Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that, because of our unique perceptions, praying according to God's will is not always clear and self-evident. Certain things are beyond our current understanding or need-to-know. Hence, though God had personally revealed to Abraham what He would do, Abraham knew there were some bedrock standards upon which God would not budge and he would have to accept the outcome on faith. Abraham knew, as we should know, that God is always just, merciful, and compassionate. God's will is an attribute of purpose, bringing about every action necessary for activity. God exercises will whenever He establishes whatever He does, including gathering His Called-out ones to the Feast of Tabernacles to make a total sacrifice and commitment to His divine purpose. Even when we take a detour from His intended plan, God employs mechanisms to make a course change—mechanisms which may include some unpleasantness. Nothing can move the mind of God off track; nothing can thwart His plan. God is self-limiting: He cannot lie, He cannot cease to exist, and He cannot sin, demonstrating aspects to which we must conform. Yet, God has made some free choices regarding His creation, including the spiral pattern of the some galaxies, including creating zebras, giraffes, and platypuses to confound atheist evolutionists, including choosing the weak and base people to confound the wise ones. God's will is the basis of every aspect of His creation. As God's called-out ones respond affirmatively to His covenant, He reveals more and more of His secret plans. God's written Word has more insights than anyone could absorb in an entire lifetime. We should drink in this wisdom, realizing that in all situations, God knows best.
Joe Baity maintains that absorbing the culture of the world can damage our credibility as ambassadors of God's Kingdom. Abraham's nephew pitched his tent toward Sodom and incrementally absorbed the ways of his new home. As a 'righteous' man, he expediently opted for the evil of fornication to prevent homosexual sodomy. Likewise, Lot's daughters learned from the culture of Sodom that incest may be a necessary to preserve the family. When the Worldwide Church of God cozied up to the world's culture, the leaders started to accept premises which eroded God's precious law. As God's called-out ones, we have an obligation to separate ourselves from the evil influence of the world's culture in the same way that Moses did (rejecting the title of grandson to the Pharaoh) and Abraham also (remaining nomadic for his entire life). We need to resist the lure of the world to pitch our tent toward Sodom as Lot did. Love for the world's ways constitutes enmity for God and His law.
Martin Collins, emphasizing that God does not do anything randomly, reveals that even scientists advancing the so-called chaos theory have discovered that disintegration and breakdown (entropy) proceed according to orderly laws. Dr. James Gleick, in his exposition of the Butterfly Effect, observes that even an apparently chaotic event like falling water is governed by predictable laws of physics. Amazingly, some deluded scientists, with all this substantiation of order, continue to advance the evolutionary hypothesis—an untenable position that order can somehow be the product of chaos. God is a God of order and not confusion; all He does follows a specific order—summarized by the adage, a time and a place for everything. One does not laugh and joke at a funeral nor weep uncontrollably at a wedding. Likewise, there is nothing inconsequential or out of place in God's Word, including 1.) the order of Noah's entering and leaving the ark, 2.) the order in which Jacob placed his servants and family in his meeting with Esau, 3.) the order in which Jacob and Moses blessed the tribes of Israel, 4.) the order in which Abraham and Lot separated their families and assets and 5.) the order in which Joshua dispatched the tribes into the Promised land. God made careful distinction between light and darkness, creating boundaries between clean and unclean, profane and holy, insisting that the time He has made holy be kept in a different manner from the rest of the time cycles. The Sabbath serves as the basic time-marker of the week, the year, and the Jubilee. To everything there is a season when the appropriate behavior is expected. God's called-out ones strive to yield to God's timing, realizing that the steps of a good man are ordered by God.
