Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
Austin Del Castillo, asking us what we would do to receive the approbation "the friend of God" as did father Abraham, reminds us that, as the affianced Bride of Christ, we do have this distinction "right out of the gate." God the Father has called many to be the bride, but only a relative few have been chosen. We have the honor of having God as our friend just as much as Abraham. To fulfill that role, we must do whatever He commands from the heart, not grudgingly or mechanically, keeping the Spirit as well as the letter of His Holy Law with an honest desire to please Him and be like Him. But in these last times, with many schisms having emerged among the Church of God, the love of many has grown cold. This waning of godly love manifests itself as a difficulty to love others with the same intensity Christ does. Those of us who may feel someone has offended us beyond reconciliation should remember that Jesus Christ washed the feet of the man who would betray Him. No one has ever been offended as much as our Bridegroom, but He has mandated that we love our spiritual siblings as well as our enemies, esteeming every other human being more than ourselves. The way we treat our least favorite brother is the way we treat Christ. God wants our loyalty, choosing to treat the world as He does. If we can do that, we are keeping the First Commandment.
Austin Del Castillo, observing the ballooning prayer list, the continuing fractures occurring throughout the greater Church of God, and the high frequency of people offended, asserts that, unless our primary relationship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ, a positive relationship with our called-out brethren will be impossible, and we will come to feel alone in our spiritual battle. Too many have become strangers to God. Our relationship with God must be real and not imaginary, much closer than any family member or friend. God loves us far more than we love our children. Through accessing His Holy Spirit as metaphorical branches of the vine, we take on godly characteristics, having love for our brethren, willing to sacrifice our lives for them, if necessary, exceeding the bravery of the mythical Aragorn and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. Jesus will never force us to love Him; only we can do that. Absolutely no one should be closer and more intimate with us than Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Mark Schindler, establishing some foundational principles that God does not create chaos and confusion, but has re-established order after Satan's rebellion, points out the danger and folly of presumptuously choosing standards of right and wrong rather than trusting God's judgment. The essential dualities of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil are also foundational teachings, explaining how mankind got into the predicament it now finds itself. Since the temptation of Eve with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge , mankind has been plagued with the same temptation throughout history. Throughout the last years of his life, the lesson of the two trees was a hallmark message of Herbert W. Armstrong. This message was not the rumination of a feeble old man, but instead the key to understanding the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father. God is sovereign over His creation all the time—to the smallest detail, having built into His creation abundant failsafe mechanisms mitigating consequences of a possible failure, somewhat analogous to the hold-down bar of a power lawnmower, preventing accidental finger-severing. God, in His sovereignty, has not failed. The free-will He has allowed mankind has led to some tragic consequences or disruptions, but none of these are outside of His control. God's way never requires a fail-safe because God is never wrong. As God's called-out ones, we must trust the sovereignty of our Heavenly Father, surrendering exclusively to His will, as did our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. If we keep the law of God, provided by the love of God, we will receive the life of God.
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.
Martin Collins, observing that, in the first five books in the Bible, there are no statements of "Thank you," nevertheless reminds us that the thank offerings in Leviticus 21:29 indicate that thanksgiving has a singularly profound meaning. King David was prolific in his expressions of gratitude to God, as was the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. We should be thankful to God for His Holy Spirit, freedom of worship, spiritual blessings, fellowship, as well as God's promise that He will finish what He has started and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Before the foundation of the world, God has already pre-destined specific calling and sanctification for individuals; God will keep on whittling away at our carnality until He has accomplished what He has purposed. The purpose of grace is to motivate good works, not to do away with them. Our first and foremost reaction to receiving God's Grace should be an outflow of love for our brethren, including the ones we have not met. Drawing an analogy from electrical theory, all good works depend on God's love, which is the pressure behind good works. Good works depend on a channel in which the amperage can be high. Our lives must not be filled with resistors which selfishly collect the flow or condensers which pirate this power for private use. The law of God multiplied by a life free of resistance equals good works. Our life must be freed from obstructions and imperfections, reflecting the fruits of the spirit as we are attached to the Vine, just as a faucet must be connected to a pipeline to produce water. Happiness is found only in the truth of God.
