David F. Maas: In the previous essay, we learned that God, in His supreme wisdom and sovereignty, carves out a singular role for rejects, off-scourings, and castaways. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting how flames from a fire can be mesmerizing, observes that the fire quickly consumes what it touches, reducing the thickest log to ash and smoke. The phrase “offering by fire” is used 63 times throughout the Scriptures (King James Version). The sons of Aaron had to be consecrated through the ritual of an offering by fire, consuming animal parts. They were, in turn, to serve as sacrifices, giving their entire lives to the priesthood. As God’s called out ones, we are also a kingdom of priests, called to be unconditional living sacrifices, ardently serving God, with a view of being consumed or used up in service to Him.
Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
John Ritenbaugh, finding a commonality in three scriptures describing our calling and sanctification, answers the questions: "Who are we?" and "How do we fit?" God has demonstrated that He loves us in a different way than He does our neighbor (perhaps a neighbor having better traits than we do) calling us because He loves us—the very beginning of the sanctification process. Our responsibility is to respond to His love as a couple responds to one another at the beginning of a budding romance, conforming to desires and expectations. As we respond to God's calling, we find a hostile reaction from the world. As the moral darkness envelops the Israelitish peoples, the relationship between the church and fellow Israelites has grown more fractious and hostile and will continue to become more so in the future as physical Israel turns its back on God. As our forebears experienced a grueling walk through the desert for 40 years, our spiritual journey will take a lifetime, enabling us to get farther and farther from the world's influences, submitting to God, and growing in the stature of Christ. We are not in a physical desert, but we are battling the elements of a mental wasteland, resisting horrendous pressures from the world's dominant religion (intolerant secular humanism) to cease, desist, and conform, in much the same manner as the Israelites of Christ's time were bullied and intimidated by the Sadducees and Pharisees and just as the ancient Israelites were by the Egyptian religion. True religion must be motivated internally from within the heart; true sanctification is internal. If we really considered or believed in our hearts that our calling was truly a treasure, we would take extraordinary steps to prevent any loss of this treasure. When we realize that God has set the individual members of the body as He pleased, and when we finally understand our place in His plan, we become willing to do what God wants us to do in order to help us function more efficiently. Our sanctification will ne
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on an article about the widely prevalent condition of congenital blindness in India, mainly developing from untreated cataracts, and on an effort led by Dr. Pawan Sinha to supply inexpensive lenses to alleviate the problem, reports that after restoring sight to thousands of patients, Sinha came to the conclusion that removing the cataracts and implanting the lens was the easy part. It was infinitely harder to retrain or rewire the nervous system, teaching brains to make sense of the incoming data. The lack of this reprogramming causes many patients to develop severe mental problems. This discovery gives us a new appreciation of what Christ did to heal the man blind from birth, healing his mind, as well as his diseased organs. When Jesus read the portion of Isaiah 61 (recorded in Luke 4:16), He gave the mission statement of what God had sent Him to do, recovering both physical and spiritual sight to the blind, liberating them from those false beliefs and doctrines that had previously imprisoned them. Jesus used abundant references to vision and sight throughout His teaching. At our calling, God must perform a major rewiring to our nervous systems, implanting His mind via His Holy Spirit, enabling us to explore, discern, and compare the physical with the spiritual, giving us hindsight (cognizance of the enormity of our sins), introspection (giving us the ability to objectively examine ourselves to see what we really are through the dazzling light of His Holy Spirit and the scalpel of His Word ), foresight (providing a goal of a future world of peace, making life worth living), circumspection (making us aware of the world around us, motivating us to become good examples), and insight (giving us insight into the truths of the Bible, truths not even revealed to angels or the 'wise' of this earth)
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
Kim Myers, reflecting on the uniqueness of our calling, asks us if we appreciate the miracle of our calling, an event which changed our orientation regarding our belief structure, diet, and moral behavior, totally at odds with the world. God has called each of us differently, giving us different support systems and different time sequences, and motivations. Nobody can come to God without His calling. God manages the events, contacts, and circumstances so we are motivated to obey Him. The men Christ called to be His disciples were not the rich and powerful, nor the high profile movers and shakers of the world, but everyday men. The calling of Saul of Tarsus, a man who had many trials and triumphs, was particularly dramatic. The common denominator of all these callings constitutes adoption as God's offspring. As a result of our calling, we will have tests and trials, but the end of the process is sanctification and glorification.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the television program Shark Tank, which displays a nexus of entrepreneurs and wealthy investors who have the power to make things happen, draws some spiritual analogies examining what makes and breaks deals. The wealthy investor (or the shark) desires to make ambitious entrepreneurs successful by combining their investments with the entrepreneur's desire to be successful enough to willingly sacrifice everything for the sake of the project. Interestingly, the investors find pride a disgusting deal breaker, while they look favorably upon wholehearted zeal and willingness to work 24/7 with a single-minded focus to get the job done. God can take misdirected zeal, as in the case of Saul, who became the apostle Paul, rechanneling it to a positive purpose. God wants to protect His investment in us, calling those whom He knows will exercise the ardency, zeal, willingness to sacrifice, and pure sitzfleisch to stick with the project until it is completed. Are we able to see the investment God has made in us? Are we willing to make a 24/7 commitment to our calling?
