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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that Americans have a reputation for kindness warns that we are likely more and more to see a dark underside of America, where hardness of heart supplants kindness. In this milieu, chesed (covenant loyalty and mercy, or showing loving kindness to the most aggravating sinner) cannot exist. David demonstrated chesed by displaying kindness to Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, in spite of the potential dangers doing so could bring to himself. The greater David, our Savior Jesus Christ, also exhibits chesed, loving us while we were still hostile to Him. Both Ruth and Naomi demonstrated covenant loyalty, remaining loyal to the marriage covenant long after the death of their spouses. Ruth faithfully continued to serve her mother-in-law, at what appeared to be great sacrifice to her own interests. Through her choice to become betrothed to Boaz, declining the attentions of more youthful suitors, she demonstrated a special covenant loyalty for which God blessed her by including her in the genealogy of the Messiah. Like Ruth and like Our Savior Jesus Christ, we must assume the role of a servant, obeying the marching orders of Micah 6:8: Walking humbly, justly, and demonstrating chesed.
Martin Collins, maintaining that giving a gift strengthens the bond between individuals, bringing about a warm feeling in the giver toward the one receiving the gift, suggests that there is a sentimental dimension factored into offerings. Jacob, in his voluntary gift to the leader of Egypt (whom he discovered later to be Joseph) was not focused on the monetary value, but on the need to establish a positive relationship with him. Our offerings, likewise, are both obligatory and voluntary. God is not focused on a specific monetary amount, but on the attitudes behind our giving, particularly the attitudes of humility, gentleness and patience. God expects us to bring our offerings, walking worthy of our calling, bearing with one another in the bond of peace, which represents a chain of friendship. Properly giving an offering mends and strengthens our relationship with God, especially when we offer our entire lives, time, treasure, and talents every day.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the practice of "defriending" (or "unfriending") on Facebook, contrasts this practice with Christ's love for His called-out ones, a friending with the condition that godly fruit is born. When Paul challenged the Roman congregation to produce godly fruit, he was not looking for new converts, but evidence of the spiritual fruit of God's character. Jesus Christ became like us so that we could become like Him. The fruit Jesus asked His disciples to bear is designed to glorify the Father, to demonstrate love by obedience to His Commandments, and to increase the believer's joy, a by-product of sincere obedience. God admonishes us to not only bear fruit, but to bear more fruit through pruning. God is looking for a great deal of fruit as we yield to Him in order to exceed our self-imposed limitations, as well as for enduring fruit, in contrast to futile worldly projects which are subject to decay. As we bear godly fruit, the quality of our friendship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren will increase exponentially as we make activities like intercessory prayer, sacrifice, hospitality, and charity a perpetual part of our spiritual repertoire.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that God has chosen the weak and base things of the world to confound the wise, analyzes the commonalities of heroes who have emerged from common people and who sacrifice their personal concerns for the greater good. We recognize first responders (policemen, firemen, and soldiers) who routinely risk their lives to help others. Irena Sendler, the brave woman who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Henry Erwin, scalded by a flare he pulled out of the failed bomber hatch, and Arland Williams Jr, who assisted in the saving of the survivors of a downed aircraft but who drowned before rescuers could reach him, all exemplify heroes. The Roman historian Plutarch identified compassion for others as the common link for all acts of heroism. Sympathetic compassion for others motivated Winston Churchill, Joseph, Jephthah, and most significantly, Our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life to redeem humanity. We need to emulate our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, making the exercise of sacrificial compassion a daily activity.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that God does not do things uselessly, and certainly does not need our physical goods, examines the role of the offering and sacrifice rehearsed at each Holy Day. The nouns offering and sacrifice derive from two separate Greek words meaning "to bring forth" and "to kill" respectively. In Romans 12:1, God demands a living sacrifice which constitutes our reasonable service. The offering reminds us that we are to bring something forward to the altar to be sacrificed. We must choose to be killed through our obedience, daily mortifying the old man, who ghoulishly struggles to come back to life. We must be diligent in slaying our carnal nature and diligently loving God by keeping His commandments. The Apostle Paul gives us a success formula in presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in I Corinthians 9:23-27, where he states that: (1) We must realize the challenges we face are beyond our understanding and natural abilities, (2) We must determine to trust God. (3) We know we are not now perfect, but we must give our all. (4) We must understand that though God is merciful, we dare not squander our calling. (5) We race against ourselves and should allow ourselves no excuses for failure. (6) We must envision the reward, realizing that we will be rewarded on how well we do. (7) We need to know that Christ is with us the entire way. Being a living sacrifice produces successful living.
