Bill Onisick, reflecting on his recent experience training for and running a marathon, draws some analogies that apply to our spiritual marathon—a race characterized as a mental task. We all have goals and trials, but often pride makes us think we know better than God what course is best for us to follow. Our God has a greater purpose in mind than we can imagine. Consequently, it behooves us not only to accept God's will, but also to earnestly desire it as our will, and not to kick against the goads, as Saul initially reacted. If we react negatively to God's will, things will never turn out well. If we lack strength or faith, we must draw closer to God, and God will reciprocally draw near to us, renewing our flagging strength, giving us the endurance to succeed. Only when we yield completely to His oversight will we receive the endurance and patience to finish the grueling spiritual marathon, as we follow closely in the footsteps of Christ.
Bill Onisick, holding a cluster of grapes which had prematurely dried because of a fungus infection, laments that this blight could have been stopped by proactive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance. In Proverbs 24, we read an allegorical portrayal of a vineyard gone to ruin by neglect and laziness. Poverty and destruction are the products of neglect. Preventative maintenance will help us whether we deal with physical or spiritual problems. Ingesting too much junk food, especially food heavily laden with sugar, shortens an otherwise healthy life, making us susceptible to diabetes and other degenerative diseases. Spiritually, if we neglect our daily regime of prayer, Bible Study, and meditation, we stunt our spiritual growth. Daily maintenance requires a rooting out (through repentance) of debilitating sins. If we live in the flesh rather than drink in God's Holy Spirit, we will wither. Now is the time to engage in preventative maintenance, building walls of protection, pulling up nettles, breaking up fallow ground, and sowing seeds of agape love, not only in preparing for the Holy Days, but throughout our entire spiritual pilgrimage.
John Ritenbaugh, analyzing the abuses of the welfare system in America, observes that many welfare recipients use the assistance that is intended to buy food for tattoos, smartphones, and internet service, taking advantage of the average taxpayer's generosity. Originally, welfare was intended for survival needs rather than frivolous whims or the exercising of imagined rights. The Bible does not condone a government-supplied welfare system, insisting rather that people who refuse to work shall not eat (II Thessalonians 3:10-15). Idleness is a major contributory factor in producing gossip and busybodies. In ancient Israel, the family (an institution under perpetual attack by leftist 'progressive' liberals) provided assistance to people who fell into financial hardship. Hence, Boaz helped Ruth and Naomi in their time of need. God the Father and Jesus Christ work continually. They have mandated that taking care of the indigent is a family, not a government responsibility. Recently, several States that have demanded work for government benefits have seen their welfare rolls drop dramatically.
Proverbs 14:12 reveals that, when men follow a way of life that they think is right, it ultimately ends in death. Only God's way of life results in more life. John Ritenbaugh expounds on the truth that humanity's failing to pursue godliness has repeatedly resulted in catastrophes like the Flood. But God provides deliverance and sanctification to those He chooses.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Bill Onisick, focusing on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, which describes two highly productive servants and one wicked, unproductive servant, observes that the term talent has generalized (metaphorically) from a weight of precious metal to the abilities, gifts, and skills a person possesses. God, through His generous granting of spiritual gifts, has entrusted a great deal of treasure to us. God expects a return on the investment He has placed in us. Doing nothing with our abilities is a grievous abuse of this trust. What God has given us, we must use for His glory and the edification of our brethren. Building the church of God takes collective work; everybody has a part to play. Neglect is tantamount to blatant destruction. Our bodies, which belong to God, can heal themselves if we take care of them, giving them enough exercise, food, and rest. If we bury the even the smallest of our talents, God will take it away. When Jesus comes, will He see a profit from the ultimate investment He made for us?
