Bill Onisick, reflecting on the horrendous damage caused by forest fires in the Carolina mountains, draws some parallels to the spiritual forest fires currently raging in the greater Church of God. Most literal and spiritual fires are caused by human carelessness or arson rather than natural causes like lightning strikes. There is a triangular relationship (heat, oxygen, and fuel) which increases the size of a fire—rendering it out-of-control. Miles and miles of black charred ashes is all that remains of a once beautiful forest. Relationships throughout the greater church of God have been charred in the same way by loose lips and careless tongues described in James 3:2, setting on fire the course of nature by Hell. We have all been guilty of spiritual arson. If we do not control our tongues, we are on a path to destruction. Our prideful desire to correct others, even when we are technically right, does not please God. We need to listen far more than we speak, sparing our words. God gave us ears that remain open and mouths that close. As we count our 50 days to Pentecost, have we been a fire igniter or a fire extinguisher? A quickness to listen is a mark of humility, whereas a quickness to speak is a mark of pride. We should control our reactions to our thoughts, focusing our minds on the suffering Our Savior endured on our behalf. We need to continuously and diligently use the spiritual tool of meditation, bringing our thoughts into captivity of God's purpose for us, developing Godly mindfulness, which is our spiritual armor against pride. Godly mindfulness enables us to pause before we react, giving us precious time to think before we blurt out foolishness. Godly mindfulness enabled Jesus Christ and Stephen to forgive their adversaries while they were facing death. If we follow James admonition to maintain Godly mindfulness, we can prevent our mouths to flare up in sin.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on his recent participation in the 40th reunion of Frankfort, Indiana High School, recounts his initial feelings of apprehension at the prospect of being re-immersed in the culture of 40 years ago, in which jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, and hot-rod enthusiasts carved out their territories and intimidated others who wanted to infiltrate their ranks. All this had changed; the artificial measures of importance and insignificance had all changed. His classmates had matured, had become more gentle and mellow, and seemed more accepting than they had ever been before. Like our high school classmates, we are now in a spiritual classroom with our called-out brethren. Initially, we may not have been the most spiritually mature, but instead perhaps served as the fountainhead of any number of any number of other peoples' trials. As we mature with the help of God's Holy Spirit, our rough edges become smoothed , and we become thankful for the bond between us, looking for ways to edify one another. We have a responsibility to be strong for one another, esteeming others over ourselves, taking a sincere interest in them.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the episode of God's rescuing of Noah and his family from the devastating flood, marvels about the perennial biblical patterns that never change, serving as an unambiguous teaching device. That rescue indicates God has never saved anybody by works. Everything, the physical and spiritual creation, begins with God, including the establishment of a family line from Seth to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Christ. Paradoxically God writes comparatively little about the first, and perhaps the greatest hero of faith, the father of all mankind after the rest of the world disappears, save for the evaluation that he did according to all God commanded him. What Noah built became the means of salvation of his family. Genesis 8-9 could be considered an overview of the entire plan of salvation. The time preceding the great flood parallels the time we are living through right now. The narrative demonstrates that clearing out an entire population of troublemakers did not solve the endemic and recurring problem of the deceptive, evil human heart. Only God's calling to each of us individually, followed by repentance and a rigorous conversion/sanctification process, will safeguard us from the fiery holocaust which will envelope this entire world. As God demonstrated grace by motivating Noah to build an ark to transport his family to safety, God has similarly provided a protective ark for His called-out ones today, namely His Church. Just as Noah's family had to help build the ark, we have been placed in the church with specific spiritual gifts, just as Noah had received, to help build up and edify the body or our place in the ark. Are we going to help build the ark or watch others build it? As Noah never forgot the Source of grace, we also should never forget that everything depends on God's generosity. We must emulate father Noah's humility, rejecting Satan's puffed up pride, remembering that just as God gifted Noah, He will also gift us for the specific task we have to do.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining Thomas Seeley's analysis of the swarm instinct of bee cultures, and sociologists' attempt to link that wired-in animal instinct to human behavior (opting usually for collective groupthink), suggests that there is a balanced approach to applying community behavior to Christian living, especially when we apply Paul's body analogies in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God's admonition that we learn from the ant does not teach us to yield to a hierarchical system but, rather, to unselfishly participate in a community, the final goal being its edification. Swarm behavior, flock behavior, and herd behavior, according to Tom Seeley is more democratic than authoritarian (as assumed in previous models). In the Body of Christ, we similarly work as an interdependent body of believers, serving one another, laboring for a common goal, as is rehearsed annually through God's appointed feasts and Holy days, all of which have unique qualities and lessons. On Pentecost, the priests baked loaves with leavening, representing those set apart before Christ's earthly ministry and those set apart after His ministry. We are obligated to be team players, looking after the needs of the entire body. Our rugged individualism must be tempered with the knowledge that we are part of a larger, interdependent body. Though God called us all individually, we need to think of ourselves as a part of the community, being just as protective of the flock as is our Elder Brother. Whether we are branches of a vine, God's field, God's building, God's flock, or the very bride of Christ, the common denominator is that God has designed us to serve one another. If we, as servants and fellow family members, all do our part, God will give the increase. There ought not be schisms in the Body; we will be living together eternally.
We do not often think of fellowship as a means of devotion, but when we look into the book of Acts at the unity of the early church, fellowship was a priority of those first members of God's church. Clyde Finklea reveals that Christian fellowship is more than just getting together on a regular basis; it is sharing with each other on a higher, spiritual level.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the formative years of the Church of the Great God, remembers that certain individuals wanted to make radical changes in the church service, including using a contentious debate format. When Herbert W. Armstrong first decided on the method of worship for the Radio Church of God and the Worldwide Church of God, he based it on principles of order and decorum found in large part in I Corinthians, insisting that all things be done decently and in order. Paul's instructions on order are found in I Corinthians 9, 11, 12, and 14, establishing practical guidelines for ministerial authority, the pattern of church governance, the conduct of members and proper observance of the Passover, the organization and division of labor in the church, and establishing guidelines for worship, bringing order out of chaos.
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.
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 Reid identifies four separate ways we are taught: (1.) God's Holy Spirit (John 14:26) imparted to us after our calling (John 6:44) and baptism (2) His Word (II Timothy 2:14-15), (3) through physical observation (Romans 1:20), and (4) through the ministry. The purpose of the ministry is to take members from their point of calling, bringing them to the point where they can be of service to God, edifying them, equipping them for their job of ministering in divine things (Ephesians 4:11-12, I Corinthians 6:2-3), establishing spiritual unity, and bringing them to spiritual maturity or adulthood to the measure of Jesus Christ. The minister serves as a shepherd, teaching not autocratically, but through example (I Peter 5:1-3)
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