Martin Collins suggests that when we look upon the modern preoccupation with political correctness and the wholesale abandoning of moral principles, we can see parallels with Paul's grieving over his countrymen for having zeal and sincerity, but rejecting their Savior. Today also there is a big disconnect between sincerity and truth, as is seen in the current political scene, in which the current players are calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), infested with doublespeak, in which communism is "communitarianism" and socialism is "government partnership." It is dangerous to judge the value of something on the basis of misplaced 'sincerity,' which is often the opposite of godly sincerity. Godly sincerity must be paired with the truth, but worldly 'sincerity' does not require truth. Ironically, seeking has become more important than finding. Today society does not care about the real outcome just as long as one is 'sincere.' Tragically, sincerity is not a guarantee of truth. A sincere zealot, Paul of Tarsus, had to be rewired according to the truth in order for his sincerity and zeal to be useful. Knowledge and truth must trump zeal and sincerity in all cases. Sincerity cannot sanitize syncretistic religious defilement, namely Christmas and Easter, firmly rooted in paganism, particularly the cult of the sun. No zealous, sincere, carnal human being, equipped with a hopelessly reprobate mind, can decide what God wants, nor has the capability of living by God's standards. Sincerity without truth is worthless, but sincerity with God"s truth is valuable.
Idolatry is probably the sin that the Bible most often warns us against. John Ritenbaugh explains the first commandment, showing that we worship the source of our values and standards. God, of course, wants our values and standards to come from Him and Him only, for there is no higher Source in all the universe!
Human history proves that individuals quickly absorb the course of the world, losing their innocence and becoming self-centered and deceived like everybody else. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians must continue to fight against these anti-God attitudes long after their calling to deepen and strengthen their relationships with God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
We know a lot about Joseph, but we tend to know precious little about his younger brother Benjamin. This article explores the biblical references to the man, the tribe, and two of his more famous descendants to uncover instruction for us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's impressive credentials and pedigree, which Paul considered rubbish, compared to his conversion and God's dramatic intervention in his life. Paul's writings, because of their complexity, have become the target of unscrupulous, antinomian twisting and equivocating by the carnal mind with its natural anti-law bias. By denigrating God's law, the unconverted presumptuously set their own standards. God's holy and righteous law was never designed to justify but only to identify sin and align one with the right standards—guiding one along the path to God's righteous purpose. Everyone who is saved will be a keeper of God's law. Paul used his life to illustrate our indebtedness to God and to caution about the law's limitation (or misapplied function) to justify, a function met only by Christ's sacrifice.
It is true that we cannot physically "see" the invisible God, but that does not mean that we cannot recognize His involvement in our lives. John Ritenbaugh helps us to realize just how much God wants to be part of our lives.
Barnabas tends to be one of the forgotten apostles. However, Martin Collins illustrates how this Christian's life can teach us important lessons.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that spirit in the vast majority of biblical contexts refers to the invisible, immaterial, internal activating dimension of the mind. It is repeatedly linked and used synonymously with heart, mind, and thoughts. Spirit (as activated by such things as cheer leading and marching bands) has the capacity to contagiously influence behavior. Satan's spirit as well as our own carnal minds (Ephesians 2:2, James 1:13) constitute compelling and impelling motivations to sin. Fortunately God has provided resources to His called-out ones, interfacing with their minds, predisposing them to hear His voice, to know what He is doing and to develop a relationship with Him, preventing temptation beyond what they can handle (I Corinthians 10:13)
The Ten Commandments open with the most important, the one that puts our relationship with God in its proper perspective. John Ritenbaugh explains this simple but vital command.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that in Galatians Paul took issue with the Halakhah- the Jewish way of life- not God's word, but a massive collection of human opinion, some fairly accurate, but some way off the mark, placing a yoke or burden upon its followers. Jesus, in Matthew 23, acknowledged the authority of those sitting in Moses seat, but he took great exception as to how they were using their authority, a zealous obsession with the traditions of the fathers, but almost no application of God's Law. Being strict in human tradition does not mean keeping God's laws, but instead an exercise in zeal without knowledge. On the other hand, Galatians 2:16 does not "do away" with God's Law, or make faith and works mutually exclusive (James 2:24). Works must be based upon faith in Jesus Christ.
