These very-real fathers looked beyond bloodlines to raise the next generation for God’s glory.
If you want to read more about each of these parents, click through to the original posts! I hope you are encouraged in your unconventional role or God leads you to encourage someone else in his/her role.
Are you particularly encouraged by one of these parents? Do you know of another awesome unconventional parent in the Bible? Please share your answers to either question in the comments below. I would love to make a collection of studies with present-day examples!
I once met a woman named Zachaea, and I shared this story with her in another language by simply translating the words to this song.
I don’t know why we think of it (Luke 19:1-10) as a children’s story. With “wee little,” my mind goes to leprechauns and elves, but Zacchaeus was simply a short man, not a mythical creature and not a child. What is more, his life experience was far beyond that of those who usually sing about him.
Read on to discover how this story-song speaks to parents (perhaps more profoundly than it speaks to their children) in the 21st century.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.
Unimportant, overlooked, insignificant. That was Zacchaeus. Like a hobbit jumping to see over the shoulders of the race of men, he just didn’t measure up. Even worse, his occupation as a tax collector meant his own people despised him.
In the day-to-day, my life as a parent often feels inconsequential. It’s hard to keep focused on long-term parenting goals when every day feels the same (young kids) or you’re tired of driving all over the place (older kids). I can start to question my value to society. Then I catch myself saying, “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”
He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.
Zacchaeus had to make an effort to get close to Jesus. Unlike those tall, respected guys who just wandered down and stood along the road, he had to get creative. I imagine he looked around for a solution until he saw the tree. He hesitated before he climbed it because, well, climbing trees is not something we adults do. Especially not in a robe. When’s the last time you climbed a tree? It’s not as easy as it was when we were kids! Ever done it in a skirt? No, me either, but I think it would be really hard. If I did climb a tree out in public somewhere, I can imagine that people would stare at me incredulously. Zacchaeus’ desire to be close to Jesus superseded everything: effort, difficulty, embarrassment…
A young mother told me recently that she tries to get up early and spend time in Scripture, but her toddler invariably starts crying before she can. Been there? Me, too. Remember those days before kids when you could sleep as long as you wanted, get up slowly, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down with your Bible for as long as you wanted? I think I vaguely recall something like that. Like Zacchaeus climbing the tree, spending time with Jesus takes more effort and creativity now. If we think it’s worth it, though, we find a way.
Here’s one idea that’s great for summer: audio Bible and a stroller. You can make notes on your phone. You can even pray out loud because people will think you’re talking to someone on the phone. (Bonus: exercise!) Sure, it takes some effort to get the kid strapped into the stroller and the diaper bag packed and the audio file or podcast set up. But it’s worth it.
As the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree, and he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down…
This is the best part of the story. Jesus could have changed directions or He could have ignored Zacchaeus. But He didn’t. He stopped and honored—not just acknowledged but honored—this overlooked, despised tax collector. I’m going to go out on a limb here (all pun intended!) and say Zacchaeus was pretty embarrassed to be discovered up in that tree. But Jesus didn’t care. He already knew Zacchaeus by name, and overlooking his ridiculous position in the tree, Jesus looked him in the eye.
When we make the effort to get close to Jesus, He knows exactly where and who we are, and He always responds. He will not overlook us. He will not ignore us. He will not laugh at us.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. –James 4:8a
For I’m going to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.
Jesus didn’t wait on Zacchaeus to invite Him. Jesus invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ house. It was a sign of respect that Jesus would eat with Zacchaeus—one that Zacchaeus probably didn’t think he deserved.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. –1 Samuel 16:7
Jesus wants to come into our homes today, with the piles of dirty laundry, the unswept floors, the clutter on the kitchen counter. Jesus wants to come into our lives, with the feelings of insignificance, the effort we make just to open our Bibles, the embarrassment of “putting ourselves out there” again and again.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. –Revelation 3:20
Dear parent, like we’ve considered this children’s song afresh, receive this news today as if it’s fresh. God knows where you are, and He knows who you are. He wants to join you in the middle of your parenting mess.
This is it! The end of the series. For me, it has been a labor of love. Just the other day, I realized that I was applying something from this series in a conversation with my husband. What is more, I read and/or skimmed the entire Bible in the last five months! That’s invaluable.
Sometimes I think about Athanasius, when he compiled that list of God-inspired books which eventually became our New Testament. It seems like he got through Paul’s letters, and he knew Revelation should be last, but he had some leftover letters that didn’t fit into any other category. So we have this ‘Miscellaneous’ group of books—all epistles (a.k.a. letters)—by various authors to various groups before we conclude with the Revelation of John, which is also a letter, by the way (Revelation 1:4).
