David C. Grabbe: Part One explained that God's general pattern is to allow people time to repent rather than instantly executing the death penalty. ...
Mike Ford, acknowledging that learning is a never-ending process, maintains that senior citizens have just as much capability of learning as younger people do, but "seniors" utilize different parts of their brain. To be sure, because we lean towards resting on our laurels and coasting, learning as we get older tends to slow down, but it does not have to be that way. As we systematically and daily ingest God's holy Scriptures, including the Psalms and Proverbs, we might be well-advised to arm ourselves with a highlighter or pen to mark those new insights we have previously overlooked. Proverbs 1:5 assures us that a person mature in the faith can always learn more; it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
Joe Baity reports on a recent UCLA study on human aging in which scientists declared that, regardless of lifestyle or environmental factors, each human being has a built-in biological clock with its own unique expiration date, corroborating the insight Moses revealed to us in Psalm 90, that we are allotted a finite number of days and should consider counting and evaluating our days responsibly. Realizing we cannot extend our lives beyond this predetermined fixed expiration date, we need to seriously evaluate our current priorities in our spiritual walk, likening it to attending a school, where we will be given assignments, exercises and tests, and deadline dates for completion. We are obligated to walk a kind of tightrope, balancing crippling anxiety and deadly complacency and Laodicean lethargy. If we knew the exact date of Christ's return, we would adjust our sense of urgency accordingly. The closer the interval to Christ's return, the more focused we would be on our spiritual priorities—and we would finally determine what really matters. Because anxiety and complacency are equally dangerous extremes, we should ask for peace from Almighty God as we push toward the deadline, using the spiritual gifts He has given us to vigorously accomplish the goal God has placed before us.
David Grabbe, contending with the popularly held assumption that the days preceding Christ’s return would be characterized by near-apocalyptic, cataclysmic disaster, points to the Scriptures that people will be eating, drinking, and marrying as in the days of Noah and the days of Lot, indicating that there will be enough relative normalcy to allow for commerce and “business as usual” for much of the world. Right up to the day of the flood and the firestorm on Sodom, people were carrying on with mundane everyday activities, with a certain amount of ease in committing sins of self-indulgence and complacency, with people having enough security to kick back and bask in protected mediocrity as their work ethic eroded. Like Sodom and ancient Babylon, modern Babylon’s obsession is with materialism and guaranteed security, as government, union, and many academic positions protect—even encourage—mediocrity, incompetency, and malfeasance. God is not against prosperity unless it leads to materialism and self-indulgence, displacing godliness, righteousness, and contentment. Our current moral and economic state is not terribly unlike the days of Noah and the days of Lot.
David C. Grabbe: As the book of Hebrews ends, the author—likely Paul—pens this benediction: "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, ..."
Martin Collins, characterizing the scoffer as a dangerous mixture of pride, malice, ignorance, and shallowness with a high degree of combativeness, suggests that scoffers will increase exponentially as we approach the time of Jacob's trouble, the dreadful day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment upon mankind when evil will be utterly expunged forever. Peter warned of scoffers in the church, apostate tares, devoid of God's spirit, ridiculing the doctrine that Christ would return or doctrines of judgment, treating lightly those things we should take seriously. Apostates want to be able to live comfortably in their own sins. Peter assures us that God's Word is true, God's Word is consistent (the world is being reserved for fire as it was previously reserved for a cataclysmic flood following creation), and God's Word is consistent all the way through, focusing on a future day of judgment. God's good creation has been turned into a groaning creation, polluted and desecrated by man's horrific sins. The only reason God has not brought the destructive antics of mankind to an end earlier is that He is merciful and longsuffering, desiring all to repent and embrace salvation. In Peter's sermon on Pentecost, he explains Joel's prophecy of God's Spirit poured out on His saints, given to those who repent, with the expectation that this spiritual gift would be used to edify the Body of Christ—the Church. Peter encourages us with the assurance that, though the elements will burn with fervent heat, we will be given protection if we yield to God, allowing Him to carry out His will for our lives.