David C. Grabbe: "Hardness of heart" is used several ways in Scripture, but a person can develop this sinful attitude toward both God and man. ...
Clyde Finklea, reminding us that spiritual maturity does not come about without difficulty, asserts that suffering is one of the tools God uses to perfect us. Suffering is part of a process to refine endurance and character. At the onset of a trial, we must quickly ask God for what we need to learn from this episode. Though we are subject to time and chance, God is always aware of what we go through and uses all events to test the purity of our faith. We want the product, but not so much the process, that brings it about. We need to imitate our Elder Brother, who patiently endured the course, realizing that while suffering hurts, what it produces is priceless.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Genesis 6:5, prior to the Flood, in which mankind's thoughts and intents were evil continually, warns us that a parallel time is on the horizon for those living today. Like our ancient ancestors, we share a habitation with Satan and his demons, evil beings who have been preparing for our demise for thousands of years. The hideous perversions (such as homosexuality and infanticide) did not arrive on the scene instantaneously, but the demonic world has been working to make them the cultural norm for thousands of years. Demons have fostered to the point of fury the ancient conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau. These spirit beings chose to become demons into order to stop God's purpose. They have succeeded to erase all discussion of God out of the public schools by spreading the humanist agenda previously introduced into the universities by anti-God philosophers such as Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche. John Dewey promulgated this 'progressive' doctrine into the public schools, where it has spread like leavening, fostering a whole generation of individuals lacking any knowledge of God at all. As God's called-out ones, we have entered (through baptism) the same Covenant God made with our forebears before they entered the Promised Land God has not removed the demonic influence which plagued our forebears, deeming it necessary for our spiritual growth. However, God has given us gifts our forebears never received, such as His Holy Spirit, thereby enabling us to advance in the face of massive enemy fire. We are marching to the beat of a different drummer from the rest of the world.
Ryan McClure, demonstrating that in every phase of our lives we are confronted with tests and trials of our patience, posits that we should cultivate the "Heinz Ketchup" aphorism ("The best things come to those who wait"), rather than live by the "Burger King" appeal ("Your way, right away"). We learn in Exodus 34:5 and Galatians 5:22 that longsuffering and patience are characteristics God wants us to learn because they are integral parts of His own character. As God's called out ones, we need to learn to be patient with people (makrothumia) and with events out of our control (hupomone). If we learn to cultivate patience, God promises that He will spare us from the hour of trial (Revelation 3:10). We should make patience a high priority in our spiritual walk.
Kim Myers, asking us whether we see God working in our lives, contends that Job was able to endure the multiple trials and tragic events in his life (the deaths of his offspring, the assaults on his health and livelihood, and the attacks on his reputation and integrity from his 'friends') by seeing the hand of God in his life, realizing that God works in his (and our) lives in both good and bad times. We must follow Job's example, looking for God's hand in both the blessings and trials, including the deaths of those closest to us, the deterioration of our own health, financial reverses, persecutions, etc. Amid our most horrendous trials, God often opens a joyous way of escape, including the ability to endure horrific pain. As we experience both blessings and trials, we should see evidence of God's intervention in our daily activities. The more we study and pray, the more we see God working in our lives. If we are not trying to live by every word of God, emulating Jesus Christ, we cannot be transformed into God's offspring. We are going to need the perspective Job attained as he was transformed through his horrendous, but faith-building trial.
Clyde Finklea, marveling at how quickly heresies infiltrated the early church, as identified by the warning messages of Paul, John, Jude, and James, asserts that Peter in his second epistle (II Peter1:1-7) provides not only an effective antidote to corrosive heresies, apostasy, and false teachers, but also a practical formula for spiritual growth. The process incrementally moves from faith to diligence, valor and courage, knowledge of God's truth as revealed in His Word, self-control and temperance, patience, endurance, dogged determination to overcome and endure under the severest trials, respect, love, and awe for Almighty God. The ultimate result consists of an active outgoing agape love for our brethren. As we examine ourselves for Passover, we need to determine whether we are incrementally developing our spiritual maturity from faith to love.
Sometimes, while out and about, you hear something that grabs your attention. I recently heard an elderly lady remembering a certain event in her life. ...
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: In Luke 6:46-49, Jesus begins a passage, asking, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” He finishes His thought with the metaphor of a man building a house ...
David C. Grabbe: When we were baptized and gave our lives by covenant to God, we committed ourselves to a lifetime of change. This change would be partly internal ...
