Mark Schindler, reflecting on Winston Churchill's famous description of Russia following the German invasion of Poland in 1939—"Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," observes that the majority of organized 'Christianity' have a similar view of God. Even to the vast numbers of the currently uncalled, God has made His invisible nature intelligible to the human mind—unless it has become reprobate by engaging in willful perversion. To God's called-out ones given the mind of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is not a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. God has called us that we, with His help, might transform our carnal natures into spiritual natures as we incrementally inculcate into our beings the nature of God. Charles Krauthammer, apparently without the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit, concluded that believing in either evolution and creation requires faith. He cautiously affirmed, "I cannot say I believe in God, but I fear Him." As God's called-out ones facing on-going judgment during our sanctification process, we are committed to knowing Him, taking on His attributes, and honoring His Holy name—which we aspire to become our family name.
Martin Collins, assuring us that those whom God has called will be kept safe, protected, and sanctified, reminds us that: 1.) No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him, 2.) All whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him, and 3.) None of those who remain in Him will be lost. In the prayer Jesus offered on behalf of His disciples, recorded in John 17, Jesus also prays for those called in the future, asking for their safe-keeping, sanctification, unity, and fellowship, all referring to matters of the spirit—protection from evil, separation from the world, and training for future responsibilities in God's Kingdom. Before our lives conclude, Satan, secular influences and our own carnality will all assault us. God as our true Shepherd provides total protection of His called out-ones forever. Being kept in God's name refers to assimilating the attributes of God: Joy, holiness, truth, responsibility, unity and love. Joy is an endangered characteristic among today's saints. We can have joy in the midst of trials when we take our minds off immediate circumstances and focus on the mind of Christ dwelling in us. This indwelling Spirit enables us to develop a vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father and a horizontal one with our brethren. God has separated us out to love and obey Him and teach others to do the same.
Martin Collins, emphasizing that God does not do anything randomly, reveals that even scientists advancing the so-called chaos theory have discovered that disintegration and breakdown (entropy) proceed according to orderly laws. Dr. James Gleick, in his exposition of the Butterfly Effect, observes that even an apparently chaotic event like falling water is governed by predictable laws of physics. Amazingly, some deluded scientists, with all this substantiation of order, continue to advance the evolutionary hypothesis—an untenable position that order can somehow be the product of chaos. God is a God of order and not confusion; all He does follows a specific order—summarized by the adage, a time and a place for everything. One does not laugh and joke at a funeral nor weep uncontrollably at a wedding. Likewise, there is nothing inconsequential or out of place in God's Word, including 1.) the order of Noah's entering and leaving the ark, 2.) the order in which Jacob placed his servants and family in his meeting with Esau, 3.) the order in which Jacob and Moses blessed the tribes of Israel, 4.) the order in which Abraham and Lot separated their families and assets and 5.) the order in which Joshua dispatched the tribes into the Promised land. God made careful distinction between light and darkness, creating boundaries between clean and unclean, profane and holy, insisting that the time He has made holy be kept in a different manner from the rest of the time cycles. The Sabbath serves as the basic time-marker of the week, the year, and the Jubilee. To everything there is a season when the appropriate behavior is expected. God's called-out ones strive to yield to God's timing, realizing that the steps of a good man are ordered by God.
Mark Schindler, reflecting that God's Sabbaths or Holy Days are inestimable blessings which should not be squandered, cautions us of the need to tend and keep these blessings, avoiding the careless use of hallowed time. Relating a true story, Mark recalls a time when, attending a wedding which took place on the Sabbath, he and his wife were inadvertently drawn into non-holy activities when a wedding reception in downtown Chicago unexpectedly became a reviewing stand for a 200-unit nudist bicycle parade. Embarrassing incidents like this could be considered wake-up calls from God that this time should be spent more profitably in spiritual pursuits. In another recollection, Mark, in compiling a video memento of his romance with his wife Nancy, reflects that a loving and faithful wife is a blessing from God. The significance of this blessing was punctuated by the observation that his aging mother, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, excitedly recognized Nancy when she had practically lost memory of everyone else in the family circle. This miraculous observation reiterated the importance of treasuring, tending and keeping the many blessings God has bestowed to us. All the spiritual gifts God has given us should be carefully tended.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
Gary Garrett, reflecting that Adam and Eve had a direct fellowship with God at the beginning of man’s history, asserts that fellowship and fellowshipping are important to God. After Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden, the sacrificial system was the only way to maintain contact with God. Adam and Eve were progenitors of an Edenic culture that had a fellowship based on the presence of the Lord, whereas Cain established a culture in Nod, based purely on human reason independent of God. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, but only Abel followed the instructions outlined by God, which required an animal sacrifice, prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice, a grain or cereal offering, was intended to symbolize love for brethren, which was demonstrated to be false by his intense jealousy and murder of Abel. Cain aligned himself with the wicked way of Satan and ignored God’s counsel for him to repent. If we lack love for our brethren who live in the presence of God, we are emulating Cain. It is God’s desire that we stay in the fellowship. Cain denied the importance of the Edenic fellowship, causing him to be separated from God, as well as his fellow men. Today the church is our Edenic fellowship; we must cling to each other as we continue our spiritual pilgrimage.
