Martin Collins, acknowledging that hardships are a normal part of life, perhaps leading us to despair that God has abandoned us, focuses our attention on a segment of the Apostle Paul's life (recorded in Acts 23-26) when he could have had these depressing thoughts, but did not. Paradoxically, when God seems to be silent, He is feverishly at work micro-managing what otherwise appears as insignificant details. When forty Zealots took an oath conspiring with the Sanhedrin to take the life of Paul, it looked as though he was as good as dead. But God intervened on Paul's behalf to fulfill His purpose. Because of this intervention, an army of armed guards transported Paul out of physical danger, thereby unwittingly facilitating an opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel to three Roman leaders while he was a prisoner. Characteristically, God uses small things to accomplish His purpose, as He does by calling the base and foolish of the world to confound the wise. Despite the fallacious charges made against Paul by his many enemies, God enabled him to refute the charges with the truth. Just as all the stratagems arrayed against Paul eventually crumbled, the stratagems conspiring against God's called-out ones will also come to nothing. We need to remember that, during those times we fail to see God's hand, He is hard at work intervening on our behalf.
Martin Collins, maintaining that giving a gift strengthens the bond between individuals, bringing about a warm feeling in the giver toward the one receiving the gift, suggests that there is a sentimental dimension factored into offerings. Jacob, in his voluntary gift to the leader of Egypt (whom he discovered later to be Joseph) was not focused on the monetary value, but on the need to establish a positive relationship with him. Our offerings, likewise, are both obligatory and voluntary. God is not focused on a specific monetary amount, but on the attitudes behind our giving, particularly the attitudes of humility, gentleness and patience. God expects us to bring our offerings, walking worthy of our calling, bearing with one another in the bond of peace, which represents a chain of friendship. Properly giving an offering mends and strengthens our relationship with God, especially when we offer our entire lives, time, treasure, and talents every day.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that God has chosen the weak and base things of the world to confound the wise, analyzes the commonalities of heroes who have emerged from common people and who sacrifice their personal concerns for the greater good. We recognize first responders (policemen, firemen, and soldiers) who routinely risk their lives to help others. Irena Sendler, the brave woman who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Henry Erwin, scalded by a flare he pulled out of the failed bomber hatch, and Arland Williams Jr, who assisted in the saving of the survivors of a downed aircraft but who drowned before rescuers could reach him, all exemplify heroes. The Roman historian Plutarch identified compassion for others as the common link for all acts of heroism. Sympathetic compassion for others motivated Winston Churchill, Joseph, Jephthah, and most significantly, Our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life to redeem humanity. We need to emulate our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, making the exercise of sacrificial compassion a daily activity.
We worship a God, who, though all-powerful and loving, seems to display irreconcilable contradictions, such as His great wrath and His deep compassion. Charles Whitaker explains that these are not contradictory traits but rigorous responses to sin and its consequences. Though His wrath burns hot "for a little while," His compassion follows quickly after, bringing restoration.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Proverbs 30:7-9, in which Agur asks God to cushion him from the extremes of poverty or excessive wealth, allowing himself to live a balanced life of contentment. Wealth has a powerful influence on one's life, causing us to overestimate our own prowess and underestimate God's involvement with us. We must not forget that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. Although the caution applies especially to material wealth, it also applies to any skill, talent, or gift God has given us. Any gift may turn one inwardly, away from the giver of the gift. We should be grateful, but not proud of our gifts. The Bible contains many rags to riches stories, such as Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, all humble and righteous people who did not desire wealth, but knew they could fulfill their life's purposes if God were on their side. Job was a wealthy man who was also blameless and above reproach, but his health, family, and wealth were all stripped from him in a blink of the eye. His friends wrongly assumed that his loss of wealth was caused by sin, a foolish judgment not warranted by the facts. Solomon's wealth, on the other hand, turned him away from God. Outward prosperity does not provide an accurate indicator of spirituality. Christ warns us that our treasure needs to be in the right place, adding that: (1) We must be content with what we have, (2) We must be humble in our conduct, and (3) We must work faithfully and hard. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all of our might—energetically and intellectually (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The New Testament does not treat wealth as neutral because its power to persuade and influence does not allow many to control it. We dare not become enslaved to wealth's drugging power.
