David Grabbe points out the cause-effect relationship between sin and "madness, blindness, and confusion of heart." Sin automatically causes blindness, and blindness begets more sin. Romans 1:18-28 explains that individuals enslave themselves to a reprobate mind by following their perverted desires. God gives those hapless individuals up to their choices, as well as to the deadly consequences of their lusts. As they embark on their deadly downward spiral, God takes His hand off from them, allowing them to experience the consequences. As we make the choice to follow any course which is opposed to God's purpose(defined Scripturally as Mammon), our spiritual understanding begins to darken until we become blissfully unaware of danger. The Scriptures plainly show us areas of potential blindness, as with the warning that he who hates is brother is blind (I John 2:1) or with the connection between blindness and lacking faith, self-control, perseverance and other godly character traits (II Peter 1:5-9). God wants us to overcome blindness, but we must make the choice to obey Him and eschew sin before He restores our spiritual visual acuity.
David Grabbe reiterates that the term "god of this age" (II Corinthians 4:4) would be a colossal anomaly if Paul used it to refer to Satan. Except of the 2nd Century heretic, Marcion of Sinope, apostolic writers and early Church writers understood that this verse referred to God and not to Satan. The Protestant reformer John Calvin misunderstood the Scripture, declaring that "nobody of sound judgment can think of any other than Satan in this verse." God does not share with any other being the power to blind, though Protestant scholars like to equivocate, substituting the word "deceive" for "blind." Satan encourages this playing fast and loose with the truth. The use of the lowercase "g" as in "their god is their belly" does not apply to II Corinthians 4:4 because the article "the" there is specific, referring to the God of this age (aion) Who has the power to blind. As Moses had to veil his luminous face, so, metaphorically, the God of this age mercifully blinds carnal individual because light hurts their eyes. As we see in the incident of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ also has the prerogative to heal the blindness and take away the veil of ignorance. For those who are perishing, the Gospel is veiled; only the elect see the truth, but for the present, dimly.
David Grabbe, citing numerous scriptures that show God has the power to give sight to the blind, and conversely, to inflict spiritual blindness on others as a consequence of sin (Deuteronomy 28), argues that the Church's current understanding of II Corinthians 4:4 is incorrect. Translators use a lowercase "g" in "god of this age," yet it is the true God who does the blinding; He alone opens and closes eyes. Satan, on the other hand, deceives; he blurs the vision that God has made available. While Satan is opposed to truth, God embodies truth, yet does not reveal all truth all at once. There is no second witness of the Greek noun theos (rendered "god" in II Corinthians 4:4) denoting Satan. The New Testament writers refer to Satan as a ruler, but never as a god. Satan is certainly the prince of the power of the air and a major world ruler, but only in his wildest dreams is he a god capable of blinding.
John Ritenbaugh states that every nation has its privileged—whether they are royalty, wealthy oligarchs, politicians, athletes, or entertainers. Surprisingly though, the masses have privileges which they do not recognize as such, namely the privileges of sight, hearing, walking and speech. God has provided in His Holiness Code proscriptions against taking advantage of those who are handicapped. Additionally, those God has blessed with material wealth have obligations to help the poor, as is seen in the command to avoid gleaning the corners of the fields. Our welfare programs have scriptural principles as their general inspiration, but unfortunately, politicians have abused these programs, encouraging on the part of recipients a toxic dependency which God never intended. Living in a land occupied by the children of the Patriarchs, to whom God revealed His Covenant, is a great privilege. Sadly, the majority of physical Israelites have rejected God's Covenant. God has healed the spiritual blindness and deafness of the members of the true Church, the Israel of God, at the same time calling them to become members of the God Family. As we contemplate our offerings, we should factor this insight into our sense of gratitude and responsibility.
