Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that Americans have a reputation for kindness warns that we are likely more and more to see a dark underside of America, where hardness of heart supplants kindness. In this milieu, chesed (covenant loyalty and mercy, or showing loving kindness to the most aggravating sinner) cannot exist. David demonstrated chesed by displaying kindness to Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, in spite of the potential dangers doing so could bring to himself. The greater David, our Savior Jesus Christ, also exhibits chesed, loving us while we were still hostile to Him. Both Ruth and Naomi demonstrated covenant loyalty, remaining loyal to the marriage covenant long after the death of their spouses. Ruth faithfully continued to serve her mother-in-law, at what appeared to be great sacrifice to her own interests. Through her choice to become betrothed to Boaz, declining the attentions of more youthful suitors, she demonstrated a special covenant loyalty for which God blessed her by including her in the genealogy of the Messiah. Like Ruth and like Our Savior Jesus Christ, we must assume the role of a servant, obeying the marching orders of Micah 6:8: Walking humbly, justly, and demonstrating chesed.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that we are all "cut from the same cloth" as our original parents, reminds us that God was aware from the beginning that the free will He gave us in order to develop character, coupled with our carnal nature, made us highly vulnerable to sinning—and highly vulnerable to the natural consequence of sin, death. As it worked out, all God's creation is now under the curse of sin—death. God, before He created Adam and Eve, preternaturally (that is, using forces outside those of the natural world) and meticulously planned the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to save humanity from this horrible curse. With the sacrifice of Jesus freely given to justify us initially, plus the on-going gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, we have the ability of overcoming and growing in godly character—growing into the image and likeness of God. Christ, until His very last breath, with clarity of thought, went forth as a willing sacrifice, not as a victim. Christ gave His called-out ones the "blueprint" of the changes needed to transform into His image. Not judging it robbery to be equal with God the Father, He nevertheless emptied Himself of His Divinity, humbly taking on the role of a fleshly bond servant, willing to accept whatever God the Father gave Him to do. On our spiritual trek, we must assimilate the same mindset, loving God with all our heart, and others as ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a classic radio program Lights Out in which one episode featured a terrifying accident in a laboratory in which a growing chicken heart could not be stopped until it consumed the entire earth, asks whether people think God is so irresponsible that He would allow something to come into existence He could not control. Most of modern Israel has been afflicted with a blindness of God's purposeful intent, even though it is eminently clear in both the public revelation (the creation itself, Romans 1:20) and the private revelation (God's Holy Scriptures unlocked through God's Holy Spirit). The apparent reason for Israel's current blindness is an adjustment on God's part to allow the "fulness of the Gentiles" to occur (Romans 11:25. Because God has purposely chosen to keep Himself invisible, even though His works proclaim ample evidence of a purposeful builder or designer, some presumptuous fools think they can call God into account, advising Him of better ways to manage His work. Even though the evidence from creation is insurmountable, people deliberately want to disregard it because accepting it would require that they submit to His will, something which the recalcitrant carnal mind from Adam and Eve to the present day is loath to do, preferring to satisfy its selfish, greedy desires. Our carnality wants wiggle room to dominate and to focus on the here and now rather than the ultimate purpose for which we were created. The lying, carnal mind, despite the testimony of creation and scripture, claims that if God exists He has no plan or purpose, ignoring God's stated intention of creating mankind in His image. Obviously, the majority of Israel, still under spiritual blindness, is oblivious to this intention. We must resist God-denying insanity of atheistic, 'progressive' evolution-based humanist education permeating our culture, reinforcing our rebellious carnal nature.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the reality of God is not a mathematical formula beyond the reach of garden-variety human reason and observation, warns us that God's reality is not the root of the human problem. Rather, the powerful pulls of our carnal nature, innately hostile to God's law, prevents us from believing Him or obeying Him. The deadliest enemy to our spiritual well-being is within us. God calls the weak and base of the world to put the intellectual and strong to shame. To provide a counterweight to the destructive carnal nature, God provided His Holy Spirit—as well as spiritual gifts—in order to enable His called-out ones to put to death their carnal natures, as they refocus their attention to things above, bringing about a life-giving fellowship with the Creator. God does not create character by fiat, but has ordained that His true children exercise their power of choice to build an intimate relationship with Him, a task not impossible, but not easy. God has providentially given us trials to build character, proving beyond a doubt that we believe Him and have a burning desire to be at one with Him. We exercise these spiritual gifts in order to kill our carnal nature, not to win salvation. Unlike the first Adam, who yielded to his carnal lusts, choosing to please himself, we must follow the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who always submitted to the will of the Father. All people are without excuse when it comes accepting God's existence. Refusal to believe or obey God puts blinders of foolishness on the ungodly, preventing them from knowing God. When one observes the consistently law-governed Creation, it is foolish to embrace atheism.
