Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Bill Onisick, describing his encounter with a self-proclaimed street-corner 'evangelist' who shouted at the top of his lungs, "Jesus loves you! He really loves you!" urges that we avoid "over-pivoting" (that is, taking an unbalanced extreme counter position) in our reactions to such episodes. Jesus Christ assured His disciples that those who are not against us we can consider for us. The apostle Paul rejoiced that, whatever the motives of his 'competitors,' they were preaching the gospel. It is easy to over-react or go to extremes. Many have over-reacted to Jesus Christ's instruction about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees praying in public to be seen by men. Some have over-pivoted concerning giving thanks at a restaurant. Jesus and the disciples prayed in public on many occasions. Jesus gave thanks before 5,000 people in a public place. God certainly will be pleased if we thank Him in a public place. Perhaps, we may need to reconsider our heretofore negative extreme reactions to episodes involving enthusiastic street-corner 'preachers' and the practice of giving prayers of thanksgiving in public places.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on three well-known parables in Luke 15 , all of which emphasize that every life matters —- every life is worth saving, focuses on the disturbing, resentful reaction of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother felt that he had remained loyal to the family's honor, while his younger brother disgraced the family and had squandered all his inheritance. After hitting rock bottom, having to eat swine food, the prodigal son came to his senses, and was willing to accept any humiliation if his father would take him back as a menial servant. The older brother, slow to forgive his younger, focused upon himself and dishonored his father by berating him for having compassion on who he considered a "worthless sinner." Instead of pulling rank on the older son, the father also treated him with compassion. Many of us are, or have been, in the same position as the older brother—looking down on those who have stumbled. We are not equipped to judge the sincerity of anybody else's repentance, and consequently should never gainsay the compassion of our Heavenly Father. Instead, we should emulate our Heavenly Father, being willing to extend forgiveness to a repentant brother or sister, responding with love and self- control. We need to pray for the ability or the power to reconcile.
Martin Collins, reiterating that God's sovereignty is a major theme in the book of Daniel, reminds us that if we submit unconditionally to His sovereignty, we have a win-win situation- even when initially, it looks bleak and hopeless. After Nebuchadnezzar's death, the successive tenures of each of his descendants became increasingly attenuated and truncated, mortally weakening Babylon's here-to-fore impregnable position. Belshazzar's blasphemous banquet was the last straw, bringing about the cryptic 'handwriting on the wall' - a somber judgment from Almighty God against the haughty, presumptuous grandchild of Nebuchadnezzar. The words "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" signified that Belshazzar's kingdom had been weighed in the balances and was seriously wanting, forcing a calamitous division and destruction at the hands of Darius the Mede. Belshazzar had to learn the painful lesson that sin is not static, but its path leads precipitously downhill to perdition. Sin, the real opiate of the people, makes us oblivious to danger, giving us a debased and reprobate mind. God is not static; His deferred justice will not be deferred in perpetuity, but evil will be totally recompensed. As Daniel experienced, devotion to God and His laws will stir up jealousy in high places. Daniel maintained his devotion to God in spite of dangerous political circumstances, seemingly standing alone amidst a totally pagan culture. Yet, Daniel was the only one who had it together in the whole empire, totally convicted about what God would soon bring to pass. God wants a voluntary relationship, but leaves it up to us as to how to show our devotion. We could emulate Daniel, seeking contact with God multiple times in the day through prayer, praying in all kinds of situations (in the morning when we are beginning; evening to offer Thanksgiving for the mercies of the day, Before sleep to commend ourselves to Him, in times of embarrassment, and when tormented with strong temptations.) In life and death, God is in control.
The Parable of the Talents is often confused with the Parable of the Pounds. Martin Collins brings out their differences, showing that these parables illustrate Christian responsibilities from different angles.
In this Parable, Jesus emphasizes the kind of faith His disciples need to endure trials and obey His commands. Martin Collins explains that the only way for a Christian to obtain increased faith is to manifest steadfast, persevering obedience grounded in humility with the help of God's Spirit.
Have we lost the fire for God and His way that we we once had? If we have, we need to reconsider our basic commitments, and one of those is service. William Gray shows just how vital a key to success service is in all aspects of our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh insists that because what we believe automatically determines what we do; it is impossible to separate faith and works. If our source of belief is not grounded in Jesus Christ, we will be held captive to our traditions and our works will be contaminated. If our belief is grounded in Christ (our Spiritual Bread and our High Priest), we will have a relationship with God and access to eternal abundant life, leading to works (fruits of the Holy Spirit) that glorify God. The word "draw" in John 6:44 implies that there is some degree of carnal resistance or reluctance to accept God's calling. If we do not metaphorically eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, ingesting the Word of God daily, we will die spiritually. The moral and ethical demands of these Words often make them "hard sayings," but yielding to these demands (having an intimate relationship of God- living the way God lives in every aspect of our lives) will incrementally develop the character and the spiritual mind, bringing about eternal abundant life.
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.
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