Gary Montgomery: We serve a God who is positive, working toward a glorious future for Himself and the multitudes of sons and daughters He is preparing for that wonderful world tomorrow. ...
Gary Montgomery: At one time or another in our lives, we have all watched small children at play. Perhaps we saw them playing in a park or in a school playground. Most likely, they were carefree and happy. ...
Martin Collins reflects that those who depict religion as a life of gloom and deprivation, full of do's and don'ts, are too short-sighted to realize that the empty husks of the world's entertainment do not satisfy the deepest need. In contrast, spiritual food satisfies our deepest cravings, including salvation and eternal life. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be satisfied. As we digest spiritual food in the form of God's word, we must mix believing with faith, analogous to enzymes and gastric juices, in order to properly digest. As spiritual food enters our minds, it must be believed or it will provide no benefit. Fasting adds clarity to our thinking about spiritual things. Do we love our smartphones or our physical money more than we love God? Physical blessings deteriorate; spiritual blessings endure eternally.
Bill Onisick, reviewing five daily meditation exercises adapted from Shawn Achor's book titled The Happiness Advantage— (1) grounding ourselves with expectation, (2) doing small acts of kindness to others, (3) reflecting on things for which we are thankful, (4) maintaining gratitude, and (5) bearing positive spiritual fruit—insists that, if we abide in Christ, maintaining a consistent gratitude attitude, we will become offended less and will overcome Satan's kill-joy tactics. If, on the other hand, we become prickly to others, others will show prickliness to us. Satan's most emulated tactic among brethren is to accuse and judge, reaping a bumper crop of unreconciled conflict. The prince of the power of the air wants us to have bitterness, resentment, and hostility between brethren just as he has produced those attitudes throughout the entire world. If we do not produce God's fruit, we will automatically produce Satan's fruit. Consequently, we need to retrain our minds to have more gratitude, applying it to others by practicing forgiveness, making peace with others, thereby emulating our sovereign God. If we stubbornly refuse to forgive others, we ironically clutch in our hands the key to our own prison cell. Only by letting go of the poisonous root of bitterness can we become like our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Father.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
Bill Onisick, focusing on Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage, asserts that, because a brain with a positive attitude has higher levels of dopamine and serotonin, it is more successful and productive. We can draw some spiritual analogies from Shawn Achors's work, utilizing some of his exercises to attain the joyful advantage. Daily meditation on God's Law and His Word will increase feelings of calm and empathy, rewiring our brains to be more positive. Anticipation of promised future rewards will also lead to feelings of joy. We should be performing conscious acts of goodness and reflecting upon these deeds, realizing that charitable deeds to those deemed insignificant are in reality done for Christ Himself. Satan has rewired our carnal nature to be negative; we need to daily reprogram our neural pathways using words of affirmation, meditation and prayer, constantly comparing the fruits of Satan's negative attitudes with God's positive outlook. If we follow our Savior's example of living as profitable servants, we have a promise of joy that cannot be taken from us.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that joy is enumerated second in the order of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22, speculates upon the possibility that God intended a pre-determined order for these spiritual gifts, perhaps from the most important to lesser degrees of importance. If this is the case, Joy occupies a lofty position on this descending scale, following love, which the apostle Paul rates as the most important of all virtues. Because we live in a troubling world, our reserves of joy are probably somewhat low, making us feel that we are deficient in our apportioned measure of God's Holy Spirit. Because we are, through the Internet and media, profoundly cognizant of upheaval of the entire world community, our sense of angst is super-amplified. The ubiquitous craving for constant entertainment reflects a desire to anesthetize the nervous system from stark reality, anxiety, and depression. Solomon demonstrated that seeking relief through pleasure leads to a dead-end. Laughter seems to him sheer madness. Laughter and pleasure often hide grief and sorrow. C.S. Lewis distinguishes joy from happiness or pleasure, but suggests it is more synonymous with cheerfulness or calm delight. In Greek both grace and joy have the same etymological root. Consequently, joy is what God gives rather than what men chase after and produce. Biblical joy is a God-given sense of satisfaction and sense of well-being despite the difficulties of life. Joy is a calm cheerfulness, a hopeful, upbeat attitude which does not spring from anything earthly, but instead is inseparable from godly love. Biblical joy can only arise with a relationship with God. The quality of this relationship will determine our ability to withstand the horrible trials and tests ahead.