About: supremacy of Christ, encouraging Christians
Everything that God established before Jesus points to Jesus as the Final Answer.
Big stories: Jesus as High Priest, Hall of Fame of Faith, cloud of witnesses
Author: unknown (a man, not Paul and not anyone who knew Jesus directly)
Time: before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3
About: practical applications of faith in Christ
God designed our faith to be lived out in community and in the world.
Big stories: perseverance in trials, taming the tongue, faith v/s deeds
Author: James (probably the brother of Jesus)
Time: before 50AD or in the early 60s
“You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24
About: perseverance under persecution from outside the church
God calls us to continue in holy living regardless of our circumstances.
Big stories: royal priesthood, Jesus as cornerstone, women’s beauty, suffering for faith, devil is a lion
Author: Peter, the Apostle
“And the God of all grace, who called you to this eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11
About: standing up to false teachers and other problems within the church
God purifies his church, making it ready for Jesus’ return.
Big stories: destruction of false teachers, God’s patience with humanity
Author: Peter, the Apostle
Time: 65-68AD, toward the end of Peter’s life
“Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:17-18a
About: identifying false teachers, assuring salvation, God’s love
God’s love is active and distinguishes believers from the world.
Big stories: light & dark, sinfulness in the believer’s life, God is love
Author: John, the Apostle
“If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6
About: loving others, rejecting false teachers
God shows us how to love and how to discern truth from deception.
Big stories: “walk in love,” don’t assist false teachers
Author: John, the Apostle
“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 6
About: hospitality for God’s messengers
God’s children must take care of each other.
Big stories: John’s condemnation of a harsh church leader and commendation of another leader
Author: John, the Apostle
“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3 John 11
About: counteracting false teachers
God always knows the true believers from the false.
Big stories: ungodly people punished (lots of nice imagery)
Author: Jude/Judas (probably the brother of Jesus)
“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 20-21
About: faithfulness through persecution, Christ’s ultimate victory
God’s victory is sure, and all believers will join Him in it.
Big stories: letters to 7 churches, visions of Heaven, fall of Babylon & rise of New Jerusalem, final judgment
Author: John, the Apostle
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:5b-6
With these last two letters to churches and then his letters to individuals, I feel like we’ve taken a peek into Paul’s personal journal. Here’s Paul the mentor, the father-figure, the wizened patriarch of the Church universal. Here’s Paul the very human man, near the beginning of his ministry and then looking at the end of his earthly life. For our children, we find so much wisdom about what church is supposed to be and how we are supposed to live in this world. Take your time through these books, and let it all sink in.
As usual, I welcome your comments and observations. What do you think the theme verse for each of these books should be? How would you summarize any of them in one sentence (that starts with ‘God’)?
PAUL’S LETTERS (part 2)
About: Jesus’ second coming, encouragement through persecution
God has expectations for our lives on earth and a plan for the end times.
Big stories: Paul’s conduct in Thessalonica & desire to return, a life that pleases God
Time: ad51, possibly the earliest of Paul’s letters (see Galatians)
“We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4
About: Jesus’ second coming, Godly living (same as 1 Thes.)
God calls us to fully live in the present even as we anticipate the end times.
Big stories: end times prophecies, don’t be idle
Time: ad51-52, shortly after 1 Thessalonians
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
About: encouraging and advising Timothy regarding church leadership
God has ordained a proper way for the Church to act and interact.
Big stories: false teachers, behavior in worship, leader qualifications
Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5
About: Paul’s relationship with Timothy, guidance on leadership (like 1 Tim.)
God calls church leaders to faithfulness, perseverance, and discernment.
Big stories: guidance for church leaders, false teachers, relevance of Scripture
Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” 2 Timothy 3:12-14
About: leading well despite opposition, doing good inside and outside the church
God intends for us to live so that our actions set us apart from the culture.
Big stories: qualifications for elders, directions for age groups (older/younger)
Author: Paul (Titus is on Crete)
Time: ad63-65 (same as 1 Timothy)
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in his present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13
About: the slave Onesimus’ return to Philemon, his master
God receives us as family and servants when Jesus advocates for us.