Martin Collins, assessing Paul's admonition that God's people be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2), acknowledges that God possesses three non-transmittable attributes: omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (existing everywhere at once), and omniscience (knowing everything). These attributes will never become descriptive of God's people. But there are other, transmittable, attributes which we can make a part of our new nature. These include love, forgiveness, compassion, and longsuffering. God commands that we emulate Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us. He instructs us to humble ourselves, giving our entire self as a sacrifice of love. Paul explains that light symbolizes the regeneration of the new creation, totally separate from the old creation, lying in darkness. There must be a regenerative change in what we are, how we think, and the way we think. With God's help, we must obliterate our evil, carnal nature, replacing it with purity and holiness, both of which will be evident to those with whom we associate. They will observe that no filthiness or course speech comes from us, as we radiate God's behavior (symbolized by light) in a murky world of darkness. Just as God characterized the Prophet Danial as being a light, He has also called us to be lights to the world, to radiate His attributes of forgiving, giving, and living.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 16:16 and Exodus 23:17, the traditional verses calling for an offering, admonishing not to come to Holy Day services empty-handed, reminds us that we are not really giving God anything because He owns everything. The experience of giving an offering is for our benefit. We receive benefits by giving them. There are reasons beyond money to prepare an offering. Offering and sacrifice are not the same, but they are inextricably related. An offering is something we value highly which we want to bring forward to the altar. A sacrifice implies that something is put to death. God intends that we bring ourselves to the altar and then give ourselves as living sacrifices, mortifying the old man, our carnal nature, allowing God to consume our talents and abilities in His service, disciplining our bodies as we run our spiritual race. We must imitate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who brought Himself to the altar, and then climbed onto the altar as a sacrifice. Similarly, when we are symbolically put to death in the waters of baptism, we offer ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice—our reasonable sacrifice. God is showing us a major pathway to our spiritual goal of membership in His family.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that most professing Christians are aware of the New Covenant, cautions us not to fall prey to the insidious error that much of the Protestant—especially the evangelical—world teaches. The error lies in misconstruing the significance of the New Covenant as a 'free pass into Heaven' without paying attention to the Law which, detractors almost universally claim, has been done away. Protestants ignore the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11, where God says He will "hard-wire" His Law into peoples' minds after a thoroughgoing transforming and renewing of those minds during sanctification, demanded as a part of our living sacrifice. Acceptance of the terms of this New Covenant may appear as insurmountable hurdles to the carnal mind. We are required to give up anything (family, esteem from friends and associates, fame, wealth, etc.) which conflicts with our loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father. We are obliged to soberly count the cost before we leap, realizing we have formidable enemies (both spiritual and physical) to conquer as well as continuous obstacles to overcome, for which we will need prodigious quantities of God's precious Holy Spirit. Like the apostle Paul, we must be willing to forego any attractions to fame, prestige, or influence if they conflict with God's divine purpose for us, considering these previous desires rubbish. Sanctification is not passive, but it is a rigorously active process in which God requires our full participation, yielding to His molding. We must put God before family, friends, and self. God will not create our spiritual character by fiat; we must be thoroughly involved in the process, keeping and meditating upon His Holy Law, making it our first nature instead of our second nature. We must look before we leap, but we must leap in the right direction and at the right time, setting our minds on things above, walking in the spirit and not in the flesh.
Bill Onisick, exploring the origins of Father's Day, suggests that it may have originated in Europe when the Roman Catholic Church set aside March 19th to honor fatherhood. In the United States, several women, seeking to honor their dead spouses who had died in accidents or military conflict, set various summer dates. Our most recent date, the third Sunday in June, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The ideal father-son relationship was expressed by our Elder Brother, who honored God the Father by keeping His Commandments. How we honor our Heavenly Father determines the level of our spiritual maturity. We often encounter individuals in our fellowship who serve as supreme trials to us. Perhaps God has placed them there so we can develop our ability to forgive. Others may also consider us their biggest trial. Whether we weed a garden of our physical father or do something positive for our Heavenly One, we should realize that nothing says "Thank you" like obedience.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that America's relationship with slavery has indeed been checkered, with chattel slaves and indentured servants contributing to the prosperity of earlier times, counters the 'Progressivist' claim that America invented slavery and historically practiced the most tyrannical abuses in the world. In point of fact, every ethnic group has both practiced slavery and has been victims of slavery. Israelites have been slaves multiple times, to the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. A culture of slavery pervaded life in the early Christian church , forcing Paul to pen instructions accommodating this practice in the context of love. As well, slavery was a part of the culture of ancient Israel, where God codified as part of His Law humane regulations, guaranteeing liberation of Israelite slaves after six years of service and the Jubilee. These regulations obligated masters to make provisions ensuring their slaves' successful transition to freedom. Contrasting the harsh treatment of slaves by some American slaveowners, God's treatment of us as slaves of righteousness is mild, with Christ's promise that His yoke is easy. Christ, having purchased us from a prior slave owner who was cruel, demands only a lifetime of reasonable service to our brethren with the same rigor as Christ has served us. God has given us a variety of talents and responsibilities to facilitate our serving one another in a spirit of humility, with none exalting himself above another. When we fulfill all the conditions for Christian behavior outlined in I Corinthians 12 and 13, we are still unprofitable servants unless we learn to forgive and meld in love (that is, in sincerity), compassion, and humility with our siblings in the God family.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
