Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the Church of God should be at the forefront encouraging the reading of good literature. Faithfully translated, God's Word is the foremost example of good literature—containing examples of high-quality poetry, biography, history and even drama. Its frequent use of a large variety of multi-levelled figurative language is just one indicator of the quality of God's Word. Christ's description of His Words as Spirit and Life assure us that His Words (spoken or in print) have a quality that no other human words have because they have God, who by definition is Spirit, as their Source. Further, these words, if ingested, lead to eternal life. Seven sets of metaphors picture the uniqueness of the Holy Scripture. God's Word serves as: (1) A lamp and a light, identifying two aspects—an internal map or guidebook inside of us, and an external beacon illuminating the dangers around us (Psalm 119:105); (2) A health tonic for our spiritual body (Proverbs 4:20-22); (3) Rain and snow, initiating growth and fecundity (Isaiah 55:10-11); (4) A hammer and a fire, destroying evil and purifying us from sin (Jeremiah 23:8-9); (5) Food that nourishes our emerging spiritual bodies at every point on the sanctification process (Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 5:12); (6) A sword which can repel God's enemies with truth and an instrument to mortify our own carnal natures (Hebrews 4:12); and (7) Incorruptible seed which bears spiritual fruit (James 1:21, I Peter 1:22-23). God plants His Word and, as it interacts with His Spirit dwelling in us, expects a return on His investment (James 4:5), namely a high yield of Fruit (Galatians 5:22, John 15:4-5).
David Maas, concluding the series on the W's and H's of meditation, focuses on a series of scriptures warning us to guard our hearts, bring every thought into captivity, and let no one take our crowns, emphasizing our responsibility to take charge of our thoughts, monitoring not only what goes into our minds, but proactively filtering the contaminated, toxic sewage that too frequently percolates out of our carnal nature. The only thing that we will take through the grave is our character—the contents of our cumulative thoughts over a lifetime. Because we will ultimately turn into what we assimilate, we must take back the high-jacked tool of meditation to drive out carnal thoughts, replacing them with godly character. Researchers have scientifically proven that meditation improves memory, as well as generates profound peace as an antidote to agitation, stress, confusion. When properly practiced, meditation can help us to plant the mind of Christ into our nervous system, using the spirit in man—the candle of the Lord—to write upon our hearts His precious law using the gift of the Holy Spirit. During our pilgrimage in this life, we must carry our spiritual heritage box around in fractured clay jars, but at our resurrection, we will be glorified in spiritual bodies more luminous than the sun as we will see God as He is and assume our new roles in His royal family.
Martin Collins, reminding us that we are commanded to rejoice at the Feast of Tabernacles, observes that the world is clueless as to what constitutes both joy and happiness. Millennials, having turned inward, texting rather than talking, have abandoned a major factor in happiness, the joy of family and community. Hearing the cadence of the human voice, and hearing the Gospel, transcends looking at the freeze frames of the person speaking or preaching. Happiness is not an end it itself, but a by-product of our response to God's calling coupled with our determination to connect with the voices of our Heavenly Father, our Elder Brother, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paradoxically, we must lose ourselves in service to others to find happiness. Joy, on the other hand, is constant, a function of God's Holy Spirit, the Mind of Christ living within us; to God's-called out ones, joy is a birthright. The most exhilarating happiness comes from embracing the Way of life to which God has called us, having His Law written on our hearts. All other forms of happiness, including fame, fortune, and fun are short-lived and ultimately disappointing. With God's Holy Spirit within us, and our sins forgiven, the trials and tribulations of life will be whittled down to size as God fulfills the promises and blessings of the Beatitudes.
David Grabbe, cautioning us to avoid using Strong's Concordance as final arbiter of the meaning of a Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic word, points out that all words have multiple meanings and consequently do not yield to the faulty "one meaning" or "exact meaning" assumption. The meaning of the noun spirit, for example, is highly variable, based on context. The meaning of the Ephesians' "losing their first love" can in one context refer to their loss of original enthusiasm, but the phrase can also refer to their gradual reprioritizing, lowering God to a less dominant position in their lives. It is improper to build a doctrine on one Scripture. We need at least two reliable Scriptures (and hopefully more) to establish any doctrine, a lesson we learn from God's standard of evidence—that any important matter must be decided "at the mouths" of at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15). Strong is correct to assert that the Greek words agape or agapeo can mean in one context "social love," but sadly, because a decadent culture has distorted the concepts underlying the meaning of the noun social, Strong's definition is too general to be reliable. It is best to rely on the maxim in Proverbs 11:14: "In a multitude of counselors there is safety."
