Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the devastating results of natural disasters, serious illnesses and accidents as well as violent crimes, anticipates the chorus of "why" questions engendered by these apparently random incidents: Why did God allow this to happen? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper? People ask these kind of questions to bring rationality and order into the seemingly helter-skelter events of life. Most answers proffered by counselors are mere platitudes. Those who attribute their own sins or the sins of others to such incidents are at cross-purposes to Jesus Christ, who pointed out that the victims of a collapsing tower (Luke 13:4) were no more sinful than any of us. Such tragic incidents, instead of inspiring blame, should inspire repentance. God does not want us to get stuck on "why" (as was echoed in Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"), but instead to move toward His sovereign goal, realizing as did Job (who lost everything but his life and wife in a deluge of disasters), "The Lord gives and the Lord takes; blessed is the name of the Lord." Everything God does stems from a motive of love.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on a recent Chicago Marathon, the ending of which becomes an intense competition of the fittest—those elite runners who draft one another (running ahead of another runner to reduce wind resistance), finds a compelling spiritual analogy, pointing to Jesus Christ as the perfect drafting runner. As we piece together the narrative of the Gospels, we deduce that Christ endured many more than three temptations; rather, temptations occurred continuously, and perhaps increased in intensity as He neared the end of His life. This continuous and intense suffering qualified Him to become our drafting runner, providing encouragement that He endured what we go through yet finished the race victoriously. As runners of the same marathon, we must remember that Satan will 1.) tempt us to use our spiritual gifts selfishly, 2.) attempt to puff us up with pride and 3.) will tempt us to neglect genuine spiritual gifts in favor of counterfeit, Satanic knock-offs. We have a High Priest who has completed the same race we are enduring; we need to draw strength and encouragement from Him. God's called out ones will also finish the spiritual marathon, collecting the same rewards promised to those who persevered from the Seven Churches in Revelation.
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.
David Grabbe, taking issue with antinomian Protestant clerics who boldly claim that God's law was nailed to the cross, or that the law of love nullifies God's law, reminds us that God promised to write His Law on our hearts and minds—part of the proclamation of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8, compare Jeremiah 31). God's act of writing His Law on our hearts is not instantaneous. Rather, it requires time. Paul, when he chastised the Corinthian congregation for tolerating a man marrying his step-mother, reminded the people that such sins would not even be tolerated by the Gentiles, whose consciences had many of God's moral principles written on them. Overcoming sin and building character require constant practice. When we do miss the mark, God gives us another test to rewrite over our previous error. When we experience the consequences of our sins, we experience the depth of how bad it is. God is working out something more profound and important than "fairness." Trials and tests are not meant to crush us. We need to develop the reflex response of choosing God, allowing Him to write His word on our heart. When we let down, we automatically regress, and our senses become dulled. We must keep our hearts soft, realizing that God's laws are holy, spiritual, just, and good.
Kim Myers, asking us whether we see God working in our lives, contends that Job was able to endure the multiple trials and tragic events in his life (the deaths of his offspring, the assaults on his health and livelihood, and the attacks on his reputation and integrity from his 'friends') by seeing the hand of God in his life, realizing that God works in his (and our) lives in both good and bad times. We must follow Job's example, looking for God's hand in both the blessings and trials, including the deaths of those closest to us, the deterioration of our own health, financial reverses, persecutions, etc. Amid our most horrendous trials, God often opens a joyous way of escape, including the ability to endure horrific pain. As we experience both blessings and trials, we should see evidence of God's intervention in our daily activities. The more we study and pray, the more we see God working in our lives. If we are not trying to live by every word of God, emulating Jesus Christ, we cannot be transformed into God's offspring. We are going to need the perspective Job attained as he was transformed through his horrendous, but faith-building trial.
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.
David C. Grabbe: The fact that God Himself grieves over human sinfulness and the separation it causes—which we learned in Part Two—begs the question of why God created an order where even He and the Word are not immune to suffering. ...
Sometimes, while out and about, you hear something that grabs your attention. I recently heard an elderly lady remembering a certain event in her life. ...
