Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
Gary Montgomery: We serve a God who is positive, working toward a glorious future for Himself and the multitudes of sons and daughters He is preparing for that wonderful world tomorrow. ...
Gary Montgomery: At one time or another in our lives, we have all watched small children at play. Perhaps we saw them playing in a park or in a school playground. Most likely, they were carefree and happy. ...
Martin Collins, assessing Paul's admonition that God's people be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2), acknowledges that God possesses three non-transmittable attributes: omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (existing everywhere at once), and omniscience (knowing everything). These attributes will never become descriptive of God's people. But there are other, transmittable, attributes which we can make a part of our new nature. These include love, forgiveness, compassion, and longsuffering. God commands that we emulate Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us. He instructs us to humble ourselves, giving our entire self as a sacrifice of love. Paul explains that light symbolizes the regeneration of the new creation, totally separate from the old creation, lying in darkness. There must be a regenerative change in what we are, how we think, and the way we think. With God's help, we must obliterate our evil, carnal nature, replacing it with purity and holiness, both of which will be evident to those with whom we associate. They will observe that no filthiness or course speech comes from us, as we radiate God's behavior (symbolized by light) in a murky world of darkness. Just as God characterized the Prophet Danial as being a light, He has also called us to be lights to the world, to radiate His attributes of forgiving, giving, and living.
Martin Collins, reviewing the episode of Habakkuk's frustration that God would use an evil people to punish Israel, points us to the prophet's resolve to cease being a fretful worrier and to become a responsible watcher, determined to understand the purpose of God's dealing with His people. Only a faithful believer will ever stand acquitted before God's fearful judgment. While the taunt-song, dealing with the five woes, certainly applies to Babylon, it applies doubly to God's people Israel, who should have known better, but chose to become ignorant. The first two woes in Habakkuk 2:6-8 concerns the woe against greed, avarice, covetousness (a virulent form of idolatry), and selfish ambition, leading to the crime of usury, charging excessive interest on loans, making the debtor a virtual slave, totally against God's instructions in Deuteronomy 24:10-13. The earth metaphorically cries out against the oppressor who garners wealth by stealing from others and amassing fortunes by exploiting the poor. The third woe focuses on a nation's tyrannical oppression of captive peoples, building a city with bloodshed and establishing a town by violence, denuding forests, wantonly slaughtering animals in order to subjugate other defenseless peoples. The fourth woe results from a people corrupting others with drunkenness and lust, having both literal and metaphorical implications; today the intoxicating Babylonian system embraced by Jacob's descendants has caused our nation to resemble, both figuratively and literally, a drunk vomiting over itself, exposing its sins and folly to the entire world, after adamantly refusing to be governed by God's laws. The fifth woe leveled against the Chaldeans, and by extension to the modern descendants of Jacob, results from idolatry, the sin of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, applying to literal idols of stone and wood as well as to pagan new age religious practices and including anything we might exalt over God Almighty, including our physical possessions, talents, abilities,
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Proverbs 30:7-9, in which Agur asks God to cushion him from the extremes of poverty or excessive wealth, allowing himself to live a balanced life of contentment. Wealth has a powerful influence on one's life, causing us to overestimate our own prowess and underestimate God's involvement with us. We must not forget that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. Although the caution applies especially to material wealth, it also applies to any skill, talent, or gift God has given us. Any gift may turn one inwardly, away from the giver of the gift. We should be grateful, but not proud of our gifts. The Bible contains many rags to riches stories, such as Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, all humble and righteous people who did not desire wealth, but knew they could fulfill their life's purposes if God were on their side. Job was a wealthy man who was also blameless and above reproach, but his health, family, and wealth were all stripped from him in a blink of the eye. His friends wrongly assumed that his loss of wealth was caused by sin, a foolish judgment not warranted by the facts. Solomon's wealth, on the other hand, turned him away from God. Outward prosperity does not provide an accurate indicator of spirituality. Christ warns us that our treasure needs to be in the right place, adding that: (1) We must be content with what we have, (2) We must be humble in our conduct, and (3) We must work faithfully and hard. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all of our might—energetically and intellectually (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The New Testament does not treat wealth as neutral because its power to persuade and influence does not allow many to control it. We dare not become enslaved to wealth's drugging power.
"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.