John Ritenbaugh, finding a commonality in three scriptures describing our calling and sanctification, answers the questions: "Who are we?" and "How do we fit?" God has demonstrated that He loves us in a different way than He does our neighbor (perhaps a neighbor having better traits than we do) calling us because He loves us—the very beginning of the sanctification process. Our responsibility is to respond to His love as a couple responds to one another at the beginning of a budding romance, conforming to desires and expectations. As we respond to God's calling, we find a hostile reaction from the world. As the moral darkness envelops the Israelitish peoples, the relationship between the church and fellow Israelites has grown more fractious and hostile and will continue to become more so in the future as physical Israel turns its back on God. As our forebears experienced a grueling walk through the desert for 40 years, our spiritual journey will take a lifetime, enabling us to get farther and farther from the world's influences, submitting to God, and growing in the stature of Christ. We are not in a physical desert, but we are battling the elements of a mental wasteland, resisting horrendous pressures from the world's dominant religion (intolerant secular humanism) to cease, desist, and conform, in much the same manner as the Israelites of Christ's time were bullied and intimidated by the Sadducees and Pharisees and just as the ancient Israelites were by the Egyptian religion. True religion must be motivated internally from within the heart; true sanctification is internal. If we really considered or believed in our hearts that our calling was truly a treasure, we would take extraordinary steps to prevent any loss of this treasure. When we realize that God has set the individual members of the body as He pleased, and when we finally understand our place in His plan, we become willing to do what God wants us to do in order to help us function more efficiently. Our sanctification will ne
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The Bible contains an interesting phenomenon, one found especially in the Old Testament, in which God coordinates events to place one of His servants in a position of high visibility and sometimes great power at the center of world events. ...
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.
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.
For centuries, Christians have anticipated the coming of the end-time Great Tribulation, prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24. However, Charles Whitaker describes a historical great tribulation, comparing it to what has happened in the United States since the 1930s.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the statement of Almighty God in Psalm 50 that He needs absolutely nothing from us, proclaims God's absolute sovereignty and power over everything. Surprisingly, mankind refuses to acknowledge God in their daily dealings. Unfortunately, mankind will marshal their 'brilliance' and 'intelligence' in technology to nearly wipe life off the face of the earth. Young people (and all of us) must make a choice in favor of God's will for us. We have the freedom of choice to set our destiny, and must bear the consequences of our choice. The book of Deuteronomy is perhaps the most important guide to Godly choices. God has urged that we choose life (keeping God's commandments), requiring an act of the will as we are confronted with alternatives. Only those who choose to live life as God lives will live eternally. Life consists of a constant stream of choices, leading to the development (or destruction) of character. Young people must choose: (1) the right set of standards to live by, finishing high school, refraining from premarital sex, and staying faithful to our lifelong partners once we become married. (2) To work to develop a continuous relationship with God- the source of eternal life. (3) To develop a strong relationship with their parents, submitting in respectful humility. (4) Their friends wisely. (5) Carefully choose the occupation they will go into, making proactive preparations, choosing according to our talents, and (6)Have the right relationship with the opposite sex.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, after reading a testimonial of a Charismatic, describing being "filled with the Holy Ghost," leading to barking, laughter, violent jerking, and inebriated behavior (a kind of "Pentecostalism on steroids"), asks us to ponder what the Holy Spirit will actually motivate a person to do. Scripture reveals that the Spirit constitutes the active, creative power and mind of God, 1) motivating God's people to do His will, 2) giving them discernment and wisdom, 3) endowing them with strength to do God's work, 4) enabling them to see truth clearly, 5) setting individuals apart (for specific purposes) by ordination, 6) providing physical and spiritual power to overcome and resist the Devil, 7) inspiring a person to speak God's words clearly, and 8) inspiring fellowship with God and His people. God's Spirit will never prod us to do anything that is not out of godly love, and because it a spirit of a sound mind, it will never motivate us to do stupid or crazy things.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon the memorial aspect of the Day of Trumpets, especially the blowing of trumpets and shouting. One major incident involving the blowing of trumpets, occurring at the outset of Israel's incursion into Canaan, was the fall of the city of Jericho, when Joshua (a type of Christ) meets the Commander of the Armies of the Lord, whose sword is drawn in a posture of judgment. Jericho, undoubtedly the most invulnerable fortress in all of Canaan, nevertheless was delivered (as an inheritance) into the hands of God's chosen people through the blowing of trumpets or rams' horns (announcing the presence of God). The battles of Jericho and Armageddon provide the opening salvos establishing God's chosen people in occupied territory, driving out the abominable influence of the previous occupants.