Austin Del Castillo reminds us that the end of the Feast of Tabernacles represents the last century and one half of God's Millennial rule, a time when entirety of earth's population will be living under God's Law. At the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan from the Bottomless Pit. He will immediately set about deceiving, with the aim of destroying God's people. How is it that Satan can deceive people living at peace and prosperity under God's perfect Law? As God's called-out ones, we must make sure that we are well rooted in God's Word so that we never again fall for Satan's lies. When the grand deception came on the Worldwide Church of God, we became alarmed when we witnessed people who we thought were absolute pillars swallow the poisonous apostasy the new leadership taught. Apparently, not everyone had believed the true Gospel, but instead held some reservations about the Truth Mr. Armstrong taught. God grew tired of the lack of commitment of our previous fellowship; some of us, no doubt, were part of the problem. Today, Jesus Christ is observing us to see what kind of bride we are becoming. Many of us have been conditioned not to trust anyone, extending these trust issues to our brethren, and eventually to God Himself. When we take counsel only in ourselves, we run the risk of giving ourselves over to the one who influences our human nature, the prince of the power of the air, who is adept at convincing us that God is withholding something from us. Satan totally supports our feelings of resentment. Satan wants us to think we have been cheated. In this state of mind, we develop paper-thin skin when it comes to accepting counsel from our brethren, leading us to sever friendships with them. Our priority must be the restoration of our relationship with God, putting to death the idea that God is cheating us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that there is a malaise of hopelessness, anxiety, and dread permeating this nation like never before, systematically explains: (1) how we arrived at this crisis, (2) why God has ordained that we live in these conditions, (3) how bad choices by the trillions eroded the moral foundation of our culture, and (4) why we need these horrific times to learn the consequences of these foolish decisions in order to ensure that nothing like this happens ever happens again. Modern Israel resembles the Prodigal Son who squandered the inheritance bequeathed to Father Abraham's descendants. The founders of this nation, though they were not true Christians, nevertheless placed many biblical principles in the Constitution, and were for the most part far more moral and God-fearing than the despicable crop of public servants holding office today. Approximately 80 years ago, our leaders began turning their backs on Constitutional principles as well as any respect or reverence for God and His laws. Proverbs 29:18 teaches us that when there is no revelation (from God's communication and guidance) people will run wild, casting off moral restraint, rejecting all of God's counsel, preferring to elevate so-called science, fashioned on the deleterious foolish theory of evolution. Humanism attempts to elevate science over God's Law. Where there is ignorance of God's word, crime and sin run wild. Harvard, an institution founded as a Puritan Theological seminary, is now a hotbed of godless humanism, elevating carnal, perverted human reasoning over God's law. Moral foundations are on the verge of destruction; internal stability is already moribund. We need to place our entire faith in God, not allowing the pervasive negativism of this world's culture to poison us as Job became dispirited by the counsel of his friends. Realizing that none of us are guaranteed passage to a place of safety, we should be willing, if required, to glorify God by martyrdom.
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.
David C. Grabbe: Despite the Bible’s repeated injunctions to put God's commands into practice, doing God's sayings cannot justify us—only the blood of Christ has that power. ...
Martin Collins, realizing that most people, both outside and inside the church, crave assurance , avers that we can have assurance that we are God's heirs and offspring if we are led by the spirit, remaining on the sanctified path of fellowship, growing continually in grace and knowledge. When we receive God's calling, God's Spirit bears witness that we are God's children. God has adopted us from the family of Adam (in which we had become bond-slaves to Satan) into His own family as adopted offspring, sealing us with a down-payment, (that is, the earnest-payment, or pledge) of His Holy Spirit, the means by which we replace our carnal nature with God's character on a kind of installment plan. In this new relationship, we are invited to view God the Father as Jesus Christ did—-Abba, which means Father or Daddy. We are, in God's sight, small, mistake-prone, but pliable children, encouraged to grow in grace and knowledge into the exact character of God as we bear the fruits of His Holy Spirit. At times, we are required to suffer as Christ did, in order to learn and to endure discipline, as God steers us away from deadly obstacles. Through much intense fire is precious metal refined. If we partake in Christ's suffering, we will be assured also to partake in His glorification. Trials often have the peculiar effect of making our testimony or witness more powerful.
"Fairness" is a major buzzword in these times. Special interest groups complain and sometimes agitate because they feel that society is not treating them fairly. Geoff Preston approaches the subject more personally, showing that our discontent over perceived mistreatment pales in comparison to what others have endured.
