home > Pastor’s Desk > 2021 > October 17 > YOUR FAMILY IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

¶ For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19

My Grandmother, Ruby McCormack, harvesting on their family farm in the Wimmera, Victoria.

My Grandmother, Ruby McCormack, harvesting on their family farm in the Wimmera, Victoria, in the 1920s.

My Great Grandmother was one of eleven children. My mother was one of six children. After the financial devastation of the Great Depression, my Grandparents, my mother and my aunts and uncles moved from the Wimmera to Bunyip, a small town in Gippsland Victoria, where my Grandparents started over – again, farming sheep, dairy cows, and crops. In the early 1900s in rural Australia it made sense to have a big family because farming was so labour intensive and every farmer depended upon their children to help out on the farm. Today, families of six or more children is far less common. In fact, some couples are now getting married with the intention of having just one child, and even some are telling me that they do not intend to have any children. I wonder what this apparent trend might do to our culture? I wonder whether some of the problems that beset young men who struggle to interact in a wholesome way with young ladies might be due to their lack of growing up with a sister or sisters? While sociologists who study the effect of family compositions on societies examine some of these dynamics and how they maybe contributing to the “me generation”, I think there is also something deeply spiritual and theological to consider as well.

¶ Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers,
older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
First Timothy 5:1-2

 

A THEOLOGY OF FAMILY

Whenever we follow the words ‘a theology of ’ with another word, such as ‘family’, it means that we are considering what God and His Word state, or teach us, about a particular topic. When we consider our text (Eph. 3:14-19), we might wonder what the reference to God’s family “in heaven” might mean. Eminent New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, in his 1983 commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, notes that in Jewish Rabbinical thought, God has a heavenly (“above”) family, and an earthly (“below”). God’s heavenly family is comprised of the following magnificent creatures:

We generally lump all of the heavenly creatures that God created under the heading of angels. But the word angel simply refers to one of the tasks carried out particularly by one category of these heavenly creatures. Here is a brief list of five categories of heavenly creatures whom God created with a word who then constituted His heavenly family. and to whom we generally indiscriminately lump them all together by referring to them all as angels —

1. THE CHERUBIM We have good reason for believing that quite probably, the first creatures that God created were cherubim. The Scriptures consistently refer to there being four of these magnificent creatures.

And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance:
they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.
Ezekiel 1:5-6

Cherubim are always depicted as guarding the presence of God (Isa. 37:16). When the Redeemer, who would later become known as Jesus, created them, these proto-creatures would bear faces that would one day be revealed to the world in the face of Christ. These four cherubim had four faces. Each had the face of a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Thus, whenever Christ saw these cherubim, which would have been continually, He was was reminded (if it’s possible for God to be reminded of anything) that He would one day become a human being who would die to redeem all mankind. This work of redemption would be described by each of the four Gospels where the Gospel of Matthew would emphasise Christ as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the King; and the Gospel of Mark would emphasise Christ as the worker, the ox; and the Gospel of Luke would emphasise Christ as the man of compassion, the human; and the Gospel of John would emphasise Christ as the eternal God made flesh, the eagle.

As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.
Ezekiel 1:10

We are introduced to the cherubim in the opening chapters of Genesis after God had banished our original parents from Eden and sent the cherubim to guard the east gate (Gen. 3:24). They are described most frequently in the Book of Ezekiel. They are present in the closing book of the Bible as “four living creatures” after the Lamb of God is presented as Christus Victor.

And before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
¶ And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures,
full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion,
the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man,
and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures,
each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within,
and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
Revelation 4:6-8

2. THE SERAPHIM We have good reason for believing that God created the cherubim, He then created these other tremendous powerful creatures referred to as seraphim. These two creatures must be unimaginably large. While the four cherubim are around the throne of God, the seraphim are described as being behind and over the throne of God who lead all of heaven in worship of the Most High. When the majestic seraphim speak, the whole place shakes – 

Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings:
with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory!”
¶ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called,
and the house was filled with smoke.
Isaiah 6:2-4

3. THE RULING “ARCH” ANGELS After the Seraphim were created, there is good reason for thinking that God created seven extremely powerful ruling or “arch” angels. The Bible names two of them (Michael – Jude 9, and Gabriel – Daniel 9:21; Luke 1:19) but ancient Jewish tradition refers by name to five others including: Raphael, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel  (1Enoch 20).

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
Jude 9

My Uncle Angus with my mum ca. 1940

My Uncle Angus with my mum ca. 1940

4. THE WATCHERS We can deduce from scripture and Jewish tradition that God then created about two hundred (one traditional refers to two hundred thousand of them) Watchers who appear to have been created by God in preparation for the task of assisting the yet-to-be-made humans who would live on the yet-to-be-formed earth. These Watchers were given the ability to move between the dimensions of heaven and earth and report back to God. We might speculate that they also appear to have been created with the power to shape-shift which apparently enabled them to take on a functional human form. While each of these heavenly creatures constituted God’s heavenly family, it appears that the Watchers were specifically designated as the sons of God (Gen. 6:2; Deut. 32:8) of whom left the boundaries of God’s purpose and became both corrupted and corruptors of mankind. These corrupted Watchers appear to be in view in Genesis 6:2 having sexual liaisons with women and siring the nephilim (the giants). It is probable that Lucifer was one of these Watchers who left his station after God’s final creation – the woman. The prophet Daniel distinguishes the corrupted watchers from the holy watchers in Daniel 4:13.