Mark Schindler, focusing on the seventh day, the last great day of Jesus' final Feast of Tabernacles, admonishes us to look beyond the significance of our own calling, realizing that the sacrifice of Christ was intended for all men with the hope that they also would be added ultimately to the family of God. We need to allow our Heavenly Father to infuse us with big-picture thinking, realizing that God's work is much greater than our calling, but is in fact a work enabling all of mankind to have access to God the Father. God has purposely given us, as God's called ones, the position of "trainees" as a part of the First Fruits to expedite this marvelous project. The seventh day Sabbath has always served as God's signature, a key to understanding redemption and healing. The seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles contained a traditional water ceremony, which Jesus greatly magnified, prophesying that whoever drinks of the living water (symbolic of God's Holy Spirit) will manifest rivers of living water flowing from them. . Understanding the pattern of seven, the signature of God, gives us a deeper appreciation for the God we serve, enabling us to realize that the Great God has been working to complete His plan down to the tiniest detail. From the creation of the Sabbath and the annual Holy days, including the seven Sabbaths we count to Pentecost, we see how God is working to bring all mankind into His family in systematic stages, beginning with the First Fruits and ending with a great harvest of the rest of mankind in the White Throne Period, after which God will be all-in-all. The number seven is a kind of divine motif, God's signature, a signpost for His called-out ones to build faith, whether we consider the land Sabbath, counting seven Sabbaths to Pentecost,or the 49 years followed by the Jubilee, which typifies the eighth day, contemplating a grand expansion of the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that sometimes the pace of the Feast of Tabernacles can be wearying, reminds us that God has commanded His people to rejoice and to develop a beneficial fear and respect for Him. Enjoying the feast to the hilt physically does not necessarily mean we had a good feast. If we do nothing to make a fine feast for someone else, we probably will not have a good feast. God commanded the Israelites to offer more sacrifices at the Feast of Tabernacles than at all the other Holy Days combined. We attain spiritual regeneration by participation. After the Babylonian captivity, people felt more inclined to serve than before, having cultivated a new appreciation for what they had lost—namely, God's precious law. Just because we are keeping God's festivals does not necessarily mean we are in sync with God's Law or His purpose for our lives. God commissioned Amos to write a powerful, stirring message to the ten northern tribes, warning them to prepare to meet their God and to change the attitudes which were polluting God's feasts. Israel, in the time of Amos, had drifted into the same moral cesspool as the modern Israelitish nations have today, laden down with corruption and bloodshed, just as America's Supreme Court has made sodomy and murder the law of the land. Amos warned against exalting symbolism over substance, clinging to Bethel as a religious shrine, while neglecting the fact that Bethel was the location where God renamed Jacob to Israel. God wants each of us individually to go through the same transformation as our father Jacob—from conniving schemer to a totally converted and submissive servant.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon an inspiring incident in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which a runner, Derek Redmond, who had previously dropped out of competition because of an injured Achilles tendon, had another setback, a pulled hamstring, causing him to suddenly fall to the ground after having been in a commanding lead. Writhing in pain, with dogged determination, he managed, with some help from his devoted father, to finish the race. His inspiring example provides a spiritual analogy to all of God's called-out ones who must continually battle external obstacles (as well as the inner obstacles of carnal human nature), erecting a formidable barrier of resistance. The elite athlete, not always the one with the superior skills, nevertheless is the one with the gritty persistence to fight on regardless of the obstacles, wanting nothing to do with mediocrity. Persistence is the key attribute, having the attending synonyms endurance, steadfastness, or staying the course. Jesus counseled the value of this trait in the examples of the persistent neighbor asking for a loaf of bread in the middle of the night and the importunate widow who wore out the judge. Isaac provided a wonderful example of this tenacity, as he trusted God, repeatedly moving away from quarrelsome situations, trusting God to provide. Isaac, as a type of Christ, prefigured Jesus' returning to God the Father for sustenance and strength. Similarly, we are to return to the well of God's Spirit if we are to move forward. To develop Godly persistence, we should (1) have a clearly defined goal we desire with all our heart, (2) have a clearly established plan we can work on immediately, (3) make an irrevocable decision to reject all negative suggestions, and (4) accept encouragement and help from those on the same path.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Bill Onisick, focusing on the concept of the bread of affliction in Deuteronomy 16:3, admonishes us that the unleavened bread we consume consists of purity without hypocrisy, similar to a perfect gem held up to the sunlight. We have been de-leavened, but we know we still have sin in us that has to be purified through a lengthy process of sanctification. We need to be aware that the deadly leaven of hypocrisy, which comes in from the world, swell us up in pride. God desires a sincere, humble, compassionate heart, qualities our Elder Brother did not find in the leaders of the religious establishment of His time, qualities also lacking in religious leaders at the end time. Hypocrisy will be revealed in the light of God's truth. Our greatest challenge will be to overcome the puffed-up attitude of self-exaltation and pride. The separatist attitude of many splinter groups have driven the church apart. Hypocrisy stems from not recognizing our indebtedness to Christ's sacrifice, involving intense affliction. The daily eating of the bread of affliction identifies us with our Savior. We should emulate Christ as we endure the afflictions of our own life. God is creating us in His own image. Satan's leavening drives us to seek self-satisfaction, but we must be willing to sacrifice our lives for our brethren as Christ did. We must ingest Christ through His Word daily, putting on His agape love as the bond of perfection.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: We live in a self-indulgent age. Advertisers tell us to pamper ourselves and get all that we can as soon as we can. Politicians promise high-cost "freebies" that only a few years ago required ...