Mark Schindler, acknowledging that movies and books contain unforgettable aphorisms to ponder or live by, focuses on a memorable line from the movie A League of Their Own, a movie about a struggling women's baseball team, when the coach tells a disheartened player, "It's supposed to be hard; if it weren't hard everybody would be doing it; the hard makes it great." This powerful aphorism should be inculcated by everyone called-out to follow the unique, rigorous, tribulation-laden path blazed by Jesus Christ. We live in a world in which everyone is under the harsh bondage of sin. We have been given the privilege of living God's way now, making the arduous struggle against the world's depraved system a great, memorable experience, enabling us to master some things which most in the world cannot yet do. The hard things God wants us to do are preferable to the harsh bondage to sin the world is now under. The hardness makes us hardy enough to be included in the first harvest. As Satan deceived Mother Eve that to choose for ourselves is better than following God, the rest of the world continues to follow that deception. We find it most difficult to live exclusively in the way God has chosen for us. The world's ways are the easiest roads to take; carnal human nature is enmity against God. Satan has been given the power to deceive the world to this day. Those who have been called to the truth will be on a collision course with the world. But it is the hard way that makes our lives great, to be in harmony with the Father and the Son. When David heard the devastating news about the attack of the Edomite's, he nevertheless trusted that God would give his armies the ultimate victory, rallying the people around the Lord's banner. In our battles against the world, faith must conquer fear. Soldiers have died to defend the flag; we must be prepared to die to defend godly standards. As Moses built an altar proclaiming Jehovah Nissi (God is our banner). We must also proclaim our steadfast loyalty to God in a patently hostile world.
Martin Collins discusses the apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, a group of dispirited, despairing Christians who had been bombarded by false teachings that the Day of the Lord had already come, prompting many to quit their employment, rest on their laurels, and become busy-bodies, as well as leading the leaders to express doubt and fear that the congregation would ever make the grade. Paul encourages the bewildered Thessalonians, suggesting that the purposes for the suffering they were now enduring consists of (1) growing in spiritual character, providing examples to the other congregations, (2) being prepared for future glory, and (3) glorifying Christ today. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to thank God for their salvation, surrender without complaint, ask God to give wisdom, and to watch for opportunities to serve, waiting patiently for God to work His purpose. We cannot be so excited about Christ's return that we neglect our own overcoming and character development. Because God's Church is under judgement now, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must submit to God's summons to a life of purity and sacrifice. God can and will supply strength and power to all those who have been called, but our aspiration and goal of conforming to His image has to motivate our current performance. If we humbly trust in God, all of our works will bear fruit. In order for God to grow a church, the faith of its members must be strengthened through trials, love must increase, and hope must persevere, enduring under trial. Tribulation produces perseverance, which in turn leads to reciprocal glory with Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unpleasant prospect of overhearing hurtful gossip about us from someone we have trusted, observes that, in all likelihood, our tongue has been just as detrimental against someone who may have trusted us. What goes around comes around; we reap what we sow. Even though the best defense is not to be guilty, we know that because of our toxic self-centeredness there is no infallibility in any of us. As God gives gifts to us, we must, as Solomon did, fine-tune them, realizing that seeking out wisdom is simultaneously a glorious and a burdensome task, requiring labor-intensive exercises which initially seem to yield diminishing returns. God does not instantaneously reveal everything we need to learn or everything we need to experience. We have the responsibility to seek out wisdom, understanding that it is the costliest commodity anywhere, having a price far beyond gold. Wisdom keeps us from sin, folly, and madness. Wisdom and understanding unveils for us the purpose of trials, solving the paradoxes and conundrums that erode our faith. Truly wise judges are humble, demonstrating that they do not know everything; humility will make us more cautious in our judgments about others and ourselves. As we put forth effort to pursue wisdom, the fruit will be holiness. Our goal is beyond salvation; it involves preparation for service in God's Kingdom. The search for wisdom carries with it a downside, the tendency to boast of our accomplishments, even though in our heart of hearts, we realize we have nothing that has not been given. As God's stewards, we must, like Solomon, blend sagacity and practical wisdom together, taking precautions against the allurements of the world, which have the tendency to short-circuit godly wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
David C. Grabbe: In giving a conclusion to the "faith chapter" of Hebrews 11, the author ties together all of the preceding examples of faithful heroes with an admonition to help his audience follow in their footsteps. ...