Mike Ford, acknowledging that many of us are now in a de-leavening mode, suggests that getting rid of accumulated clutter is a positive goal as we simplify our lives in our preparation of extracting ourselves from the world and following God. Spring cleaning is a custom largely connected to Israelitish nations. Everybody has the carnal habit of accumulating stuff, cluttering up both our physical surroundings, as well as the inner chambers of our minds. As we symbolically apply the practice of de-leavening our homes, we should not elevate symbolism over substance, forgetting that the primary focus is to eradicate sin rather than crumbs. The primary leavening should be removed from our minds where we form the attachments to the physical idols which we have a difficult time discarding. As our ancient forbears were called upon to walk away from their stuff twice, we must be just as ready to walk away from any physical object for which we have developed an inordinate attachment.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
A major theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is satisfaction. In his wisdom, Solomon assiduously sought out the answer to the question, "What brings a person true satisfaction?" John Ritenbaugh proposes that God desires far more for us than mere satisfaction: He wants to give us real contentment, a state that comes only through a relationship with Him.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing onto Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, observes that we must do what we must to keep a relationship with God. Solomon teaches us that money may provide some security, but it cannot be relied upon for satisfaction; only a relationship with God will fill that yawning vacuum. Money is neutral commodity, serving either good or bad purposes. If we use it in God's service, we will derive joy as we progress through our spiritual journey. In Warren Wiersbe's estimation, loving the gift but disregarding the giver constitutes idolatry. Satisfaction depends on being assured, having a low level of anxiety. The book of Ecclesiastes was expressly written for the sons of God, not really intended for those uncalled. For those called by God, life and work are not purposeless; for those called by God everything matters in the journey to Eternity, having a meaningful relationship with God, our Creator, Defender, Bridegroom , Sustainer, Intimate Friend, and Father, involved in every aspect of our lives. God has created us as "new' Creations, fashioning us for specific roles in His Kingdom. Whenever we fear the world or mankind, we are subject to neurotic or psychotic bondage and driven to sin; when we fear God, we are released from this bondage, given a balanced, sound mind through His Holy Spirit. No physical thing will ever satisfy us permanently; In John D. Rockefeller's estimation, it is never enough, but will always require a little more. God alone has the power to grant us satisfaction, allowing us to grow in grace and spiritual knowledge. We have a long way to go in developing a relationship with God, realizing that He is there at all times. Wealth, work, posterity, and the future carry absolutely No satisfaction unless God is involved in our lives. We need to live our lives in the here and now with our family in godly enjoyment with a large measure of godly love.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the curse of a corrupt judicial system described in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9, warns us that corruption in the courts is a fact of life, but it will intensify before Christ returns. We should not be surprised by this curse, realizing that God, who is sovereign over everything, is aware of it and is purposely allowing it for a purpose. Our needs will be provided for. This world is driven by the selfish desire of power, creating a climate of perpetual corruption, going right to the top of human governments, ascending through a bloated self-serving bureaucracy. Nothing has really changed from Solomon's day. In the United States, it seems the bad guys win all the court cases. With all of its faults, corrupt government is preferable to lawless anarchy. Our culture seems to be suffering from affluenza, our yearning disease, trying to keep up with the Joneses. The antidote to this affliction (greed motivated by Satan) is to be content with what God has provided us, an attitude that has to be learned. God is always faithful; He will supply all our needs. The secrets of the Lord reside with those who fear Him. Wealth, silver, gold, or money does not satisfy the inner drive for contentment or permanent security because covetousness is not satisfied with 'just a little more.' Sadly, in the words of Oliver Goldsmith, "the future of a nation is bleak when wealth increases; when wealth increases, men degenerate." Government cannot (nor should be) relied upon; God can. We are to be content with the labor God has provided, satisfied continually with what our labor has produced, accepting both the job and what has provided as a gift from God. It is God's desire to keep us busy to enjoy blessings, storing up happy memories with no regrets.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the difficulties in translation from Greek and Hebrew to English, as well as comprehending spiritual truths with a fleshly mind, maintains that it is only through God's Holy Spirit we can comprehend those truths at all. Even with God's Holy Spirit, we have difficulty. Our minds are too finite, earthbound, and dumb to comprehend what God is trying to get across to us. We are not equipped to comprehend the width, length, and breadth of the knowledge of God. Few of us are truly wise, knowing as we do only the rudiments of what is contained in the Bible. All of us are stumped on different biblical concepts. The concept of joy may provide difficulty, as it has a broad range of meaning from spiritual to physical extremes. Even certain unsavory elements in society may bring people joy. Godly joy (New Testament) is on a higher plane than happiness and pleasure, what C. S. Lewis would describe as an "unsatisfied desire to be in total union with God." Joy comes from anticipating the future with Godly hope. The fruits of the Spirit mortify and transcend the works of the flesh through the power of God's Holy Spirit. Without God's Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (including joy) are unattainable. Godly joy buoys people in the midst of grave trials, providing hope for a future eternal reward, depending on the absolute faithfulness of God. A Christian (who by definition has Christ's mind in him) can express joy because he sees God, as well as precious things God has not even revealed to angels. If God is in us, we have all the power we will need, giving us exceeding joy, a positive perception of reality generating hope, ultimately seeing beyond any event to our incredible, inexpressible, eternal reward. Joy constitutes the pure elation of spirit that revels in knowing God, knowing that His eternal plan will culminate in our ultimate salvation.
