Bill Onisick, reflecting on sad childhood memories involving suffering and death, suggests that Jesus Christ has something that God the Father does not share, namely the capacity to suffer and to die. Jesus Christ, as our Advocate and High Priest, is able to empathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted as we are, though not yielding to sin. As we—as part of our sanctification process—follow the pattern set by our Savior and Elder Brother Jesus Christ, God prepares us for roles of great glory as members of His Family. Realizing that all things work together for good for those who have been called according to His purpose, we know that, through the sanctification process, He: (1) makes us perfect (perfectly fitted for our role), (2) establishes us, (3) strengthens us, enabling us to have empathy, and (4) settles us like a house built on a foundation of solid bedrock. Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our salvation, endured temptation without sinning, qualifying to be the perfect substitutionary sacrifice. Through His sacrifice Jesus established a pattern as to how we can become perfect and also qualify to be priests. Our suffering in all its variant forms is for our good. As we suffer on behalf of our Savior, we will also participate in His glory.
Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
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.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Romans 8 provides assurance that we are of God, asks us to consider that the sufferings we go through now are miniscule compared to the glory which we will later receive, completely eclipsing the glory of Adam and Eve before their fall. Our suffering is temporal, fleeting, and momentary, as compared to our glory which will be eternal. Though our outer body wastes away, our inner being waxes more powerful. Sadly, we are limited by our mortality and our materialism from seeing the full picture which God has been revealing to us; Paul wants us to take the time to think it though. The whole material creation has been subject to futility; we groan, Creation and the Holy Spirit, both personified by Paul, groan. Nature is not a self-perfecting entity, but an entity subject to decay and entropy. People who do not know God will either worship or destroy the creation instead of worshipping its Creator. Either way, they are slaves to nature, cursed by Adam's sin. We, as God's called out ones, also groan waiting for our redemption into spirit bodies, enabling us to see God as He is. Our groaning is more akin to the expectant groaning of a woman in childbirth, awaiting a new life. Childbirth pangs last relatively for a short time compared to the aftermath blessing. We groan in hope, realizing that our bodies will be delivered in future glory, when we experience adoption into the very family of God, the final trajectory of our hope.
Martin Collins, realizing that most people, both outside and inside the church, crave assurance , avers that we can have assurance that we are God's heirs and offspring if we are led by the spirit, remaining on the sanctified path of fellowship, growing continually in grace and knowledge. When we receive God's calling, God's Spirit bears witness that we are God's children. God has adopted us from the family of Adam (in which we had become bond-slaves to Satan) into His own family as adopted offspring, sealing us with a down-payment, (that is, the earnest-payment, or pledge) of His Holy Spirit, the means by which we replace our carnal nature with God's character on a kind of installment plan. In this new relationship, we are invited to view God the Father as Jesus Christ did—-Abba, which means Father or Daddy. We are, in God's sight, small, mistake-prone, but pliable children, encouraged to grow in grace and knowledge into the exact character of God as we bear the fruits of His Holy Spirit. At times, we are required to suffer as Christ did, in order to learn and to endure discipline, as God steers us away from deadly obstacles. Through much intense fire is precious metal refined. If we partake in Christ's suffering, we will be assured also to partake in His glorification. Trials often have the peculiar effect of making our testimony or witness more powerful.
Clyde Finklea, acknowledging that life is full of good and bad times, directs us to learn the lesson of Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, to rejoice when times are good and to reflect soberly when times are bad, realizing that adversity or suffering is a tool that God uses to create something beautiful in us. Suffering always hurts, just as renovation on an old building involves tearing out something undesirable to transform it into something pleasant and useful.. The apostle Paul developed incredible spiritual strength by being tested to his limits in what he described as a trial or affliction beyond his capability of handling. Later he developed confidence to shake off a poisonous serpent, trusting in God to heal him. What he had earlier described as “burdened beyond our capacity” he later characterized as a momentary light affliction. To mature us, God uses trials to (1) render us capable of comforting others in their affliction, (2) prevent us from trusting in ourselves, but to motivate us to trust unconditionally in God, and (3) enable us to thank God for our newly acquired strength to endure greater trials and challenges. Whatever we face, God is able to provide us the strength to endure, enabling us to exponentially grow spiritually.
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.
