David C. Grabbe: The day of Pentecost, also known as the Feast of the Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks, is unique among the annual holy days because God requires us to count to determine when it falls each year: ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that pagan fertility rites and sun worship have nothing to do with the resurrection or ascension of Christ, asserts that Christmas, Easter, as well as the concepts of "amazing grace," and "unmerited pardon" are far cries from the Bible's definition of Christianity. Because he sought to avoid the appearance of endorsing the syrupy cheap grace advanced by Protestant thinkers, Herbert W. Armstrong de-emphasized the birth, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. As a result, the Church came to lose some valuable insights about those events. Neither Christmas or Easter appear in the Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23), but we find plenty of emphasis on the resurrection and ascension of Christ in the Holy Days. The wave-sheaf offering, for example, appearing between Unleavened Bread and Pentecost and symbolizing the Father's acceptance of Christ as First of the First Fruits, provides the means for our ultimate acceptance as First Fruits as well. Christ's ascension enables Christ to serve before the Father as our High Priest, mediating between man and God. It also facilitates 1.) His gifting the Church for equipping the saints, 2.) His pouring out the Holy Spirit on us, 3.) His aiding us when we are tempted, 4.) His healing us when we are sick, 5.) His guarding us from the evil one and 5) His preparing a place for us in God's Kingdom. Realizing that the apostles wrote frequently about Christ's resurrection and ascension, we must be willing to share their perspective.
David C. Grabbe: We hear the phrase so often that it has become a cliché: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It is typically asked in times of catastrophe, such as when natural disasters strike or the apparently undeserving suffer violence. ...
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.
An important key to correct biblical interpretation is to understand a verse or passage as the author intended, not according to our own prejudices. Richard Ritenbaugh explains that Genesis 6:9 has suffered such a biased interpretation and shows what the Hebrew really implies.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh teaches that we, like ancient Israel, walk out of our individual circumstances through a metaphorical desert of trials and tests, following God into the promised land. If we don't copy God's walk, imitating righteousness or blamelessness and rejecting sin, we won't reach our goal of being conformed to God's image. Our walk with God must be full time and must be motivated by God's Holy Spirit (setting our minds to keeping His commandments, loving God and serving others).
Martin Collins warns that none of us can achieve spiritual growth without controlling the emotions. Though God has created humans with a mind to work in tandem with the emotional impulses (prompts to action), too many of us have, according to Daniel Goleman in his book "Emotional Intelligence," allowed the amygdala (emotions) to run roughshod over the cerebral cortex (mind), allowing anger (and other negative emotions) to get out of control. God displays anger (as well as other emotions), but always in controlled measured response, unlike the out-of-control childish rage of humans. Using God's Spirit, the spirit of a sound mind, we can grow into emotional (not emotionless) spiritual maturity, exercising our senses through God's Law, searching the deep things of God, controlling feelings and passions with the mind of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the atmosphere of disorder which has emerged in the greater church of God, caused by individuals (ministry and lay members alike), obsessed with the urge to change doctrine, convinced that God was too weak to control Herbert W. Armstrong. The unspoken accusation is that God raised up a messenger, sent him with His gospel, and then allowed us to use a faulty calendar. Because no proponents of the calendar change are in agreement, any calendar change will produce more confusion. The priorities in Matthew 6:33 (The Kingdom and His righteousness) indicates that the primary emphasis should be on repentance and overcoming rather than mastering some inconsequential technicality.
Most of our Christian lives will be spent going on to perfection. But what is it? How do we do it? This Bible Study will help explain this broad, yet vital subject.
What is perfection? Does God require perfection of us? Mike Ford defines Biblical perfection and shows to what standard God holds us accountable.
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that although many in God's church have gone through sore trials and tests of sorts, virtually no one has gone through the nightmarish persecutions suffered by the early Christians in Imperial Rome. Because most of us have lived our lives in modern Israel rather than a Gentile culture, we have been?to this point?shielded from the kinds of persecution (being put to flight, pursued, or martyred from an external source) experienced by the early apostles. This message explores both a time factor and a righteousness factor, explaining why intense persecution has not yet taken place. Paradoxically (a big horse pill to swallow), persecution may be regarded as a reward for righteousness, a kind of favor and kindness toward us, preparing us for a better resurrection and greater service as priests in God's Kingdom, following in the footsteps of our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh explores the different nuances of the verb "know," indicating that to know God requires experience, positive emotional responses, and the involvement with the whole person. Unlike merely "knowing about" (book knowledge), we don't really know something unless we have done it. Knowing God manifests itself in the way one lives, reflecting faithfulness and true obedience.Knowing God is to live as God lives if God were a man, applying instinctively or habitually the myriad principles of His instruction (Torah), merging experientially thinking and doing. Eternal life is to know God, living as God lives.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Old Covenant in no way annulled the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but was added because of Israel's sins, with the intent of pointing to the need of a Savior. Because the primary focus of Galatians is justification rather than sanctification, the Protestant antinomian bias looks quite foolish and stupid. The New Covenant, grafting the Law into the recesses of the heart (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) in no way does away with any aspect of the law. The deficit in the Old Covenant was in its lack of a means of justification (forgiveness of past sins). The New Covenant, having a means of justification, replaces the pre-figuring symbolic animal sacrifices with the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah. Circumcision of the heart and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit ratifies the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that in Matthew 5:21-22, there exist degrees in the spirit of murder, with destroying a reputation as the worst. All sin is against God, but before one attempts to establish a relationship with God, he should heal the breach with his fellow man. If a conflict exists between husband and wife, his prayers could be hindered. We are admonished to take care of problems while they are small rather than allow them to brood, exercising moderation and self control. If we continually fill our mind with good thoughts and motivations, we won't be thinking base or unclean thoughts. Jesus, desiring to restore the spirit as well as the letter of the law, warned against rash or hasty divorces, taking oaths or vows, invoking God's name frivolously, realizing that a covenant is binding whether we formally invoke His name or not. As God's people, our word should be good as gold. The Lex Talionis (eye for an eye) principle provided the foundations for an equitable solution, allowing for equal justice or monetary compensation for pain, time, indignity, etc. Jesus set a standard of non-retaliation and non-vengeance—not getting even for an insult, suffering for righteousness as our Elder Brother Jesus Christ did for us. We need to be more concerned about our duties or obligations than our rights. When we are conscripted into service and when we lend to the poor, we need to realize God will make it right to us. When we love conditionally, with the hope of getting something back, we have no reward, but if we love with unconditional, godly agape love, loving our enemies, removing any thought of vengeance, becoming godlike in the process, doing what we were created for.