Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Martin Collins points out that the graphic imagery of a turbulent sea appearing in Isaiah 57:19-20 describes the troubled minds experienced by those who reject God's laws. God's called-out ones must earnestly strive for peace, realizing that Satan has countless ways to trouble people. It is impossible to grow spiritually in a climate of animosity and jealousy. If we use the power of God's Holy Spirit, peace will naturally accrue as one of the fruits. If we have offended a brother in Christ (or anyone for that manner), we should: (1) admit any mistake in attitude or action, (2) not make excuses for our behavior, (3) acknowledge the hurt we have caused, expressing genuine sorrow, (4) accept consequences, as well as make restitution, (5) overcome our negative behavior by changing our attitude and actions, (6) face up to the offended person, and (7) ask for forgiveness. Similar formulas appear in this message for rebuilding relationships with God and spouse. Another formula for putting an end of contention consists of: (1) praying for humility and wisdom in handling conflict, (2) putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, (3) anticipating likely reactions in order to plan responses, (4) choosing the right time and place, (5) talking face to face if possible, (6) assuming the best about the other, (7) speaking only to build others up, (8) asking for feedback from the other person, and (9) recognizing our own limits, realizing God alone can change a person's mind. We should exercise the same kind of forgiveness and reconciliation to others that Christ has shown us.
David Grabbe reminds us that the Jewish preference for tradition over scriptural substantiation has blinded Israel to truth about Jesus Christ's identity and purpose. As long as tradition does not contradict the word of God, it poses no problem; however, when it goes at cross-purposes with Scripture, problems in understanding arise. In the past, the Church of God has generally taught that Satan is the author of all sin, and that the goat which was allowed to escape on Atonement represents Satan's part in inspiring our sins. It is true that Satan does broadcast attitudes and the whole world is under the influence of his evil mindset. Nevertheless, the choices an individual make are totally his own, even without the additional power of God's Holy Spirit. Satan exerts influence, but the responsibility to choose lies with everyone. We sin when we are drawn away by our own desires. The soul that habitually sins shall die. Whoever has been born of God does not sin as a way of life for His Spirit has, in a sense, reprogrammed him to a different course. Sin entered the world through one man—Adam. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, provided atonement. In his struggle against sin described in Romans 7, Paul did not finger Satan, but blamed sin dwelling in him. The concept of Satan as the azazel goat arises from tradition rather than Scripture, especially from the Book of Enoch, never considered part of the canon.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the devastating locust plagues described in Joel, marvels that the prophet, instead of promising a silver lining on a very black cloud, affirmed that things were going to get intensely worse before they got better. Nevertheless, Joel, whose name means Yahve is God, in the middle of his prophecy, promised a marvelous blessing which would satisfy His people. This prophesied blessing, which became Peter's first words of his Pentecost sermon on Pentecost in 31 AD, was that God would pour out His Spirit, prompting young men to prophesy and old men to dream before the awesome Day of the Lord. Only a type of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled in 31AD and much more is yet to be fulfilled. Joel described a gruesome locust infestation that totally ruined the economy of the nation, placing the citizenry in a state of hopeless, panicked despair. Because Judah had taken God's blessings for granted, He removed His hand of protection, something we see happening in our morally bankrupt culture today. God, in His sovereignty, is guiding His creation to its ultimate purpose, including the devastating plagues and afflictions, designed to motivate repentance and obedience. God represents both mercy and justice. When sin becomes a dominant condition of God's people, God's judgment is not far away, either in the form of political oppression or natural disaster. For a repentant people, there will be restored fellowship and tranquility. The 1915 AD locust plague in Palestine had all the biblical proportions, including the sky darkened with adult locusts, eating everything in their paths. The locust plague Joel described is only a foretaste, symbolic of a more devastating judgment to befall the earth in the future Day of the Lord. Both disaster and grace are tools God uses to motivate repentance, and the wise will act accordingly, turning to God in sincere, contrite, humble, heartfelt repentance, rending their hearts rather than their garments, leading to total conversion and change of mind.
David Grabbe asserts that the Day of Atonement is not about Satan at all, but about the complete cleansing from sins. Rather than a duplication of Passover, the Atonement goats and the sacrificial lamb of Passover have totally different, though complementary, functions. The two goats of Leviticus 16 together make a single offering for sin; one is sacrificed as the payment for sin, while the second is left alive and led away to symbolize sin being completely removed from view. The goats chosen for Atonement were to be free from blemish, something one cannot attribute to Satan. The purpose for Atonement is the propitiation for all sin—including the cleansing of our conscience—made possible by Jesus Christ and not in any way made possible by scape-goating Satan; we are responsible for our own sins. Contrary to common belief, the Passover is not a sin offering, but a peace offering; it contains an acknowledgment of sin, but celebrates the peace and satisfaction that comes from intimate fellowship with God. The assumption that the azazel (meaning "goat of departure") represents a fallen angel who is the cause of human sin does not originate in the canonized scriptures, but springs from the apocryphal "Book of Enoch," a work laden with errors.
