Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Martin Collins, continuing his exposition on the Post-Resurrection Last Words of Christ, focuses on the statements Jesus made to Thomas, the disciple who demanded empirical proof of His resurrection, reminding us, who also did not witness the Resurrection, to particularly heed Christ's comments to him. Jesus admonishes us "do not be unbelieving, but believing," and "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:27-28). When Jesus invited Thomas to put his hands into the wounds, Thomas not only refrained, but gave the most powerful testimonial ever recorded in scripture. We would be presumptuous to cast aspersions on Thomas, using the world's cliché "Doubting Thomas," as he was a man more brave than most of us would have been confronted with similar circumstances. Nor should we presume to ask of our Lord any more assuring signs and miracles than He has already provided through the systematic testimonials provided by the scriptures. Jesus assures us that the cultivation of the type of faith documented in the Gospel accounts accrues abundant and incredible blessings, including knowledge that by faith, we (1) become children of God, (2) have eternal life, (3) are delivered from judgment, (4) receive spiritual satisfaction now, (5) are equipped with the means for entering the final resurrection, (6) become blessings to others, (7) see the glory of God, (8) abide in darkness no longer, (9) are blessed with a fruitful life, and (10) receive the benefits of Christ's prayers on our behalf.
Joseph Baity, stressing the need to strengthen the bonds of our fellowship with each other, suggests that in the past, the Church of God may have focused too intensely on elusive esoteric principles and neglected the basics, such as developing solid relationships within the body of Christ, forgetting the principle that iron sharpens iron. From creation, we realize that man is not independent from woman, and woman is not independent from man. Remarkably, the natural birth ratio of men to women is 50/50. Likewise, God does not want brethren to be cliquish and stand-offish, preferring to be 'independent' Christians; rather, He wants them to be complementary servants of one another. Sadly, because of transgression of God's law, the hearts of the people have grown dull, callous, and resentful toward one another. When we become isolated from one another, we grow dull and unproductive. Unity within the body of Christ inevitably is accompanied by discomfort from the sparks of iron sharpening iron, but discomfort is a small price for ultimate unity. If Satan can weaken the bonds of our fellowship, he will render us vulnerable. God's called-out ones must not let that kind of deterioration happen.
Austin Del Castillo, observing the ballooning prayer list, the continuing fractures occurring throughout the greater Church of God, and the high frequency of people offended, asserts that, unless our primary relationship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ, a positive relationship with our called-out brethren will be impossible, and we will come to feel alone in our spiritual battle. Too many have become strangers to God. Our relationship with God must be real and not imaginary, much closer than any family member or friend. God loves us far more than we love our children. Through accessing His Holy Spirit as metaphorical branches of the vine, we take on godly characteristics, having love for our brethren, willing to sacrifice our lives for them, if necessary, exceeding the bravery of the mythical Aragorn and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. Jesus will never force us to love Him; only we can do that. Absolutely no one should be closer and more intimate with us than Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Bill Onisick asks us to imagine living the life of a shepherd 3,000 years ago in Bethlehem, tending the flocks from pen to pasture, and moving the flock continually to venues of food and safety. Equipped with a rod, a knife, and a sling, the shepherd safeguards the flock from predators. This profession is truly faith-building as one continually drops to his knees to ask for God's protection. During the night, the shepherd's life was sometimes frightening, and in the daytime, it was lonely and occasionally boring, but continually demanding. Thankfully, one had plenty of time to think, pray, and meditate, as well as hone one's skills with the sling. In the years caring for his flocks, David had to learn to deal with all kinds of physical threat. The greatest skill David learned was to trust in God. The trials God allowed David to go through strengthened his shepherding and leadership skills, making him able to destroy the champion of the Philistines, Goliath of Gath. David's entire life trusting in God had prepared him for this giant trial. His faith in God provided him the victory. Our great God leaves nothing to chance. God is preparing us the same way He did David, with smaller trials and tests preparing us for larger trials and tests, building ironclad faith, leading perhaps to a giant trial down the road, grooming us for eventual kingship. Every trial and test is for our good.