Bill Onisick, asserting that getting grape vines to bear fruit is difficult, suggests that the production of succulent grapes is at least a two-year project, in which pruning dead wood and lateral vines that produce much foliage, but little fruit, and exposing buds to sufficient sun (by thinning the canopy) are essential. Two-year-old canes, having been 90% pruned in the dormant season, normally produce seven buds apiece. Jacob referred to his son Joseph a fruitful vine, not restrained by walls. Jesus Christ is metaphorically the Vine and His Father is the Vinedresser; we are the branches, subject to trimming and pruning in order that we bear abundant spiritual fruit with much agape love. We will glorify our Heavenly Father if we produce much fruit, but we cannot bear fruit if we become detached from the vine. God planted the vine to be in His image. The best fertilizer for the vine is the shadow of the vine dresser. The bond that unites the whole of God's Kingdom and Family is His Holy Spirit.
Gary Garrett, reflecting that Adam and Eve had a direct fellowship with God at the beginning of man’s history, asserts that fellowship and fellowshipping are important to God. After Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden, the sacrificial system was the only way to maintain contact with God. Adam and Eve were progenitors of an Edenic culture that had a fellowship based on the presence of the Lord, whereas Cain established a culture in Nod, based purely on human reason independent of God. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, but only Abel followed the instructions outlined by God, which required an animal sacrifice, prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice, a grain or cereal offering, was intended to symbolize love for brethren, which was demonstrated to be false by his intense jealousy and murder of Abel. Cain aligned himself with the wicked way of Satan and ignored God’s counsel for him to repent. If we lack love for our brethren who live in the presence of God, we are emulating Cain. It is God’s desire that we stay in the fellowship. Cain denied the importance of the Edenic fellowship, causing him to be separated from God, as well as his fellow men. Today the church is our Edenic fellowship; we must cling to each other as we continue our spiritual pilgrimage.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Kim Myers suggests that the government assumes an unseemly role as being entitled to do whatever it wants, dominating over the lives of its constituents, instead of functioning as a servant. Having in the last several decades ignored the Constitution, and the laws and precepts of the Bible, all branches of government are clueless as to fair weights and measures, proper ways to treat the poor and homeless. They have compulsively baited the entitlement trap, consisting of food-stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidies, and welfare, turning its citizenry into abject economic slaves rather than uplift them out of poverty. When a person, under Old Testament Law, fell into economic peril, either by his own carelessness, or accident, God prescribed a way back to economic freedom and dignity through the Jubilee year. Furthermore, while he worked as a bondservant to his countryman, he was never demeaned as chattel or property, but was respected and maintained his dignity as he worked for food, shelter, and clothing. The apostle Paul demonstrated the work ethic, working with his hands, refusing to accept offerings from the congregation, even though he could have. Our Elder Brother Jesus Christ also demonstrated the work ethic, working diligently as the Father works diligently. Back in the 1950's young people seemed to have more responsibility, more often than not having summer and after-school jobs, earning their own spending money. Today, our young people, with the coaxing of the Federal government, have racked up insurmountable debt, shamelessly expecting the rest of the 'serf' society to pay for their schooling and bankroll them into careers. Sadly, the entitlement attitude has surreptitiously crept into God's church, with people seemingly feeling they should be served instead of eagerly serving others, completely at odds with Jesus Christ's admonition that leadership consists of serving with a foot-washing attitude. As we serve with Christ in the Millennium, it will not be with a "ruling over them" entitlement at
Martin Collins, asking whether suffering and sorrow come upon those whom God the Father or Jesus Christ loves, identifies four distinct Old Testament Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Christ's death and all cited by the Apostle John. They include (1) the dividing of His clothing (including his seamless tunic), prophesied in Psalm 22:18 and fulfilled in John 19:28-20, (2) the giving of sour wine, prophesied in Psalm 69:18 and fulfilled in John 19:28-29, (3) the breaking of the legs of the two criminals, but not Jesus' legs, prophesied in Psalm 34:20 and fulfilled in John 19:31-36, and (4) the piercing of His side, prophesied in Zechariah and fulfilled in John 19:34 -37. All of these prophesies depict suffering and sorrow. Additionally, there are three pictures of Christ as forsaken, crushed, and executed, including that of the tola worm crushed for its blood-like crimson dye used to make royal clothing. The seven last words or sayings of Christ recorded in the New Testament Gospels are as follows: (1) "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do," (2) "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,"(3) "Jesus said to his mother: 'Woman, this is your son.' Then he said to the disciple: 'This is your mother.'" (4) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (5) "' I thirst.' They took a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to His mouth. When Jesus had received the wine , He said (7) 'It is finished ;'and He bowed His head and handed over the spirit," (7) Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father , into your hands I commend my spirit." All these quotations derive from Old Testament Messianic prophecies, many from Psalm 22. It would be good, in preparation for Passover, for all of us to meditate deeply on these fulfilled Messianic prophecies.
