THE BAKER OF
a new novel,
plays out in the time of Jesus. How does the baker
of the village perceive the young rabbi?
New studies are put on
top. Scroll down for previous ones.
Glimpses of Deity
3. Visions and miracles open curtains
We can’t prove God exists, nor
that he doesn’t exist. He transcends science and philosophy. However, when
confronted with the inexplicable, we get that strange feeling that something
from another dimension has broken into our sphere.
King Ahab and Queen Jezebel
led Israel to worship the idols of rain and fertility. God had the prophet
Elijah announce a drought. The message was: see if your idols of rain and
fertility can help you now. After three years the situation got desperate.
Elijah told the king to assemble the nation on Mount Carmel for a showdown
between God and gods (1 Kings 18). Two altars were built: one by Elijah and
one by the idolaters. The God who would ignite his own offering would be the
true God. The idolaters prayed in vain. When Elijah prayed, fire roared down
from heaven, devouring the offering and the altar. It was a fantastic
glimpse of God’s power. It reminded them of the fiery column that shielded
Israel in the desert after the exodus.
When it was time for Elijah to
be taken up to God, he and Elisha walked together, having their last
conversation. Suddenly, a chariot of fire appeared from nowhere and snatched
Elijah away. Elisha was moved and shaken by this glimpse of God’s presence.
Elijah’s mantel fell on him, and he knew that he would receive the power to
proceed with his master’s work (2 Kings 2).
Isaiah had a vision of God on
a throne. Angels flew to and fro in the temple, calling out, “Holy, holy,
holy, is the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6). This glimpse of God brought Isaiah to
repentance and devotion.
Ezekiel got a glimpse of God,
riding on a fantastic chariot, pulled by creatures with four faces and
massive wings. The chariot moved with a roaring noise. Ezekiel saw a
brilliant figure on the chariot, and when he gave the prophet his
assignment, Ezekiel knew it was God. The prophet saw this vision twice
(Ezek. 1, 10).
The whole life of Jesus showed
divine presence. Every miracle was a glimpse of God’s omnipotence. Raising
people from death affirmed that he was the source of life. Multiplying bread
and fish to feed thousands showed his care for creation. The timeless truth
embedded in nutshell-stories testified to his wisdom. His atoning sacrifice
on the cross satisfied the holiness and love of God. His resurrection and
ascension affirmed his triumph over sin and death, opening paradise for
When the Holy Spirit came to
indwell believers, they changed from fearful, hiding followers to bold,
outreaching ambassadors. They proclaimed the good news in many tongues, and
thousands were saved – a glimpse of the loving God in action.
2. Moments of amazing grace
Many have experienced
awareness of God’s awesome presence. It might have been something like a
sudden insight, a deep emotion, or a miraculous provision. The Bible shows
many of these fantastic moments in the lives of people.
In the time of the Judges,
Naomi lost her husband and two sons while they resided in Moab. When she
decided to return to Bethlehem, her one daughter-in-law, Ruth, pledged
loyalty to Naomi. They arrived in Bethlehem in the time of the barley
harvest, so Ruth gleaned in the field of Boas, a relative of Naomi. Boas
liked Ruth, providing food and protection in the field, but he could not
make up his mind about the young widow. Naomi devised a plan to make Boas
aware of his responsibility as nearest kin. When Ruth asked Boas to be her
redeemer, and he concurred, Ruth – a stranger from a foreign land with
foreign gods – got a glimpse of the mercy of the God of Israel. She became
the great grandmother of King David, and thus an ancestor of the Messiah.
Saul, the first king of
Israel, failed miserably. God sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint
someone after God’s own heart as the next king. Jesse’s sons passed before
Samuel, but God did not choose one of them. They fetched the youngest,
David, from the flock, and when this rusty young lad stood before Samuel,
they witnessed a glimpse of God’s grace. This young man would become the
greatest king of Israel, because he would also be a poet, warrior,
strategist, administrator, inspirer, and unifier of his people.
David was succeeded by his son
Solomon. His youth and inexperience made him long for wisdom to fulfill his
task. God appeared to him in a dream and spurred him to make a wish. When he
chose wisdom, God added riches and success – another glimpse of God’s loving
When a pretty, orphaned,
Jewish girl, named Esther, won a beauty contest and became the queen of
Persia, it was a glimpse of God’s providing goodness – but more was coming.
