Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the Church of God should be at the forefront encouraging the reading of good literature. Faithfully translated, God's Word is the foremost example of good literature—containing examples of high-quality poetry, biography, history and even drama. Its frequent use of a large variety of multi-levelled figurative language is just one indicator of the quality of God's Word. Christ's description of His Words as Spirit and Life assure us that His Words (spoken or in print) have a quality that no other human words have because they have God, who by definition is Spirit, as their Source. Further, these words, if ingested, lead to eternal life. Seven sets of metaphors picture the uniqueness of the Holy Scripture. God's Word serves as: (1) A lamp and a light, identifying two aspects—an internal map or guidebook inside of us, and an external beacon illuminating the dangers around us (Psalm 119:105); (2) A health tonic for our spiritual body (Proverbs 4:20-22); (3) Rain and snow, initiating growth and fecundity (Isaiah 55:10-11); (4) A hammer and a fire, destroying evil and purifying us from sin (Jeremiah 23:8-9); (5) Food that nourishes our emerging spiritual bodies at every point on the sanctification process (Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 5:12); (6) A sword which can repel God's enemies with truth and an instrument to mortify our own carnal natures (Hebrews 4:12); and (7) Incorruptible seed which bears spiritual fruit (James 1:21, I Peter 1:22-23). God plants His Word and, as it interacts with His Spirit dwelling in us, expects a return on His investment (James 4:5), namely a high yield of Fruit (Galatians 5:22, John 15:4-5).
David Grabbe, focusing on the unsearchable judgments of God described in Romans 11:33, points out that sometimes human nature sees God's decisions as unfair, as in the slaying of Uzzah, the favoring of Isaac over Ishmael, the favoring of Jacob over Esau, or the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. When we internalize the fact that all of us have sinned and are worthy of death, we come to recognize that God has demonstrated far more mercy than harshness. God is not obligated to love anybody; we were all vessels of wrath before our calling. Romans 9 classifies mankind into two groups: vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. Anyone who is not a vessel of mercy is a vessel of wrath. God's will is the only thing that matters; we must accept the impeccable timing of all His judgments. Whether Jew or Gentile, we dare not be haughty about our calling, realizing that the favor God has given us is undeserved. As vulnerable lumps of clay on the potter's wheel, we cannot question God's divine purpose but must trust both the goodness and severity of God's.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Psalm 78 reveals Israel's intermittent fractured-and-restored-relationship with God, emphasizes that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them. Israel has forgotten her unique position as the only people to whom God has revealed Himself. Sadly, Israel is squandering this treasured opportunity. As God's called-out ones, we must recognize our distinctiveness, thereby ensuring that we do not emulate Israel's unfaithfulness. Just as Jesus Christ personally selected every one of His original apostles, so has He hand-picked us by the will of the Father (John 6:44). There will be no "self-made men" in God's Kingdom, He having empowered us to fulfill a particular role in His masterplan. We assist God by yielding to Him, obediently submitting to His Laws and bearing righteous fruit. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus qualified as High Priest, giving vital instruction about living by faith in the New Covenant, which mandates that we keep all His commandments. We must not fall for the dangerous heresy that "since Jesus kept the Commandments, we do not need to keep them." If we refuse to submit to God's Laws, we will not be in His Kingdom. Through obedience, we provide evidence that our love for God is genuine. The offspring of Jacob today are reaping the consequences of disobedience to God's Covenant; These consequences include (1.) hordes of aliens seeking to dominate and destroy the host culture, (2.) secularists persecuting those who believe in God, (3.) a welfare state stealing from the productive and gratify the indolent, and (4.) a Government using 'education' as a control mechanism.
