Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the popular song, "My Way," (popularized by Frank Sinatra) warns that God's Called-out ones should never emulate the haughty and self-willed attitude this song glorifies. God created us in His image, giving us the wherewithal to expand Eden worldwide. If Adam and Eve had followed God's instructions, they and their posterity would have accomplished this. Instead, the drives of carnal nature proved to be more important to them than obedience to their Creator, an orientation which dashed all hopes they would spread Edenic bliss worldwide. In Psalm 14, we learn that no one has of himself overcome the pulls of carnality to overt evil, rebellion and hostility toward God. Carnal human nature and Godly character are polar opposites, as Paul illustrated in Romans 7, where he bemoans the power of his carnality to compel him to do the opposite of what he knew to be God's will. Carnal pulls are easy to follow because they lead us to "go with the flow" of the world. To walk in the Spirit means swimming against the current, aligning ourselves with God's will by doing three things: (1) Becoming a living sacrifice, committing ourselves to lifelong service to God, (2) actively participating or cooperating in our transformation by adjusting our thoughts to be in sync with His and (3) employing three essential baseline attitudes—humility, clear-headed thinking, and faith. The Apostle James points out that to know what is right and to willfully go against this knowledge is sin. All of us stand guilty under that definition of sin. God wants to see striving in the battle against sin.
Bill Onisick, identifying humility as the gateway character trait to God's Kingdom, focuses on the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, contrasting pride and humility. Any time we feel prompted to exalt ourselves, we demonstrate Satan's spirit of pride, thereby jeopardizing our entry into God's family. Sadly, most of us would receive a D or F on a simple quiz of 20 "yes or no" questions, such as: 1. Do I readily seek other peoples' opinions? 2. Am I happy when something good happens to someone else? 3. Do I ever get offended? 4. Do I do more listening than speaking? and 5. Do I ever say anything negative about a brother in Christ? Paradoxically, the key to exaltation is to esteem others over self rather than exalting self over others. When we become self-aware of our carnality, we discover our penchant to tear others down while exalting ourselves. It is our obligation to emulate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who taught us to wash feet, assuming the role of a servant.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the poetic prayer-song at the end of Habakkuk 3, concludes that this passage is one of the most inspiring parts of God's Word. The moving prayer-song, asking God to revive His work in the midst of years, and to temper judgment with mercy, provides a model of an effective prayer. Though the prophet began his dialogue with God with distressful angst and bitter complaints, expressing incredulity that God would allow a vile nation to be His corrective instrument, the prayer-song of Chapter 3 demonstrates that the prophet has calmly acquiesced to God's righteous judgment, remembering His sterling record of faithfulness, humbly asking God to remember to have mercy.Our time is like that of Habakkuk , when horrendous and pandemic sin invite God's wrath. We may initially find the means God uses to correct our people horrifying and discouraging, but when we place His actions in context with His overall plan and purpose for mankind, we will find peace in God's absolute sovereignty, justice, and compassion. Humility and repentance are absolute prerequisites for answered prayer. After repentance, adoration and reflection on God's attributes and on the history of His providence should make up the contents of our prayers. Finally, our specific petitions should be exclusively within the context of God's will, remembering that God's work of fashioning a new creation takes precedence over our petty concerns; like Habakkuk, we need to subordinate our work to God's overall plan, asking God for renewal in the midst of bad times, remembering that strong faith is not incompatible with fleshly weakness. Knowledge of God, as recorded in His Word, (that is , bearing in mind His promises, previous interventions, and characteristic providence) gives us fortitude in horrific times, enabling us to know that God will save His people and stand by His promises. As Habakkuk lived up to the etymology of his name habaq, meaning to embrace or cling, we must cling tenaciously to God as we enter the disastrous times
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
"Fairness" is a major buzzword in these times. Special interest groups complain and sometimes agitate because they feel that society is not treating them fairly. Geoff Preston approaches the subject more personally, showing that our discontent over perceived mistreatment pales in comparison to what others have endured.