Big stories: Paul’s appeal to Philemon regarding Onesimus
Author: Paul (Philemon is in Colossae)
Time: ad60 (see Ephesians and Colossians)
“Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Philemon 15-16a
This week we tackle the thickest, most chocked-full book of the Bible: Romans. There is no way to adequately present the content and context of this book with six bullet points (although I gave it a try). In it, we find the foundations of our theology, an understanding of Israel’s place in the New Covenant, and connections to much of the Old Testament. I don’t necessarily like reading Romans because there are very few stories, but when I study it, I find so much to “chew” on and so many areas in which to grow spiritually.
After Romans, the Corinthians and that set of four small books (You know, the ones we learned using acronyms such as ‘Go Eat PopCorn’ or ‘General Electric Power Company’) feel comforting and simple. If you want to dig into Paul’s writings with your children, I suggest you start with Ephesians or Philippians. They are straightforward, and Paul employs some word pictures that help us all understand our faith. What is more, it’s not too hard to memorize big chunks of verses here such as The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) or the Christ hymn (Philippians 2:5-11).
Did I leave out something important? What changes or additions would you suggest? Let me know in the comments section below.
PAUL’S LETTERS (part 1)
About: system of salvation, God’s big plan
God is knowable and He has a clear plan for our salvation.
Big stories: God judges everyone, Romans Road, victory for believers
Time: about mid-way through Paul’s ministry; prob. ad57
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17
About: cultural influences in church, Christian/church behavior
God intends for his church to represent His purity, mercy, and love.
Big stories: church practices, spiritual gifts, “Love is…”
Time: shortly before Romans; prob. ad55
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25
About: the challenges and joys of Christian ministry, God’s high standards
God’s calling involves both blessings and difficulties.
Big stories: jars of clay, ministry of reconciliation, Paul’s “pedigree”
Time: shortly before Romans but after 1 Corinthians; prob. ad55
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
About: justification by faith, freedom in Christ
God provides salvation to all people, separate from the law.
Big stories: Paul’s calling and apostleship, faith v/s works, fruit of the Spirit
Time: possibly the earliest Pauline letter we have; ad48/49 or 53
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28
About: the purpose and goals for the church
God wants His followers to know and follow through with His plans.
Big stories: unity of all believers, husbands & wives, armor of God
Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19
About: perseverance, joy, humility
God’s presence and blessing are unaffected by human circumstances.
Big stories: suffering for the Gospel, Christ’s humility, everything a loss in comparison to Jesus
Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad61
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21
About: refuting false teaching
God’s provision of Christ is completely sufficient for our salvation.
Big stories: supremacy of Christ, freedom in Christ, life in Christ
Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60 (same as Ephesians)
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” Colossians 2:9-10
We return to our Content and Context Series today (see the beginning *here*)—just in time for the Advent season. It’s the perfect opportunity to focus on Jesus’ life and purpose on earth. Simply pick a gospel and start reading; you can’t go wrong! Then, when it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, turn to Acts. The early church models the called-out life in a way that remains relevant today. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to make a change.
Of course, all the Gospels are specifically and intentionally about Jesus. All tell about the miracles He did and the parables He told, all provide details about His crucifixion and His resurrection, but each has a specific audience or purpose and each is told from a clear point-of-view. That’s why it’s so great to have four of them. We have a much fuller picture of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. For this outline, I have tried to differentiate the four so you (and your children) can see God’s purpose in each. As we approach Christmas, I pray that a fresh understanding of Jesus blesses your holiday season.
THE GOSPELS AND ACTS
About: Jesus as the expected Messiah
Through Jesus, God fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and provided a Savior for His chosen people.
Big stories: Jesus’ birth, Sermon on the Mount, Great Commission
Author: Matthew/Levi (a disciple)
Time: when Jesus was on earth
“All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” Matthew 1:22-23
About: Jesus as teacher and miracle-worker
Through Jesus, God gave us wisdom about life on earth and modeled suffering.
Big stories: John the Baptist, Greatest Commandment, Passion Week (1/3 of the chapters)
Author: John Mark (based on Peter’s preaching)
Time: when Jesus was on earth
“Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Mark 14:35-36
About: Jesus as world-wide Savior
Through Jesus, God made a way for every person (regardless of gender, politics, social status, etc.) to be saved.
Big stories: Jesus’ birth & childhood, Jesus’ focus on women/social
outcasts/Gentiles, parables (more than any other Gospel), Emmaus Road & Ascension
Author: Luke (a doctor who traveled with Paul)
Time: when Jesus was on earth
“Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Luke 5:31-32
About: Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man
Through Jesus, God demonstrates His love toward us and we are connected back to Him.