Ryan McClure, taking us on a journey leading 20 trillion miles from earth, asks, "Is God personally involved with His Creation?" Deists believe they can prove the existence of God from His public revelation, that is, Creation itself. However, they assert that God has left this marvelous complex and interdependent creation to manage itself. Through the private revelation given to His called-out ones, God has provided ample assurance that He is actively involved in the maintenance of His creation, a revelation which includes the accounts of His direct interface with Adam and Eve, His instructions to Noah, and His interactions with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Hagar, Gideon, and with Samson's parents. Jesus assures us that even the hairs of our head are numbered. For God's called-out ones, the receptacles of His Holy Spirit, we carry His mind and thoughts with us continually. We can be sure that the omniscient God is not far off and will never leave us.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating the day-for-a-year-principle, maintains that, as we count the 50 days toward Pentecost, we should reconsider the events of our lives (whether life-changing ones or those we might regard as incidental), coming to understand that they reveal God's on-going maintenance of our spiritual lives. As we study the Megilloth Ruth, we see Naomi, described as a pleasant, attractive personality, a God-fearing, common-sense individual who put others before herself. Yet, for all that, she exhibits the negative trait of bitterness as she responds to a series of experiences which she initially defines as curses. Like Moses, Elijah, and nearly all of God's called-out ones, Naomi found it difficult to see God's hand at work in the "big picture" of things. Naomi's pessimism disappeared once she perceived God's hand behind apparently 'accidental' events, including Ruth gleaning in Boaz's field, or 'circumstantial' ones, such as the attention he showered upon her. Naomi soon realized that God had meticulously orchestrated, towards the accomplishment of His own purposes, the famine, the death of her husband and sons, the loyalty of Ruth, the gleaning episodes, the marriage of Ruth to Boaz and the birth of Obed. Naomi's blessings, the result of God's providence, were far greater than her earlier losses. Let us emulate Naomi in her awakening realization that God choreographs even horrible incidents in our lives in order to fulfill His purposes. Yielding to His purpose will give us the desire of our hearts.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that counting Pentecost should not be a thoughtless, mechanical act, but should involve deep reflection as to how God has steered our lives and as to how we are managing the spiritual resources He has graciously given each of us. The fifty days towards Pentecost likely symbolize the fifty years (on average) from the day of our baptism to the day we fall asleep. The Megilloth which we examine each Pentecost contains a fascinating narrative of a strong, enduring woman who outlived a relatively fearful husband and two sons. Naomi's attractive personality, selflessness, Godly conviction and common sense characterize her relationship with her Gentile daughters-in-law. She won the heart of her daughter-in law, Ruth. Despite her godly qualities, Naomi had a negative attribute: Her inability to believe that, through all her trials, God was working for the good of her and her family. Her request to be called Mara (or bitterness), rooted in her conviction that God had abandoned her, anticipates attitudes that many of God's called-out ones feel when overwhelmed by an experience we cannot understand. God, who knows the end from the beginning, realizes that we need a measure of affliction to stay on the trajectory that He has prepared for us. We need to emulate Naomi's godly behaviors, while shunning her inability to faithfully see God's hand at work in our lives.
Mark Schindler draws an analogy from the My Fair Lady, a musical adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, in which Phonetics professor Henry Higgins changes a Cockney working-class girl into a cultured member of elite aristocratic society by altering her pronunciation and other speech patterns. Higgins ultimately falls in love with his creation. Jesus is also transforming His Bride (the Church) into something exquisitely beautiful, mirroring His godly character. He is preparing us as First Fruits, ready and equipped to carry out our responsibilities. God has deliberately chosen the foolish and the base (like the guttersnipe of Pygmalion) to bring to shame those who are, in their own eyes, wise. Proverbs 31 provides an important key to understanding the role of Christ's Bride. The passage, beginning in verse 10, reveals a woman displaying the seven Christian virtues listed in 1I Peter 1:5-7. The composite picture of Proverbs 31 represents God's view of the Bride of Jesus Christ, excelling all other heroines of the Scriptures, the end-product of a meticulously executed transformation which theologians term "sanctification."
