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.
Ronny Graham, exploring some of the stories behind the amazing accomplishments of the athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, suggests that participants often make great sacrifices, setting virtually all else aside for a chance at a perishable crown. The Apostle Paul was certainly aware of the obsessiveness of Olympic athletes but stressed that sacrificing for the achievement of eternal godly character was a far wiser investment. Organized games, such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Commonwealth Games and other "world cup" tournaments, as well as NASCAR competitions, mesmerize spectators. Highly successful racer Carl Edwards recently ended his career because he recognized it was robbing precious time from his family and other important interests. Could it be that we are obsessing over futile games—all forms of idolatry, giving insufficient thought to the demands of our calling? In the supremely important exercise of qualifying for God's Kingdom, there is no reward for second place.
David Grabbe, marveling that one in four atheists admitted in a recent poll to resorting to prayer when facing crises, reminds us that even believers suffer significant crises of faith. Luke 17:5 records the Disciples' plaintive request to increase their faith, realizing they did not yet have the capacity to forgive those who sinned against them. Faith is a gift which requires continual practice and exercise. God will grant us more faith if we faithfully use what He has already given us. If we do only what He expects of us, we should not feel entitled to additional reserves of faith. If we live our lives submitting to His will, God will generously give us more faith. Humility is a prerequisite for an augmentation of faith. If we want more faith, we need to faithfully use what God has already given us. Further, we must also exercise self-discipline and temperance as though we were training for the Olympics. All strength-building activities progress by incremental stages. Likewise, progression through increasing stages of difficulty is the key to success in overcoming sin. Consistency and focus empower us to overcome even the most stubborn challenges of our carnal nature. As we grow in faith, God will gradually add more pressure, enabling us to display more faith. He who has begun a good work in us will complete us until the day of Christ.
Ryan McClure reflects that the tearful goodbyes at the close of the Feast of Tabernacles often lead to a kind of post-Feast blues. Contemplating the soon-coming Satanic festivals of Halloween, Christmas and New Year's takes the edge off the Feast—and by the time Passover comes, Easter too will be at the door! We have come to the pass where some of the splinter groups in the Greater Church of God have grown exclusivist, forbidding contact with brethren in other fellowships of God's Church. We ask, "How far are we from the horror of brother delivering brother to death?" The antidote to post-Feast blues is to get our heads in the God's Word, meditating on the topic of endurance, thinking about what it takes to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that God does not do things uselessly, and certainly does not need our physical goods, examines the role of the offering and sacrifice rehearsed at each Holy Day. The nouns offering and sacrifice derive from two separate Greek words meaning "to bring forth" and "to kill" respectively. In Romans 12:1, God demands a living sacrifice which constitutes our reasonable service. The offering reminds us that we are to bring something forward to the altar to be sacrificed. We must choose to be killed through our obedience, daily mortifying the old man, who ghoulishly struggles to come back to life. We must be diligent in slaying our carnal nature and diligently loving God by keeping His commandments. The Apostle Paul gives us a success formula in presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in I Corinthians 9:23-27, where he states that: (1) We must realize the challenges we face are beyond our understanding and natural abilities, (2) We must determine to trust God. (3) We know we are not now perfect, but we must give our all. (4) We must understand that though God is merciful, we dare not squander our calling. (5) We race against ourselves and should allow ourselves no excuses for failure. (6) We must envision the reward, realizing that we will be rewarded on how well we do. (7) We need to know that Christ is with us the entire way. Being a living sacrifice produces successful living.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 16:16 and Exodus 23:17, the traditional verses calling for an offering, admonishing not to come to Holy Day services empty-handed, reminds us that we are not really giving God anything because He owns everything. The experience of giving an offering is for our benefit. We receive benefits by giving them. There are reasons beyond money to prepare an offering. Offering and sacrifice are not the same, but they are inextricably related. An offering is something we value highly which we want to bring forward to the altar. A sacrifice implies that something is put to death. God intends that we bring ourselves to the altar and then give ourselves as living sacrifices, mortifying the old man, our carnal nature, allowing God to consume our talents and abilities in His service, disciplining our bodies as we run our spiritual race. We must imitate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who brought Himself to the altar, and then climbed onto the altar as a sacrifice. Similarly, when we are symbolically put to death in the waters of baptism, we offer ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice—our reasonable sacrifice. God is showing us a major pathway to our spiritual goal of membership in His family.