Ronny Graham, asking how we respond to being holy, suggests that he formerly relegated that aspiration to widows, deacons, and people other than himself, but now he has reflected on the importance of separating oneself from the unclean and profane things of the world. Becoming holy is an arduous process spanning an entire lifetime, which includes embracing God's holy days, His tithes, and His spiritual gifts. Becoming holy takes continuous practice; one act of love or kindness does not constitute a composition of holiness. We are to invest our talents for the good of the entire body of Christ. The house of Israel (as well as the greater church of God) is scattered because collectively we have profaned God's holy name by our careless conduct. We are obligated to repent and be holy in all our conduct.
Martin Collins, characterizing the scoffer as a dangerous mixture of pride, malice, ignorance, and shallowness with a high degree of combativeness, suggests that scoffers will increase exponentially as we approach the time of Jacob's trouble, the dreadful day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment upon mankind when evil will be utterly expunged forever. Peter warned of scoffers in the church, apostate tares, devoid of God's spirit, ridiculing the doctrine that Christ would return or doctrines of judgment, treating lightly those things we should take seriously. Apostates want to be able to live comfortably in their own sins. Peter assures us that God's Word is true, God's Word is consistent (the world is being reserved for fire as it was previously reserved for a cataclysmic flood following creation), and God's Word is consistent all the way through, focusing on a future day of judgment. God's good creation has been turned into a groaning creation, polluted and desecrated by man's horrific sins. The only reason God has not brought the destructive antics of mankind to an end earlier is that He is merciful and longsuffering, desiring all to repent and embrace salvation. In Peter's sermon on Pentecost, he explains Joel's prophecy of God's Spirit poured out on His saints, given to those who repent, with the expectation that this spiritual gift would be used to edify the Body of Christ—the Church. Peter encourages us with the assurance that, though the elements will burn with fervent heat, we will be given protection if we yield to God, allowing Him to carry out His will for our lives.
Kim Myers, reminding us that we are in a lifelong battle with Satan every second of each day, cautions that all enticements to sin start in man's mind, beginning with attitudes. This battle commences at our baptism and does not cease until we are resurrected as Spirit being—or until we give up and yield to our carnal nature, marinated in Satan's foul attitudes. The process of being taken over by sin usually takes place over a lengthy period of time as we allow Satan's deceptive words to corrode our attitudes, permanently warping our character. Satan, in the first rebellion, took his time, probably persuading one angel at a time until he had a cadre of like-minds, poisoned with Satan's pride and discontent. As Satan corrupted other angels with words (all of the company of demons were at one time pure angelic beings), Satan also attempts to corrupt God's called-out ones with persuasive words. Satan corrupted our original parents with words; Satan may have fostered the final effect over a long period of time, but when doubt, lust, and pride were activated in Eve, her resistance became attenuated until it broke apart. As the Second Adam, our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, resisted the persuasive words of Satan with the words of Holy Scriptures, we must employ scripture in the same way, counteracting the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. As we approach the end times, we must continually guard against deception, especially since some of Satan's ministers are able to convincingly perform miracles. We are warned to cling to the faith once delivered, guarding against destructive heresies. We are in this work together, surrounded by both wheat and tares. Because Satan will attack us when and where we are the most vulnerable, we need to know God's words inside and out, being instant in prayer, continually "cracking the Book" for wisdom, counsel and godly insight, as well as to gain ammunition against the deadly spiritual forces around us, realizing the times will be much tougher as we approach the end of the age.
Will we let the physical circumstances of our lives determine this without making every effort to seek God's will diligently so that we do not fail in our duty to appear before Him?
When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, He was being closely watched by the Pharisees, yet He did not hesitate to heal on the Sabbath. Martin Collins explains why Jesus' reaction was righteous and the Pharisee's was hypocritical.
One Sabbath during His ministry, Jesus took the opportunity to heal a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees, however, castigated Him for doing so. Martin Collins points out the hypocrisy of these self-righteous Jews regarding the Sabbath.
When Jesus healed the crippled man by a Jerusalem pool, His Jewish critics were more interested in attacking Jesus for healing on the Sabbath than in rejoicing that a lame man had been made whole. Martin Collins probes this hypocrisy, Jesus' instruction to the healed man, and the man's response to the Jews.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
John Ritenbaugh 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.
Sabbath services are our opportunity each week to come before God and worship Him. Our and our children's behavior must conform to the serious and godly nature of this special time with God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
The fourth commandment is the one that most people think is least important, but in reality it may be one of the most important! John Ritenbaugh explains the Sabbath commandment and its vital teaching.
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon part of the festival scrolls (the Megilloth) read during Pentecost, reveals that although many of the lessons allude to Old Covenant teachings, Ruth prefigures New Covenant principles also, including (1) God's mercy and mankind's loyalty to the covenant (Boaz serves as a type of Christ and Ruth serves as a type of the church), (2) God's unilateral work on our behalf (typified by Boaz's proactive watchful care for Ruth), (3) the vessels of water (Ruth 2:9) as a type of God's Holy Spirit, and (4) Boaz's acceptance of Ruth despite her gentile status indicates God's extension of His covenant or family relationship beyond Israel by means of union with Christ.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that the Sabbath is the major means by which He protects His investment, the spiritual creation of His family. The Sabbath, far from being the least of the commandments, is a special creation, a very specific period of holy time (only God can set apart something as holy) given to all of mankind, reminding us that God does not stop creating, but elevates His attention to spiritual creation, providing us with unified instruction designed to free us from sin, celebrate life, develop a special relationship with Him, providing a major tool for our conversion, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. No other commandment so specifically defines God's purpose. Breaking the Sabbath is tantamount to idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.