[Editor's note - Audio Quality improves at 5m30s] Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the spring cleaning associated with deleavening, reminds us that God is a God of order, sustaining and upholding all things, and encourages us to clean, maintain, dress and keep, improving what He has given us. As God's creation, He works to make improvements in each of us. Though we are sometimes neglectful, Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, is never neglectful, but is, with Our Heavenly Father, bringing all His called-out ones to spiritual maturity. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread rehearse the plan of God, beginning with our justification through Christ's blood, followed by a life-long sanctification process in which we discard sin, at the same time building Godly character by consuming the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In western culture, we have applied the command to deleaven (put out sin) and put on righteousness as an individual responsibility. In the Middle Eastern culture, people put the command in a communal light, with the patriarchs of each tribe showing a personal responsibility for their family. In the New Testament, Paul also puts the responsibility on the community, with husbands, wives, children, employers, and employees learning their responsibilities toward one another, indicating that our communal behavior can corrupt (symbolized by the fermentation of leaven) one another or provide a good example for one another. Our sphere of influence radiates far beyond ourselves to the entire community. If each of us individually puts out the leaven of malice and consume the Unleavened Bread of sincerity (free from hypocrisy), we would fulfill our community responsibility to our sphere of influence, cementing our relationships with one another, with Jesus Christ, and God the Father.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that only fools are blind to the marvels of Creation, observes that even empirical science has substantiated the need for six factors to support life: 1) crust, 2.) temperature, 3.) moon, 4.) star with a stable energy source, 5.) core, and 6.) right planetary neighbors. The earth, having all these prerequisites, displays the magnificent design demanding an Intelligent Creator (Romans 1:18). Human nature, without God's Spirit, follows a trajectory into ignorance and stupidity. If people do not believe in God, they will believe in anything, following the darkness of their unregenerate hearts. God has called some individuals now, crafting them as His workmanship, equipped for good works and the opportunity to be in His family. Unlike the Protestant notion that the end of the spiritual creation process is baptism, to be capped off with grace and eternal security, God's true Church teaches that the salvation process has merely begun, with the Sabbath being an integral part of sanctification. The Sabbath, a hallowed time of restorative rest, provides an opportunity for God's called-out sons and daughters to develop a relationship with Him, reflecting on the spiritual as well as the physical creation. Far from being a period of lounging, the Sabbath rest generates spiritual energy and develops a trusting relationship with the Creator. As God's called-out ones, we must not use the hallowed time for our carnal pleasures, but for renewing our relationship with our Creator. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a major key to our spiritual growth.
David C. Grabbe: In Part One, we began to dig into the biblical metaphor of producing fruit and the importance of the root to that process. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that the civil Festival of Purim in the Jewish community, commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in ancient Persia, explains that this festival is celebrated with a notable spirit of merriment because it depicts a miraculous rescue from a hopelessly impossible situation brought about by a perennial, anti-Semitism. In terms of plot of the Book of Esther, the writer uses a chiastic X-like pattern, in which a situation grows grave and hopeless in the first half of a narrative, leading up to a peripeteia (that is, the axis point or the center of the X), in which a sudden reversal takes place, turning everything around from hopelessness to joy. This ubiquitous pattern of a sudden reversal recurs throughout scripture, demonstrating how God deals with the children of Israel, humbling them into repentance in order that He may bring them good in the end. This pattern of reversal-of-fortune provides an insight as to how God deals with us individually. God allows each of us to experience trials and tests to humble us, leading us to repent, obey and trust. Going through this process we learn to be steadfast and to endure. The axial moment in the Book of Esther seems to be a series of mundane events beginning with the king's inability to sleep—- mundane, yet leading to Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai's advancement and the salvation of the Jewish people. These seeming coincidences (a powerful "unseen hand" reveals God's sovereign protection over His godly seed, which ultimately produced Our Savior Jesus Christ, who currently protects the godly spiritual seed (comprising the Church or the Israel of God, the Bride of Christ), descendants of Abraham through God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh dives into a study of the Abrahamic Covenant, a covenant made with one man which impacts all of mankind to the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth and beyond, involving billions of people. The Abrahamic Covenant is one of the most massive collection of promises of God ever made, promises of which most of mankind are not aware. The many cataclysmic events which have occurred after the Flood (such as World War II) indicate that human nature has not changed one iota. None of us are immune to the temptation of the worst kinds of sin, including adultery and murder. Nimrod, whose rogue kingdom brought about Babel and the Nephilim, was the grandson of Noah. Civilization changes rapidly, and hardly ever for the better because people rarely think about God, let alone obey Him. After the Flood, people had fair warning from God, from the preaching of Noah and Shem, but the clear majority rejected these teachings. Like our father, Abraham, we have been reared in a pagan culture, even though we may have once been 'nominally' Christian. The knowledge of God's plan is given from above—anothen—the beginning of something brand new. Our calling is exclusively God-driven, beyond our control. God is completely in charge of the people He is converting to become a part of His family. God's grace precedes faith, understanding, practice, and sanctification. We make use of His grace through our works. Conversion produces the works of God. We need to remember that, like our father Abraham, God's calling of us will tear us away from relationships we have had for decades. God told Abraham to go to a land that He would give to his descendants, where He would make him a great nation, bless him, and make his name great, blessing those who blessed him, and cursing those who cursed him.