Martin Collins, asserting that prolonged inactivity will cause muscle mass to deteriorate, draws some compelling parallels to the equally alarming deterioration of masculine leadership, currently under attack in our culture by liberal progressive humanists and strident radical feminists. Consequently, many of our young men have become namby-pamby or self-centered, unable to provide for a family or contribute something productive to society. Although men have no moral or mental advantages over women, God has commissioned them to actively lead, providing a measure of security and stability to family and society. Man and woman are both fashioned in God's image, each gender having only a portion of the composite picture. Together, they are commissioned to be fruitful and multiply. In the family structure, man was instructed to lead the family and ardently love his spouse, while woman was commissioned to submit to his leadership, as both submitted to God's leadership. In assuming leadership roles, men need to abandon self-centeredness and adopt other-centeredness, being willing to go the extra mile as a living sacrifice. Feminism and cultural Marxism cannot give society the leadership our culture needs; only God's ordained family structure, with a man willing to be a living sacrifice, will fulfill that pressing need.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on the connotations of the word "circumspect," admonishes us to examine everything cautiously, circling around a speck [360 degrees], until we can see all sides. As we exercise circumspection (or perhaps being circum-suspect) we must take God's will for us into our cautious examining in our prayers, study, and meditation, emulating the Psalmist's David commitment to God to walk circumspectly, avoiding the world's alluring distractions. We have to learn from the mistakes we have made, determined to mature spiritually, taking ourselves away from the dangers we have previously encountered, harnessing our behavior, including our tongues.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
John Reiss: As Part One concluded, we were considering the fact that, despite our society’s general squeamishness about executing cowardly deserters, God has declared that He will cast the cowardly into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:7-8). ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
Waiting is a foundational aspect of faith, hope, and love, and is sometimes one of the hardest works of all. ...
Terrorism is frequently in the news these days, and seeing it, we abhor the acts of terrorists as cruelty and violence against unsuspecting civilians. David Maas, however, wonders if we may be causing just as much destruction as the average terrorist through negligence and passivity.
Mike Ford: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell examines how some people have become successful. Using case studies, the author shows how family and friends played significant roles ...
John Ritenbaugh suggests that competition is the root cause of all war, business takeovers, and marital discord. Carl Von Clausewitz observed that war is nothing more than politics brought to the battlefield. Evolution has glorified competition, enshrining the survival of the fittest. Historically, the competitive nature has its roots in the mind of Satan, who had the audacity to take on the leadership of Almighty God. Man's rivalry with one another has been described by Solomon as a striving after wind. Abraham literally "took the high ground," separating himself from strife with his ambitious nephew who wanted to seek gain on the plains of Sodom. The apostle Paul showed willingness to forgo his well-deserved wages, willing to work privately, avoiding conflict and strife. Christianity should be service- oriented rather than profit- oriented, should reward the worker for his labor, and should replace competition with cooperation. Biblical history records the tortured chronicle of people striving against God. The Gentiles cut themselves off from God by rejecting God's teachings through the patriarchs. We must replace the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, willing to yield and submit rather than to strive, quarrel, and compete. Satan has successfully deceived the entire world by mixing a little truth with much error, appealing to our pride and tissue needs. On the Day of Atonement, we (as God's called-out remnant) are commanded to afflict our souls, putting down the striving competitive, pride-filled drives of human nature, with its intense appetites, mortifying our flesh, controlling ourselves by submitting to God in humility, taking the cue from our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on an aged bearded Middle-eastern imam's sermon on the laziness of his people, comparing them to the western European countries and the Israelis, contrasts this appraisal with the American media's portrayal, depicting Israel as a war-torn savage country. Actually Israel is a world class scene, having a better GNP than any country in the western world. Israel has a conservative banking system with no mortgage crisis, managing its economy much better than the United States. The cell phone and firewall capability was developed in Israel. The people of Israel sacrifice themselves for a work ethic, blessed by the invisible hand of God. The only ally of Israel is the United States; God help the United States if we turn our back on Israel.
Fourteenth-century conqueror Tamerlane learned a valuable lesson from a tiny ant, motivating him to turn defeat into victory. Mike Ford explores Proverbs' admonition to observe the ant, concentrating on the qualities of initiative.
The Parable of the Talents is often confused with the Parable of the Pounds. Martin Collins brings out their differences, showing that these parables illustrate Christian responsibilities from different angles.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the necessity of work (dressing and keeping our life, our health, our possessions, our calling, etc.). God has called us to a lifetime of productive work. We cannot allow Satan to cause us to resent working or to feel victimized, slighted, bitter, or lazy, rejecting God's ordained purpose for us—creating obedient children who work as He does. It takes hard work to live up to the virtues of God; it does not happen automatically. Living by faith requires patience but certainly not passivity; it requires that we work toward a God-ordained purpose (of which we currently do not entirely see the outcome). Both spiritual and physical healing require us to work intensely, asking for God's merciful intervention while actively working toward a solution, exercising wisdom and common sense as we consider the array of possible procedures.