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
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree. Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature. Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies. The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.
Martin Collins illustrates the horrible degradation of this society because of the abandonment of the Fifth Commandment, insists that God intended children to be a heritage and a reward to those who obey His Law. American society is cursed because the family, its most important component, is dysfunctional. It is impossible to raise families without God. Gentile societies have historically demonstrated subhuman treatment to both women and children; Modern Israel apparently wants to follow suit by murdering 3,000 children per day, with 1.09 million unborn children annually. Last week, the largely reprobate American Congress voted to fund the guilty murderers on a grand scale, an act even natural law would regard as patently inhumane. Children have two duties to their parents: to obey them (in the Lord) and to honor them. The parent (ideally) is to serve as a representative of God to the child. Cursing parents in the Old Covenant was a capital offense. Honor goes far beyond obedience. The parent is expected to teach children in a restrained and balanced way, not embittering, provoking, irritating, harassing, and not breaking the spirit of the child. Parents must remember that customs change, that trust trumps control, and that children need encouragement. Sons must be prepared for leadership, being encouraged to offer suggestions in family meetings. Aubrey Andelin offers fathers positive suggestions as to conducting family meetings and communicating. (1) Stop all activities and give full attention to the children. (2) Listen carefully, even if not in agreement. (3) Be understanding and express sympathy for their ideas. (4) Tell them you will think about their suggestion. (5) Praise their ideas as useful and important contributions even if you are not able to agree with, or implement, them. As parents, our mandate is to bring children up in the understanding of the Lord's will, largely by our own positive example.
Kim Myers, reflecting on Amos’s prophecy to ancient Israel in Amos 5:11, castigating the leaders for their shabby treatment to the poor and destitute in society, draws a parallel to America’s leaders today, allowing or creating situations in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, leading to record numbers of our citizenry succumbing to homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including America) takes advantage of the poor, using the illegal immigration tidal wave for profit and political power. When a nation loses its morals, people feel free to take advantage of one another, especially the poor. God hates governments which take advantage of the poor, a segment of the population people find easy to take advantage of because they are trusting, helpless, and dependent. In God’s Church, we also have poor, meek, and handicapped individuals. We are mandated to love the brethren, treating them as we would a blood relative. All of us could improve our sensitivity to people’s needs, especially when we have the financial means at the Feast of Tabernacles, sharing our time, treasure, and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. We do not have to be wealthy to be hospitable, but we should not be stingy or cheap when we have the means to serve one another. We have a mandate from Almighty God to let brotherly love continue through our hospitality and generosity.