John Ritenbaugh, citing an article about a transgender male entering an all-female competition in a Connecticut high school, besting all the girls, suggests that public acceptance of this 'transgender' aberration has imprinted a malignant character defect on our culture. Western culture has come to accept sin as a norm, calling evil good and good evil. Just as Satan told Mother Eve, "You will not die," so the arch deceiver has also convinced the 'progressivist' legislators, educators, and medical communities that gender is a psychological 'choice' rather than one assigned by the Creator. Liberal educators and legislators have marshaled a deceitful attack on God and have defined sin as normal and even 'delightful.' The bitter and poisonous fruit of this onslaught of liberal teaching is that our culture has lost its virtue. One Missouri state legislator stated, "If there is truth, there must be a higher authority to decide what truth is. If everything is true, nothing is true. If truth is relative, our property and life are in danger." We must fight to hang onto our virtue, or it will vanish.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that we make choices every day of our lives, cautions that though a choice be large or small, everything matters. Sadly, we make most choices with very little thought The miscalculation based on the fear of famine prompted Abraham to go to Egypt, though God did not intend for him to take that course. Abraham, at this juncture, having a crisis of faith, did not trust God to take care of his family's physical needs. The episode involving his half-lie to Pharaoh lost Abraham considerable ground. Any self-seeking distrust may cost years of spiritual maturity or character. Even though we may have botched our lives and opportunities, we can, through repentance, like the Prodigal Son, be restored, but we may have to begin from scratch. Why risk this with a careless choice? Abram had to learn that God gives material prosperity to those who are not seeking it. Those who seek riches are destined to fall into a snare. People who seek to be rich are tempted to do all kinds of wrong things to achieve it. Fox-like cunning and wolf-like rapacity and self-centeredness characterize much of the world's business acumen. Abraham reveals his restored faith in his reaction to Lot's presumptuous choice, expressing therein his willingness to yield in a spirit of generosity, expecting God to supply all his needs. The less we strive about our 'rights,' the more our lives will be wrapped in peace. Lot was deceived by his eyes, choosing the watered plains of Jordan, leaving his uncle with the 'less desirable' hill country. Abram gave of himself; Lot took for himself. Abram made his choice by faith; Lot made his choice by sight. Abram became the friend of God; Lot distanced himself from God. Who made the right choice?
John Ritenbaugh, observing that the entire world is under the sway of the wicked one, asserts that if mankind were left under the control of its own choices, the world would revert to the condition before the Flood, totally inspired by the great deceiver—Satan the devil. This predilection toward evil is revealed by such classical political satires as Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and the Time Bandits, depicting Satan as continually stirring the pot of carnality. In this chaotic world, God's called-out ones can never leave God out of the picture, remembering that God is already implementing His own program which will totally reverse—engineer all of mankind's Satanically-inspired systems. Satan's aspirations, a series of "I wills" listed in Isaiah 14:12-14, are checkmated by God's aspirations in Genesis 12, a series of "I wills" establishing the destiny for Abraham and his offspring forever. Abraham was God's friend, and as such perhaps the second—most important personage after Jesus Christ. Abraham had to grow and overcome like everyone else, but he set the bar high when it came to obedience, continually realizing that God was the molder and that he was the artifact, acquiring the distinction as the father of the faithful, exemplifying trust and dependency on God, a trait absolutely necessary in all those called out of this world. Following in Abraham's footsteps, once we are called out of the world, we must live our entire lives trusting God, faithfully exercising the spiritual gifts God has given us. Abraham, whose physical walk with God mirrored his spiritual walk with God, symbolizes the walk each spiritual offspring of Abraham must take. Before we receive the blessings promised to Abraham's children, we pass through this world's decaying culture as aliens, seeking God by faith, the most important characteristic we could acquire.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
We worship a God, who, though all-powerful and loving, seems to display irreconcilable contradictions, such as His great wrath and His deep compassion. Charles Whitaker explains that these are not contradictory traits but rigorous responses to sin and its consequences. Though His wrath burns hot "for a little while," His compassion follows quickly after, bringing restoration.
