Austin Del Castillo expresses alarm that the moral fabric of our society is rapidly unravelling, with all institutions yielding to corruption and immorality. Like society, the Church of God has splintered into a diverse assortment of groups, some blinded by their pompous self-righteousness, others absorbing the values of the world—all forgetting the profound purpose of their calling. The Parable of the Ten Virgins must become a wake-up call to the Church of God that we are "running on empty," as stated in the words of a Jackson Brown song. If we demonstrate mindfulness of God only on the Sabbath, if we think that a sermon's message is more applicable to another than to us, if we increasingly find studying God's Word unexciting, then we have obviously lost our first love and are courting a fate in the lake of fire rather than at the Marriage Supper. Developing a relationship with our Savior and God the Father is serious business. When King David realized that he had run out of God's Spirit after the Bathsheba-Uriah business, he returned to the filling station, begging God not to take away His Holy Spirit. God will be as patient with the five foolish virgins among us today as He was with David millennia ago. We in God's Church do not know how much time we have left. Let us immediately replenish our reserves of God's Holy Spirit before we travel any further.
Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, pointing to I and II Chronicles as the most overlooked and most infrequently cited book, a document the Greeks referred to as a miscellaneous compilation of 'things omitted' from I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, maintains that Chronicles looks upon history with a different perspective, a different take on the subject matter, on how Judah's successes corresponded to the degree the people submitted themselves to God. The facts, compiled by a writer having the complete Old Testament documents in hand, living in the volatile Intertestamental period, seven or eight generations after Zerubbabel, reached some powerful theological conclusions never broached by the writers of Samuel or Kings. His mode of delivery resembles more of a thesis paper with theological conclusions, an extended commentary on blessings and curses, containing inspiring examples of answered prayers in examples like Jabez, whose mother had apparently cursed his future by giving him an uncomplimentary name, and in the dramatic turn-around in Rehoboam's military exploits when he humbled himself before God. The thesis of the entire book seems to be that when God's people seek Him in repentance and humility, God comes to their aid; if they keep the terms of the covenant, they succeed; if not, they fail. God responds to those who seek Him and helps those who stay in alignment with His will. The themes of Chronicles are calling upon the Lord, seeking Him, and remembering His works.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the ninth of Av, occurring at sundown tonight, July 25,2015, a time when the Jewish community will commence the fast of Tisha b'Av, recounts the horrific disasters which have embroiled Judah/Levi over the years, including the destruction of both Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple, the first Crusade, in which Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by "Christians," Germany's declaration of war on Russia, unleashing a virulent strain of anti-Semitism there, and the mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. Book Three of the Psalms addresses the compulsion to fast and to mourn. In Zechariah 7, God reminds Judah that their faithlessness and disobedience brought about the horrific destruction of Jerusalem, and if they would get with the program He has outlined for them, curtailing their pity parties, their fasts would be more productive and actually would transform into periods of rejoicing and praising God. If we keep God's Commandments, He promises to help us. If we sin, having the knowledge of His Commandments, we are asking to be crushed more than anyone else, because we should have known better. We should fast for the right reason-to get closer to God—and not to "get Him to do something for us." If we seek God's Kingdom first (life is more than the fulfilment of physical things which will not last for eternity), we will have no need to weep and mourn. If we repent and draw close to God, all of these fasts could be turned into periods of thanksgiving. After we beseech God, we must discipline ourselves to wait for Him to act.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
Gary Montgomery: At this time of year, religious people around the world look at their individual decisions and choices of the past. Some choose to go to special mid-day services ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
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 O. Reid: It is not unusual today for a member of God's church to feel ill at ease with the world around him. ...
