James Beaubelle, acknowledging that our annual, self-inflicted review of self can be humbling and even painful, reminds us that God's called-out ones have a measure of control over their carnality which those remaining in the world lack. We also have the assurance that our Savior is not going to lose any of His saints. Philippians 4:8 reveals that God's standards are high. Consequently, we are to meditate on what is true, noble, just, and virtuous, realizing that repeated habits of thought lead to the development of character. Consequently, when we measure truth against lies, such as evolution or the Big Bang theory, we reject them as toxic inhibitors of character, concocted by Satan, the father of lies. As we aspire to be purveyors of justice, we need to be sure that our utterances contain no defilement; God demands purity of thought. Focusing on loveliness means being attentive to the invisible attributes of God, manifested by His creation. We need to intersperse our prayers with meditation, allowing God to speak to us. Our objective through continual prayerful meditation is to become incrementally more Christ-like.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
David Maas, resuming his exposition on the W's and H's of Meditation, provides of list of related scriptures, beginning with Psalm 119, showing that meditating on God's Holy Law produces profound peace and vivid memory. Meditation fosters peace and tranquility, and vastly improves memory consolidation, safeguarding the integrity of our emerging spiritual body. The only part of us that will survive through the grave is our character—our thoughts, the contents of hearts, what we think about all day long. God will access the lifelong file of memories and make a judgment upon how we have lived. Allowing media and entertainment to grab our attention will dangerously distract us from our primary objective—qualifying to be the Bride of Christ. Researchers have scientifically proven that meditation improves memory and memory consolidation, as well as generates profound peace as an antidote to agitation, stress, chaos and confusion. The act of meditating, even if the focus is on our breathing or on an idyllic scene, is beneficial physically or psychologically, but the maximum benefit will accrue if we meditate on the things God has mandated—namely His Law and His Word.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on the horrendous damage caused by forest fires in the Carolina mountains, draws some parallels to the spiritual forest fires currently raging in the greater Church of God. Most literal and spiritual fires are caused by human carelessness or arson rather than natural causes like lightning strikes. There is a triangular relationship (heat, oxygen, and fuel) which increases the size of a fire—rendering it out-of-control. Miles and miles of black charred ashes is all that remains of a once beautiful forest. Relationships throughout the greater church of God have been charred in the same way by loose lips and careless tongues described in James 3:2, setting on fire the course of nature by Hell. We have all been guilty of spiritual arson. If we do not control our tongues, we are on a path to destruction. Our prideful desire to correct others, even when we are technically right, does not please God. We need to listen far more than we speak, sparing our words. God gave us ears that remain open and mouths that close. As we count our 50 days to Pentecost, have we been a fire igniter or a fire extinguisher? A quickness to listen is a mark of humility, whereas a quickness to speak is a mark of pride. We should control our reactions to our thoughts, focusing our minds on the suffering Our Savior endured on our behalf. We need to continuously and diligently use the spiritual tool of meditation, bringing our thoughts into captivity of God's purpose for us, developing Godly mindfulness, which is our spiritual armor against pride. Godly mindfulness enables us to pause before we react, giving us precious time to think before we blurt out foolishness. Godly mindfulness enabled Jesus Christ and Stephen to forgive their adversaries while they were facing death. If we follow James admonition to maintain Godly mindfulness, we can prevent our mouths to flare up in sin.
