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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: 2015-02-15

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

 

Preferences

3. Choices force us to think

Preferences determine choices, and choices have consequences. Often our taste is too expensive for our income, and we have to scale down. Reason has to prevail over sentiment.

Another conflict Christians have to handle repeatedly is the struggle between  flesh and Spirit – which is not the same as body and soul. Paul’s view of “flesh,” also called “carnality” or “old man,” includes sinful inclinations of body, soul, and sprit (1 Cor. 3, Gal. 5, Eph. 4, Col. 3). The tastes of the new nature have to be developed to override the old nature. Like Christ’s death and resurrection, Christians have to crucify their old nature, and nurture the new.

Satan is quite successful in reeling us in with the help of others. All people have the need to give and receive love, to have the feeling of belonging. This makes Christians vulnerable to social pressure, urging them to go along with a group. However, the conscience may block the way, so it has to be dulled by alcohol or other drugs. Then the old nature is set free to do things the new nature will not allow – doing things to one’s body that is pretty bad for one’s health.

To avoid negative peer pressure, we have to replace it with positive groups. Satan will whisper in your ear that these groups are boring, but what he fails to point out are the after-effects – on the short and long run. Those who participate in healthy group activities, can still look and feel fabulous in their fifties, while those who misused drugs and alcohol through their adult life, will show the effects in body, soul, and spirit.

The facts of life speak clearly. It is interesting that the truth, “we reap what we sow,” is stressed by all major religions. Cultures all over the world learned it the hard way, and included it in their values.

Many people hold the viewpoint that their personal preferences are their own business, and they allow nobody to dictate to them about their choices. Yes, we all value freedom of choice. But there are many situations where we do not have much freedom of choice: the genes we received from our parents and ancestors; the place, time and culture we grew up in; the problems we faced and the opportunities we got; the people who helped or hindered us in pursuit of our goals; and the decisions that are made for us by powers beyond our control, such as governments, economics, and natural disasters. All of these can have a tremendous influence on our lives and choices.  We should cherish the remaining free choices, and use them wisely. Often we have to choose from imperfect options.

 

2. Group and personal interests

Group preference often overrides personal taste, because majority rule is the cornerstone of democracy. Therefore, protecting minority rights should not impede majority rights.

The Charter protects certain personal rights against injustice. Generally accepted values, like freedom of speech, outweigh generally unacceptable behaviour, like oppression – even when it comes from a majority government. It is a values-contract agreed upon by the population in a referendum.

In the war against terrorism, certain personal freedoms have to be sacrificed to improve the safety of the community. It happens in all wars. Before one makes too much noise about it, one should remember that even in times of peace, we give up a lot of freedom for the common good. We obey traffic rules and signs to prevent crashes. Complete freedom on the road will quickly cause chaos. And that goes for all terrains of society: peaceful communal living depends on controlled freedom. Consequently, the rights and freedoms protected by the Charter are not without limits. Freedom of speech does not give a licence to slander. So, people may attack the views of their opponents, but they may not attack their personal integrity.

 The Bible shows that one person can make a huge difference for the better or the worse. Achan gave himself the freedom to take gold and silver from Jericho – contrary to God’s command – and Israel lost their next battle (Joshua 7). Elijah stood alone against the idolaters (king, nation and priests), prayed fire from heaven, and won the day for Yahweh (1 Kings 18). When it comes to God’s will, the majority cannot out-vote the Almighty. In the final judgment, he will be the Judge, and their will be no appeal.

Parents know the experience to give up personal preferences and agendas for the sake of the family. That cherished coat, smart-phone, laptop, car or house has to be put on the back-burner so that necessary clothes and equipment can be provided for the children. Sometimes church members postpone their personal plans in order to help disaster victims.

Jesus remains the best example of someone who gave himself totally for the common good of saving the undeserving. Looking at the crucifixion with adoration is not enough. The haunting question remains: If he did that for me, what do I do for him? He extended the line from him to us when he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” That means that personal preferences must sometimes be reigned in so that the needs of others may be met.

Personal and communal preferences should both be met; but often it is a matter of priority. Individual rights have to be served within the framework of the common good.

 

1. Unity amid diversity

Our values and preferences affect our behaviour and lifestyle. These will determine how 2015 unfolds. Tastes differ: some prefer certain foods, drinks, clothes, sports, jobs, faith and art; others dislike the same.  

Age and culture shape interests and activities, for instance: boys and young men in Mongolia strive for excellence in horse-riding and wrestling while in the West this age group may be more into social media and skateboarding. Seniors lose interest in youthful activities, and spend more time reading and watching documentaries.

