Martin Collins, reminding us that God's love does not shield the believer from sickness, pain, sorrow, or death, focuses on several scriptural contexts in which Jesus shed tears and expressed grief. Though no wimpy sentimentalist, Jesus chose to experience the often disrupting vicissitudes of human life, having the capacity to feel empathy. Like all of us, He felt weariness and exhaustion, grew in wisdom and knowledge, and felt anger and indignation. The short clause, "Jesus wept," conveys both His anger at the consequences of sin and His compassion for those who suffered, prompting observers to say, "He loved." Jesus was made like us so He could empathize with our weaknesses, qualifying Him to be our High Priest and Mediator. Unlike the religion of Ancient Greece, or Judaism, God's true religion shows God as having the capacity to feel, to empathize, and to have love for others. God meticulously keeps track of our tears and promises to wipe them away in the fullness of time. But, before God transforms our tears of sorrow into tears of joy, He commands that His called-out ones be the same kind of living sacrifices as were Moses, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Day proclamation, delivered at the height of the American War Between the States, marvels at President Lincoln's reverence to the Creator, crediting Him with the bounties of produce, minerals, and many other tangible blessings. Thanklessness is perhaps the most egregious sin of our culture. Jesus addressed the problem of thanklessness in the Luke 17:11-19 narrative of the leper (and a foreigner at that!) who took the time to thank Christ for healing him—the one leper out of ten healed on that occasion. As God's called-out ones, we cannot emulate the nine ungrateful lepers, but must be creative and proactive in our expressions of thanksgiving. It would be well to create lists of things for which we have been thankful, including daily answered prayers. We should make a practice of expressing thankfulness every day we draw breath—not just annually or sporadically.
Martin Collins, continuing his exposition on the Post-Resurrection Last Words of Christ, focuses on the statements Jesus made to Thomas, the disciple who demanded empirical proof of His resurrection, reminding us, who also did not witness the Resurrection, to particularly heed Christ's comments to him. Jesus admonishes us "do not be unbelieving, but believing," and "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:27-28). When Jesus invited Thomas to put his hands into the wounds, Thomas not only refrained, but gave the most powerful testimonial ever recorded in scripture. We would be presumptuous to cast aspersions on Thomas, using the world's cliché "Doubting Thomas," as he was a man more brave than most of us would have been confronted with similar circumstances. Nor should we presume to ask of our Lord any more assuring signs and miracles than He has already provided through the systematic testimonials provided by the scriptures. Jesus assures us that the cultivation of the type of faith documented in the Gospel accounts accrues abundant and incredible blessings, including knowledge that by faith, we (1) become children of God, (2) have eternal life, (3) are delivered from judgment, (4) receive spiritual satisfaction now, (5) are equipped with the means for entering the final resurrection, (6) become blessings to others, (7) see the glory of God, (8) abide in darkness no longer, (9) are blessed with a fruitful life, and (10) receive the benefits of Christ's prayers on our behalf.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the poetic prayer-song at the end of Habakkuk 3, concludes that this passage is one of the most inspiring parts of God's Word. The moving prayer-song, asking God to revive His work in the midst of years, and to temper judgment with mercy, provides a model of an effective prayer. Though the prophet began his dialogue with God with distressful angst and bitter complaints, expressing incredulity that God would allow a vile nation to be His corrective instrument, the prayer-song of Chapter 3 demonstrates that the prophet has calmly acquiesced to God's righteous judgment, remembering His sterling record of faithfulness, humbly asking God to remember to have mercy.Our time is like that of Habakkuk , when horrendous and pandemic sin invite God's wrath. We may initially find the means God uses to correct our people horrifying and discouraging, but when we place His actions in context with His overall plan and purpose for mankind, we will find peace in God's absolute sovereignty, justice, and compassion. Humility and repentance are absolute prerequisites for answered prayer. After repentance, adoration and reflection on God's attributes and on the history of His providence should make up the contents of our prayers. Finally, our specific petitions should be exclusively within the context of God's will, remembering that God's work of fashioning a new creation takes precedence over our petty concerns; like Habakkuk, we need to subordinate our work to God's overall plan, asking God for renewal in the midst of bad times, remembering that strong faith is not incompatible with fleshly weakness. Knowledge of God, as recorded in His Word, (that is , bearing in mind His promises, previous interventions, and characteristic providence) gives us fortitude in horrific times, enabling us to know that God will save His people and stand by His promises. As Habakkuk lived up to the etymology of his name habaq, meaning to embrace or cling, we must cling tenaciously to God as we enter the disastrous times
Mike Fuhrer: A good friend recently told me of an experience he had several years ago. ...