David Maas, continuing his sixth (penultimate) installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, returns to the topic of Scripture memorization as an integral part of meditation—the necessary fuel in the absence of an electronic or paper Bible. The admonition to remember is one of the most dominant themes in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus' brother James has taught us that the most important spiritual agronomy and horticultural project we can engage in is the cultivation of our minds, submitting to the implanted word which can save our souls. When we plant the Word of God into our nervous systems, we are ensuring that the genotype (the earnest payment of His Holy Spirit) grows into a mature spiritual phenotype (the glorified spiritual body we will have at our resurrection). By investing in a mere 15-20 minutes per day, we can stockpile entire books of the Bible, providing the precious nutrients or plant food to ensure an abundant crop of the Fruits of Righteousness—the mature fruit of God's Holy Spirit.
David C. Grabbe: As Part One closed, we considered what God says in Isaiah 55:10-11: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud ..."
David C. Grabbe: In Psalm 92:4-5, the psalmist proclaims: For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O LORD, how great are Your works! ...
David C. Grabbe: Despite the Bible’s repeated injunctions to put God's commands into practice, doing God's sayings cannot justify us—only the blood of Christ has that power. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Charles Hughes Smith's pronouncement that the entire status quo is a fraud, emphasizes that the entire western society seems to be invested in corruption and fraud, even as society as a whole is plunging off a precipitous cliff. Gary Sturgeon insists that 90% of everything is garbage, with only 10% possibly salvageable, but Satan has a grip on the entire cosmos and has the capability of damaging everything unless God miraculously intervenes. God's called out ones have been given the priceless gift of God's Word of sincerity and truth which has the power to sanctify (set apart and make holy). We must guard it as a life preserver, never letting it out of our sight. God the Father and Jesus Christ intended to leave us in the middle of all this fraud, providing a protective hedge against the worst Satan can do, sanctifying us with His truth in order that we rise above the deceit and fraud, learning to exercise godly discernment. In this worldly environment, we appear strange, odd, and even alien to society. In the Festival of Unleavened Bread, we recognize that God had to do something extraordinary ("flexing His muscles") to free our ancestors and us from the ruler of this world, redeeming us to be His people. God literally had to pull us out of our worldly prison, a way of life leading to certain death. As a symbol, unleavened bread emphasizes that the ancient Israelites had to leave in haste, totally unprepared for the trek ahead of them, and that they were totally dependent upon God for everything. God fed them manna (something unworldly and a type of the Bread of Life) to them for 40 years to test them, whether they would walk in His Torah. Abundant life comes to those who live by every word of God, ingesting it continuously. Unleavened Bread symbolizes Christ's body, His Words of sincerity and truth, and most importantly His Spirit, our portal to an eternal relationship with God, transforming us into what God is.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the double standards of the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis, at once insisting that we treat the Bible like every other literary document while insisting the New Testament jump through extra hoops. Looking at the extant number of the ancient texts available to corroborate the authenticity of the Scriptures, more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament have been found than for any other classic text. If every New Testament were destroyed tomorrow, the text could be reconstructed by going to the writings of the church fathers. There are also more corroborating manuscripts of the New Testament in languages other than Greek. The veracity of the Scriptures is something we can take to the bank, in essence our only protection against the torrent of deception we face today, giving us the strength to endure and overcome. God's Word points out profound and necessary truths, prompting us to change our thinking and behavior. As we change, God instills His character in us, allowing us to begin living as He does. As we read God's Word, we must remember that assent is not acceptance. We must accept what God says, obeying and yielding to Him unconditionally, even though human nature stiffens in rebellion at the prospect. We must develop a proper sense of proportion in our relationship to God. We must mortify sin and give ourselves as a living sacrifice. We then must have no doubt that God is capable of giving us whatever we need to finish our course, transforming us into His image.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It is almost impossible for a Christian to have a meeting of minds with an atheist on any subject anywhere in the neighborhood of religion. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The Bible is well known as a Book of prophecy, but what is the true purpose of prophecy? Is it merely to enlighten us about the future, so that the "wise" will have an advantage over everyone else when the time comes? Charles Whitaker suggests that God's spiritual purposes for prophecy concern the subjects of warning and keeping.
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
The authority of the Bible has been under constant assault from biblical "scholars" and theologians. ...
In the healing of the centurion's servant, Jesus commends the centurion for his faith. This Roman officer seems to have understood an aspect of God's authority and power that even most Israelites never realized. Martin Collins contends that many Christians today still do not fully comprehend the power of God's Word.
The Bible warns us that a great False Prophet will soon arise to sway mankind into idolatry. In addition, numerous passages speak of other false prophets and false teachers in the church and in the world. David Grabbe, in exposing the differences between false prophets and true ones, explains what we need to look out for as the end nears.