Haman hated Jews. He devised a plan to wipe them from the face of the earth.
Esther’s uncle brought this scheme to her attention, urging her to plead
with the king to intervene and prevent this genocide. After three days of
fasting (and probably praying) she went to the king uninvited. Such a daring
act could cost her life. When the king welcomed her and hanged the
perpetrator on his own gallows, a glimpse of God’s glory shone on Esther.
Though God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, the writer wove his
presence and provision masterly into the story.
1. Awareness of an awesome presence
Pantheism believes everything
is part of God; monotheism believes God is omni-present but invisible, and
distinct from creation. However, there are moments when humans get a glimpse
of deity. It may be during a brush with death or a timely provision.
Ascribing miracles to luck is much vaguer than linking them to God.
Enoch and Noah walked and
talked with God as if he were a friend. God appeared to Abraham in human
form. After God had instituted circumcision for Abraham and his male
descendants, he “went up from Abraham” (Gen 17:22). Three men visited
Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac within a year. One of them, called
the LORD, stayed a while with Abraham to discuss Sodom’s future (Gen.
18:22). Jacob wrestled with a man, who changed Jacob’s body, attitude and
name. Jacob knew he had seen God and called the place Pniel (Face of God).
After the covenant between God
and Israel was confirmed by blood at Mount Sinai, 70 elders went up the
mountain with Moses and Aaron “and they saw the God of Israel” (Ex. 24:10).
God spoke to Moses “face to face” (Ex. 33:11), but apparently it was a vague
human form, so Moses asked to see God’s glory (33:18). God allowed him to
see his glory from behind (33:23). Although God is invisible (1 Tim. 6:16),
the pure in heart shall see him in Christ (Matt. 5:8).
Joshua met the commander of
the army of the LORD before the invasion of Canaan began (Josh. 5:14). When
the walls of Jericho miraculously crumbled, Joshua knew that God’s army was
The angel of the Lord appeared
to Gideon, calling him to lead a revolt against the Midianites who oppressed
Israel. When Gideon was reluctant to accept the task, “the LORD turned to
him and said, ‘Go! Is it not I who send you?’” Gideon offered a sacrifice,
and the angel made it go up in flames with the tip of his staff. Now Gideon
was sure who he was dealing with. He feared that he might die for seeing the
angel of the Lord (Judges 6:12-23).
When David prevailed as a
teenage shepherd boy against lion and bear, he knew God was with him. In
that faith and hope, he walked out to fight the giant with a sling and
stone. The moment the stone hit the giant in the forehead, the army of
Israel saw a glimpse of God’s power. Their fear was replaced by bravery, and
they rushed forward to finish the victory David started.
God is present all the time,
but sometimes people are privileged to see a glimpse of his glory.
The Good Book
3. Vistas of majestic peaks
We should not stare so much at
burnt areas on the prairies that we miss the majestic peaks of the
mountains. Likewise, the tough parts of Scripture should not blind us for
the wonderful uplifting passages that have inspired young and old over
In the beginning, God created
heaven and the earth – maybe with a bang. At one moment, there was nothing
physical; at the next, millions of galaxies with trillions of stars roamed
endless space. Then God made planet earth livable with water, light, air and
land. He provided food in many plant forms. Then he populated earth with
many species living in water, on land and in the air. It is not surprising
that the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:7). Psalm 148 calls on all in heaven
and on earth to exalt God for his creation. Have you felt God’s presence in
Sadly, mankind caused calamity
on earth by rebelling against the Creator. All creation groans, looking
forward to the day of renewal (Rom. 8:19-22). God set a plan of salvation in
motion: The Anointed One (Messiah) would bring the atoning sacrifice to
reconcile God and man.
Prophecies about redemption
are peaks in the Good Book: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is
given; and the government will be on his shoulder, and his name will be
called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of
Peace” (Is. 9:6). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting
life” (John 3:16).
Matthew and Luke portrayed the
fulfillment of these prophecies: the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The
endearing stories of Mary and Joseph, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon and
Anna, the shepherds and wise men are annually retold and celebrated by
millions around the globe.
The Bible announced two
comings of the Messiah: the first in humility, the second in glory. David
and Isaiah depicted his suffering: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken
me? They pierced my hands and my feet. They divided my garments among them”
(Ps. 22). “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our
iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes
we are healed” (Is. 53:5).
