his head (Mark 3:21, 31, John 7:3-5). After his resurrection their eyes were opened about his true nature (Acts 1:14). His brother James became a leader in the first church, and his mother has been revered by Christians for 20 centuries as the most blessed of women.

 

1. Family problems can be solved

A family that plays together stays together. Summer is a good time to have family fun. Of course, family-life is not about play only; it includes raising the next generation and preparing them for life.  

Mammalian mothers care for their young by providing milk and protection, but in most cases the fathers are not involved in baby-care. Birds exhibit better cooperation: males and females both care for their young. As soon as the young birds can fly they become independent.

Human parenting is influenced by culture, but in general, fathers lead their sons, and mothers their daughters, to acquire skills needed for adulthood. Schooling is an extension of family education, providing knowledge about specific fields.

The Bible shows that God is the author of family life. In the beginning, God said, ďLet us make man in our imageÖ male and female he created themĒ (Gen. 1:26-27). When a child is born to parents, the human three-in-one is completed.

God gave fauna and flora the ability to procreate. Apart from a few exceptions, fish do not look after their offspring, but birds and mammals do. The first human being was unfulfilled until he got a female partner. Sadly, because of sin, the first family became dysfunctional, producing the first murderer. Noah and his family survived the flood, but soon abuse set in. Abraham and Sarah tried to overcome their childlessness by using Hagar as a surrogate mother. It caused disharmony in the family, leading to a rift between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael for the past 4000 years.

Isaac and Rebekah had two sons, Esau and Jacob, who were totally different in personality. Moreover, Esau was his fatherís favourite, and Jacob his motherís. Esau traded his birth-right for a good meal, and Jacob stole his fatherís blessing with the help of his mother. Jacob fled from his brotherís fury, and married two of his cousins. With them and their servants he had twelve sons, who became the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite manís failures, God proceeded with his plan.

King David progressed well until he committed adultery. It brought discord in his family, including rape, murder and rebellion. Absalom organized a revolt against his father David, who fled from Jerusalem and found refuge east of the River Jordan. When Absalomís army faced off with Davidís, Absalom was killed, pushing David into mourning.

Despite Israelís unfaithfulness and the many dysfunctional families, Godís plan of salvation went ahead. The Christ was born from the lineage of David and in the city of David. For more than 2000 years, the church has been celebrating this joyous event. The Saviour came to restore what was broken by sin, including family life.

 

Providence

3. Sticking to God's plan despite obstacles

As God has used people to our benefit, he wants us to become a blessing to others. I can see Godís hand in the way my wife and I met, becoming a blessing to one another and to others.

During my first 3 years at university, I did not find the right girl among thousands. Then I went on a daytrip to the mountains, and saw her for the first time. The next day I joined a group of Sunday-school teachers, and there she was again! A week later, I saw her in church and at the coffee social. We were introduced, chatted, and started dating. The chances for a theological and medical student to meet and fall in love is small indeed. We stuck to Godís plan for our lives and trusted him to work it out.  

After deceiving his father, Jacob fled from his brotherís wrath, landing with his uncle Laban far away. Jacob soon fell in love with his cousin Rachel. However, he had nothing to offer his uncle except his hard work. He made an agreement with the greedy Laban to serve him 7 years for Rachel Ė and it was in his eyes like a few days because he loved her (Gen. 29:20). I know that feeling: my wife and I had long studies to complete; we had to wait 4 years and 51 days before we got married.

Jacob deceived his father once, but Laban deceived him many times. When he completed his 7 years for Rachel, he learned he had to marry the eldest daughter first, and work another 7 years for the one he loved. Laban changed Jacobís wages repeatedly. Jacobís sons sold Joseph as slave to Egypt, deceiving Jacob for 23 years about the truth. Jacob learned the hard way about cheating.

Many Bible characters, like David and Solomon,  started well but messed up later in their lives. Jacob started on the wrong foot but improved in his later life. Spurred by his mother, he deceived his father. For many, this episode labelled Jacob forever as a cheat. Yet, God changed his name to Israel, and his descendants have proudly identified themselves by this name for 37 centuries. God said: ďJacob I have loved; but Esau I have hatedĒ (Mal. 1:2-3).