Paul's admonition to the Corinthians to desire to prophesy has confused some due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what prophesying really is. Bill Cherry examines this command in its context, showing that it has everything to do with Christian fellowship, particularly on the Sabbath.
How important is faith? What is the faith God requires us to have? Pat Higgins explains that faith is simple in concept, but difficult to display in our lives. Nevertheless, we must exercise this gift of God to pass the tests that are sure to precede the return of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the truths of God are eternally dependable because the Father and Jesus Christ remain steadfastly dependable. If we trust in His truth rather than ourselves or other men, we will not jeopardize our spirituality. Sadly, the vast majority of Christian-professing churches has been saturated with an "end-time flood" of appealing, pagan doctrines (antinomianism, immortality of soul, Dispensationalism, Dualism, and Docetism) derived largely from Hellenistic Gnosticism. In this confusing environment, truth has become an endangered commodity. Pursuing "inner spirituality" (supposedly "despising the flesh") ironically enables one to become promiscuous and self-indulgent. In contrast, the true Christian is obligated to perform works (derived from God's law) that God has preordained and walk continuously in the Way. Keeping the law, vilified by antinomian, evangelical Christianity) gives structure and guidance to a Christian's life.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that most religious-professing people (including many members of the greater church of God) have not used the Word of God as their standard of morality and conduct, but instead are allowing society and culture to shape their attitudes, tolerating the disgusting incremental escalating perversion of moral standards. Sadly, society is rapidly replicating the dangerous downward spiral extant during the time of Noah, a time in which the intent of every thought was to do evil. People (conditioned or reinforced by the mass media) rely upon their deceitful 'hearts' or 'feelings' rather than the Bible to determine moral standards. The House of Joseph (often claiming to be the last bastion of morality) now leads the world in exporting filth to the rest of mankind. Our only safeguard against moral pollution is to ingest (or assimilate) God's word (spiritual manna- or the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth) every day of our lives.
The Bible is full of symbols and types. The offerings of Leviticus, though they are no longer necessary under the New Covenant, are wonderful for teaching us about Christ in His roles as sacrifice, offerer, and priest. And they even instruct us in our roles before God too!
God spreads His Word liberally among the world's people. Besides God's direct involvement in converting people, the difference between one growing in it and another "dying on the vine" is the soil in which the Word is planted, explained in Jesus' Parable of the Sower.
Continuing the exploration of Revelation 10-11, Richard Ritenbaugh expounds the bitterness Ezekiel and John experienced from ingesting the little book. God's truth may bring about sadness, astonishment, anger, and bitterness to the one delivering the message. James and John, displaying violent somewhat destructive zeal, serve as the prototypes of the Two Witnesses, who will have developed controlled, purified zeal (Mark 3:14). A major role of the Two Witnesses is to measure the spiritual Temple, evaluating the condition of the church, purifying its worship, and ensuring the people are pure before God.
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
Although some people have mistakenly used the Bible as a cookbook, a marriage manual, a financial planner, or a childrearing book, it was not designed for those purposes. Herbert W. Armstrong referred to the Bible as a jig-saw puzzle or a coded book, seeming like gibberish to most of the world, but with the aid of God's Holy Spirit, God's elect can put all the pieces together, finding all the essentials for salvation. Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that while it does not contain all knowledge, it does contain foundational principles, enabling people imbued with the mind of Christ to function independently in a godly manner- expanding the law beyond the letter into a more spiritual dimension.
In this companion piece to his "Willingness to Believe" message, Richard Ritenbaugh provides an effective antidote to gullibility and simple-minded credulity. Both tendencies emerge from time to time in the greater church of God. Like advertising—which relies heavily on deception, hiding the down-side or defects and exaggerating the efficacy or desirability of a product—religious hucksters use deceptive tactics, using the bait or temptation of self-gratification, selling non-essential, twiggy or downright heretical positions. Like highly trained U.S. Treasury agents, the elect keep themselves undeceived by knowing the real article inside-out. If one knows the real article, the counterfeit will become readily apparent. Like a lamp rolling back the darkness (Psalm 119:105), the truth, revealed by God's Word, provides the best defense or antidote against deception and error.
The ancient Bereans have a wonderful biblical reputation. Just how special were these Macedonian Christians?