The gospels describe the life
and death of the Messiah simply but profoundly. His miracles astonished the
crowds; his words touched their hearts; his love reached out to rejected
lepers and feared demoniacs; his death grieved his followers; his rising
from death stunned friend and foe; and his ascending to heaven instilled
hope for a new beginning, when he returns in glory.
2. Navigating swamps and forests
Why does the Good Book contain
“bad” parts? Many are blessed by the Psalms and the gospels, but deterred by
descriptions of violence and immorality in some parts of the Bible. Some
find the portrayal of God in the Old and New Testaments contradictory. They
see the God of the Old Testament as holy, angry, punitive, violent and
distant, and the God of the New Testament as loving, forgiving, merciful,
and reaching out to humanity.
results in half-truths which look more acceptable because they are easy to
grasp. One example is: “All will be saved on their own faith.” The element
of truth in it is: we can’t be saved by someone else’s faith. The lie in it
is: all will be saved, irrespective of what and in whom they believe.
The truth is neither too
simple nor too complicated. If we put our ABC in order, the truth about the
tough parts in Scripture is not too hard to understand. We can navigate the
apparent swamps and forests.
First, the one true God
revealed himself, including his plan of salvation, in the Old and New
Testaments. He is omniscient: he has known all the facts and truth for
eternity; therefore, he does not have to correct himself occasionally. God
inspired the writers of both Testaments.
Second, God did not reveal
everything in the beginning, but revealed increasingly more as the years
rolled by. He called himself Elohim, Adonai, and Yahweh in the Old
Testament, but the New Testament idea of the Trinity is already mentioned in
the opening verses of Genesis 1.
Third, the invisible battle
between God’s and Satan’s angels (Eph. 6, Rev. 12) is visibly displayed in
the clashes between God’s people and Satan’s people. God commanded Israel to
wipe the inhabitants of Canaan out after a grace period of 400 years (Gen.
15:13-16). Israel and Judah were exiled after centuries of warning by the
prophets. The Old Testament is not without love, and the New not without
wrath. God’s wrath on sin and his love for sinners merged in Christ on the
The Bible is God’s book on
salvation out of sin; therefore, sin is not ignored in the Bible. The goal
is not to entertain us with pornography, but to warn us against the power
and outcome of sin. The apostle summarizes this truth: “The wages of sin is
death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.
6:23). The tough
parts of the Bible come together like a jigsaw puzzle when we study the
whole Bible and avoid reading it selectively. Attending worship and
Bible-study regularly, develops knowledge and insight.
1. Standing the test of time
Electronic devices have
invaded the terrain held by newspapers, periodicals, books and paper-mail.
In spite of Internet convenience, many people still prefer to read a story
in printed form, not on screen. I’m glad the book is standing its ground. It
has come a long way.
Ancient civilizations started
to record ideas on monuments, stones, baked clay-tablets and earthenware.
These earliest forms of writing survived, providing data about the lifestyle
of those bygone eras.
Then they discovered one can
write more and faster on cured animal skins, stitched together to form a
scroll. To protect the writing, only the inside of the scroll was used.
Woven papyrus was later used to make sheets. Both sides could be used for
writing when the sheets were stacked and stitched together at the back to
form a codex or book. It expedited searching in a book, as it could be paged
instead of rolled as was the case with the scroll. The book with pages dates
back to the 4th century AD.
Prints made by signet rings
and wooden blocks were produced centuries before Christ, but it was Johann
Gutenberg who envisaged in the 15th century a method to change
the printing block fast, enabling the printing of a whole book. Exact
replicas of each letter of the alphabet were made and positioned on the
printing block. Some Gutenberg Bibles still exist in museums.
About 70 years later, Martin
Luther translated the Bible to German from the “received text” of Erasmus,
so that every believer in Germany could read the Bible. Other countries
followed, Bible Societies dispersed translations, and today the whole Bible
is available in over 400 languages.
From the time Moses wrote the
first 5 books of the Bible until Gutenberg’s printing press appeared, 3000
years elapsed in which the bible was copied by hand. Despite the human
susceptibility to make mistakes, God’s hand can be seen in the preservation
of his word. Only minor variations exist between different text-traditions.