One of the lessons of Ecclesiastes is that God is intimately involved in the lives and futures of those He has called into His purpose. To this end, He has given His people tremendous gifts that, if properly used, will build their faith and draw them closer to God. John Ritenbaugh encourages us that we matter to God: He wants to see us succeed in life and be prepared for life in His Kingdom.
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
Ecclesiastes 3 is among the best-known chapters of the Bible, and its major theme is a subject that concerns us all: time. Solomon reveals that God is solidly in control of time. John Ritenbaugh teaches that knowing that God is sovereign over time should fill a Christian with faith in God's work in him, in the church, and in His plan for humanity.
Martin Collins, asking us about the longest period we have had to wait for something, reminds us that waiting for God is an acquired virtue requiring patience and longsuffering. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit in 31 AD, Christ's initial followers experienced a period of delay or a waiting period, a time to practice obedience and fellowship with those who were also waiting. People need other people of like mind; we do not become Christians in isolation. We are obligated to have a dialogue with Almighty God through the means of prayer and Bible study, a conversation in which we listen significantly more than we speak. As Christ's disciples did not know what was expected from them as they waited, we also to do not know what to expect as we wait for Christ to establish His Kingdom. Peter, during his waiting until Pentecost, thoroughly studied the Scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit, enabling him to give a powerful message, a combination of Old Testament Scripture and explanation, focusing on God the Father and Jesus, emphasizing the ministry of Christ, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, and His current ministry. Peter's first sermon powerfully influenced 3,000 people. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit emboldened the apostles , bringing effectiveness in ministry, making effective proclamation of the Gospel, giving power for victory over sin, Satan, and demonic forces, making possible a wide distribution of gifts for the ministry, and the power to work miracles.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: A session of the British Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, can be almost hilarious. Speakers there are frequently interrupted with hissing, booing, and other forms of caustic disagreement ...
Geoff Preston (1947-2013): Ours is a discontented world, and current events indicate that more unsettled times are just ahead, creating more anxiety and dissatisfaction. God's Word tells us, however, ...
Too many Americans confine their giving of thanks to the one day on which their national holiday occurs—and many of them spend their Thanksgiving merely eating too much and watching football. Four vital questions about thanksgiving help us to evaluate our approach to this spiritual duty.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4). ...