Kim Myers, tracing ancient Israel's abject bondage to the Egyptians and their subsequent redemption and journey to their great gift (that is, the Promised Land), draws a parallel to the Israel of God. We have been in bondage to sin, enslaved to alcoholism, adultery, lying, and other carnal pulls. Like the ancient Israelites, we have a tendency to gripe and complain, wrongly thinking that the days before conversion were enjoyable, forgetting we were wallowing in slop and eating garbage. Like the ancient Israelites, we sometimes come to yearn for our previous bondage. Because God loved ancient Israel, He spoke to Moses 72 times, giving specific guidance; He has given us His Holy Spirit for the same purpose. The ancient Israelites grumbled when God gave them the land of the Amalekites, fearing God would not back them, even after the backdrop of witnessing many incontrovertible miracles. After the deaths of the recalcitrant first generation (a collection of rebels who preferred bondage to godly freedom), an emergent second generation entered the land of milk and honey, with God winning all their military victories for them. No other people in the world have been given a gift like that. If we understood God's divine purpose for us, we would live our lives entirely differently. God's ways from the world's point of view are strange; the world thinks we are nerds. But living God's ways will enrich us with the fruits of the Spirit. Most of us do not comprehend the magnitude of the gift God has given us, a trillion times better than the gift He gave to the ancient Israelites. Obedience to God's law is the key factor in growing toward God's Holiness.
Austin Del Castillo, recalling an incident earlier in his life when he allowed his pride at being the only college graduate on his crew to lead him to take his job less seriously or diligently than he should have, examines the destructive, corrosive effects of pride, and the positive value for genuine humility in the workplace and in our relationships with one another. Humility is important as we are guided by God's Holy Spirit; we are obligated to do something constructive with it. The former guardian cherub is the architect of pride, his heart lifted up by his beauty, causing him to develop an entitlement mentality, an affliction shared by all who have carnal human nature. Pride hopelessly distorts our view of reality, as well as our relationship with Almighty God and our fellow called-out ones. We have been called out to be separate, holy, and sanctified, submitting ourselves to one another, rather than elevating ourselves over one another. Being humble is not for the faint of heart, but it requires the Spirit of God operating in our lives.
Mark Schindler, reflecting upon a recent survey by the Barna Group reporting that, while a majority of Americans accept Jesus as a historical personage, beliefs in His divinity and His sinlessness precipitously decline with each successive generation, declares that, if we do not trust in Christ as our salvation, we will encounter Him as a stumbling block, offense, or tripping point. We reinforce our faith in Christ by studying the bedrock of knowledge, God's word, and applying it continually in our lives, loving one another as Christ loved us. As God's called-out ones, we have the mandate to sanctify God, imitating Christ, regarding Him and His Word as precious. In this capacity, we must respect those who bring us the word through preaching and teaching, refraining from bringing them grief by nitpicking at non-essentials, but to patiently seek and apply the spiritual insights in the messages. In the Body of Christ, rancorous debate should not exist. Through simmering rancor and anger, we could easily bring on dishonor, making the Rock of Christ a stumbling block to our brethren.
Clyde Finklea, asking us what identifies a person as a true disciple of Christ, points to the command in John 13:34, commanding that the disciples love one another as Christ loved us—loving to the extent that He would give up His life. God is composed of love, as described in its many facets in Galatians 5:22 and I Corinthians 13. Two positive facets identified in I Corinthians are longsuffering (the opposite of retaliation and vengeance), as exemplified by David in his response to Saul, and kindness or compassion, as expressed by David to Jonathan's heir. As Christians, we must exercise longsuffering and kindness to all, including to those that have done ill to us. The only way we can be considered disciples of Christ is if we love one another with His standard.
