Martin Collins encourages us to exercise the same kind of faith displayed by the Apostle Paul when facing tumultuous weather and an impending shipwreck. Paul, having been assured by an angelic message that he would indeed testify before Caesar in Rome, knew that the upcoming shipwreck was not life-threatening. While the crew and the other passengers were losing their heads, Paul gained the confidence of all, in a sense taking charge, directing the crew to cast cargo overboard and to take nourishment. Because of Paul's wise counsel, the Centurion in charge of guarding the prisoners rescinded the order to execute the prisoners if the vessel ever became scuttled. Paul's surviving the bite of a poisonous snake led those who witnessed the incident to believe he was himself a god. The profound lesson Acts 27 teaches is that we must distinguish among several types of suffering: (1) Common suffering from everyday experience, (2) Corrective suffering meted out by Almighty God, (3) Constructive suffering in order to build character, (4) Christ-glorifying suffering, designed primarily to bring glory to God, and (5) Cosmic suffering—God's allowing Satan to sift individuals to prove their faith. Regardless of the variety of suffering we may suffer, we must remember that God will always deliver us.
Martin Collins, focusing on Paul's third trial before a secular ruler, following the inconclusive decisions before Felix and Festus, points out that King Agrippa was of a more decisive character. He sought to implement Paul's appeal to Caesar without delay. Speaking to the King, the Apostle stated his pre-conversion experience as a Pharisee, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and his post conversion commitment to execute his God-ordained commission. In the process, he refuted the false charges of violating the laws of the Torah, committing heresy and blasphemy, and committing treason against Caesar, the same charges previously levelled against Jesus Christ. Agrippa, an erudite individual with a keen understanding of Jewish customs, listened intently as Paul refuted all the false charges. In the end, he claimed to be "almost persuaded' by Paul's testimony and acknowledged that Paul was innocent. He would have acquitted him if he had not appealed to Caesar. In reality, what appeared to be a series of disappointing judicial set-backs for Paul was actually the outworking of God's strategy to place the Apostle before even higher levels of secular leadership. As God's called-out ones, we must learn to follow in the footsteps of Paul, being willing to trust God when the here-and-now in our experience appears problematic, knowing that God is sovereign over all.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that hardships are a normal part of life, perhaps leading us to despair that God has abandoned us, focuses our attention on a segment of the Apostle Paul's life (recorded in Acts 23-26) when he could have had these depressing thoughts, but did not. Paradoxically, when God seems to be silent, He is feverishly at work micro-managing what otherwise appears as insignificant details. When forty Zealots took an oath conspiring with the Sanhedrin to take the life of Paul, it looked as though he was as good as dead. But God intervened on Paul's behalf to fulfill His purpose. Because of this intervention, an army of armed guards transported Paul out of physical danger, thereby unwittingly facilitating an opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel to three Roman leaders while he was a prisoner. Characteristically, God uses small things to accomplish His purpose, as He does by calling the base and foolish of the world to confound the wise. Despite the fallacious charges made against Paul by his many enemies, God enabled him to refute the charges with the truth. Just as all the stratagems arrayed against Paul eventually crumbled, the stratagems conspiring against God's called-out ones will also come to nothing. We need to remember that, during those times we fail to see God's hand, He is hard at work intervening on our behalf.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that we have an ambivalent attitude to change, resisting it when it upsets our equilibrium or desiring it when we are in dire straits, proclaims that God deliberately places change in our lives to bring about spiritual growth toward perfection. The second law of thermodynamics teaches us that all matter is in a perpetual state of decay unless energy is expended to halt the process. God's command to Adam to dress and keep the environment indicates the dynamics of this principle. Our offspring would be stalled at a premature state of their developmental process if they did not weather tests and developmental tasks, some of them extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable. God as our Parent is no different; He will not curtail change in our lives until we are conformed into His image. God is the author of change in order to bring events to the conclusion He wants.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the double standards of the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis, at once insisting that we treat the Bible like every other literary document while insisting the New Testament jump through extra hoops. Looking at the extant number of the ancient texts available to corroborate the authenticity of the Scriptures, more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament have been found than for any other classic text. If every New Testament were destroyed tomorrow, the text could be reconstructed by going to the writings of the church fathers. There are also more corroborating manuscripts of the New Testament in languages other than Greek. The veracity of the Scriptures is something we can take to the bank, in essence our only protection against the torrent of deception we face today, giving us the strength to endure and overcome. God's Word points out profound and necessary truths, prompting us to change our thinking and behavior. As we change, God instills His character in us, allowing us to begin living as He does. As we read God's Word, we must remember that assent is not acceptance. We must accept what God says, obeying and yielding to Him unconditionally, even though human nature stiffens in rebellion at the prospect. We must develop a proper sense of proportion in our relationship to God. We must mortify sin and give ourselves as a living sacrifice. We then must have no doubt that God is capable of giving us whatever we need to finish our course, transforming us into His image.
