David F. Maas: Have we ever wondered why God seems to delight in choosing the weak and base things of the world to demonstrate His work? In our reflective moments, do we ponder the significance ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Paul's declaration that he would become all things to all men, suggests that Paul had the capability of seeing the truths of the Bible from several different cultural paradigms, namely an honor-shame continuum and a power-fear continuum, familiar to Hebrew and Middle-Eastern cultures, and an innocence-guilt continuum, familiar to those of us in the Western world, influenced by an admixture of Judeo-Christian ethic, Roman law, and Greek philosophy. Without a working knowledge of all three cultural paradigms, we have major blind-spots in interpreting and understanding the scriptures, culturally insulated like a fish out of water. Those of us in the Western world, steeped in the guilt-innocent paradigm, have a keen focus on right and wrong and tend to be highly individualistic, abhorring group-think and collectivist behavior. The language of this paradigm includes justice, pardon, works, wrath, mercy, right actions, doing what is right as measured against an abstract law. Those at home with the honor and shame paradigm define right and wrong in terms of group relationships. Whatever behavior brings shame on the group is to be shunned, as exampled by the shame the older brother felt as a result of the actions of "the prodigal son." In this parable, Christ enlightens us about the paradox that suffering shame for the sake of righteousness is in honor. A profoundly ingrained "pecking order" characterizes a power-fear culture, which is by definition fiercely hierarchical, with a strong man at the top. Each person below must either cower or put himself under the power of a protector. The language of Ephesians 1:15-23, combat language describing Satan as the adversary and Christ putting everything under His feet, resonates with individuals living in a power-fear culture. As we read the Bible, we find that God employs a blend of all three cultural paradigms, encouraging us to free ourselves from the bondage of cultural myopia and ethnocentrism in order to get more out the scriptures.
Austin Del Castillo reminds us that the end of the Feast of Tabernacles represents the last century and one half of God's Millennial rule, a time when entirety of earth's population will be living under God's Law. At the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan from the Bottomless Pit. He will immediately set about deceiving, with the aim of destroying God's people. How is it that Satan can deceive people living at peace and prosperity under God's perfect Law? As God's called-out ones, we must make sure that we are well rooted in God's Word so that we never again fall for Satan's lies. When the grand deception came on the Worldwide Church of God, we became alarmed when we witnessed people who we thought were absolute pillars swallow the poisonous apostasy the new leadership taught. Apparently, not everyone had believed the true Gospel, but instead held some reservations about the Truth Mr. Armstrong taught. God grew tired of the lack of commitment of our previous fellowship; some of us, no doubt, were part of the problem. Today, Jesus Christ is observing us to see what kind of bride we are becoming. Many of us have been conditioned not to trust anyone, extending these trust issues to our brethren, and eventually to God Himself. When we take counsel only in ourselves, we run the risk of giving ourselves over to the one who influences our human nature, the prince of the power of the air, who is adept at convincing us that God is withholding something from us. Satan totally supports our feelings of resentment. Satan wants us to think we have been cheated. In this state of mind, we develop paper-thin skin when it comes to accepting counsel from our brethren, leading us to sever friendships with them. Our priority must be the restoration of our relationship with God, putting to death the idea that God is cheating us.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on three well-known parables in Luke 15 , all of which emphasize that every life matters —- every life is worth saving, focuses on the disturbing, resentful reaction of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother felt that he had remained loyal to the family's honor, while his younger brother disgraced the family and had squandered all his inheritance. After hitting rock bottom, having to eat swine food, the prodigal son came to his senses, and was willing to accept any humiliation if his father would take him back as a menial servant. The older brother, slow to forgive his younger, focused upon himself and dishonored his father by berating him for having compassion on who he considered a "worthless sinner." Instead of pulling rank on the older son, the father also treated him with compassion. Many of us are, or have been, in the same position as the older brother—looking down on those who have stumbled. We are not equipped to judge the sincerity of anybody else's repentance, and consequently should never gainsay the compassion of our Heavenly Father. Instead, we should emulate our Heavenly Father, being willing to extend forgiveness to a repentant brother or sister, responding with love and self- control. We need to pray for the ability or the power to reconcile.
Martin Collins, reflecting that the human conscience can be incrementally conditioned to tolerate sin, decommissioned, and ultimately put to sleep, asserts that God can restore it to usefulness as He did in the lives of Joseph's brothers, by forcing them to go to the location to which they had sold their brother. God sometimes allows the consequences of sin to take effect (i.e. plague, famine, or other form of deprivation) in order to stir the conscience. Anxiety of deprivation drove the prodigal son to repentance and reconciliation with his father. It took Joseph's brothers a harsher measure than physical deprivation, including imprisonment, punitive treatment, and harsh words. God chose the means to force Joseph's brothers into repentance by carefully crafted words and enforced solitude, all designed to refresh their memories and expose their sin. Calamity is sometimes used to bring forgotten transgressions to our minds, driving us to repentance of our secret failings and motives of our hearts. A good conscience (the judgment of the mind concerning right and wrong—an attendant witness of a person's conduct) can only be formed or enlightened by yielding to God and having it cleansed by the blood of Christ.
