Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
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.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Joseph Felix's book Lord Have Murphy, a humorous analysis of Murphy's Law, asserts that it is impossible to become perfect without having mercy or compassion. The parable of the good Samaritan provided a exemplary model for developing compassion, beginning with sympathy and culminating in an action or concrete act of goodness. Mercy is an action, not merely a state of mind The command made by Jesus to become perfect includes showing compassion to love our enemies, relieving their miserable conditions. The Laodicean mindset is characterized by a deficit in merciful acts, forgetting the enormous debt their Savior had paid with His life. Whenever we forget Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we resemble the unmerciful servant, who, when he was absolved of a million dollar debt, acted harshly and mercilessly to a fellow servant who owed him a mere twenty dollars. We have received an immense measure of mercy; Christ wants us show compassion to our fellow man. Our marching orders are to walk humbly and to love justice and mercy. Whoever has a large share of the world's possessions, but shuts his charity off when he sees a fellow Christian in need, is blind to his spiritual nakedness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the famous "Man in the Arena" speech of Theodore Roosevelt, observed that Roosevelt lived his life with vitality and energy. Whether hunting wild game or entertaining at an embassy party, he conducted his behavior with effervescent zeal. Quiet only when he was reading or studying, Theodore Roosevelt loved boxing, sparring, hiking, hunting, riding, ranching, fighting, and exploring. Roosevelt believed in living vigorously and zealously, pursuing life with all the energy at his disposal, giving his absolute all. His exemplary life provides a model for zeal, ardor, and enthusiasm. Zeal has often been discredited as the tool of the huckster or the charlatan. Christians, however, must develop passion and zeal for the Christian way of life and the prospect of the Kingdom of God. The Laodicean does have a form of zeal, but it is focused on material goals rather than spiritual goals. Consequently, it comes across to God as lack of zeal and commitment, appearing as apathy and detachment. God demands that our zeal be boiling hot, exuding ardor, fervency, and intensity focused single-mindedly on a goal, leading to a motivation to action or motivation to do something specific to please our God. Jesus Christ demonstrated godly zeal and fervor when He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Wherever Jesus went, huge crowds pressed Him to heal the sick; He obliged them wholeheartedly. God's work provided His food. The apostle Paul's misguided zeal was (in the blink of an eye) sublimated into godly zeal at his calling on the road to Damascus, keeping him motivated in God's service for the rest of his life. Any Christian act we can do we should do with zeal.
In Part One, we saw how important listening is in God’s Word and therefore how vital it is for Christians to establish an attitude and habit of hearing. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, reaffirms that to know God (to know His Character) is to have eternal life. Living by faith is the incremental understanding given to those who are undergoing the sanctification process. Moses lived his entire life knowing and believing that God was there. Conversely, modern Israel (or the American people) live their lives as though God were not there. Because of our collective pride as a nation, we will witness God's turning nations against us, usurping our lofty status, turning us into whimpering children. Though we may believe God exists, we may not personally see His involvement in our lives. We are obligated to establish a personal relationship with God in order to safeguard our salvation. Just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation because it provides no motivation to overcome. Currently, we are still on our pilgrimage, having our faith tested continually. Some of the Founding Fathers of this country, practicing Deists, believed in God, but did not believe that God was actively involved in His creation, producing a passive relationship. We are warned not to put off forming a relationship with God; we do not have an unlimited amount of time to do so. Faith in God and in the motivating power in God's Word have to be the driving force in everything we do each day. We need to be faithfully assimilating God's Word incrementally every day until our behavior becomes habitually conditioned by God's Word. We need to hear as well as see, heed and obey as well as merely listen. David, a type of Jesus Christ, has become a symbol of one who has established a close, intimate relationship with God. We must voluntarily sacrifice our time, energy, and devotion to God, showing that we desire the relationship. Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with a price, has been pleading for His Bride to return to Him. We assimilate Jesus Christ when we assimilate His Word.
David C. Grabbe: In examining the letter to Laodicea, we can easily see to what extent a relationship deficit stands at its core. Beginning with the name, Laodicea means "the people judge." ...
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
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.
Jesus' admonition in Luke 21:36 has a far deeper meaning to the people of God at the end time than most people have realized. Pat Higgins answers the next obvious questions: How does 'praying always' work, and why is it such a powerful tool in the process of overcoming?
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.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
Some know that Christ is at the door, but they will not rouse themselves from their spiritual lethargy to open it. Pat Higgins explains that failing to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities and tools God has provided for us is gambling with eternal life!