Joe Baity draws a distinction between ancient mariners, who recognized they were off course due to stormy weather, and those of us today who may be unaware that we are off course on our spiritual journey. After a storm, those ancient mariners found steady, reliable points of reference in the skies, once the clouds cleared away, and adjusted their courses, pointing their vessels in the right direction. Today, we of God's people can remain off course for extended periods of time, not recognizing that Satan has flooded us with lies designed to subliminally disconnect us from the reference point we call reality. The Gruen Effect—which subconsciously moves shoppers to buy things they don't need—didn't even want—has found application in more than shopping malls, but in the casinos, online shopping outlets and news feeds of all descriptions. The effect of Satan's flood of (mis)information is to disorient us, blurring the lines between reality and illusion, wants and needs, driving us to lose sight of those all-important points of reference necessary for our spiritual growth. We become pulled off course—and don't even recognize it, stimulated as we are by the dizzying lure of the around-and-about. To maintain our orientation, we need to fix our eyes on the reference points established at our baptismal covenant, including God's Law, the Sabbath, and the work of our Savior, High Priest, and Elder Brother, who is both the starting and ending reference point, the Alpha and the Omega of our spiritual journey.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reporting on a frustrating e-mail exchange with a woman who claimed to be a Bible teacher, concludes that the ruler of this world has deceived many to the basic principles of biblical interpretation. Biblical symbolism is consistent: yeast, for example, always representing corruption, or a field also representing the world. The lion has always represented a powerful and majestic ruler, whether applied to Nebuchadnezzar, Satan (I Peter 5:8) or, most importantly, to Jesus as the lion of Judah—a conquering King (Revelation 5: 5). The misinformed Bible teacher could not grasp how God could symbolize the "meek and mild" Jesus as a Sacrificial Lamb in some passages and as a conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah in others, in spite of the plethora of Scriptures showing His as forcefully subduing man's evil governments at His second coming. Satan has convinced many mainstream 'Christian' churches that the Giver of Grace cannot also be a Champion of the Law and a Hater of sin. Our Savior and High Priest and will ultimately assume the role of the King of Kings, with leonine power to subdue all evil and forcibly rule with righteous judgment. As God's called-out ones, we must be savvy about the nature of biblical metaphors, not letting Satan deceive us with wrong understanding.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
Clyde Finklea, marveling at how quickly heresies infiltrated the early church, as identified by the warning messages of Paul, John, Jude, and James, asserts that Peter in his second epistle (II Peter1:1-7) provides not only an effective antidote to corrosive heresies, apostasy, and false teachers, but also a practical formula for spiritual growth. The process incrementally moves from faith to diligence, valor and courage, knowledge of God's truth as revealed in His Word, self-control and temperance, patience, endurance, dogged determination to overcome and endure under the severest trials, respect, love, and awe for Almighty God. The ultimate result consists of an active outgoing agape love for our brethren. As we examine ourselves for Passover, we need to determine whether we are incrementally developing our spiritual maturity from faith to love.
Joseph Baity, reflecting that man's greatest fear is of the unknown, adding that there is more unknown than known, concludes that it is little wonder that we thirst for knowledge because we fear not knowing. The digital revolution we have experienced in the past 25 years bears distinct resemblances to the Tower of Babel. A general, preparing to go to war, needs knowledge of the battlefield, the enemy, and one's own strengths and liabilities. Wartime intelligence, according to Donald Rumsfeld, must analyze known knowns, known unknowns, and allow for unknown unknowns. It is the unknown unknowns (the surprises) that give us the most grief. Solomon assured us that we are not privy to God's activity on the earth, especially as it concerns the regulation of human affairs. Man's inability to know what is to take place is something deliberately planned by God. Even the wisest are often surprised by calamities for which they had no foresight or expectation. God has His reasons for not revealing everything now. No one in history has lived into and through the end-times. We are pretty naïve about what lies directly ahead and beyond, but are too proud to admit it, languishing in self-denial. Satan offered our parents forbidden knowledge, which has ironically separates us from the only Being who could give them real knowledge. Mankind, kicked out of Eden, has been trying to outlearn God ever since, taking Satan's concoctions of truth mixed with half-truth, myth, and superstition, eventually doubting God's existence. The more we partake of this corrupt knowledge, the more damaged we become, as our faith becomes attenuated. In order to develop faith, the unknown is a necessary formative factor, forcing us to wait for God to reveal those things which are currently mysteries to us. To the world's way of thinking, the unknown is a threat and vulnerability, but to God's called-out ones, it is instrumental in developing the kind of faith that pleases God. The unknown could be said to be one of God's greatest gifts.