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the term blessed and blessing, rendered into triviality by the prosperity gospel, cautions us not to be glibly equating God with a magic genie or spiritual automatic pill- dispenser. Material blessings do not necessarily equate to prosperity, even though God has commanded us to be productive and work hard. In the Beatitudes, the destitute and disenfranchised were given promissory notes of His Kingdom. Individually, most of the major figures in the Bible did not have abundant physical prosperity , but were immensely blessed spiritually. We should desire the spiritual side of the spectrum, worthy to be well-spoken of at Christ's return. When we ask to be blessed, it should be exclusively on His terms, leading to our eternal good. What God has done in our earthly lives should be the best preparation for our future responsibilities. There can be NO blessing without the indwelling of Christ through God's Holy Spirit, the true source of our joy and happiness. Without the fellowship with Christ, there is no prosperity, either spiritual or physical. The Seven Churches of revelation all received immense spiritual promises, a new name, co-rulership over the nations, being kept from the hour of trial , and being made pillars in the Temple of God. These rewards are contingent upon overcoming a specific deficit through performing a specific developmental task, all involving the keeping of God's Commandments.
Martin Collins, suggesting that, while society has rejected religious principles and faith, it has glommed onto superficial feelingséwhatever feels good to us. Today's Christianity is more theatrics than theological; feelings have become the replacement for faith. When we stifle the truth of God's word to accommodate feelings, we destroy spiritual growth and character. Satan works on our feelings continually, causing us to worry about the past and be anxious about the future. There is a right place for emotions. No one can have a right balance in emotions without God's Holy Spirit. Too many submerge their feeling into their subconscious, causing aberrant social behaviors such as injustice collectors (that is, martyrs), pleasers, control freaks, and compulsive talkers, all of whom are out of sync with harmonic natural laws. As Christians, we need to thoroughly examine the causes of our damaged emotions, asking God how we may repair the damage. Our feelings should be channeled on obeying God from the heart, rejoicing in our calling or rescue. We cannot create feelings; the more we try the more miserable we become. Feelings, as well as temperament, dependent upon many variables, cannot be successfully controlled without help from God's Holy Spirit. Truth is primarily an intellectual stimulus rather than an emotional illness. It is important for us to regularly engage in self-examination, judging our own sins, and turning ourselves over to God, allowing Him to test the quality and strength of our faith. The fruits of God's Holy Spirit transcend feelings. Stirring up God's Spirit will enable us to control and channel our feelings. We need to seek righteousness instead of thrills. Happiness is a by-product of seeking righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the curse of a corrupt judicial system described in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9, warns us that corruption in the courts is a fact of life, but it will intensify before Christ returns. We should not be surprised by this curse, realizing that God, who is sovereign over everything, is aware of it and is purposely allowing it for a purpose. Our needs will be provided for. This world is driven by the selfish desire of power, creating a climate of perpetual corruption, going right to the top of human governments, ascending through a bloated self-serving bureaucracy. Nothing has really changed from Solomon's day. In the United States, it seems the bad guys win all the court cases. With all of its faults, corrupt government is preferable to lawless anarchy. Our culture seems to be suffering from affluenza, our yearning disease, trying to keep up with the Joneses. The antidote to this affliction (greed motivated by Satan) is to be content with what God has provided us, an attitude that has to be learned. God is always faithful; He will supply all our needs. The secrets of the Lord reside with those who fear Him. Wealth, silver, gold, or money does not satisfy the inner drive for contentment or permanent security because covetousness is not satisfied with 'just a little more.' Sadly, in the words of Oliver Goldsmith, "the future of a nation is bleak when wealth increases; when wealth increases, men degenerate." Government cannot (nor should be) relied upon; God can. We are to be content with the labor God has provided, satisfied continually with what our labor has produced, accepting both the job and what has provided as a gift from God. It is God's desire to keep us busy to enjoy blessings, storing up happy memories with no regrets.