Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon an inspiring incident in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which a runner, Derek Redmond, who had previously dropped out of competition because of an injured Achilles tendon, had another setback, a pulled hamstring, causing him to suddenly fall to the ground after having been in a commanding lead. Writhing in pain, with dogged determination, he managed, with some help from his devoted father, to finish the race. His inspiring example provides a spiritual analogy to all of God's called-out ones who must continually battle external obstacles (as well as the inner obstacles of carnal human nature), erecting a formidable barrier of resistance. The elite athlete, not always the one with the superior skills, nevertheless is the one with the gritty persistence to fight on regardless of the obstacles, wanting nothing to do with mediocrity. Persistence is the key attribute, having the attending synonyms endurance, steadfastness, or staying the course. Jesus counseled the value of this trait in the examples of the persistent neighbor asking for a loaf of bread in the middle of the night and the importunate widow who wore out the judge. Isaac provided a wonderful example of this tenacity, as he trusted God, repeatedly moving away from quarrelsome situations, trusting God to provide. Isaac, as a type of Christ, prefigured Jesus' returning to God the Father for sustenance and strength. Similarly, we are to return to the well of God's Spirit if we are to move forward. To develop Godly persistence, we should (1) have a clearly defined goal we desire with all our heart, (2) have a clearly established plan we can work on immediately, (3) make an irrevocable decision to reject all negative suggestions, and (4) accept encouragement and help from those on the same path.
Richard Ritenbaugh, pointing to I and II Chronicles as the most overlooked and most infrequently cited book, a document the Greeks referred to as a miscellaneous compilation of 'things omitted' from I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, maintains that Chronicles looks upon history with a different perspective, a different take on the subject matter, on how Judah's successes corresponded to the degree the people submitted themselves to God. The facts, compiled by a writer having the complete Old Testament documents in hand, living in the volatile Intertestamental period, seven or eight generations after Zerubbabel, reached some powerful theological conclusions never broached by the writers of Samuel or Kings. His mode of delivery resembles more of a thesis paper with theological conclusions, an extended commentary on blessings and curses, containing inspiring examples of answered prayers in examples like Jabez, whose mother had apparently cursed his future by giving him an uncomplimentary name, and in the dramatic turn-around in Rehoboam's military exploits when he humbled himself before God. The thesis of the entire book seems to be that when God's people seek Him in repentance and humility, God comes to their aid; if they keep the terms of the covenant, they succeed; if not, they fail. God responds to those who seek Him and helps those who stay in alignment with His will. The themes of Chronicles are calling upon the Lord, seeking Him, and remembering His works.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
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.
The first commandment sets the stage for Mike Ford's review of Genesis 22, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. He suggests that God wanted to know one thing: Would Abraham put Him first and have no other god?
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.
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.
Sometimes, we get down because we think that all our labors for God have gone unnoticed. Elijah did, and his story points out a major lesson we all would do well to heed today.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Abraham did not live out his days in the land of promise, insists that it is not where one is, but the relationship with God that is more important. Abraham's offspring had to realize that they could not receive God's favor on Abraham's coattails, as in the largely superstitious behavior of erecting shrines and making pilgrimages to Beersheba, Gilgal, and Bethel. Based on his long friendship with God, Abraham could systematically calculate the reliability of God's promises even in the lack of visual evidence. Having sterling faith, he knew that God would never "play dirty" and consequently remained unswerving in his commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh torpedoes some popular misconceptions about the father of the faithful, revealing that Abraham did not come from a primitive, but a highly advanced civilization, having huge multi-storied dwellings with running water and indoor lavatories. The size of Abraham's retinue indicates that, far from being an ignorant desert nomad, he was a highly influential man of incredible financial substance. It appears that God used Abraham's skills as an astronomer and mathematician and publisher to help build Egypt's infrastructure at a time when it was being unified under one dynasty, enabling Egypt to become a major power. This study also goes into Abram's and Sarai's name change, the deception of Abraham, claiming the half truth that Sarah was his sister, and Lot's fateful choice, leading to a dilution of the Assyrian power.
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 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 observed that ancient Israel had regarded Bethel (as well as Gilgal and Beer Sheba) as a sacred shrine (a place where Jacob had been transformed —his name changed to Israel) but were not becoming spiritually transformed as a result of pilgrimages to these locations. One example of their residual carnality was the corruption of their court system- a striking parallel to modern Israel. We need to remember that Amos is written to the end-time church, urging that true religion is not a way to God but from God, emphasizing that (1) we must have a real love for God's truth, (2) submit to God as our part of the relationship, (3) be concerned about earning God's approval, (4) have moral integrity, and (5) exercise social responsibility. Amos warned ancient and modern Israel not to exalt symbolism over substance- a condition leading to Jacob's trouble or the Great tribulation. We need to secure our relationship with God (and our quest for holiness-involving action, emotion, and thought), not taking His grace for granted realizing that God will not budge one inch with his law.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Amos severely chides Israel for exalting symbolism over substance, superstitiously trusting in locations where significant historical events occurred: Bethel- the location of Jacob's pillar stone and Jacob's conversion; Gilgal- the location where the manna ceased and the Israelites partook of the produce of the land; and Beersheeba —the location from where Jacob journeyed to become reunited with his family. Consequently, Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheeba became associated with hope, possession, and fellowship. Amos seems to suggest, "it's not where you are, but what you are — or what you become." Instead of superstitiously regarding these locations like the shrines of Lourdes or Fatima, God's called out ones need to make permanent internal transformations in their lives. Likewise, going to a particular site for the Feast of Tabernacles is worthless if our lives are not permanently transformed by a close relationship with God, motivating us to keep His laws, and reflect His characteristics.
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