Bill Onisick, reminding us that we are embarking upon another time of self-examination before Passover, claims that the principal cause of goal failure is lack of self-control, the ninth fruit of God's Holy Spirit. Developing self-control or self-discipline resembles developing a new habit or exercising a muscle, a process that takes time and consistency. Bad and good habits are cumulative, and the consequences emerge as life-enhancing or life-threatening. As we make our continuous choices in behavior, we need to make cognitive reappraisal, determining what the accumulative effect of all the incremental steps will lead to, with suffering and death as the final destination. With the help of God's Holy Spirit, we can develop the overcoming skill, using self-control to make firm commitments to the small, yet progressively significant choices along our spiritual journey, bringing every thought into captivity, making righteousness and morality continuous and habitual instead of occasional.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the book of Chronicles, written around 420 BC, after Israel had returned from captivity, was not intended to be so much as a historical record as a sermon, drawing lessons from the historical record, showing what happens when the nation and its kings conform to God's covenants and what happens when the nation and its kings depart from God's covenants. We can trust God's reaction to be consistent. The majority of leaders in Judah and Israel proved wicked, bringing enslavement and death to their subjects. A handful were fairly good kings, such as Jehoshaphat and Asa. The tenure of Asa started off well, with his judgments faithfully executed on behalf of the good and right, but as he continued his reign, his faults began to emerge as well. Asa initially banished cultic prostitutes, homosexuals, idols, and high places, even having the courage to displace his powerful grandmother Maachah for erecting an obscene image of the goddess Ashera, an idol which Asa boldly destroyed. Asa's reforms gave Judah a ten year respite, time which he wisely used to fortify his country, building up garrisons and protective walls. Sadly, Asa left a few things undone, losing a lot of steam in his later years, trying to play it safe. Idolatry was so engrained in Judah and Israel that Asa felt a sense of weariness in well-doing. Similarly, if we leave things undone in our personal revival, our secret sins morph into idols. Paul warns us to flee from all forms of idolatry. The things that our forebears experienced apply to us. When the million man army of Zerah the Ethiopian outnumbered Asa's forces two to one, Asa relied on God and prevailed. Later, on the prophet Azariah's counsel, Asa led his people to rededicate the Covenant of the Lord, making an oath of death if they disobeyed. Sadly, Asa in his later years made a treaty with Syria against Israel, leading to a period of perpetual war and a premature death by his own curse. We must learn to be steadfast all our days.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Walter Mischel Test of self-control, a test in which only 30% of youngsters delayed gratifying their appetites, describes the techniques in which these students delayed gratification. Dr. Mischel, who was able to predict social success of these students on the basis of these earlier tests, determined to probe the mechanism of this self-control, discovering how to convert "hot stimuli" to "cold" (distracting) stimuli. Self-control constitutes the ability to direct or focus our attention so that our decisions will not be directed by wrong thoughts. If we change our thoughts, we can change our behavior. In essence, learning self- control (the last, perhaps most difficult to attain or most important designated fruit of God's Holy Spirit) is equivalent to repentance. Self-control refers to inner power to control impulses, emotions, or desires, exhibiting self-government. Self-control follows knowledge in the list of virtues, indicating we need to act on godly knowledge, practicing it in perpetuity. Holiness makes self-control possible; a holy person is self-controlled. God's Holy Spirit increases self-control exponentially, giving us the power to replace "hot" stimuli with "cold" stimuli. Ice cold stimuli (enforcing extreme restraint) must displace hot stimuli (giving into impulses). Like the apostle Paul, we must practice self-control for others. Like Joseph, we need to practice self-control on a daily basis. When we repent and continue to repent, we exercise self-control. In Luke 4, Jesus Christ exercises incredible self-control, refuting Satan's temptation with Scripture—the mind of God.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on the medieval classification of the seven deadly sins, observes that all of these sins could be categorized as a facet or aspect of lust. Satan's pride was motivated by lust for power; all sinful things on the earth emerge from lust and pride. Lust could be described as evil or inordinate desire. God designed us to have proper desires, just as His desires are always proper. God has a desire for a family; Jesus Christ experienced the same desires as we do. Evil desires consist of lust for things contrary to God's law, such as fornication, uncleanliness, covetousness, and idolatry. God never tempts anyone, but we are tempted by our own evil desires. Trials are pressures to test us; temptations are pressures to cause us to sin. Our own evil desires hook us and drag us where we really do not want to go; we are seduced into sin. Evil desire led to man's first sin; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was pleasing to the eyes and contained a (false) promise to make wise. Eating of this tree was the first act of lust resulting in sin and ultimate death. If evil desires are allowed to gestate instead of becoming aborted, sin will result. All sinful acts begin in the mind as desire, including the acts of murder, lying, adultery, and idolatry. As evil desire begins in the mind, overcoming also begins in the mind. We are admonished to flee fornication—not to stick around and contemplate it. We may have to physically remove ourselves from locations or certain acquaintances. When we drive out an evil thought, we must replace it with a godly thought; if we put good thoughts in, it will lead to good thoughts out. To guard against evil thoughts, we need to cultivate the habit of praying continually, guarding against or displacing all evil desire, winning the battle between the flesh and spirit.