One of the last of Jesus' miracles was the healing of blind Bartimaeus near Jericho about a week before His arrest. Martin Collins shows that Jesus' compassion for the man's blindness points to His compassion for all those who are spiritually blind, a compassion He proved by giving His life to pay the penalty for sin.
Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on an article about the widely prevalent condition of congenital blindness in India, mainly developing from untreated cataracts, and on an effort led by Dr. Pawan Sinha to supply inexpensive lenses to alleviate the problem, reports that after restoring sight to thousands of patients, Sinha came to the conclusion that removing the cataracts and implanting the lens was the easy part. It was infinitely harder to retrain or rewire the nervous system, teaching brains to make sense of the incoming data. The lack of this reprogramming causes many patients to develop severe mental problems. This discovery gives us a new appreciation of what Christ did to heal the man blind from birth, healing his mind, as well as his diseased organs. When Jesus read the portion of Isaiah 61 (recorded in Luke 4:16), He gave the mission statement of what God had sent Him to do, recovering both physical and spiritual sight to the blind, liberating them from those false beliefs and doctrines that had previously imprisoned them. Jesus used abundant references to vision and sight throughout His teaching. At our calling, God must perform a major rewiring to our nervous systems, implanting His mind via His Holy Spirit, enabling us to explore, discern, and compare the physical with the spiritual, giving us hindsight (cognizance of the enormity of our sins), introspection (giving us the ability to objectively examine ourselves to see what we really are through the dazzling light of His Holy Spirit and the scalpel of His Word ), foresight (providing a goal of a future world of peace, making life worth living), circumspection (making us aware of the world around us, motivating us to become good examples), and insight (giving us insight into the truths of the Bible, truths not even revealed to angels or the 'wise' of this earth)
John Ritenbaugh, declaring the Feast of Tabernacles to be seven days, states that the eighth day (what we have called the Last Great Day) is actually a separate festival, typifying the resurrection of billions of people to a physical resurrection, woefully needing the Spirit of God.In the narrative of John 7, a woman was caught in the act of adultery, the physical equivalent of idolatry, or faithlessness to God. Jesus healed a man born blind; in the Great Throne Judgment billions of spiritually blind people will be resurrected. John 7-10 describes the events of what we have termed the Last Great Day, an event which took place in 31AD (corroborated by the Hebrew calendar). If we value something, we will pay attention to it. The church is clearly a teaching union, and we must be a part of it, proclaiming the Gospel to the world, and magnifying it to the flock. We must battle the world's influences every day, even more-so as we enter the last days when deception and confusion will abound. Richard Trench defines aion as all the thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, impulses, and aspirations present in the world at any given time, which may be impossible to accurately define but which still constitute a real and effective power—the moral or immoral atmosphere we breathe. Aion could be considered a synonym for Zeitgeist or spirit of the time. Satan can fine-tune this aion or Zeitgeist, customizing the course depending on whom he may seek to murder. Even though Satan is out to get us, God will never leave us or forsake us; because the world is filled with evil forces, we need to be thinking and vigilant children of God.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Joseph Felix's book Lord Have Murphy, a humorous analysis of Murphy's Law, asserts that it is impossible to become perfect without having mercy or compassion. The parable of the good Samaritan provided a exemplary model for developing compassion, beginning with sympathy and culminating in an action or concrete act of goodness. Mercy is an action, not merely a state of mind The command made by Jesus to become perfect includes showing compassion to love our enemies, relieving their miserable conditions. The Laodicean mindset is characterized by a deficit in merciful acts, forgetting the enormous debt their Savior had paid with His life. Whenever we forget Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we resemble the unmerciful servant, who, when he was absolved of a million dollar debt, acted harshly and mercilessly to a fellow servant who owed him a mere twenty dollars. We have received an immense measure of mercy; Christ wants us show compassion to our fellow man. Our marching orders are to walk humbly and to love justice and mercy. Whoever has a large share of the world's possessions, but shuts his charity off when he sees a fellow Christian in need, is blind to his spiritual nakedness.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the Elements of Judgment series by focusing on Deuteronomy 32:1-4, a passage which characterizes all of God's ways as exemplifying justice, challenges us] to emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberative. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straight-forward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of Truth; sin does not operate in a straight-forward manner, but follows serpentine routes requiring much discernment.