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the difficulties in translation from Greek and Hebrew to English, as well as comprehending spiritual truths with a fleshly mind, maintains that it is only through God's Holy Spirit we can comprehend those truths at all. Even with God's Holy Spirit, we have difficulty. Our minds are too finite, earthbound, and dumb to comprehend what God is trying to get across to us. We are not equipped to comprehend the width, length, and breadth of the knowledge of God. Few of us are truly wise, knowing as we do only the rudiments of what is contained in the Bible. All of us are stumped on different biblical concepts. The concept of joy may provide difficulty, as it has a broad range of meaning from spiritual to physical extremes. Even certain unsavory elements in society may bring people joy. Godly joy (New Testament) is on a higher plane than happiness and pleasure, what C. S. Lewis would describe as an "unsatisfied desire to be in total union with God." Joy comes from anticipating the future with Godly hope. The fruits of the Spirit mortify and transcend the works of the flesh through the power of God's Holy Spirit. Without God's Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (including joy) are unattainable. Godly joy buoys people in the midst of grave trials, providing hope for a future eternal reward, depending on the absolute faithfulness of God. A Christian (who by definition has Christ's mind in him) can express joy because he sees God, as well as precious things God has not even revealed to angels. If God is in us, we have all the power we will need, giving us exceeding joy, a positive perception of reality generating hope, ultimately seeing beyond any event to our incredible, inexpressible, eternal reward. Joy constitutes the pure elation of spirit that revels in knowing God, knowing that His eternal plan will culminate in our ultimate salvation.
Geoff Preston (1947-2013): Ours is a discontented world, and current events indicate that more unsettled times are just ahead, creating more anxiety and dissatisfaction. God's Word tells us, however, ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Part of the problem that confronts young people today is that they—and frankly, all of society—have a devilish misconception of what is fun. ...
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.
Have you ever observed someone acting churlishly, throwing a wet blanket on an otherwise enjoyable time? Ronny Graham discovers that the Bible confronts such party-poopers, condemning their killjoy attitudes and commanding us to rejoice appropriately.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
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 in the church have often considered footwashing merely as a ritual to remind us of the need to serve one another. Bill Keesee, however, explains how footwashing teaches another godly attribute: forgiveness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing how the mood and attitude of a generation shapes society, focuses upon the ramifications of the Baby Boomers "Youth Culture," pampering, overprotecting, and worshipping its young people. It teaches a narcissistic, "look out for Number One" attitude, delaying responsibility and prolonging fun. In contrast, Solomon suggests that childhood and youth are vanity, and that having fun, without bringing God and His laws into the picture, may bring flawed character and permanent sorrow. Young people tend to run wild when they do not have a godly vision to work toward. Pleasing God and parents takes precedence over peer pressure. The only satisfying way of life is one lived under the guiding hand of God. The result is manifested in the way one lives.
Mercy is a virtue that has gone out of vogue lately, though it is much admired. Jesus, however, places it among the most vital His followers should possess. John Ritenbaugh explains this often misunderstood beatitude.
Joy, the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, is more than just happiness. There is a joy that God gives that far exceeds mere human cheerfulness. John Ritenbaugh shows how the Holy Spirit produces it in us.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that being poor in spirit (a precursor to humility) is a necessary, foundational spiritual state one must have to qualify for God's Kingdom. As the polar opposite of pride, poor in spirit describes a condition of being acutely aware of ones dependency and unworthiness. Because of this deep inner felt need and want, those who are poor in spirit are primed to receive and apply the Gospel's instruction to their lives. Poor in spirit (not a product of human nature) does not equate with physical poverty (there is often much pride in indigence), but instead a spiritual state of felt need in which one renounces his smug self-sufficiency, recognizing his intense dependency upon God for all things.
John Ritenbaugh declares that the holy days are reliable, effective, multifaceted teaching tools, emphasizing spaced repetition to reinforce our faulty memories and drive the lesson deep into our thinking. The most effective learning involves drills or exercises, inscribing the lessons on our mind (Deuteronomy 16:3). Memory is enhanced as we continually rehearse a concept until it becomes deeply burned into our character, giving us self-mastery, integrity, and godliness. Like physical leavening, sin has the tendency to puff up and spread, taking effect immediately and irreversibly. We can only be free if we put out sin - false doctrine (I Corinthians 5:6-8) - and eat unleavened bread - or ingest wholesome undefiled teaching and practice righteousness (Titus 2:14).