The apostle Paul endured tremendous hardship, and his example teaches us that we have the ability—and even responsibility—to choose how we let our circumstances affect us. Paul had to decide whether to let his circumstances weigh him down or to rise above them so God could use him. ...
David Grabbe, assessing the impact of struggles, pressures, and tribulations of our spiritual journey, reveals that Christ's followers will have to endure afflictions and fiery trials as He prepares them for His Kingdom. Some detractors have tried to preach that "godliness is a means of gain," implying that if we were better people, we would never enter into tribulation. That assumption is not true. God uses both blessings and tribulations to shape His people. Our peace comes from God's grace, not a life of ease and smooth sailing. Those who have peace with God will also have hardship. The rigors God puts us through are not to crush us, but to shape us, transforming us from carnal to spiritual—the new man we are putting on. True spiritual gain is walking through the anguish in victory. As long as God is involved in our life, we are already experiencing the love of God. We do not have to be dismayed about the transformative pressures from the mortar and pestle of our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of the parallels between the divisions of the books of the Psalms with the Torah, Megilloth, and seasons, focuses again on Book II of the Psalms (written largely by David and showing how he reacts to some gruesome trials by surrendering to God's redemption). He points out that some of the emergent themes in this work consist of redemption and deliverance (paralleled by the book of Ruth with Boaz as a Christ figure, as well as the great grandfather and Ruth as the great grandmother of David and a progenitor of our Savior Jesus. The Psalms David wrote in this section describe his humbling experience caused by his own sin (Psalm 51), betrayal by Doeg the Edomite (Psalm 52), feigning madness to escape from the Gathites (Psalm 56), hiding from Saul (Psalm 57) metaphorized as escaping from lions (Psalm 58), the betrayal by Ahitophel , and the helpless feeling experienced by a tired and spent senior citizen (Psalm 71). His experiences, as well as our experiences in our symbolic 50-day walk through our spiritual journey to sanctification, is symbolized by the Israelites' baking of two loafs to be offered to God on Pentecost. This journey to sanctification is the focus of Book II of the Psalms, the Books of Exodus and Ruth, as well as the Feast of Weeks.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that satisfaction in life does not derive from material things or wealth, by instead from an eternal relationship with God who has given us abundant spiritual gifts which we must reciprocate by developing skill in living from using godly wisdom. Wisdom enables us to make the very best practical use of all of the other gifts He has given, to make the best practical use of our calling, mobilizing our knowledge, judgment, discernment, understanding, and skill in living in alignment with God's purpose. Any skill, whether it be welding or playing basketball, comprises multiple and complex aspects. In sports or military contexts, it is important that the participants accept the system, breaking old ingrown habits and changing the way they do things. Wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right measure. Godly wisdom is not given as a whole, but incrementally, involving much time and pressure. We must give ourselves willingly and patiently to this process in order that skill in living may be built. God has given the Book of Ecclesiastes to us to nudge us on to what is important and away from what is vanity, steering us to a perpetual mindset of faith and trust in God. Wisdom cannot at this time help us to understand all of life's mysteries. It is possible to act wisely in a given circumstance, but still feel frustrated because we do not see how all the pieces fit together. One should always look for the better choice, realizing the better choice is not necessarily the "best" one. In life's journey, a good reputation (a good name) and a positive relation with another (a wonderful marriage) is better than much material wealth. God admires integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, straightforwardness, and structural soundness of character in a person, the name a person has acquired by living righteously—a name which will last into eternity and an infinitely better life.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on I Timothy 1:1, identifies our hope as Jesus Christ because He is alive; we have a living Savior. We are aware that (1) Christ is going to return, (2) Satan will continue to build up his preparations, and (3) pressures of day-to-day life will become increasingly more numerous and difficult. Consequently, we cannot afford to rest on our oars, but must continue to prepare for our future in hope and expectation, looking to Christ to assist us. Like the tortoise in Aesop's fable, we must plod on purposefully and steadily, desiring the spiritual goals God has prepared for us. Like the Psalmist David, we will find times when we are discouraged and overwhelmed. Eric Hoffer, in his book The True Believer, examines the nature of mass movements, including mass movements in religion. God's true church shows distinct variation with other mass movements, in that God has hand-picked every individual. Nevertheless, many of Hoffer's principles apply to members of God's church, including (1) being discontented with our lives (although not economically destitute), (2) believing in a potent doctrine (Gospel), an infallible leader (Jesus Christ), or new technique (God's Holy Spirit) to change ourselves and have an influence on the culture, and (3) having an expectation (hope) of the future, but remaining oblivious to the difficulties involved. Faith must be continually supported with the expectation that we can make it, realizing that Christ is continually with us. This knowledge will become increasingly important as our country and culture continues its steady demise due to Satan's leadership. Our goal should be to move day by day, one step at a time in our journey towards God's Kingdom. Peace will be a characteristic of everyone who trusts in Christ regardless of the tribulations and difficulties around him. We must remember what happened to Christ will happen to us as well. Christ maintains His loyalty to us even though our faith may severely flag. Our hope is in a Being who has never failed us nor a
The apostle Peter provides valuable insight on the place of Christian suffering: "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. . . ."
