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.
David Grabbe, marveling that one in four atheists admitted in a recent poll to resorting to prayer when facing crises, reminds us that even believers suffer significant crises of faith. Luke 17:5 records the Disciples' plaintive request to increase their faith, realizing they did not yet have the capacity to forgive those who sinned against them. Faith is a gift which requires continual practice and exercise. God will grant us more faith if we faithfully use what He has already given us. If we do only what He expects of us, we should not feel entitled to additional reserves of faith. If we live our lives submitting to His will, God will generously give us more faith. Humility is a prerequisite for an augmentation of faith. If we want more faith, we need to faithfully use what God has already given us. Further, we must also exercise self-discipline and temperance as though we were training for the Olympics. All strength-building activities progress by incremental stages. Likewise, progression through increasing stages of difficulty is the key to success in overcoming sin. Consistency and focus empower us to overcome even the most stubborn challenges of our carnal nature. As we grow in faith, God will gradually add more pressure, enabling us to display more faith. He who has begun a good work in us will complete us until the day of Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking what Charlotte, North Carolina, Cooperstown, New York, Eveleth, Minnesota, Canton, Ohio, and Springfield, Massachusetts have in common, reveals they are all host cities for an athletic hall of fame—showcasing the best talent in car racing, baseball, hockey, football, and basketball respectively. To be voted into one of these halls of fame is the burning desire for millions of youthful athletes. However, few aspirants receive the coveted prize, since the selection process is extremely rigorous, consisting of the casting of a series of ballots by a succession of review panels to ensure the choosing of only the crème de la crème of athletes. The only remuneration inductees receive is the honor to have their names in the Hall of Fame, with a free trip to the hosting institution, a jacket, a ring, and a jersey. They receive no royalties from the sale of merchandise. By contrast, God's called-out ones receive a special ballot by being called and will later receive eternal life, a new name, and vast power. With all these incentives, are we missing passes, fumbling the ball, and punting excessively? Or are we as motivated to reach our goal as the athletes who have achieved recognition, putting in the effort to reach God's Hall of Fame in the New Jerusalem.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
Ryan McClure, acknowledging that self-reflection over our own spiritual progress (perhaps without seeing any progress) has potentially a negative effect, avers that we should understand self-reflection as a God-given tool to produce abundant spiritual fruit. The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 teaches that God requires a return on His investment in our calling. We will continue to develop spiritual fruit if are eating our manna (God's Word) daily, moving beyond the doctrinal basics. When, through self-reflection, we determine we have slipped spiritually, we need to get back up and continue overcoming, rather than remain wallowing in the muck of Babylon. We should run our spiritual race with our focus on God.
Webster's American Dictionary defines determination as "a fixed purpose or intention." We can see a living example of this word by studying the life of one particular Paralympic athlete and learning some valuable lessons that we can apply to our Christian lives. ...
Charles Whitaker: Ever jump the gun? When I officiated at junior high and high school track meets years ago, I saw runners do it now and then. ...
John Ritenbaugh focuses on seeking God with sustained, persevering faith and vision. The more we learn about God the more we feel inferior to Him, ultimately learning true humility and a sense of proportion. Our pilgrimage to the Kingdom will not be easy; we will suffer fatigue from difficult battles in which the consequences are risky. The tents in which Abraham lived meant giving up a life of ease, forcing his family to move from place to place. We fight on three fronts at once: the world, Satan, and our own flesh. We must be willing to bear our cross (namely our carnal minds) in this continual battle with our carnal nature, daily crucifying, mortifying, or exterminating the lust of the flesh. As a Christian soldier, sacrifice and suffering is part of our lot in life. Like a soldier, we cannot be absorbed in civilian affairs. A Christian soldier must express his love to his Master by keeping His commandments. A Christian soldier will be amply rewarded for his sacrifice or his daily crucifixion of the old man. We are under obligation to the Father and the Son, to prepare for the Kingdom of God.
Over the years, we have been told many times that we are on the gun lap. What is this gun lap? Using his track experience, Mike Ford shows how we must give our all to reach our finish line!
Many people may have seen "Lessons from the Geese" in a business setting, but Mike Ford shows how these lessons can benefit us in God's church.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
We do not think much of crowns these days, but one awaits us if we continue in the faith! Martin Collins researches the kind of crown we will receive when we enter God's Kingdom.
Jumping the gun and going offside are infractions that have spiritual counterparts. We do not want to be guilty of moving before God does. So what should we be doing in the meantime?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that while Godly righteousness is open ended, allowing room for growth, human righteousness is self-limiting because of its self-centered mindset, smugly satisfied with its accomplishments. The attainment of Godly righteousness demands humility, a readiness to admit shortcomings, a yieldedness to correction, and a willingness to be refashioned. Before one can become a good example to others (serving as an improver), he must develop the humble attitude of being willing to be shaped by God's Holy Spirit, realizing shortcomings, and continually hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Achieving perfection through human devices (trusting human sensory equipment and reason for deciding standards rather than relying upon God) will severely limit spiritual growth.
John Ritenbaugh, pointing out the Apostle Paul's contention that any righteousness or morality attained by our own law keeping falls short of the righteousness required for salvation, asserts that only the righteousness of Christ attained through faith will pass muster. Unlike man's limiting, myopic, self-centered righteousness, excluding others from their circle, the righteousness of Christ (emanating from Christ's knowledge) focuses on selfless outgoing service to others, leading to exponential spiritual growth with limitless possibilities. Like Christ, we must willing to yield and trust in God's ability to create and shape us, willing to be corrected and changed as He sees fit. If we become self-satisfied with our spiritual progress, God cannot work with us. Working out our salvation is to make faith practical by experience, yielding continually to God's prompts through His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
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