Mike Ford, recalling a time in his youth when he indulged in too much of a good thing (in his case Coca-Cola unlimited), reminds us of Proverbs 25:16, which stresses that moderation is the best policy. Of all the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, self-control is the most difficult to attain. Many people, having a faulty, Aristotelian two-valued orientation, think that temperance means abstinence instead of moderation. As an example of the consequence of such errant thinking, consider that the vast government overreach in prohibiting all use of alcoholic drinks, rather than establishing public policies limiting intake to reasonable levels. Because people do not retain God in their personal evaluations of their behavior, God has turned them over to a reprobate mind, one which enslaves them to gluttony, alcoholism, sexual perversions, and other aberrations. God has given us free moral agency, not so we can give free reign to our impulses, but instead to facilitate the freedom to choose what is helpful. Through falling into excesses, we learn the appropriate boundaries, and can discipline ourselves as spiritual athletes to glorify God in our emergent righteous behavior.
Gary Garrett, focusing upon Exodus 15:27, shows the symbolism of the twelve springs of water and the seventy palm trees, deriving two significant lessons as we count toward Pentecost: When God calls us and gives us His Spirit, He 1.) gives us the opportunity to grow and 2.) to see God. Bullinger suggests that the number 70 signifies both lifespan and perfect world order. The heart and soul of God's government is self-government enabled by God's Holy Spirit. God is self-governing and expects all whom He has called to follow suit. Psalm 92:12-15 compares the righteous to a palm tree breaking forth in buds after six-years. Once we are baptized and receive an God's Holy Spirit, it takes time before fruit actually appears. As the palm tree grows from the inside out, the spiritual life of God's called-out one grows from the heart and mind in which God's Spirit dwells. God plants the palm tree in the stone floor of the temple, anticipating the living stones which represent God's saints, who have learned to be upright like the Father and the Son. The second lesson suggested by Exodus 15:27 consists of the image of the twelve wells, termed Ayan, or eye, symbolizing a kind of sixth sense through which we are equipped to see spiritual things with the power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Reiss: In Part One, we learned about America's early struggle for independence and how the founders of the United States pledged their wealth, lives, and honor to bring it to pass. ...
John Reiss: Here in the United States, we are rapidly approaching our nation's Independence Day. It was two hundred and forty-one years ago, on July 2, 1776—not July 4 as many people believe ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we are approaching the end of a seven year cycle, the seventh year on the Hebrew calendar, a time of the year of release, when the Law was publicly and solemnly read. This event has always proved more solemn with a sense of urgency than the services of a regular Feast of Tabernacles. In the current grim background of the accelerating decadence of the western democratic democracies, we must remember that for God's called-out ones the responsibility for a life of faith is not the church, but rather on the individual. Because none of us are privy to the time of Christ's return, we must continually seek God's counsel rather than being distracted and mesmerized by the Zeitgeist around us. During the time of Noah, there was a lengthy witness from a preacher of righteousness before God's hammer of judgment (in the form of the flood) fell upon the world's populace. We must be continually aware and alert to our own spiritual condition, remembering that the times would be identical to Noah's, when people were absorbed into the spirit of the time, failing to heed God's warning. God's called-out ones must remain single-minded, fortifying their spiritual reserves with Bible study, prayer, and meditation, maintaining a vigilant, watchful eye out for the surreptitious lures of Satan's decadent socio-cultural milieu.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Walter Mischel Test of self-control, a test in which only 30% of youngsters delayed gratifying their appetites, describes the techniques in which these students delayed gratification. Dr. Mischel, who was able to predict social success of these students on the basis of these earlier tests, determined to probe the mechanism of this self-control, discovering how to convert "hot stimuli" to "cold" (distracting) stimuli. Self-control constitutes the ability to direct or focus our attention so that our decisions will not be directed by wrong thoughts. If we change our thoughts, we can change our behavior. In essence, learning self- control (the last, perhaps most difficult to attain or most important designated fruit of God's Holy Spirit) is equivalent to repentance. Self-control refers to inner power to control impulses, emotions, or desires, exhibiting self-government. Self-control follows knowledge in the list of virtues, indicating we need to act on godly knowledge, practicing it in perpetuity. Holiness makes self-control possible; a holy person is self-controlled. God's Holy Spirit increases self-control exponentially, giving us the power to replace "hot" stimuli with "cold" stimuli. Ice cold stimuli (enforcing extreme restraint) must displace hot stimuli (giving into impulses). Like the apostle Paul, we must practice self-control for others. Like Joseph, we need to practice self-control on a daily basis. When we repent and continue to repent, we exercise self-control. In Luke 4, Jesus Christ exercises incredible self-control, refuting Satan's temptation with Scripture—the mind of God.