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that very few prophecies have occurred the way any of us had speculated, advocates that we take a balanced, far less dogmatic approach to prophecy, realizing, of course, that a full one-third of the Bible is prophecy, the majority of which has not yet been revealed, much less fulfilled. One prophecy which seems to be rapidly unfolding before us in the recent years is the one in Isaiah 3:12, warning of children as our oppressors and women as our rulers. During the past year, assessing the mayhem from the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, we acknowledge the oppressors to be mere youths, born into families in which the fathers have run away or have been driven out. Mothers of criminal youths cannot believe "why their babies have been shot." The liberal media characterize young shoplifters and thieves as 'protestors.' Tragically, in the black community 7 out of 10 youths do not have a father; 72% have been born out of wedlock. In the meantime, weak-willed and compromising men have abandoned their leadership roles in government and the church, and radical feminist women have rushed in to fill the void created by this 'leadership drain.' In our nation today, gangs (unsupervised young boys and , increasingly, girls) are responsible for 50% of all crimes, and the frustrated police are rapidly losing control. Political parties quarrel on trivial issues, and only a fraction of the current political leaders want to trust and acknowledge God for anything. Anyone with eyes and a modicum of common sense can see the prophecy of Isaiah 3:12 unfold before us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his series on "A Government to Fear," contends that our current government has changed for the worse in the past 50 years, incrementally acquiring the modus operandi of tyrannical collective dictatorships like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Our governmental leaders have been following a socio-cultural cycle that has operated for millennia. When a group of people attain dominance (as is rapidly taking place under the humanist progressives), they seek to marginalize and eventually destroy all opponents. Currently, Tea Party activists and practicing Christians are becoming caricatured as buffoons and idiots, subjected to vicious name-calling and vilifying. In time, these stages will be followed by others, leading to criminalization and ultimately to the "final solution" or extermination. The willful media accomplices are participating in creating a kind of sinister doublespeak, creating new definitions for hate speech. The movers and shakers of the current government know that whoever controls the language controls the debate; whoever controls the debate controls the law; whoever controls the law controls the government; whoever controls the government controls the people. We need to shake ourselves from the infectious torpor and apathy of the beguiled American citizenry now being incrementally enslaved.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on the connotations of the word "circumspect," admonishes us to examine everything cautiously, circling around a speck [360 degrees], until we can see all sides. As we exercise circumspection (or perhaps being circum-suspect) we must take God's will for us into our cautious examining in our prayers, study, and meditation, emulating the Psalmist's David commitment to God to walk circumspectly, avoiding the world's alluring distractions. We have to learn from the mistakes we have made, determined to mature spiritually, taking ourselves away from the dangers we have previously encountered, harnessing our behavior, including our tongues.
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.
Time is perhaps our most precious commodity, and once it passes, it is lost forever. Even so, we tend to waste it at a profligate rate. With the tragic story of the Donner Party's journey to California as a background, Mike Ford encourages us make wise use of the time we have left because it is inexorably running out.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Over the past several days, I have been very uncomfortable. Since my adrenal fatigue set in during the summer of 2008, I have had a more-or-less persistent ache in the area of my right hip....
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 Bible is well known as a Book of prophecy, but what is the true purpose of prophecy? Is it merely to enlighten us about the future, so that the "wise" will have an advantage over everyone else when the time comes? Charles Whitaker suggests that God's spiritual purposes for prophecy concern the subjects of warning and keeping.
David C. Grabbe: As shown previously, the problem of Nannyism arises when the governments of men take on increasing responsibility and control, and the people relinquish their responsibilities to allow someone else to take care of them. ...
Not too long ago, in doing some tidying up around the house, I came across a bottle of red wine that we had opened for a dinner party who knows when. ...
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
How can we evaluate whether our Feast is 'good' or not? Using God's criticism of Israel's feasts in Amos 5, John Ritenbaugh shows that the pilgrimage locations of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal provide instruction about what God wants us to learn from His feasts.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, 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 Babylonic 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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: I have always liked words, though they are nothing in themselves but symbols of meanings. ...
Of all people, one might think, Christians should be the most blessed, yet they often fall under heavy trials. However, the reality is that God is putting us through the paces, correcting us and refining us, to bring us to salvation.
Directing his comments to teenagers and young people, John Ritenbaugh focuses on the epidemic of Adolescent Invincibility Disorder Syndrome, an affliction in which young people foolishly imagine themselves to be invincible and impervious to harm. Young people in the church must realize that not only is God's law no respecter of persons, but also sanctification can be lost. Young people must aim at self-mastery and self-discipline, developing patience, thinking ahead to the consequences of behavior. God's law proscribes death for a young person who curses his parents, and being cut off from God's divine guidance has just as deadly a consequence. Young people need to cultivate early the habit of remembering God, embracing His law as their code of life.