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, quoting from efficiency expert or "business chaos crusher" Dave Crenshaw, urges that distractions and interruptions caused by phone, e-mail, computers, or texting, are detrimental to productivity and to the operating a business at a profit. The average worker is interrupted 15 times per hour, 120 times in 8 hours, 4800 times per week, or 240,000 times per year. These interruptions are like tiny cuts destroying productivity, as blood flows from a wound, When we allow our focus to become divided, we are unable to give our full attention to the assigned task. The continuous shifts in our attention seriously damage our focus. One research company calculates that the average clerical worker loses 28% of his work per day because of interruptions, adding up to losing an entire work week each month. In our journey to the Kingdom of God, we frequently become magnets for distraction. We must organize our priorities and our time to play defense against continuous distractions, refusing to respond when we are focused on a task, assuming if necessary the profile of a curmudgeon when focused on an important task. Establishing and enforcing definite and rational anti-interruption strategies are especially important when we are communicating with God through study and prayer. We need to ensure that we hardwire these strategies as top priorities in our daily chores.
John Ritenbaugh, upon hearing an advertisement for a book whose subtitle was "Age of Distraction," reflected on Daniel's prophecy about knowledge increasing and people madly dashing to and fro, pointing to the frenetic conditions at the close of the age, when multiple distractions prevent people from thinking straight , a time when minds keep busy, but accomplish nothing. A distraction is any event that breaks our focus or attention. Though it may last only a moment, it may ruin the rest of our day. The boxer breaks the focus of an opponent through a feint, drawing his attention in another direction, only to deliver a decisive, debilitating blow. While our hopelessly corrupt government has deliberately distracted our attention toward illegal immigration, it has silently encouraged massive legal immigration of Muslims and have distributed 'legal' green cards to millions of aliens. Satan's chief stock in trade is the distraction, creating confusion and consternation for all, including God's called-out ones. God wants to see how focused we are on His truth, warning us that, even though we live in the world, love for the world and its corrupt systems cannot coexist with love for God and His truth. We dare not let a feint from the Dragon distract us from our work of developing God's character.
Martin Collins, identifying a list of infamous monarchs who had the title "the Great" affixed to their names, puzzles over the criteria historians employed when giving this designation to patently blatant tyrants, and contrasts this pretentious greatness with the genuine greatness inherent in God Almighty. Ironically, what the Gentiles call greatness—lust for power driven by an insatiable ego—is just the opposite of what God Almighty determines is great. The greatest, according to Jesus Christ, can be determined by the one who serves the most with an attitude of humility, generosity, and other-centeredness. Greatness cannot exist in the abstract, but must be demonstrated by selfless service to others. True greatness begins where self is lost and Christ is found. Jesus Christ is not limited by who we are; He is the one we emulate, enabling us to reflect the greatness of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on a theme in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which a weatherman (played by Bill Murray, who gets caught in a blizzard he failed to predict, doomed to relive the same day over again until he gets it right) sees a spiritual parallel in our process of overcoming well-entrenched perennial sins. Self-control is a spiritual gift that must be practiced; to not exercise this gift is tantamount to resisting and quenching God's Spirit. As spiritual adolescents, we often develop a defiant resistance to change, change which would ultimately make our lives easier and spiritually functional. If we become stiff-necked, like our ancestors at Sinai, we are clearly not submitting to God's Holy Spirit, sabotaging our overcoming and our path to salvation. Spiritual self-control is activated by regularly studying, meditating, praying, and crying out for more Holy Spirit and exercising it by our behavior.