Charles Whitaker, citing British philosopher Arnold Toynbee's warning that when a civilization responds to a challenge successfully, it survives, and when it does not, it commits suicide, proclaims that because America, over the last several decades, has not responded to the challenge, the die is cast for its destruction. History could be characterized as "a panoply of responses" from forceful, extreme, wimpy, or Band-Aid and non-existent. King David, because of his botched-up, indulgent, child-rearing practices, failing to deal with pride, rebellion, and self-centeredness of his offspring, brought havoc upon the nation of Israel. Responses on the macro or national level must begin on the micro or family level; there cannot be national governance unless there is first successful individual governance. In the 1930's, the comic book and the movie cartoon arrived on the American scene, exploring and traversing the boundaries of decency. Bimbo's Initiation is an example of this low level of decency. Conservative religious circles responded to the deterioration of moral values, forcing the comic book industry to police itself, more with the motivation of protecting their profits than from any twinge of conscience. In 1954, nevertheless, the descent into the cesspool was temporarily averted, at least for a couple of decades, when crime was punished instead of glorified, when policemen were respected instead of vilified, when females were drawn realistically, and sexual perversion was abnormal rather than normal as it is portrayed today by liberal progressive humanists. Since 1971, the comic industry has destroyed its own code, and smut and filth is the new normal. We have no bold Phineases today who are unafraid of political correctness. The die has been cast for morally bankrupt America (and modern Israel as a whole). As God's called-out ones, we must draw close to our God as our nation reaps the harvest of its crop of sin and iniquity.
John Ritenbaugh, illustrating the tragic state of pastor's withdrawing from their responsibility of preaching God's unadulterated word, plays a recording of a spoof from an Australian comedy show, mocking the politically correct pastors who may water down the Ten Commandments to "the Ten Negotiating Principles," or perhaps "Ten Helpful Suggestions." When pastors have abandoned their responsibility to uphold God's Law, government has historically stepped in to fill the gap, basing their decisions on humanistic preferences rather than biblically-based morality. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, although crafted by men of nominal Christian persuasions (some of them having roots in the Separatist and Puritan experience of desiring religious liberty and even a kind of theocracy) and Deists (believing in God by inferring it from design and order in nature), did not establish the Constitution as a covenant with Almighty God, but did build into it common sense checks and balances so that if a moral populace lived by it, our people should be governed with the least amount of friction. Sadly, the populace has drifted from an ethical and moral climate into a relativistic, secular humanist point of view. Morality now consists of toleration for mass infanticide (termed abortion) and homosexual sodomy (called gay rights), enforced by a government voted in by people with a narcissistic, agnostic, or atheistic humanistic mindset (virulent secular humanism) which has totally displaced Christianity (real or nominal) as the dominant religion of our land, marginalizing anyone who insists on basic human ethics, let alone God's 'pesky' (because it is intolerant of sin) commandments.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the excessive governmental regulations which have grown like a malignant cancer in the last thirty years, observes that Satan favors the concept of tyrannical, centralized government. If God's laws of love were internalized, there would be little need for the kind of control exercised by governmental officials today. Ironically, it is through the appeal to 'charity,' a responsibility demanded to all of us, that government has taken over charitable functions. If Christians had taken care of their families in the first place, despotic governments and confiscatory taxes would have not metastasized to the dangerous, debilitating level they have now become.
John Reid, asking what Jesus Christ is going to have to change before He begins to rule, maintains that cultural systems and belief systems contrary to God's way of life will not dissolve or break apart easily, but will require a rod of iron to break the pieces apart. Those systems which fail to yield to God's rule will be destroyed. As God's called-ones, our future responsibility will be to teach the world, turning them from perdition and destruction toward God's way of life. The rod of iron connotes strength and firmness. The laws of God will be written on the hearts of all people. The rigor experienced by preparing for military services provides some parallels to God's elect, going through the sanctification process. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to rule ourselves with a rod of iron, preparing ourselves for a commencement ceremony in the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, maintaining that our responsibility is to yield to God's sovereignty, nevertheless suggests that God has, by giving us free will, enabled us to freely sin, but holds us responsible for governing ourselves. The word govern, derived from the Latin noun gubern?tor, indicates a regulating, as in steering a ship with a rudder. The edict to submit to civil authority has a built-in exception when the civil government has explicitly asked us to do something contrary to God's Law. No power exists that is not in some degree permitted by God. All governments have the responsibility to protect the law-abiding, to punish evil doers, and to establish peace. The American government was established in a climate of rebellion against oppression and a desire to be free. The Founding Fathers were educated men, schooled in English Law and the ordinances of the Bible. John Adams warned that this government, based on maximum liberty, would only work for a moral citizenry. Sadly, the current citizenry is more concerned about their own selfish obsessions for entitlements than the welfare of the nation. God's government has also given us maximum liberty, but we have a daunting responsibility to govern ourselves. We have been called by God to do God's will, following in Christ's steps. In order to regulate ourselves, we must have the same kind of vision that Abraham and Moses possessed, leading them to the Promised Land. This vision can only occur if we have Christ within us, producing spiritual fruit. Without Christ, we can do nothing. As the physical Israelites had to eat manna to be sustained, the spiritual Israelites must be sustained on the true bread, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit (the mind of God the Father and Jesus Christ), giving us the ability to keep His commandments.
