Martin Collins, reflecting on Christ's promise in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His Church, asks us whether we can identify the true church. Yes, we can, if we examine the fruits. For example, the true Church will follow God's Law and eschew the pagan traditions. We should interpret each of the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 as personal messages, as well as records of historical epochs of the true Church. Because God did not lead the members of the various historical churches to record their experiences, we must rely on the histories of their adversaries. The Catholic Eusebius, hardly an unbiased witness, has provided valuable insights about the persecutions which took place against those who resisted Emperor Constantine's displacement of Passover with Easter, a tragic consequence of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Constantine and, later, Archbishop Chrysostom of Constantinople displayed no tolerance for those who were on the fence; persecution and martyrdom shifted into high gear. Despite the Council of Laodicea's condemnation of the Sabbath, a large group of faithful believers termed Paulicians assembled in Armenia under the leadership of Constantine of Mananali, assiduously keeping God's laws, including the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, baptizing by immersion, preaching the Kingdom of God, and resisting the mainstream heresy emanating from Rome. Compromise (that is, spiritual adultery) begins a slippery slope of no return, where each successive compromise incrementally deadens the conscience. Like the Armenian Paulicians, we must take heed when we think we stand, for we may indeed be on the verge of perishing.
Ted Bowling, acknowledging that the full panoply of emotions, including fear and anger, is a gift from God, nevertheless cautions us that we are to use these emotions responsibly, carefully, and with extreme caution. God does not tell us never to be angry, but He has mandated that we channel it constructively. Recently a man killed his wife on a cruise because she just "would not stop laughing at him." His uncontrolled anger has undoubtedly cast a grim shadow on himself and on his hapless family for the rest of their lives. Several Biblical luminaries showed displays of somewhat less than stellar self-control, leading to serious character blemishes, as Peter's angry cursing became punctuated by a rooster's crowing as well as a poignant glance from his Master, and Moses' striking the rock terminated his ambitions to enter the promised land. Like Peter and Moses, we are subject to making major errors and suffering major consequences if we don't rely on God when Satan or the World throws us a curve. I Peter 5:7-8 counsels us to cast our cares upon God in order that our uncontrolled emotions do not keep us from the Kingdom of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
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.
Ted Bowling, acknowledging that God has perfect memory, reminds us that God chooses not to remember our sins as long as we don’t repeat them. We, on the other hand are often plagued with the memories of past guilt come for sins we have committed. Guilt is a natural consequence of breaking God’s Law, but it can become a curse and a tool of Satan if we begin to question the forgiveness of God. We must be able to separate genuine guilt, which is the spiritual equivalent of pain, from false guilt when we call into question God’s grace and forgiveness. Satan desires that we become dispirited from a guilt-ridden past. Even though we are equipped to receive spiritual pain, God doesn’t want us to live a life of pain, but instead that the spiritual pain or godly sorrow should lead us to repentance. Satan wants to divide or separate us from God, but Christ has reconciled us the Father and has purged our guilty consciences with His sacrifice. Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus; Judas became overwhelmed with worldly sorrow and hanged himself, while Peter, motivated by godly sorrow, repented bitterly and was forgiven. We need to examine ourselves every day, laying out bare our sins and transgressions before God, asking His forgiveness and making sure we have fully repented. God has promised to purge us of our sins and the crippling guilt that accompanies them.
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.
David C. Grabbe: Most translations fail to bring out that two different words are translated as "love" in John 21:15-17. Twice, Jesus asks Peter if he had agape love for Him, and both times ...
David C. Grabbe: An incident in John 21 contains a powerful lesson that must be kept in mind when considering our part of our Father's business. The first half of John 21 contains a significant miracle, the eighth and last of the Messianic signs found in the book of John. The miracle—a great catch of fish—is a strong echo of the time when Jesus called these fishermen three and a half years before. ...
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.
All of us—teens and adults—have felt the stress of peer-pressure in one form or another. Though the Bible does not use the term, it teaches us not to conform to our peers but to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: One of the most popular series of advertisements in recent years has been MasterCard's "Priceless" commercials. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
Standing up against the majority is never easy, but as Christians, we have been called to do just that. We need to grow in courage until we "are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1)!
John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
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 reiterates that the humble, serving, or footwashing attitude exemplified by Jesus in John 13 provides a clear insight into the mind of God. Jesus humbled Himself, pouring out His divinity to serve mankind, providing an example for us to also serve others. The loving way in which Jesus appealed to Judas leaves us further insights about Jesus conscious choice to accept His Father's will, glorifying His Father through His sacrifice for man's benefit. The Father likewise glorifies His Son by resurrecting and honoring Him. God expects us to follow Christ's example of loving others, with all of their flaws and weaknesses, more than ourselves. This kind of love does not come naturally, but must be acquired through God's Holy Spirit. In chapter 14, Jesus, anticipating His imminent death, provides encouragement, comfort and assurance to His disciples (all of us actually) that they would have a role in His future kingdom. Jesus, by His example, teaches us not to get discouraged if we don't see immediate results from obeying God or carrying out His will. The results may not be realized this side of the grave. By following Christ's example, we follow in the Way of truth, leading to Eternal life and glorification.
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