Richard T. Ritenbaugh: In Jesus Christ's letter to the congregation at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), He pulls no punches in His evaluation of their works, essentially saying that they sickened Him with their lukewarm attitude ...
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
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, citing a commentary referring to envy as the most precious daughter, makes a distinction between covetousness (desire for things) and envy ( emanating from a hatred for another person's success). Envy led Cain to kill Abel, and the Jewish leaders to crucify Jesus Christ. Satan was envious of a Superior Being. James links human wisdom with envy and self-seeking, attended with confusion and unease. Envy will separate the body of Christ if she (Satan's most precious daughter) can get her hooks into us. Envy led Joseph's brothers to plot to kill him for what they perceived as favoritism. Joseph, on the other hand, worked for the betterment of those above him. Retaining God in our knowledge is the key to keeping envy at bay. Any success or prosperity is because of what God has done; who are we to disagree with Him. Envy is the result of pushing God from our knowledge. It is easy to follow in Satan's footsteps, courting his daughter Envy, reaping the disquiet which accompanies envy.
Richard Ritenbaugh reports on a recent Harris Poll's conclusion that the most educated among us tend to disbelieve in the literal existence of Satan, even though 60% of the American people (according to a Barna Poll) claim to be knowledgeable about the Bible—a document chock-full of substantiation for the existence of the diabolical, evil being we call the devil. A recent Barna Poll also revealed that over 60% of Americans profess to be followers of Christ—Someone Who had many face-to-face dealings with the prince and power of the air and the ruler of this earth, including witnessing Satan's expulsion from Heaven and cast down to this earth, a venue created as the angel's original domain. The being who eventually morphed into Satan was created in perfection as a covering cherub who originally was in Eden, a beautiful creature with immense musical skills. This being, called Heylel, became lifted up in overweening pride because of the abundance of his trading, leading him to be excessively competitive, driving him to an insane resentment against God. Heylel attempted a coup against his Creator and was cast to earth as his jail cell, sharing this venue with us, whom he regards as interlopers. His fate, and that of his fellow demons, is to be confined to the bottomless pit, giving this earth a welcome respite.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
Martin Collins, reiterating that God's sovereignty is a major theme in the book of Daniel, reminds us that if we submit unconditionally to His sovereignty, we have a win-win situation- even when initially, it looks bleak and hopeless. After Nebuchadnezzar's death, the successive tenures of each of his descendants became increasingly attenuated and truncated, mortally weakening Babylon's here-to-fore impregnable position. Belshazzar's blasphemous banquet was the last straw, bringing about the cryptic 'handwriting on the wall' - a somber judgment from Almighty God against the haughty, presumptuous grandchild of Nebuchadnezzar. The words "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" signified that Belshazzar's kingdom had been weighed in the balances and was seriously wanting, forcing a calamitous division and destruction at the hands of Darius the Mede. Belshazzar had to learn the painful lesson that sin is not static, but its path leads precipitously downhill to perdition. Sin, the real opiate of the people, makes us oblivious to danger, giving us a debased and reprobate mind. God is not static; His deferred justice will not be deferred in perpetuity, but evil will be totally recompensed. As Daniel experienced, devotion to God and His laws will stir up jealousy in high places. Daniel maintained his devotion to God in spite of dangerous political circumstances, seemingly standing alone amidst a totally pagan culture. Yet, Daniel was the only one who had it together in the whole empire, totally convicted about what God would soon bring to pass. God wants a voluntary relationship, but leaves it up to us as to how to show our devotion. We could emulate Daniel, seeking contact with God multiple times in the day through prayer, praying in all kinds of situations (in the morning when we are beginning; evening to offer Thanksgiving for the mercies of the day, Before sleep to commend ourselves to Him, in times of embarrassment, and when tormented with strong temptations.) In life and death, God is in control.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the famous "Man in the Arena" speech of Theodore Roosevelt, observed that Roosevelt lived his life with vitality and energy. Whether hunting wild game or entertaining at an embassy party, he conducted his behavior with effervescent zeal. Quiet only when he was reading or studying, Theodore Roosevelt loved boxing, sparring, hiking, hunting, riding, ranching, fighting, and exploring. Roosevelt believed in living vigorously and zealously, pursuing life with all the energy at his disposal, giving his absolute all. His exemplary life provides a model for zeal, ardor, and enthusiasm. Zeal has often been discredited as the tool of the huckster or the charlatan. Christians, however, must develop passion and zeal for the Christian way of life and the prospect of the Kingdom of God. The Laodicean does have a form of zeal, but it is focused on material goals rather than spiritual goals. Consequently, it comes across to God as lack of zeal and commitment, appearing as apathy and detachment. God demands that our zeal be boiling hot, exuding ardor, fervency, and intensity focused single-mindedly on a goal, leading to a motivation to action or motivation to do something specific to please our God. Jesus Christ demonstrated godly zeal and fervor when He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Wherever Jesus went, huge crowds pressed Him to heal the sick; He obliged them wholeheartedly. God's work provided His food. The apostle Paul's misguided zeal was (in the blink of an eye) sublimated into godly zeal at his calling on the road to Damascus, keeping him motivated in God's service for the rest of his life. Any Christian act we can do we should do with zeal.