Martin Collins discusses the apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, a group of dispirited, despairing Christians who had been bombarded by false teachings that the Day of the Lord had already come, prompting many to quit their employment, rest on their laurels, and become busy-bodies, as well as leading the leaders to express doubt and fear that the congregation would ever make the grade. Paul encourages the bewildered Thessalonians, suggesting that the purposes for the suffering they were now enduring consists of (1) growing in spiritual character, providing examples to the other congregations, (2) being prepared for future glory, and (3) glorifying Christ today. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to thank God for their salvation, surrender without complaint, ask God to give wisdom, and to watch for opportunities to serve, waiting patiently for God to work His purpose. We cannot be so excited about Christ's return that we neglect our own overcoming and character development. Because God's Church is under judgement now, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must submit to God's summons to a life of purity and sacrifice. God can and will supply strength and power to all those who have been called, but our aspiration and goal of conforming to His image has to motivate our current performance. If we humbly trust in God, all of our works will bear fruit. In order for God to grow a church, the faith of its members must be strengthened through trials, love must increase, and hope must persevere, enduring under trial. Tribulation produces perseverance, which in turn leads to reciprocal glory with Christ.
Martin Collins, asserting that prolonged inactivity will cause muscle mass to deteriorate, draws some compelling parallels to the equally alarming deterioration of masculine leadership, currently under attack in our culture by liberal progressive humanists and strident radical feminists. Consequently, many of our young men have become namby-pamby or self-centered, unable to provide for a family or contribute something productive to society. Although men have no moral or mental advantages over women, God has commissioned them to actively lead, providing a measure of security and stability to family and society. Man and woman are both fashioned in God's image, each gender having only a portion of the composite picture. Together, they are commissioned to be fruitful and multiply. In the family structure, man was instructed to lead the family and ardently love his spouse, while woman was commissioned to submit to his leadership, as both submitted to God's leadership. In assuming leadership roles, men need to abandon self-centeredness and adopt other-centeredness, being willing to go the extra mile as a living sacrifice. Feminism and cultural Marxism cannot give society the leadership our culture needs; only God's ordained family structure, with a man willing to be a living sacrifice, will fulfill that pressing need.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on the lyrics of Andrew Gold's song, Thank You For Being A Friend, compares biblical requirements for friendship, making the observation that true friendship is not just a casual relationship, but instead a deep commitment of trust, enabling the sharing of our deepest thoughts without fear of our confidences being spread all over Facebook the next morning. Friends support us unconditionally in trials, helping us to understand our faults and shortcomings, without assuming we have hopelessly botched up. The Scriptures set high standards for enduring friendships, whether we view the companionship of David with Jonathan, Abraham's friendship with God, or Christ's commitment to lay down His life for each of us. We should aspire to be willing to make the same kind of commitments in our friendships, sacrificing our time to encourage, bolster, admonish, and comfort a companion in need. Sometimes an encouraging word from a friend can work more powerfully than a prescription-strength anti-depressant. We need to assiduously cultivate our friendships, especially those within the body of Christ, reciprocating the love Christ has bestowed upon us.
Clyde Finklea, asking us what identifies a person as a true disciple of Christ, points to the command in John 13:34, commanding that the disciples love one another as Christ loved us—loving to the extent that He would give up His life. God is composed of love, as described in its many facets in Galatians 5:22 and I Corinthians 13. Two positive facets identified in I Corinthians are longsuffering (the opposite of retaliation and vengeance), as exemplified by David in his response to Saul, and kindness or compassion, as expressed by David to Jonathan's heir. As Christians, we must exercise longsuffering and kindness to all, including to those that have done ill to us. The only way we can be considered disciples of Christ is if we love one another with His standard.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
David C. Grabbe: John 15:4-5 in the Phillips translation gives us a great deal to consider: "You can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
In his masterwork, the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon frequently touches on the subject of work due to its central place in both human and divine life. John Ritenbaugh explains that God works all the time—in fact, it is the first thing we see God doing in His Book—and we must follow His example to become skilled in living as He does.