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
Happiness — everybody wants it, many pursue it, but who enjoys it for any length of time? We listen with disbelief when someone claims to know the way to lasting happiness now, in this life. Is lasting happiness achievable today? Or must we wait until the resurrection at Christ's return?
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon a generally pessimistic treatise, read in the annual cyclical Jewish tradition, during the Feast of Tabernacles, illustrates the disillusionment that love for this world will inevitably bring (I John 2:17). Realizing that the world is passing away, our priorities should be on fearing God and keeping his commandments. The temporary booths (short lived and quickly deteriorating) at the Feast depicts our temporary and impermanent, often unpleasant and disappointing (Hebrews 2:10) earthly pilgrimage or sojourn, contrasted with the permanence of Christ's rule and our future eternal life. (Romans 8:17-18). Without living for God's purpose for us, this life is absolutely meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 1:10-12)
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 focuses on the final instructions Jesus gave to His disciples following the Passover meal preceding His death. Jesus provided sober warnings in order to prepare the disciples for unpleasant eventualities, including being ostracized from the religious and cultural community. Jesus warned that in the future sincere religious zealots, not knowing God, will consider it an act of worship to kill people who obey God. It was to the disciples' advantage that Christ returned to His Father because: (1) they would not learn anything until they did it themselves; (2) they would learn to live by faith; (3) and, they, by means of God's Holy Spirit, would receive continual spiritual guidance, becoming convicted and convinced that all problems stem from sin, leading or inspiring them to repent and practice righteous behavior, modeled after Jesus Christ, and guiding them into all truth required for salvation and into insights into God's purpose, allowing them to glorify Christ as Christ glorified His Father. Christ told the disciples about his imminent crucifixion and resurrection, but they were unable to comprehend until after the events had happened. Though Christ knows that we will inevitably fail, He knows He can pull us through as long as we yield to Him. Chapter 17 constitutes the prayer of our High Priest, asking that we would take on the Divine Nature and name of God, determining our future destiny.
John Ritenbaugh distinguishes a temple from a synagogue, indicating that there was but one temple in Jerusalem, a monument to God, having very little preaching, but many synagogues in each town. Jesus taught in their synagogues in services which contained formalized prayers and readings from the scripture. Following the readings, a sermon was given either by the ruler of the synagogue or someone he deemed worthy, even though the person may not have had formalized ecclesiastical training. Except for the ruler of the synagogue, there didn't seem to be a formal minister. Preaching was intended to be general, providing overview, while the teaching was intended to be specific, providing details. Matthew provides systematic order and structure to his Gospel. Matthew's encapsulation of the Beatitudes, the essence (perhaps the distillation or compendium of many sermons) of Jesus Christ's teaching, contains the foundation of His teaching through the entirety of His ministry. It would be entirely possible to make a sermon from each one of the verses from Matthew 5-7. The various themes are presented in different contexts in Luke's account, indicating a perennial theme. Luke set things down in chronological order; Matthew set things down in topical or thematic order. The seriousness of the teaching can be illustrated by Jesus sitting down to teach. The beatitudes, attitudes directed way from self are intended to provide an antidote for depression and sorrow now and in the future, bringing a state of happiness and bliss, totally unattached from physical things or circumstances, but bubbles up from within deriving from divine favor- a gift from God. Poor in spirit connotes more absolute trust in and submission to God rather than abject poverty or financially impoverished. Mourning or sadness is good to make us see cause and effect and make the heart better; when things go wrong, we are driven to think and look for solutions. Godly pain
You've probably heard that the Ten Commandments were done away. You've been taught that the Ten Commandments either are the same as, or a part of, the ritualistic Law of Moses, and that they didn't even exist until Moses, and that they lasted only until Christ! This is no mere, irrelevant theological or religious question. This is the very essence of your life!