Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Joe Baity reminds us that we live in a world divided, as seen in the impending implosions of the two major political parties, the fragmentation of the European ‘Union,’ fratricide among the Islamic factions, race wars, gender wars, class wars, and bitter vitriol, anger, and resentment rule the day. People are no longer hearing one another, but only their own amplified, distorted, and poisoned perceptions they carry of others. Babylon is blinded with bitterness. The Church of God has not escaped the poison of resentment and bitterness following the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, leading to the wholesale apostasy and diaspora which followed. Our ability to discern falsehood is directly related to our ability to recognize truth and act on it. Emotions such as pride, stubbornness, resentment, and envy (a root of bitterness influenced by the culture around them) have split congregations, dividing brethren more than doctrinal disputes. We are implored to seek and pursue peace with everyone. Resentment unresolved can make us physically and spiritual sick. Carrie Fisher contends that “Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die.” When resentment goes underground, it raises havoc with our nervous system as well as jeopardizes our salvation. It is okay to get angry—just as long as we do not stay there. As God’s called-out ones, we must learn how to take the hit and turn the other shoulder.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of his baptism, recalls how he joyfully, but perhaps myopically, assumed that he would automatically walk harmoniously and peacefully with the other members of the body of Christ into the Kingdom and eternity of God, without experiencing any impediments or sibling rivalry among our brethren in God’s family. As we are called into God’s Church, we come from divergent backgrounds, cultures, and philosophical viewpoints, potentially divisive and explosive, providing Satan a beachhead to divide and conquer brethren. Many of the things which have happened in our lives have molded and shaped our opinions, opinions that frequently place us at loggerheads with well-meaning people. If we allow the old man to dictate how we make decisions, we will trouble the Household of God and inherit nothing but the wind. Hanging onto the things of this world can do nothing but divide us. Are we willing to give up our intangible assets, such as our opinions, in order to allow Christ to fit us together in His Body? No matter how closely our experiences have meshed, no two people will ever see things 100% alike. All of us have come into God’s church from vastly different backgrounds, but with one major mandate—to love one another as Christ has loved us. Are we willing to jeopardize our spiritual inheritance by hanging onto opinions shaped by this world’s systems? Only by conforming to the example of Christ, fervently loving God the Father and loving our brethren as ourselves, can we edify instead of troubling God’s House. The meek, those who have power, but hold it wisely back, will inherit the Earth. Evildoers will be cut down like weeds, but the righteous will have an eternal inheritance. If our citizenship has been registered in Heaven, we are no longer residents of a fractured and divided nation
David Maas cautions that in a dangerous and troubled world in which everyone is being manipulated and conned into squaring off in hatred for one another, being enticed to take the spiritual mark of the Beast (seething anger and hatred toward one another), we must find common ground, not only with our fellow citizens, but especially among the multiple splinter groups in the greater church of God. Following the apostle Paul's example, when we encounter groups with differing views from ours, we must find common ground, finding things praiseworthy about them, providing the framework for mutual understanding, always on the basis of God's covenants to all of mankind and to His called-out firstfruits. In the current configuration of the greater church of God, blown to smithereens in the early 1990's, each group finds itself on a continuum, with an authoritarian fringe on one extreme and an assimilation or conforming to the world extreme on the other fringe. Each group has gifts and insights, as well as blind-spots and deficits in understanding, both of which will be cleared up by Almighty God in the fullness of time. In the meantime, we are commissioned to do our part of the work, always esteeming others over ourselves, respecting and loving one another, and striving to conform to God's covenant with all of us.
Bill Onisick, cuing in on Isaiah 9:6, reminds us that God gave Jesus Christ to us to restore peace, reconciliation, and harmony with God. We must follow Christ's example of sacrifice to be at peace with God. Our God is called a God of Peace and our Savior is called the Prince of Peace. In the Beatitudes, the peacemakers are called sons of God. To achieve the title "Son of God, one must emulate His proclivity for peacemaking. Besides practicing the absence of strife, peacemakers must augment harmony and joy. Godly peace goes way beyond truce and superficial cessation of hostilities, but actively builds harmony, unity, and tranquility within the God family. We are admonished not to be a peace breaker, causing our brother offense, but instead to actively build up harmony and unity with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren in Christ. Among the seven things God absolutely hates is one who spreads discord among his brethren. We constantly offend and are offended by brethren, making us peace breakers. God certainly does not need our help in correcting others. We should avoid heavy handed opinions, gossip, and other harmony-destroying activities. Peace breakers are not sons of God, but are sons of Satan. Peace in the God family begins with our relationship with God the Father. If we are not reconciled to God, we will not be reconciled to our brethren. We are not called to be peace lovers, but peacemakers, using His Holy Spirit to guide our behavior, bringing joy and harmony to the God-family as a true Son of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
Ronny Graham, reflecting on the frequent assassinations which have occurred in history throughout the world and in the pages of the Bible, focuses on an extremely dangerous kind of assassination— namely character assassination through murmuring and gossip, a kind of assassination of which many of us have been guilty. In Numbers 12:1-9, we learn about God's anger leveled against Miriam and Aaron for gossiping about Moses, complaining of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. In Proverbs 6:16, of the seven things God loathes and detests, thre pertain to the tongue and spreading discord among the brethren . Every time gossip is repeated, murder and character assassination is endlessly repeated. We dare not sell our birthright for a bowl of gos-soup.
