Bill Onisick asks us to imagine living the life of a shepherd 3,000 years ago in Bethlehem, tending the flocks from pen to pasture, and moving the flock continually to venues of food and safety. Equipped with a rod, a knife, and a sling, the shepherd safeguards the flock from predators. This profession is truly faith-building as one continually drops to his knees to ask for God's protection. During the night, the shepherd's life was sometimes frightening, and in the daytime, it was lonely and occasionally boring, but continually demanding. Thankfully, one had plenty of time to think, pray, and meditate, as well as hone one's skills with the sling. In the years caring for his flocks, David had to learn to deal with all kinds of physical threat. The greatest skill David learned was to trust in God. The trials God allowed David to go through strengthened his shepherding and leadership skills, making him able to destroy the champion of the Philistines, Goliath of Gath. David's entire life trusting in God had prepared him for this giant trial. His faith in God provided him the victory. Our great God leaves nothing to chance. God is preparing us the same way He did David, with smaller trials and tests preparing us for larger trials and tests, building ironclad faith, leading perhaps to a giant trial down the road, grooming us for eventual kingship. Every trial and test is for our good.
Joseph Baity, reflecting that man's greatest fear is of the unknown, adding that there is more unknown than known, concludes that it is little wonder that we thirst for knowledge because we fear not knowing. The digital revolution we have experienced in the past 25 years bears distinct resemblances to the Tower of Babel. A general, preparing to go to war, needs knowledge of the battlefield, the enemy, and one's own strengths and liabilities. Wartime intelligence, according to Donald Rumsfeld, must analyze known knowns, known unknowns, and allow for unknown unknowns. It is the unknown unknowns (the surprises) that give us the most grief. Solomon assured us that we are not privy to God's activity on the earth, especially as it concerns the regulation of human affairs. Man's inability to know what is to take place is something deliberately planned by God. Even the wisest are often surprised by calamities for which they had no foresight or expectation. God has His reasons for not revealing everything now. No one in history has lived into and through the end-times. We are pretty naïve about what lies directly ahead and beyond, but are too proud to admit it, languishing in self-denial. Satan offered our parents forbidden knowledge, which has ironically separates us from the only Being who could give them real knowledge. Mankind, kicked out of Eden, has been trying to outlearn God ever since, taking Satan's concoctions of truth mixed with half-truth, myth, and superstition, eventually doubting God's existence. The more we partake of this corrupt knowledge, the more damaged we become, as our faith becomes attenuated. In order to develop faith, the unknown is a necessary formative factor, forcing us to wait for God to reveal those things which are currently mysteries to us. To the world's way of thinking, the unknown is a threat and vulnerability, but to God's called-out ones, it is instrumental in developing the kind of faith that pleases God. The unknown could be said to be one of God's greatest gifts.
Faith and fidelity to God and His way of life should be a major part of our character. In this fourth article on the weightier matters, it details what faith and fidelity are, how to recognize a lack of them in our lives and how to develop them so we can grow into the image of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh provides the rationale of this phase of the church's work- what and why the Church of the Great God is doing what it is doing. In this time of scattering, God is testing our loyalty to Him, correcting deficiencies that will keep us out of His Kingdom. Despite the untested Protestant assumption that "the work" of God is preaching the Gospel to the world, nowhere does the combination of words "preaching the gospel to the world is the work of God" appear in the Bible. Though it is part of the work, it is only a small part. The hardest part of God's work is the feeding of the flock the full counsel of God, to get the called-out ones ready to enter the God-family (in His Spiritual image)-especially considering the cesspool of heresy and apostasy from which we have been rescued. God engineered the scattering for our own good, enabling experiences to restore faith and attain the full stature of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that because of our close proximity to a materialistic world filled with man's works, our faith cannot take root. The Sabbath is the day consecrated by God for building faith, energizing our minds for fellowship with God. We dare not defile, profane, offer blemished sacrifices, or put to common use this holy time. Our approach to the Sabbath needs to be quality, whole-hearted, aimed at perfection rather than slipshod, lackadaisical, or "Dutching" it just to get by. The Sabbath contains three principal themes or motifs, focusing upon the past (creation), the present (redemption) and the future (prefiguring the Kingdom of God). We must diligently strive to enter this rest.
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that our historical and theological roots are advanced in a polished, literary, chronological narrative, perhaps designed as a trial document authored by Luke. It defends the apostle Paul and the early church, with a larger purpose of 1) augmenting or increasing the faith of the saints, setting a pattern for all future generations of the church, demonstrating its continuity with the acts of God in the Old Testament; 2) proclaiming the church's mission and message; 3) showing progress despite seemingly overwhelming opposition; 4) tracing the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles; and 5) revealing the life and organization of the church, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church's formation, growth, and empowerment. Peter's sermon 1) explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle, 2) proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3) and calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, after delving into questions of how people living during the Millennium will develop faith, as well as the reason for re-establishing a sacrificial system, focuses on the significance of Christ's sacrifice and His glorification. Christ's perfect life and His sacrificial death was a prerequisite for our reconciliation with God, demonstrating how far God will go to save us. Only living our lives as God the Father and Jesus Christ live their lives will bring about abundant life. Eternal life is to know God, seeking Him to imitate Him, living as He does, and developing an intimate relationship with Him. Christ manifested the Father's attributes as He lived, setting us an example to live our lives the same way, becoming similar imitations of the Father. Christ's extensive prayer for His disciples is for our guarding, preservation, protection, and unity with our brethren as we bear the name of God. As God gives us challenges and responsibilities, He also gives the necessary tools to fulfill them.
WHY are we not more successful in living up to God's standard? WHY do we slip and fall occasionally? Here is how YOU can overcome where you are weakest and hardest tempted!
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