Despite the variety of tastes and preferences, most people strive for excellence in their own endeavours and in the lives of those they adore. Many athletes and students push themselves hard to reach the top. When we or our heroes fall short, we are disappointed and slip into critical mode, ignoring all the achievements of the past. This overemphasis on mistakes and lack of recognition for good behaviour can ruin a marriage as well as the self-esteem of children and adolescents.

The Bible shows us how to correct without rejection, and to appreciate despite imperfection. Israel grieved God’s heart many times, and yet he called them the apple of his eye. Paul had an axe to grind with the Galatians concerning heresies in their midst, but he still addressed them as brethren, and greeted them with his usual “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians show that this first century church battled with many problems, but Paul still regarded them as saints – not perfect, but set aside for God. King David and the apostle Peter made grave mistakes, but God did not cast them away; he led them to remorse, repentance and recovery.

How do our preferences and dislikes compare to those of God? Does it matter? He allows us to live on his planet, and will in the end hold us accountable. He alone will decide whether we fulfilled or missed the purpose of our lives.

He did not leave us ignorant about his wishes. He gave us the Great Command to love him with our whole being, and to love others as we love ourselves. Thus the golden rule is to treat others as you want them to treat you – with courtesy and kindness. Isn’t this what all cultures and age groups want?

So, despite the wide variety of tastes and preferences in different cultures, there seems to be a few basic universal values that all people aspire to, such as good health, good relationships, and the necessities of life: air, water, food, clothes, shelter, income and safety. We are not all that different. Unfortunately, we sometimes do get confused about priorities.

 

Meeting Jesus

4. Crumbs from the Master's table

Jesus sometimes taught by paradox, using words that sounded self-contradictory, such as: “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

He also used extreme contrasts to make a point: “Remove the plank from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This apparent contradiction of terms is evident in his interaction with the woman in Phoenicia. It was Jesus’ first trip to a region outside Israel. How did it happen?

After he had ministered for two years in Galilee, he fed the five thousand. They wanted to make him king right away, but he moved higher up on the hill to pray.

A few days later, he spoke to the crowd in the synagogue of Capernaum, explaining that he had to die to fulfill his task. What they needed was not more bread or manna but the bread of life, his body and blood. Those who would eat his flesh and drink his blood would have eternal life.

The crowd took his words literally, and was offended; the eating of blood was prohibited by the Law of Moses. Many turned away from him, realizing he was not the leader that would help them to throw off the Roman yoke.

Rejected by Israel, Jesus went to the Gentiles. However, he knew that his disciples were not yet ready for this shift of focus. So, in his contact with the Phoenician woman, he used phrases that were still part of the disciples’ philosophy: “Israel should be our first priority; we should not give the children’s bread to the dogs.”

This woman’s problem was not policy or philosophy. Her little daughter was suffering in the clutches of a cruel demon. She had heard enough about this healer from Galilee to throw herself at his feet and plead as only a desperate, loving mother can.

God gave her the words that would soften the hardest heart: “Yes, Lord, but the puppies under the table wait for the crumbs falling from the master’s table.” She saw herself as a little dog waiting for the crumbs. She was not demanding; she was begging.

Jesus’ heart did not need softening, but those of the disciples. When that happened, Jesus granted her request and her daughter was healed.

However, the disciples still had to chew their cud, so to speak. The good news had just flowed to someone outside Israel’s borders – the gospel had become available to the Gentiles as well.

Long before Philip and Peter baptized the first Gentiles, Jesus introduced the disciples to this notion with an object lesson they would never forget.

 

3. Salvation has come to this house

The greatness of a person is not determined by body size. The small David slay the gigantic Goliath; the short guy from Corsica became the feared Napoleon; and the stumpy Winston Churchill was Britain’s prime minister during World War II.

Although the story of Zacchaeus starts with his short stature, that was not his real problem. He accepted his shortness with humour. When he could not get a glimpse of Jesus because of the crowd, he did not hesitate to make a fool of himself by climbing in a sycamore tree to get a better view. He knew the crowd would also get a good view of him, and being a tax-collector, he was not their favourite.

Why would a rich man risk his dignity in such an impulsive way? Maybe he was inspired by the healing of the blind beggar, who was still jumping with joy alongside Jesus. The rich man wanted what the poor man enjoyed—a new life.

It must have been quite an awkward moment when Jesus stopped beneath the branch where Zacchaeus sat. When the renowned healer-preacher looked up with a smile, all eyes turned to the rich man in the tree. The hated tax-collector grinned self-consciously and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Well, Lord, here I am.”

Jesus called him on his name and invited him into a friendly relationship: “Zacchaeus, come down, I want to stay at your home today.” Jesus still does that: He stops at the place where you watch as a curious outsider, calls you by the name, and invites you to become an involved insider.

