Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the death of Billy Graham and his impact on American religious culture, comments that some have dubbed Billy Graham as "America's pastor." Four traits that endeared him to people were his 1.) persuasive oratory, 2.) courage, 3.) morality and 4.) humility in the face of immense influence. Some commentators have suggested that he preached to more people than any other evangelist. However, when assessing this claim against the impact of Herbert Armstrong, its veracity is doubtful. Herbert Armstrong began preaching long before Billy Graham came on the scene, using the medium of radio before it was forced to compete with television as a tool of mass communication. His current-event driven message was a blend of news and doctrinal truths. People had never heard anything like this before. As God began providing funds, Herbert Armstrong began to utilize multiple powerful, clear-channel stations in North America, thereby blanketing the entire continent with God's truth every night. God subsequently opened doors in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, facilitating a virtually world-wide effort. Looked at in terms of numbers, the impact of Herbert Armstrong was far greater than that of Billy Graham.
Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that God has chosen the weak and base things of the world to confound the wise, analyzes the commonalities of heroes who have emerged from common people and who sacrifice their personal concerns for the greater good. We recognize first responders (policemen, firemen, and soldiers) who routinely risk their lives to help others. Irena Sendler, the brave woman who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Henry Erwin, scalded by a flare he pulled out of the failed bomber hatch, and Arland Williams Jr, who assisted in the saving of the survivors of a downed aircraft but who drowned before rescuers could reach him, all exemplify heroes. The Roman historian Plutarch identified compassion for others as the common link for all acts of heroism. Sympathetic compassion for others motivated Winston Churchill, Joseph, Jephthah, and most significantly, Our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life to redeem humanity. We need to emulate our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, making the exercise of sacrificial compassion a daily activity.
Austin Del Castillo, affirming that correction is something that children and adults find odious, points out that paradoxically the friend who offers constructive correction helps us mature and grow more than a 'friend' who ignores our faults. The very reason we are called into God's Church is so he can mold us into members of His family. It should be a given in our thinking that we must be corrected for much of our walk in this life with our Maker. The Lord loves whom he chastens. Yielding to the correction we receive from Scripture, the ministry and our brethren brings a wholesome sense of humility, needed to learn and overcome. If we harden our hearts to protect ourselves from hurt, as the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkle song "I am a Rock, I am an Island," we render ourselves impervious to feeling compassion and to the ability to mature psychologically and spiritually, cutting ourselves off from the very ebb and flow of life, turning us into craven cowards, candidate for the Lake of Fire. We must cry out to God to soften our petrifying hearts, realizing that the antidote to the fear of repentance caused by pride is godly humility and the willingness to be set on the right spiritual course. The only rock we should cling to is Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, citing an article about a transgender male entering an all-female competition in a Connecticut high school, besting all the girls, suggests that public acceptance of this 'transgender' aberration has imprinted a malignant character defect on our culture. Western culture has come to accept sin as a norm, calling evil good and good evil. Just as Satan told Mother Eve, "You will not die," so the arch deceiver has also convinced the 'progressivist' legislators, educators, and medical communities that gender is a psychological 'choice' rather than one assigned by the Creator. Liberal educators and legislators have marshaled a deceitful attack on God and have defined sin as normal and even 'delightful.' The bitter and poisonous fruit of this onslaught of liberal teaching is that our culture has lost its virtue. One Missouri state legislator stated, "If there is truth, there must be a higher authority to decide what truth is. If everything is true, nothing is true. If truth is relative, our property and life are in danger." We must fight to hang onto our virtue, or it will vanish.
Clyde Finklea, marveling at how quickly heresies infiltrated the early church, as identified by the warning messages of Paul, John, Jude, and James, asserts that Peter in his second epistle (II Peter1:1-7) provides not only an effective antidote to corrosive heresies, apostasy, and false teachers, but also a practical formula for spiritual growth. The process incrementally moves from faith to diligence, valor and courage, knowledge of God's truth as revealed in His Word, self-control and temperance, patience, endurance, dogged determination to overcome and endure under the severest trials, respect, love, and awe for Almighty God. The ultimate result consists of an active outgoing agape love for our brethren. As we examine ourselves for Passover, we need to determine whether we are incrementally developing our spiritual maturity from faith to love.
Martin Collins, citing Dennis Prager's Town Hall article, Is America Still Making Men?, suggests that there is a profound dearth of real masculine leadership today, as young men seem to be protracting their pubescence, preferring to remain boys with no responsibilities than to embrace leadership roles. When boys fail to grow into men, women and all society suffers. The family is languishing for real leadership as well as all levels of government. As Joshua felt fearful at assuming leadership, most men also feel the same trepidation, but God Almighty has placed in their DNA the ability to lead, with a view that they lead their families with a balanced proportion of compassion and firmness. Courage is a gift given by God, augmented and amplified when we embrace His law as a part of us. God charges us to do a specific work (such as to lead one's family), requiring us to delve into the Scripture daily for guidance until we know the mind of God through continued practice of living and following His principles. The successful leader is first and foremost a follower of God and His Holy law. Confidence derives from a close relationship with God.