Today, we can read the Bible
in the language we prefer – in book-format or on the Internet – and delve
into the thoughts our Father has recorded for our benefit. Because God has
known all facts and truth from eternity, he does not have to update his book
repeatedly. What has to be reviewed is our understanding of the ground
There is so much truth
embedded in the Bible that theologians cannot fathom it completely. Yet, the
Bible is so simple that small children can understand enough to surrender
themselves into the loving arms of Jesus. The Bible presents itself as a
lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105, 2 Tim. 3:15-17).
Characters Jesus created
3. Triumphant Underdogs
Jesus caught his audiences’
attention with sharp contrasts: casting pearls before swine; having a
splinter or plank in the eye; and asking for egg but receiving a scorpion
instead. In most of his people-parables, he lined up extreme opposites.
His story about a helpless
widow taking on a mighty judge illustrated the power of persevering prayer.
Like an agile mongoose, dancing around a deadly cobra, gradually wearing it
down – so this widow kept coming to the judge, pleading for justice. To get
rid of this nuisance, the judge eventually complied. The weak prevailed. As
God is not an unjust judge, he will soon respond favourably to our
When a sanctimonious Pharisee
and a guilty tax-collector enter the temple to pray, everyone would think
that the prayer of the law-abiding Pharisee would definitely have better
results. His words are well-chosen, his good works are highlighted, and his
attitude is full of self-confidence. He did not ask anything from God; he
only recited his wonderful record. He did not pray.
The tax-collector had few
words but the right attitude: have mercy on me, a sinner! Once again, the
weak, the despised, the underdog walks away with the trophy. Jesus made his
point quite clear: true prayer is defined by attitude, not words; by genuine
repentance, not a haughty pose.
Reality is not always what it
seems to be: the rich living lavishly in opulent houses, while the poor
suffer hunger and disease not far away. Why would it be different in the
after-life? Life is like that – unfair.
Jesus lifts the curtain,
painting the reversed roles of the rich man and the beggar after they had
died. Lazarus enjoys the company of Abraham and believers in Paradise while
the rich man suffers in the flames of Hades. He has not yet accepted his
diminished status, trying to give orders from hell: hey, you, beggar, bring
me some water! Father Abraham, send the beggar to warn my brothers! He is
helped out of his illusion: one cannot give orders from hell, nor can one be
a soul-winner from hell. Time’s up.
Again, the weak wins in the
end. It happened in Jesus’ life too, especially during his arrest and
crucifixion. Members of the dignified Sanhedrin slapped him in the face and
spat on him. The governor had him flogged. The soldiers mocked him. The mob
at Calvary scoffed him while he hang on the cross. A few of his followers
watched helplessly. Joseph and Nicodemus buried him hastily just before
Then came the surprises of
Easter morning. Friend and foe were stunned, running around in confusion.
The weak has conquered once more, opening salvation for other underdogs.
2. About employers and employees
The characters Jesus depicted
in a work situation are real life people, and yet they display peculiar and
surprising behaviour. Jesus gave catching twists to his stories: they don’t
develop as most would have expected.
The twin parables about minas
and talents (Luke 19, Matt. 25), told only a few days apart, are similar yet
slightly different, giving them unique applications.
In the mina story, the
employer is a nobleman who leaves his estate to acquire kingship. He is
stern yet generous: he entrusts one mina to each of 10 servants and expects
them to multiply it. He rewards the successful ones, and punishes the lazy
one, as well as those who opposed his kingship. Likewise, Jesus would go to
heaven to receive his kingship, and return, holding his workers accountable.
The talent parable paints a
man who is ready to travel to a far country. He gives 5 talents of gold to
one servant, 2 to another, and 1 to the third, telling them to trade with it
till he returns. Here, Jesus clearly says that each one received according
to his ability, while in the mina story each received the same amount. We
all receive one life but different gifts. The figurative meaning of “talent”
became so well known that we don’t use it anymore to indicate weight; we use
talent to indicate a special gift or ability.
Those who received one life
impacted 10, 5, or zero other lives. Those who received different talents
either developed their talents (natural gifts) or failed to do so because of
fear – fear of failure. Regarding talents, the saying is true: you either
use it or lose it. God wants us to use our one life and several talents to
the benefit of him, others and ourselves. Doing nothing is a bad choice.
