Ted Bowling recalls his early days in a Pentecostal Church where the key doctrine, deriving from a misapplication of Acts 2:4 and Acts 2:38, led the members to believe that glossolalia (speaking in 'tongues') was the unmistakable sign that God has accepted us. The miracle of Pentecost was not the speaking incomprehensible gibberish, but it was that a multitude of foreigners heard the Gospel in their own language. It was a miracle of hearing combined with a speaking of existing languages. In one bogus 'Pentecostal' service, a young man prayed out and cried for evidence of God's Holy Spirit (supposedly evidenced by the glossolalia) only to be denied this supposed gift, leaving him feeling that God had rejected him. God's Holy Spirit is a gift; we cannot and should not try to 'work it up.' When hands are laid on us at baptism, we do not feel a zap of electricity going through our nervous systems. The changes we receive are not external but internal, marked by inward growth in Godly character, leading to a mirror-like image of Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, reminding us that God has designed the human condition to be governed by a series of life-or-death choices, focuses on the life-choices of Gideon as a source of encouragement to us all. Gideon, whom the writer of the Book of Hebrews included in the "Faith Chapter," began his life as a coward, became a conqueror, and ended a compromiser, all the while needing continuous assurances from God to bolster his flagging faith. Gideon wondered 1.) whether God really cared about him, 2.) whether God knew what He was doing, 3.) whether God would take care of him and 4.) whether God would keep His promises. To this anxiety-laden man, God demonstrated His faithfulness and forbearance, in stark contrast to Gideon's continuous tests and childish demands, disturbing traits that some of us also display. We must learn that God always keeps His promises and cares for us so much that He is willing to chasten us to bring us to life-saving repentance. As His workmanship, we receive God's personal attention, guiding us through the baby steps needed as He strengthens our wobbly faith, giving us increasingly more abilities as the scope of our tasks increases. As God answered all four of Gideon's questions in the affirmative, He will do the same for those who are going through faith-testing trials. As God incrementally built Gideon's faith, allowing him to prove it privately before he would take a public stand, God will do the same for us, knowing that our frame is weak and frail, totally helpless without the power of His Holy Spirit.
Martin Collins asserts that miracles and signs from God, while certainly generating awe and fear, seldom lead to righteousness, but more likely to continued rebellion. Jesus points out that only an adulterous generation seeks after miracles and signs. No greater period of miracles took place in history than at the time of the Exodus, including the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Yet, the stiff-necked Israelites rebelled against God on ten separate occasions. The longest period of growth and stability in Israel occurred under David's and Solomon's reigns, a period attended by no miracles. Elijah and Elisha performed godly miracles during a massive apostasy. John the Baptist, proclaimed by Jesus as the greatest of men, performed no miracles whatsoever. The miracles and signs Jesus performed were received with awe, but also with much ridicule and scoffing from the religious leaders. Axiomatically, the spiritually weak need miracles; the more spiritually mature one becomes, the fewer signs and wonders he needs to sustain faith. God blessed the Corinthian congregation with spiritual gifts (of discerning prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, etc.), but the vanity which these gifts produced led to party-spirit and jealousy. In the future, the False Prophet and Beast will lead many astray by miracles and signs, deceiving most of the world. As God's called-out ones, walking humbly with God should displace any desperate need for signs and wonders.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
David C. Grabbe: In Matthew 12:39, Jesus Christ says that "an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. ...
David Grabbe cues in on Matthew 12:39 in which Jesus Christ told the Pharisees that an evil generation looks for a sign from heaven (perhaps like fire or manna). Christ said the sign of Jonah, specifying His time in the tomb, was all He would give them. Jesus was not against signs; the Gospel of John is structured around eight signs. The Old Testament is full of signs, which the Pharisees missed because they failed to keep the Covenant properly. Ancient Israel witnessed numerous signs on the Sinai, but because of the hardness of their hearts, the signs profited them nothing. When God gives a sign, He intends it should be taken seriously. God links a disbelief in His signs as a rejection of Him. Forgetting God's signs leads to forgetting Him. A sign serves as a symbol of divine communication. God desires His Word to be bound as signs in our forehead (our will) and in our hands (our actions and behavior), impressed in our hearts and in our lives. When we behave according to God's Word, it truly is a sign to others, most of whom do not see the value and practicality of following God's Commandments. Obedience is a testimony that there is a God who wants us to live a certain way, modeling our behavior after Jesus Christ, who kept Our Father's Law in the spirit and letter. Obedience to God's Law constitutes a sign to others that we are different, in a positive sense, from the ways of the world, enabling us to demonstrate by our behavior the superiority of God's plan for us. As well, obedience to His Law constitutes a sign to God that we are loyal to Him and will respond to anything He says, including keeping His Sabbath. Sadly, only a fraction of the religious community on the earth take God's Law seriously. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (including the command to eat unleavened bread daily during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread) are also signs we dare not take lightly. If we forget the signs of God, we forget our identity, as has most of Israel, and will bring curses upon ourselves, as has our nation
During these restless days in the church of God, it is common for us to wonder when the really exciting things are going to begin happening, what God is doing now, and where He is working. ...
An outstanding feature of Christ's ministry is the many astounding miracles that He performed throughout Judea and Galilee. Martin Collins proposes that Jesus' miracles did far more than merely excite His audience: They declared the Source of His power and His message.
John Ritenbaugh contrasts the genuine miracle of tongues or language at the first Pentecost with the current practice in Pentecostal groups. In Acts 2, the crowd actually heard the disciples speaking in their own languages - dialects already in existence - not gibberish. The apostle Paul, chastising the spiritually immature Corinthians for the abuse of this spiritual gift, affirms that there is no reason for people to use language except to communicate intelligently. Tongues originally served as a sign for unbelievers, not as a secret "rite of passage" for the initiated. It is a mistake to equate speaking in tongues with 1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 2) being filled by the Spirit, 3) evidence of the fruits of the spirit, 4) evidence of faith, or 5) evidence that God is working through the speaker.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Pharisees, analyzes the reasons for their continuous condemnation. Having their origin in the days of Ezra, the Scribes and Pharisees were extremely zealous for the law, separating themselves for this exclusive purpose. Over time, this originally noble purpose devolved into a rigid, exclusivist sect, separating themselves from foreigners, heretics, or base people, manufacturing strict, repressive rules for the Sabbath; supporting and detailing the Temple service; and promoting strict observance of the tithing laws. As the teachers of the people, they held a great deal of power, which soon became corrupt, turning them into arrogant, desiccated legalists, ignoring the redemptive aspects of God's law. Pharisees sought after signs, interminably multiplied regulations concerning ceremonially clean and unclean, and developed elaborate regulations for washings, actually leading to the breaking of God's law.
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 insists that the ability to do miracles does not identify a speaker as a representative of God, especially if the signs entice one to depart from the Word of God. Jesus warns that if we ask God for protection from demonic influence, we cannot sit back passively; Satan always counterattacks. Evil must be displaced with good. Jesus encourages us to develop spiritual family relationships within the Church of God coupled with common experiences to reinforce godly behavior. Generally, we cannot expect this kind of special reinforcement from our blood relatives or physical friends. The parable of the sower reflects the various levels of receptivity and conversion among people who are exposed to the Word of God. Matthew 13:22-23 seems to be aimed at the ministry, providing encouragement to keep plugging away despite some un-germinated seed. Like a farmer, the minister must learn patience before results are realized. We must use and develop what God has given or it will dissipate. The study concludes with an exposition of the tares (Darnel) and wheat parable, indicating that Satan has planted false brethren that are hard to distinguish from the real. God is the only one fit to judge.[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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