Clyde Finklea: Without question, we live in a strife-ridden world, one torn by wars, by famine, by disease and sickness, by destructive natural disasters, by injustices and corrupt governments run by self-seeking politicians ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the 1953 feature-length motion picture starring Alan Ladd as Shane, an enigmatic gunslinger who rides into a small Wyoming town, in hoping of settling down and escaping his past. Soon, he is forced to take sides in a land war between cattlemen who want an open range and homesteaders, who want to fence in the land to grow crops and feed livestock. In one moving scene, Shane, who has been hired by one of the homesteaders, gives a lengthy soliloquy on integrity to the homesteader's son Joey, who has bonded to him as a role model, , cautioning him that a man can never escape his past, but must carry it with him perpetually. If the past is good, the present can't hurt you, and if the past is bad, it will haunt you. In Wordsworth's words, "The child is the father of the man." If one's life is based on a consistent framework of principles, he will have a harmonious and productive life. Job's righteous character was formed early in life; God did not punish Job for his faulty character, but refined Job, transforming fragile human righteousness into durable godly righteousness. Like Job, we are God's children, given trials to refine our integrity to be just like His.
David Grabbe, contending with the popularly held assumption that the days preceding Christ’s return would be characterized by near-apocalyptic, cataclysmic disaster, points to the Scriptures that people will be eating, drinking, and marrying as in the days of Noah and the days of Lot, indicating that there will be enough relative normalcy to allow for commerce and “business as usual” for much of the world. Right up to the day of the flood and the firestorm on Sodom, people were carrying on with mundane everyday activities, with a certain amount of ease in committing sins of self-indulgence and complacency, with people having enough security to kick back and bask in protected mediocrity as their work ethic eroded. Like Sodom and ancient Babylon, modern Babylon’s obsession is with materialism and guaranteed security, as government, union, and many academic positions protect—even encourage—mediocrity, incompetency, and malfeasance. God is not against prosperity unless it leads to materialism and self-indulgence, displacing godliness, righteousness, and contentment. Our current moral and economic state is not terribly unlike the days of Noah and the days of Lot.
Joseph Baity, suggesting fearing the end of something we thoroughly know and have become emotionally attached to is every bit as terrifying as facing the unknown. In the western world, especially among the Israelitish nations, we have come to value rugged individualism and self determination, with the overriding idea that we can choose our country, home , religion, friends, and culture without interference from anyone else. The idea of self-determination has percolated into every law in our land and filtered into the Judeo-Christian ethic. This construct of self-determination has contributed to the establishment of the most successful nation on earth. As we prepare to enter the Kingdom of God, we are obligated to re-think this paradigm, realizing that while man proposes, God disposes. We need to allow God to take over the reigns of our self-determination as we submit to His leadership
Charles Whittaker, reflecting on the episode in Genesis 11:1-9, in which God confused the languages, terminating the construction of the Tower of Babel, provides some insights as to the motivation of the Babel- folk for attempting to construct this doomed edifice. In these concentrated nine verses, we learn that man proposes and God deposes. In direct defiance of God's command to spread out over the entire earth, not concentrating in massive communities, Nimrod, in an effort to prevent the people from being scattered, sought to build a structure which would reach high enough into the heavens to safeguard against destruction by a universal flood. The Babylonian plain had few stones for building, but the Babel folk had carried through the Flood the basic technology for making bricks, baking them in a kiln. What attracted them to that particular region in Mesopotamia was abundant tar, pitch, or asphalt, making it possible, in Nimrod's mind, to use it as mortar, making the edifice waterproof and flood resistant. Nevertheless, lacking the iron technology which would have reinforced the walls, the structure itself would have probably collapsed on its own before it would have reached even the height of the pyramids. Nimrod's ill-fated plan, which supported the peoples' fear of loss of community and fear of scattering, was obliterated when God confused the languages. While Nimrod's plan for one world-one language failed, God reversed the Babel debacle with His own plan to unify, making one called-out people having one mutually understood language, commencing on a small scale on Pentecost, A.D. 31, when people heard the disciples preaching in their own languages, a project which will eventually lead to one pure language.
Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 10:13, explains the context in which the statement "money answers everything" appears. Some people obsess about money, working their fingers to the bone to accumulate more. Money is neutral, but the inordinate desire or love of money has horrific, evil consequences. Money does indeed represent power, whether it equates to having more goods, influence over people, or control over one's life. Sadly, for those mesmerized by money, it is an illusory power, vulnerable to stock market crashes, inflation, and deflation—hardly something in which to put confidence. Money's perceived value may only be in the eye of the beholder. In the really important things in life, money is powerless. Wealth cannot buy the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or God's Holy Spirit. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath. If we trust in our riches, we will fall. Wealth cannot compensate for bad character. If we do not have godly character, wealth will control us, leading to disastrous consequences. God commands us to bring an offering before Him, realizing that the money or wealth has the potential of being a competitor to Him. An offering gives God a clear opportunity to evaluate us, showing where our trust really is. God is our security, and we have already given Him control over our lives. Our willingness to sacrifice (or not to sacrifice) shows where our loyalty and heart really are. Our motivation to sacrifice should resemble the woman who washed Jesus' feet with expensive, fragrant oil, showing her immense gratitude for having her sins forgiven.
Jesus teaches us in Luke 12:48 that if we are faithful in little, we will be faithful in much. John Reid tells the story of King Solomon's inability to be faithful in what he likely considered to be "little things." Scripture chronicles how Solomon's little compromises with God's law sent Israel down an idolatrous road leading to destruction and captivity.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 10:16-26, warns us that a teacher's disciples cannot escape the kind of persecution directed against their teacher. In the wake of this kind of abuse, people can succumb to depression, and in some cases, suicidal depression. When we compare ourselves with spiritual heavyweights like the apostle Paul, we really feel hollow in comparison. Amazingly, Paul went through many horrendous trials, never once giving up. Thankfully, God apportions us our trials with the accompanying ability to endure them. How we think about our relationship with God will determine how we will endure our quest. Do we see ourselves as pilgrims or exiles? If we can see God (in our trials) we will be able to find our way through the problem. Our forefather Jacob, forced into exile by his brother Esau, was turned into a pilgrim by contact with God, giving him a change in perspective, a solid understanding that God was continually with him, as typified by the vision of a ladder into heaven, populated by a continuous line of angels. Without this vision or revelation, we will lead aimless, directionless lives. We made a covenant with God; He never lies and He never fails. If we are going through trials, they are for our ultimate good. In order to keep on keeping on, we must desire to expand the rule of God in our lives, enabling us to have a sound mind by thinking as God thinks. According to A.W. Tozer, redemption involves the ability to change or transform, yielding to God's formative powers. God will rescue us from every danger, but we have to understand that every promise is conditional. We need to have the desire to restore peace and tranquility to the creation, being at one with God and His purpose. We will be able, as future kings and priests in God's Kingdom, to repair a world that has been rendered ugly and chaotic by the corrosive effects of sin. We dare not give up in fear and despair, committing spiritual suicide. We must fight the good faith for ourselves and those who follow. We owe it to
Martin Collins, reflecting on the tendency of society to prescribe drugs for every social malady, indicates that we often fail to see that the chastening we receive may be what God uses to sanctify us, preparing us as His spiritual children. When God starts a project, He finishes it; we must assiduously emulate that trait. If we are not receiving God's correction or chastisement, we should be alarmed. As Job was chastised by God, he learned submission and acquiescence, humility, silence, repentance, and that he had not seen the omnipotence of God. Chastisement focuses more on discipline and training than punishment. God uses circumstances such as financial loss or illness to steer us toward sanctification. Without godly chastisement, we may succumb to spiritual pride, self-confidence, self-satisfaction or smugness, but with godly chastisement, we attain humility, meekness, strength under control, and patience.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: As the winter holidays surged into full gallop, the government raised the color-coded terror alert system to "orange," meaning the chance of terrorist activity is "elevated"—and only one tier down from "red," which evidently signals the end of the world as we know it. ...
Jesus teaches in this parable that we need to guard against every kind of covetousness. Even if we have everything we could ever want or need, when we die, our goods will do nothing for us. It is the height of folly to believe that one has no need of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that being poor in spirit (a precursor to humility) is a necessary, foundational spiritual state one must have to qualify for God's Kingdom. As the polar opposite of pride, poor in spirit describes a condition of being acutely aware of ones dependency and unworthiness. Because of this deep inner felt need and want, those who are poor in spirit are primed to receive and apply the Gospel's instruction to their lives. Poor in spirit (not a product of human nature) does not equate with physical poverty (there is often much pride in indigence), but instead a spiritual state of felt need in which one renounces his smug self-sufficiency, recognizing his intense dependency upon God for all things.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the value of understanding sovereignty as a basic foundational doctrine, providing a link between knowledge and practice as well as providing motivation to yield and conform to God's purpose for us. Understanding sovereignty (1) exalts the supremacy of God and our veneration of Him, (2) destroys any possibility of salvation by works, (3) gives us a deep sense of humility, (4) provides a solid foundation for true religion, (5) provides absolute security, and (6) greatly aids us to be resigned to God's will.
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.
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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