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, affirms that enjoyment from one's labor comes from the LORD and that the proper use of our allotted time becomes increasingly more relevant as we anticipate the conclusion of our physical lives. Solomon instructs us to adjust our attitude from under the sun (carnal, self-centered) to above the sun (reflecting God's approach). God has designed us to work and labor; laboring is a God-designed gift in which only mankind and celestial beings can participate. No animal can do such a thing. We need to be thankful for such a circumstance. God gives gifts such as wisdom, intelligence, and understanding to those who are thankful and content. Our calling from God is the most precious gift, enabling God to be involved in our lives in blessings and shaping trials. We are to rejoice always in all of our circumstances, having a continual state of contentment, anticipating spiritual gain. Without God's involvement in our life, we drift into discouragement. In order to make the best of our lives, we must realize that God is sovereign over time all the time, even though it is running out for all of us. God will be working to make the most of every situation in our lives, even the stupid choices we have made. God has not abandoned us in any case. There is a distinct time for every purpose being worked out. God evidently allowed the breakup of our previous fellowship for our protection and well-being. The fact that we do not know God's ultimate purpose may be because He desires us to place trust in His decisions. The trials that we experience in life seem to morph into larger trials. We need to trust God to work things out since we do not see the entire picture. In the meantime, we must do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, and tremble at God's word. The ultimate purpose of our existence can only be revealed through God's calling, made explicit through His Word. We are being created for the Kingdom of God. Our satisfaction must come from an over the sun relationship with Almi
Gary Montgomery: At this time of year, religious people around the world look at their individual decisions and choices of the past. Some choose to go to special mid-day services ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
Bill Onisick: In Part One, we saw that true Christians must learn to control the momentary gap between stimulus and response. We need to recognize its existence and learn to utilize this time properly. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: From I Peter 2:19-24, we could make a convincing theological argument that Christian suffering is our fight against evil because we receive the slings and arrows of others and experience the most inner turmoil in the midst of our fight against evil. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 10:16-26, warns us that a teacher's disciples cannot escape the kind of persecution directed against their teacher. In the wake of this kind of abuse, people can succumb to depression, and in some cases, suicidal depression. When we compare ourselves with spiritual heavyweights like the apostle Paul, we really feel hollow in comparison. Amazingly, Paul went through many horrendous trials, never once giving up. Thankfully, God apportions us our trials with the accompanying ability to endure them. How we think about our relationship with God will determine how we will endure our quest. Do we see ourselves as pilgrims or exiles? If we can see God (in our trials) we will be able to find our way through the problem. Our forefather Jacob, forced into exile by his brother Esau, was turned into a pilgrim by contact with God, giving him a change in perspective, a solid understanding that God was continually with him, as typified by the vision of a ladder into heaven, populated by a continuous line of angels. Without this vision or revelation, we will lead aimless, directionless lives. We made a covenant with God; He never lies and He never fails. If we are going through trials, they are for our ultimate good. In order to keep on keeping on, we must desire to expand the rule of God in our lives, enabling us to have a sound mind by thinking as God thinks. According to A.W. Tozer, redemption involves the ability to change or transform, yielding to God's formative powers. God will rescue us from every danger, but we have to understand that every promise is conditional. We need to have the desire to restore peace and tranquility to the creation, being at one with God and His purpose. We will be able, as future kings and priests in God's Kingdom, to repair a world that has been rendered ugly and chaotic by the corrosive effects of sin. We dare not give up in fear and despair, committing spiritual suicide. We must fight the good faith for ourselves and those who follow. We owe it to