David C. Grabbe: Most translations fail to bring out that two different words are translated as "love" in John 21:15-17. Twice, Jesus asks Peter if he had agape love for Him, and both times ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, reaffirms that to know God (to know His Character) is to have eternal life. Living by faith is the incremental understanding given to those who are undergoing the sanctification process. Moses lived his entire life knowing and believing that God was there. Conversely, modern Israel (or the American people) live their lives as though God were not there. Because of our collective pride as a nation, we will witness God's turning nations against us, usurping our lofty status, turning us into whimpering children. Though we may believe God exists, we may not personally see His involvement in our lives. We are obligated to establish a personal relationship with God in order to safeguard our salvation. Just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation because it provides no motivation to overcome. Currently, we are still on our pilgrimage, having our faith tested continually. Some of the Founding Fathers of this country, practicing Deists, believed in God, but did not believe that God was actively involved in His creation, producing a passive relationship. We are warned not to put off forming a relationship with God; we do not have an unlimited amount of time to do so. Faith in God and in the motivating power in God's Word have to be the driving force in everything we do each day. We need to be faithfully assimilating God's Word incrementally every day until our behavior becomes habitually conditioned by God's Word. We need to hear as well as see, heed and obey as well as merely listen. David, a type of Jesus Christ, has become a symbol of one who has established a close, intimate relationship with God. We must voluntarily sacrifice our time, energy, and devotion to God, showing that we desire the relationship. Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with a price, has been pleading for His Bride to return to Him. We assimilate Jesus Christ when we assimilate His Word.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Deuteronomy 28:63, suggests there is a context in which God rejoices in cursing or judgment. God's rejoicing does not always have to be attending to good or positive events, but sometimes in painful judgments. God can take satisfaction that He is doing the right thing. In the early days of the Radio Church of God, people seemed to exercise extraordinary diligence and resourcefulness in keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, with virtually none of the perks we have today. A well-planned Feast can be a downer if we do not participate in serving or fellowship. If we do not give of ourselves, we will receive nothing in return. The Feast is not intended to be "one big blast," but a time of spiritual growth, which may take some helpful course correction. Their result, ultimately will be rejoicing. When we keep God's Holy Days just to please our materialistic appetites, we will be keeping the Feast in an unworthy manner, and are flirting with God's harsh judgment. Rejoicing is a choice; we have the power over our attitudes. If we seek God's direction, God will reciprocate by directing our paths. It is our obligation to make sacrifices during the Feast of Tabernacles, an event which requires more sacrifice than any other time of the year. Sacrificing and rejoicing are linked, although today the emphasis should be more on the spiritual rather than the physical aspect. We are expected to bring our harvest of spiritual fruits, also known as good works, bearing one another's burdens, uplifting one another. The Feast of Tabernacles is not expected to be problem- or trouble-free, nor will the Millennium be trouble-free, but it will be the most opportune time to produce the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a time to rebuild the ruined and desolate places. When we begin to act like God, we will know that He is the Lord. The very fact that He has commanded us to rejoice means that it does not come naturally. Let us give of ourselves in service.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the sacrificial system of Leviticus typifies spiritual sacrifices which we perform under the New Covenant. Although the slaying of an animal may seem archaic, the spiritual insight is significant. Abel's offering of an animal was acceptable, whereas Cain's offering of the produce of the land was not. With the sacrifice of an animal, we sacrifice a being with which we have established a close relationship. The cutting of the animal's throat typifies the degree of self-sacrifice demanded of us. Our submission to God must take precedence over love for family or anyone or anything else. The Old Testament sacrifices focused more on total commitment and sacrifice rather than on dying.
We assess costs and values all the time in our daily lives: Is it better to buy used or new? Should we prefer traditional or contemporary? Paper or plastic? John Ritenbaugh employs the same process to God's love for us in giving His Son as the sacrifice for sin. What costs have been paid for our redemption?