Mark Schindler, acknowledging that movies and books contain unforgettable aphorisms to ponder or live by, focuses on a memorable line from the movie A League of Their Own, a movie about a struggling women's baseball team, when the coach tells a disheartened player, "It's supposed to be hard; if it weren't hard everybody would be doing it; the hard makes it great." This powerful aphorism should be inculcated by everyone called-out to follow the unique, rigorous, tribulation-laden path blazed by Jesus Christ. We live in a world in which everyone is under the harsh bondage of sin. We have been given the privilege of living God's way now, making the arduous struggle against the world's depraved system a great, memorable experience, enabling us to master some things which most in the world cannot yet do. The hard things God wants us to do are preferable to the harsh bondage to sin the world is now under. The hardness makes us hardy enough to be included in the first harvest. As Satan deceived Mother Eve that to choose for ourselves is better than following God, the rest of the world continues to follow that deception. We find it most difficult to live exclusively in the way God has chosen for us. The world's ways are the easiest roads to take; carnal human nature is enmity against God. Satan has been given the power to deceive the world to this day. Those who have been called to the truth will be on a collision course with the world. But it is the hard way that makes our lives great, to be in harmony with the Father and the Son. When David heard the devastating news about the attack of the Edomite's, he nevertheless trusted that God would give his armies the ultimate victory, rallying the people around the Lord's banner. In our battles against the world, faith must conquer fear. Soldiers have died to defend the flag; we must be prepared to die to defend godly standards. As Moses built an altar proclaiming Jehovah Nissi (God is our banner). We must also proclaim our steadfast loyalty to God in a patently hostile world.
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.
Clyde Finklea, recounting the harsh appraisal of Job in too many commentaries calling him "a classic example of self-righteousness," and "horribly self-righteous," asserts that the Scriptures clearly vindicate Job from that charge. Self-righteousness is defined as being smugly proud of one's own opinion and intolerant of others. This kind of self-righteousness, described as filthy rags in the Scriptures, applied to the Pharisees, but not to Job. What Job repented of in dust and ashes, symbolic of our lowly mortal state, was his total misunderstanding of the magnitude and greatness of God's power—something that all of us fail to comprehend as well. The false accusations against Job by his 'friends' were displeasing to God, requiring a sacrifice to atone for their foolish utterances. Our behavior must be more aligned with Job's than the self-righteous Pharisee who smugly looked down on others.
Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
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, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
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.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
God fashions our experiences, trials, and lessons for us on an individual basis, and as we learn from them, He desires that we help others get the most out of their experiences with Him. ...
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.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, affirms that enjoyment from one's labor comes from the LORD and that the proper use of our allotted time becomes increasingly more relevant as we anticipate the conclusion of our physical lives. Solomon instructs us to adjust our attitude from under the sun (carnal, self-centered) to above the sun (reflecting God's approach). God has designed us to work and labor; laboring is a God-designed gift in which only mankind and celestial beings can participate. No animal can do such a thing. We need to be thankful for such a circumstance. God gives gifts such as wisdom, intelligence, and understanding to those who are thankful and content. Our calling from God is the most precious gift, enabling God to be involved in our lives in blessings and shaping trials. We are to rejoice always in all of our circumstances, having a continual state of contentment, anticipating spiritual gain. Without God's involvement in our life, we drift into discouragement. In order to make the best of our lives, we must realize that God is sovereign over time all the time, even though it is running out for all of us. God will be working to make the most of every situation in our lives, even the stupid choices we have made. God has not abandoned us in any case. There is a distinct time for every purpose being worked out. God evidently allowed the breakup of our previous fellowship for our protection and well-being. The fact that we do not know God's ultimate purpose may be because He desires us to place trust in His decisions. The trials that we experience in life seem to morph into larger trials. We need to trust God to work things out since we do not see the entire picture. In the meantime, we must do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, and tremble at God's word. The ultimate purpose of our existence can only be revealed through God's calling, made explicit through His Word. We are being created for the Kingdom of God. Our satisfaction must come from an over the sun relationship with Almi
Ecclesiastes 3 is among the best-known chapters of the Bible, and its major theme is a subject that concerns us all: time. Solomon reveals that God is solidly in control of time. John Ritenbaugh teaches that knowing that God is sovereign over time should fill a Christian with faith in God's work in him, in the church, and in His plan for humanity.