John Ritenbaugh issues a pointed warning about the tenacious power of our carnal nature: Its desire to satisfy an addictive self-centeredness can eventually overrule the Christian's loyalty to God and His commandments. If parents in God's Church are not willing to train up a child in righteousness, Satan and his demons are more than willing to take over the task. At our baptism, we were somberly counseled to count the cost of God's expectation that we love Him more than family, friends and even our own lives. We tend to fear what an undivided loyalty to God may cost us. Like our parents Adam and Eve, God has forewarned and forearmed us to withstand Satan's wiles, but we dare not underestimate the fierce, unyielding demands of our own carnal nature to reject God's plan for us. As Adam and Eve's progeny, we must learn that good results can never come from evil behavior. God has given us His Holy Spirit to kickstart us, empowering us with faith and love to keep His Commandments and to love Him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot take lightly the caution in Romans 8:5-7 that a carnal focus leads to death, while a spiritual one (that is, developing an incremental, intimate relationship with God) is the sole means to attain Eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
Mark Schindler: As we watch the self-centered insanity growing in a world held captive by the perverted mind of Satan, we perceive that God has filled—and continues to fill—its positions ...
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within a few years of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment-breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the ruler of this world, Satan.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of his baptism, recalls how he joyfully, but perhaps myopically, assumed that he would automatically walk harmoniously and peacefully with the other members of the body of Christ into the Kingdom and eternity of God, without experiencing any impediments or sibling rivalry among our brethren in God’s family. As we are called into God’s Church, we come from divergent backgrounds, cultures, and philosophical viewpoints, potentially divisive and explosive, providing Satan a beachhead to divide and conquer brethren. Many of the things which have happened in our lives have molded and shaped our opinions, opinions that frequently place us at loggerheads with well-meaning people. If we allow the old man to dictate how we make decisions, we will trouble the Household of God and inherit nothing but the wind. Hanging onto the things of this world can do nothing but divide us. Are we willing to give up our intangible assets, such as our opinions, in order to allow Christ to fit us together in His Body? No matter how closely our experiences have meshed, no two people will ever see things 100% alike. All of us have come into God’s church from vastly different backgrounds, but with one major mandate—to love one another as Christ has loved us. Are we willing to jeopardize our spiritual inheritance by hanging onto opinions shaped by this world’s systems? Only by conforming to the example of Christ, fervently loving God the Father and loving our brethren as ourselves, can we edify instead of troubling God’s House. The meek, those who have power, but hold it wisely back, will inherit the Earth. Evildoers will be cut down like weeds, but the righteous will have an eternal inheritance. If our citizenship has been registered in Heaven, we are no longer residents of a fractured and divided nation
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the apostle Paul's response to the bitter altercation between Euodia and Syntyche, women church leaders at Philippi, who succeeded in polarizing the congregation by their contentious pride, placing their obsessive desire to be right over unity. Paul urges them to follow the example of Christ, who emptied Himself of His divinity, assuming the role of a bond servant, exalting others over Himself, prompting God the Father to exalt Him above all others. Godly leadership is a function of submitting to the covenants God has made with us, including the marriage covenant, setting the proper pattern of all forms of institutions, including educational, governmental, medical, and religious institutions. Secular, progressive humanists, inspired by Satan, in their hatred toward God's covenants, through their endorsement of moral relativity and the new morality, fostering adultery, fornication, as well as feminism, homosexuality, polygamy, and transgender aberrations, have savagely attacked God's marriage covenant. Progressive humanists over the years have succeeded in making divorce as easy as falling off a log, and murder on demand (abortion) a convenience attended with no longer any trace of resistance. Paradoxically, hedonism, a philosophy which holds that pleasure is the highest aim in life, can never lead to real pleasure, but seeking to please God by serving others brings maximum pleasure. The marriage relationship, becoming totally one with one another as God the Father and Jesus Christ are at one with one another, provides the pattern of the true meaning of love—not feelings, but actions (consisting of serving and caring). Keeping God's Commandments demonstrates the highest form of love. Along with all the other gifts in the universal Edenic Covenant, identifying God as our benevolent Creator, who designed this earth for mankind to tend and keep, providing the marriage covenant as a God-plane relationship, the Sabbath Day educates us for service in God's Kingdom.