Martin Collins, observing that, in the first five books in the Bible, there are no statements of "Thank you," nevertheless reminds us that the thank offerings in Leviticus 21:29 indicate that thanksgiving has a singularly profound meaning. King David was prolific in his expressions of gratitude to God, as was the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. We should be thankful to God for His Holy Spirit, freedom of worship, spiritual blessings, fellowship, as well as God's promise that He will finish what He has started and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Before the foundation of the world, God has already pre-destined specific calling and sanctification for individuals; God will keep on whittling away at our carnality until He has accomplished what He has purposed. The purpose of grace is to motivate good works, not to do away with them. Our first and foremost reaction to receiving God's Grace should be an outflow of love for our brethren, including the ones we have not met. Drawing an analogy from electrical theory, all good works depend on God's love, which is the pressure behind good works. Good works depend on a channel in which the amperage can be high. Our lives must not be filled with resistors which selfishly collect the flow or condensers which pirate this power for private use. The law of God multiplied by a life free of resistance equals good works. Our life must be freed from obstructions and imperfections, reflecting the fruits of the spirit as we are attached to the Vine, just as a faucet must be connected to a pipeline to produce water. Happiness is found only in the truth of God.
Charles Whitaker, focusing on the image of James and John mending their nets, asserts that, just as God maintains what He has framed, keeping it in good repair after He had repaired the damage Satan and his demons brought on the physical creation, not only restoring but adding value to make it better, so we, as God's workmanship, cooperate with our Heavenly Father to maintain and repair damage inflicted on what has been entrusted to us as we make our spiritual journey, not only repairing what has become damaged, but actually improving and enhancing its quality. God improved the physical creation by adding mankind and the Sabbath. When auto enthusiasts restore old automobiles, they add custom features such as better steering wheels, souped-up carburetors, or better radios, improving the value of the vehicle. God's initial command to Adam and Eve was to dress and keep the Garden of Eden. For our task of restoration and maintaining, God has given us spiritual gifts that enable us to accomplish our part of the task, equipping and strengthening us for the arduous sanctification process that God began before the foundation of the earth. God has laid the foundation before the foundation of the earth, and will maintain, repair, and mend until the project is completed, promising to remain with us from start to finish. Our responsibility is to run the race with our whole might, knowing that God has provided us everything we need to win, and has promised to never give up on us as long as we maintain our part of the covenant He has made with us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the episode of God's rescuing of Noah and his family from the devastating flood, marvels about the perennial biblical patterns that never change, serving as an unambiguous teaching device. That rescue indicates God has never saved anybody by works. Everything, the physical and spiritual creation, begins with God, including the establishment of a family line from Seth to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Christ. Paradoxically God writes comparatively little about the first, and perhaps the greatest hero of faith, the father of all mankind after the rest of the world disappears, save for the evaluation that he did according to all God commanded him. What Noah built became the means of salvation of his family. Genesis 8-9 could be considered an overview of the entire plan of salvation. The time preceding the great flood parallels the time we are living through right now. The narrative demonstrates that clearing out an entire population of troublemakers did not solve the endemic and recurring problem of the deceptive, evil human heart. Only God's calling to each of us individually, followed by repentance and a rigorous conversion/sanctification process, will safeguard us from the fiery holocaust which will envelope this entire world. As God demonstrated grace by motivating Noah to build an ark to transport his family to safety, God has similarly provided a protective ark for His called-out ones today, namely His Church. Just as Noah's family had to help build the ark, we have been placed in the church with specific spiritual gifts, just as Noah had received, to help build up and edify the body or our place in the ark. Are we going to help build the ark or watch others build it? As Noah never forgot the Source of grace, we also should never forget that everything depends on God's generosity. We must emulate father Noah's humility, rejecting Satan's puffed up pride, remembering that just as God gifted Noah, He will also gift us for the specific task we have to do.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
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, ..."
David C. Grabbe: Time-lapse cinematography—such as a five-minute video clip composed of 100,000 slightly different pictures—is a useful way of understanding how each moment of our lives relates to the overall progression. So even though a present "snapshot" of our lives looks dismal, it cannot reveal what happens next. ...
David C. Grabbe: Some time back, The Weather Channel website featured the creative works of Shawn Reeder, a man who bills himself as a visual artist. Among Reeder’s specialties is time-lapse cinematography, ...
