Martin Collins, examining Jesus' purposeful delay in going to Lazarus' side as His friend succumbed to death, reminds us that 1) God's delays are always motivated by love, 2) His delayed help always comes at the right time, and 3) God's best help is never delayed. We dare not project the human traits of obstinacy and pre-occupation on God's delay. If God delays in answering a sincere prayer, His purpose is to increase faith, as in the case of His delay in providing Abraham with a son through Sarah. Similarly, our faith grows when God forces us to wait. We should never judge God's use of time against our uses of it, since God has not equipped us to know the beginning from the end. Like our Elder Brother, God gives all of us a certain amount of time and will not cut it short until we have fulfilled His purpose for us. Even though we have sufficient time, we cannot afford to waste a minute. Because time is precious and our life-span determined by God, we must walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, using this window of opportunity to do good. The lesson of the resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that, because Christ has the power to regenerate life, physical death is no terror to the believer, but is only a temporary rest before eternity. Paul assures us that, for God's called-out ones, death will never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, differentiating Pentecost from the other High Holy Days, suggests that its uniqueness consists of the extra-special gift to God's called-out ones, namely the precious additive of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to perform the tasks God has prepared, giving us the power to overcome, build character, and attain membership in His family. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnal nature is hostile to all His purposes. In the context of physical death, there is no difference between the spirit of man and the spirit of an animal. But, with the sealing of God's Holy Spirit is the promise of becoming His offspring and serving productively in His family. The spirit in man separates mankind from animals, giving man the ability to plan, analyze, create art, music and literature, developing technology that makes our heads spin. Without God's Holy Spirit, mankind has never been able to live at peace. When we yield to God's Holy Spirit, we receive the power to do the things God has prepared His firstfruits to accomplish, adding exponentially to the capabilities and the achievements of the spirit in man.
Mike Fuhrer: The life of Judah’s King Hezekiah, including his prayer life, offers a mighty challenge and example for us today. Note what II Kings 18:3-7 has to say about him: ...
John Ritenbaugh, warning us not to complain about our lack of talents or spiritual gifts, assures us that, if we were called because of our talents, we would be able to brag. However, we were called solely for the purpose of fulfilling what God has in mind for us. To that end, God has given diverse gifts to all He has called, intending that we produce abundant spiritual fruit, glorifying God. As Adam did not create himself, we, called as first-fruits of a spiritual creation, have not and are not creating ourselves either. We are being trained to become leaders, but before we can lead, we must be able to carry out responsibilities, conforming to God's leadership, carefully meeting the demands of His covenants (solemn agreements between God and man). Covenants, contracts, and compacts are all designed to draw individuals together, unifying them in agreement to establish a purpose. Of the 70 billion people who have lived on the earth, only a meager fraction have entered into a covenant, the legal foundation for any relationship with God. Keeping any of the covenants involves faith in the Creator, the one who gives life and breath to each living being. All human beings have been given a basic understanding of right and wrong, having been imbued with a conscience (Romans 2:14), but the converted are presently more involved with God, and are expected to conform to a higher standard. In order to become a leader, one must be a good follower, pursuing with a high level of energy, appropriating the character of God. The covenants provide overviews of what we must follow, giving broad principles rather than specific details. The Sovereign God spells out the terms and the penalties, demonstrating patience and long-suffering as we slowly learn the rudiments. The first covenant recorded in Scripture, the Edenic Covenant, establishes the Sabbath, the solemn marriage relationship, and clearly shows God to be the source of all blessings, providing a pattern for all the covenants to follow.
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, ...
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
John Ritenbaugh, defining a worldview as a snapshot of what our mind sees, based upon our presuppositions, determining what we consider important, maintains that a Christian worldview must contain some core concepts, such as the value or importance of our calling into the church, the reality of God, His Laws and doctrines. Our worldview determines how we spend our time all the time. Because of God's calling, we are committed to making major choices, determining our particular niche in the nature of the universe. We must choose whether God or the world will dominate. It has to be a voluntary response to choose God. Nobody can make that choice for us. If we treasure our calling, we will automatically expend effort to protect and increase it. God and mammon are both depicted as slaveholders, demanding unconditional loyalty. The church is not a passing phenomenon but has been in God's mind for over 6,000 years, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Each member is individually selected, intended for a very specific purpose. We became a part of God's focus once Jesus and the apostles laid the foundation of the Church. We have been added to this foundation made possible through the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Our calling is a priceless treasure. God not only owns us; He is going to marry us. As the Israel of God, we have been called into a marriage covenant. The Church has been planned from the beginning, an entity in which we cannot randomly join, metaphorically depicted as the body of Christ, consisting of members adopted as a part of God's family. The Church's identity, the Israel of God must be revealed to us individually. This worldview should be priceless to us.
