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.
Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
David Grabbe, claiming that the command to take up the cross has been sullied, tainted, and moreover smeared by Protestant heretical syrup, insists that the venerating of the cross (explicitly violating the Second Commandment) pre-dated Christianity by several centuries, having served as the monogram for the Babylonian god Tammuz. Early Christianity made no use of the cross until the time of Constantine, who foisted it off as a kind of good luck charm. Alexander Hislop, in his book The Two Babylons, claims that virtually all pagan religions incorporate some form of the cross in their worship. Logically, it seems sick or depraved to exalt an instrument of torture in order to worship. Scriptural references indicate Christ may have been executed on a tree; hence the staros he carried could have been a heavy beam, evidently to be fastened to a tree. In this sense, the cross represents a burden, emphasizing that there is a sacrifice or cost we experience when following Him. Bearing our cross means our time on this earth is virtually finished, that we are willing to give up our lives, emulating the life of our Savior. When we follow His example, we find our family and friends rapidly cool in their affections for us, helping us realize there is a cost to following Him. God's Law is not the burden, but instead the burden is the feeling our carnal nature experiences as being "put upon," but ironically, the more we enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace God's way, the deeper the sense of peace we feel for the strength to endure this burden. Paradoxically, if we are willing to lose our life for His sake, mortifying the flesh and crucifying our carnality daily, we will gain a far more abundant life and moreover, life eternal—a precious insight that the foolish, carnal mind regards as rubbish.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
David C. Grabbe: In Part One, we saw that pressure, hardship, and anguish are not elements of a Christian's life that suddenly disappear because of faith and God's calling. It also became clear that trial ...
David C. Grabbe: "Why is each day such a struggle?" We have all likely asked such a question during those times when it seems nothing is going right for us. And we probably already know its answer ...
The Bible makes frequent use of the yoke as a symbol of work, servitude, and union, but we moderns are unfamiliar with yokes due to our non-agrarian lifestyles. Ronny Graham describes the various kinds of yokes—including human yokes—and shows how they are relevant to our Christian lives.
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.
God has given us two valuable tools, which if used in proper proportions, bring about character and spiritual fruit. Used independently, like all polar or dichotomous thinking (going to one ditch or the other), over-emphasis on one has the tendency to distort the process. The law and God's Spirit (not to be considered polar opposites), given on the same calendar date (at Sinai and Jerusalem), must be applied in tandem to get the best results. Richard Ritenbaugh uses analogies from governmental codes and regulations to illustrate what happens when one extreme dominates the other. Over-emphasis on law produces rigidity and loophole hunters, while over-emphasis on spirit produces emotional imbalance, permissiveness, disobedience and lack of structure. Law and Spirit are not opposites, but complementary, and must work together in order to get results.
In this powerful conclusion of the sin series, John Ritenbaugh warns that, contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who emphasize one trait of God at the expense of the others (or one doctrine at the expense of the others) run the risk of distorting the truth, creating a grotesque caricature. Almighty God, having both a good and severe nature, much like a loving parent, will move Heaven and earth, including using a rod of correction, to see that His offspring conform to His will and purpose. We need to adopt the humble, unassuming characteristic of a little child to make sure we yield to His awesome sovereignty.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh begins by explaining that Amos means "burden bearer," characterizing the message he delivered. Like a hawk circling around in tightening circles, Amos gives a series of dire warnings beginning with Israel's arch-enemies but concluding with a blistering indictment on Israel herself—appearing religious, prosperous, and formidable on the outside but rotting from self-pleasing idolatry and cancerous moral decay on the inside. This situation parallels modern Israel and the current situation in the church of God. Privilege (God's calling) brings grave responsibility, and judgment (God's plumb line) begins at the house of God. Amos is speaking to us.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
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.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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