How many of us go through life with our noses to the grindstone, as it were, always trying to get ahead and never really appreciating what God has given us? Using Mitch Albom's book, Tuesdays With Morrie, Bill Onisick focuses on a major lesson of Christianity: Real life comes as a result of giving our own.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon a vivid dream in which two lions entered the meeting hall, describes the terror he had as they came toward him. The dream reminds us that Satan and his demons are prowling around like ravenous lions, seeking whom they may devour. On the Day of Atonement, we afflict our souls to humble ourselves and abstaining from work. Christ came to this earth to shed His blood in love and self-sacrifice to redeem us and all mankind from our sins. We are to gather together in a holy convocation, symbolizing our unity in God. It is a time of rendering ourselves poor in spirit, preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God. When we afflict ourselves on the Day of Atonement, we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Tabernacles. We do no work on this day, illustrating that we cannot justify ourselves, but must rely totally on God. Satan is currently paroled, dwelling in the holding facility of this earth, taking every opportunity to deceive and destroy the sons of man in the short time he has left. Satan especially wants to attack those who are faithfully keeping God's laws. We must ardently trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, practicing what God has taught us, denying ourselves in the process, emulating Jesus Christ. When confronting Satan, we must be sober and self-controlled, vigilant and watchful, resisting Satan at every opportunity, standing firm in the faith, remaining steadfast as a rock. If we resist the Devil, God will draw close to us and Satan will be compelled to flee.
In April 1607, three small English ships lay anchored in Chesapeake Bay as 104 men left their vessels to plant their feet on solid ground. ...
John Ritenbaugh examines the lives of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, observing that they put their treasure and lives in danger, many dying as traitors and outcasts. All of the signers realized that they were lighting the fuse freeing the colonies from a tyrannical enslaving power. We must also be prepared to put our lives, treasure, and honor on the line, pledging everything we are and everything we have, picking up our cross daily, declaring our independence from carnality, evil and bondage to sin. The stakes are higher for us than for the signers of the Declaration of Independence. True godly patriotism cannot be forced; Christ voluntarily and willingly laid down His life for the flock. Godly patriotism is built and sustained by truth which issues forth in love, requiring a lifetime of spiritual struggle and sacrifice, patterned after the substitutionary sacrifice of our Elder Brother. We must say no to self-centeredness, bearing the pain and shame of this lifestyle Christ has given us, continuing to trust Him in all situations, serving our brethren in His behalf. Paradoxically, laying down our lives in the service of God the Father and Christ the Son, suffering hardship, and struggling with our carnal nature, actually makes us free. Ironically, preparing for spiritual struggle and warfare must take place in an environment of peace.
Every now and again, the Feast of Pentecost and Memorial Day fall back-to-back on the calendar, as they do this year. ...
We live in a youth-oriented culture. Once a person grays and wrinkles, he is essentially pushed to the margins of society, but this should not happen in the church of God! The elderly have a great deal to offer—if we will only pay attention.
Martin Collins suggests that genuine humility is one of the most elusive characteristics a person can attain. Vain efforts to develop and display humility include self-flagellation or self-denial. Behaviors such as asceticism or extreme vegetarianism are employed in efforts to appear humble. The apostle Paul, in advocating esteeming others better than self, did not mean developing or feigning a feeling of inferiority or depression, denigrating our own abilities or gifts. Instead he taught that the followers of Christ will work to put the interests of others above their own. Genuine humility, an inward condition of the heart, constitutes an alliance of genuine self-respect, based on truth, accompanied by a genuine desire to serve, as demonstrated by our Elder Brother in the act of foot-washing. Jesus never sacrificed his dignity as He humbled Himself as a bondservant. As we humble ourselves in obedience to God's commands, God gives us grace and the ability to face fiery trials. We are obligated to draw near to God (with the help of His Spirit), purifying our thoughts, words, and deeds, inside and out, avoiding double-mindedness. God, in return, promises to protect us from Satan. The humble are those who willingly obey and submit themselves to the will and pleasure of God rather than submitting to their own carnal pleasures. To the degree we genuinely humble ourselves, God will lift us up.
Why do so many nominal Christians reject works and obedience to God's law? John Ritenbaugh posits that they do this because they fail to gather God's whole counsel on this subject. In doing so, they miss vital principles that help to bring us into the image of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues the theme of the difficulty we have in this age to distinguish truth from error. Satan's biggest targets for disinformation are God's called-out ones. As the apostles turned the world upside down by the Gospel, Satan's implanted tares immediately began to spread disinformation—so much so that the 'Christian' church of the second century bore little resemblance to the church Christ founded. Who, then, are His true disciples? They may be identified by: 1) being led by God's Spirit dwelling within, causing them to yield to God's will; 2) behaving in love toward friend and foe; 3) abiding perpetually in God's Word (not merely agreeing with, but actually living the teaching, coming to know the truth by practical experience; and 4) bearing much spiritual fruit.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Sixty years ago, June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, to establish a foothold on the European continent and to begin to roll back the Nazi army toward the Fatherland. ...
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
In Luke 14:25-33, two parables and an exhortation urge us to forsake all that we have as a mandatory condition to becoming Christ's disciples. One main lesson is emphasized in these scriptures: the nature and influence of true discipleship.
