Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on the horrendous damage caused by forest fires in the Carolina mountains, draws some parallels to the spiritual forest fires currently raging in the greater Church of God. Most literal and spiritual fires are caused by human carelessness or arson rather than natural causes like lightning strikes. There is a triangular relationship (heat, oxygen, and fuel) which increases the size of a fire—rendering it out-of-control. Miles and miles of black charred ashes is all that remains of a once beautiful forest. Relationships throughout the greater church of God have been charred in the same way by loose lips and careless tongues described in James 3:2, setting on fire the course of nature by Hell. We have all been guilty of spiritual arson. If we do not control our tongues, we are on a path to destruction. Our prideful desire to correct others, even when we are technically right, does not please God. We need to listen far more than we speak, sparing our words. God gave us ears that remain open and mouths that close. As we count our 50 days to Pentecost, have we been a fire igniter or a fire extinguisher? A quickness to listen is a mark of humility, whereas a quickness to speak is a mark of pride. We should control our reactions to our thoughts, focusing our minds on the suffering Our Savior endured on our behalf. We need to continuously and diligently use the spiritual tool of meditation, bringing our thoughts into captivity of God's purpose for us, developing Godly mindfulness, which is our spiritual armor against pride. Godly mindfulness enables us to pause before we react, giving us precious time to think before we blurt out foolishness. Godly mindfulness enabled Jesus Christ and Stephen to forgive their adversaries while they were facing death. If we follow James admonition to maintain Godly mindfulness, we can prevent our mouths to flare up in sin.
Richard Ritenbaugh asks us to consider how we would discipline a recalcitrant, obstinate child, examining a repertoire of techniques from harsh to indulgent, reminding us that good parents should have a whole quiver of solutions, not just a carrot or a stick. The children of Jacob have throughout history behaved like spoiled brats, perennially earning God's wrath and discipline. Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets, pictures a shout of warning, a time of gloominess and dread, the Day of the Lord in the valley of decision, the great tribulation when God's wrath will be poured upon mankind, a curse they bring on themselves. Sadly many in God's Church will also ignore the warning, reaping the consequences of their lack of submission. God is full of grief that it has come to this sad state of apostasy. Our worship on the Day of Trumpets should constitute praise and worship, extolling the attributes, blessings, and promises of God. The Feasts of God establish God's statutes, laws, testimonies, ordinances, and rulings. If we would keep God's Feasts properly, we would be in sync with God's noble purpose for us, defending us from falling into apostasy and idolatry. God tested physical Israel and is continuing to test spiritual Israel, the Israel of God. We dare not imitate the rebellion of our forebears on the Sinai who fell into idolatry, but rather must hallow God and keep His Commandments.
Ronny Graham, drawing some comparisons from the example of the town crier who provided the sole means of news and communication for the relatively illiterate society of Medieval Britain, reminds us that hearing is also a large part of our Christian lives. The Old and New Testaments are replete with admonitions to hear, such as “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.” In the Parable of the Sower, a major contributory factor in producing good seed is hearing the Word of God. As we hear instructions from sermons, we ought to be applying those principles to our lives immediately. We are responsible for what we choose to hear; consequently, we must take heed what we hear.
Joseph Baity, commenting upon Google's nefarious desire to rank websites according to 'truthfulness,' points out that Google, along with any other search engine, government influenced or not, is hopelessly influenced by the Babylonian system, and is consequently out-of- sync with real truth. God alone possesses truth and we must seek this truth as we would seek precious gems. Pride, the kind that undid Satan, could be described as disagreement with the truth. If we have pride, we will not be privy to God's truth, but will be clouded in self-deceptive haze. In order to hear God, we must acknowledge that without Him we can do nothing, realizing that Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnality is perpetually at war with the truth. As we face the new Tower of Babel, via the Internet and managed news sources, we must listen carefully and critically, to ensure that we do not heed a lie, and, acting on it, compromise God's truth.
Martin Collins explores the response of Joseph's brothers to his benevolence to show how we also should respond to God's benevolence and grace. Human nature is inherently selfish, suspicious, and ungrateful. God demonstrates His love to us long before we are properly equipped to reciprocate. Every physical and spiritual gift comes from God. At times, God has to ignite our conscience and disable or de-stabilize our self-confidence in order to get our attention in a similar fashion as he did to Joseph's brothers. If we have residual guilt, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Like Joseph's brothers, we all have concealed lies, but want others to think we have sterling integrity. If we want forgiveness for our sins, we must jettison our self-righteousness and forsake our buried and secret sins, enabling a transformation with God. Like Joseph's brothers, we must abandon our own efforts to guide the outcome of matters to suit our liking, and turn control over to God, allowing His spiritual radar to penetrate the depths of our hearts. God will always uncover our sins; it is to our advantage to repent early. We should not want to talk about our accomplishments, but what God has chosen to accomplish in our lives. God will deal with us until we relate to Him sincerely and forthrightly, just as Judah learned to do as God soundly destroyed all his props of self-confidence. As Judah, Moses, and Paul emerged to a willingness to give up their lives for their brethren, we too must be willing to sacrifice the ultimate for our fellow man, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Through His Spirit, we love one another by listening to one another, sharing our experiences with one another, and serving one another.