Joe Baity, focusing upon the cautionary statement of Christ in Luke 17:32, "Remember Lot's Wife," examines the possible motivation for God's choosing a salty demise for Lot's wife. In Genesis 19, we read the detailed account of how the super-patient angels continually urged Lot and his family to get out of Sodom as quickly as possible. Lot, having established roots in Sodom, precariously and dangerously lingered, having contracted the deadly contagion of worldliness. The angels gave Lot and family five urgent warnings, but they stubbornly dragged their feet. Lot expressed the desire to go to Zoar rather than follow the angels to a place of safety. Lot, as the patriarch, undoubtedly marched all his family ahead of him, looking out for their safety. His wife would have had to look around him, expressing a longing for the culture they had left; the consequences evidently took place in a split second, shocking Lot to the depths of his nervous system. The choice of salt seems to be intertwined with its use as a preservative, in this case to preserve the memory of the consequences for longing to go back into the sinful world after one has been delivered. Lot, by clinging to the customs and culture of Sodom, was partly to blame for the demise of his wife. He immediately was persuaded of the seriousness of the situation and opted to move beyond Zoar. We must remember that the more we cling to the world, the more Satan can tug at our emotions to reject God's calling. We have a mandate to flee idolatry and the contagion of worldliness, realizing if we seek to save our lives by embracing worldliness, we will lose our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Exodus 12:1-2, heralding the beginning of the sacred year in the springtime, when the foliage is sprouting and budding, points out that this season corresponds to one of the sacred appointed times of the year, the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Hebrew word used to mark these appointed times, regalim (or feet), connotes walking or a pilgrimage. The Hebrew year contained five paces, steps, or seasons, all corresponding to God's holy times. Patterns of five, grasped conveniently by the five digits of each hand, suggest grace or providence. Groupings of five arrange the seasons, the Torah (Pentateuch), the Megillot (Festival Scrolls), the Five Books of Psalms, and the summary Psalms. These recurring sets of five have common themes and patterns. The Song of Songs takes place in the springtime, awakening romance and love between the Shulamite and her Beloved, parallel to the romance between Christ and the Church. Genesis consists of a book of stories, accounts of the beginning of things, showing the consequences of wise and foolish choices. The Psalms in Book One of the Psalms deal with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, uttered by David, but lived by Jesus Christ. The themes consist of trust in God, suffering, facing opposition, and persecution, the Messianic themes of redemption, salvation, and kingship, leadership, and rulership, distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, two separate paths with two separate ends, tests and trials leading to hope, growth, and fruit. Psalm 1 is an instructional psalm, delineating two distinctive paths with positive consequences (derived from meditating the things of God) and paths with negative consequences (as a result of rejecting God and His instructions). Jesus Christ is the personification of all that instruction. When God calls us out the world, He transplants us next to His stream of living water, enabling us to bear spiritual fruit and attain eternal life.
Christianity is not for the faint of heart. As we have seen, Jesus urges us to "count the cost" of discipleship to see if we have what it takes, and many of the patriarchs had to choose between God and family ...
Mike Ford, asking us to thoughtfully calculate the cost of our discipleship, warns us about the perils of looking, using the metaphor of plowing a furrow with a plow behind an animal. Looking back is dangerous because we may plow a crooked furrow and get hopelessly off course. Consequently, we must soberly count the cost before we embark on plowing our spiritual furrow: are we willing to give up our job, our family, or even our own life to follow God's plan for us? Can we really say that God's requirements are far too difficult? Sometimes, our family members may turn against us. The survey of Genesis reveals multiple instances of loss, forcing each biblical character to count the cost. Examples include Adam and Eve (losing two sons and a daughter), Noah (losing all but a few members of his family), Abraham (separating from his father, his nephew Lot, from Ishmael, and in his mind losing Isaac), Isaac and Rebecca (losing the companionship of both their sons, Jacob (losing the companionship of Joseph, Joseph (losing his family for an extended period of time. All these were willing to pay a high price in anticipation of something exceedingly greater. Many of us, after our calling, have had to give up the intimacy of our extended and often our immediate family. Our calling has been exceedingly expensive by the death of our Elder Brother, who had to endure a brief separation from God the Father. Our role as kings and priests and members of God's family will enable us to renew relationships with friends and family which have temporarily become estranged but not permanently lost.