Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that sometimes the pace of the Feast of Tabernacles can be wearying, reminds us that God has commanded His people to rejoice and to develop a beneficial fear and respect for Him. Enjoying the feast to the hilt physically does not necessarily mean we had a good feast. If we do nothing to make a fine feast for someone else, we probably will not have a good feast. God commanded the Israelites to offer more sacrifices at the Feast of Tabernacles than at all the other Holy Days combined. We attain spiritual regeneration by participation. After the Babylonian captivity, people felt more inclined to serve than before, having cultivated a new appreciation for what they had lost—namely, God’s precious law. Just because we are keeping God’s festivals does not necessarily mean we are in sync with God’s Law or His purpose for our lives. God commissioned Amos to write a powerful, stirring message to the ten northern tribes, warning them to prepare to meet their God and to change the attitudes which were polluting God’s feasts. Israel, in the time of Amos, had drifted into the same moral cesspool as the modern Israelitish nations have today, laden down with corruption and bloodshed, just as America’s Supreme Court has made sodomy and murder the law of the land. Amos warned against exalting symbolism over substance, clinging to Bethel as a religious shrine, while neglecting the fact that Bethel was the location where God renamed Jacob to Israel. God wants each of us individually to go through the same transformation as our father Jacob—from conniving schemer to a totally converted and submissive servant.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the apostle Paul had to caution the Thessalonian congregation against jumping to conclusions about the return of Christ, asserts the scattered Church of God has a similar penchant for jumping to conclusions, some identifying Joseph W. Tkach (a man who hardly demonstrated any wondrous miracles) as the man of sin, occupying the holy place. While biblical types come in all colors and flavors, the stark reality of II Thessalonians 2 is far more grave than any parochial upheaval. Like the Thessalonian congregation, we cannot afford to let anyone deceive us. The scope of this event is obviously international, affecting the entire world, involving a dramatic global rejection of God's truth. Our culture has been witness to this international apostasy, in viewing the acceptance of godless evolution over creation. A decrepit nominal Christianity has been challenged by a virulent radical Islam, which teaches that the notion that God has a son is blasphemous. Shockingly, for all its moral decline, America is the most 'Christian' country of any Israelitish nation on the globe; in Britain far, far more attend mosques than churches. Meanwhile, in 'Christian' America, Wicca and New Age earth worship surges in popularity, while a full one-fifth of the population has abandoned previous beliefs. In the mainstream religions, belief has become so anemic with such shallow ideas of righteousness that the truth of God cannot be translated into real life experience. We must realize that the falling way will be universal; every 'tribe' will be dismayed. Because this on-going apostasy has not occurred overnight, we must safeguard ourselves against the danger of adapting ourselves to the new normal of evil and wickedness, compromising ourselves into mortal danger by gradual neglect, allowing the plague of secularism to infect us little by little.
Martin Collins, focusing on the Prophet Habakkuk, whose name means "one who embraces" or "one who clings," suggests that a major theme of the Book of Habakkuk is the importance of clinging to God regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Habakkuk's prophecy seems to be up-to-date when describing God's called out ones today, who are compelled to cling to God as evil change agents threaten to destroy our civilization. Habakkuk evidently lived following the times of Josiah's massive reforms, a time of spiritual decay following the bright times of Josiah, a transitional time something like we are experiencing today, a time the law is powerless and justice no longer prevails. We should never be tripped up when we see bad things happen to good people or vice versa, realizing that history is indeed following God's timetable. God's timing is perfect. We should never doubt the justice of God, remembering that terrible events cannot separate us from the love of God. When we feel overwhelmed, we need to (1) stop and think, refraining from rash speaking, (2) calmly restate basic principles, (3) put events in their right context, and (4) return to God for further clarification. Habakkuk followed this formula as he reflected upon every attribute of God, realizing that God had been continually faithful to His people and that the impending invasion of the Babylonians was not the last event in God's plan, but only a tool in bringing about God's ultimate purpose. Like Habakkuk, we must detach ourselves from the problem at hand, return to the ramparts and seek God's counsel, staying in the watchtower, seeking God in prayer and study until God gives us the answer, remembering that the just shall live by faith.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within hours of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment -breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the rule of the god of this world, Satan.