David Maas, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:3, affirms that Solomon, neither a hedonistic party-goer nor a burned-out, despairing derelict attempting to drink his sorrows away, actually studied pleasure, mirth, despair, and madness with the rigorous mindset of an anthropological scientist, able to detach himself to objectively describe the consequences of an array of life's experiences. He used an ability General Semanticists call "self-reflexiveness" (thinking about our thinking) and a frame of mind, termed by Victorian philosopher Matthew Arnold as disinterestedness, staying aloof from the 'practical,' 'parochial' or 'emotional' attachments people put on those experiences. We have the responsibility as Christians to constantly monitor our thoughts, deflecting Satan's fiery darts as the Israeli Iron Dome deflects the continuous onslaught of Palestinian / Hamas rockets. The news media, entertainment, and blogs on the Internet have been used by the prince of the power of the air to hopelessly divide us, with the aim of motivating us to hate our fellow man intensely, allowing his fiery darts to consume our lives. As God's called-out ones, we need to monitor our thoughts from the perspective of the spirit in man and also with God's Holy Spirit, making sure we are not suckered into taking in one of Satan's divisive gang-fights.
John Reid, anticipating the pressure to conform and compromise placed on God's called-out ones in the coming years, admonishes all of us, that though we may feel worn out, we will ultimately prevail in the end. If the beast power succeeds in revising the calendar, it will make keeping God's laws more challenging and dangerously difficult. In modern Israel violent crime is on the rise. Abortion, pornography, same-sex marriage, secular progressivism, hopelessly corrupt government, denying God's sovereignty, are reaping a horrible crop of curses, further wearing out the saints. Satan has already captured the world, but he cannot succeed until he has compromised the Saints. We must resist the darkness, keeping our light shining at all times. As God's called out ones, we must warn or caution our brethren against danger, comforting one another, praying without ceasing, holding fast to and proving what is true, abstaining from evil, praying for the ministry, anticipating the reward at the end of the spiritual trek.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Our society runs at a frantic pace. ...
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). ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking if we have ever been worried or anxious about something, suggested that fear is a normal human emotion. People naturally worry about their own welfare and the welfare of their loved ones, even though our God and Savior tells us to be anxious about nothing. Fears are pervasive and have deep tentacles, making them seemingly impossible to shake off. Stress (other than the several kinds of eustress) describes the negative effects of fear or anxiety to our nervous system, opening us up to many diseases, some of which may become fatal. God wants us to temper our fears with a change of perspective, realizing He has promised to ultimately rescue the children of Jacob after He makes an end of the world's godless regimes. We need to have the depth of faith and knowledge of God to realize He is with us and will rescue us, providing we trust Him, making Him our dwelling place, living obediently according to His commands, loving Him, serving Him with willing sacrificial service, and calling upon Him in constant communicative prayer, which by doing we could conquer our myriad fears and anxieties by changing our focus from earthly to heavenly things, growing continually in righteousness and godliness. We need to take everything to God in prayer, ensuring the peace of God will abound in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
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.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
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 message on overcoming anxiety and fear of the future, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that since September 11, anxiety, fear, depression, and panic disorders have increased dramatically in America, characterized by feelings of loss of control, and hopelessness for the future. The key to overcoming the fear of loss of control is to admit that God is in control. If we have our priorities straight (Matthew 6:33) God will take care of the anxieties we encounter. If people do not have God's vision of the future, they will end up in aberrant behavior, eventually leading to death, but happy and blessed are they who keep God's direction.