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that becoming equipped for leadership requires that we discipline ourselves in following God's way of life, allowing the mind of Jesus Christ to be in us in order to please and glorify God. As we are imprinted with the character of God the Father and Jesus Christ, we become a beacon and positive help for others. A covenant is an agreement between two parties in which the solemnity of God's presence is invoked and those who make the agreement do so voluntarily, aware of the responsibilities either implicitly or explicitly entailed in the covenantal relationship. Though they seem complex, covenants impart unambiguous instructions. Of all the biblical figures, aside from Jesus Christ, no one exemplified faithfulness to God's covenants more than Moses, faithful as a shepherd, military leader, governor, statesman, minister, and negotiator with God. Moses also proved the humblest of any other human leader. Leadership requires faithfulness, not only hearing but doing, receiving the implanted word and acting upon its prompts. The Edenic Covenant, a universal covenant, was made with all mankind, a covenant displaying the awesome gifts of the Creator, including the marriage covenant, the building block for the family. Man and Woman (together designated as mankind) were both created in God's image, both incomplete without each other and meant to complement what the other lacked; she was Adam and he was Eve. Husband and wife are to cleave or cling to one another, providing a model or type of our desperate need to cling to and to become one with God the Father and Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ezekiel 34, in which the self-centered shepherds devour the flocks, reminds us that in addition to religious leaders, shepherds also include governmental, corporate, educational, and family leaders. In the combined history of Judah and Israel, when the leaders abandoned the covenants with God, the citizenry generally followed suit. Today, the prophecy in Isaiah 3:12 has come to pass in full force. Isaiah's prophecy, "children are their oppressors is being fulfilled on several levels, from youthful gang violence and leaders "Childish," immature minds, unable to grasp the true demands of leadership. God desires to create leaders who can show by example rather than tyrannically dominate by brute force. It seems that the vast majority of Israel's leaders have had serious deficits in leadership skills. The only Being who is worthy to rule is Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12)], who qualified by what He did in the past, totally yielding Himself to the will of God the Father, following Him unconditionally. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to follow the same course, qualifying to become a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9), and co-heirs with Christ as His collective Bride. The Leadership that God desires of us is what we learn following the Lamb, conforming to His example. Without a broad comprehension of God's covenants, we cannot presume to lead. None of us had a trace of leadership skills before our calling; what we accomplish is only due to God's working with us, imprinting His leadership skills in us. Covenants are unifying agents (as long as we pay attention to what God says), revealing not only His purpose, but also His judgments. The vast creation serves as a teaching device, instructing mankind about God's grace. The first covenant is the Edenic, which teaches that (1) God is the Creator, (2) God is orderly, (3) creation mirrors God's perfection, (4) creation is not to be worshiped, and (5) God has tasked mankind with managing His creation.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unpleasant prospect of overhearing hurtful gossip about us from someone we have trusted, observes that, in all likelihood, our tongue has been just as detrimental against someone who may have trusted us. What goes around comes around; we reap what we sow. Even though the best defense is not to be guilty, we know that because of our toxic self-centeredness there is no infallibility in any of us. As God gives gifts to us, we must, as Solomon did, fine-tune them, realizing that seeking out wisdom is simultaneously a glorious and a burdensome task, requiring labor-intensive exercises which initially seem to yield diminishing returns. God does not instantaneously reveal everything we need to learn or everything we need to experience. We have the responsibility to seek out wisdom, understanding that it is the costliest commodity anywhere, having a price far beyond gold. Wisdom keeps us from sin, folly, and madness. Wisdom and understanding unveils for us the purpose of trials, solving the paradoxes and conundrums that erode our faith. Truly wise judges are humble, demonstrating that they do not know everything; humility will make us more cautious in our judgments about others and ourselves. As we put forth effort to pursue wisdom, the fruit will be holiness. Our goal is beyond salvation; it involves preparation for service in God's Kingdom. The search for wisdom carries with it a downside, the tendency to boast of our accomplishments, even though in our heart of hearts, we realize we have nothing that has not been given. As God's stewards, we must, like Solomon, blend sagacity and practical wisdom together, taking precautions against the allurements of the world, which have the tendency to short-circuit godly wisdom.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
