John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
Mike Fuhrer: In Part One, we saw that, in some ways, King Hezekiah of Judah was a mixed bag spiritually. Although Scripture lists him as one of the best kings of Judah, he made significant mistakes ...
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.
Martin Collins, alarmed about vacuous emotionalism in religion, producing emotional feelers for Jesus rather than followers of Christ, warns us that we must take the bad with the good, enduring suffering and consolation. "Feeling good" all the time is not our destiny as long as we are mortal human beings. Feelings and emotions may throw our faith off course. Our moods are mercurial and we must control them with daily prayer and Bible study. We could be emotionally manipulated more by what we see than what we hear, as demonstrated by our forefather Jacob, who seemed more inclined to believe bad news than good news, possibly because of the sorrowful events of his hard life, testing his faith on a regular basis. We should not allow our moods and feelings to govern the course of our lives. We must become in control of our feelings, a major fruit of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to bring every thought into captivity. Husbands should painstakingly shield their spouses from negative feelings and bad news. Jacob had to be moved to believe that Joseph was alive by the testimony of Joseph's brothers and ultimately the carts from Egypt. Jacob, along with Samuel, Abraham, and Saul, was strengthened in faith with an assuring communication with God. Jacob, at 130 years, felt old and reluctant to pull up stakes, moving to a new locale steeped in pagan worship, having both bitter memories and prophetic revelation of future difficulties for his family. God's reassuring words to Jacob can provide strength for us as well, reaffirming our relationship with Him, the loyalty to the covenant, the surety of His promises, and the assurance of our part in His master plan. When we are fearful, we should seek God's guidance and direction before taking another step.
David Grabbe, assessing the impact of struggles, pressures, and tribulations of our spiritual journey, reveals that Christ's followers will have to endure afflictions and fiery trials as He prepares them for His Kingdom. Some detractors have tried to preach that "godliness is a means of gain," implying that if we were better people, we would never enter into tribulation. That assumption is not true. God uses both blessings and tribulations to shape His people. Our peace comes from God's grace, not a life of ease and smooth sailing. Those who have peace with God will also have hardship. The rigors God puts us through are not to crush us, but to shape us, transforming us from carnal to spiritual—the new man we are putting on. True spiritual gain is walking through the anguish in victory. As long as God is involved in our life, we are already experiencing the love of God. We do not have to be dismayed about the transformative pressures from the mortar and pestle of our lives.
John Reiss: As Part One concluded, we were considering the fact that, despite our society’s general squeamishness about executing cowardly deserters, God has declared that He will cast the cowardly into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:7-8). ...
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
Most of us are living in the midst of the end-time manifestation of Babylon the Great. We can resist its influence if we understand what makes it so attractive to human nature. John Ritenbaugh explains what makes the Mystery Woman tick and why God judges her so severely.
Who is the Woman of Revelation 17 and 18? John Ritenbaugh explains that this fallen Woman displays no religious characteristics but instead acts as a city or nation involved in the politics, economics, and culture of its time. What nation fits the symbolism?
John Ritenbaugh, noting that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates that we definitely are products of a powerful, addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonish system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations, leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
John Ritenbaugh, taking both a backward and a forward look at the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles, poses the question, "What is so bad about Babylon?" The Babylonian system (code name for the world's political, religious, economic, and cultural systems) poses a menacing danger to God's people, but God wants us to work out His plan within the Babylonian system- obligating us to struggle against its ever-pervasive sensual pulls, a system that had its dim beginnings with the dictatorial, violent, and enslaving rule of Nimrod—the first celebrity rebel of note—a hunter, enslaver, and destroyer of men. The significance of the tower of Babel reflects Satan's overweening pride and hubris (a triumph of human reasoning) to displace God. What man does through his clever inventiveness and creativity will not outlast God's eternal works. If men do not become aligned with God's thoughts, their grandiose plans will not succeed. Coming out of Babylon will undoubtedly require suffering, pain, and self denial, but the sacrifice will pay immense spiritual dividends.
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that although many in God's church have gone through sore trials and tests of sorts, virtually no one has gone through the nightmarish persecutions suffered by the early Christians in Imperial Rome. Because most of us have lived our lives in modern Israel rather than a Gentile culture, we have been?to this point?shielded from the kinds of persecution (being put to flight, pursued, or martyred from an external source) experienced by the early apostles. This message explores both a time factor and a righteousness factor, explaining why intense persecution has not yet taken place. Paradoxically (a big horse pill to swallow), persecution may be regarded as a reward for righteousness, a kind of favor and kindness toward us, preparing us for a better resurrection and greater service as priests in God's Kingdom, following in the footsteps of our Elder Brother.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh examines the changing Israelitish mindset following two world wars, negatively influenced by affluence and cynicism which has undermined our ability to endure hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy national goal. Instead of discipline, indomitable will and character with pure national goals we have opted for self-indulgence, laxity, and compromise. In God's plan, the development of uncompromising character requires struggle and sacrifice. Our victory over Satan requires continual drill, tests and development of internal discipline. Like the military, the victory is built incrementally in the mind; the warfare is the drill. (Luke 16:10)
John Ritenbaugh focuses on eight conclusions regarding fleeing and the Place of Safety: 1) There will be a geographical separation of the church. 2) We can be worthy to escape the Tribulation. 3) Lukewarm fence-sitters will go into the fire of tribulation for purification. 4) Faithful people are generally assured protection from the hour of trial. 5) The Bible is purposely vague about the specifics of the Place of Safety. 6) Obsessing about the Place of Safety is a sure way to disqualify oneself from it. 7) God calls some faithful, zealous ones for martyrdom during the Tribulation. 8) If we make the Kingdom of God our focus, being faithful day by day, yielding to God's purpose for us, He will faithfully supply all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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