Military strategists have long realized the key to success in the training of new recruits is to identify the danger they will encounter—in short, to know their enemy. Recruits to God's spiritual army also need to know their enemy and to make appropriate preparations for battle. Daniel 7:25 reveals the modus operandi of the enemy: a concerted effort of the Satanically inspired Beast to physically, mentally, and if possible, spiritually wear out the saints. John Reid suggests that members of God's family should remember that: 1. trials help us to build character 2. Because we stand in stark contrast to the world, we will be hated and persecuted. 3. We must seek the aid of Jesus Christ, who provides the pattern for enduring these pressures and hardships.
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 suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
Luke 21:36 is a memory scripture for many, but are we applying it too narrowly? In reality, we can apply it generally anytime we face trials and crises in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the watchman responsibility as defined in Ezekiel 33:2 and Isaiah 62:6, consisting of both physical and spiritual aspects. Part of the pastor's responsibility is to carefully observe economic, social, meteorological, and political trends, warning the flock to take prudent precautions, including making a prayer offensive, making careful and thoughtful self-examination, actively repenting, submitting to God, looking to God's providence for a possible way of escape, but realizing that the place of safety has conditions attached to it. The exact standards of qualification for a Philadelphian have been left purposely vague to keep the prod to spiritual growth fairly intense. Our focus should be to seek God's kingdom, reciprocating God's love, committing ourselves to a life of service fulfilling His purpose for us, doing so without complaining, or comparing our lot with others, realizing He will supply exactly what we need.
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 Reid, drawing on an example of an exhausted military medic, explores the problem of burnout with the attending symptoms of collapse, callousness, and giving up. The inability of solving mounting cultural and social problems despite advances in technology puts a strain on anyone who cares about the consequences, especially those concerned about the warp speed plunge into immorality. Because our nation has rejected God, preferring to embrace the mindset of the prince of the power of the air, it is mortally sick. We groan as we see the demise of our world, our church, and our own inclination to sin, sapping our strength and leading to burnout. Drawing close to God (in prayer and Bible study) and close to one another (in fellowship and encouragement) provide the antidote to burnout and an incentive to endure to the end of our stressful but exciting pilgrimage.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a phenomenon described by Alvin Toffler as Future Shock, a stressful malady caused by an inability to accommodate or adjust to rapid change. Over-stimulation and rapid change (accompanied by the death of permanence) eventually produces apathy and future shock. The antidote to future shock (or attaining the way back to permanence) includes (1) becoming goal oriented toward permanent things (Matthew 6:33), (2) making sure of permanent values (Deuteronomy 4:40; Hebrews 13:8) (3) working to build wholesome habit, custom or routine (Exodus 31:13), and (4) building quality human relationships (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10; Ecclesiastes 4:9)
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
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.
John Ritenbaugh explores the second chapter of Lamentations, preceding the first chapter in time sequence, describes the stunning and disorienting shock of seeing the total systematic devastation and utter destruction of something formerly considered indestructible, and realizing that God was responsible for the devastation. The prophets and the religious leaders bear the greatest blame for this destruction by providing a quasi-religion (with smooth and feel-good teachings condoning sin) and not teaching the Law of God.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 20min-50sec mark] John Ritenbaugh examines the sobering events that occurred the evening of Jesus Christ's final Passover as a man, including the bitter circumstances of His betrayal and the abandonment by His disciples. Jesus knew in advance who was to betray Him, but continued to work with Judas to the very end, trying to get him to repent, just as God gives each of us ample time to repent and turn around. Jesus changed the symbols of the Passover, making a distinction between the old and new covenants. In the Old Covenant, blood sacrifice involving the slaughter of lambs and the killing of the firstborn of Egypt was the cost of deliverance from physical bondage. In the New Covenant, the deliverance from our spiritual bondage and permanent oblivion was the sacrifice of God's own Son, symbolized by wine and broken bread (signifying His shed blood and His beaten body) sacrificed for the sins of all mankind. Although Jesus realized the deficiencies and weaknesses of His disciples, He looked sympathetically at them, placing His confidence in God to lead Him through the horrible trials He would endure. The emotions Jesus felt were real, experiencing every agony, fear, anguish, desperation, disappointment, terror and temptation all of us would experience, yet without sin, preparing Him to be our compassionate High Priest..[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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