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
John Ritenbaugh, taking both a backward and a forward look at the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles, poses the question, "What is so bad about Babylon?" The Babylonian system (code name for the world's political, religious, economic, and cultural systems) poses a menacing danger to God's people, but God wants us to work out His plan within the Babylonian system- obligating us to struggle against its ever-pervasive sensual pulls, a system that had its dim beginnings with the dictatorial, violent, and enslaving rule of Nimrod—the first celebrity rebel of note—a hunter, enslaver, and destroyer of men. The significance of the tower of Babel reflects Satan's overweening pride and hubris (a triumph of human reasoning) to displace God. What man does through his clever inventiveness and creativity will not outlast God's eternal works. If men do not become aligned with God's thoughts, their grandiose plans will not succeed. Coming out of Babylon will undoubtedly require suffering, pain, and self denial, but the sacrifice will pay immense spiritual dividends.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that several parallels exist in the account of Balaam and one's approach to God. As God's children, we have to be on guard against people who are intimidated by righteousness and will seek to destroy its practice. Balaam, motivated by self-interest, believing that the ends justify the means, willing to do anything to get his way, shows himself spiritually inferior to a donkey when it comes to yielding to God's correction. The Laodicean, motivated by blind self-interest and the wages of unrighteousness, totally oblivious to the consequences, imitates Balaam's approach to God. In evaluating the Balaam episode in Numbers 22, we would do better to imitate the donkey than her master.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh explains the seven thunders and the little book of Revelation 10. This chapter serves as an inset, not following the time sequence of Revelation, but explaining in detail events necessary to understand more fully what is happening within it. The thunders (symbolic of God's voice) are the messages of the seven churches (end-time organizations typified by seven first-century organizations), occurring before the Tribulation, before the Two Witnesses preach, and before the seals are opened in chapter 6. The little book is God's Word, having both sweet and bitter aspects to those who are nourished by it. The seventh thunder, weak as it is, rumbles in the distance, typifying the Laodicean era, badly in need of oil (Matthew 25:3), gold (Revelation 3:18), and water (Isaiah 55:1-2)'all costly but necessary items for spiritual warfare.
John Ritenbaugh insists that true riches consist of what we are (or what we become) rather than what we have. True riches consist of those things that can be carried through the grave and into the Kingdom of God. The circumstances of our lives (totally determined by God)- health, sickness, wealth, poverty, etc. we could consider as the scaffolding for the building of character fit for the Kingdom of God. What God really wants is for us to see things from His point of view, making the right choices, consciously striving to build character, developing into His image.
John Ritenbaugh, using the term "malignant narcissism" (from M. Scott Peck's book "People Of The Lie") to describe the blind Laodicean pride which denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection by means of clever self-decptive quibbling and equivocation. Accepting one of the most pernicious gifts of Protestantism (no works mentality), the Laodicean doesn't know that it takes mental work and exertion to produce faith; it does not come by magic or by mere acceptance of certain knowledge. The Good Samaritan parable teaches that unless one practices doing good rather than just knowing good, his faith will be severely compromised.
The church of the Laodiceans is today's prevalent attitude. Is there hope? Can a Laodicean be in God's Kingdom?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the atmosphere of disorder which has emerged in the greater church of God, caused by individuals (ministry and lay members alike), obsessed with the urge to change doctrine, convinced that God was too weak to control Herbert W. Armstrong. The unspoken accusation is that God raised up a messenger, sent him with His gospel, and then allowed us to use a faulty calendar. Because no proponents of the calendar change are in agreement, any calendar change will produce more confusion. The priorities in Matthew 6:33 (The Kingdom and His righteousness) indicates that the primary emphasis should be on repentance and overcoming rather than mastering some inconsequential technicality.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
What is it to be poor in spirit? John Ritenbaugh describes this attribute in its biblical usage. Those who are truly poor in spirit are on the road to true spiritual riches!
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh explores the various uses of the term "world," ultimately focusing on the negative connotation describing the cultures of this world since Adam and Eve, directly under the influence of the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12). The entire world and its cultures are in disobedience to God because of Satan's influence. The world is in deadly antagonism against God, against the way of God, and the people of God because the spirit generated by the unseen prince of this world. It is essential that we stay awake and keep our guard up.
Laodiceans think of themselves as rich, while God sees them as poor. On the other hand, the Smyrnans see themselves as poor, yet God says they are rich! What are true riches?