Have you ever observed someone acting churlishly, throwing a wet blanket on an otherwise enjoyable time? Ronny Graham discovers that the Bible confronts such party-poopers, condemning their killjoy attitudes and commanding us to rejoice appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh examines the life and accomplishments of perhaps the most under-appreciated patriarch in scripture. Having lived longer than any of the other noted patriarchs, Isaac's longevity provides a clue about God's favor toward him. The etymology of his given name ("laughter") suggests his optimistic happy disposition, someone not afflicted by fear and doubt. As Abraham serves as a type of God the Father, Isaac serves as a type of Christ. In contrast to sons of great, overshadowing men (who often turn out to be disappointments) Isaac did not bring disgrace to his father's name, but actually brought honor and respect to his father. In the middle of a famine, Isaac also trusted and feared God in the face of apparent dwindling prosperity, in the face of intense peer pressure, refusing to go to the world for his needs. Isaac's source of strength was his fear, respect, and submission to both his physical and Spiritual Father. Isaac was gentle and peace-seeking, avoiding conflict and quarrel (even when his own power and strength exceeded that of his adversaries), resembling the temperament of Jesus Christ.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that the represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the admonition of Christ that we must take the straight gate or the narrow way (symbols of grave difficulty), indicates that our experience in overcoming and developing character will be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, God will provide the power to get through all this difficulty and anguish of spirit if we have true faith. Murmuring and grumbling are clear indications of lack of faith, and are in the same category as murder, idolatry, and fornication. Godliness with contentment is something we have to learn, stemming from absolute confidence in God's providence- beginning with the sacrifice of His Son-to each of us individually. The sacrifice of Jesus was the idea of God the Father.
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
What is it to be poor in spirit? John Ritenbaugh describes this attribute in its biblical usage. Those who are truly poor in spirit are on the road to true spiritual riches!
John Ritenbaugh again warns that anxiety and fretting (symptoms of coveting, lusting, and idolatry) in addition to cutting life short, erode and destroy faith, destroying today's serenity by borrowing tomorrow's troubles, bartering away eternity for cheap, perishible items. Jesus uses the argument from the lesser to the greater (because God meticulously takes care of the smaller forms of life (birds, flowers, etc.) He will also take care of humans. In order to avoid yielding to Satan or the world, we must place as top priority seeking God's kingdom today (Matthew 6:33). As we use faith, God increases the supply for upcoming trials. God provides both the will and the power to grow toward spiritual maturity and sanctification (Phillipians 2:12)
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?
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
Righteous men have complained about the seeming good fortune of evil people for ages, but what is the answer? Mike Ford gives the biblical answer—in the end, a very simple and practical one.
John Ritenbaugh, soberly reflecting on the $19 trillion dollar national debt and with 25% of American private citizens two days away from bankruptcy, he warns that the prudent shouldn't continue to live in a fool's paradise, but should make common sense preparations, like the ant, (Proverbs 6:6-8) storing up provisions for at least a season. Prophetic warnings are given to motivate preparation. Both the watchman and the one who hears (Ezekiel 3:17) have a grave responsibility to make prudent economic and spiritual preparations for bad times, tightening belts, helping themselves and others through the tough times.
We live in a world that has little or no idea what true peace is or how it is achieved. John Ritenbaugh shows how we can produce godly peace even in the midst of turmoil and why it is such an important virtue.
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
Joy, the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, is more than just happiness. There is a joy that God gives that far exceeds mere human cheerfulness. John Ritenbaugh shows how the Holy Spirit produces it in us.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet
A biblical survey of coveting: what it is, what it produces and what a Christian should be doing.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
Prayer is a constant and necessary part of being a Christian. But just how well do we pray? Are our prayers effective? Mark Schindler teaches us how we can learn to pray more effectively!
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
In this sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
In this study, John Ritenbaugh teaches us that Abraham's iron clad faith was developed incrementally as a result of calculating or "adding it all up," matching the promises of God (perceiving His overall intent) with the current situation, realizing from his ongoing relationship with God, that it was impossible for Him to lie. We learn from Abraham's experience to trust God even when we have incomplete data. We learn from Abraham's experience, that when we attempt to take the expedient way out (embracing a carnal or worldly solution), we will run into grave difficulties- forcing us back to the fundamentals of faith. As descendents of Abraham, we must learn to trust God, forming an on-going relationship with Him, realizing that God's ways and the world's ways do not mix.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that Abraham is the only biblical character singled out as a type of God the Father. He is also the only one to receive the approbation "friend of God." As a result, we, as Abraham's offspring or seed, receive incredible material and spiritual blessings, including the Holy Scriptures, the chief means through which we learn "the deep things of God." Because of this, we have to make God central in our lives, submitting to His law, reproducing the obedient spirit of faith the father of the faithful and the friend of God demonstrated. Like him, after our calling we are obligated to cross the river separating ourselves from the world, leaving the old man or carnal self behind. Our new life is one of continual, often unsettling and unstable movement on a pilgrimage toward God's Kingdom (Hebrews 11:8-10).
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
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