The prophet Elijah set the standard for all the prophets, calling forth God's power to bring about a drought and calling down fire, embarrassing and exterminating the priests of Baal. After warning the people not to halt between two opinions, he fell into a dilemma of either fearing God or fearing man, and ended up fearing Jezebel rather than God, thinking he was alone in his zeal for God. Sadly, some of our fellow splinter groups have succumbed to the Elijah complex, thinking they are the only ones carrying on the work of God, looking down on their brethren as Laodicean or unconverted. We dare not elevate our self-importance over our brethren in different groups. God foretells seven churches, but one body, all contemporaneous when Christ comes again.
Mike Ford cues in on the narrative about the religious hobbyist, Micah, in Judges 17, who practiced his own self-devised hybrid of religion, amalgamating some orthodox truth with abundant noxious, pagan admixtures, bringing a curse on himself and his community. Heretofore, when strong leadership existed, idolatry was held in check, but by chapter 17, the train (of undefiled worship) begins to go off the track. We cannot take anything from paganism and use it to worship God. Micah was a thief, having stolen the life savings from his mother, but returned it when she cursed the thief. Upon the return of the silver, Micah's mother blessed him profusely and then she had an idol made of the silver. Micah had procured an ephod and presumptuously consecrated his son a priest. Adam Clarke gives him a pass, claiming he was only replicating the temple in Shiloh and was merely worshiping the true God. But the preponderance of the evidence does not support Adam Clarke's faulty assumption that the ephod was connected only to the worship of the true God. Gideon's ephod, for example, became an idol. Some contemporaries of Gideon and Micah liked to dress idols in ephods, attempting to give them religious legitimacy. Micah and his household had abundant teraphim (or household idols like the ones possessed by Laban), negating the pure intentions ascribed to Micah by Adam Clarke. Albert Barnes makes the absurd assumption that the Hebrew people during the time of the Judges were illiterate. Micah certainly knew the laws of God, but he was enamored of the pagan rites, and tried to blend them into the worship of God. When Micah drafted the young, itinerant Levite, a grandson of Moses, he persuaded him to continue in the syncretized pagan rites. These presumptuous actions of Micah were disgusting in the eyes of God; it is dangerous to extrapolate anything from paganism to worship God just because we personally feel good about it.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us to value our calling, observing that, just as Jesus and His disciples were burdened with the doctrines of the scribes and Pharisees, so God's called-out church is encumbered with nominal Christianity, institutions which have militated against the whole counsel of God, even though they claim to get their teachings from the Bible. God places the blame for misleading and scattering Israel on the shepherds (sometimes metaphorically identifying the ministry or religious leaders, but more at governmental, judicial, academic, corporate leaders, and also the leaders of individual families). There is a dangerous leadership deficit in modern Israel, totally antithetical to the responsible leadership of father Abraham. A deceived nominal Christianity, hopelessly detached from God's covenant, has led people astray by lies. Modern Israel, by turning its back on the truth, has blown its opportunity for moral leadership every bit as much as ancient Judah did. Despite the moral failure of our elected leaders, we must maintain leadership in our individual families. The church is a unique institution apart from Israel and Judah, specially prepared by God in the last 2,000 years, having the responsibility of shepherding a distracted, lost, dependent flock abandoned by irresponsible, neglectful, self-serving leaders, teaching it God's Laws. Likewise, our current self-serving political leaders, steeped in godless humanism, are purposely destroying our country and civilization under the direction of Satan, leading to a perpetual civil war (of ideas and beliefs) in our country with no prospect of peace until Christ's Second Coming.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on Philippians 2:12, which states that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, remembers an incident of an earthquake he had experienced in San Bernardino, an incident fraught with terror and feelings of helplessness as the concrete under his feet rolled like waves. The fear and trembling before God is more like reverence and awe instead of abject terror. The fear and terror we experience leads us to total dependence upon God with a desire to repudiate sin, which is loathsome to God. We cannot do this on our own, but must ask God for the will and desire to overcome our carnal human nature. We bring honor to God by keeping His commandments. Paul asks members of the Philippian congregation to take stock of themselves, making sure they were solicitous of the needs of the congregation, esteeming others before self, emulating the example of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. As we emulate Christ, growing in His character, and when we serve our brethren with selflessness, we bring glory to God the Father.