John O. Reid (1930-2016): In a conversation with a friend sometime back, we could not help but notice the difference in people in both the world and church over the last forty or fifty years. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, pointing to I and II Chronicles as the most overlooked and most infrequently cited book, a document the Greeks referred to as a miscellaneous compilation of 'things omitted' from I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, maintains that Chronicles looks upon history with a different perspective, a different take on the subject matter, on how Judah's successes corresponded to the degree the people submitted themselves to God. The facts, compiled by a writer having the complete Old Testament documents in hand, living in the volatile Intertestamental period, seven or eight generations after Zerubbabel, reached some powerful theological conclusions never broached by the writers of Samuel or Kings. His mode of delivery resembles more of a thesis paper with theological conclusions, an extended commentary on blessings and curses, containing inspiring examples of answered prayers in examples like Jabez, whose mother had apparently cursed his future by giving him an uncomplimentary name, and in the dramatic turn-around in Rehoboam's military exploits when he humbled himself before God. The thesis of the entire book seems to be that when God's people seek Him in repentance and humility, God comes to their aid; if they keep the terms of the covenant, they succeed; if not, they fail. God responds to those who seek Him and helps those who stay in alignment with His will. The themes of Chronicles are calling upon the Lord, seeking Him, and remembering His works.
Ted Bowling, reminding us that prayer is our lifeline to God, a medium in which our faith is strengthened, focuses on several positions or postures used in prayer, including kneeling , bowing the head, or lying prostrate (all conveying degrees of submission and humility), but gives special attention to the posture of raising hands, symbolic of giving up or admitting vulnerability. David prayed with raised hands when he had come to the end of his tether, indicating that prayer is a time when we surrender unconditionally to God's power. Joshua's victory over the Amalekites was assured only after Moses in a posture of contrite submission with hands raised, assisted by Aaron and Hur. God honors the prayer of those who are contrite and tremble at His word, as symbolized by hands raised in submission.
What is the connection between the prayers that ascend to God and the angel hurling the censer down to earth, initiating the seven trumpets? Further, what sort of prayers would be a pleasing aroma to God at this juncture? ...
David C. Grabbe: As Revelation 5 opens, the apostle John sees a scroll, sealed with seven seals, in the right hand of God. The only One worthy to open the seals is the Lamb of God. . . .
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on I Thessalonians 5:16-18, gives all of us an assignment to become more appreciative by actively enumerating and writing down our blessings. Praying without gratitude is like clipping the wings of prayer. We have so much to be thankful for, but do not express our gratitude very well. Thankfulness and winning are not natural to carnal human nature which loves to grovel as timid worrywarts. If we would ponder all of the gifts God has given us, we would have an endless list of things to thank Him for, from the lub-dub of our heart chambers to the endless beauty of creation. Corrosive pride will destroy the spirit of gratitude because it is never satisfied. For that reason, God mercifully gives thorns in the flesh to puncture our pride, reminding us that we do not have anything that we did not receive from God. We need to commence making a list of what we are thankful for; the list will never end.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
Martin Collins reminds us that Daniel's efficacy in prayer resulted in his view of God's omnipotence and absolute sovereignty, the God of the Universe, a Being to be feared and respected. Daniel learned that faith is to be coupled with intelligence. The 70 weeks of prophecies is more accurately rendered 70 years of weeks, or 490 years. Jesus was to be cut off in the middle of the week (Wednesday) , allowing Him to finish the transgressions, make an end of punishment, and make reconciliation for iniquity. Jesus would then bring in everlasting righteousness (of ages), seal up or authenticate prophecy, and assume the role of the Most Holy, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. God has a timetable in world history, working through people who seek Him with humility and desiring understanding. God's called-out ones are protected from demonic influences through the intervention of powerful, ministering angelic spirits, outnumbering the fallen angels two to one. God alone is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; Satan is absolutely no match for God's power.
Martin Collins, reminding us that Daniel had received wisdom, influence, and health from God, also points out that God placed Daniel in a position of greater influence after He exposed Him to greater danger. God is sovereign over our lives in every circumstance, enabling us to cope with anything the world and Satan can throw at us, giving us the promise of the power to endure. The book of Daniel, written partially in Hebrew and part in Aramaic indicates that God intended the message to both the Hebrews and the Chaldeans, substantiating the authenticity of this document. The circumstances surrounding Nebuchadnezzar's fearful dream set the stage for God's revelation of His power, plan, and prophetic intentions (through His servants) as well as the foolishness of astrology. Daniel, despite the fearful events, kept his focus upon God and didn't arrogate any powers to himself, but humbly acknowledged and thanked God for the wisdom and power. Because of Daniel's faith and his fervent prayer, God revealed the contents of the dream, providing a witness to Nebuchadnezzar and his idolatrous nation that God is absolutely sovereign over time and ultimately controls the outcome of all worldly events, predicting the fate of Babylon (the prototype of all world empires), the Medo-Persian empire, the Graeco-Macedonian empire, and the Roman empire, partly strong and partly fragile. Because of the precarious colloidal mixture of iron and clay at the end of the age, it will be extremely difficult for things to hold together. Thankfully, God's everlasting Kingdom having Jesus Christ as the capstone or cornerstone) will bring an end to these competitive, fractious, arrogant, and evil worldly systems, which have degenerated over epochs of time, using technology to swap greatness and magnificence for raw power and control. God always plans ahead for the protection of His people.
