Martin Collins, examining Jesus' purposeful delay in going to Lazarus' side as His friend succumbed to death, reminds us that 1) God's delays are always motivated by love, 2) His delayed help always comes at the right time, and 3) God's best help is never delayed. We dare not project the human traits of obstinacy and pre-occupation on God's delay. If God delays in answering a sincere prayer, His purpose is to increase faith, as in the case of His delay in providing Abraham with a son through Sarah. Similarly, our faith grows when God forces us to wait. We should never judge God's use of time against our uses of it, since God has not equipped us to know the beginning from the end. Like our Elder Brother, God gives all of us a certain amount of time and will not cut it short until we have fulfilled His purpose for us. Even though we have sufficient time, we cannot afford to waste a minute. Because time is precious and our life-span determined by God, we must walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, using this window of opportunity to do good. The lesson of the resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that, because Christ has the power to regenerate life, physical death is no terror to the believer, but is only a temporary rest before eternity. Paul assures us that, for God's called-out ones, death will never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Bill Onisick, alluding to some insights in Bruce Wilkinson's book Secrets of the Vine, namely that there are many barriers to producing agape love, contends that lack of love is the biggest problem the greater Church of God struggles with today. We find it difficult to love our brethren as Christ loved us because we do not want to expose our vulnerability, which is anchored to self-focused pride. Peter sank in his abortive walk on the water because his sense of vulnerability eroded away the needed faith for this act. Only when we sacrifice our sense of vulnerability and our penchant for pride will we have the strength to yield to God.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Human beings are fearful folk. All kinds of strange phobias have been documented, and some people are so timid that they jump at their own shadows when caught unaware. Yet, our fears can have far more serious consequences. Pat Higgins shows that the Bible warns that the wrong kind of fear is sinful and could keep a person from entering God's Kingdom.
The Gospel of Mark (one of the Synoptic Gospels) has some characteristics which distinguish it from the others. Scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel which the other gospel writers lifted from and added things to, focusing on different audiences and different purposes. The text of Mark is the shortest of all the gospels, with the emphasis on action more than narrative or long discourses of the others. The apostle Peter had a kind of paternal relationship with Mark, who perhaps had knowledge of Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Papius writes that Mark served as Peter's interpreter. Clement of Alexandria states that the early church commissioned Mark to provide a permanent record before memories would grow dim. Mark as the spokesman for Peter, wrote bluntly and forcefully, addressing a Gentile audience, providing them with a primer for new Christians who had little or no knowledge of Jesus Christ, completed probably before the Council of Jerusalem. Mark describes the miraculous transformation of crude 'unwashed' disciples (who nevertheless responded enthusiastically) to develop (under Christ's meticulous tutelage) into mature converted teachers and fishers of men. Mark emphasizes that Jesus hand-picked 12 individuals from the marginally accepted groups of society, an aggregate who would become a brand new family, united by righteous action. Mark demonstrated Jesus' exasperation and frustration with His disciples for their slow comprehension and their rudimentary development of faith and spirituality. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of this gospel, they are ready for marching orders.
Jesus' miracle of walking on the water contravenes everything we know about natural law, showing that God is sovereign and more powerful than the laws He made to govern His creation. Martin Collins examines Peter's test of faith as well as the other disciples' reactions to this astounding demonstration of Christ's divinity.
Jesus' walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee may be the best-known of His astounding miracles. Martin Collins examines both the miracle and the context, showing that this incident and Jesus' calming words to the disciples unmistakably declared to them just who Jesus really was.
If we don't know where we're going, we aren't going to get there! John Ritenbaugh illustrates that our vision of our goal—the Kingdom of God—is a compelling motivation to overcome, grow, and bear fruit in preparation for eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon vision - an especially vivid picture in the mind's eye (undergirded by faith, scriptural revelation, and prompted by God's Holy Spirit) to anticipate and plan for events and results which have not yet occurred. This foresight or revelation, strengthened by analyzing, comparing, and applying scriptural principles, produces a common (or uncommon) sensical prudence of conduct, insuring that a person's life (temporal or eternal) is preserved and plans fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
John Ritenbaugh explains the context in which a tenant farmer would find a buried treasure after the original inhabitant had meticulously hid it fleeing from an invading army. Our calling resembles this parable and the Parable of the Pearl of great price; we seemingly stumble upon it accidentally and intuitively realize its priceless value. The parable of the Dragnet again describes the culling process God uses to separate the truly committed from those mildly interested. God brings forth people from every walk of life with a whole array of skills and talents- gifts that God intends His called-out ones to use for the good of the whole congregation. We need to make sure that a prejudice, 'experience', weakness, or blind-spot on our part does not become a barrier to God's truth. Regarding Jesus siblings, He had at least three sisters and four brothers. Chapter 14 begins with the lurid and grizzly details of the beheading of John the Baptist, caused in part by the blind ambition of Salome's mother as well as Herod's guilty conscience after John the Baptist exposed his blatant adultery and lust. The next part of the study delves into the incredible miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, an example of Christ multiplying the meager talents and capabilities of His disciples. If we yield our gifts and talents to God's work or service, He will multiply them, accomplishing more than we could possibly do by ourselves. The miracle demonstrates both God's principle of generosity as well as the responsible stewardship of physical resources. The last part of chapter 14 delves into Jesus walking on the water and Peter's well-meaning, but abortive exercise in faith. Like Peter, we must keep our focus upon Christ rather than the surrounding physical circumstances. Faith operates when we cannot see what we hope for. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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