For the last generation or two, modern society has been pulling away from acknowledging the reality of sin. Yet, when people believe that God's law is no longer valid, they deceive themselves. Martin Collins surveys scriptures that urge Christians to admit or confess their sins, showing how it benefits our understanding and growth.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
Martin Collins, continuing the series on the awakening of guilt in Joseph brothers, focuses on a message by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who proclaimed that Moses never just said, "Let my people go" The second part of this request was "that they can worship God in the desert." Egypt has long served as a metaphor of sin and bondage. We all have our personal Egypt which could be defined as anything that holds us in bondage or abject servitude. We have to learn to rely on God to get us out of strait and difficult situations, realizing that God may want to develop some backbone and intestinal fortitude in us to mature spiritually, but most importantly to yield to the sovereign God of the Universe, who has our best interests at heart. As Joseph's brothers had to be subjected to three patterns of necessity: (1) nature, (2) the tyranny of man, and (3) circumstances beyond their control, we need to stop trusting in our own savvy and street smarts, but instead turn the controls over to God, realizing that as Joseph's brothers and father matured through these intense gut-wrenching, terrifying trials, we also can escape the most dire circumstances by placing ourselves under God's control.
When we do something against the law or even against our own conscience, guilt is triggered, and we suffer, not just a gut-wrenching emotion, but also a descent into a state of culpability, of sin. Martin Collins instructs the guilty on their response to guilt, recommending taking the proper spiritual steps to remove the guilt through Jesus Christ.
David C. Grabbe: Those whom God has called understand the importance of overcoming, but how do we overcome? In Revelation 12:10-11, God describes in advance those who will overcome: ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Vanquish the sins at their point of origin, and our deeds will be clean before God. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: When we are first born, our nature is essentially neutral, not having been affected one way or the other by outside influences. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: There would be no need for conversion without the existence of sin and its destructive effects on humanity. Sin and the anti-God world it has spawned is what Christians must turn from so that they can truly follow God's way of life. ...
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the essential core of the human heart is evil, self-centered, responding to Satan's wavelength, placing us into slavery and psychological bondage. Our freedom lies in (1) the conviction of God's Holy Spirit of the reality and hideousness of sin (2) a conviction of righteousness (influencing conduct) and (3) a conviction of judgment and retribution. Real repentance and conviction should dramatically augment prayer, study, meditation, but most importantly application.
Another impediment to overcoming our sins is self-justification. We tend to excuse ourselves for what we do, and this only makes it harder to become like God. He is more interested in our transformation than in how good we feel about ourselves!
God desires us to overcome our human nature and grow, but we tend to place major hurdles in the way of accomplishing this. This series of Bible Studies examines these impediments to overcoming.
For the past 40 years sexual sins have topped the list of social issues in America. Divorce is at an all-time high. John Ritenbaugh examines the seventh commandment, the penalties paid for breaking it and how to become faithful to God in the keeping of it.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
John Ritenbaugh examines the metaphor of light as a symbol of God's truth or God's Holy Spirit, convicting us of our self-deception, rescuing us from ignorance, and demonically inspired philosophies, leading us into a wholesome relationship with God. Without the Spirit of God, looking at God's truth resembles looking into the darkness. We see shape and forms of things, but without the Spirit of God, the things (the truths that make up all the mechanisms of God's purpose), all of the doctrines, all of the teachings'none of these make sense or give us a clear picture of what God is doing. With the Spirit of God (the light of God), we see the true shape and form of things and reality appears as something we can see clearly.
John Ritenbaugh contends that while Scripture does allow for individuals to share their faults with one another for encouragement and brotherly advice, no man has the power to forgive sins or grant absolution, a prerogative retained by Christ and God the Father alone. Trusting human allies rather than God to also seems to be a main theme of Lamentations. An acrostic poem with highly structured multiple meters, Lamentations mimics the agitated talk of someone uncontrollably sobbing or crying. Personified as a grieved widow, Jerusalem recounts her sins as a nation, depending on her own strength or on her lovers (political alliances representing spiritual harlotry) rather than upon God, her Husband. Like Ezekiel, Lamentations also applies to modern Israel, which also has the faithless tendency to form adulterous political alliances with other nations rather than rely upon God, bringing the curse of captivity and mocking scorn.
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