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the life of Ryan Leif, an athlete who had all the advantages, suggested that his stupidity ended up mitigating his advantages and achievements. As he started his rookie year, he fumbled and made many errors, destroying his reputation as a sterling quarterback. His subsequent life went downhill, as he succumbed to controlled substances, leading to burglary and other crimes. He sits in a jail cell in Montana, deemed a failure, down in the gutter. If we do not establish a relationship with God, we will also be failures. Thankfully, in the Great White Throne Judgment, these failures will be turned into successes if those God resurrects establish a relationship with God. Access to God is made possible only through His calling. Everyone alive has sinned; without God's Spirit, it is impossible to access God. The world will be in a debased state until the time of Christ's return, when God's Spirit will be generally available, poured out on all flesh. The Great White Throne judgment will feature a mass physical resurrection, beginning with the House of Israel followed by the rest of humanity. God will convert all of humanity from all time since the Garden of Eden. Psalms 105 and 106, considered teaching Psalms, set the ambience for this time period, expressing the yearning desire to be included in His Kingdom, and declaring God's praises to everyone, exhorting everyone to seek the Lord. We are encouraged to see God at our side through our spiritual wilderness journey, a parallel to the wandering of our forebears on the Sinai. Those in the Great White Throne Judgment will undergo the same process, but will not have Satan and a corrupt world to contend with. They will have to contend with carnal nature. Priests and Levites will be reprogrammed to do their jobs right, distinguishing between the sacred and the profane. God has always been faithful with His part of the Covenant; sometimes our forebears totally forgot His faithful providence. Psalm 106 indicates that Israel's sins eroded th
James Beaubelle, insisting that there is nothing passive in the way God deals with His people and His creation, asserts that the God of the Bible was and is actively involved in the lives of His people with the expectation that they become active also. The command to love our God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves cannot be carried out passively. It requires an active response on our part in living a life that strives towards righteousness within a relationship with God to build up a holy character that resembles our Elder Brother Jesus Christ—a character that must be developed over a lifetime preparing for service in God's Kingdom. Our entire history we can consider as the extension of God's compassion and mercy for our father Abraham, freed us from bondage of service to sin (symbolized by Egypt) into a covenant of voluntary service to God. The Egypt we encounter today is manifest in the form of bondage to our own human nature and bondage to the lures of the world. We are liberated from this bondage to participate in voluntary servitude to our God, becoming sons that serve God and do His will. We are given the motivation to serve God by the gift of the Holy Spirit and the attractiveness of the Father and Son, who are hard to resist; we do not want to disappoint them but want to please them. By imitating our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, though we cannot forgive other peoples'sins, but we can have compassion on them, rendering concrete acts of service to them like the Good Samaritan, who in contrast to the cruelty of the robbers and the cold indifference of the religious leaders, ministered to the poor victim's needs and extended his service to him by unselfishly hiring the innkeeper to care for him. As we, motivated by compassion, render service to the hurting and needy, we also serve Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Our compassion for the hurts of others must be turned into concrete deeds of service to God and our fellow man.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us what we have that we did not receive, concludes that 100% of what we have received has come from God (and to a degree, other people). Even though we have good looks and a sparkling personality, even though we have attained a certain degree of material success, a certain amount of knowledge, a certain set of skills, we did not accomplish these things alone. We had nothing to do with our calling, redemption, or salvation; God gave us all these things. Ultimately, it all goes back to God. We have nothing to boast about; we are totally obligated to God. We have good reason to be humble and grateful. The Day of Atonement points out how needy and dependent we are. We are to afflict our souls by fasting. Because we are so incredibly frail, 24 hours with no food or drink makes a deep impression upon us, showing our total dependency upon a merciful God to which we are eternally obligated. This humble attitude leads us to subject ourselves to God. On this day, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, we are to do no work at all, forcing us to turn our total attention to God, refraining to speak our own words or think our own thoughts. God's atoning work is unmerited grace, for which we remain eternally grateful. The atoning work is applied universally until all sin is atoned for, and everything is made holy. Psalm 102 reminds us how weak, destitute, and temporary we are as compared with God's sovereignty, eternal power and changelessness. God allows us to go through a trial to bring about a change in us. Thankfully, when God's people renounce their sins and repent, God will show mercy. Death is no impediment to God; He will resurrect us from the grave. Psalm 103 extols God for all His benefits; everything good, both physical and spiritual, comes from God. Foremost among all these benefits, he forgiveness of our sins. God extends these benefits to those who fear and honor Him, keeping His commandments, practicing His way of life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his series on "A Government to Fear," contends that our current government has