Bill Onisick, citing an early article by Herbert W. Armstrong indicating a cause-effect relationship between disease and broken laws, maintains that God has given each human being the responsibility of regulating the quality and quantity of food intake as a necessary part of maintaining the physical body, the temple of His Holy Spirit. Our Elder Brother and Trailblazer provided us an example, demonstrating that if we assiduously manage our bodies, regulating thought and food intake, we would have no excuse to be sick. We have the responsibility to study the impact of the foods we ingest, learning what is safe to consume and what is dangerous to our bodies. When we are careless about taking care of the temple of God's Spirit, we automatically defile our spiritual lives as well. One really cannot have proper spiritual health without maintaining a physical regime of diet, exercise, and rest. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves in what constitutes proper nutrition, becoming savvy about things such as the glycemic index, chemical additives, genetically modified foods, the flaws in the governmental food pyramid, and the shortcuts taken by the food industry for profits. Much of the synthesized cross-bred grains are not only inferior, but dangerous for humans and animals to consume. In addition to proper diet, we must exercise regularly to take care of the Temple of God's Holy Spirit.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
David C. Grabbe: God is keenly interested in whether His people overcome Satan, including this world, which the Devil has shaped, and our own human nature, which he has corrupted and continues to influence. ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon a vivid dream in which two lions entered the meeting hall, describes the terror he had as they came toward him. The dream reminds us that Satan and his demons are prowling around like ravenous lions, seeking whom they may devour. On the Day of Atonement, we afflict our souls to humble ourselves and abstaining from work. Christ came to this earth to shed His blood in love and self-sacrifice to redeem us and all mankind from our sins. We are to gather together in a holy convocation, symbolizing our unity in God. It is a time of rendering ourselves poor in spirit, preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God. When we afflict ourselves on the Day of Atonement, we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Tabernacles. We do no work on this day, illustrating that we cannot justify ourselves, but must rely totally on God. Satan is currently paroled, dwelling in the holding facility of this earth, taking every opportunity to deceive and destroy the sons of man in the short time he has left. Satan especially wants to attack those who are faithfully keeping God's laws. We must ardently trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, practicing what God has taught us, denying ourselves in the process, emulating Jesus Christ. When confronting Satan, we must be sober and self-controlled, vigilant and watchful, resisting Satan at every opportunity, standing firm in the faith, remaining steadfast as a rock. If we resist the Devil, God will draw close to us and Satan will be compelled to flee.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that faith and love require reciprocal works on our part, even though God has made the initial step, providing His only Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. As God calls us, He provides the power both to will and to do. If we do not work with God in our conversion process, things will fall apart. Because our responding to God's love is so important, we need to respond reciprocally to God. If we love another person we like to think about him/her, to hear about him/her, to read about him/her, please him/her, to be friends with his friends too, and we are jealous about their reputation and honor. We will not bring dishonor on our spiritual family's name by our behavior, not forgetting that we are collectively the temple of God and the Body of Christ.
Praying always and watching—or overcoming—affect every facet of a Christian's life. Pat Higgins relates how deeply examining ourselves for flaws and shortcomings, as we do each year before Passover, helps us to accomplish Christ's Luke 21:36 command.
As the return of Jesus Christ marches ever nearer, Christians need to be sure of one critical matter: Where does real power reside? John Ritenbaugh shows that all power has its source in God—and not just the kind of power we typically think of.
John Ritenbaugh, referencing the handwriting is on the wall episode in Daniel 5:5, reminds us that power belongs to God. David also states this in Psalm 62:11. Paul realized that only through using his reciprocity to strengthen his relationship with God was he able to both abound and be abased (Philippians 4:4). When we are in trouble, we, like David, need to contact God first. God is the only sure place of protection. When we are in deep distress, why not go directly to the top? To those who now believe, there is no being more trustworthy than God.