Martin Collins, observing how a child fixates on a wound, continually worrying a bandage or a scab, suggests that sometimes Christians do the same thing with past sins or spiritual deficits, making themselves unhappy. Our spiritual trek indeed is a demanding flight of faith. All of us have been tormented by some past wrong, held in the grip of self-condemnation, subject to Satan's perpetual accusations. We cannot experience the joy of salvation while we are obsessing on past sins. While repenting of sins frees us from the grip of both lesser and greater sins, we will feel proportionately greater penalties for some sins than for others. The sin leading to death (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) occurs when one actively defies God or when one, through apathy or lethargy, refuses to repent. When we are tempted to sin, we need to consider the consequences on our relationship with God. Every sin that has been committed has been committed by someone else at some other time; Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice for all of them. We can rejoice in God's extraordinary forgiveness and mercy.
Martin Collins, reflecting upon the impatience demonstrated in the world's holidays, concludes that most of mankind has a serious patience deficit. Demonstrating or developing patience, a cardinal characteristic of God, in the face of trying events is a clear indication that we are developing genuine godliness. We must learn to turn trials into positive growth opportunities, as did Jacob, who had to develop patience in the midst of myriad, frustrating delays. We must learn to endure patiently, with the help of God's Spirit, waiting for God to accomplish His purpose in us. After identifying 18 negative consequences of impatience, the sermon offers five steps to developing patience: 1) staying focused on the goal, 2) learning to think before speaking, 3) looking for ways to give our service to others, 4) working out our conflicts with others, and 5) working with God through the Spirit to develop godly patience in us, developing a calm, positive attitude and peace of mind.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
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.
There is an aspect of God's goodness that is rarely associated with goodness. As surprising as it may seem, God's goodness can be feared! Martin Collins explains why this is so.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of Malachi Martin, suggests that as the Catholic College of Cardinals have a large number of prudent agnostics within their ranks, we also have a great many fence sitters within the church of God, demonstrating an alarming deficit of faith. In times of intense stress and uncertainty, many become extremely apathetic, unwilling to persevere, unwilling to work at overcoming. We are on the threshold of the greatest period of testing ever to come upon mankind. We need to be developing a sense of internal hope and faith through the motivating power of God's Holy Spirit, striving to keep our focus on our calling (God sought us out purposefully), passionately striving for goodness. The apostle Peter wrote an entire epistle (I Peter) on the subject of hope—stressing that what we really need, God will not hold back—including shaping trials. Thankfully, we are not left without resources.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon several sports events, in which several athletes were reprimanded for seemingly insignificant actions or for situations totally out of their control, suggests that any one of us can be unfairly victimized. We may be tempted to lay the blame at God's feet. The children of Israel swerved into that "victim" mindset only one week after their joyous liberation. Aaron, whose sons brought about their demise through foolishness, was instructed not to even think about complaining about God's decision or way of dealing with the problem. Both David and Job provided sterling examples for us responding to calamities and seemingly 'unfair' situations, keeping within the bounds of what is acceptable to God. It is God's desire to see how we respond to trials that we may deem unfair.
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.