Dan Elmore: In last week's essay, we considered that most of us know less than we think we know, that we carry around a lot of misconceptions, and that we have little idea about what it is like to be blind. ...
The episode of the healing of the man born blind takes up an entire chapter of the book of John, signalling its importance in understanding the work of Christ. Martin Collins discusses the blind man's response to Jesus, the part the Sabbath plays in the healing, and the ubiquity of opposition to true Christians.
Only the apostle John records Jesus' healing of the man born blind, found in John 9, which shows Christ calling a people for Himself despite the efforts of the Jewish authorities to deter Him. Martin Collins covers a few major themes woven throughout this account.
Only Mark tells us about the healing of the blind man from Bethsaida, highlighting a few important spiritual truths. Martin Collins reveals what makes this particular miracle unique and the lessons that it teaches, as well as the significance of the miracle's location.
II Corinthians 5:7 is clear that God wants us to walk—live our lives—by faith, but our pride and vanity, mirroring the attitude of Satan the Devil, frequently get in the way. John Ritenbaugh delves into the depths of pride and its tragic results for the individual and for all mankind, most of all because it causes us to reject God and His Word.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Now that we have considered the two main Old Testament words for "repentance," we can look at the New Testament Greek word metanoia. ...
In this parable, found in Matthew 9:27-31, two blind men doggedly follow Jesus into a house—probably Peter's—so that He will restore their sight to them. Martin Collins explains the lessons Christians can learn from the examples of these two persevering supplicants.
John W. Ritenbaugh: The sequence of petitions in the second half of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:11-12) tells each of us that we should pray daily for the food needed for that day. ...
Amos 8:11 speaks of "a famine . . . of hearing the words of the LORD." Such a spiritual famine is occurring today: The words of God are readily available, but few are hearing them. David Grabbe explains this prophecy and its connection to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
David C. Grabbe: Some of the least-understood diseases within human pathology are autoimmune diseases. ...
Near the beginning of his gospel, John makes an astonishing declaration. ...
John O. Reid: It is not unusual today for a member of God's church to feel ill at ease with the world around him. ...
John Ritenbaugh gives statistics from an army quartermaster who calculated the logistics of supplying food, shelter, and water for 2-3 million Israelites on their 40 year trek across the Red Sea and the wilderness—a task only an omnipotent God could fulfill. As was true in the physical journey of ancient Israel and the spiritual journey of the Israel of God, we have the powerful assurance that God will never leave nor forsake us. When God parted the Red Sea, the problems did not disappear. On our spiritual journey, once we have the benefits of Christ's Passover sacrifice applied to us, our problems do not instantly disappear. Our position is just as precarious as ancient Israel, if not more precarious. As ancient Israel was called out of Egypt, we are called out of spiritual Egypt. We have been in abject bondage to the world's corrupt systems and our own carnal desires, having lived our entire lives under Satan's dominion. Christ stated His intention in Luke 4 to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to recover the sight to the blind, and to set them at liberty. Jesus explains that the truth is the only thing that will set us free. A major player in our lives or spiritual journey is the truth and how we use it. Though Christ does not do our overcoming for us, He gives us abundant resources to accomplish this daunting task. He gives us in addition to the assurance that He will never abandon us as we struggle in our journey to the Promised Kingdom of God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
David C. Grabbe: A local radio talk-show host frequently uses the term "reality narcolepsy" to describe the human condition of being asleep—and thus blind—to the truth of what is occurring. ...