changed for the worse in the past 50 years, incrementally acquiring the modus operandi of tyrannical collective dictatorships like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Our governmental leaders have been following a socio-cultural cycle that has operated for millennia. When a group of people attain dominance (as is rapidly taking place under the humanist progressives), they seek to marginalize and eventually destroy all opponents. Currently, Tea Party activists and practicing Christians are becoming caricatured as buffoons and idiots, subjected to vicious name-calling and vilifying. In time, these stages will be followed by others, leading to criminalization and ultimately to the "final solution" or extermination. The willful media accomplices are participating in creating a kind of sinister doublespeak, creating new definitions for hate speech. The movers and shakers of the current government know that whoever controls the language controls the debate; whoever controls the debate controls the law; whoever controls the law controls the government; whoever controls the government controls the people. We need to shake ourselves from the infectious torpor and apathy of the beguiled American citizenry now being incrementally enslaved.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Just this month, a longtime California politician, State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who is charged with gun trafficking and corruption for allegedly accepting bribes, suggested that money for political campaigns should come from state coffers because “money just simply corrupts. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on the reaction of Joseph's brothers on the binding of Simeon and the returning of their money mentioned in Genesis 42, claims this was the first time in their lives these 'raised in the church kids' had ever seriously acknowledged the working of God in their lives. God had softened their hardness of heart while showing grace. The proclivity of the brothers to lie and deceive had not yet been eradicated, but God continued to turn up the pressure in order to bring them to full repentance. As confession and repentance is attained and the guilty conscience is cleansed, the heart becomes other-centered rather than self- centered. In our lives, we also have guilty consciences like Joseph's brothers and self-pity like our father Jacob (or later by Elijah fearing Jezebel), but we can have major breakthroughs in our lives if we acknowledge God in our lives as Jacob did at Bethel and Elisha did by assuring his timid servant at Dothan. Like Elijah, we must remember that, after a significant spiritual victory in our lives, a wicked Jezebel is usually waiting in the wings if we take our eyes off God and focus them on ourselves. Like the example of Elijah, we can lose faith by anxiety and unrelieved stress. Like Elijah and Joseph's brothers, we need to be brought to solitude to set our spiritual house in order, often pointing out the importance of supportive spiritual family. Like Elijah, we must be keenly aware when our nervous energy becomes overtaxed, when we become sensitive to loneliness, and when we look away from God and begin to focus on the around-and-about. God repaired Elijah's nervous system by allowing him to sleep, feeding him with food, providing him with angelic care, allowing him to express his grief, revealing Himself and His ways, telling him good news, and giving Him more to do.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, affirms that enjoyment from one's labor comes from the LORD and that the proper use of our allotted time becomes increasingly more relevant as we anticipate the conclusion of our physical lives. Solomon instructs us to adjust our attitude from under the sun (carnal, self-centered) to above the sun (reflecting God's approach). God has designed us to work and labor; laboring is a God-designed gift in which only mankind and celestial beings can participate. No animal can do such a thing. We need to be thankful for such a circumstance. God gives gifts such as wisdom, intelligence, and understanding to those who are thankful and content. Our calling from God is the most precious gift, enabling God to be involved in our lives in blessings and shaping trials. We are to rejoice always in all of our circumstances, having a continual state of contentment, anticipating spiritual gain. Without God's involvement in our life, we drift into discouragement. In order to make the best of our lives, we must realize that God is sovereign over time all the time, even though it is running out for all of us. God will be working to make the most of every situation in our lives, even the stupid choices we have made. God has not abandoned us in any case. There is a distinct time for every purpose being worked out. God evidently allowed the breakup of our previous fellowship for our protection and well-being. The fact that we do not know God's ultimate purpose may be because He desires us to place trust in His decisions. The trials that we experience in life seem to morph into larger trials. We need to trust God to work things out since we do not see the entire picture. In the meantime, we must do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, and tremble at God's word. The ultimate purpose of our existence can only be revealed through God's calling, made explicit through His Word. We are being created for the Kingdom of God. Our satisfaction must come from an over the sun relationship with Almi
Solomon states succinctly in Ecclesiastes 1:15, "What is crooked cannot be made straight," a truism that most people with a little experience in life know to be the case. Harsh words cannot be unsaid. Wicked deeds cannot be undone. David Grabbe explains the Bible's take on crookedness—some of which God initiates.