Government may very well be the most important subject in all the Bible because it contains the vital knowledge of how Christians are to govern themselves under the sovereignty of God. John Ritenbaugh concludes his series on our full acceptance of God's sovereignty by highlighting how Christ helps us to follow God's will as He did.
David C. Grabbe: Part One showed that wherever there is a government of man, it tends to take on greater power and responsibility as the governed relinquish their liberty for the sake of being taken care of. ...
David C. Grabbe: The term "Nanny State" has come to describe a government that insists on over-regulating the individual in order to force him to act according to the government's wishes, rather than allowing the individual to make his own choices. ...
Wise Solomon was inspired to write, "Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes. . ." (Proverbs 28:2). In other words, if a people begin turning from righteousness, a natural consequence is greater human oversight--government--in one form or another. ...
In April 1607, three small English ships lay anchored in Chesapeake Bay as 104 men left their vessels to plant their feet on solid ground. ...
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.
John W. Ritenbaugh: In the United States is a well-developed social and governmental movement that some commentators derisively name "nannyism." Political pundits also refer to it as "cradle to the grave" social care. ...
David C. Grabbe: This weekend, Americans will celebrate the 229th anniversary of the nation's stated independence from England. ...
Martin Collins focuses upon the dark period in history called the Inter-Testamental period, approximately 400 years between the time of Malachi and Matthew, a time of intense political and intellectual fermentation. Internally, the terrible cataclysms gave rise to literature containing ardent Messianic expectation- including the Septuagint, with Malachi serving as the connecting link making a smooth transition between the Old and New Testaments. This time also marks a proliferation of law in the pharisaical tradition exalting the letter at the expense of the spirit- calling for a New Covenant antidote or solution in which minute regulations give way to principles.
Martin Collins concludes that this nation has cast off all restraint regarding self-control and regulation of appetite. Self-absorbed and self-indulgent national leaders, through their disgusting lack of self-control, coupled with their influence on others, are bringing down hideous curses down on our people. According to the apostle Paul, lack of self-control, as well as the cultivation of self-indulgent perversions, would characterize large segments of our society living at the end times. Self-control caps off the list of the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. It may be strengthened by (1) overcoming evil with good (2) loving others (3) putting on Christ and mortifying the flesh, bringing every thought into captivity to God's Commandments, through God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the implication of Dathan and Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-5, agitating for a democratization of priestly responsibilities. God clearly reveals that not everybody set apart is holy in the same way, nor is God dealing the same way with each person. The privileges granted the priesthood are accompanied with equally weighty responsibilities. The New Testament church as a priesthood has been 1) set apart by God (not by people or self), 2) totally belongs to God, 3) has been awarded gifts for very specific functions, and 4) given the exclusive duty of drawing near to God.
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
No government—not even God's—can work without self-control. As a fruit of God's Spirit, this virtue may be the single hardest to master over the course of a lifetime, yet we need it to do our parts in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh contends that if our faith had been strong over the past 20 years, we would not have been scattered. Because we behave and make choices on what we believe, any affront to the belief system will alter our choices and behavior, placing us on a destructive trajectory. Satan's chief strategy is subtle deception, planting doubts by subtle little half-truths, equivocations, and deliberate lies. Among the lies Satan has foisted off on the world are: (1) God is weak and ineffectual (as seen in effeminate pictures of Jesus, crucifixes, etc.) (2) God is disinterested and has gone off somewhere. (3) God is so merciful that anything goes (we aren't obligated to keep His law).(4) Sin is pleasurable and leads to prosperity. (5) We deserve more than we have been given. By imbibing these deceptions, we shipwreck our faith and jeopardize our salvation.