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, reflecting that Satan's perverted desire to ascend to the apex of the universe was totally opposite to Jesus Christ's desire to empty Himself of His divinity, becoming a human being and assuming the role of a bondservant, concludes that their ultimate fates are opposite as well, with Christ receiving glory and Satan receiving utter contempt. Jesus Christ, in His pre-incarnate state, was in the form of God, possessing all of God's attributes-omniscience, glory, and radiance. As a human being, Christ was subjected to the same experiences as the rest of us human beings, having the appearance, the experiences, the capability of receiving injury and pain, and the temptations of a human being. Yet, because He possessed God's Holy Spirit without measure and never yielded to sin, Christ provided us a pattern as to how to live a sinless life, enduring disappointment, persecution, and suffering for righteousness. Jesus manifested the glory of God by continuing in absolute obedience to the will of God and in maintaining a special relationship with the Father. We can begin to approach that glory as we reflect Christ's behavior in us by our obedience and Christ-like behavior, developing a special relationship with God the Father. Someday, we will be transformed into a similar glory as Christ received at His ascension, having the glory of divine moral character.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
David Grabbe, assessing the impact of struggles, pressures, and tribulations of our spiritual journey, reveals that Christ's followers will have to endure afflictions and fiery trials as He prepares them for His Kingdom. Some detractors have tried to preach that "godliness is a means of gain," implying that if we were better people, we would never enter into tribulation. That assumption is not true. God uses both blessings and tribulations to shape His people. Our peace comes from God's grace, not a life of ease and smooth sailing. Those who have peace with God will also have hardship. The rigors God puts us through are not to crush us, but to shape us, transforming us from carnal to spiritual—the new man we are putting on. True spiritual gain is walking through the anguish in victory. As long as God is involved in our life, we are already experiencing the love of God. We do not have to be dismayed about the transformative pressures from the mortar and pestle of our lives.
Among Jesus Christ's greatest miracles is the resurrection of his good friend, Lazarus of Bethany, brother of two of His most ardent followers, Mary and Martha. Martin Collins examines John 11, particularly Jesus' approach to and way of expressing the concept of death.
Richard Ritenbaugh, referring to himself as an armchair conservationist, maintains that conservationists and environmentalists do not have the same goals or objectives. Conservationists want to manage the environment for people; environmentalists want to maintain the environment at the expense of people, looking at humans as the "enemy" of the earth. We have been commissioned by Almighty God to tend and keep the environment. Mankind has severely damaged the earth through industrial pollution, wrong methods of agriculture, genetic modification, and poisonous chemicals. Tending our garden is fraught with complications and difficulties. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's was caused by irresponsible farming methods, tearing up virgin prairie soil, formerly verdant with buffalo grass covering the High Plains. This mismanagement caused much of the topsoil to blow across the nation into the Atlantic Ocean. Farmers had to be retrained to think of their land as part of a greater whole, requiring rotation, land Sabbaths, and natural symbiosis of nature's components. God does things in a sequential order, establishing a hierarchy of order in the family, the church, the entirety of nature, as well as the entire universe. Men and women (converted husbands and wives) are in this symbiotic process together as parts of an interdependent single entity working toward the same goals. If we make the same mistakes as our original parents, trusting our own senses, blaming others, and glomming onto Satan's deception, we will reap similar consequences. Adam sinned willfully, having abdicated his leadership position. Sin is failure to do what God has commanded us. Because of this sin, posterity has been cursed with overwhelming toil just to stay ahead, paradoxically for our ultimate benefit. We are perfected in trials, suffering, privations, hardship, and hard work, all of which we can consider a blessing and gift from God.
Only the apostle John records Jesus' healing of the man born blind, found in John 9, which shows Christ calling a people for Himself despite the efforts of the Jewish authorities to deter Him. Martin Collins covers a few major themes woven throughout this account.
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.
Despite the many blessings God bestows upon His saints, real Christianity more resembles a running battle against persistent, hostile forces than a leisurely stroll down the path of life. John Ritenbaugh uses the example of ancient Israel in the wilderness to illustrate that God prepares us for spiritual war against the enemies that would keep us from His Kingdom.
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 focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
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.
In this pre-Passover sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh admonishes us that we must identify our enemy, recognizing the source of evil. As Pogo (the comic strip) discovered, "We have found the enemy, and the enemy is us." (Jeremiah 17:9) If we would clean up the defilement on the inside, stamping out our carnal nature, we would be clean on the outside. We have been called, not merely to suffer, but to return goodness for reviling. The best weapon against the evil of our human nature is to develop the mind of Christ within us to displace our carnal nature.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh, defining providence as the protective care of God, suggests that the providence of God also touches on the pains and sufferings of persecution. To the elect whom God foreknew, all things- pleasant or unpleasant- happen for ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Tragic things, calamities, trials, anxiety, evil, and curses happen to Christians too, as well as blessings, in order to become fashioned and molded into the glory of God's image. As Christ learned from the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), we must also develop patience, refrain from murmuring, and realize that "time and chance" no longer apply to those whom God has called. Whatever it takes to bring God's purpose to pass, we need to develop the humility, obedience, and faith to accept.
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 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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon themes covered in previous sermons and sermonettes, including commitment and our ultimate goal of becoming a member of the God family, explores sanctification as both a state and a process - a time period between justification and glorification during which overcoming, purification, and holiness takes place with the help and aid of God's Holy Spirit.
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 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.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
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