In a world influenced by Satan the Devil, fear is a constant that we must all deal with. We may be confused, though, because we can see two contradictory sides of fear, the good fears and the bad ones. Pat Higgins explains the paradoxes of fear, encouraging us to begin and remain in the proper fear of God.
The world is so full of lying and other forms of deceit that "bearing false witness" has become a way of life for the vast majority of humanity. In discussing the ninth commandment, John Ritenbaugh reveals the relationship between telling the truth and faithfulness, virtues that are necessary parts of an effective witness.
It is easy to look around this world and become discouraged by how far from God so many people seem to be. Even chuch members can appear to be distracted by this world. To counter this pessimistic view, John Reid explains the Parable of the Persistent Widow, at the end of which Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" The answer is more positive than one may think!
With great privilege comes great responsibility. The nation of Israel was clearly privileged, for God tells her, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). God says that because of His blessing and favor, Israel was to be a living testimony to Him and His sovereign power--a great responsibility indeed...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: For some reason, over the past few days there have been several occasions in which the subject of prayer and its efficacy has come up. ...
Though the widow speaks only five words in this parable, she provides Christians in these last days with an example of persistence in prayer. Martin Collins delves into the context and meaning of this helpful and encouraging parable.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the subject of effective intercessory prayer (highly essential for our spiritual growth as well as our salvation), reminds us that God expects us to intercede in behalf of others, including our brethren, unconverted relatives, neighbors, the world at large, and even enemies'but we must do this with wisdom, sincerity, faithfulness, and humility, invoking the help of God's Spirit, according to God's perfect will. The smooth functioning of God's work, as well as the physical and spiritual needs of our brethren, depend on the fervent intercessory prayers of His people. Acknowledgement of God's supreme power, gratitude, thanksgiving, and the willingness to forgive others (rather than self-absorption), must become an integral part of every prayer. Prayer must be according to God's will, in faith, in the name of Christ, in bold confidence, in a motivation of selflessness, putting a higher priority on other peoples' needs than our own.
In this parable, Jesus illustrates persistence and perseverance in prayer. Unlike the sleeping friend, God is not reluctant to answer our prayers, but He does want us to be diligent and patient in our requests.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
Once we accept God's sovereignty, it begins to produce certain virtues in us. John Ritenbaugh explains four of these byproducts of total submission to God.
God's sovereignty seems to imply that prayer is a fruitless exercise—that God has everything already planned. John Ritenbaugh explains, however, that we must change our ideas about the function of prayer: It is not to change God's mind but ours!
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of the eye, clear vision, and light metaphors in Matthew 6:22-23, stating that the eye represents understanding (as the metaphorical eye of the heart) while the light represents truth. It is not enough to have knowledge of the right treasure; we also need to have the understanding of where all the pieces fit. Clear vision lightens the way spiritually, ethically, and morally. If the eye of the heart is aimed at spiritual treasure and the glory of God, it will remain singly focused. Using this spiritual vision or understanding, the best way to protect the heart is to saturate it with the word of God.
An explanation of Luke 11:9, Ask, seek, knock.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that being persistent in prayer does not mean incessant pestering, whining, or cajoling God into action. Luke 11:1-13 purposefully contrasts the generous nature of God with that of a reluctant stranger or a malicious tyrant. Because His timeframe is different from ours, we sometimes feel that we have totally lost control. God always looks at our petitions from the vantage-point of His purpose, sometimes testing our fervency or sincerity, sometimes flatly refusing our requests because they would harm us. We must persevere in prayer, realizing that faith always works toward what it asks for while it waits. God has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), provided we cooperate with Him, letting Him work out His purpose in our lives.
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 pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Philip's request to "show us the Father," suggests that Jesus has provided the way of knowing how God would lead His life in the flesh. Jesus is the way, the embodiment of the truth, and the mirror image of the Father. As a human born into an ordinary family, Jesus experienced all the responsibilities, struggles, frustrations, temptations, and pains that we do. We have an Elder Brother who has been on the front lines, providing us a model to live our lives. Jesus taught us that love is a moral act rather than a feeling, based upon pleasing God by fulfilling His Commandments. Love and obedience are inseparable. Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising to send the Holy Spirit to help them (and us) to cope with the rigorous demands of living the Christian life, making us sensitive to God and educating us to the purposes of God. As we continue to obey, yielding to His purpose, we enter a closer relationship with God, until eventually, having attained the mind of God, loving and personifying truth, we become like the Father and the Son.
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