Martin Collins discusses the apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, a group of dispirited, despairing Christians who had been bombarded by false teachings that the Day of the Lord had already come, prompting many to quit their employment, rest on their laurels, and become busy-bodies, as well as leading the leaders to express doubt and fear that the congregation would ever make the grade. Paul encourages the bewildered Thessalonians, suggesting that the purposes for the suffering they were now enduring consists of (1) growing in spiritual character, providing examples to the other congregations, (2) being prepared for future glory, and (3) glorifying Christ today. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to thank God for their salvation, surrender without complaint, ask God to give wisdom, and to watch for opportunities to serve, waiting patiently for God to work His purpose. We cannot be so excited about Christ's return that we neglect our own overcoming and character development. Because God's Church is under judgement now, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must submit to God's summons to a life of purity and sacrifice. God can and will supply strength and power to all those who have been called, but our aspiration and goal of conforming to His image has to motivate our current performance. If we humbly trust in God, all of our works will bear fruit. In order for God to grow a church, the faith of its members must be strengthened through trials, love must increase, and hope must persevere, enduring under trial. Tribulation produces perseverance, which in turn leads to reciprocal glory with Christ.
David Grabbe, examining the righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job, asks what this righteousness consisted of. God characterizes Job as blameless, far beyond Pharisaical law-keeping. Job assiduously avoided the wrong things, but consistently practiced the right things, like visiting the orphans and providing for the widows. Even Satan did not bring an accusation against Job. Job desired to meet God face-to-face, as if he considered himself on equal footing with the Creator. After 34 chapters of point and counterpoint, God obliges Job and begins putting things into perspective. God is the sovereign Creator; Job is not. Job, like the rest of us, was the way he was because of the work of the Creator, forming Job's righteousness out of nothing, carefully guiding events before Job's birth and providing an environment in which Job's character could be formed. Without God's intervention and adoption, we are all Satan's children. Job indeed was blameless, but he, like many of us, lost sight of the vast difference between God and humans, forgetting our pitiful vulnerability. God may have highlighted Leviathan because Job seemed to be following in Satan's footsteps. God has called the weak and the base; when we think too highly of ourselves, we open the door to all manner of evil.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on a funeral sermon he delivered suggested that the deceased person had displayed spiritual gifts (i.e., designated as Cook County Foster Mother of the Year) long before she had been called into God's church. God evidently has had each of us in His radar scope long before the foundation of the world, realizing how we would emerge and develop spiritually, reaching our ultimate destination as a spirit being in His family. If God has called every star by name, knows when every sparrow falls, and has numbered all of our hairs, He surely has given some thought as to how each of us fit into the body of Christ, and which gifts He gives us to edify the body and fulfill His purpose. God's unsearchable mind and unfathomable power has included us in His marvelous plan, taking pleasure in those who honor Him. Our destination has been meticulously prepared for; sometimes we are just too nearsighted to see it or even imagine it in our mind's eye. It is imperative that we stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, catching the vision of our marvelous destination, putting to use those spiritual gifts He has given us in His service, enlarging the worth of the Royal Fortune.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on the potter and clay analogy, reminds us that the Master Potter continually molds and shapes His people. Finding different kinds of clay in the riverbed, he weathers it to the point it stinks (like our own sins), and then pounds the clay on a hard surface, rolling and mashing it, getting rid of the lumps, smashing, pulling apart. All these actions are analogous to bringing all of our sins to the surface, rebuking us and chastising us in love. The potter then cuts the clay (with a device sharper than any two-edged sword), and pounds it again with a rubber mallet to remove all air bubbles. God has been preparing us from the day we are converted and will continue to work with us until the day we die, making sure that we stand the test of time. To battle temptations of this world is not easy. Being molded means continuous change; God needs to know our reactions from test to test. As the Master Potter, God will apply the water of His Holy Spirit to make us more malleable, enabling Him to turn the lump of clay into a flawless work. Life was designed to be full of tests, trials, and temptations, but the Father, who considers us the apple of His eye, is not far off. Those who overcome evil and endure will inherit all things.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating the five symmetrical and correlative sets of documents and events (the Torah, the Megilloth, the books of the Psalms, the summary psalms, and the five seasons), focuses on second set (comprising Book 2 of Psalms, Exodus, Ruth, Psalm 147, and the Pentecost season). In this section, the psalmist David invariably uses the term Elohim, or Creator, connoting power, strength, and infinite intelligence. As Creator, God has undertaken a physical and spiritual creation that is continual and ongoing. The psalmist want us to see the Creator who is in the process of preparing a spiritual creation, through the means of His law and His Holy Spirit, treading through a formidable wilderness, culminating in the Bride of Christ. David as a prototype Christian faced multiple trials requiring trust and dependency on God. Like the psalmist David, when we experience severe trials, we must learn to trust God, anticipating that things will eventually turn around for our good. We can distill valuable insights and lessons from the trials we go through, enabling us to grow in character, and to thrive even as we suffer for righteousness sake.