David Maas cautions that in a dangerous and troubled world in which everyone is being manipulated and conned into squaring off in hatred for one another, being enticed to take the spiritual mark of the Beast (seething anger and hatred toward one another), we must find common ground, not only with our fellow citizens, but especially among the multiple splinter groups in the greater church of God. Following the apostle Paul's example, when we encounter groups with differing views from ours, we must find common ground, finding things praiseworthy about them, providing the framework for mutual understanding, always on the basis of God's covenants to all of mankind and to His called-out firstfruits. In the current configuration of the greater church of God, blown to smithereens in the early 1990's, each group finds itself on a continuum, with an authoritarian fringe on one extreme and an assimilation or conforming to the world extreme on the other fringe. Each group has gifts and insights, as well as blind-spots and deficits in understanding, both of which will be cleared up by Almighty God in the fullness of time. In the meantime, we are commissioned to do our part of the work, always esteeming others over ourselves, respecting and loving one another, and striving to conform to God's covenant with all of us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unpleasant prospect of overhearing hurtful gossip about us from someone we have trusted, observes that, in all likelihood, our tongue has been just as detrimental against someone who may have trusted us. What goes around comes around; we reap what we sow. Even though the best defense is not to be guilty, we know that because of our toxic self-centeredness there is no infallibility in any of us. As God gives gifts to us, we must, as Solomon did, fine-tune them, realizing that seeking out wisdom is simultaneously a glorious and a burdensome task, requiring labor-intensive exercises which initially seem to yield diminishing returns. God does not instantaneously reveal everything we need to learn or everything we need to experience. We have the responsibility to seek out wisdom, understanding that it is the costliest commodity anywhere, having a price far beyond gold. Wisdom keeps us from sin, folly, and madness. Wisdom and understanding unveils for us the purpose of trials, solving the paradoxes and conundrums that erode our faith. Truly wise judges are humble, demonstrating that they do not know everything; humility will make us more cautious in our judgments about others and ourselves. As we put forth effort to pursue wisdom, the fruit will be holiness. Our goal is beyond salvation; it involves preparation for service in God's Kingdom. The search for wisdom carries with it a downside, the tendency to boast of our accomplishments, even though in our heart of hearts, we realize we have nothing that has not been given. As God's stewards, we must, like Solomon, blend sagacity and practical wisdom together, taking precautions against the allurements of the world, which have the tendency to short-circuit godly wisdom.
David Maas, cuing in on Paul's declaration of a debt he owed to Greek and Barbarian, to both the Hebraistic Jewish world view and the Hellenistic world view, observing that God has chosen to canonize the Scripture in both Hebrew and Greek, contends that these major two dominant forces in western culture were meant to be symbiotic partners, like husband and wife, each representing only a partial, incomplete aspect of God's character. As maturing Christians, called to judge in God's coming Kingdom, we are called to lay aside the childlike tendency to over-correct, violently and impulsively moving from one ditch to the other. As the mirisms in Ecclesiastes 3 and the comparison examples in Ecclesiastes 7 were meant to be contraries rather than contradictories, we must metaphorically go beyond the simple on-off switch and canoe paddle, devices that served us well when we were first called. But as we mature, we must adopt the steering wheel and the rheostat mechanism, allowing degrees of brightness and intensity, allowing for variables of time, place, and circumstance, which are different for each of us. The only time a jagged spike is desirable is when the line on the electrocardiogram goes flat and we are compelled to use a defibrillator to shock it into activity. In our trials and our spiritual gifts, one size does not fit all, and our overcoming skills, our ability to judge, and especially our ability to grow spiritually and bear fruit should reflect these variables. Whether we are talking about diabetic blood sugar spikes or the spike of malfunctioning heartbeat on an electro-cardiogram, or most importantly, the metaphorical spikes in our spiritual journey, we must seek God's spiritual pace maker (Hebrews 8:10) a balance mechanism for regulating these dangerous fluctuations.
David C. Grabbe: An incident in John 21 contains a powerful lesson that must be kept in mind when considering our part of our Father's business. The first half of John 21 contains a significant miracle, the eighth and last of the Messianic signs found in the book of John. The miracle—a great catch of fish—is a strong echo of the time when Jesus called these fishermen three and a half years before. ...
With many "churches of God" around the world claiming to be part of or even the only church of God, the question "Is There a True Church?" is a pertinent one. John Ritenbaugh examines, not their claims, but what the Bible reveals about the makeup of God's church, especially as time draws near to the return of its Head, Jesus Christ.
David C. Grabbe: In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey observes that most people are entrenched in what he calls a "scarcity mentality": They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. ...
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 Reid reminds us that even though the Pharisees had a corrupt form of righteousness, because they were in the office or seat of Moses, we should follow their instructions (pertaining to the Law of God), but not follow their hypocritical personal examples. The Pharisee, by contrasting himself with others, felt superior to others, having an exaggerated confidence in himself. To exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, we must use the magnification of the Law in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:17) to move our perception or understanding from the letter to the spirit of the Law, loving the Lord with all our might and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), having mercy and patience with others as God has had mercy and patience with us. In addition, we should not separate ourselves from our brethren as had the Pharisees, but seek the fellowship of our fellow servants, ministering to their needs as we have the opportunity thereby ministering to Jesus Christ. By emphasizing the dimension of mercy and love, Jesus placed the bar much higher than could be attained by the Pharisees.