Martin Collins, alarmed about vacuous emotionalism in religion, producing emotional feelers for Jesus rather than followers of Christ, warns us that we must take the bad with the good, enduring suffering and consolation. "Feeling good" all the time is not our destiny as long as we are mortal human beings. Feelings and emotions may throw our faith off course. Our moods are mercurial and we must control them with daily prayer and Bible study. We could be emotionally manipulated more by what we see than what we hear, as demonstrated by our forefather Jacob, who seemed more inclined to believe bad news than good news, possibly because of the sorrowful events of his hard life, testing his faith on a regular basis. We should not allow our moods and feelings to govern the course of our lives. We must become in control of our feelings, a major fruit of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to bring every thought into captivity. Husbands should painstakingly shield their spouses from negative feelings and bad news. Jacob had to be moved to believe that Joseph was alive by the testimony of Joseph's brothers and ultimately the carts from Egypt. Jacob, along with Samuel, Abraham, and Saul, was strengthened in faith with an assuring communication with God. Jacob, at 130 years, felt old and reluctant to pull up stakes, moving to a new locale steeped in pagan worship, having both bitter memories and prophetic revelation of future difficulties for his family. God's reassuring words to Jacob can provide strength for us as well, reaffirming our relationship with Him, the loyalty to the covenant, the surety of His promises, and the assurance of our part in His master plan. When we are fearful, we should seek God's guidance and direction before taking another step.
David Maas, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:3, affirms that Solomon, neither a hedonistic party-goer nor a burned-out, despairing derelict attempting to drink his sorrows away, actually studied pleasure, mirth, despair, and madness with the rigorous mindset of an anthropological scientist, able to detach himself to objectively describe the consequences of an array of life's experiences. He used an ability General Semanticists call "self-reflexiveness" (thinking about our thinking) and a frame of mind, termed by Victorian philosopher Matthew Arnold as disinterestedness, staying aloof from the 'practical,' 'parochial' or 'emotional' attachments people put on those experiences. We have the responsibility as Christians to constantly monitor our thoughts, deflecting Satan's fiery darts as the Israeli Iron Dome deflects the continuous onslaught of Palestinian / Hamas rockets. The news media, entertainment, and blogs on the Internet have been used by the prince of the power of the air to hopelessly divide us, with the aim of motivating us to hate our fellow man intensely, allowing his fiery darts to consume our lives. As God's called-out ones, we need to monitor our thoughts from the perspective of the spirit in man and also with God's Holy Spirit, making sure we are not suckered into taking in one of Satan's divisive gang-fights.
We live in a world based on the "get" principle; everyone is out to acquire as much as possible for himself. The tenth commandment, however, is intended to govern this proclivity of human nature, striking at man's heart. John Ritenbaugh exposes the essence of covetousness and its marked link to the first commandment.
The sixth commandment, forbidding murder, is rare among the Ten Commandments in that a clear and short line can be drawn between its commission and its horrible consequences. Yet, as John Ritenbaugh shows, some people—even nominal Christians—find ways to justify killing their fellow human beings, as well as themselves.
We have learned that Jesus' command to pray always contains the advice Christians need to strengthen their relationships with God as the return of Christ nears. In concluding his series, Pat Higgins shows how praying always assists us in several other areas of Christian living.
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.
Clyde Finklea: "You are what you eat" is a common expression. But this adage is not entirely true. ...
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Satan's great rebellion when he rallied one-third of the angels against the government of God. They were cast down to the earth, where they have since held a beachhead of operations, even though the venue has been downgraded from a headquarters to a prison. Though these demons share the habitation with us, they are greatly restrained. Ultimately the demonic powers will be unleashed again. As an indication of potential problems in the future, we have experienced a number of seemingly insoluble relationship problems. Some of the demons ability to communicate with mankind has been opened up to them. The battles are likely to be psychological and spiritual. Cities are places of concentrated evil. Air is that medium through which most media travels, including radio and television—and spirit in general. Experimenter Emoto discovered that negative attitudes can distort the molecular structure of water. The demons who already inhabit the earth look upon us as interlopers. We need to monitor our thought impulses, lest we might be bothered by demons. Trench and Bengel suggest that the cosmos, the spirit of the world or the zeitgeist entraps us into carnal and human nature- moving us along into aberrant behavior.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
As he begins concluding his series, John Ritenbaugh writes that the offerings have a great deal to do with our relationship with God. How closely do we identify with Christ? Are we walking in His footsteps? Are we being transformed into His image?