Because Israel experienced a type of baptism in passing through the Red Sea on the last day of Unleavened Bread about 3,500 years ago (Exodus 14:29; I Corinthians 10:1-4), Richard Ritenbaugh rehearses basic scriptures on baptism. The etymology of baptism - from the Greek baptizo (to immerse) from the root bapto (to dip), symbolizing death, burial, redemption, and resurrection (Romans 6:4) - requires the practice of total immersion. Baptism represents the destruction of our carnal selves and a resurrection to a new life. Baptism is not for children because one needs to be mature to understand its meaning and eternal consequences. It is a one-time event, a break-off point involving repentance (Acts 2:38) and commitment to a lifetime of bearing fruit, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
On the heels of self-deception and self-justification often comes self-righteousness. This obstacle to overcoming occurs when we set our own standards rather than God's.
The church of the Laodiceans is today's prevalent attitude. Is there hope? Can a Laodicean be in God's Kingdom?
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the Sabbath constitutes a recurring appointment with the Deity, a special time for developing and building our relationship with God. It is from the proper use of this day—in fellowshipping with Him and getting to know Him—that we derive true spiritual rest and refreshment. Keeping the Sabbath properly, as a special date with God, will restore our energy, renew our strength, and liberate us from bondage to sin and worldly entanglements. We need to vigilantly guard our minds from any unlawful desire which detracts from the Sabbath, taking the place of God. This idol will destroy our relationship from God. We desperately need this vital seventh of our lives to rehearse and experience what we are to become.
John Ritenbaugh warns that it is possible to have an enjoyable feast, but not keep the feast properly, failing to derive any spiritual profit. God expects the Feast of Tabernacles to be the spiritual high of the year. Paradoxically, if we go to the Feast with the goal of physically enjoying, we may lose out on both the spiritual and physical benefits. The attitude and purpose for keeping the Feast should focus upon the spiritual: serving, growing, overcoming, transforming, and producing spiritual fruit. The lesson of Amos 5 indicates that going through the motions, perhaps superstitiously acknowledging the historical ambience of the event, but in a smug, carnal, self-indulgent mode - without including the spiritual component - makes the entire event an abomination.
Anger is often thought to be a negative emotion, but the Bible shows that anger can be used for good purposes. We can use godly anger to flush sin out!
With the end of the Cold War, are we entering a time of peace? Hardly, says Earl Henn. Human nature remains the same, so war is never far off!
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
The book of Amos is an astounding prophecy, closely paralleling the conditions in modern Israel today. This first part deals with introductory materials, Israel's covenant responsibilities, God's judgment and how unrighteousness affects society.
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
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 reiterates that Satan and his demons regard us as invaders of their first estate, and have consequently have engaged us in a fierce spiritual battle to destroy our relationship with God and His purpose for us to be born into His Family. We fight our battle in the mind, in the subtle thought processes (II Corinthians 10:5). We need to be aware of Satan's modus operandi, including the stratagem of disinformation (subtle, plausible lies) spread through false ministers (wolves in sheep's clothing; Matthew 7:15), teaching the smooth, broad way to destruction, encouraging spiritual fornication and eventual enslavement to sin. The apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (I John 4:1-3), making sure that belief and practice are carefully aligned.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the false religions embraced by the descendants of Jacob are not preparing God's people for the harsh punishment God will surely bring to modern Israel. Amos indicts rampant dishonest practices in modern Israel, placing dishonest gain above honesty, morality, or ethics, and arrogantly and covetously exploiting the needy for profit. Competition-eat or be eaten- becomes the dominant business ethic in modern Israel. Amos suggests that a major contributory cause of natural disasters (earthquakes, drought, famines, and floods) is the epidemic of immorality omnipresent in the land of Jacob (totally neutralizing the otherwise positive effects of prosperity and technology)Prophecy should serve as a prod or motivation to prepare appropriately for the future, zealously guarding the truth against a counterfeit (politically active or influential) syncretistic pagan religion [patterned after the manner of Jeroboam I], safeguarding against an impending famine of the word. God will demolish this satanic religious-political system, re-gathering a repentant bruised and battered remnant of His people.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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