Martin Collins, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread dramatize the difficulty of our perpetual lifelong struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage of sin, points out that the despicable institution of human slavery has been perpetually with us, and is still practiced today around the world, whether we speak of sex slaves, sweat shops, or cultural caste systems. Consequently, there are 30 million people living in slavery around the world, with 14 million slaves living in India, and an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today. In theApostle Paul's time, 60 million slaves lived in the Roman Empire, with strict laws enforced in order to discourage revolt. Runaway slaves were branded with an "F-U-G" on their forehead, becoming the etymology of the word "fugitive." Although Paul was powerless to attack the system of slavery, he tried to neutralize its evil within the church, advocating that slave owners relinquish the owner-property relationship to a brother-brother relationship. Paul appealed to Philemon to develop this kind of relationship after his slave Onesimus ran away, stealing his money, running to Rome to assist Paul during his imprisonment. Paul wrote a humble, brotherly, diplomatic letter to his old friend Philemon, offering to pay a substitutionary debt for Onesimus if he would treat him as if he were Paul himself. Apparently, Philemon obliged, and the once lowly slave Onesimus evidently became a profitable bishop in his later life, paying back Paul's and Philemon's trust, demonstrating generosity and Christian hospitality. We learn from Onesimus that the Christian is not to run away from his past, but instead to rise above it, making overcoming more of a conquest than an escape. Like Paul's assumption of Onesimus' debt, Christ took our sins on His account and put His righteousness on our account. As an heir with Christ, our bondage is only temporary until we are resurrected as family members of the God Family.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on Philippians 2:12, which states that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, remembers an incident of an earthquake he had experienced in San Bernardino, an incident fraught with terror and feelings of helplessness as the concrete under his feet rolled like waves. The fear and trembling before God is more like reverence and awe instead of abject terror. The fear and terror we experience leads us to total dependence upon God with a desire to repudiate sin, which is loathsome to God. We cannot do this on our own, but must ask God for the will and desire to overcome our carnal human nature. We bring honor to God by keeping His commandments. Paul asks members of the Philippian congregation to take stock of themselves, making sure they were solicitous of the needs of the congregation, esteeming others before self, emulating the example of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. As we emulate Christ, growing in His character, and when we serve our brethren with selflessness, we bring glory to God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh warns about conforming to the world by realizing that Satan fine tunes and customizes his deception. Like he had done with the apostle Peter, Satan also wants to sift us as wheat Thankfully, God will not let us be tempted above what we are able. The apostle Paul warns us to be vigilant about the world, not loving its attitudes, mindsets, and frame of mind. Loving (or setting our hearts upon) the world (as opposed to loving the LORD our God or our neighbor as ourselves) and being attached to the world (governed by the spirit and power of the air) is bad business. Loving the world and loving God the Father cannot transpire side by side; we cannot serve two masters. John is referring to spiritual things that have powerful influences on the fleshly appetites. Sin usually begins in the eye because it triggers desire. Pride disengages us from realizing that we are created beings and did not give ourselves abilities, gifts, materials, and tools we have nothing we did not receive. Pride leads to idolatry, the horrible sin which separated Israel from God. The called of God do not fit anywhere in the world; the church is unique—separate from anything in the world; we march to the beat of a different drummer. It is human nature (which is anti-God) to absorb the ways of the world. To the world, we are the 'enemy.' Our focus should be on treasuring our calling, preparing to become teachers in God's Kingdom.
Joe Baity, focusing on a 1642 law enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Old Deluder Satan Act, an attempt to create a literate population to read the Bible, preventing deceit and heresy, jumps ahead to January 1992, when the Church of the Great God, following the disintegration of the Worldwide Church of God, asked constituents of the greater Church of God whether they could see God. On October 8, 2014, the Church of the Great God challenged its members to search for a clear world view, unimpeded by the polluted and sullied springs of the world's culture. God has called us out of ignorance; we must see clearly the perspective Christ came to reveal. The world's sloppiness with language has cheapened the precision of meaning. For example, the myriad imprecise and often trivial contexts of the word "love" has blurred the solemn commitment of keeping God's commandments. The old serpent that deluded Eve has bastardized the term love, flooding the world with over one billion books distorting love, calling it "a four letter word," "falling in love is like falling in a hole," "love is to be avoided," "all is fair in love and war," or "don't let love let you down," making it nearly impossible to understand the love of God. Satan has actually deluded mankind that love is hate and hate is love. As God's called-out ones, we must seek God with all our might, learning that love is to keep His Commandments in the letter and spirit, constituting pure love to God and one another.
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.