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
Martin Collins contends that the effectiveness of a law is found in its purpose and intent rather than the letter. The blind spots to God's Law unfortunately are found in the spiritual application or principle rather than a specific motor behavior. Christ taught that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to fulfill the law's requirements. Love and mercy constitute the essence of the spiritual fulfillment of the Law. God's Holy Spirit enables us to carry out the spiritual intent of the Law. By continually using God's Spirit, we gradually or incrementally take on God's nature in our innermost beings. As we judge other people, we must realize that the things that offend us mirror our own (hidden from us but transparent to others) faults.
Many have wondered why God would allow the oracles of a pagan Mesopotamian soothsayer to be included in His Word. Richard Ritenbaugh shows that, notwithstanding the source, Balaam's prophecies are significant to understanding God's purpose.
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.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
Directing his comments to teenagers and young people, John Ritenbaugh focuses on the epidemic of Adolescent Invincibility Disorder Syndrome, an affliction in which young people foolishly imagine themselves to be invincible and impervious to harm. Young people in the church must realize that not only is God's law no respecter of persons, but also sanctification can be lost. Young people must aim at self-mastery and self-discipline, developing patience, thinking ahead to the consequences of behavior. God's law proscribes death for a young person who curses his parents, and being cut off from God's divine guidance has just as deadly a consequence. Young people need to cultivate early the habit of remembering God, embracing His law as their code of life.
John Ritenbaugh assures us that God is involved in the minute details of every converted person's life just as much as He is in the major historical world events. As a new creation of God (II Corinthians 5:17) we receive continuous, meticulous, detailed attention through the creative activity of His grace which never stops. God, as Creator, takes the initiative (as the potter over the clay) for the elect's salvation, enabling us to build the repertoire of habits called character. In this process, bringing certain things together in the lives of the called, both calamitous as well as positive, God fulfills His purpose. Even though we don't at times know where we are headed, we need to develop the faith or trust in God's vision for us.
Conversion, our walk with God, is a lifelong process in which we endeavor to see things as God does. John Ritenbaugh admonishes Christians to understand and act on the fact that God is deeply involved in our lives.
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is not just an eye condition. It also describes a worldview that is quite limited and limiting. Understanding Christian myopia can help us to see the "big picture."
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
God desires us to overcome our human nature and grow, but we tend to place major hurdles in the way of accomplishing this. This series of Bible Studies examines these impediments to overcoming.
In this Pentecost message and the conclusion for the "What Does God Really Want?" series, John Ritenbaugh insists that God's Spirit comes first before anyone is empowered to do anything. God's gifts are in reality tools to do His work. In every situation, God provides the gift before it is actually needed so that when it is needed, everything is prepared for the person to do as he has been commissioned to do. As God had handpicked Bezaleel and Aholiab, He knows exactly whom He wants to do His work and will empower that person with spiritual gifts to carry it out.
John Ritenbaugh, using the term "malignant narcissism" (from M. Scott Peck's book "People Of The Lie") to describe the blind Laodicean pride which denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection by means of clever self-decptive quibbling and equivocation. Accepting one of the most pernicious gifts of Protestantism (no works mentality), the Laodicean doesn't know that it takes mental work and exertion to produce faith; it does not come by magic or by mere acceptance of certain knowledge. The Good Samaritan parable teaches that unless one practices doing good rather than just knowing good, his faith will be severely compromised.
The church of the Laodiceans is today's prevalent attitude. Is there hope? Can a Laodicean be in God's Kingdom?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
What is it to be poor in spirit? John Ritenbaugh describes this attribute in its biblical usage. Those who are truly poor in spirit are on the road to true spiritual riches!
