The subjects of God's calling and predestination can be confusing at times, especially the idea that many are called but few are chosen. Why does God not just choose everyone? John Reid explores the Parable of the Wedding Feast to discover some answers to these vital questions.
Ryan McClure suggests that each year the calendar is filled with meaningful events, but what we consider important is modified by maturity and experience. Eventually, we learn that the world does not revolve around us and we defer to the needs of others. Our children teach us the magnitude of the selfishness we have emerged out of, or perhaps have not yet come out of. As we mature, we have an obligation to continually readjust our priorities, designating some things as more important than others. Warren Buffett suggests assembling a list of 25 things we would like to do, circling the five most important, and discarding or ignoring all the rest. Developing a relationship with God should always occupy the first priority, with a laser-sharp focus on our part, drowning out the noise of the world. Our job and our monetary wealth should never eclipse our relationships with God and with our family. If we seek God's righteousness and His Kingdom, our financial worries or concerns will be taken care of. God the Father and Jesus Christ never wavered from their priority of building a family. As God's called-out ones, we must screen out the allure of Babylon and make sure that God is always number one on our list of priorities.
Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy provides a handful of specific signs of His return, one of which seems particularly obscure. David Grabbe analyzes His saying, "Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together," in Matthew 24:28, explaining that it is a warning that Jesus will come back in judgment against those who resist Him.
Richard Ritenbaugh, commenting on the dry and hard clay in South Carolina, a real challenge to cultivate, identifies some grounds of comparison Christ cites between ourselves and clay (soil). In the Parable of the Sower, Christ describes 1.0) hard, impenetrable soil of the wayside, vulnerable to birds, symbolizing the devil and his demons, snatching the seed away, 2.) shallow stony soil, offering little or no anchorage for the seed,3.) thorny, choked soil, symbolizing the cares and lures of the world, and 4.) good soil, providing a fertile venue for growth. In each case, the quality of the reaction of the soil is highlighted. God freely supplies the rain and the sunshine to all varieties of soil, just as He makes His Word freely available, but the soil, symbolizing us, has to respond to the implantation of the seed, an invitation to have a relationship with God. Whether we are metaphorized as soil or building materials, we have an obligation to respond to God with deep respect and yieldedness, trembling at His Word.
David Grabbe, cuing in on verses in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, referring to the sign of eagles or vultures gathering together in the wake of God's impending judgment, corrects some misapplications of these verses, wherein people believe it refers to the Rapture. These pictures refer to the judgment against sin, providing a banquet for the vultures feasting upon those who have rebelled against God. As God's called-out ones, our biggest concern is not the Great Tribulation or the Beast, but instead it is being unprepared for Christ's return, and hence becoming food for the physical vultures or the symbolic demonic carrion. We dare not push off the time we seek God; we must not be like the foolish virgins who thought they had more time to get ready. Judgment is coming on the world, but it is coming on the church of God right now; let us be sure the vultures do not mistake us for the nearly dead.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are about leaving one venue (sin and Satan) and moving toward deliverance, warns us that as we leave sin, we do not want to leave our first love, as did the Ephesus congregation as recorded in Revelation 2:1. The Ephesians had a strong sense of duty to not let down, as well as serving as a vanguard in the battle against the false doctrines of the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans. What was lacking was the devotion to Christ, Who had given His life; the spark of love had gone and was replaced by a mechanical going- through- the- motions. They were not zealously attempting to form a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In an environment of turmoil, it is easy to draw inward in protection of the self, ignoring our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow to the stature of Jesus Christ, or our works are meaningless and will not produce fruit or light. Our prior fellowship lost its lamp-stand because of losing its first love. We do not dare follow in its footsteps, but must reignite our first love with the help of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent untimely death of Amanda Allen , focuses on some lyrics of a popular song recorded in 1975 by Matt Monro, titled "Yesterday When I Was Young." Sadly, wisdom is not a trait valued or acquired by youth, but takes second place to strength, beauty, or fun. We get too soon old and too late smart. Everything we do, eat, or think about matters, impacting on our total quality of life. There is still time to seek and dedicate our lives to God for our eternal profit and satisfaction.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4). ...