John Ritenbaugh stresses that sacrifice (as an act and as a way of life) is absolutely necessary for the working out of God's plan. In taking undue attention off the self, sacrifice creates peace, prosperity, cooperation, and most of all, character. As called out royal priests (I Peter 2:5) we need to carry the principle of sacrifice into our lives to maintain the relationship established by the covenant, offering living sacrifices by our reasonable service and overcoming (Romans 12:1-2) , praise (Hebrews 13:15), and perhaps even martyrdom (Philippians 2:17). Sacrifice stifles and kills human nature- which causes intense pain as it cries out for satisfaction. Thankfully, God never requires us to sacrifice anything that will ultimately be good for us.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the narrow "pay and pray" mentality experienced by many in our previous fellowship took our attention away from the more important overcoming and growing aspect, preparing for the Kingdom of God. We desperately need to become immersed in a cause, yielding to God's creative power, personally and individually, getting us ready for God's Kingdom. We must guard our time, not allowing busy-ness and involvement with activities of the world to prevent us from forming a deep intimacy with God. Developing this intimacy requires walking by faith, going beyond the superficial academic into an intense, in-depth practical application of actively searching for, yielding to, and obeying God.
In this keynote message of the 1996 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the causes of the atomizing of the greater church of God into very small particles. Almighty God, as a means of mercifully disciplining and chastening His faithless children, initiated the scattering of the church (the Israel of God) for our ultimate good (Deuteronomy 28:25; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5-6). Christianity is a religion of revelation- not human intellect. When the revelation of God was replaced with the wisdom of this world (the leaven of errant intellectualism), God had no choice but to scatter. As Israel did not repent at the preaching of Amos, or Judah at the preaching of Jeremiah, the members of the greater church of God did not take the warnings of Herbert Armstrong personally and individually. Any regrouping of the scattered pieces will be done only on God's terms.
Can a book like the Song of Songs contain prophecy that is applicable to today? Richard Ritenbaugh shows that, far from being just a book about married love, the Song of Songs relates to the present condition of the church.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God does not love everybody equally. Nowhere does He tell us to prefer the world of the ungodly, adopting the pagan customs of the world's religions. Though God commands us to love our enemies, He does not tell us to be kindly affectionate to them. Though God says He is not willing that any should perish, universal salvation is not a doctrine of the Bible. The objects of God's love in John 3:16 are His begotten children who have reciprocated His love by keeping His laws, the same ones mentioned in I John 3:1. God loves His own.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
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.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Old Testament emphasis on the dwelling in booths and the sacrifices as the context for rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40-44). Even though the Feast is an interlude from our customary activities, it is not a vacation (a cessation from our spiritual sacrifices, duties, or responsibilities). If we do not prioritize properly, (fearing God -Deuteronomy 14:23 and seeking God's Kingdom- Matthew 6:33), the miscellaneous distractions of this world (Mark 4:19) could railroad our most important priority. The booths depict our current lives as pilgrims, people on the move, not living in our own country, wandering single-mindedly toward our destination as our forefather Abraham had earlier set the pattern (Hebrews 11:8), fully determined that the cares of the world would not deter him from his goal.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on eight conclusions regarding fleeing and the Place of Safety: 1) There will be a geographical separation of the church. 2) We can be worthy to escape the Tribulation. 3) Lukewarm fence-sitters will go into the fire of tribulation for purification. 4) Faithful people are generally assured protection from the hour of trial. 5) The Bible is purposely vague about the specifics of the Place of Safety. 6) Obsessing about the Place of Safety is a sure way to disqualify oneself from it. 7) God calls some faithful, zealous ones for martyrdom during the Tribulation. 8) If we make the Kingdom of God our focus, being faithful day by day, yielding to God's purpose for us, He will faithfully supply all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Abraham did not live out his days in the land of promise, insists that it is not where one is, but the relationship with God that is more important. Abraham's offspring had to realize that they could not receive God's favor on Abraham's coattails, as in the largely superstitious behavior of erecting shrines and making pilgrimages to Beersheba, Gilgal, and Bethel. Based on his long friendship with God, Abraham could systematically calculate the reliability of God's promises even in the lack of visual evidence. Having sterling faith, he knew that God would never "play dirty" and consequently remained unswerving in his commitment to God.
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 upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the false religions embraced by the descendants of Jacob are not preparing God's people for the harsh punishment God will surely bring to modern Israel. Amos indicts rampant dishonest practices in modern Israel, placing dishonest gain above honesty, morality, or ethics, and arrogantly and covetously exploiting the needy for profit. Competition-eat or be eaten- becomes the dominant business ethic in modern Israel. Amos suggests that a major contributory cause of natural disasters (earthquakes, drought, famines, and floods) is the epidemic of immorality omnipresent in the land of Jacob (totally neutralizing the otherwise positive effects of prosperity and technology)Prophecy should serve as a prod or motivation to prepare appropriately for the future, zealously guarding the truth against a counterfeit (politically active or influential) syncretistic pagan religion [patterned after the manner of Jeroboam I], safeguarding against an impending famine of the word. God will demolish this satanic religious-political system, re-gathering a repentant bruised and battered remnant of His people.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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