Dew is a creation of God that He uses several times in His Word. Ronny Graham illustrates how this symbolism applies to us today.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the processes of developing faith and hope, indicates that the rules for making the calendar, a very complex activity, are not contained in the Bible. To put ones efforts into such a project (especially with limited or elementary knowledge of astronomy or mathematics) constitutes foolish, misguided zeal. Using errant human assumption, some in the greater church of God have concocted no less than nine conflicting calendars. The preservation of the oracles (including the keeping of the calendar) has not been entrusted to the church but to the tribe of Judah (Romans 3:2). Some of the anti-Jewish bias in the would-be calendar makers smacks of anti-Semitism. We need to have faith in God's ability to preserve a working calendar, believing Him unconditionally as Abraham did.
God provided physical Israel manna to eat every day for forty years. Now we, as spiritual Israel, have the Bible, God's Word, as our daily bread. Are we taking advantage every day of this wonderful blessing God gives us, or are we allowing God's Word to spoil through neglect?
In this introductory article to a series on the fruit of the Spirit, John Ritenbaugh explains how the Bible approaches fruit symbolically, what it means to bear fruit, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
John Ritenbaugh compares the multi-faceted, infinite, marvelously complex, and perfect works of God with the limited, flawed works of man. Like geodes, hiding magnificent structural and aesthetic designs, the biblical types, emblems, or allegories are deceptively simple on the surface, but deep, complex, and awesome as one begins to scrutinize. Sometimes the least favorite scriptures yield the most profound lessons. As Christ is represented in the sacrificial types of Leviticus, we must apply these principles, examples, and lessons to our own lives, applying intense effort and diligence to extract the meaning that these densely packed types have for us.
Many people believe that our sins are the focus of Passover—but they are wrong! John Ritenbaugh shows that Christ, the Passover Lamb, should be our focus. How well do you know Him?
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
John Ritenbaugh affirms that, contrary to Protestant misconception, no part of God's Law has been done away or set aside. Christ Himself torpedoed this notion by His proclamation in Matthew 5:17, "I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill." The balance of Matthew 5 magnifies, intensifies, placing a far more binding penetrating spiritual application of the law. The irony of the antinomian argument is that it is impossible tp keep God's law in the spirit without also keeping it in the letter. Without Torah (law, teaching, precepts, judgments, ordinances, instruction), man flounders. David realized that God's law, by revealing our flaws (the hidden plaque of our secret sins Psalm 19:12), when coupled with the power of God's Spirit, is a major tool for cleaning us up spiritually, equipping us to live in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh explains that justification is not the end of the salvation process, but merely the doorway to a more involved process of sanctification, symbolized by the long journey through the wilderness toward the promised land, a lengthy purifying process involving Christ's work (of regeneration- making us pure) and our work of applying God's Word to our lives, enabling us to get all the spots and wrinkles out of us. Like the outward signs of a woman's pregnancy, sanctification is the part of the process where we bear fruit, giving visible evidence of God's Holy Spirit working in us.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that under both the Old and New Covenants, refusal to keep to keep God's Law severs our relationship with Him. Like loving parents who give rules to their children to protect them from danger, our Loving Father has given us His Spiritual Law to protect us and bring us quality life. In the manner of Satan the Devil, who convinced Adam and Eve that God's commands restricted freedom, the misguided proponents of the anti-law bias or mentality have convinced many in our former fellowship that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and food laws are harsh and restrictive elements of Old Covenant bondage. New Covenant justification does not do away with God's Laws (nor with human nature or carnality for that matter) but creates the circumstances through which faith is enhanced, producing sanctification and purification, bringing God's purpose (to restore all things) to perfection.
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
After warning against literary junk food, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the dominant emphasis of Matthew, an ex-government official, who concentrated upon the kingly qualities of Jesus as a descendant of the royal house of David, representing the Lion of Judah. Matthew highlights Jesus' authority over the deposed king (Satan), the Kingdom of Heaven (appearing 33 times) and righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the necessity to attain fellowship with God, defining fellowship as "joint participation with someone else in things possessed by both." At our calling (John 6:44) we have virtually nothing in common with our Creator. Through the shaping power of God's Holy Spirit, He starts to fill the chasm, which divides us by (1) convicting us of sin, (2) convicting us of righteousness, and (3) convicting us of judgment, aiming our lives at the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the proclivity of the ancient Israelites to nullify the power of the gospel, refusing to mix it with actual obedience, which stems from faith and belief. What they heard never became a part of their lives; "Egypt" never left the Israelites. We have to exercise care that we do not follow suit, assenting intellectually but hardening our hearts when it comes to making the changes demanded of us. The consequences for us are far graver than the consequences for them. By yielding to God, we begin to experience the kind of life that He experiences. The rest (katapausis) which God experiences (a period of refreshment, prefiguring the Millennial rest) is a rejuvenating, exhilarating peace of God we can experience right now. We need to yield to the correcting powers of His Word, a means of reflecting the contents and intents of the heart.
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