Each year, Christians prepare for Passover by engaging in a thorough, spiritual self-examination. An analysis of the apostle Paul's instruction in II Corinthians 13:5 shows us what we need to look for.
The two men who go to the Temple to pray contrast in character, belief, and self-examination. Martin Collins shows that, although this parable involves prayer, it is not as much about how to pray as it is about how to be justified before God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
Martin Collins concludes his series on the three illustrations that comprise one long parable in Luke 15. In this part, he explains what is known as the Parable of the Prodigal (or Lost) Son.
David C. Grabbe: As the virulent and violent secular humanism spreads throughout Western civilization, the highest ideal has become the all-important "My Identity. ...
Martin Collins, in reflecting upon God's promises to bless the righteous, asks us to carefully consider the standards upon which we measure blessings. After eliminating obvious reasons for curtailment of blessings we must be on guard against comparing ourselves with others, a practice that leads to pernicious envy, lust, and coveting, destroying peace, tranquillity, and contentment. Too often prosperity and financial gain militate against godly character and spiritual well-being as it unleashes idolatry and covetousness. To be rich toward God means to seek first the Kingdom of God (tasting and testing God's way of life), living God's way (continually doing His commandments),and continually trusting God regardless of temporary, visible circumstances.
In this pre-Passover sermon, John Ritenbaugh compares God's flawless works to the imperfect works of mankind. In addition to being flawless, God's works have a multiplicity of purposes, while man's works have limited utility and many flaws. Like air, having multiple uses, God's Word also has many uses; any one scripture can be used in dozens of different applications. The closer one looks at the multifaceted aspects of Christ's offices (Creator, King, Redeemer, High Priest, Savior, etc.) the more we realize the preciousness of His life and the high cost of the sacrifice for our sins. The focus of our self-examination should not be self-centered or comparing ourselves with others, but on the awesome significance of His sacrifice.
The Bible mentions eating around 700 times, highlighting the broad practicality of the Bible's instruction. Its lessons for us are drawn from life itself, and eating is a major part of everyone's experience. Regardless of race, wealth, education, gender, or age, everybody eats. By studying eating in the experiences of others, we plumb a deep well of instruction from which we can draw vital lessons to help us through life.
Most people think they are moral. They make this judgment based on a comparison between themselves and their peers. Martin Collins shows that we will only begin to grow in character once we compare ourselves to the true standard: Christ and His Word.
God's sense of justice comes into question in the minds of men when they read of His judgments in the Bible and see His acts in history. His judgments seem unfair because man can never please God on his own since God's standards are higher than he can achieve. Yet He has made it clear that even the smallest infraction of His law merits the death penalty. Everyone is guilty! God, then, is absolutely justified in what He decides regarding the judgment and punishment of us all (conversely, He always rewards righteousness). Moreover, we do not know all the circumstances and reasons for His judgments, so our opinions of God's decisions are at best ill-informed. Of all judges, only God is absolutely fair and incorruptible. And when He shows mercy it manifests His lovingkindness and grace.
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.
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.
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 reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
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 focuses upon the watchman responsibility as defined in Ezekiel 33:2 and Isaiah 62:6, consisting of both physical and spiritual aspects. Part of the pastor's responsibility is to carefully observe economic, social, meteorological, and political trends, warning the flock to take prudent precautions, including making a prayer offensive, making careful and thoughtful self-examination, actively repenting, submitting to God, looking to God's providence for a possible way of escape, but realizing that the place of safety has conditions attached to it. The exact standards of qualification for a Philadelphian have been left purposely vague to keep the prod to spiritual growth fairly intense. Our focus should be to seek God's kingdom, reciprocating God's love, committing ourselves to a life of service fulfilling His purpose for us, doing so without complaining, or comparing our lot with others, realizing He will supply exactly what we need.
Men have a love-hate relationship with mercy: They love to receive it, but hate to give it! Mercy, though, is one of the most important virtues, according to our Savior Jesus Christ. This article provides reasons why we should lean toward mercy in all our judgments.
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.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.
Many people believe that our sins are the focus of Passover—but they are wrong! John Ritenbaugh shows that Christ, the Passover Lamb, should be our focus. How well do you know Him?
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 reiterates that pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
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.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
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