Martin Collins indicates that, even though II and III John are the shortest books of the Bible, they do contain significant themes, amplifying the contents of I John, emphasizing the fellowship with God. II and III John, addressed to elders in supporting local churches, advocate hospitality to legitimate teachers and forbid supporting false teachers. II John provides tests of life, determining authenticity of genuine believers, as well as advocating faithfulness in large and small responsibilities, including the friends with which one chooses to associate, realizing that true wisdom is the right application of spiritual language. No conflict should ever exist between the spirit and the letter of the Law. The message of II John has special application today, where the church is also besieged by perennial schisms and heresies, not unlike the kind of problems experienced in the Corinthian congregation. Love for the truth automatically leads to love for one another within the congregation. A common commitment to the truth is the foundation of genuine Christian fellowship. In our quest for unity, we can never compromise with the truth. True love between brethren is impossible without an equal love for the truth, leading to a perpetual walking in the light of truth, elevating the Word of God over the traditions of man and every wind of questionable doctrine which inevitably leads to lawlessness. We have the obligation to test everything presented to our minds, examining it against the standard of the Scriptures, holding fast to the truth, filtering out and discarding any toxic prevarications.
Mark Schindler, reflecting that the final marching orders Jesus gave to His disciples on the Passover before He was betrayed was that they love one another, sacrificially sticking together in service to one another, asserts that this command should be front and center in our own minds. The exemplary behavior of the Sullivan brothers, sons of Thomas and Aletta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, five siblings who lost their lives, was a notable event in 1943, an event which led the War Department to establish the Sole Survivor Policy. All five of the Sullivan brothers enlisted at the same time, requesting that they serve together in the same unit, perishing together on the USS Juneau, instrumental in deterring the Japanese from recovering Guadalcanal. The craft was blown in half, her survivors exposed to hyperthermia and shark attacks. The Sullivan brothers perished together, sticking together to the bitter end. Likewise, we have been conscripted into a fierce spiritual battle in which many saints have valiantly sacrificed their lives. We must join them in their efforts to sacrifice for the body of Christ, sticking together through all obstacles, contributing our skills to serve one another, realizing that the sacrifices will lead to unity as resurrected members of God's family. Just as the sacrifices made by the Sullivan family served in rallying the spirit of the American people to win the war, our sacrifices should serve to boost the morale of others making sacrifices, inspiring all our brethren to stick together to attain victory in our spiritual battle. We cannot allow the sacrifices that have been made by our forebears to become forgotten.
Martin Collins explores the response of Joseph's brothers to his benevolence to show how we also should respond to God's benevolence and grace. Human nature is inherently selfish, suspicious, and ungrateful. God demonstrates His love to us long before we are properly equipped to reciprocate. Every physical and spiritual gift comes from God. At times, God has to ignite our conscience and disable or de-stabilize our self-confidence in order to get our attention in a similar fashion as he did to Joseph's brothers. If we have residual guilt, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Like Joseph's brothers, we all have concealed lies, but want others to think we have sterling integrity. If we want forgiveness for our sins, we must jettison our self-righteousness and forsake our buried and secret sins, enabling a transformation with God. Like Joseph's brothers, we must abandon our own efforts to guide the outcome of matters to suit our liking, and turn control over to God, allowing His spiritual radar to penetrate the depths of our hearts. God will always uncover our sins; it is to our advantage to repent early. We should not want to talk about our accomplishments, but what God has chosen to accomplish in our lives. God will deal with us until we relate to Him sincerely and forthrightly, just as Judah learned to do as God soundly destroyed all his props of self-confidence. As Judah, Moses, and Paul emerged to a willingness to give up their lives for their brethren, we too must be willing to sacrifice the ultimate for our fellow man, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Through His Spirit, we love one another by listening to one another, sharing our experiences with one another, and serving one another.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on offertory sermonettes he has heard in the past, many of which seemed to emphasize that people were not sacrificing enough for the work, explores other motivations for giving. When Paul attempted to motivate the Corinthians (a wealthy congregation which had received spiritual gifts), he compared them to the congregation at Philippi (a poorer congregation in comparison) who were more generous and liberal with what they had than the monetarily richer Corinthians. In the manner of giving, God is not concerned so much with the monetary amount, but instead with the attitude of generosity and willingness to help our brethren. God has established a principle that sowing generously will bring about an abundant spiritual crop. God's generosity is not always manifested by physical wealth, but in abundant spiritual gifts. Our sacrifice should not be limited to money, but should include time, service, and empathy. Earning should increase our industriousness; saving our earnings should make us ready to share; giving will bring exponential blessings upon us. We always receive back many times more than we gave.
