Gary Montgomery: Throughout our lives, we have all confronted challenges and difficulties—from learning to walk as toddlers and learning to read as children to becoming adults and facing all the ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: As Part Four demonstrates, the apostle Paul was so grateful for God's calling—despite his having persecuted the newly formed church—that he spent his life zealously serving God by preaching ...
Martin Collins, assuring us that those whom God has called will be kept safe, protected, and sanctified, reminds us that: 1.) No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him, 2.) All whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him, and 3.) None of those who remain in Him will be lost. In the prayer Jesus offered on behalf of His disciples, recorded in John 17, Jesus also prays for those called in the future, asking for their safe-keeping, sanctification, unity, and fellowship, all referring to matters of the spirit—protection from evil, separation from the world, and training for future responsibilities in God's Kingdom. Before our lives conclude, Satan, secular influences and our own carnality will all assault us. God as our true Shepherd provides total protection of His called out-ones forever. Being kept in God's name refers to assimilating the attributes of God: Joy, holiness, truth, responsibility, unity and love. Joy is an endangered characteristic among today's saints. We can have joy in the midst of trials when we take our minds off immediate circumstances and focus on the mind of Christ dwelling in us. This indwelling Spirit enables us to develop a vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father and a horizontal one with our brethren. God has separated us out to love and obey Him and teach others to do the same.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the relatively hollow sound of a song sung by Steve Lawrence when lacking the accompaniment of his late wife, focuses on God's specific purpose statement in Genesis 1:26, namely, that He is making mankind in God's image. Part and parcel with this purpose was God's creating a partnership between man and wife, one reaching to the God-plane covenant of marriage. In Genesis 5:1 we learn that God named both Adam and Eve Adam—signifying an unbreakable bond between them. This bond was secure until sin entered the scene, creating not only enmity between mankind and God, but enmity also between man and woman, an animosity existing to this day and one which is in contrast to the joyous union that God originally intended in a marriage relationship. Our carnal nature, saturated by sin, is the architect of divorce as well as enmity toward God and His laws. With the help of God's Holy Spirit, we can mortify the deadly carnal nature within us and restore the joyousness of the God-plane marriage relationship. If the mind of Christ is truly within us, we will not be torn away by the violent war between men and women inspired by Satan, but will demonstrate God's plan—including the joy-filled benefit of marriage—to the world.
David C. Grabbe: In Jesus Christ's letter to the congregation in Thyatira, one small statement illustrates an aspect of God's nature that is crucial for us to understand: "And I gave her time to repent of her ...
Ryan McClure, demonstrating that in every phase of our lives we are confronted with tests and trials of our patience, posits that we should cultivate the "Heinz Ketchup" aphorism ("The best things come to those who wait"), rather than live by the "Burger King" appeal ("Your way, right away"). We learn in Exodus 34:5 and Galatians 5:22 that longsuffering and patience are characteristics God wants us to learn because they are integral parts of His own character. As God's called out ones, we need to learn to be patient with people (makrothumia) and with events out of our control (hupomone). If we learn to cultivate patience, God promises that He will spare us from the hour of trial (Revelation 3:10). We should make patience a high priority in our spiritual walk.