Martin Collins, averring one of the major things for which we can be thankful is the marriage covenant, examines some of the chilling, corrosive, and detrimental consequences to a society which spurns the God-given marriage covenant. Radical feminism has tried to empower one gender by disabling and marginalizing the other gender, creating a pathological, dysfunctional society in which women cannot find good men to love and cherish and men cannot find good women to love and cherish. The irresponsible social engineers who have launched the ill-fated sexual revolution have damaged the family structure, polarizing men and women rather than viewing them as inseparable partners (metaphorically like two halves of the moon) as God had intended. The pattern of Eve as a help-meet to Adam was instituted before Adam and Eve sinned and was consequently not abrogated by Christ's sacrifice as some Biblical feminists have asserted. Women, to be sure, were never created as servants to their spouses but as complementary companions, sharing physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual relationships which mirror Christ's love for the church by sacrificing His very life for her. God intended husbands and wives to be one in mind and spirit, not bifurcated as Solomon's spiritual relationships with his pagan wives. Marrying outside of the faith makes it difficult to establish this spiritual connection. Daniel Lapin has summarized the pitfalls of the egalitarian marriage arrangements as encouraged by 'liberated' women. In our decadent western culture, the mortal enemies of the marriage covenant consist of (1) the pleasure seeking new-hedonism (or the 'new' morality), (2) the widespread acceptance of adultery, (3) the ease of divorce and annulment, and (4) the legalization of abortion (the equivalent of apostate ancient Israel's sacrificing children to Molech. Marriage was created for us to understand the spiritual God-plane relationship between Christ and the Church.
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.
Martin Collins, maintaining that American culture prides itself on rugged individualism and independence, cautions that in spiritual matters, dependence upon God gives us the resolve, firmness, and tenacity for our spiritual journey. None of the heroes or heroines of faith faced their challenges by themselves, but were aware of God's protection and power, a power much greater than themselves. Without God, we are incomplete. We do not stand alone; we stand on the shoulders of all the faithful people who came before us, passing the baton to us, running a race that will culminate at our death.We stand with the patriarchs who have come before us. We will fall if we do not learn from their examples. If they can do it, we can too. Our race is a marathon, not a quick sprint. Consequently, we must discard the weight of useless emotional baggage, leaving behind old resentments and frustrations. We cannot afford to look only after number one, but must consider ourselves cooperating with a great cloud of witnesses, who had to jettison the weights that encumbered them, making them less vulnerable to sin which clings like vines around us. Our temptations bubble up from the interior of our minds. Even though the race seems to go on endlessly, the model set for us by our Elder Brother, and the motivation of God's Holy Spirit, will help us finish the race.
Martin Collins, reiterating that God's sovereignty is a major theme in the book of Daniel, reminds us that if we submit unconditionally to His sovereignty, we have a win-win situation- even when initially, it looks bleak and hopeless. After Nebuchadnezzar's death, the successive tenures of each of his descendants became increasingly attenuated and truncated, mortally weakening Babylon's here-to-fore impregnable position. Belshazzar's blasphemous banquet was the last straw, bringing about the cryptic 'handwriting on the wall' - a somber judgment from Almighty God against the haughty, presumptuous grandchild of Nebuchadnezzar. The words "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" signified that Belshazzar's kingdom had been weighed in the balances and was seriously wanting, forcing a calamitous division and destruction at the hands of Darius the Mede. Belshazzar had to learn the painful lesson that sin is not static, but its path leads precipitously downhill to perdition. Sin, the real opiate of the people, makes us oblivious to danger, giving us a debased and reprobate mind. God is not static; His deferred justice will not be deferred in perpetuity, but evil will be totally recompensed. As Daniel experienced, devotion to God and His laws will stir up jealousy in high places. Daniel maintained his devotion to God in spite of dangerous political circumstances, seemingly standing alone amidst a totally pagan culture. Yet, Daniel was the only one who had it together in the whole empire, totally convicted about what God would soon bring to pass. God wants a voluntary relationship, but leaves it up to us as to how to show our devotion. We could emulate Daniel, seeking contact with God multiple times in the day through prayer, praying in all kinds of situations (in the morning when we are beginning; evening to offer Thanksgiving for the mercies of the day, Before sleep to commend ourselves to Him, in times of embarrassment, and when tormented with strong temptations.) In life and death, God is in control.
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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Only when we are still can we truly concentrate on knowing God. When our lives are upside-down, confusion and chaos reign ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on the pervasive influence of pornography on the Internet, television, music, and print media, suggests that young people engaging in premarital sex are acting like sheep to the slaughter, totally oblivious to the real facts of life. Dating should be preceded by wholesome group activities; God created us as social beings, placing a longing in each individual for a member of the opposite sex. The purpose of dating should not be considered merely a pre-marriage ritual designed to prepare one for marriage, but instead (1) to develop wholesome interactions with the opposite sex in contrast to the world's dating games, totally mired in the lures of temptation and emotion described by James 1:14-15; (2) to help individuals to see their own strengths and weaknesses, gradually understanding themselves; (3) to develop practice in serving others, and (4) to discover the person one will marry. The more similarities there are in a relationship, the less likelihood that conflicts will emerge. A key ingredient in the dating process is faith in God's purpose in each person's life. The relationship one has with God takes precedence over any relationship with any other human being.