Taking issue with those who have embraced the widely held notion that God does not have body parts, John Ritenbaugh asserts that just because spirit is invisible to the present physical receptors, much the same as wind or electromagnetic waves (John 3:8), it is nevertheless real - able to be comprehended by spiritual receptors (II Kings 6:17, I John 3:2). The numerous figures of speech describing God's body parts substantiate that God has shape and form and occupies a specific location. Figures of speech always have legitimate grounds of comparison. The term omnipresent, rather than suggesting some ethereal grotesque omnibody, can be explained by being "in union with His spirit" as in John 14:19-20 in which God the Father, Christ, and the Called out ones are depicted to be "in" one another- one unit as analogous to a marriage union when two become one flesh through sharing combined goals, aspirations and a kindred spiritual presence.
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 examines the metaphor of light as a symbol of God's truth or God's Holy Spirit, convicting us of our self-deception, rescuing us from ignorance, and demonically inspired philosophies, leading us into a wholesome relationship with God. Without the Spirit of God, looking at God's truth resembles looking into the darkness. We see shape and forms of things, but without the Spirit of God, the things (the truths that make up all the mechanisms of God's purpose), all of the doctrines, all of the teachings'none of these make sense or give us a clear picture of what God is doing. With the Spirit of God (the light of God), we see the true shape and form of things and reality appears as something we can see clearly.
John Ritenbaugh insists that if mankind is separated from one another, it is also separated from God. Moreover, atonement with God will occur when mankind loves one another, loving as an action rather than simply a feeling. Contrary to the antinomian position taken by many Protestants, repentance—something that Christ does not do for us alone—is something we must do with the precious free moral agency God has given us. As sin brought a change in perspective and separation to our parents Adam and Eve, repentance, in one sense, brings us back to Eden—to the tree of life (via God's Holy Spirit). Reconciliation is an ongoing process enabling us to draw closer to what God is, having His mind installed in us.
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of the resurrection of the dead (and the capacity of the earth to sustain the combined populations of all who have ever lived), examining pertinent scriptures on the resurrections. The scriptures suggest that massive land reclamation and landscaping efforts (coupled with dramatic climate changes) will occur to prepare the earth for such a volume of humanity. As chapter 25 opens, Festus replaces Felix as governor. Paul, again defending himself from the two-year old spurious sedition charge, exercising his right of Roman citizenship, appealed to Caesar (in an effort to remain in protective custody). Festus, seeking the counsel of King Agrippa II, (providing Paul yet another opportunity to connect the Jewish hope of the resurrection with the Christian message), sends Paul to Rome. Ironically had Paul not appealed to Caesar, Agrippa (moved by Paul's testimony and convinced of his innocence) would have set him free. But God evidently had other plans for Paul.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of self-defense, examining the scriptural instructions for proactively avoiding or resolving dangerous conflicts. At the beginning of Acts 22, Paul, after clearing himself of a spurious charge (of taking a gentile into the temple), establishes his identity and credentials as a Jew (a zealous disciple of Gamaliel) in order to build a foundation from which to provide a logical defense of his 'apostasy' and testimony of his miraculous conversion (at the hand of God) on the road to Damascus, showing the continuity between Paul's revelation (from Jesus Christ) and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Paul suggested that the gentiles could approach God independently from Jewish tradition, the crowd became riotous again. Paul saves himself from a certain scourging by establishing his identity as a natural born Roman citizen, giving him the protection of Roman law. Paul extricates himself from another dangerous situation (the convening of the Sanhedrin by the corrupt high priest Ananias) by proclaiming himself a Pharisee (hoping for a resurrection), creating another dissension (between the Pharisees and Saduccees), forcing the Roman soldiers to rescue him.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that our historical and theological roots are advanced in a polished, literary, chronological narrative, perhaps designed as a trial document authored by Luke. It defends the apostle Paul and the early church, with a larger purpose of 1) augmenting or increasing the faith of the saints, setting a pattern for all future generations of the church, demonstrating its continuity with the acts of God in the Old Testament; 2) proclaiming the church's mission and message; 3) showing progress despite seemingly overwhelming opposition; 4) tracing the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles; and 5) revealing the life and organization of the church, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church's formation, growth, and empowerment. Peter's sermon 1) explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle, 2) proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3) and calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh asks us to reflect soberly upon what we have accepted as our authority for permitting ourselves to do or behave as we do— our value system, our code of ethics or code of morality. All law is nothing more than codified morality. Alarmingly, if one willingly rejects God's statutes and judgments, turning instead to his own ideas (or his political institution's ideas) about what constitutes right and wrong- he has become an idolater, subjecting himself to an alien body of law and morality, influenced by Satan. Whatever we choose to obey becomes automatically our sovereign lord. Throughout the relatively brief history of modern Israel, the source of law (or system of morality) has steadily and dramatically shifted away from biblical principles to human moralistic relativism — plunging our entire culture into reprobate debased idolatry- designating good as evil and evil as good. Displacing God's standards for morality with man's standards of morality is the root cause of idolatry.