Martin Collins, observing that, in the first five books in the Bible, there are no statements of "Thank you," nevertheless reminds us that the thank offerings in Leviticus 21:29 indicate that thanksgiving has a singularly profound meaning. King David was prolific in his expressions of gratitude to God, as was the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. We should be thankful to God for His Holy Spirit, freedom of worship, spiritual blessings, fellowship, as well as God's promise that He will finish what He has started and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Before the foundation of the world, God has already pre-destined specific calling and sanctification for individuals; God will keep on whittling away at our carnality until He has accomplished what He has purposed. The purpose of grace is to motivate good works, not to do away with them. Our first and foremost reaction to receiving God's Grace should be an outflow of love for our brethren, including the ones we have not met. Drawing an analogy from electrical theory, all good works depend on God's love, which is the pressure behind good works. Good works depend on a channel in which the amperage can be high. Our lives must not be filled with resistors which selfishly collect the flow or condensers which pirate this power for private use. The law of God multiplied by a life free of resistance equals good works. Our life must be freed from obstructions and imperfections, reflecting the fruits of the spirit as we are attached to the Vine, just as a faucet must be connected to a pipeline to produce water. Happiness is found only in the truth of God.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon an inspiring incident in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which a runner, Derek Redmond, who had previously dropped out of competition because of an injured Achilles tendon, had another setback, a pulled hamstring, causing him to suddenly fall to the ground after having been in a commanding lead. Writhing in pain, with dogged determination, he managed, with some help from his devoted father, to finish the race. His inspiring example provides a spiritual analogy to all of God's called-out ones who must continually battle external obstacles (as well as the inner obstacles of carnal human nature), erecting a formidable barrier of resistance. The elite athlete, not always the one with the superior skills, nevertheless is the one with the gritty persistence to fight on regardless of the obstacles, wanting nothing to do with mediocrity. Persistence is the key attribute, having the attending synonyms endurance, steadfastness, or staying the course. Jesus counseled the value of this trait in the examples of the persistent neighbor asking for a loaf of bread in the middle of the night and the importunate widow who wore out the judge. Isaac provided a wonderful example of this tenacity, as he trusted God, repeatedly moving away from quarrelsome situations, trusting God to provide. Isaac, as a type of Christ, prefigured Jesus' returning to God the Father for sustenance and strength. Similarly, we are to return to the well of God's Spirit if we are to move forward. To develop Godly persistence, we should (1) have a clearly defined goal we desire with all our heart, (2) have a clearly established plan we can work on immediately, (3) make an irrevocable decision to reject all negative suggestions, and (4) accept encouragement and help from those on the same path.
Martin Collins, focusing on the Prophet Habakkuk, whose name means "one who embraces" or "one who clings," suggests that a major theme of the Book of Habakkuk is the importance of clinging to God regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Habakkuk's prophecy seems to be up-to-date when describing God's called out ones today, who are compelled to cling to God as evil change agents threaten to destroy our civilization. Habakkuk evidently lived following the times of Josiah's massive reforms, a time of spiritual decay following the bright times of Josiah, a transitional time something like we are experiencing today, a time the law is powerless and justice no longer prevails. We should never be tripped up when we see bad things happen to good people or vice versa, realizing that history is indeed following God's timetable. God's timing is perfect. We should never doubt the justice of God, remembering that terrible events cannot separate us from the love of God. When we feel overwhelmed, we need to (1) stop and think, refraining from rash speaking, (2) calmly restate basic principles, (3) put events in their right context, and (4) return to God for further clarification. Habakkuk followed this formula as he reflected upon every attribute of God, realizing that God had been continually faithful to His people and that the impending invasion of the Babylonians was not the last event in God's plan, but only a tool in bringing about God's ultimate purpose. Like Habakkuk, we must detach ourselves from the problem at hand, return to the ramparts and seek God's counsel, staying in the watchtower, seeking God in prayer and study until God gives us the answer, remembering that the just shall live by faith.
None of us is perfect. We are all, in a sense, broken to some degree, whether from birth or by the constant grind of life. We have little hope of repair. James Beaubelle, however, finds real hope in Scripture, arguing that, if our hope is in our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, we can have faith that our hope will be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
Martin Collins, reminding us that we, as followers of Christ, may suffer persecution, provides encouragement by reminding us we are promised boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit, making it unnecessary to prepare a response against the persecutors. When the laws of God conflict with the laws of man, civil disobedience is the only correct response, as was patterned by Peter, Paul, and the apostles, who boldly proclaimed Jesus' resurrection from the dead despite intimidations and threats from the religious establishment, terrified at losing their power base. The disciples knew, however, that with the power emanating from the Holy Spirit, the gates of hell could not prevail against their work. Peter was not in the least intimidated, boldly proclaiming to these religious leaders that: (1) they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, (2) Jesus rose from the dead, (3) the purpose of God was completed despite opposition and God's purpose alone will stand, and (4) Jesus is the only means of salvation, a statement which seems 'harsh' and 'intolerant' to most of the world. If we are following God, we will be compelled to disobey civil authority at some point. We cannot reclusively join a monastery nor should we become secular, cowardly assenting to evil laws, but we must fear God rather than man, righteously performing what God requires of us, realizing that our citizenship has been registered in Heaven. We should entrust ourselves to God for safe-keeping, realizing that the just shall live by faith.