David C. Grabbe: Jesus Christ has astounding power and creative ability; He is "upholding all things by the word of His power". He was not only intimately involved in the creation of all things, but He now also sustains all the natural laws and functions of His marvelous creation. This is in addition to the fact that "He is the head of the body, the church", in charge of all the activities of those whom God has called. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Mark 4 contains a parable that is not often discussed, probably because it does not appear in Matthew 13 or among those well-known parables that Luke alone records, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan. ...
This world presents us with a disordered array of religions of all kinds—from atheism to animism, ancestor worship, polytheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and many more besides. Where can we find the true religion, the true church, in all this confusion? John Ritenbaugh reveals that only one religion with its one true church has the answers to salvation and eternal life—the church Christ founded and heads today.
Among the best-known signs of the end of the age is Jesus' declaration in Matthew 24:12 that "the love of many will grow cold." However, David Grabbe advises caution in judging that such a state exists in others, in a church group, or in the church as a whole. Could love be there but just not as we might expect it?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: There would be no need for conversion without the existence of sin and its destructive effects on humanity. Sin and the anti-God world it has spawned is what Christians must turn from so that they can truly follow God's way of life. ...
David C. Grabbe: The story of Job has long been a place of inquiry for those enduring severe trials. ...
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable accomplishments and honor bestowed on God's servant Moses, who sacrificed immense worldly honor and fame to become a servant of God, demonstrating real servant leadership in action. The greatness of a nation depends on its responsiveness to God's preachers. If a preacher fails in his responsibility, the nation goes down the drain. Although Moses was highly educated, he was very humble and meek, driving him continually to God for sustenance and power. God commends Moses for his trustworthiness and faithfulness, comparing him favorably with Jesus Christ, who always did things to please His Father. We need to emulate Moses, being faithful in using the gifts God has parceled out to us. After he was cast out of Egypt, he learned to be humble, reflective, and wise as he tended sheep in Midian. The combination of his life experience made him ready to lead a rebellious, complaining slave people. As God knew Moses, David and Jeremiah from the womb, God has also predestined us for a unique calling. As can be seen in the intricacies of a blueprint or schematic diagram, no part of God's creation escapes His mind. We must emulate Moses in his faithfulness, doing our best with what God has given us, remembering that the road to leadership commences with humility and submissiveness, a virtual bond-slave to God. As God continually enabled Moses, God will always provide us what we need to succeed as long as we are faithful.
Martin Collins asserts that true power belongs to God alone. Some of this power He has entrusted to mankind to exercise dominion over the earth. Occasionally, He exercises power to deliver His people from danger. God used this power to resurrect Jesus from the dead. Jesus Christ used this power to deliver us from the death penalty of our sins. The apostle Paul emphasized the power of God living in us through the Holy Spirit to enable us to overcome and develop into His family. Our calling, conversion, and ultimate salvation are concrete demonstrations of God's power. We must remember that even though we are God's workmanship, God does the work through His limitless might and energy. Through God's Holy Spirit, we are empowered to receive and understand Godly knowledge, enabling us to develop righteous godly character and a new spiritual disposition, directing our existing faculties in an entirely different way, enabling us to become a new creation, connected miraculously to the body of Christ. We can advance spiritual strengthening through: (1) dependence upon God, (2) by having the joy of God, (3) by prayer in accordance with God"s Word, (4) by gaining wisdom, (5) by quietness and confidence in the promises of God, (6) by waiting on God, and (7) by dependence on God's grace. Through God's mighty power, we will triumph over death.
While we must express some of our own faith as we come to salvation, the great bulk of "saving faith" is a gift of God, given graciously and miraculously as part of God's creative process in us. In particular, John Ritenbaugh uses the examples of Abel and Enoch to illustrate the pattern of faith through which God walks His people.