Martin Collins, cuing in on an article which poses the question, "Why does not mainstream Christianity attract more men?" affirms that most mainstream churches have become feminized, with many men who may call themselves "Christian" feeling bored and disengaged from the component they really need—namely, real masculine leadership. Their malaise is a result of suave metro-sexual pastors who are "ripping women off" by making the church too much about nurturing and caring and relationships. Every nation which has descended from Israel has experienced a steady decline of lack of masculinity in leaders. Biblical examples reveal that even our patriarchs, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had serious deficits in masculine leadership regarding child-rearing practices. David, a man after God's own heart, for the most part, was a flop at child-rearing, being far too lenient and indulgent, but finally coming to his senses when he gave Solomon instructions for leading Israel. Masculine leadership has little to do with marriage and fathering children. Rather it is most clearly demonstrated by men who embrace God's commandments, love and protect their wives rather than abnegating authority to them and, finally, point their children to a love of God's truth. David's final words to Solomon, mirroring Moses' final words to Joshua, were to be strong and courageous, walking perpetually in God's laws and statutes, promising that, if he would do so, there would never lack a man on the throne of Israel. Manhood is defined by God, not by some kind of macho rite of passage established by man's culture. If men in God's church cannot love their wives and take charge of the education of their offspring, instructing them to fear and respect God, leading by example rather than mere words, they are not qualified to be leaders or overseers in the church nor kings and priests in God's Kingdom. As the world degenerates, true masculine leadership as defined by God will be increasingly needed.
Martin Collins, continuing the series on the awakening of guilt in Joseph brothers, focuses on a message by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who proclaimed that Moses never just said, "Let my people go" The second part of this request was "that they can worship God in the desert." Egypt has long served as a metaphor of sin and bondage. We all have our personal Egypt which could be defined as anything that holds us in bondage or abject servitude. We have to learn to rely on God to get us out of strait and difficult situations, realizing that God may want to develop some backbone and intestinal fortitude in us to mature spiritually, but most importantly to yield to the sovereign God of the Universe, who has our best interests at heart. As Joseph's brothers had to be subjected to three patterns of necessity: (1) nature, (2) the tyranny of man, and (3) circumstances beyond their control, we need to stop trusting in our own savvy and street smarts, but instead turn the controls over to God, realizing that as Joseph's brothers and father matured through these intense gut-wrenching, terrifying trials, we also can escape the most dire circumstances by placing ourselves under God's control.
Martin Collins, asking us about the longest period we have had to wait for something, reminds us that waiting for God is an acquired virtue requiring patience and longsuffering. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit in 31 AD, Christ's initial followers experienced a period of delay or a waiting period, a time to practice obedience and fellowship with those who were also waiting. People need other people of like mind; we do not become Christians in isolation. We are obligated to have a dialogue with Almighty God through the means of prayer and Bible study, a conversation in which we listen significantly more than we speak. As Christ's disciples did not know what was expected from them as they waited, we also to do not know what to expect as we wait for Christ to establish His Kingdom. Peter, during his waiting until Pentecost, thoroughly studied the Scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit, enabling him to give a powerful message, a combination of Old Testament Scripture and explanation, focusing on God the Father and Jesus, emphasizing the ministry of Christ, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, and His current ministry. Peter's first sermon powerfully influenced 3,000 people. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit emboldened the apostles , bringing effectiveness in ministry, making effective proclamation of the Gospel, giving power for victory over sin, Satan, and demonic forces, making possible a wide distribution of gifts for the ministry, and the power to work miracles.
Though we are surrounded and sometimes buffeted by numerous difficulties, trials, and threats, God is always faithful to provide what we need to endure and overcome them. Keying in on I Corinthians 16:13, Mike Ford illustrates what we must do to persevere through the tough times ahead.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
Life sometimes seems to be one trial after another. However, Pat Higgins asserts that God has revealed an astounding facets of our relationship with Him that should give us the faith to soldier on despite our many trials.
Joseph of Arimathea has always been a shadowy figure among the well-known personages of the Bible. Mike Ford helps to dispel the shadows with this sketch of this disciple's life.
Does God protect His people even today? Indeed, God's arm has not been shortened!
A little-known character from the book of Jeremiah shares the stage with more well-known figures and teaches them a lesson we can learn from today.
Bravery or courage is a character trait Christians need to possess. Many servants of God have had to face severe trials and hardships, and having a brave heart will help us to get through these tough times.
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
Ezra faced a dilemma: Should he ask the king for military protection or trust God for the Jews' safety? Ted Bowling takes us through his decision-making process as an example to us during our trials.
John Ritenbaugh explains that the four-layered biography of Christ known as the Gospels graphically illustrates the typology of Revelation 4:7 depicting a lion, ox, man, and eagle. Matthew emphasizes the heroic majestic qualities of a lion; Mark emphasizes the faithful and hard-working qualities of an ox; Luke emphasizes the compassionate and empathetic qualities of a man, and John focuses upon the ascendant qualities of an eagle, depicting Christ's divinity. As these four biographies unfold, we get a composite picture or image of what we are to be transformed into.
John Ritenbaugh examines the changing Israelitish mindset following two world wars, negatively influenced by affluence and cynicism which has undermined our ability to endure hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy national goal. Instead of discipline, indomitable will and character with pure national goals we have opted for self-indulgence, laxity, and compromise. In God's plan, the development of uncompromising character requires struggle and sacrifice. Our victory over Satan requires continual drill, tests and development of internal discipline. Like the military, the victory is built incrementally in the mind; the warfare is the drill. (Luke 16:10)
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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