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.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Walter Mischel Test of self-control, a test in which only 30% of youngsters delayed gratifying their appetites, describes the techniques in which these students delayed gratification. Dr. Mischel, who was able to predict social success of these students on the basis of these earlier tests, determined to probe the mechanism of this self-control, discovering how to convert "hot stimuli" to "cold" (distracting) stimuli. Self-control constitutes the ability to direct or focus our attention so that our decisions will not be directed by wrong thoughts. If we change our thoughts, we can change our behavior. In essence, learning self- control (the last, perhaps most difficult to attain or most important designated fruit of God's Holy Spirit) is equivalent to repentance. Self-control refers to inner power to control impulses, emotions, or desires, exhibiting self-government. Self-control follows knowledge in the list of virtues, indicating we need to act on godly knowledge, practicing it in perpetuity. Holiness makes self-control possible; a holy person is self-controlled. God's Holy Spirit increases self-control exponentially, giving us the power to replace "hot" stimuli with "cold" stimuli. Ice cold stimuli (enforcing extreme restraint) must displace hot stimuli (giving into impulses). Like the apostle Paul, we must practice self-control for others. Like Joseph, we need to practice self-control on a daily basis. When we repent and continue to repent, we exercise self-control. In Luke 4, Jesus Christ exercises incredible self-control, refuting Satan's temptation with Scripture—the mind of God.
David C. Grabbe: The author of Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches us not to despise the rigors, the difficulties, that come from God, but to take them as evidence of God's work with us: "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons ..."
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.
John Reiss: If anything epitomizes the futility of trusting in this world, it is pictured by the bankruptcy filing by Detroit last year. The city was once America's manufacturing hub ...
Clyde Finklea, focusing on Winston Churchill's wartime advice, "Never give in," insists that it proved good advice during the Second World War, and it is good advice for us now as we approach the horrible time of the Great Tribulation, when betrayal, lies, and lawlessness will abound. Only the person who endures to the end will be saved. Enduring will not be an easy task, especially when some of our prior friends will betray us. To prepare for these horrendous times, we would be well to model our thinking after that of the Navy Seals, never allowing into our subconscious or conscious the concept of quitting, employing the resolve and commitment to reach the goal of the Kingdom of God. In this commitment, we need to be determined that we do not let our brethren down. Winners never quit; quitters never win.
Martin Collins, referring to the complex prophecies of Daniel 11 and 12, suggests that much of the interpretation of many parts of this prophetic passage, except for the fulfilled prophecy in Daniel 11:2-39, has not emerged clearly, and has been subject to speculative distortion. The exploits of Alexander the Great, his four generals, Antiochus Epiphanes, and Judas Maccabees are recorded in this narrative, providing types for future events. The detailed fulfillment of prophecy indicates that the Bible is God's Book and that He is able to keep His promises in perpetuity. The prophecies yet to be fulfilled do not contain enough geopolitical data to make clear distinctions possible at this time, but the context of the prophesied events provides instructions how the end-time saints should live their lives, in order to make their calling and election sure. God gives the saints wisdom because they fear and keep His commandments. Several types of the abomination of desolation have occurred in history, including the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Roman legions. The latter fulfillment has not yet occurred, but the responsibility of God's called-out ones is purification in the backdrop of a hopelessly corrupt society, having abundant knowledge but virtually no understanding. Without the knowledge of God, civilization automatically spirals downward, given over to reprobate and debased minds. Thankfully, the over-riding theme of Daniel is the replacement of these debased systems of mankind with God's righteous government. The prophecies of Daniel should motivate God's saints to a life of purification and overcoming, glorifying God in the process, reflecting God as the moon reflects the sun, enabling the world to see a clear reflection of God.