David C. Grabbe: In Psalm 116, the psalmist makes a remarkable statement. Near the end of this psalm of thanksgiving for God's deliverance from an untimely death, he says, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints."
Why do so many nominal Christians reject works and obedience to God's law? John Ritenbaugh posits that they do this because they fail to gather God's whole counsel on this subject. In doing so, they miss vital principles that help to bring us into the image of God.
Martin Collins, reflecting upon the impatience demonstrated in the world's holidays, concludes that most of mankind has a serious patience deficit. Demonstrating or developing patience, a cardinal characteristic of God, in the face of trying events is a clear indication that we are developing genuine godliness. We must learn to turn trials into positive growth opportunities, as did Jacob, who had to develop patience in the midst of myriad, frustrating delays. We must learn to endure patiently, with the help of God's Spirit, waiting for God to accomplish His purpose in us. After identifying 18 negative consequences of impatience, the sermon offers five steps to developing patience: 1) staying focused on the goal, 2) learning to think before speaking, 3) looking for ways to give our service to others, 4) working out our conflicts with others, and 5) working with God through the Spirit to develop godly patience in us, developing a calm, positive attitude and peace of mind.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the truths of God are eternally dependable because the Father and Jesus Christ remain steadfastly dependable. If we trust in His truth rather than ourselves or other men, we will not jeopardize our spirituality. Sadly, the vast majority of Christian-professing churches has been saturated with an "end-time flood" of appealing, pagan doctrines (antinomianism, immortality of soul, Dispensationalism, Dualism, and Docetism) derived largely from Hellenistic Gnosticism. In this confusing environment, truth has become an endangered commodity. Pursuing "inner spirituality" (supposedly "despising the flesh") ironically enables one to become promiscuous and self-indulgent. In contrast, the true Christian is obligated to perform works (derived from God's law) that God has preordained and walk continuously in the Way. Keeping the law, vilified by antinomian, evangelical Christianity) gives structure and guidance to a Christian's life.
There must be something to prove we are one with Christ, engrafted as part of Him and in union with the Father and the Son. John Ritenbaugh asserts that that something is the manner in which we conduct our life, and we must be living in conformity to the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that when God created Adam, He prepared only a foundation for mankind's eventual spiritual creation undertaken by the Second Adam. Spiritual creation requires much intense pressure and continual testing to determine character. Jesus went through this process first to provide us an example. We are to be brought through this same assaying process to bring us to the express image or the full stature of Christ. In terms of building character, God does the creating, assaying, testing, and proving; we do the yielding and walking in the pathway He has set for us. When we yield, God gives us the will and the power (engraving His Law in our hearts) to develop into the image or character He has determined for us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that after justification, for grace to be made dominant, its influence must extend beyond justification, into the sanctification stage where the believer must yield himself to righteousness, keeping God's commandments making himself a slave of righteousness. God's grace is manifested by His giving gifts, carrying us forward, making it possible to be transformed into the image of His Son. Our responsibility is to walk where God leads us, realizing that He is the one always out in front doing the creating, putting forth energy to make something happen—the change of our heart. Only those yielding themselves to the New Covenant will receive this transformation—a miraculous new creation, patterned after Christ's spiritual image. In the whole sanctification process, it is God working in us to will and to do.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes how intimately God is involved with the intimate details of our life, including our conception and birth, supplying spiritual gifts or abilities to carry out His work. David reflects that God knows us searchingly, even our secret thoughts and desires before we are even aware of them (Psalm 139:2). David takes comfort in the boundaries God has set for him, gratefully submitting and yielding to His will, letting God have control or metaphorically taking the reins over his innermost thoughts. God is as intimately involved with His called out ones as He was with David.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we are manufactured goods designed specifically to glorify God. We have been summoned or separated from the rest of the world for the specific purpose of having God reproduced in ourselves — becoming clean and pure, transformed into God's image. As God's royal priesthood, we have a responsibility to draw near to God, keeping His commandments, witnessing to the world that God is God. Chipping away at the living stones, fitting them into their proper places, God works continually shaping and fashioning His new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).
We may not realize it, but our Christian lives are constantly under construction. It is this point of view that will make it easier for us to deal with both spiritual setbacks and progress.