¶ “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches…The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’
Daniel 4:13-14, 17

5. THE HOST OF ANGELS Then, it appears that God, with just a word, created billions upon billions of ‘ordinary’ angels, especially when we reflect on Christ’s statement in Matthew 18:10 where He intimates that rather than each person having just one guardian angel, each person may in fact have more than one guardian angels. (Considering earth’s current population is around seven billion, this might mean that there are at least fourteen billion ordinary angels.) I do however feel rather improper to call these phenomenally powerful creatures ordinary. The Biblical data is that they can interact with our material world including the removal of a several tonne stone (Matt. 27:60; Mark 16:4) which had been used to seal the entrance to Christ’s borrowed tomb (Matt. 28:2) and the opening of locked prison doors.

¶ Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Revelation 5:11-12

 

THE VASTNESS OF GOD’S HEAVENLY FAMILY TELLS US A LOT ABOUT GOD’S FATHER-HEART

All of these magnificent heavenly creatures constituted God’s heavenly family. God the Father had individually named each one (Isa. 40:26)! Therefore, God’s heavenly family consisted of billions of billions of myriads of creatures whom God knew and loved. But still God wanted create an even larger family! To do so, He created man and woman (Gen. 1:26-31). His mandate to the man and woman was to enlarge God’s earthly family by – be fruitful and multiply! To state the obvious, God loves family!!! To state the not-so-obvious: Satan hates family! The Bible tells the story of how God wanted to have an earthly family of children who would love and willingly obey Him. The hope was that Israel could be that model family. But they betrayed God. And every time it appeared that Satan had ruined God’s plan to have a heavenly and earthly family of sons and daughter who would love and honour Him, God redeemed the situation. When the chosen people, Israel, turned their back on God, God announced that He would send His only Son to be the redeemer of a new family, the church.

Jesus told a moving story of the Father’s heart in the story of the prodigal’s son (Luke 15:11-32). The prodigious father in Christ’s story is like our Heavenly Father. Even though his younger son has left home and brought shame to their family name, the father longs for his son to return to him. It powerfully describes God the Father and His heart for His children. God loves His children. God knows each of us by name.

We get a glimpse of what Father God’s ultimate family is going to look like in Revelation 7:9 where it describes all of the redeemed joining with all of the Father’s heavenly family. God clearly loves and wants a big family.

¶ After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:9-10

GOD LOVES FAMILY

It’s difficult to imagine how happy, joyous, and full heaven is — and will further be. The suggestion that God created humankind because He was in some way ‘lonely’ becomes apparently and obviously fatuous after considering what we now surmise about those He created to populate the heavenly realm and experience God’s unfathomable and limitless love and goodness. It’s important for Christians in Australia and New Zealand (because we often have the gospel presented to us in a rather individualistic terms) to understand that the gospel is not merely about having a vertical relationship with God — it’s also about a horizontal relationship with other wretches who have also been saved by the grace of the Lamb of God who will ultimately entrust the redeemed with positions of unmerited and unbelievable privilege in the age to come-

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them,
for He is Lord of lords and King of kings,
and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.”
Revelation 17:14

Do you not know that we are to judge angels?
How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
First Corinthians 6:3

If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He also will deny us;
Second Timothy 2:12

And you have made them [the redeemed] a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5:10

Thus, when we come closer to Christ in unreserved surrender through prayer and the heeding of His written Word, our hearts are transformed from seeing “our family” as just those connected to us by blood, to seeing our family as our Heavenly Father sees it—that is, when we are redeemed by Christ we are adopted into a new and much larger family – God’s family. There is so much joy in heaven when just one formerly lost person turns to the Saviour and repents –  because God’s heavenly family shares in the Father’s joy every time this happens –

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Luke 15:7

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:10

Every believer belongs to the family of God. That makes us brothers and sisters. And because we understand that our Heavenly Father’s love for each of us is infinite (Eph. 3:17-19) we cannot possibly be less loved if more people are added to God’s family. Therefore, unlike the Cadbury Chocolate kid sulking upstairs after is new baby sister arrives home from the hospital, is not how the son or daughter of God reacts when a new believer is added to the Church – the family of God. This means that every local church should reflect God’s heart for God’s family. Let us pray for, and seek to reflect, God’s heart for the lost. Let us pray for and take active measures to welcome people seeking to be reconciled to God. And in the process of seeing people find peace with God through Christ, we rejoice that our spiritual (fictive) family has just become bigger, because we share in our Heavenly Father’s joy every time this happens as well.

 

Your Pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

1 Comment

  1. LYDIA

    Thank you Andrew for broadening my vision. When I was about 16 I discovered that God had given me more than my immediate family but had in His wisdom given me a much larger Family. That has never changed. Also I believed what the Scripture teaches us about Angels. What I didn’t dwell on much though was that there were different types of heavenly beings. To me angels were that, they had tasks and praised God. Yet God created a Family, His heavenly family and made this universe in all its magnificence with what you just wrote Andrew. There was complete love. A love that can’t even be described except in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of that. I’d always understood that God was self-sufficient and didn’t need anyone else. Theologically that might be correct, yet – His love is limitless and I short- changed that. So only, just lately, have I come to understand that His love is FAR greater and by His desiring Family around Him and then after all that was completed, made the Earth ready for mankind to dwell on and to praise Him, made my LORD not an abstract God but One Who desires what we sometimes destroy. I guess it is like putting flesh around the bones – this is Who God is – but – this is Who God REALLY is!

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THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.