Martin Collins suggests that genuine humility is one of the most elusive characteristics a person can attain. Vain efforts to develop and display humility include self-flagellation or self-denial. Behaviors such as asceticism or extreme vegetarianism are employed in efforts to appear humble. The apostle Paul, in advocating esteeming others better than self, did not mean developing or feigning a feeling of inferiority or depression, denigrating our own abilities or gifts. Instead he taught that the followers of Christ will work to put the interests of others above their own. Genuine humility, an inward condition of the heart, constitutes an alliance of genuine self-respect, based on truth, accompanied by a genuine desire to serve, as demonstrated by our Elder Brother in the act of foot-washing. Jesus never sacrificed his dignity as He humbled Himself as a bondservant. As we humble ourselves in obedience to God's commands, God gives us grace and the ability to face fiery trials. We are obligated to draw near to God (with the help of His Spirit), purifying our thoughts, words, and deeds, inside and out, avoiding double-mindedness. God, in return, promises to protect us from Satan. The humble are those who willingly obey and submit themselves to the will and pleasure of God rather than submitting to their own carnal pleasures. To the degree we genuinely humble ourselves, God will lift us up.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that in Numbers 16 through 18, God performed several miracles to demonstrate conclusively that not everyone is called to the same function and that He remains the Boss. The events included: (1) The execution of the rebels Dathan, Abiram, and Korah; (2) The sparing of Korah's sons; (3) The lightning bolts zapping the 250 men offering profane fire; (4) The intercessory activity of Aaron stopping the plague from consuming the murmurers; and (5) The budding and blossoming of Aaron's Rod, determining once and for all whom God set apart for the role of the priesthood. God performed these specific acts to demonstrate that He, and not men, has the final word on everything.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the implication of Dathan and Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-5, agitating for a democratization of priestly responsibilities. God clearly reveals that not everybody set apart is holy in the same way, nor is God dealing the same way with each person. The privileges granted the priesthood are accompanied with equally weighty responsibilities. The New Testament church as a priesthood has been 1) set apart by God (not by people or self), 2) totally belongs to God, 3) has been awarded gifts for very specific functions, and 4) given the exclusive duty of drawing near to God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we are manufactured goods designed specifically to glorify God. We have been summoned or separated from the rest of the world for the specific purpose of having God reproduced in ourselves — becoming clean and pure, transformed into God's image. As God's royal priesthood, we have a responsibility to draw near to God, keeping His commandments, witnessing to the world that God is God. Chipping away at the living stones, fitting them into their proper places, God works continually shaping and fashioning His new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).
God's sovereignty seems to imply that prayer is a fruitless exercise—that God has everything already planned. John Ritenbaugh explains, however, that we must change our ideas about the function of prayer: It is not to change God's mind but ours!
Purity before God is far more than just being clean. John Ritenbaugh explains that to Jesus being pure in heart touches on the very holiness of God!
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
John Ritenbaugh points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that we must have established some relationship with God before we can rightly fear Him. Fear, faith hope and love serve as the four cornerstones upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rests. A holy fear of the Lord is the key to unlocking the treasuries of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Paradoxically the fear of God, because it unlocks knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth, should draw us toward God. Conversely, if we do not respect God, reciprocally God will not respect us. In order to reverence God, we must know Him. Christianity is experiential; we must live it to understand it. Our concept of God (and our fear of God) needs to come from observing His creation and absorbing His revealed word rather than the precepts of men.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the watchman responsibility as defined in Ezekiel 33:2 and Isaiah 62:6, consisting of both physical and spiritual aspects. Part of the pastor's responsibility is to carefully observe economic, social, meteorological, and political trends, warning the flock to take prudent precautions, including making a prayer offensive, making careful and thoughtful self-examination, actively repenting, submitting to God, looking to God's providence for a possible way of escape, but realizing that the place of safety has conditions attached to it. The exact standards of qualification for a Philadelphian have been left purposely vague to keep the prod to spiritual growth fairly intense. Our focus should be to seek God's kingdom, reciprocating God's love, committing ourselves to a life of service fulfilling His purpose for us, doing so without complaining, or comparing our lot with others, realizing He will supply exactly what we need.
God is working to build a relationship with us, dispensing gifts for overcoming and working out His greater purpose. God's Spirit is 1) an immaterial, invisible force which motivates, impels, and compels; 2) whenever referring to a person clearly identifies the Father and the Son; 3) when not referring to a person is the essence of God's mind; and 4) can be communicated to our minds. We receive more of this Spirit as we respond to His calling, drawing near to His presence and reversing Adam and Eve's fatal errors of 1) being convinced that their way was better than God's, 2) developing pride, and 3) trying to justify themselves. Reversing these three steps brings nearness to God and spiritual growth.
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!
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
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 affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that, following Abraham's example, a life centered on God is a way of inner peace—an inner strength that keeps life from falling apart. Focusing upon God gets the focus off from ourselves and onto something more enduring, reliable, and permanent than us. If we give ourselves to God (through the New Covenant) in complete surrender, allowing Him to shape character in us, then He will forgive our sins, removing the death penalty, enabling us to live in hope, giving us direct access to Him, providing a relationship with Him, giving us a more abundant, purposeful, meaningful life. The Covenant, initiated by God, must be on God's terms. Obedience is not outward compliance, but must come from the inside out. We should not confuse the sign (circumcision, baptism, putting out leaven, etc.) from the reality it represents.
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.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
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.
WHY are we not more successful in living up to God's standard? WHY do we slip and fall occasionally? Here is how YOU can overcome where you are weakest and hardest tempted!
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