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
While we must express some of our own faith as we come to salvation, the great bulk of "saving faith" is a gift of God, given graciously and miraculously as part of God's creative process in us. In particular, John Ritenbaugh uses the examples of Abel and Enoch to illustrate the pattern of faith through which God walks His people.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that most people living in modern, Western culture better identify with flawed heroes, rather than perfect heroes. King David, for example, made huge errors in judgment and committed colossal sins. Ezekiel 18:19-20 indicates that guilt for sin is not transferable, but the consequences can often touch several generations. Saul, after having disqualified himself from being king, sought to ingratiate himself with God by killing Canaanites, including an unrecorded massacre of Gibeonites. Later, during a wasting famine, David, attempting a political rather than a righteous solution, yielded to the Gibeonites' request that descendants of Saul be hanged to avenge the slaughter. That the famine continued indicates God displeasure with David's decision and inner motives. As Christians living amidst spiritual famine, we dare not compromise with the culture around us.
Many of us know Luke 21:36 by heart: 'Watch and pray always. . . .' We think we know what it means because the church has traditionally taught that it refers to watching world events. But does it? Pat Higgins contends that there is far more to this verse spiritually than meets the eye.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the pervasive influence of pornography on the Internet, television, music, and print media, suggests that young people engaging in premarital sex are acting like sheep to the slaughter, totally oblivious to the real facts of life. Dating should be preceded by wholesome group activities; God created us as social beings, placing a longing in each individual for a member of the opposite sex. The purpose of dating should not be considered merely a pre-marriage ritual designed to prepare one for marriage, but instead (1) to develop wholesome interactions with the opposite sex in contrast to the world's dating games, totally mired in the lures of temptation and emotion described by James 1:14-15; (2) to help individuals to see their own strengths and weaknesses, gradually understanding themselves; (3) to develop practice in serving others, and (4) to discover the person one will marry. The more similarities there are in a relationship, the less likelihood that conflicts will emerge. A key ingredient in the dating process is faith in God's purpose in each person's life. The relationship one has with God takes precedence over any relationship with any other human being.
The first parable of Matthew 13 lays the groundwork (pun intended) for the remainder of the chapter. Martin Collins explains the various soils upon which the seed of the gospel falls, and the reasons why growth—or its lack—results.
The story of Esau and his selling his birthright for a bowl of soup is a cautionary tale for Christians today. What it is we really value? What we treasure will ultimately determine our destiny.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
The Parable of the Great Supper is Jesus' response to a fellow dinner guest exclaiming, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" In the parable, Jesus exposes and corrects the ignorance of those who, in their pride, misjudge their true moral condition.
Jesus exposes the Jews' rejection of the gospel using the illustration of a king sending invitations to a wedding celebration. Though God is shown to be merciful and just, the invitees' character is revealed to be wanting.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Wordsworth's lament, "the world is too much with us," comments that the fast pace of the world - the hurry or rush mode - threatens to crowd God out of our thoughts. We cannot allow the cares of the world or the stress of the world's pressures, or the pride of the world (self-sufficiency)to crowd God out of our thoughts or to defile our minds, bringing about abominable works or evil fruits. The spiritual battle we fight is in our minds and in our thoughts. We are what we think - what we put into our minds. We need to actively lay siege to our carnality and hostile thoughts, bringing them into captivity to God's Holy Spirit. Our thoughts (hopefully filled with the knowledge of God) determine the content of our speech and the contents of our actions- i.e. our fruits. What we sow we will reap.
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.
In this message on overcoming anxiety and fear of the future, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that since September 11, anxiety, fear, depression, and panic disorders have increased dramatically in America, characterized by feelings of loss of control, and hopelessness for the future. The key to overcoming the fear of loss of control is to admit that God is in control. If we have our priorities straight (Matthew 6:33) God will take care of the anxieties we encounter. If people do not have God's vision of the future, they will end up in aberrant behavior, eventually leading to death, but happy and blessed are they who keep God's direction.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
John Ritenbaugh insists that true riches consist of what we are (or what we become) rather than what we have. True riches consist of those things that can be carried through the grave and into the Kingdom of God. The circumstances of our lives (totally determined by God)- health, sickness, wealth, poverty, etc. we could consider as the scaffolding for the building of character fit for the Kingdom of God. What God really wants is for us to see things from His point of view, making the right choices, consciously striving to build character, developing into His image.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
A biblical study on the basic aspects of one of the fruit of God's Spirit, joy.