The parable about workers
hired at different times of the day (Matt. 20) carries another message. Out
of need and generosity, a farmer hired workers to work in his vineyard,
starting at different hours of the day. He agreed to pay each worker one
denarius. One gets the impression that he had pity on those workers who
waited in vain for someone to hire them. At the end of the day, he
generously pays each worker one denarius. Those who worked the whole day
moaned about the injustice – after all, they did more work. The owner
reminded them of their contract. They should be glad they did not stand idle
on the market place with anxiety in their hearts, wondering how they would
feed their families that evening.
Jesus’ character portrayal of
employers and employees illuminates the finer nuances of work-place
attitudes and conduct, even today.
1. Selfish sons and a serving volunteer
Jesus never lied, but he did
make up stories to convey truth to his audience. He created vivid fictional
characters that we speak of as if they really lived. Think of the Prodigal
Son and the Good Samaritan – they have lived in the minds of Christians for
20 centuries. Jesus’ stories are so realistic that we may assume they might
In the story of the Prodigal,
there are 3 main characters (the father and 2 sons), and several background
figures (the friends and hog-farmer in the far-off country, as well as the
servants on the family farm).
The 3 main characters could
not be more different from one another. Some think the father is the main
figure, because he plays the role of God. However, he can hardly be the
protagonist, because he only reacts to the other characters rather than
planning actively to reach a goal. In this story, Jesus made the sinner the
main character, because saving sinners was the main purpose of his
incarnation. The hero turns out to be an anti-hero. His pitiful downward
slide, appalling rock-bottom, tough decision, and joyful reunion with his
father depict the profile of every sinner.
His first adversaries were the
fair-weather friends who helped him to spend his inheritance pretty fast.
The hog-farmer actually helped him to come to his senses by giving him a
dirty job. When he returned home, he was welcomed by his father and the
servants. Then his main foe stepped onto the stage: his embittered older
brother, who depicted the Pharisees who did not like Jesus’ outreach to
sinners. Although the older brother did not leave the farm, his attitude
showed that he and his father had also drifted far apart. The father was
patient with both sons and wanted them to come back home wholeheartedly. The
father’s love, not the efforts of the sons, offers the solution to the
problems in the story.
The story of the Good
Samaritan contains several characters. The robbers believed: what is yours
is mine; I take it. The victim experienced: what is mine, is yours; I lose
it. The priest and Levite, on their way to the temple, did not want to
defile themselves with a corpse, so they opted for: what is mine stays mine;
I keep it. The Samaritan had compassion on the wounded man, nursed his
wounds, and took him to an inn. His philosophy was: what is mine is yours; I
donate it. The inn-keeper accepted the patient and looked after him, thus
stating: what is mine is at your disposal; we share it.
These 6 characters displayed
different approaches to life, to the needy, and to the opportunity to serve
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 God’s 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, “Let the little children come to me, and do
not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (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
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. “Our” points to a family, not only
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
There are no perfect
families, but they don’t 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 Uriah’s death, and his son Absalom followed in his footsteps by
murdering his half-brother Amnon. Absalom’s 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 Judah’s slide to self-destruction for 29
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, “Did you not know that I have to be in the house of my Father?”
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
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, “Let us make man in
our image… male and female he created them” (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 father’s favourite, and Jacob his mother’s. Esau traded his
birth-right for a good meal, and Jacob stole his father’s blessing with the
help of his mother. Jacob fled from his brother’s 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 man’s 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 Absalom’s army faced off with David’s, Absalom was killed, pushing
David into mourning.
unfaithfulness and the many dysfunctional families, God’s 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
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 God’s 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 God’s plan for
our lives and trusted him to work it out.
After deceiving his father,
Jacob fled from his brother’s 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 – 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
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 Jacob’s wages
repeatedly. Jacob’s 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:
“Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2-3).
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
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 I’ve enjoyed for
Moses’ life was also governed
by God’s providence. How else could a baby born to slaves end up as a prince
in the palace of the Pharaoh – the one who ordered the killing of all
newborn slave-boys? Moses’ mother put him in a basket, launched him gently
onto the River Nile, and entrusted him to God’s 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 father’s
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 God’s
command: Let my people go! For good measure, God topped it off with the
parting of the waters, enabling Israel’s escape and the demise of the
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 God’s awesome presence. Moses saw abundant proof in
his life of God’s unfolding plan for him.
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.
God’s 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 God’s 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
While Paul waited for God’s
guidance, he had a vision of a Macedonian calling: “Come over and help us!”
On arrival, he did not find a synagogue, only a women’s 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 God’s plan, which was best for him
and the church.