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the New Testament city of Corinth, the Old Testament city of Sodom, and the Church, finds some disturbing parallels and similarities. The focus of I Corinthians is practical advice on how to live a Christian life in an ungodly venue. Secular progressivism has successfully pushed God out of the picture in every sector of the culture. Corinth went through many of the same challenges that America is going through today. America, like ancient Corinth (also having a multicultural focus) espouses perverted sexual practices on a daily basis. Today there are serious factions in the greater church of God as well as almost all of the other problems occurring in Corinth. By using I Corinthians as a practical manual of surviving in a "Sodom-like" culture, we can strengthen our guard against the deadly, corrosive aspects of our current corrupt and perverted culture, having both excesses of wealth and time. Paul writes to the Corinthian congregation, stating that they have been sanctified by Christ, called to holiness, just as other congregations have also been set apart. Paul realized that he needed to encourage them before correcting them about disunity and cliquishness. Paul reminds them and us that if Christ were central in our focus, and we were all tapped into God's Holy Spirit, we would be unified. Party spirit, whether religious or political, denotes carnality. Paul cautions that it is unwise to pick favorite ministers (all of whom are servants and stewards of God, all accountable to God) clustering into divisive cliques. Paul warned the Corinthians not to go hastily to court, but instead to develop Godly judgment. The Corinthian congregation was warned not to use their religious liberty to put new members with weak consciences in jeopardy. Corinth was warned about excessive complaining, lust, and idolatry. Corinth showed lack of judgment regarding decorum, exercising spiritual gifts, and demonstrating concrete acts of love. The Corinthians allowed Platonic thought to undermine t
God's prophets have a difficult job. They see the world around them through God's eyes, and they are tormented by the rising tide of sin and the coming destruction it will bring. Charles Whitaker focuses on a few of Ezekiel's visions to reveal what is really happening behind the scenes and how God's people should respond to it.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
Using the analogy of Maestro Arturo Toscanini's ability to anticipate mistakes or sense when something was amiss, Martin Collins examines the vital subject of discernment— both physical and spiritual. Human discernment, according to Dr. N. Scott Peck, can be developed and exercised, triggering early warning systems with the reactions of revulsion and confusion when confronted by the presence of evil. Discernment can be developed by paying close attention to a person's vocabulary, his tone of voice, laughter, and body language. True spiritual discernment is a gift from God imparted through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to judge between good and evil, comparing things in life with God's word to see whether it matches God's standard. Like human discernment, spiritual discernment must be exercised by daily use until it becomes a habit. (Hebrews 5:14)
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.
Lot's wife is best known for that fact that she looked back and became a pillar of salt. What was so important that she yearned for Sodom? Ted Bowling explains why her example is important to us today.
John Ritenbaugh, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with a misguided teacher in the W.C.G. who claimed that fleeing is nothing more than a "cop-out," using Psalm 91 as his proof-text. Many biblical examples, including Jesus, David, and Jacob all fled for their lives in a prudent common sense move(proving that discretion is often the best part of valor.) On the other hand, Noah, Lot, and Enoch received forcible nudges from God. Scriptural hints seem to indicate a literal location (Revelation 12:13, Isaiah 42:11, Isaiah 16:3-4) for a refuge protecting a remnant of the church. God wants us to use both faith and common sense, recognizing that God's purpose may run counter to what we may think is best for us.
John Ritenbaugh ponders the qualifier "righteous" when applied to Lot. Unlike Abraham who separated himself from sinful society, Lot seemed to involve himself in the affairs of the perverted city, arrogating to himself the role of a judge, attempting to change the behavior of the people- but nevertheless, attempting to co-exist with sin. Evidently Lot's close proximity to the evil behavior, while not corrupting him personally, gave him a somewhat confused divided attention, compromising the safety and morality of his family, leading him to prostitute his principles to gain favor of the world. When communicating with God, Lot, unlike Abraham, equivocated with God's instructions, looking for conditions and escape clauses, showing him to be a very self-centered, worldly wise, carnal Christian, attached to or compromised by the values of the corrupt world.
Abraham's example has taught us that in our attempt at living by faith, we do not have a smooth transition from begettal to maturity, but the annoying or pesky problems we deal with are gradually removed (gradually disconnected) or conquered by faith and our relationship with God. God removes us from our problems in an unraveling process, sometimes taking us backwards through the consequences of the bad habits we have accumulated, educating us to examine and analyze the process that produced the sin in the first place. Character cannot be created by fiat, but must be created in a climate of free moral agency, learning the consequences of our mistakes (as had Abraham, Sarah, and Lot) as well as the consequences of our right behavior. From Lot's example, we learn not to blend or syncretize God's ways with the world's ways.
In this study, John Ritenbaugh teaches us that Abraham's iron clad faith was developed incrementally as a result of calculating or "adding it all up," matching the promises of God (perceiving His overall intent) with the current situation, realizing from his ongoing relationship with God, that it was impossible for Him to lie. We learn from Abraham's experience to trust God even when we have incomplete data. We learn from Abraham's experience, that when we attempt to take the expedient way out (embracing a carnal or worldly solution), we will run into grave difficulties- forcing us back to the fundamentals of faith. As descendents of Abraham, we must learn to trust God, forming an on-going relationship with Him, realizing that God's ways and the world's ways do not mix.
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.
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