Bill Onisick, characterizing the Pharisees as separatists, meticulously following man-made rituals and traditions, but oblivious of the weightier matters of the law, examines the deadly leavening of a Pharisee. The Pharisees performed their roles like actors behind mask, wanting the approval of men by his role-playing of piety. Pharisees are condemned for their proud look, their puffed-up attitude, their sowing discord among brethren, and causing contention. If we feel we are better than our brethren, separating ourselves from them either by avoiding them physically or holding hostility against them secretly, we are hypocrites and actors, harboring the leavening of the Pharisees in us. We need to rid ourselves of the pretentious hypocrisy of the Pharisees and avail ourselves of a pure humble heart, pouring out agape love to our brethren.
Martin Collins focuses on the second and third epistles of John, letters. Second John warns Christians against false teachers and the necessity not to let down their guard, realizing that deception is possible when they move 'progressively' against doctrines of Christ, as had occurred in the final years of the Worldwide Church of God. Third John was written to Gaius, whom John commended for his hospitality in welcoming genuine servants of God. John warns Gaius of the treachery of Diotrephes, who had arrogantly initiated a mutiny against God's true apostles and ministers, pompously assuming the behavior of putting out of the church those who did not follow his arrogant leadership (a practice sadly practiced in some of the splinter groups of the greater Church of God). Both Gaius and Demetrious are commended for their sterling receptivity of the truth as well as their generous hospitality, serving as lights to the world, while Diotrephes is rebuked for his arrogance and his caustic divisive behavior as is seen in his malicious gossip and hatred for God's true servants. Third John provides some practical counsel on dealing with friction and bitterness, attaining peace in the process.
David Grabbe, examining the implications of Isaiah 22:15-11, maintains that many major splinters of the greater Church of God have misunderstood the context of this passage which describes Shebna's expulsion from his role as Steward because of his blatant, self-important presumptuousness. Shebna was replaced by Eliakim who was a man of humility and lowliness of mind. Some of the self-exalting behaviors of those claiming to have the Key of David and an open door resemble more the self-focused attitude of Shebna rather than the humble attitude of Eliakim. The gracious promises given to the Philadelphians are given to those who absolutely know they have little strength and desperately need the continual aid of God's Holy Spirit to go through the open door of prayer to God's Throne Room. If we arrogantly compare ourselves among each other, boasting of our magazines, radio stations, and new members, we are no better than the pompous, self-important Shebna.
Among God's many names and titles is one that proclaims His supremacy over all others: "Most High God" or "God Most High." This name is first used when Melchizedek meets Abram after his victory over the kings who had taken Lot and his family captive. David Grabbe traces the usage of this divine name through the Bible, illustrating how it should give us confidence in God's governance over our lives.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
We all have many biases—toward the food we eat, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and even the detergent we use in our washing machines! However, not all biases are good. Dan Elmore provides biblical examples of partiality that caused no end of troubles. More importantly, we need to avoid partiality for the problems it can cause in the church.
Remember "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? In most cases, this is a lie. The hurtful words that we speak can create scars that last longer than any physical scar that sticks and stones may cause. Christians need to learn to harness the power of the tongue.
In this companion piece to his "Willingness to Believe" message, Richard Ritenbaugh provides an effective antidote to gullibility and simple-minded credulity. Both tendencies emerge from time to time in the greater church of God. Like advertising—which relies heavily on deception, hiding the down-side or defects and exaggerating the efficacy or desirability of a product—religious hucksters use deceptive tactics, using the bait or temptation of self-gratification, selling non-essential, twiggy or downright heretical positions. Like highly trained U.S. Treasury agents, the elect keep themselves undeceived by knowing the real article inside-out. If one knows the real article, the counterfeit will become readily apparent. Like a lamp rolling back the darkness (Psalm 119:105), the truth, revealed by God's Word, provides the best defense or antidote against deception and error.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
During times of unrest and confusion, it is easy to blame others for our problems. Yet finger-pointing is contrary to everything God teaches, as it shows a self-exalting, judgmental attitude. Now is the time to break this ingrained habit!
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
Indeed, many heresies crept into the church over the past several years. John Ritenbaugh explains the difference between heresy and apostasy, how Satan works to introduce heresy into the church, and most importantly, what we can do about it!
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that forgiveness is only the beginning of the grace process, enabling us to grow or mature into the full stature of Christ. Grace eliminates the possibility of boasting or self-glory because all we have accomplished has been accomplished only because of what He gave. We are to follow the example of our Elder Brother, who although He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, nevertheless made Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:6), becoming, as it were, a child. Jesus is not against greatness, but He wants it to be given by God and God is going to give it to those who are in harmony with His law and His way of life. Everybody is to build on the same foundation, using those gifts, which God empowered them. Paul, in I Corinthians 1:29 insists that the very fact you are under grace is what nails you to the floor, that you have got to obey the law.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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