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
The story of Job has long been a place of inquiry for those enduring severe trials. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on the tendency of society to prescribe drugs for every social malady, indicates that we often fail to see that the chastening we receive may be what God uses to sanctify us, preparing us as His spiritual children. When God starts a project, He finishes it; we must assiduously emulate that trait. If we are not receiving God's correction or chastisement, we should be alarmed. As Job was chastised by God, he learned submission and acquiescence, humility, silence, repentance, and that he had not seen the omnipotence of God. Chastisement focuses more on discipline and training than punishment. God uses circumstances such as financial loss or illness to steer us toward sanctification. Without godly chastisement, we may succumb to spiritual pride, self-confidence, self-satisfaction or smugness, but with godly chastisement, we attain humility, meekness, strength under control, and patience.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on I John 4:17, marvels at the depth of love God the Father has for us as unique, special components of His creation, loving each of us as much as He loved Christ. The Father and the Son have worked cooperatively, harmoniously submitting to one another, in the planning and creation of this vast awesome universe- right down to the last tiny, minute detail. Our faith should have progressed far beyond the rudimentary question of whether God exists to the more mature iron-clad trust that God loves us, and would not put us through anything He didn't consider necessary for our spiritual growth and development. God freely gave us His Son, His calling, His Spirit (giving us the enduring love as well as the will and power to do His will), and trials to shape and fashion our character. For God's called out children, there is no such thing as time and chance. The events which seen random to us are totally purposeful to God, having artfully designed them for our ultimate good.
Life sometimes seems to be one trial after another. However, Pat Higgins asserts that God has revealed an astounding facets of our relationship with Him that should give us the faith to soldier on despite our many trials.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in the turbulent and uncertain times ahead, we will need extraordinary fortitude and courage. From the confusion and anxiety of our trials, we run, hide, fight, or patiently work through the difficulties. Not much in this world inspires hope or permanent relief. As our Designer and Producer, God has designed us to run or function smoothly and productively on a godly formula of faith, hope, and love. Trials, when rightly handled with this powerful formula, produce a higher level of spiritual maturity, a higher level of perfection, improving perseverance or active endurance, motivating a person to overcome and grow in holiness. Our entire hope and faith (to be conformed and resurrected in Christ's image) must be anchored in God (the Promise Maker) 'with Christ's mind placed within us.
In Job 1, Satan accuses God of hedging Job about on every side, saying that if God would let down the hedge, they could see what Job was really made of. This article explains how important God's hedge about us is.
We sometimes mistake faith for certainty about God's will. However, faith is not knowing what God will do in a situation but trusting Him to do what is best for us.
Mike Ford, ruminating on the folk maxim, "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it is hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp," draws the corollary "When you're up to your neck in trials, it's easy to forget you are in training to be a member of the God family." The antidote to forgetting is focus, remembering that everything happening to people called according to God's plan fits into a pattern for ultimate good. Intellectually we can assent to this understanding, but emotionally it is hard- especially in a searing trial. The sermonette provides inspiring examples of people in grave trials keeping their eyes on the prize.
From the Bible's perspective, patience is far more than simple endurance or longsuffering. The patience that God has shown man collectively and individually gives us an example of what true, godly patience is. It is this kind of patience that Paul urges us to put on as part of the new man.
What does the Bible mean when it says we should count it all joy when you fall into various trials? What is this joy we must experience? How do we come by it? Using his personal experience with his wife's cancer, Mike Ford shows how joy and trial go together.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable energizing capacity of hope. In the familiar triumvirate (faith, hope, and love) faith serves as the foundation, love serves as the goal, and hope serves as the great motivator or energizer. Unique among the religions, Christianity, with its expectation of a Messiah and the promise of a resurrection, looks expectantly to the future,embracing hope. Motivated by their calling into the new covenant (1 John 3:1-3) Christians anticipating a magnificent future glorification, are energized by this God-inspired hope to overcome the impossible and rejoice in temporary trials.
John Ritenbaugh warns us against blaming our sins on something other than ourselves. God holds us personally responsible for our part in any sin (James 1: 12-16). Joseph's example proves that even the most difficult temptation can be resisted and overcome, though this skill must be developed incrementally. Joseph's early preparation gave him the ability to make the best out of any situation. The conclusion of Joseph's story shows a remarkable metamorphosis in his brothers—from hardness of heart to softness and compassion. Like Christ, Joseph's integrity and steadfastness provided the conditions for his brothers' repentance and eventual reconciliation.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that prophecy seems to be a well-orchestrated, interdependent series of events moving toward the logical intervention of Jesus Christ. The events that unfold—of a scope as massive and deadly as the Great Flood, a time when no flesh would be saved alive—seem to call for spectacular intervention and protection. God has the ability to protect and save in a variety of methods, but one has to consider both the practical and biblically outlined purposes for intervention, protection, and prudent escape (Psalm 91). Christ promises to deliver from the hour of trial only one remnant of His end-time church (Revelation 2:10; Ezekiel 5:3).
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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