During the spring and summer of 1980, Terry Fox pursued his "Marathon of Hope" to raise money for cancer research, running in effect 143 consecutive marathons. His experience contains similarities to a Christian's life, and we can extract lessons that apply to our long journey to God's Kingdom.
As Christians, we sometimes fail to appreciate our calling: We have been invited to participate in the very Marriage Supper of Jesus Christ—and not just as a guest, but as the Bride! The Bible is full of marriage symbolism, suggesting just how important marriage is to God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the characteristics of a prophet, showing that both Moses and Aaron fulfilled this role. Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest of all the Old Covenant prophets, distinctive by his austere dress and diet. Highly esteemed by the common people, John was unusually vital and strong, and consciously prepared the way for the Messiah. Although by no means a wild man, John, like the prophets of old, experienced alienation from people, especially the entrenched religious and political leaders within the system. His greatness lay in 1) the office he filled, 2) the subject he proclaimed, 3) the manner in which he did it, and receding into the background, 4) the zeal in which he performed his office, 5) the courage he demonstrated, 6) his lifetime service, and 7) the number and greatness of his sacrifices, performed in the spirit and power of Elijah, by which he restored and repaired family values, enabling people to see God.
Martin Collins reflects that affliction is a necessary aspect of life yielding positive results in terms of character strengthening. Suffering and affliction paradoxically strengthen character while ease and comfort weaken human personality and character. The apostle Paul's abundant afflictions and infirmities, including his troublesome thorn in the flesh, actually strengthened him spiritually. Purposes for affliction include (1) corrective discipline and spiritual maturity, (2) sanctification and purification, and (3) God's glory. God the Father also suffers anguish and affliction when we sin and bring misery upon ourselves by yielding to temptation. Christ was made perfect in His role of High Priest by suffering. Compared to the ultimate joy we will experience, trials are exceedingly brief.
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Fans of The X-Files cannot help having seen the poster on Fox Mulder's FBI office wall that proclaims, "We are not alone. ...
Many people may have seen "Lessons from the Geese" in a business setting, but Mike Ford shows how these lessons can benefit us in God's church.
Peace is less of an external situation than an internal state. As such, we can have peace wherever we happen to be. We can help ourselves create this state by occasionally getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
Sometimes, we get down because we think that all our labors for God have gone unnoticed. Elijah did, and his story points out a major lesson we all would do well to heed today.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Lamentations 3, the narrator looks at the horrible affliction of his people and sees ultimate good coming from this tribulation, realizing that it has been God's tool of correction. Our responsibility in such a context is to submit to the yoke God has prepared for us, and to be willing to follow God's will, realizing that chastening has been for our ultimate good.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
Before continuing with the book of Matthew, John Ritenbaugh answers four questions from church members. The first question is whether Micah 7:14 refers to a place of safety. In this prayer, Micah, after describing his current discouragement at the moral stage of Judah and their impending captivity, requests that God intervene and feed His people solitarily, protecting them with His rod of protection. This prayer has duality for our current times and the protection of God's church. The wooded region of Carmel becomes a symbol of protection, a refuge from invading armies. This wooded refuge, as well as Gilead, also could apply in type to the church in current times. The second question applies to the identity of Eliachim in Isaiah 22:25. Because of his apparent gradual corruption, Eliachim could not have been a Christ figure. A third question applies to the physical resurrection of the people who were resurrected at the time of Jesus' first resurrection, who served as witnesses proving the reality of the resurrection, and a type of the future resurrection. A fourth question concerns the context in I Corinthians 7 in which separation between married couple is permitted. The study concludes in Matthew 23 with the loss of proportion among the Pharisees, spending their entire lives in a negative attitude, avoiding sin, but not lightening the burdens of their flocks by applying justice, mercy, and faith. The Pharisees did not understand their own carnal nature and could not, with their blinded mindset, have prevented their impending hostility to Jesus and the saints. Avoiding sin does not necessarily equate with "doing good"; if we do good, we do not have time to sin. [Editors note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-10sec mark] [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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