The Protestant world presents grace as "free." John Ritenbaugh shows that God expects a great deal of effort from us once we receive it.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon themes covered in previous sermons and sermonettes, including commitment and our ultimate goal of becoming a member of the God family, explores sanctification as both a state and a process - a time period between justification and glorification during which overcoming, purification, and holiness takes place with the help and aid of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the consequences of the reorientation of culture from family or group concerns to individual rights, pleasure seeking, or the elusive drive toward equality. If everyone seeks his own gratification at the expense of the general welfare (family, church, society) conflict is inevitable (James 4:1). Because God sanctions all authority (Romans 13:1, I Peter 2:13), the only way a society can work (family, church, civil) is for everyone to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Biblical submission is the respecting of divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ. Our model of submission should be after the manner of our Elder Brother (Philippians 2:6-8). Submission is an act of faith in God, and an act of love for all concerned.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
A major distinguishing characteristic of mankind is his free moral agency, presenting him with choices and the right to make decisions. We need free moral agency to be transformed into God's image. The volition to do right has to come from the core of our character or nature. Paradoxically, the way to maximum freedom is to yield to God's way of doing things. Unless one has the Spirit of God, he cannot exercise the necessary internal control to be subject to the government of God. Even though the church is not the government of God (John 18:36; I Corinthians 15:50), we need to respect the ministry as well as lay members, being subject to one another (I Corinthians 11:1). The operation of God's government absolutely depends upon each person governing himself, never going beyond the parameters of the authority God has given him.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that our concept of time is vastly different from God's, indicates that our spiritual pilgrimage (including our participation in the work of God) is largely a matter of faith, not sight. If we see God in the picture, we will not be impatient, but will be carefully evaluating the evidence whether or not God is opening doors. The work of God does not always stay the same, continually shifting media, techniques, and approaches- following a zig-zagging cloud. The work has variously been concerned with building an ark, rebuilding a wall, preaching to the public, etc, but the focus was always on the furtherance of the Word of God. We need to make sure that we are not running where God has not sent us. Our approach to government ought to be voluntary (internally controlled) but unconditional submission to God's family structured hierarchical authority.
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 if one does not give up control to God (does not submit to Him), then one is never going to live the Government of God; and one will never be able to understand it. The church is neither an institution nor a corporation, but a living organism- a body connected to the Head (Jesus Christ). The body exists and functions by reason of its vital union to the living Jesus Christ. Church government is family government, with each member submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21). The ministry's authority consists of teaching, edifying, and equipping the members for sainthood, but not to wield dictatorial power over their lives
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the smallest unit of government is the individual; God is dealing with each of us on this most basic of all levels of government. It is under the New Covenant that individuals are immersed or installed into His church by the Spirit of God, given only to those who willingly consent to obey Him. In this special handpicked condition, God expects us to learn to govern ourselves. Because the church is a royal priesthood of believers with Christ as the High Priest, there is no religious hierarchy between God and us (Hebrews 10:21-22). In order for us to be transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God, we must have the same kind of access to the Father as Christ did, taking on the awesome responsibility of behaving like the sons of God.
John Ritenbaugh, after going through the history of Israel's incremental rejection of God's authority and putting themselves under the yoke of Satan's political system, asserts that God is establishing a spiritual kingdom from the dynasty of David, having Christ at the head installed beginning with the seventh trump when He will unleash the power of His Kingdom against the kingdoms of the world. Those who hear the good news of the Kingdom of God and respond to it (entering a covenant with God to become a part of it) are in the process of being built into a spiritual house that is also a royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9). This royal dynasty will govern a holy nation bearing governmental rule over the earth as kings under Christ.
John Ritenbaugh studies the "Get way" or the "Keep up with the Joneses" (lust or coveting) principle with which advertisers and politicians shamelessly (and successfully) manipulate us. A commentator once remarked, "All public crime would cease if this [Tenth] Commandment were kept." Jesus taught that all outward sin stems from inner inordinate desire. What we desire or lust after automatically becomes our idol. If our imaginations are fed "dirt", our minds will become "dirty." We desperately need to learn to radically "amputate" or "mortify" the self-centered lusts and desires that will inevitably (if followed to completion) lead us to the lake of fire. The Tenth Commandment (like the First) serves as a "control" or "regulator," enabling us to successfully keep all the other commandments. Ardently desiring the Word of God and His Kingdom (realizing that happiness and joy come only from spirituality) serves as the most effective antidote to lust and covetousness.
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