Beginning with Acts 3:21, John Ritenbaugh speaks of a future time of refreshing and restitution after things get a whole lot worse, a time when the Beast would attempt to wear out the saints. God has a plan to recreate Himself, bringing mankind into at-one-ness with Him. Peter preached to the called out ones to repent and yield to God through His Holy Spirit. We need to be in awe of the cost of Christ's sacrifice for us, demonstrating reciprocity as we wholeheartedly yield to God. Mankind has separated itself from God, having followed the example of our parents, Adam and Eve. God's solution to mankind's separation was sending a second Adam, Jesus Christ to make reconciliation and justification possible. Believing Christ and His message has the effect of making a repentant person at one with God. Through sanctification, a person in Christ becomes a new creation. Fasting not only emphasizes that we can resist a powerful bodily drive, but shows us plainly our dependence upon God.
For being such a religious book, the Bible contains an unusual number of references to harlotry! John Ritenbaugh uses this information to provide understanding of the motivations of Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
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 focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
Directing his comments to teenagers and young people, John Ritenbaugh focuses on the epidemic of Adolescent Invincibility Disorder Syndrome, an affliction in which young people foolishly imagine themselves to be invincible and impervious to harm. Young people in the church must realize that not only is God's law no respecter of persons, but also sanctification can be lost. Young people must aim at self-mastery and self-discipline, developing patience, thinking ahead to the consequences of behavior. God's law proscribes death for a young person who curses his parents, and being cut off from God's divine guidance has just as deadly a consequence. Young people need to cultivate early the habit of remembering God, embracing His law as their code of life.
We live in a society where both food and information are readily available. John Ritenbaugh discusses the importance of mastering self-control and a true Christian's necessity of seeking truth by which to live his life.
We live in a society where both food and information are readily available. John Ritenbaugh asks, "What is our approach to them? How are we using attitude toward and application of them makes all the difference.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
A key to overcoming our sins is learning when to deny ourselves. Christ plainly declares that those who desire to follow Him must deny themselves.
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.
At its base, gluttony is nothing more than a lack of self-control. Martin Collins shows the more spiritual side of this too-prevalent sin.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
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.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
John Ritenbaugh, soberly reflecting on the $19 trillion dollar national debt and with 25% of American private citizens two days away from bankruptcy, he warns that the prudent shouldn't continue to live in a fool's paradise, but should make common sense preparations, like the ant, (Proverbs 6:6-8) storing up provisions for at least a season. Prophetic warnings are given to motivate preparation. Both the watchman and the one who hears (Ezekiel 3:17) have a grave responsibility to make prudent economic and spiritual preparations for bad times, tightening belts, helping themselves and others through the tough times.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
The Protestant world presents grace as "free." John Ritenbaugh shows that God expects a great deal of effort from us once we receive it.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon two sets of verses (Colossians 2:16-18; Galatians 4:9-10) which Protestant theologians have blasphemously charged that Paul was referring to God's Law, Sabbath, and Holy Days as weak and beggarly elements of the world. In both instances Paul was not referring to keeping the Holy Days at all, but instead an attempt by some in those congregations to syncretize Gnostic asceticism with the keeping of Holy Days, perverting their right use, in addition to bringing in superstitious lucky days, months, and seasons from pagan customs involving demon worship. In both contexts, Paul admonishes these congregations that the object of our faith must be Christ (including keeping His Commandments) rather than demons or human tradition.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
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).
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
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 examines the changing Israelitish mindset following two world wars, negatively influenced by affluence and cynicism which has undermined our ability to endure hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy national goal. Instead of discipline, indomitable will and character with pure national goals we have opted for self-indulgence, laxity, and compromise. In God's plan, the development of uncompromising character requires struggle and sacrifice. Our victory over Satan requires continual drill, tests and development of internal discipline. Like the military, the victory is built incrementally in the mind; the warfare is the drill. (Luke 16:10)
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
Men have searched for centuries for the keys to success in life. Many have found rules to live by to bring them physical wealth and well-being, but all of them have neglected the most important factor: God!
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