Martin Collins, referring to Hosea as the deathbed prophet, the prophet who was ordered by God to make a symbolic marriage to a harlot, declares that this heartbreaking marriage was to portray Israel's unfaithfulness to God. Interestingly, the Book of Hosea was written to people who considered themselves spiritual when in actuality they were severely spiritually challenged. We are able to understand God's love for Israel by Hosea's care for his spouse. Christ has purchased the church as His Bride, even though she has been unfaithful from time to time, seeking after signs, rejecting what He says, and going into apostasy. Because of Israel's unfaithfulness, it would be scattered (as symbolized by the naming of Hosea's offspring "Jezreel"). Gomer's second child Lo-Ruhama (meaning, "not loved" or "not pitied") was a child of harlotry. Her third child, Lo Ammi (meaning "Not my people") suggests that physical Israel would be broken off, enabling Gentile branches to be grafted in. Eventually, the millennial resolution will convert the term Jezreel from "scattered" to "planted." The negative prefix "lo" will eventually be dropped making the remaining words "loved" and "my people." The grief of Hosea gives a glimpse of God's grief over His people, providing for his wife, but receiving no credit for providing. God provides for His people even when they run from Him. Eventually God provides corrective discipline, metaphorical thorns, preventing further plunges into evil, in hope that Israel will come to her senses. Jesus Christ has taken our troubles onto Him, and will betroth Himself with a repentant Bride.
John Ritenbaugh, affirming that God's Word is a discerner of the innermost thoughts of the heart, assures us that God, in His supreme sovereignty, has an awareness of each and every one of us. In our natural, carnal state, we are full of pride, wearing it almost as an ornament around our neck. Sadly, humility does not come naturally; it must be put on as a garment. Sometimes we grab a counterfeit garment, displaying cringing obsequiousness rather than true humility. There is a huge chasm between pride and humility—the latter a created attribute of character. To humble ourselves is not to put ourselves down like the excessively obedient, groveling Wormtongue in the movie Lord of the Rings. Instead, we need to place our total dependence on Almighty God, deferring to His will, as is demonstrated in the behavior of the repentant tax collector, the prodigal son, Solomon's humble request for wisdom and understanding, and Isaiah's declaration of his unworthiness. Paradoxically, God stoops to us when we humble ourselves. Humility produces honor from God; if we humble ourselves, He will hear us. Because we are spiritually broke, we need Him.
What many religious people do not seem to understand is that justification before God is just the beginning of something far more involved—and that is living by faith. John Ritenbaugh covers the faithful life and work of Noah, illustrating that walking by faith with God is a practical responsibility.
Martin Collins concludes his series on the three illustrations that comprise one long parable in Luke 15. In this part, he explains what is known as the Parable of the Prodigal (or Lost) Son.
Life sometimes seems to be one trial after another. However, Pat Higgins asserts that God has revealed an astounding facets of our relationship with Him that should give us the faith to soldier on despite our many trials.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the redemptive process, indicates that redemption obligates us to glorify God in our bodies and our spirit. Spiritually, we are literally owned by Christ and are duty bound to do what He asks. Hair length and clothing are outward indicators of a person's inner spiritual condition. Clothing serves as a testimony of what we are on the inside, reflecting our attitude and conduct. As Adam and Eve discovered, the intents of the heart cannot be hidden from God. Their clothing, consisting of sacrificed animal skins, to conceal their shame prefigures Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins. We advertise the contents of our hearts by what we wear. Unfortunately lust and sexual perversion fueled by discontentment drive the tastes of much the fashion industry. What we wear automatically influences our behavior. Like hair length, our clothing also indicates God ordained gender distinction.
John Ritenbaugh addresses the topic of stewardship, suggesting that what we are called to do at this time is to fulfill our job as a steward, entrusted with managing, protecting, preserving, attending, and increasing what has been entrusted to us- namely the fabulous wealth of the mysteries of God and our spiritual inheritance (I Corinthians 4:1). Our responsibilities as stewards include fidelity, trustworthiness, loyalty, reliability, and devotion to duty. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, rather than commending worldliness, cheating, or scheming, Jesus commends the practical preparations for the future which He desired children of the light to follow.
Blessedness and mourning seem contradictory to our way of thinking, but obviously Jesus saw spiritual benefits to sorrow. John Ritenbaugh shows why true, godly mourning gets such high marks from God.
What is it to be poor in spirit? John Ritenbaugh describes this attribute in its biblical usage. Those who are truly poor in spirit are on the road to true spiritual riches!
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.
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