John Ritenbaugh explores the various uses of the term "world," ultimately focusing on the negative connotation describing the cultures of this world since Adam and Eve, directly under the influence of the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12). The entire world and its cultures are in disobedience to God because of Satan's influence. The world is in deadly antagonism against God, against the way of God, and the people of God because the spirit generated by the unseen prince of this world. It is essential that we stay awake and keep our guard up.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
Time—it marches relentlessly on, and we have only so much of it. Yet we waste a lot of it on foolish pursuits, procrastination and distractions. John Ritenbaugh explains how getting control of our time puts us in the driver's seat in our pursuit of God's Kingdom!
In this sobering message, John Ritenbaugh warns us about our attitude or our perception of the greatest axial period (turning point) that will ever take place on this earth. We need to be sober and alert, realizing that we don't have an infinitude of time to prepare for Christ's second coming. We cannot allow ourselves to become surfeited with the world's distractions, being lulled off to sleep as the foolish virgins, wasting our precious time. We need to exercise steadfast faithfulness, exercising vigilance as we approach the Day of the Lord in order that we don't let it take us by surprise. Living righteously on a continuous basis will put us in the right attitude, keeping us prepared for this event, causing us to properly have love for His appearing. Sorrow, fear, anguish, and dread characterize those who are unprepared.
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.
Why does God want us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? John Ritenbaugh shows that the Feast is far more than a yearly vacation!
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
John Ritenbaugh warns that, as the calamitous events of the end times intensify, we need to be able to determine what is important and what is marginal, devoting our energies to what Christ is most concerned: overcoming human nature and developing faith in God's ability to provide. Will we trust God in the basic areas of life—food, clothing, and water—or compromise, accepting the mark of the beast to save our physical lives (Revelation 13:11-17)? Doing this would indicate our acceptance of the beliefs of the great false religious system and brand us an enemy of God. The mark on the forehead and hand signifies submission of mind and deed to this foul system (contrasted to Deuteronomy 6:8), willfully disobeying God's commandments (particularly the Sabbath - Exodus 31:13) and denying Christ.
In Matthew Christ likens end-time events to the time of Noah's Flood. John Ritenbaugh gives insight into how this end time flood might manifest itself and what we can do to avoid being swept up in it.
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Old Testament emphasis on the dwelling in booths and the sacrifices as the context for rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40-44). Even though the Feast is an interlude from our customary activities, it is not a vacation (a cessation from our spiritual sacrifices, duties, or responsibilities). If we do not prioritize properly, (fearing God -Deuteronomy 14:23 and seeking God's Kingdom- Matthew 6:33), the miscellaneous distractions of this world (Mark 4:19) could railroad our most important priority. The booths depict our current lives as pilgrims, people on the move, not living in our own country, wandering single-mindedly toward our destination as our forefather Abraham had earlier set the pattern (Hebrews 11:8), fully determined that the cares of the world would not deter him from his goal.
Satan and his demons regard us as invaders of their first estate, and have consequently have engaged us in a fierce spiritual battle to destroy our relationship with God and His purpose for us to be born into His Family. We fight our battle in the mind, in the subtle thought processes (II Corinthians 10:5). We need to be aware of Satan's modus operandi, including the stratagem of disinformation (subtle, plausible lies) spread through false ministers (wolves in sheep's clothing; Matthew 7:15), teaching the smooth, broad way to destruction, encouraging spiritual fornication and eventual enslavement to sin. The apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (I John 4:1-3), making sure that belief and practice are carefully aligned.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-30sec mark] Before continuing the Bible Study in Matthew 24, John Ritenbaugh, after first examining the role of the Levites, goes into great detail explaining the various roles or functions of offices of responsibility within the church, including that of apostle, evangelist, pastor, and elder- sometimes called bishop, presbyter, or overseer. All of these appointed positions carry the singular responsibility as shepherds to perfect, correct, and edify the saints, bringing the entire congregation to the unity of Christ. The series of events described by Christ in Matthew 24 should be compared to the six seals described in Revelation 6 and the seventh seal described in Revelation 7, showing a definite chronological progression from the Great Tribulation to the terrifying cosmic signs, followed by the climactic Day of the Lord. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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.]
Can a Christian commit a sin, and still be a Christian? Or would this be "the unpardonable sin"? Or would it prove he never was a Christian? Thousands worry, because they do not understand what IS the sin that shall never be forgiven.
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