David Grabbe reminds us that, for the past 25 years, the highest priority of the Church of the Great God has not been the preaching of the Gospel to the world, but the feeding of the flock. If we lose sight that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, we will forget that Christ is currently purifying His Church, sanctifying the ones He has called to be His family. Christ is not an irresponsible landlord with His Church, but is actively intervening, taking charge of the church's growth and maturity. Christ was responsible for the recent scattering of the church, just as He was responsible for the scattering of ancient Israel. When we fail to learn from history, Christ gives us an opportunity to learn again. Christ gifted the body with servants that perform different roles depending upon the circumstances. In the latter days of the Worldwide Church of God, the leadership no longer walked by faith, but by sight. God gifts His Church spiritually so that we can come to the measure of Christ. We need to exercise faith that God can work through preachers having the same carnal nature as we do. In this phase of God's plan, the called-out ones need—and receive—God's serious attention so we can grow spiritually. We are required to walk by faith instead of by sight.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
Joe Baity reports on a recent UCLA study on human aging in which scientists declared that, regardless of lifestyle or environmental factors, each human being has a built-in biological clock with its own unique expiration date, corroborating the insight Moses revealed to us in Psalm 90, that we are allotted a finite number of days and should consider counting and evaluating our days responsibly. Realizing we cannot extend our lives beyond this predetermined fixed expiration date, we need to seriously evaluate our current priorities in our spiritual walk, likening it to attending a school, where we will be given assignments, exercises and tests, and deadline dates for completion. We are obligated to walk a kind of tightrope, balancing crippling anxiety and deadly complacency and Laodicean lethargy. If we knew the exact date of Christ's return, we would adjust our sense of urgency accordingly. The closer the interval to Christ's return, the more focused we would be on our spiritual priorities—and we would finally determine what really matters. Because anxiety and complacency are equally dangerous extremes, we should ask for peace from Almighty God as we push toward the deadline, using the spiritual gifts He has given us to vigorously accomplish the goal God has placed before us.
Ryan McClure, acknowledging that self-reflection over our own spiritual progress (perhaps without seeing any progress) has potentially a negative effect, avers that we should understand self-reflection as a God-given tool to produce abundant spiritual fruit. The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 teaches that God requires a return on His investment in our calling. We will continue to develop spiritual fruit if are eating our manna (God's Word) daily, moving beyond the doctrinal basics. When, through self-reflection, we determine we have slipped spiritually, we need to get back up and continue overcoming, rather than remain wallowing in the muck of Babylon. We should run our spiritual race with our focus on God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, after reviewing the parallels of the five books of the Psalms with the five summary psalms at the conclusion, the five seasons, the five books of the Megillot, and the five books of the Torah (or Pentateuch), affirms that recurring patterns and themes can be seen throughout the psalms and throughout the entirety of scripture. Book one, parallel with the spring season, occurring during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, focus on the Messianic prophecies, revealing God's plan to redeem Israel by crushing the serpent's head (emblematic of totally obviating the power of Satan the adversary) by establishing a dynasty of kings from the house of David (safeguarding the scepter in the tribe of Judah) to the ultimate fulfillment in Shiloh (code word for Messiah - the Lawgiver, Peacemaker, Redeemer, King of all peoples) who will establish God's Kingdom forever. The prophecies in Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 reveal the identity of a child born to become a scion or Branch (simultaneously a root and shoot) of David, the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, having all of the governments upon His shoulders, ultimately turning them all over to God the Father. David, in his prophetic psalms (especially Psalm 22) did not experience the full measure of suffering he described, but served as a prophet (along with Isaiah and Jeremiah), graphically portraying the agony that would befall his offspring. When Christ divested Himself of His divinity and power, He was temporarily a little lower than the angels, a vulnerable human being like us, but nevertheless in continuous prayerful contact with God the Father, having a full measure of Holy Spirit, enabling Him to focus on the enormous task set before Him to raise up a group of saints to follow Him as first fruits. Christ continually expressed delight in His church, His affianced Bride, whom He loves passionately and with whom He wants to share His inheritance. As Christ ascended to the Father, those He left behind continued His work, writing the Gospels and
Ryan McClure suggests that each year the calendar is filled with meaningful events, but what we consider important is modified by maturity and experience. Eventually, we learn that the world does not revolve around us and we defer to the needs of others. Our children teach us the magnitude of the selfishness we have emerged out of, or perhaps have not yet come out of. As we mature, we have an obligation to continually readjust our priorities, designating some things as more important than others. Warren Buffett suggests assembling a list of 25 things we would like to do, circling the five most important, and discarding or ignoring all the rest. Developing a relationship with God should always occupy the first priority, with a laser-sharp focus on our part, drowning out the noise of the world. Our job and our monetary wealth should never eclipse our relationships with God and with our family. If we seek God's righteousness and His Kingdom, our financial worries or concerns will be taken care of. God the Father and Jesus Christ never wavered from their priority of building a family. As God's called-out ones, we must screen out the allure of Babylon and make sure that God is always number one on our list of priorities.
David C. Grabbe: In Part Two, we saw that physical oil symbolizes wealth, abundance, health, energy, and a vital ingredient for a good life. It can likewise represent spiritual abundance, only possible through what God gives. ...