Martin Collins, focusing on the doubling of prophecy in Daniel 7-8, partly written in Aramaic and partly in Hebrew, and chock full of overlapping vivid images and visions, urges that both Chapters expose the certainty of the termination of Gentile kingdoms, replaced by God's Eternal Kingdom. The sea is depicted as a destructive power, spawning four terrifying beasts. The fourth beast, corresponding with the image of the mixture of clay and iron in Daniel 2, displays the coming of the lawless one (or man of sin) accompanied by a hopelessly corrupt state in the image of the little horn. Regardless of the emergence and decline of kingdoms, God rules history and ultimately rules in the affairs of mankind. The saints, who will receive intense persecution from the little horn, will ultimately reign with Christ, the Son of Man, a title Jesus used to explain His preexistence, and to teach that He must suffer, to teach that a person must be joined to Him in order to be saved, and to teach about the final judgment.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the famous "Man in the Arena" speech of Theodore Roosevelt, observed that Roosevelt lived his life with vitality and energy. Whether hunting wild game or entertaining at an embassy party, he conducted his behavior with effervescent zeal. Quiet only when he was reading or studying, Theodore Roosevelt loved boxing, sparring, hiking, hunting, riding, ranching, fighting, and exploring. Roosevelt believed in living vigorously and zealously, pursuing life with all the energy at his disposal, giving his absolute all. His exemplary life provides a model for zeal, ardor, and enthusiasm. Zeal has often been discredited as the tool of the huckster or the charlatan. Christians, however, must develop passion and zeal for the Christian way of life and the prospect of the Kingdom of God. The Laodicean does have a form of zeal, but it is focused on material goals rather than spiritual goals. Consequently, it comes across to God as lack of zeal and commitment, appearing as apathy and detachment. God demands that our zeal be boiling hot, exuding ardor, fervency, and intensity focused single-mindedly on a goal, leading to a motivation to action or motivation to do something specific to please our God. Jesus Christ demonstrated godly zeal and fervor when He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Wherever Jesus went, huge crowds pressed Him to heal the sick; He obliged them wholeheartedly. God's work provided His food. The apostle Paul's misguided zeal was (in the blink of an eye) sublimated into godly zeal at his calling on the road to Damascus, keeping him motivated in God's service for the rest of his life. Any Christian act we can do we should do with zeal.
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
Over the last several decades, this world has shown itself to be one in which most people lack commitment, whether it is to their mechanics, their spouses, or their beliefs. Using Christ's exhortations to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, David Maas points out that Scripture foresees that a dearth of steadfastness marks the time of the end, but Christians are urged to hold fast.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: As America continues to shed its Christian values and heritage, the incidence of persecution of Christians is bound to increase. ...
John Ritenbaugh contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
In this parable, found in Matthew 9:27-31, two blind men doggedly follow Jesus into a house—probably Peter's—so that He will restore their sight to them. Martin Collins explains the lessons Christians can learn from the examples of these two persevering supplicants.
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
John W. Ritenbaugh: Jeremiah 30:5-7 alerts us to consider that the time of the end will be unique and horrific to experience, but it concludes with a comforting hope that we can persevere through it: For thus says the LORD: "We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. ...
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!
The healing of the paralytic in Capernaum is a remarkable witness of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God. Martin Collins explains that Jesus honors the faith of the paralytic's four friends who lowered him through the roof, illustrating that the faith of others can be instrumental in bringing sinners to Christ.
With all the military metaphors in the Bible, there can be no doubt that God likens the Christian life to a fight, a war, against the evils and temptations we face daily. In this light, John Ritenbaugh begins to examine Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, showing that the patterns revealed in it provide deep instruction for us in our Christian fight.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
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.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
The concept of power brings many different ideas to mind, any and all of which may certainly be valid. David Grabbe, however, concentrates on the 'little strength' of the church of the Philadelphians, suggesting that Christ commends them for being 'faithful in little' and will reward them with much.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
Richard Ritenbaugh reflects that, over a period of time, we can become an aficionado, learning to evaluate works of art, distinguishing the works of one artist from another, or perhaps a mediocre from a quality work. Likewise, our spiritual works (as evidenced in the systematic chronological appraisal of the works of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 - including the Ephesus- the "crusty old soldiers" who left their first love, Smyrna - "sheep to the slaughter"-suffering continual tribulation but conquering in the process, Pergamos, "Spiritual Descendants of Lot" - or cultural compromisers, Thyatira- idolatrous worldly Christians "Married to the enemy," Sardis "Dead and Deader," living on past reputation, Philadelphia, the weak but faithful " Little engine that could" , and the self-centered "Good for nothing idle rich" ) also have come under close meticulous scrutiny or appraisal by Almighty God. Contrary to Protestant understanding, our works emphatically do count - showing or demonstrating (not just telling) that we will be obedient.
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.
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.