Dan Elmore: In last week's essay, we considered that most of us know less than we think we know, that we carry around a lot of misconceptions, and that we have little idea about what it is like to be blind. ...
Most translations fail to bring out that two different words are translated as "love" in John 21:15-17. Twice, Jesus asks Peter if he had agape love for Him, and both times ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon elements of what repentance is and what it produces, warns us that we are continually in need of repentance. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were warned to repent, prefiguring the identical conditions which would be extant in the current greater Church of God. Like faith, repentance must exist in the end times. We are admonished to change our mind and attitude, bringing about a total about-face in behavior, in which we abhor our human nature and diligently seek God's nature. Repentance must be motivated by a Godly sorrow which leads to a dramatic change of behavior. The Corinthian congregation was beset with myriad sins, including party-spirit and porneia, even though they were puffed up with pride because of their spiritual 'gifts.' Paul addressed the Corinthian congregation as carnal, even though its members were converted. The congregation in Paul's letters to the Hebrews had become dull of hearing, losing their spiritual maturity. Faith and repentance are inextricably linked as we move on to perfection. Godly sorrow leads to perfection, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Repentance has seven distinct fruits: 1) diligence (the motivation to accomplish), 2) clearing of self (washing away), 3) indignation (anger at injustice and sin, especially at ourselves), 4) fear, 5) vehement desire (a strong and persistent craving for righteousness and a burning desire to change), 6) zeal (wholehearted ardor for accomplishing a task), and 7) vindication (setting things right). We must, in repentance, voluntarily surrender the self, striving to imitate our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother.
On Tuesday, April 14, 2009, crowds gathered in Bingham Hall, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill educational building, filling the seats with college students, professors, and members of the community, waiting to hear Congressman Tom Tancredo speak about illegal immigration....
We may look around the church of God and wonder why so many are not being healed. Geoff Preston, suffering a chronic illness himself, uses his experiences to assure us that God is working out even these matters for our good.
When God calls us and redeems us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, we suddenly come under obligation—a debt we cannot pay. John Ritenbaugh pursues what this means to us as we continue on our Christian walk toward God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
John Ritenbaugh highlights a dangerous flaw in our evaluation of religious truth. If the God of the Bible (who cannot lie and is not a God of confusion) were involved in the religions of the world—mainstream Christianity and Islam - there would be no strife between them. The bitter fruits indicate that the god of both of them is not the God of the Bible, but instead the god of this world, Satan the Devil, who inspires warfare and adversarial relationships. The false teachings of this world's belief systems can adversely erode and destroy the faith in members of the greater church of God. "The Way" is distinct from the world's belief systems, polluted by the tolerant and inclusive attitudes of the liberal far left - a position shockingly embraced by a large segment of evangelical, born-again Christians.
The Bible tells us that at the Feast of Tabernacles, we can spend our money on whatever we desire. However, the Feast is a test of our hearts. What do we really desire? Do we indulge ourselves, or do we use our resources to make it the best Feast ever for others?
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
After debunking the popular assumption that this is the only day of salvation, Martin Collins describes the miniscule spring harvest (the first resurrection) and the abundant fall harvest (the second resurrection), which are the respective times of calling and glorification. The Holy Spirit'depicted in Acts 2 by fiery tongues (which symbolize preaching) and the sound of wind (representing the spiritual breath of life)'has the following effects or functions: It1) combines with our human spirit, bearing witness that we are the children of God;2) impregnates us with God-life, enabling us to become heirs;3) gives us the spirit of understanding;4) imparts the love of God within us;5) gives us faith (by which Jesus performed His miracles);6) enables us to overcome, transferring us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness;7) enables us to produce holy character, fulfilling God's purpose of reproducing Himself.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
God does not just want us not to sin, He also wants us not even to appear to be doing evil. John Reid shows how Christians must guard their thoughts, words and deeds at all times.
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.