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, 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.
Clyde Finklea: Challenging his wife with a riddle, the man began, "You're the engineer of a train. There are 36 people on board. At the first stop, ..."
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
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.
Martin Collins asks what we can do to improve our manners or etiquette. Our manners express our personality, especially as they portray humility, courtesy, or gentleness. The apostle Paul indicts all of us as lacking in courtesy before we were called. Now we must display the work of salvation, involving the etiquette and courtesy shown in the behavior of our Savior. Before our calling we did not possess these traits. Afterward, we go through a process of sanctification to develop the fruit of God's Holy Spirit and go on to perfection. Good manners, etiquette, and character may be improved by 1) trying to understand the other person's point of view, 2) paying attention in the little things, 3) making sure we keep our commitments, 4) clarifying what our expectations are, 5) always showing personal integrity, 6) apologizing for failing to keep our word or letting another person down, 7) and showing unconditional love.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the pervasive influence of pornography on the Internet, television, music, and print media, suggests that young people engaging in premarital sex are acting like sheep to the slaughter, totally oblivious to the real facts of life. Dating should be preceded by wholesome group activities; God created us as social beings, placing a longing in each individual for a member of the opposite sex. The purpose of dating should not be considered merely a pre-marriage ritual designed to prepare one for marriage, but instead (1) to develop wholesome interactions with the opposite sex in contrast to the world's dating games, totally mired in the lures of temptation and emotion described by James 1:14-15; (2) to help individuals to see their own strengths and weaknesses, gradually understanding themselves; (3) to develop practice in serving others, and (4) to discover the person one will marry. The more similarities there are in a relationship, the less likelihood that conflicts will emerge. A key ingredient in the dating process is faith in God's purpose in each person's life. The relationship one has with God takes precedence over any relationship with any other human being.
Scripture is full of advice about being humble and taking heed to God's instruction because, frankly, many think they know it all already! Here are several basic points to help us become better students of God's Word.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that without the proper emphasis on thanksgiving and praise, our prayers degenerate into the "gimmes" with the emphasis exclusively on self. We need to learn to give God thoughtful thanks in every circumstance, including sickness, health, prosperity, and adversity, all having a useful niche in our spiritual growth if we cultivate the right perspective. While gratitude is a major support of faith, pride is a major exponent of vanity and uselessness. Gratitude is the natural reaction to what God has done. Thanksgiving supports true faith because it helps us to focus on the Creator rather than the created. If we see, hear, taste, and feel God in our lives, we should experience a torrent of praise and thanksgiving in our lives.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the voice, perhaps more than the fingerprints, makes an individual unique, articulating the depths of emotion. The voice of God, whether expressed through thunder, events of His providence, handiwork of creation, or the preaching of His truth by His ministers, has a unique quality about it, a ring of authenticity, making it recognizable to His called out ones as a shepherd's voice is to the flock. The Apostle Paul affirms that faith comes from hearing the voice of God- spoken through a duly ordained messenger of God. God alone designates the messenger who bears His message.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
In this Unleavened Bread sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that learning God's way (and unlearning Satan's way) takes a lifetime- spiritually speaking, perhaps the most difficult and arduous task on the entire earth. Over a lifetime, with our cooperation, God fashions us into vessels of honor. The commands to eat unleavened bread outnumber the commands to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that the most efficient way of eliminating sin is to do righteousness (eating God's word and applying its principles in our lives) If we do good, we won't have the time to do bad. The epistle of James applies to the Christian after the justification process has begun, indicating that after receiving forgiveness, after receiving God's implanted word, we are obligated to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, yielding to trials, bringing forth the fruits of character by doing (not just hearing) God's word. Paul and James steadfastly agree that faith without works is stone dead.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of listening over merely hearing, suggesting that only from God's Word can we know who is really regulating the affairs on the earth and which truth to believe. The scriptures, substantiating God's sovereignty, assure us that Israel's history was no accident, the church's succession of Israel was no accident, and our calling into the church was no accident. Even though God's thoughts are not [yet] our thoughts and His judgments unsearchable, we have the assurance that just because scary, inexplicable things happen in our lives, God is still sovereign; we must develop the childlike faith to trust in Him for the solution.
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