Martin Collins reflects that affliction is a necessary aspect of life yielding positive results in terms of character strengthening. Suffering and affliction paradoxically strengthen character while ease and comfort weaken human personality and character. The apostle Paul's abundant afflictions and infirmities, including his troublesome thorn in the flesh, actually strengthened him spiritually. Purposes for affliction include (1) corrective discipline and spiritual maturity, (2) sanctification and purification, and (3) God's glory. God the Father also suffers anguish and affliction when we sin and bring misery upon ourselves by yielding to temptation. Christ was made perfect in His role of High Priest by suffering. Compared to the ultimate joy we will experience, trials are exceedingly brief.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in the turbulent and uncertain times ahead, we will need extraordinary fortitude and courage. From the confusion and anxiety of our trials, we run, hide, fight, or patiently work through the difficulties. Not much in this world inspires hope or permanent relief. As our Designer and Producer, God has designed us to run or function smoothly and productively on a godly formula of faith, hope, and love. Trials, when rightly handled with this powerful formula, produce a higher level of spiritual maturity, a higher level of perfection, improving perseverance or active endurance, motivating a person to overcome and grow in holiness. Our entire hope and faith (to be conformed and resurrected in Christ's image) must be anchored in God (the Promise Maker) 'with Christ's mind placed within us.
Some of us cannot seem to realize a blessing if it slaps us across the face! Mark Schindler, in recounting a personal story, shows how ingratitude can hold us back in our relationship with God.
We sometimes mistake faith for certainty about God's will. However, faith is not knowing what God will do in a situation but trusting Him to do what is best for us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
Persecution is not a subject we normally like to think about, but it is a fact of life for a Christian. John Ritenbaugh explains why Jesus says we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that nothing takes place in a vacuum for those who are called; moreover "time and chance" no longer apply in the normal sense. Even when we exercise free moral agency, God engineers circumstances and outcomes so that we are virtually forced to make the right decision. Realizing that all things work together for good to those that love God, we must exercise our responsibility to the whole creation and to the body of Christ by improving our relationship with God regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Meekness is not a virtue that people consider valuable or even desirable. But Jesus lists it as a primary virtue of one who will inherit His Kingdom, and Paul numbers it among the fruits of God's Spirit. Is there something to meekness that we have failed to grasp?
Good is a term we use very loosely, yet it is a major characteristic of God! It is defined in terms of what God is: absolute goodness! This study gives a general overview of this sixth fruit of the Spirit.
What does the Bible mean when it says we should count it all joy when you fall into various trials? What is this joy we must experience? How do we come by it? Using his personal experience with his wife's cancer, Mike Ford shows how joy and trial go together.
In this Feast of Trumpets message, Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing parallels to present concerns, shows Habakkuk's remarkable transformation from pessimism to ironclad faith in the midst of seemingly disastrous circumstances. To the plaintive question, "Why does a loving God allow evil people to seem to get away with murder while the righteous suffer?" Habakkuk learns to look, watch, wait, then respond, realizing that God is sovereign and will send a Savior (Habakkuk 2:3; Hebrew 10:35), accompanied by judgment, terror, the Tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and the establishment of His Kingdom forever, rectifying all the injustices, destroying all evil, and flooding the earth with His life-saving knowledge. Like Habakkuk, we need to exercise patience, living by faith, sighing and crying for the abominations, silently trusting in God's righteous character.
John Ritenbaugh again focuses on the meal offering, typifying the intense self-sacrifice required in service to man. Oil (symbolic of the power of God's Holy Spirit), frankincense(symbolic of character sweetened under intense heat) and salt (symbolic of preservation from corruption) are poured on this fine flour (ground to talcum powder consistency). A small portion (representing Christ's perfect sinless sacrifice) is burned on the altar and two loaves (representing the first fruits -I Corinthians 15:20, James 1:18) baked with leaven (typifying the presence of sin) are waved before God (Leviticus 23:20) and consumed by Aaron and his sons as compensation for their service and sacrifice.
In this Unleavened Bread sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that learning God's way (and unlearning Satan's way) takes a lifetime- spiritually speaking, perhaps the most difficult and arduous task on the entire earth. Over a lifetime, with our cooperation, God fashions us into vessels of honor. The commands to eat unleavened bread outnumber the commands to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that the most efficient way of eliminating sin is to do righteousness (eating God's word and applying its principles in our lives) If we do good, we won't have the time to do bad. The epistle of James applies to the Christian after the justification process has begun, indicating that after receiving forgiveness, after receiving God's implanted word, we are obligated to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, yielding to trials, bringing forth the fruits of character by doing (not just hearing) God's word. Paul and James steadfastly agree that faith without works is stone dead.
Why does God want us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? John Ritenbaugh shows that the Feast is far more than a yearly vacation!
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, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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