John Ritenbaugh, using the term "malignant narcissism" (from M. Scott Peck's book "People Of The Lie") to describe the blind Laodicean pride which denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection by means of clever self-decptive quibbling and equivocation. Accepting one of the most pernicious gifts of Protestantism (no works mentality), the Laodicean doesn't know that it takes mental work and exertion to produce faith; it does not come by magic or by mere acceptance of certain knowledge. The Good Samaritan parable teaches that unless one practices doing good rather than just knowing good, his faith will be severely compromised.
In the third part of this series, John Ritenbaugh uses the Beast power of Revelation 13 to compare with God's sovereignty. Who will we yield to in the coming years?
It is quite rare to see a person who truly hungers and thirsts after God's way, but this is the kind of desire God wants us to have. John Ritenbaugh explains what Jesus means in this fourth beatitude.
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
In this Feast of Trumpets message, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that salvation is not a one time event, but a continuous process analogous to the birth process—not just immunity from death, but a total dramatic transformation of our nature into a totally new creation. Six major reasons why works are necessary (following the initial justification stage) include: (1) to undertake godly character building and preparation for God's Kingdom; (2) to give evidence of our faith; (3) to witness to the world that God is God; (4) to glorify God; (5) to prepare for a reward; and (6) to exercise living faith toward a covenant partner who has been eternally faithful.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that works are not the cause of salvation, but instead are the effect of God's creative efforts at bringing us into His image—a new creation. We are created in Christ Jesus, given a tiny spark of His nature from which to draw spiritual nourishment and receive our power to act. In this context, works are nothing more than our puny efforts to respond to God's love by voluntarily living like God does. The perfect tense of the verb 'saved' in Ephesians 2:8 (denoting an action started in the past and continuing in the present) does not guarantee that we will always remain in that state, but only if we continue to yield to God's shaping power, mortifying our human nature, and conforming to His image.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that good works are something that take place after the process of salvation has begun. Good works are the effects of God sending forth His Spirit and deliverance, but the works are not the cause of our deliverance. God's creative effort did not end with the physical creation or our election, but God continues to work, giving His called out ones the motivation and the power to do His will (Philippians 2:13) to the end that we might exemplify His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)- a new spiritual creation shaped and patterned after God's image, having the ethical and moral character of God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the receiving of God's Holy Spirit is not so much for our use as it is for God's use that He might carry out His creative effort in our lives. Metaphorically, the Holy Spirit can be compared to the water which the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency. God's Spirit brings about a transformation- turning something from a state of destruction into a state of purity. God desires to give us His Spirit and gifts in abundance, but on the condition that our motives for wanting them are unselfish. God uses His Spirit: (1) as a bridgehead through which He works His spiritual creation,(2) to empower the church, and (3) to empower us to yield to Him.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the necessity to attain fellowship with God, defining fellowship as "joint participation with someone else in things possessed by both." At our calling (John 6:44) we have virtually nothing in common with our Creator. Through the shaping power of God's Holy Spirit, He starts to fill the chasm, which divides us by (1) convicting us of sin, (2) convicting us of righteousness, and (3) convicting us of judgment, aiming our lives at the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Jesus Christ, through His voluntary humility (giving up all the perks of being God), has given us a model of the mindset that we need to have in order to attain membership in the family of God. Paul, desiring the Philippian congregation to attain spiritual maturity, urges that they (and we) take responsibility for the nuts and bolts process of overcoming or renouncing our carnal selves (working out our own salvation by the practical application of head knowledge) upon ourselves, cooperating with the shaping power of God (giving us the power to will and to do by means of His Spirit), who desires that we learn in the here and now the style of life (in a climate or environment of love as well as fear of soiling the family name of God) we will live for eternity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the people who were preaching Christ from questionable motives were church members and not Judaizers, as some have assumed. Paul experienced a dilemma wondering if it would be better to suffer martyrdom, finishing his life's calling or remain alive to help the Philippians bear more spiritual fruit. Paul and the Philippians had mutual affection and respect for one another. Paul, after encouraging this congregation, assures them that their spiritual growth depended on their personal relationship with Christ, urging them to stand fast in the unity of the truth, being loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven as Philippi was a loyal colony of Rome. Paul, assuring them that God is with them, providing everything they need to overcome, teaches that individual overcoming in lowliness of mind, putting others ahead of self, leads to the whole body being strengthened.
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