Christ says in God's Word that we can show no greater love than in sacrificing our lives for our friends. How do we do this? We must come to the point where we are doing this daily!
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
Richard Ritenbaugh, echoing a radio commentator's observation, "we wear our bones too tight" suggests that we are much too sensitive and litigious, greatly lacking in forbearance, tolerance and patience. A major part of God's character is forbearance, patiently putting up with over 700 years of covenant breaking by our ancestors, patiently refraining from giving them what they deserved. God put up with the foibles of Abraham, Samson, David, Job, and many others, allowing them space to repent and build character. We need to develop the godly trait of forbearance, having the capacity to have mercy on others while we wait for them to change. Forbearance when applied to our brethren leads to unity; lack of forbearance leads to scattering.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
The apostle Paul predicted the end-time generation to be unthankful. As Christians, we need to buck this trend and show our appreciation to God and fellow man.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that a recurring pattern God uses is to set apart one group of people to become a blessing to the rest of the world by keeping His covenant, providing a good example. Ancient Israel was asked to purge the land of Gentile customs and practices. In the New Testament, the church (the Israel of God) was asked to come out of the world, having as little contact as possible with its political, educational, and social institutions (with its unseen spiritual influences). Like Nehemiah, our worldview has to stem from a fear of God. Adopting the world's standards automatically makes one an enemy of God. Our enemy is not the people of the world, but the subtle satanic spiritual influences that determine their attitudes and values. Our intimate fellowship should not be with the world, but be concentrated upon God and those who have made the Covenant with God, loving them as we would ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
John Ritenbaugh discusses how Christ's redemption of us obligates us to obey and serve Him. We show our gratitude for this priceless gift by doing good in acts of love and service to others.
One of our primary duties as Christians is to build strong, loving relationships with our brethren. These relationships are the "joints" between the members of Christ's body, the church. What are you supplying to the growth of the body?
John Ritenbaugh stresses that being persistent in prayer does not mean incessant pestering, whining, or cajoling God into action. Luke 11:1-13 purposefully contrasts the generous nature of God with that of a reluctant stranger or a malicious tyrant. Because His timeframe is different from ours, we sometimes feel that we have totally lost control. God always looks at our petitions from the vantage-point of His purpose, sometimes testing our fervency or sincerity, sometimes flatly refusing our requests because they would harm us. We must persevere in prayer, realizing that faith always works toward what it asks for while it waits. God has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4), provided we cooperate with Him, letting Him work out His purpose in our lives.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
The world really hasn't the foggiest idea of what love really is. Of all God's spiritual gifts, love is the preserving agent preventing any of the other gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, or tongues to become corrupted. Love, an attribute of God Almighty, needs to be the driving force of everything we do. Without love, some normally positive attributes like drive, courage, and determination become brittle and self-seeking. God is the sole source of love; mankind by nature does not have it. It is only by knowing God that we can have this love. Love can be described as a cycle, which God initiates. As we give it back to Him, He gives more to us because we are growing and our love must be perfected. Love is not feeling but action. As God loves us, He expects us to reciprocate back to Him and out to our fellowman, and by so doing we become credible witnesses for God.
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the humble, serving, or footwashing attitude exemplified by Jesus in John 13 provides a clear insight into the mind of God. Jesus humbled Himself, pouring out His divinity to serve mankind, providing an example for us to also serve others. The loving way in which Jesus appealed to Judas leaves us further insights about Jesus conscious choice to accept His Father's will, glorifying His Father through His sacrifice for man's benefit. The Father likewise glorifies His Son by resurrecting and honoring Him. God expects us to follow Christ's example of loving others, with all of their flaws and weaknesses, more than ourselves. This kind of love does not come naturally, but must be acquired through God's Holy Spirit. In chapter 14, Jesus, anticipating His imminent death, provides encouragement, comfort and assurance to His disciples (all of us actually) that they would have a role in His future kingdom. Jesus, by His example, teaches us not to get discouraged if we don't see immediate results from obeying God or carrying out His will. The results may not be realized this side of the grave. By following Christ's example, we follow in the Way of truth, leading to Eternal life and glorification.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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