In this message on the subject of planning and God's sovereignty, John Ritenbaugh stresses that we are obliged to respond to God because He has interfered in our lives, causing us to repent, giving us His Holy Spirit, and limiting our options. We should plan our lives to be in sync with God's planning and purposes for our lives. Even though we have the free moral agency to run counter to God's detailed sovereign purposes, we court disaster if we presumptuously or boastfully plan against these purposes. We ought to plan, exercising living faith in God's sovereign control in everything we do (James 4:15) for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10: 31). Belief in God's sovereignty is of little comfort if we don't also believe in His love and wisdom.
The Bible frequently uses analogies from physical life to explain spiritual principles. Food and eating are no exceptions. In fact, there are over 700 references to eating in Scripture. The lessons we can learn from them must be important!
John Ritenbaugh points out 700 references to the act of eating, all providing contexts or vehicles of serious spiritual instruction. Banquets invariably provide springboards for instruction, from Abraham's entertaining of angels, to Joseph's banquet for his brothers, to Esther's banquet for Haman to Belshazzar's feast featuring the handwriting on the wall to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Banquets- eating or refraining from eating- not only display God's faithful provisions and human righteousness, but eating (or refraining from eating) displays tests of a person's morality such as Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the sign of keeping the covenant (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and Christ's refusal to be tempted by food (Matthew 4). Eating reminds us that God's provision and human need also apply on a spiritual level.
Richard Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, suggests that the things we ardently desire for ourselves we should be willing to give to others, including forbearance and forgiveness. Following the Apostle Paul's example to the Corinthians, we ought to forgive and comfort one who has genuinely repented. Godly character includes the capacity to forgive and exercise forbearance. Within the body of Christ, we consist of interdependent cells, dependent upon each other. By failing to forgive our brother, we jeopardize the health or well being of the entire body. Extending forgiveness to a repentant brother is a godly characteristic, strengthening the entire body, leading to unity. Our Elder Brother's example should be our standard.
God not only rules in heaven, but He is also sovereign on earth! He is not an absentee landlord, but One who is actively involved in administering His creation.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that nothing takes place in a vacuum for those who are called; moreover "time and chance" no longer apply in the normal sense. Even when we exercise free moral agency, God engineers circumstances and outcomes so that we are virtually forced to make the right decision. Realizing that all things work together for good to those that love God, we must exercise our responsibility to the whole creation and to the body of Christ by improving our relationship with God regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Commonly, goodness is a nebulous concept, used to describe everything from a tasty confection to God's sublime character. However, it is God's character that defines what goodness is! John Ritenbaugh explains this enigmatic trait of God's Spirit.
Using primarily the story of Joseph, John Ritenbaugh expounds the lessons we can learn and the encouragement we can glean from God's dealings with men during the time of the Feast of Trumpets.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the trials of Joseph are a clear exposition of the principle of Romans 8:28 that "all things work together for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Even allowing for mankind's free moral agency, propensity to sin, stumbling, and getting into difficulties, God continues to work out His purpose (making lemons into lemonade) even when people do not know it is for their good (Genesis 50:20). The key to Joseph's greatness is that he allowed his affliction and hardship to humble him, giving him a Christ-like character.
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
Character has been defined as "what you do in the dark." It is what you are when no one else can see you. Mike Ford uses the story of Joseph in Potiphar's house to extract some lessons about character.
John Ritenbaugh torpedoes some popular misconceptions about the father of the faithful, revealing that Abraham did not come from a primitive, but a highly advanced civilization, having huge multi-storied dwellings with running water and indoor lavatories. The size of Abraham's retinue indicates that, far from being an ignorant desert nomad, he was a highly influential man of incredible financial substance. It appears that God used Abraham's skills as an astronomer and mathematician and publisher to help build Egypt's infrastructure at a time when it was being unified under one dynasty, enabling Egypt to become a major power. This study also goes into Abram's and Sarai's name change, the deception of Abraham, claiming the half truth that Sarah was his sister, and Lot's fateful choice, leading to a dilution of the Assyrian power.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
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