David Grabbe, focusing on the behavior censured by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11, admonishes that we must properly discern the Lord's Body, not taking the Passover in an unworthy manner. The Body, in this context, refers not only to the literal body of Christ, which was tortured and beaten for sins we have committed, but also to the body of believers of which we are a part, consisting of our Heavenly Father, our Elder Brother, and our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. The bread and wine symbolically binds us together in one fellowship; what we partake of is what we become: the Body of Christ. We are to remember that Jesus Christ saw value in us, in our brethren, and even in the people that we do not yet like, to pay the price for all of our sins.
An entire chapter of Genesis is devoted to the sexual violation of Jacob's daughter Dinah and its consequences. Many commentators pin the blame on Dinah herself. Mike Ford analyzes the details of this unfortunate incident and reaches some broad conclusions about who was responsible for this grievous crime and its aftermath.
The serious Christian looks on this ever-declining world—a world that reflects the rebellious, anti-God attitudes of Satan the Devil—and wonders how anyone can truly live by faith. Some may even begin to doubt that God is in control of events here on earth. John Ritenbaugh, however, contends that God's sovereignty over His creation is complete, and the course of world events are moving according to His will.
Among the best-known signs of the end of the age is Jesus' declaration in Matthew 24:12 that "the love of many will grow cold." However, David Grabbe advises caution in judging that such a state exists in others, in a church group, or in the church as a whole. Could love be there but just not as we might expect it?
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.
John W. Ritenbaugh: II Corinthians 13:5 charges us with the responsibility of examining ourselves. This is appropriate at any time during the year, but it is especially helpful as we prepare to take the Passover and renew our covenant with God through Jesus Christ. One very important area to search out concerns self-righteousness because it lies at the root of many other sins. ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
Our age is more technologically advanced than any that man has previously known. ...
Contrary to the common idea that the Christian life is one of peace and contentment, John Ritenbaugh explains that it is really a constant, grueling battle against enemy forces such as our own human natures, this evil world, and 'principalities and powers' that do not want to see us inherit the Kingdom of God. Even so, if we are steadfast in the faith, we can prevail.
When Satan confronted humanity's first parents, Adam and Eve, he fed them three heresies that he continues to promote to deceive the world today. David Grabbe expounds on these three lies, revealing how Gnosticism incorporated them into its parasitic philosophy and way of life.
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
Human history proves that individuals quickly absorb the course of the world, losing their innocence and becoming self-centered and deceived like everybody else. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians must continue to fight against these anti-God attitudes long after their calling to deepen and strengthen their relationships with God.
Humanity finds itself inhabiting a world that is the place of restraint for untold numbers of malevolent spirits, all of whom hate God and desire to destroy mankind. John Ritenbaugh reiterates that our human nature reflects these spirits' attitudes, and the only way to overcome it is through God's creating a new heart in us by His Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
The Parable of the Great Supper is Jesus' response to a fellow dinner guest exclaiming, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" In the parable, Jesus exposes and corrects the ignorance of those who, in their pride, misjudge their true moral condition.
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.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that the represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
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.
If you knew you would live forever, how would you live? John Ritenbaugh explains that, biblically, eternal life is much more than living forever: It is living as God lives!
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
In this message on God's promises of protection and healing, Richard Ritenbaugh identifies several conditions for receiving them, including God's sovereignty, God's purpose, and one's level of growth. A way to see things "God's way" involves replacing our carnal, egocentric viewpoint with outgoing concern. We must transpose our "me first" attitude with a "you first" one. Nonetheless, God's promises stand, and He is very willing to fulfill them for us.
We all have low days on occasion, but when our despondency turns to self-pity, we have a problem. The "woe is me" attitude can mire us in stagnation and severely hamper our growth because self-pity is just another form of self-centeredness.
James' exhortation about the use of our tongues seems to stop with James 3:12. However, the rest of the chapter provides additional wisdom on controlling our speech.
Maybe the most basic impediment to overcoming is our innate selfishness. Our goal, however, is to bear the character of our God, whose primary characteristic is love or outgoing concern for others.
