Mike Ford, reflecting upon the high prevalence of 'snowflakes' (i.e., anxiety-ridden young people) needing a safe place, exemplified by the Yale girl shrieking for a safe place from Halloween costumes, and Harvard snowflakes, terrorized by having to pay library fines, contends that we have never experienced such fearfulness in pre-adults. A major contributory factor of this snowflake syndrome was the self-esteem movement of the 1960's, which brainwashed young people into thinking they were unique and special. Today's parents, refusing to teach their offspring responsibility, turning them over to government-controlled daycare at a young age, are turning the current generation into packs of violent savages. The family has been under attack since the 1960's, leaving in its wake a new normal of narcissism and irresponsibility. The youths Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no fear of trial because they feared God more than raging fire. The antidote to fearfulness is God's Holy Spirit, destroying cowardice with a sound mind and a good work ethic.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Malachi 3:13-15, which does not describe Israel's greatest moments, reminds us that God has never said the Christian life would be easy and that life would always be fair. Jesus Christ urged all of us to count the cost. Difficulties and tests are given to test our hearts and promote humility, a valuable nutrient for spiritual growth. David's experience with the successive stages in defeating the Amalekites, in which the 200 of the 600 men who became battle-fatigued received their share of the booty, indicates that God doesn't deal in favoritism. God judges everybody equally; to whom He has given more, much more will be required of him. The book of Numbers, considered incoherent and incomprehensible by proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis, is definitely logically ordered by Almighty God to demonstrate the cause and effect nature of sin, recording the death tolls until the entire first generation of stiff-necked rebels had their carcasses strewn throughout the desert. The second generation survived and was protected by God for 40 years. God provided them supernaturally food and drink, just as the Israel of God receive spiritual food and drink. Miraculously, the clothing of the Children of Israel did not wear out. As they complained about the 'boring' manna, God flooded them with 110 bushels of quail per person until the gluttonous lusts brought about death. Similarly, the Israel of God cannot yield to the intense craving for the world or go back to the 'good old days' before our conversion. Murmuring and complaining about God's servant, as Miriam had done, brought about the horrendous curse of leprosy. In the Israel of God, we are warmed not gossip, slander, or malign the character of our teachers or our brethren. As ancient Israel feared the Anakin more than they trusted God, we have to learn to fear God more that the problems and people we confront. Our hearts must be fixed on God as He tests us and prepares us to lead.
The prophet Elijah set the standard for all the prophets, calling forth God's power to bring about a drought and calling down fire, embarrassing and exterminating the priests of Baal. After warning the people not to halt between two opinions, he fell into a dilemma of either fearing God or fearing man, and ended up fearing Jezebel rather than God, thinking he was alone in his zeal for God. Sadly, some of our fellow splinter groups have succumbed to the Elijah complex, thinking they are the only ones carrying on the work of God, looking down on their brethren as Laodicean or unconverted. We dare not elevate our self-importance over our brethren in different groups. God foretells seven churches, but one body, all contemporaneous when Christ comes again.
In the gospel accounts, the Pharisees receive the lion's share of Christ's correction for their blatant hypocrisy, and they have become a byword for that sin. Martin Collins explores the extent of this sin, which can reach to the point of the unpardonable sin, and suggests how we can overcome it.
All of us—teens and adults—have felt the stress of peer-pressure in one form or another. Though the Bible does not use the term, it teaches us not to conform to our peers but to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
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.
Even though a Christian's potential in God's Kingdom is so wonderful, it is still necessary for God to motivate His children to reach it. John Ritenbaugh begins his series on Christian motivation by expounding the fear of God.
Joseph of Arimathea has always been a shadowy figure among the well-known personages of the Bible. Mike Ford helps to dispel the shadows with this sketch of this disciple's life.
Persecution is not a subject we normally like to think about, but it is a fact of life for a Christian. John Ritenbaugh explains why Jesus says we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
John Ritenbaugh points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Deuteronomy (the commentary of the Law placed along side of the Tablets of the Law), designed to be systematically reviewed every seven years, provides us vision and preparatory instruction for living in our new Promised Land as members of God's family. We need to learn (it doesn't come naturally) and acquire the fear of God- equated with hating evil and doing good, leading to faith and wisdom. If we fear God, we will be less inclined to fear people. The sermon explores the subject of grace, indicating that we have nothing that we didn't receive from God- including our calling, justification, skills, attributes, spiritual gifts, and our pending eternal life. The final theme in this sermon explores God's faithfulness (no variableness nor shadow of turning), symbolized by the image of the harvest- depicting God's faithfulness from the beginning to completion. Living in booths depicts transitory existence suggesting our total dependency upon God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
Standing up against the majority is never easy, but as Christians, we have been called to do just that. We need to grow in courage until we "are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1)!
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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