There must be something to prove we are one with Christ, engrafted as part of Him and in union with the Father and the Son. John Ritenbaugh asserts that that something is the manner in which we conduct our life, and we must be living in conformity to the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, taking both a backward and a forward look at the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles, poses the question, "What is so bad about Babylon?" The Babylonian system (code name for the world's political, religious, economic, and cultural systems) poses a menacing danger to God's people, but God wants us to work out His plan within the Babylonian system- obligating us to struggle against its ever-pervasive sensual pulls, a system that had its dim beginnings with the dictatorial, violent, and enslaving rule of Nimrod—the first celebrity rebel of note—a hunter, enslaver, and destroyer of men. The significance of the tower of Babel reflects Satan's overweening pride and hubris (a triumph of human reasoning) to displace God. What man does through his clever inventiveness and creativity will not outlast God's eternal works. If men do not become aligned with God's thoughts, their grandiose plans will not succeed. Coming out of Babylon will undoubtedly require suffering, pain, and self denial, but the sacrifice will pay immense spiritual dividends.
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.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
The meal offering represents another aspect of the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. John Ritenbaugh shows that it symbolizes the perfect fulfillment of the second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
John Ritenbaugh focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is full of symbols and types. The offerings of Leviticus, though they are no longer necessary under the New Covenant, are wonderful for teaching us about Christ in His roles as sacrifice, offerer, and priest. And they even instruct us in our roles before God too!
If you knew you would live forever, how would you live? John Ritenbaugh explains that, biblically, eternal life is much more than living forever: It is living as God lives!
Many words that begin with "self" describe conditions that we must overcome. Self-surrender, however, is something we need to engage in to overcome our faults.
A key to overcoming our sins is learning when to deny ourselves. Christ plainly declares that those who desire to follow Him must deny themselves.
John Ritenbaugh points out 700 references to the act of eating, all providing contexts or vehicles of serious spiritual instruction. Banquets invariably provide springboards for instruction, from Abraham's entertaining of angels, to Joseph's banquet for his brothers, to Esther's banquet for Haman to Belshazzar's feast featuring the handwriting on the wall to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Banquets- eating or refraining from eating- not only display God's faithful provisions and human righteousness, but eating (or refraining from eating) displays tests of a person's morality such as Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the sign of keeping the covenant (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and Christ's refusal to be tempted by food (Matthew 4). Eating reminds us that God's provision and human need also apply on a spiritual level.
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.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
Queen Esther, faced with the destruction of her people in Persia, put her life on the line. Ronny Graham describes how her example should be an inspiration to us. Also contains the inset article, God—Absent from Esther?
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
The fifth fruit of the Spirit, kindness, reflects God's loving actions toward us. We in turn must learn to bestow kindness on others.
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
Christ says in God's Word that we can show no greater love than in sacrificing our lives for our friends. How do we do this? We must come to the point where we are doing this daily!
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
How do we, as modern Christians, bear our cross as Jesus commands? He meant far more than simply carrying a stake over our shoulders! This article shows how vital denying ourselves and taking up our cross is in following Christ.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that sacrifice (as an act and as a way of life) is absolutely necessary for the working out of God's plan. In taking undue attention off the self, sacrifice creates peace, prosperity, cooperation, and most of all, character. As called out royal priests (I Peter 2:5) we need to carry the principle of sacrifice into our lives to maintain the relationship established by the covenant, offering living sacrifices by our reasonable service and overcoming (Romans 12:1-2) , praise (Hebrews 13:15), and perhaps even martyrdom (Philippians 2:17). Sacrifice stifles and kills human nature- which causes intense pain as it cries out for satisfaction. Thankfully, God never requires us to sacrifice anything that will ultimately be good for us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Christ's sacrifice was not merely substitutionary, but representative, with Christ giving us a pattern to live our lives- mortifying our flesh and putting out sin. From this pattern, we realize that living righteously does not guarantee a life free from pain. Like Christ our Forerunner, we must learn from the things we suffer, living a life of sacrifice, collectively and individually becoming a temple or body- a habitation of God's Holy Spirit. Like Christ, we are called to be priests, providing an intercessory bridge between mankind and God. Our entire lives, like our Elder brother, must be given as a whole living sacrifice to God, (1) yielding our bodies and minds, controlling our appetites and desires, (2) making sacrifices of praise, (3) making sacrifices of service to others, and if required, (4) the sacrifice of a martyr's death.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon two sets of verses (Colossians 2:16-18; Galatians 4:9-10) which Protestant theologians have blasphemously charged that Paul was referring to God's Law, Sabbath, and Holy Days as weak and beggarly elements of the world. In both instances Paul was not referring to keeping the Holy Days at all, but instead an attempt by some in those congregations to syncretize Gnostic asceticism with the keeping of Holy Days, perverting their right use, in addition to bringing in superstitious lucky days, months, and seasons from pagan customs involving demon worship. In both contexts, Paul admonishes these congregations that the object of our faith must be Christ (including keeping His Commandments) rather than demons or human tradition.