God appeared to Jacob at Bethel when he fled for Esau, repeating the promise made to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob later returned to Bethel to renew his vows. God appeared to him again and affirmed the promise he had made before. God led Jacob step by step from a self-willed second son, to a devoted heir of the messianic line. Likewise, God wants to prune us to become fruitful trees.

 

2. Accepting God's plan for your life

God has a plan for our lives. When I look back, I can see how his plan for me unfolded. Without my help, he brought into my life people, who influenced my development and direction.

God granted me parents who knew God and his word, practicing what they preached. Poor as they were, they left me spiritual riches I will not trade for anything. At age 9, when I was being suffocated by diphtheria, a doctor unexpectedly arrived at the remote farm, saving my life with a tracheotomy. I decided to study for the ministry, but could not find the money. Then out of the blue, someone offered me an interest-free study loan. A professor awakened my interest in psychology and so directed me to pastoral counselling that Iíve enjoyed for decades.

Mosesí life was also governed by Godís providence. How else could a baby born to slaves end up as a prince in the palace of the Pharaoh Ė the one who ordered the killing of all newborn slave-boys? Mosesí mother put him in a basket, launched him gently onto the River Nile, and entrusted him to Godís care. Just at the right moment, when the princess was bathing in the river, the basket turned up, and she decided to keep the baby.

In the palace, Moses was educated in the lifestyle and knowledge of royalty (Acts 7:22). Suddenly, God took him from royal opulence to desert hardship. Accused of murder, he fled to Sinai, where he married a Bedouin girl, and shepherded her fatherís flock. He got first-hand knowledge of the wilderness where Israel would later roam for 40 years. His palace and desert experience prepared Moses for his future task.

At the right time, Moses met God personally at the burning bush. When God told him that he would use him to lead Israel out of slavery, Moses tried to back off from this assignment, but God made him understand that he would miss the purpose of his life if he disobeyed. As the years rolled by, Moses gained perspective, realizing God was unfolding the plan for his life one step at a time.

In Egypt, God performed ten miracles through Moses, convincing the stubborn king to yield to Godís command: Let my people go! For good measure, God topped it off with the parting of the waters, enabling Israelís escape and the demise of the Egyptian army.

God miraculously provided bread, meat and water for the whole nation in the desert. With thundering voice, God gave them the Ten Commandments while the earth shook and the mountain smoked under Godís awesome presence. Moses saw abundant proof in his life of Godís unfolding plan for him.

 

1. Discovering God's plan step by step

 

When Ben and I met as students at a small station near the Kalahari, I had no idea what significant role he would play in my life. I later realized that God let us meet on that winter night. God used him to open doors to accommodation, youth ministry, two congregations (where we served as co-pastors), and a clinic where I worked as pastoral counsellor for two decades.

Godís hand was also clearly visible in my coming to Canada 22 years ago. A friend opened opportunities several times as my wife and I moved from north to south, settling in Lethbridge eventually. We did not do much to open doors, but when we entered, we had a lot of work to do.

  The Bible is saturated with stories about Godís providence. God let Noah build the ark in time for the great flood. God provided for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a land where they only owned a tomb and a well. He took Joseph through 13 years of tribulations and made him governor of Egypt. God called Moses and David from shepherding to national leadership. He called four disciples from their fishing boats to become fishers of men. Through them the foundation of Christianity was laid, which now includes one third of humanity.

On the second missionary journey of the apostle Paul, his itinerary was often changed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16-18). Paul planned to go east to Asia, but God directed him west to Europe. He first had to visit a physician, and so he met Luke in Troas who became the author of the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

While Paul waited for Godís guidance, he had a vision of a Macedonian calling: ďCome over and help us!Ē On arrival, he did not find a synagogue, only a womenís prayer group. When he drove an evil spirit from a slave girl, he was beaten by a mob and thrown into jail. Were his high hopes dashed? Not quite. After an earthquake, he led the jailer to faith in Christ.

Authorities asked him to leave, and he walked with a bruised body to Thessalonica. Driven from there, he fled to Berea where he was well received at first. When enemies stirred up trouble again, he fled to Athens where he addressed a learned audience. He proceeded to Corinth and stayed there 18 months. He wrote 4 letters (of which 2 survived) to the Corinthian church while he worked in Ephesus. These epistles reveal the practical problems the early church faced.

 Although Paul had to change his plans often, he remained receptive to Godís plan, which was best for him and the church.