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Wordsworth's lament, "the world is too much with us," comments that the fast pace of the world - the hurry or rush mode - threatens to crowd God out of our thoughts. We cannot allow the cares of the world or the stress of the world's pressures, or the pride of the world (self-sufficiency)to crowd God out of our thoughts or to defile our minds, bringing about abominable works or evil fruits. The spiritual battle we fight is in our minds and in our thoughts. We are what we think - what we put into our minds. We need to actively lay siege to our carnality and hostile thoughts, bringing them into captivity to God's Holy Spirit. Our thoughts (hopefully filled with the knowledge of God) determine the content of our speech and the contents of our actions- i.e. our fruits. What we sow we will reap.
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
We all know about the church grapevine. It's very good in spreading news, but it can be equally as evil when it spreads gossip and rumor. David Maas reveals how gossip harms the gossip himself.
Repentance is a condition of baptism in God's church and ultimately of conversion and salvation. It is also a lifelong process which we should continue until the day of Christ's return.
In many ways, we have been called to a life of avoiding, enduring and overcoming temptation. Martin Collins explains the process of temptation, sin and their products, destruction and death.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) is responsible for influencing the Zeitgeist (dominant spirit or mindset of the time)pulling us away from God and His commandments. Our heart at the time of conversion is incurably sick (Jeremiah 17:9) incapable of being repaired, but only replaced. God deliberately places His called-out ones in a position of choosing the temporal allurement of the world or eternal life (Matthew 6:24) Guarding our heart (Proverbs 4:23) and setting it upon spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-23) will enhance our spiritual security.
The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet
We all have hungers, from a desire for certain foods to a yearning for success. What should a Christian hunger for? John Reid explains Matthew 5:6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
In this powerful conclusion of the sin series, John Ritenbaugh warns that, contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
John Ritenbaugh studies the "Get way" or the "Keep up with the Joneses" (lust or coveting) principle with which advertisers and politicians shamelessly (and successfully) manipulate us. A commentator once remarked, "All public crime would cease if this [Tenth] Commandment were kept." Jesus taught that all outward sin stems from inner inordinate desire. What we desire or lust after automatically becomes our idol. If our imaginations are fed "dirt", our minds will become "dirty." We desperately need to learn to radically "amputate" or "mortify" the self-centered lusts and desires that will inevitably (if followed to completion) lead us to the lake of fire. The Tenth Commandment (like the First) serves as a "control" or "regulator," enabling us to successfully keep all the other commandments. Ardently desiring the Word of God and His Kingdom (realizing that happiness and joy come only from spirituality) serves as the most effective antidote to lust and covetousness.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was baptized, not because He had committed any sin, but in order to fulfill God's Commandments of righteousness. Baptism is used symbolically to represent one's total commitment. Perhaps if people knew what was required, there would be fewer baptisms. Every thought, every attitude, every action (the totality of our life) is to be brought into obedience to Him. When Jesus was baptized, He was demonstrating His total commitment to what was laid out before Him. Jesus had to overcome, defeat, displace and disqualify Satan as ruler as part of His commission as Head of the body. As we are joined to the Body, it is part of our commission also. We also wrestle with spiritual wickedness in high places. We are in a war with an enemy we can't feel, see, or touch, an enemy who is trying to take control of our thinking processes. In order to win the battle with Satan, we must counter his deceptive arguments, not with human reasoning, but with the knowledge of God. Satan broadcasts attitudes into our minds, tilting them in certain directions. God uses Satan as an instrument to test for weaknesses, enabling us to be strengthened. In our struggle with Satan, we are admonished to be sober, exercising control over our minds. If a person is under the influence of the world, he is not able to resist Satan. Familiarity and usage of God's word along with yielding to Him and drawing close to Him will help us resist Satan. Jesus resisted Satan with the knowledge of God, resisting appeals to vanity, using power selfishly resisting to lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life.
"ALL have sinned," says the Scripture. What is sin, anyway? And how do we stop it?
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