Jesus saved Zacchaeus from gross embarrassment by asking him to come down and serve some refreshments at his opulent home. This turned the whole situation around. The tax-collector became joyful and the crowd turned grumpy. How could Jesus dare to eat with such a sinner?

When Zacchaeus heard the criticism, he vowed to turn his life around and refund those he cheated. Jesus knew his change of behaviour was the result of his change of heart. He affirmed that salvation had come to that house, when the owner invited Jesus into his home and heart. The reviled tax-collector was restored as son of Abraham.

The story started with Zacchaeus’ physical shortness; it ends with his spiritual greatness, thanks to God’s Mediator. God wants to use his children as ambassadors to reconcile sinners with God (2 Cor. 5:18).

Jesus summarized his ministry in a few words, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” A week after this incident, Jesus paid in full for the sins of mankind on the Cross of Calvary.

 

2. I believe you are the Christ

First impressions of another person are often one-sided and unfair. At the moment of introduction, we have only external clues to assess. We may be misled: people usually put up a façade when introduced; we don’t know the real self and history of the person; and sub-conscious prejudices, spawned by our past experiences, may make us either too positive or too negative about a stranger.

I’m sure many of us can recall instances where we changed our mind about someone when we had the opportunity to discover the real person. Then we had to conclude: “He/she did not appear friendly, but actually he/she has a heart of gold.”

Many remember only Luke’s picture of Martha: the woman who was so focused on housekeeping and cooking that she missed out on fellowship with Jesus. Not quite. John shows another side of Martha: her understanding of the person and power of Jesus.

Look at John’s story: Martha’s brother Lazarus is critically ill. He’s weakening fast. Desperate, Martha sends a messenger to Jesus in the Jordan Valley. He promises to come but tarries two days before heading for Bethany. When someone tells Martha that Jesus has been spotted near Bethany, she leaves her household chores immediately and runs to her friend.

Out of breath she hugs him and blurts: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She blames Jesus for coming too late, but affirms her trust in his power – even now nothing is impossible for him.

When Jesus promises that Lazarus will live, she takes it as a referral to the resurrection of the last day. Then Jesus conveys to Martha truth that will comfort many through the ages: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live… Do you believe this?” Martha responds with amazing insight and faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Martha has been illuminated.

When Martha’s sister joins them, Jesus weeps with them and with all who mourn. He has the tomb opened, and calls Lazarus back to live, to his old body. Martha’s faith has been vindicated: God gives Jesus what he asks (Ps. 2:7-8).

Martha and her family are overjoyed. When Jesus arrives for the Passover, Martha organizes a welcome meal for him, and her sister Mary anoints him with expensive aromatic oil. Lazarus is at the meal too, telling the guests about his death and resurrection experiences.

Later, Jesus rose from death with a new body. He is the first-fruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).

 

1. I was blind but now I see

Many disabled people have astonished the world with their incredible adaptation to a handicap. Some without arms developed dexterous feet and toes. Some amputees broke records as blade-runners. The deaf can learn to speak and lip-read; the blind can transverse city streets with guide-dogs, and read with the help of Braille or computers.

In the time of Christ, these options were not available. The man born blind needed a friend every day to take him to a temple gate. His only hope was charity. He had no hope of improving his situation.

He had some factors in his favour, though. With no visual image of his world, this man finds his way by hearing and touching. Taste and smell enables him to enjoy the morsels obtained by begging. Lack of vision sharpens his other senses. He identifies people by the sound of their voices, footsteps, and actions.

One day, sitting at a temple gate and begging for alms, he hears a clear voice addressing the crowd in the temple court. Then people start shouting angrily. The hasty foot-steps of a small group tell him they flee from the angry mob.

Though rejected by the crowd, the person with the clear voice notices the beggar and says, “I am the light of the world.” The blind man is puzzled when clay is applied to his eyelids. “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” the voice says.

Two people grab him by his arms and lead him to this place. As he washes, a strange sensation overcomes him: he sees light for the first time in his life. More washing, more light – until the full vision of the surroundings overwhelms him.

Jumping for joy, he shouts, “I can see! I can see! Praise God! I can see!”

Overjoyed, he hurries to the area where he lives to share the good news. He is rebuffed by sceptical friends and hostile Pharisees who refuse to believe the most fantastic moment in his life. Despite the putdown, he joyfully testifies, “One thing I know: I was blind but now I see!”

When he reasons with the Pharisees that a person who can open the eyes of the blind must be sent by God, they ban him from the synagogue.

Seeing but lonely, he wanders back to the temple. He has not seen his healer but he knows his voice. He wants to thank him for the wonderful gift he received.

A friendly person suddenly asks, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” Aha! Unmistakably, his voice! The former blind man sinks to his knees and worships, relishing the privilege to see his Redeemer. “Yes, Lord, I believe,” he confesses from the heart.