John Ritenbaugh, defining a worldview as a snapshot of what our mind sees, based upon our presuppositions, determining what we consider important, maintains that a Christian worldview must contain some core concepts, such as the value or importance of our calling into the church, the reality of God, His Laws and doctrines. Our worldview determines how we spend our time all the time. Because of God's calling, we are committed to making major choices, determining our particular niche in the nature of the universe. We must choose whether God or the world will dominate. It has to be a voluntary response to choose God. Nobody can make that choice for us. If we treasure our calling, we will automatically expend effort to protect and increase it. God and mammon are both depicted as slaveholders, demanding unconditional loyalty. The church is not a passing phenomenon but has been in God's mind for over 6,000 years, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Each member is individually selected, intended for a very specific purpose. We became a part of God's focus once Jesus and the apostles laid the foundation of the Church. We have been added to this foundation made possible through the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Our calling is a priceless treasure. God not only owns us; He is going to marry us. As the Israel of God, we have been called into a marriage covenant. The Church has been planned from the beginning, an entity in which we cannot randomly join, metaphorically depicted as the body of Christ, consisting of members adopted as a part of God's family. The Church's identity, the Israel of God must be revealed to us individually. This worldview should be priceless to us.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on his experiences starting in a new company, related that he desperately wanted to establish favorable relationships with his fellow employees and God. Relationships are enhanced when one assiduously keeps the Laws of God, loving truth, seeking after instruction, and embracing correction and discipline. When we attain favor with God, we will usually find favor with our fellow man, but not always. We can find favor with both God and man if we value a reputable name rather than riches and wealth, seeking to emulate the family name of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon an 1858 speech of Abraham Lincoln, in which he warned of a deadly enemy from within which would be many times more dangerous than any external foreign power, suggests that the attack has already begun. This deadly attack derives from the incredible apathy of the American people, apathetic to religion, politics, morality , and civic responsibility, while devoted totally to hedonism, sports, entertainment, and narcissism. As God's called-out ones, we cannot be blind to the changing times, but we can be engaged in spiritual preparations for the future.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are about leaving one venue (sin and Satan) and moving toward deliverance, warns us that as we leave sin, we do not want to leave our first love, as did the Ephesus congregation as recorded in Revelation 2:1. The Ephesians had a strong sense of duty to not let down, as well as serving as a vanguard in the battle against the false doctrines of the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans. What was lacking was the devotion to Christ, Who had given His life; the spark of love had gone and was replaced by a mechanical going- through- the- motions. They were not zealously attempting to form a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In an environment of turmoil, it is easy to draw inward in protection of the self, ignoring our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow to the stature of Jesus Christ, or our works are meaningless and will not produce fruit or light. Our prior fellowship lost its lamp-stand because of losing its first love. We do not dare follow in its footsteps, but must reignite our first love with the help of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
We do not often think of fellowship as a means of devotion, but when we look into the book of Acts at the unity of the early church, fellowship was a priority of those first members of God's church. Clyde Finklea reveals that Christian fellowship is more than just getting together on a regular basis; it is sharing with each other on a higher, spiritual level.
During His ministry, Jesus healed many people. The apostle John chose to highlight the healing of a crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. Martin Collins covers the significance of the pool itself, Christ's choice in healing this particular man, and the curious question He put to him.
Having a goal is a wonderful thing, but it is worthless without a plan for achieving it. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians also need to have a conscious plan in seeking God, recommending several essential qualities that must be included in any successful course of action.
As this world keeps on turning, more people become skeptical about the return of Jesus Christ. The Bible, however, insists that He will come again and quickly. Richard Ritenbaugh advises watchful, sober expectation because the Lord does not delay His coming.
The Bible tells us that at the Feast of Tabernacles, we can spend our money on whatever we desire. However, the Feast is a test of our hearts. What do we really desire? Do we indulge ourselves, or do we use our resources to make it the best Feast ever for others?
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Wordsworth's lament, "the world is too much with us," comments that the fast pace of the world threatens to crowd God out of our thoughts. We cannot allow the cares of the world or the stress of the world's pressures, or the pride of the world to crowd God out of our thoughts or to defile our minds, bringing about abominable works or evil fruits. The spiritual battle we fight is in our minds and in our thoughts. We are what we think - what we put into our minds. We need to actively lay siege to our carnality and hostile thoughts, bringing them into captivity to God's Holy Spirit. Our thoughts determine the content of our speech and the contents of our actions- i.e. our fruits. What we sow we will reap.
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, 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 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.
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.
In this keynote address of the 1997 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh warns that people are not going to understand the significance of prophecies until the prophecies are being fulfilled or have been completely fulfilled. Understanding prophecy is secondary in importance to overcoming, growing, developing character, and being in the image of God. One significant event, the scattering of the greater church of God, reflects a more general trend on the world scene—the disintegration of the major religions into millions of pieces (reflecting a general world wide disdain for hierarchical structure), making possible a post-modern syncretistic reconstruction of millions of personal private religions, incorporating feel-good palliatives and allowing for moral laxity. In the wake of this pernicious self-expression, we must desperately hold fast, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Time—it marches relentlessly on, and we have only so much of it. Yet we waste a lot of it on foolish pursuits, procrastination and distractions. John Ritenbaugh explains how getting control of our time puts us in the driver's seat in our pursuit of God's Kingdom!
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!
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!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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