On this eleventh anniversary of the Church of the Great God, John Ritenbaugh reflects upon the expectations, the accomplishments, and the prospects for the future of our part of God's work, observing that things have not exactly turned out the way we thought. Despite the uncertainties, if we keep on keeping on, we will fulfill the commission God has set for us. Currently our website has enabled us to help a vast number of people in the greater church of God to grow and mature through the testing and purging of the church. In the words of the Field Of Dreams cliché, "if we build it, they will come." In the meantime, our marching orders are to live by faith- keeping on keeping on.
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.
Hope conveys the idea of absolute certainty of future good, and that is exactly what the Bible tells us we have upon our calling and acceptance of God's way. John Ritenbaugh shows that, because the Father and Son are alive and active in their creation, our hope is sure!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
Martin Collins examines the factors causing urgency and impatience demonstrated by people waiting for Christ to return. We desperately need to develop patience: an active, God given restraint and constancy in endurance while facing trials, realizing (exercising faith like a farmer waiting for produce) that God will take care of us. When juxtaposed against the experiences of the early luminaries like Jeremiah or Job, our frustrations and anticipations seem quite insipid and bland in comparison. Exercising impatience may reflect selfishness on our part, not considering God's timetable or larger picture of salvation for mankind. Trials and tests are marvelous developers of patience and godly contentment. Our patient responsibility includes continual watching and praying, guarding against despair, allowing God to infuse us with godly love, seeking godly fellowship, and patiently enduring trials.
The Philadelphia church is often considered the best of the seven. Is it? Does it have any faults? Are we biased in our judgment?
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that although many in God's church have gone through sore trials and tests of sorts, virtually no one has gone through the nightmarish persecutions suffered by the early Christians in Imperial Rome. Because most of us have lived our lives in modern Israel rather than a Gentile culture, we have been?to this point?shielded from the kinds of persecution (being put to flight, pursued, or martyred from an external source) experienced by the early apostles. This message explores both a time factor and a righteousness factor, explaining why intense persecution has not yet taken place. Paradoxically (a big horse pill to swallow), persecution may be regarded as a reward for righteousness, a kind of favor and kindness toward us, preparing us for a better resurrection and greater service as priests in God's Kingdom, following in the footsteps of our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God has commanded the book of Deuteronomy to be reviewed every seven years, at the time of release. Deuteronomy, the reiteration of God's Law given in preparation for entering the Promised Land contains the testimony written in stone by the finger of God, serving as the basis for both justice and mercy. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was placed along side the Tablets of the Law as a perpetual testimony and a witness. Deuteronomy could be considered the New Testament of the Old Testament, serving as an elaborate commentary on the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy gives vision (a summary) for critical times (the narrow difficult path ahead involving a multitude of choices), preparing us for living (eternally as God lives) in the Promised Land (Kingdom of God).
John Ritenbaugh warns that, as the calamitous events of the end times intensify, we need to be able to determine what is important and what is marginal, devoting our energies to what Christ is most concerned: overcoming human nature and developing faith in God's ability to provide. Will we trust God in the basic areas of life—food, clothing, and water—or compromise, accepting the mark of the beast to save our physical lives (Revelation 13:11-17)? Doing this would indicate our acceptance of the beliefs of the great false religious system and brand us an enemy of God. The mark on the forehead and hand signifies submission of mind and deed to this foul system (contrasted to Deuteronomy 6:8), willfully disobeying God's commandments (particularly the Sabbath - Exodus 31:13) and denying Christ.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
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 what a person believes is a major driving force of his conduct, determining the outcome of his life. At the time of the end, iniquity is going to be so pervasive and so compelling a force that our only resource for enduring its influence will be our contact and relationship with God. Faith is the foundational building block (II Peter 1:5-8) in this lifelong process. Everything in Christianity flows from the relationship we have with God, a relationship having trust or faith as its foundation or starting point. Walking by faith implies a responsibility to use the spiritual tools God has given us to overcome, grow, and to show our love by keeping His Commandments. God enables us to believe, to live by faith, but He will not do our part of the responsibility for us
John Ritenbaugh teaches that faithfulness on the part of a human being ultimately rests on his trust in God, and if a person is going to be faithful, its because he believes what God says and he is motivated then to have a genuine commitment to righteousness. Such an iron-clad trust motivated the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. Faith is to spiritual what eyesight is to physical.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Reid discusses two forms of patience, showing how we need it to build godly character.
Men have searched for centuries for the keys to success in life. Many have found rules to live by to bring them physical wealth and well-being, but all of them have neglected the most important factor: God!
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