On the heels of self-deception and self-justification often comes self-righteousness. This obstacle to overcoming occurs when we set our own standards rather than God's.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon several abuses of one of God's gifts to mankind — eating and drinking. While drunkenness and gluttony indicate self-centeredness, lack of discipline, often leading to poverty and ill health, moderation in all things is the way to glorify God in our bodies. God's called out ones must exercise moderation in their approach to eating of food, imbibing of alcohol, and excesses of anything in which there might be a possibility of borderline conduct. God has provided the blessing of (1) family union, (2) food and drink, (3) clothing, and (4) work with the condition that we exercise responsible stewardship over these gifts practicing moderation in all things.
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.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that a spiritual Israelite, following Jacob's example, undergoes a metamorphosis in which his own stubborn, self-centered will is broken so that God's creative work can be completed within him. Abraham, whose very name connotes faithfulness, learned to work through fearful catch-22 dilemmas, walking by faith rather than sight, carefully calculating on the basis of his previous and on-going relationship with God. Likewise, God today, as master teacher, carefully and methodically guides His students to higher levels of understanding and trust. We need to exercise devotion to God (faith, works, and worship) in every area of our life, from marriage, work, or human relationships- coupling iron clad faith with concrete works of obedience.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
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.
Are birthday celebrations as harmless as they seem? Do they help or hinder the growth of a child's character? This article advances a spiritual principle concerning birthdays that many do not consider.
A biblical study on the basic aspects of one of the fruit of God's Spirit, joy.
The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet
Faith and fidelity to God and His way of life should be a major part of our character. In this fourth article on the weightier matters, it details what faith and fidelity are, how to recognize a lack of them in our lives and how to develop them so we can grow into the image of Jesus Christ.
A main sign of the end may be the behaviors and attitudes of Generation X. Richard Ritenbaugh analyses his own generation in relation to Paul's description of the last days in II Timothy 3.
John Ritenbaugh explores the source or origin of sin. God gave us a nature oriented to the physical, having a heavy pull toward self-centeredness, totally ignorant of moral responsibility, but capable of being enlightened. Because of this blindness and ignorance, our human nature has a predisposition toward sin - leading to a continuous indwelling struggle, something God intended us to endure, enabling us to build character by resisting its powerful pull. Though influenced by Satan and the world, sin is still a personal choice rooted in pride and vanity (originated by Satan). Christ's sacrifice and God's Holy Spirit provide our only defense against its deadly pulls.
John Ritenbaugh explores the role of human nature in the fatal attraction to sin. Though relatively neutral at its inception, human nature is subject to a deadly magnetic pull toward self-centeredness, deceit, and sin (Jeremiah 17:9). By the time God calls us, we are hopelessly ensnared and enslaved by sin. To counteract this deadly pull, we must imitate Christ's standard of active righteousness (going about doing good; Acts 10:38) as opposed to the Pharisee's more passive righteousness (a meticulous, reactive avoidance of evil). The sins of omission (the majority of our sins), neglect, and ignorance have the tendency to dissolve when we practice Christ's standard of active righteousness.
Atonement, when we are commanded to afflict our souls through fasting, is a time of self-evaluation and repentance. This is the only way to have real unity with God.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
Does it seem like your prayers never reach God's throne—that at best they are only recorded on God's answering machine? This article gives a new perspective on prayer that just may add new impetus to your prayer life!
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
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 focuses upon the necessity to attain fellowship with God, defining fellowship as "joint participation with someone else in things possessed by both." At our calling (John 6:44) we have virtually nothing in common with our Creator. Through the shaping power of God's Holy Spirit, He starts to fill the chasm, which divides us by (1) convicting us of sin, (2) convicting us of righteousness, and (3) convicting us of judgment, aiming our lives at the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh 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 points out that Amos severely chides Israel for exalting symbolism over substance, superstitiously trusting in locations where significant historical events occurred: Bethel- the location of Jacob's pillar stone and Jacob's conversion; Gilgal- the location where the manna ceased and the Israelites partook of the produce of the land; and Beersheeba —the location from where Jacob journeyed to become reunited with his family. Consequently, Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheeba became associated with hope, possession, and fellowship. Amos seems to suggest, "it's not where you are, but what you are — or what you become." Instead of superstitiously regarding these locations like the shrines of Lourdes or Fatima, God's called out ones need to make permanent internal transformations in their lives. Likewise, going to a particular site for the Feast of Tabernacles is worthless if our lives are not permanently transformed by a close relationship with God, motivating us to keep His laws, and reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.
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