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of the eye, clear vision, and light metaphors in Matthew 6:22-23, stating that the eye represents understanding (as the metaphorical eye of the heart) while the light represents truth. It is not enough to have knowledge of the right treasure; we also need to have the understanding of where all the pieces fit. Clear vision lightens the way spiritually, ethically, and morally. If the eye of the heart is aimed at spiritual treasure and the glory of God, it will remain singly focused. Using this spiritual vision or understanding, the best way to protect the heart is to saturate it with the word of God.
Summertime reminds us of "those lazy, hazy, crazy days" of our youth. Charles Whitaker shows that biblically summertime sounds a warning to us to prepare for the fall harvest.
In this keynote message of the 1996 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the causes of the atomizing of the greater church of God into very small particles. Almighty God, as a means of mercifully disciplining and chastening His faithless children, initiated the scattering of the church (the Israel of God) for our ultimate good (Deuteronomy 28:25; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5-6). Christianity is a religion of revelation- not human intellect. When the revelation of God was replaced with the wisdom of this world (the leaven of errant intellectualism), God had no choice but to scatter. As Israel did not repent at the preaching of Amos, or Judah at the preaching of Jeremiah, the members of the greater church of God did not take the warnings of Herbert Armstrong personally and individually. Any regrouping of the scattered pieces will be done only on God's terms.
Are the unconverted dead lost? John Ritenbaugh answers that there is hope for them! This part of God's plan is typified in the meaning of the Last Great Day.
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.
In this Pentecost message, John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the receiving of God's Holy Spirit is not so much for our use as it is for God's use that He might carry out His creative effort in our lives. Metaphorically, the Holy Spirit can be compared to the water which the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency. God's Spirit brings about a transformation- turning something from a state of destruction into a state of purity. God desires to give us His Spirit and gifts in abundance, but on the condition that our motives for wanting them are unselfish. God uses His Spirit: (1) as a bridgehead through which He works His spiritual creation,(2) to empower the church, and (3) to empower us to yield to Him.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant of Hebrews 8:8 was given to Israel and Judah, not to the Gentiles. God does not deviate from this pattern; Israel is still involved with the New Covenant. It is not the physical nation, but the spiritual remnant (partly composed of grafted-in Gentiles- Romans 11:17-25 and the church or Israel of God- Galatians 6:16) with whom God is working, circumcising their hearts and writing His laws in the recesses of their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16)
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the deceiver.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
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!
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh highlights how the witness of the apostles, particularly miraculous healings performed in the name of Jesus Christ, brought them into conflict with the established Jewish leaders, the entrenched Sadducees and the Sanhedrin. Peter used the startling impact of these healings to draw attention to the fulfilled prophecies pertaining to Jesus—the source of the healing power—whom the crowds Peter was addressing had crucified in ignorance. As the veil of ignorance is lifted, they (and we) have the responsibility to act on this knowledge of culpability in His crucifixion and fully repent—undergo a total change of life. Focusing on his predominantly Jewish audience, he affirms that belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament will lead to belief in Christ. Being in Him makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham.
John Ritenbaugh observed that ancient Israel had regarded Bethel (as well as Gilgal and Beer Sheba) as a sacred shrine (a place where Jacob had been transformed —his name changed to Israel) but were not becoming spiritually transformed as a result of pilgrimages to these locations. One example of their residual carnality was the corruption of their court system- a striking parallel to modern Israel. We need to remember that Amos is written to the end-time church, urging that true religion is not a way to God but from God, emphasizing that (1) we must have a real love for God's truth, (2) submit to God as our part of the relationship, (3) be concerned about earning God's approval, (4) have moral integrity, and (5) exercise social responsibility. Amos warned ancient and modern Israel not to exalt symbolism over substance- a condition leading to Jacob's trouble or the Great tribulation. We need to secure our relationship with God (and our quest for holiness-involving action, emotion, and thought), not taking His grace for granted realizing that God will not budge one inch with his law.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
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