John Ritenbaugh uses an impelling example of some Ukrainian Jews who applied foresight and sacrifice to escape from the impending onslaught of the Nazis, saving themselves from certain destruction. The sermon then focuses upon the dangers of sloth and procrastination, coupled with the effects of the second law of thermodynamics (the tendency of all physical matter to break down). If we as Christians fail to dress and keep, cultivating, embellishing, and improving what has been entrusted to us (including our bodies and health), we are equivalent to a destroyer. Fighting the forces of decay - a continuous struggle of overcoming planned for us by almighty God - requires constant, life-long work and vigilance. We should never delude ourselves that we are "innocent victims" of our own sins or destructive habits. We have a sobering responsibility to analyze our health needs, continually adjusting and changing as we learn, faithfully maintaining the temple of God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon escalating energy prices, urges caution and self-control in spending and taking on debt. If the supply of oil should be drastically cut, all vital services would shut down, and our quality of life would deteriorate. In 1971, the U.S. reached the state of "peak oil" (when supply could no longer keep up with demand), forcing it to become increasingly oil-dependent. As the world industrializes, the demand for oil will quickly outstrip the total available supply (possibly to occur in November 2005). The rising cost of this dwindling resource presages the destruction of Babylon, the hub of the world's economy (Revelation 18:8-20) Christians need to exercise diligence to "know the state of our flocks," acquiring economic stability by submitting to God's counsel, sacrificing now before outside forces usurp our economic substance. Responsible economists admonish us to 1) avoid new debt and 2) get liquid (save). We cannot afford to do nothing.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: This weekend, Americans will celebrate—with cookouts, picnics, parades, and fireworks—the 228th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from England on July 4, 1776, the commonly accepted beginning of the United States. ...
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.
Even though a Christian's potential in God's Kingdom is so wonderful, it is still necessary for God to motivate His children to reach it. John Ritenbaugh begins his series on Christian motivation by expounding the fear of God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It is beyond question that Christians should be compassionate. We are to give to the poor and aid the needy. We are to lend a helping hand to those who have stumbled and bear the burdens of the weak. It is sin to us if we know to do good and fail to do it. But how far does this go? ...
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.
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
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.
We have a tendency to put matters behind us once we are finished with them, but we cannot afford to do this with the lessons we learn from the Days of Unleavened Bread. John Reid shows that those lessons are eternal!
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the command to eat unleavened Bread outnumbers the command to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that if we actively engaged ourselves in studying God's word and doing righteousness, we wouldn't have time or place to participate in unrighteousness. Ingesting God's word and actively applying its principles gives us life-sustaining energy to fulfill our personal commission.The book of James had to be written as a counterbalance to antinomian elements that had crept into the church around 60AD, twisting Paul's writings, teaching that grace nullifies the need for works — a condition which has an eerie parallel today. James emphasizes the works required for sanctification after the justification process has been completed. Doing good, like eating unleavened bread, is proactive, displacing sin by righteousness.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a phenomenon described by Alvin Toffler as Future Shock, a stressful malady caused by an inability to accommodate or adjust to rapid change. Over-stimulation and rapid change (accompanied by the death of permanence) eventually produces apathy and future shock. The antidote to future shock (or attaining the way back to permanence) includes (1) becoming goal oriented toward permanent things (Matthew 6:33), (2) making sure of permanent values (Deuteronomy 4:40; Hebrews 13:8) (3) working to build wholesome habit, custom or routine (Exodus 31:13), and (4) building quality human relationships (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10; Ecclesiastes 4:9)
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
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.
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that in Matthew 5:21-22, there exist degrees in the spirit of murder, with destroying a reputation as the worst. All sin is against God, but before one attempts to establish a relationship with God, he should heal the breach with his fellow man. If a conflict exists between husband and wife, his prayers could be hindered. We are admonished to take care of problems while they are small rather than allow them to brood, exercising moderation and self control. If we continually fill our mind with good thoughts and motivations, we won't be thinking base or unclean thoughts. Jesus, desiring to restore the spirit as well as the letter of the law, warned against rash or hasty divorces, taking oaths or vows, invoking God's name frivolously, realizing that a covenant is binding whether we formally invoke His name or not. As God's people, our word should be good as gold. The Lex Talionis (eye for an eye) principle provided the foundations for an equitable solution, allowing for equal justice or monetary compensation for pain, time, indignity, etc. Jesus set a standard of non-retaliation and non-vengeance—not getting even for an insult, suffering for righteousness as our Elder Brother Jesus Christ did for us. We need to be more concerned about our duties or obligations than our rights. When we are conscripted into service and when we lend to the poor, we need to realize God will make it right to us. When we love conditionally, with the hope of getting something back, we have no reward, but if we love with unconditional, godly agape love, loving our enemies, removing any thought of vengeance, becoming godlike in the process, doing what we were created for.
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