A major theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is satisfaction. In his wisdom, Solomon assiduously sought out the answer to the question, "What brings a person true satisfaction?" John Ritenbaugh proposes that God desires far more for us than mere satisfaction: He wants to give us real contentment, a state that comes only through a relationship with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, claiming that one major reason people find Ecclesiastes to be pessimistic is that much of life also contains negativity, suggests that Solomon, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, found much of life discouraging, disappointing, trying, and fraught with vanity. Nevertheless, his lifetime observations provide the reader with insight and practical counsel to navigate the twists and turns of our journey through life. God has given time to mankind as a gift, manipulating its use for each and every person. We need to be thankful to God for physical life itself, considering that the bad as well as the pleasant aspects are fashioned for our ultimate good. We have the obligation to give ourselves over to His fashioning in the best and the worst of times, realizing that God's purpose is being worked out in the process. God's calling turns our lives upside down, giving us challenges we never heretofore considered facing, forcing us to make decisions. We need to be thankful for what God is putting us through, realizing that God is continually with us and is overseeing all the shaping circumstances. It is necessary to live our lives by faith, trusting God in all circumstances (which He designs) with the help of His Holy Spirit. In the poem (or music) of life, God is playing the tune. God is totally sovereign over time, continually involved in the purpose of His creation, working with billions of people at different stages of growth, knowing our limitations and making adjustments accordingly, all the while allowing for our free moral agency. When we go through grim circumstances, whether as individuals or institutions, we need to see God behind the overall manipulations. In the scattering of our previous fellowship, God, not Satan, was in total control of the circumstances. God knows the end from the beginning.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on our calling, gives a Scripture-by-Scripture account of our Divine destiny. God's called-ones have been given the ability to decipher the scattered concepts, revealing the purpose of their destiny throughout the Scriptures. God has allowed us to become familiar with His secret purpose, a purpose fashioned before the foundation of the world, but He has not yet revealed it to the rest. God's plan is being worked out in two stages: the animated clay model stage subjected to death and decay and a spiritual anti-type composed of Spirit, constituting the expansion of the God family. As God's called-out ones, we are metaphorically part of His body, His building, or His family. In the Garden of Eden, mankind was designated as having been created in the God-kind. Mankind is different from the other aspects of creation, having been given authority and dominion over it. Man has been given the mandate to make decisions about good and evil through the use of reason, analyzing cause and effect relationships. Mankind has been fashioned to marry, becoming one with another human being. Ultimately, through a marriage, we will become one with God. We are fashioned to be capable of sin, as well as given the power to resist its influence. We are modeled after our Creator in shape and form, but not yet of the same spiritual substance. All of mankind has been created after the God-kind, but some at this time have been selected to go beyond the animated model stage.
Most converted Christians realize that God is sovereign, or they at least recognize His sovereignty over all things intellectually. But sometimes the Bible reveals something about God that makes them uncomfortable. John Ritenbaugh asks if we truly accept His sovereignty without reservation despite our lack of complete understanding.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Sometimes we are so caught up in our day-to-day activities, including overcoming our individual sins, that we forget the goal of the conversion process, the product into which we are to be transformed. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: For some reason, over the past few days there have been several occasions in which the subject of prayer and its efficacy has come up. ...
As he begins concluding his series, John Ritenbaugh writes that the offerings have a great deal to do with our relationship with God. How closely do we identify with Christ? Are we walking in His footsteps? Are we being transformed into His image?
In this message on the subject of planning and God's sovereignty, John Ritenbaugh stresses that we are obliged to respond to God because He has interfered in our lives, causing us to repent, giving us His Holy Spirit, and limiting our options. We should plan our lives to be in sync with God's planning and purposes for our lives. Even though we have the free moral agency to run counter to God's detailed sovereign purposes, we court disaster if we presumptuously or boastfully plan against these purposes. We ought to plan, exercising living faith in God's sovereign control in everything we do (James 4:15) for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10: 31). Belief in God's sovereignty is of little comfort if we don't also believe in His love and wisdom.
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.
If God is manipulating everything in His sovereignty, why pray? What does prayer teach us? John Ritenbaugh explains why the sovereign God commands us to come before Him in prayer.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
Joy, the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, is more than just happiness. There is a joy that God gives that far exceeds mere human cheerfulness. John Ritenbaugh shows how the Holy Spirit produces it in us.
When Jesus became mentally exhausted and enervated, he became invigorated and refreshed by seeing God's will completed, regarding it metaphorically as food and nourishment (John 4:34) Similarly we can become energized and motivated by our high calling and summons to do the will of God, seeing how vitally important we are to God's purpose. Modifying the slogan of the United States Marines, John Ritenbaugh characterizes the Saints as "The few, the humbled, the called."
Why does God want us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? John Ritenbaugh shows that the Feast is far more than a yearly vacation!
John Ritenbaugh examines the serious and devastating ramifications of the doctrinal changes made by the misguided leaders of the Worldwide Church of God. This pernicious incremental package of changes totally destroyed the vision of God's true purpose for mankind—a marvelous plan of reproducing Himself, creating a God Family (Romans 8:29)—and replaced it with the nebulous Protestant goal of going to heaven or the Catholic concept of a "beatific vision." Predictably, when the vision was changed, then the law (intended to guide that vision), of necessity, had to be thrown out.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
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