Ronny H. Graham: Not only was Jonathan a capable leader who inspired confidence and loyalty in his men, but he also had a strong faith in God that those around him recognized. As Saul's heir, Jonathan had qualities that would have made him an excellent king. God, though, had other plans. ...
Anger can be outwardly visible, but it can also show up in ways that are subtle, indirect, and deceptive. Proverbs 26:24-26 provides an example of this...
In his book Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner makes this colorful observation: "Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun...."
Geoff Preston: Discontentment began with Satan the Devil and that he broadcasts his continual unhappiness to humanity. We have to control our minds and not allow his attitude to affect us. ...
Geoff Preston (1947-2013): Ours is a discontented world, and current events indicate that more unsettled times are just ahead, creating more anxiety and dissatisfaction. God's Word tells us, however, ...
Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, ...
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. ...
Deuteronomy 4:24 may strike an astute reader as somewhat controversial, if not contradictory. How can our holy and perfect God be jealous? Knowing that the Bible is consistent in its revelation of God, Ronny Graham reasons that since God's Word is not at fault, it is our limited understanding of godly jealousy that must be expanded.
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
Have you ever observed someone acting churlishly, throwing a wet blanket on an otherwise enjoyable time? Ronny Graham discovers that the Bible confronts such party-poopers, condemning their killjoy attitudes and commanding us to rejoice appropriately.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in terms of excessive hedonistic venal pursuits, vandalism, and violent crime, Halloween brings out the worst aspects of Satan-inspired carnal nature or the works of the flesh. Our outward works telegraph to others and to God what we believe, what we worship, and what we aspire to become. Apart from God, all human thoughts, desires, and human activities (driven by appetite, cravings, and the drive for satisfaction) are potentially destructive, cutting one off from God and leading to death. After our calling, we have the responsibility to break away from our enslavement to human nature and its author—Satan the Devil, striving to "walk in the Spirit." This implies total warfare against the corrupt deeds of the flesh, crucifying our fleshly works. Esau, driven by his appetites, lived by the flesh and reaped bitter fruit, while Joseph lived by the Spirit and received God's blessing.
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.
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.
John Reid, contrasting the world's self-serving, lust-driven "way of get" (mistakenly called love) with God's example of sacrifice and way of outgoing concern, concludes that what the world needs now is the agape love modeled by the Father and Jesus Christ. We are called to take on the very nature of God, to put on the love of God that casts out all fear. Our goal is to take on the likeness of Jesus Christ, developing His character, thereby reflecting the true love of God. If we have lost our first love, we need to rekindle it by ardently keeping God's Commandments, demonstrating both love for God (the first four) and love for mankind (the last six). Attaining God's nature and love requires that we keep His commandments. Of all the spiritual gifts we could ever hope to attain, the love of God surpasses all of them. Love is the way God lives throughout eternity.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh addresses the topic of stewardship, suggesting that what we are called to do at this time is to fulfill our job as a steward, entrusted with managing, protecting, preserving, attending, and increasing what has been entrusted to us- namely the fabulous wealth of the mysteries of God and our spiritual inheritance (I Corinthians 4:1). Our responsibilities as stewards include fidelity, trustworthiness, loyalty, reliability, and devotion to duty. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, rather than commending worldliness, cheating, or scheming, Jesus commends the practical preparations for the future which He desired children of the light to follow.
The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet
A biblical survey of coveting: what it is, what it produces and what a Christian should be doing.
Even though Joseph was born into a highly dysfunctional family, he nevertheless had a "high batting average" when it came to making the right moral choices, even when the consequences appeared initially to his own detriment. Joseph stayed the course, doing good even when it became a stumbling block with his associates, trusting in the fairness and righteousness of God. His experiences and their impact on his family reveal that God can use people and bring about their repentance without taking away their free moral agency. As a type of Christ, Joseph serves as a model of making right moral choices despite intense opposition.
John Ritenbaugh describes the prevailing mindset in human society as one of contention, division and disagreement. The source of division and separation from the source of life is sin that has become practiced as a way of life. Throughout the course of Biblical history, whenever sin appears, confusion, division and separation are the automatic consequences (James 4:1-2). The Day of Atonement pictures the means to bring back unity with God- the covering of our sins with the blood of Christ. Satan, the author of confusion and misinformation, hates this day above all days because he is fingered as the source of sin. Virtually none of the world's spiritually malnourished churches realizes the significance of the Day of Atonement. We are encouraged to humble ourselves before God, resisting pride, the propelling force of sin.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
Sometimes we hear some juicy tidbit, and we have to pass it on! But what if it is not true? Kenneth Griswold weighs in on the effects of gossip.
John Ritenbaugh counsels us not to have an apathetic relationship toward God (Revelation 3:15), but instead to ardently, earnestly, diligently, and fervently seek God in order to imitate His behavior in our lives. The fervency of a passionate courtship and marriage relationship provides the grounds for comparison of the kind of relationship God wants with us. Jesus, David, and Jacob exemplified the passionate fervor and heat (both to purify good and to destroy evil) God demands of us. If we search for God with all our hearts, looking for something which is a vital necessity for us (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:12-13; Hebrews 11:6) God will reward us, giving us what we are seeking: a warm, ardent relationship, transforming us into what He is.
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