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warns the Pharisees about crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed, an act of blasphemy that is commonly called "the unpardonable sin." David Grabbe explores the Bible's references to this often-misunderstood subject, showing that, while rare, one could fall into it through bitterness or neglect.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the majority of nominal Christianity has bought into Satan's lie to Eve that she would not die, perpetuating this systematized delusion through the doctrines of the immortal soul, with its eventual departure to Heaven, an ever-burning hell, purgatory, or limbo. Man does not have a soul; he is a soul, subject to permanent oblivion unless rescued by Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death, not life in ever-burning hell, or a stroll through the Pearly Gates. For those who have submitted their lives to God, turning their lives around in repentance, and sealed with God's Holy Spirit, there is no fear of the Second Death. They will be resurrected when Christ returns. Death has both a physical application (which all of us will experience) and a spiritual application (meted out on those who absolutely will not yield to Almighty God under any circumstances, having committed the unpardonable sin, any sin harbored in perpetuity and not repented of). With Adam and Eve's sin, the union between God and man was severed. Through Jesus Christ, the second Adam, access to the God the Father has been restored, and Eternal Life has been granted as a precious gift to those who submit and yield to God, having their characters shaped and molded into His image.
Ephesians 4:11-14 gives instruction on how God gifts some more than others in the church: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints ..."
John Ritenbaugh, asking which of God's spiritual gifts is most important, answers that faith seems the most important. Loss of faith is the primary reason people have left the greater Church of God. Rejecting the Sabbath or embracing Christmas requires rejecting fundamental biblical truths. If we do not do what Christ did, we cannot claim to follow Christ. Sadly, many professing 'Christians' believe the law has been done away, including the mandate to keep the Sabbath. Some people dismiss Sabbath-keeping by twisting Paul's pronouncements about fasting in Romans 14:1-9. If we are able to understand, experience, and practice truth, we will be set free. We must continue to build on the truths we already have, enabling us to build and strengthen our faith. If we continue in God's word, then we strengthen ourselves as His disciples.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
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.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
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.
Compromise usually begins small and can grow to encompass once strongly held beliefs. Martin Collins uses the story of Solomon to illustrate how this process works.
Just as important as follow-through is in an athletic motion, its spiritual counterpart is vital to our life in Christ. We must have the will and commitment to carry our devotion to God through to the very end.
How does God define the church? What comprises it according to the Bible? The ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the Bible, is not a humanly defined corporation, but the mystical body of Christ, having the Spirit of God. The true church of God is an invisible, spiritual organism, of those people that have and are led by the Spirit of God. And such a person will not turn away from the teaching delivered by the apostles.
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!
We all want to be known as seekers of the truth. None of us would want to follow a lie! Yet oftentimes, searching for the truth brings us into conflict with others' beliefs, causing separations between brethren in the church of God. How do we tell truth from lie?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
This is an oft-repeated refrain in these days of distrust of the ministry. But is it a proper, Christian attitude? What does the Bible say about human leadership in God's church?
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
Christian freedom has nothing to do with location but how we think. Like Israel on the edge of the Red Sea, we are too willing to turn back to our enslavement. Like Christ, carrying the instrument of our death (the cross), we also carry with us the instrument of our own death (our carnal minds). By imbibing on God's Word (maturing from milk to meat), we will incrementally displace our carnality, responding to God's shaping of our character to attain the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
In this admonitory sermon, John Ritenbaugh systematically examines the lives of three kings, included in the genealogies of Kings and Chronicles, but conspicuously absent in Matthew. The common denominator in all three cases (Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah) was that although they started out ostensibly well, they allowed weak character, pride, inordinate self-esteem, and presumptuousness to turn their hearts away from God (metaphorically transforming from butterflies to worms), refusing to repent, forcing God to blot their names from remembrance.God expects steadfast endurance in His servants (Matthew 10:22) II Chronicles 15:2 reveals the principle that faithfulness and loyalty is a two way street. God's mercy is perfectly balanced by His Justice.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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