Why does God want us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? John Ritenbaugh shows that the Feast is far more than a yearly vacation!
John Ritenbaugh, countering the naive assumption that the spirit of the law does away with the letter, insists that without the letter, there is no spirit because no foundations are possible. Writing the laws on our heart does not occur magically, but is a process (involving, prayer, meditation, learning and growing through life's experiences as our Elder Brother also grew in experience (Luke 2:40) We must walk as He walked (I John 2:6). The myriad examples given throughout the scriptures demonstrate for us (stretch out) the intent of the law. No scripture may say anything regarding a particular law, but examples (especially of Christ) will show God's will. The law appears in example form all over the scripture.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon our future responsibilities as a priest in God's Kingdom, asking us if we are really preparing for this role. If we are not practicing being a priest right now,we will not be prepared. During the Millennium, the priest will be required to make a large number of mediating sacrifices on behalf of the people, mediating, reconciling, teaching, judging, and saving the remnant of Israel. The primary function of a priest is to assist people in accessing God- so that there can be unity with God. A priest is a bridge-builder between man and God. The sacrifice that God demands is a total sacrifice of time, energy, and service (in short, ones whole life) to that end. Nothing will prepare us to become a priest more than to commit our entire lives as a total living sacrifice.
Over the centuries, God has been disappointed by mankind over and over again. One man who did not disappoint was the deacon Stephen. Find out why he was so special.
John Reid uses the analogy of a minefield to illustrate Satan's diabolical obstacles to keep us from attaining our objective?the Kingdom of God. The Devil sets specific kinds of mines: a) the lusts of the world (greed, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.), analogous to the Claymore mine, designed to kill individuals; b) doctrinal confusion, analogous to the Bouncing Betty mine, designed to take out, confuse, and destroy whole groups of people. He also suggests ways to help get out of the minefields, including calling out to God for help in tracing our route back to what led to our spiritual disorientation. To navigate safely through, we must ask for God's protection, maintaining humility, watchfulness, and diligence in our task of overcoming and walking in the footsteps of the Mine Detector (I Peter 2:21).
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
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 examines the changing Israelitish mindset following two world wars, negatively influenced by affluence and cynicism which has undermined our ability to endure hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy national goal. Instead of discipline, indomitable will and character with pure national goals we have opted for self-indulgence, laxity, and compromise. In God's plan, the development of uncompromising character requires struggle and sacrifice. Our victory over Satan requires continual drill, tests and development of internal discipline. Like the military, the victory is built incrementally in the mind; the warfare is the drill. (Luke 16:10)
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the smallest unit of government is the individual; God is dealing with each of us on this most basic of all levels of government. It is under the New Covenant that individuals are immersed or installed into His church by the Spirit of God, given only to those who willingly consent to obey Him. In this special handpicked condition, God expects us to learn to govern ourselves. Because the church is a royal priesthood of believers with Christ as the High Priest, there is no religious hierarchy between God and us (Hebrews 10:21-22). In order for us to be transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God, we must have the same kind of access to the Father as Christ did, taking on the awesome responsibility of behaving like the sons of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.
Taking issue with misguided notions of the primitiveness of Abraham, John Ritenbaugh contends that the patriarch was an extremely learned man, a product of a highly advanced civilization. Far from being "an ignorant donkey caravaneer," Abraham was a gifted, wealthy and influential man, who instructed the Chaldean priesthood on the reality of God, demonstrating the foolishness of worshipping created objects rather than the Creator. In terms of prestige, honor, and wealth, he perhaps sacrificed more than anyone else, including Moses, to obey God's command to follow Him. For his faithfulness, Abraham's offspring were richly repaid and blessed for his sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the humble, serving, or footwashing attitude exemplified by Jesus in John 13 provides a clear insight into the mind of God. Jesus humbled Himself, pouring out His divinity to serve mankind, providing an example for us to also serve others. The loving way in which Jesus appealed to Judas leaves us further insights about Jesus conscious choice to accept His Father's will, glorifying His Father through His sacrifice for man's benefit. The Father likewise glorifies His Son by resurrecting and honoring Him. God expects us to follow Christ's example of loving others, with all of their flaws and weaknesses, more than ourselves. This kind of love does not come naturally, but must be acquired through God's Holy Spirit. In chapter 14, Jesus, anticipating His imminent death, provides encouragement, comfort and assurance to His disciples (all of us actually) that they would have a role in His future kingdom. Jesus, by His example, teaches us not to get discouraged if we don't see immediate results from obeying God or carrying out His will. The results may not be realized this side of the grave. By following Christ's example, we follow in the Way of truth, leading to Eternal life and glorification.
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.
[Editors Note: Audio quality improves at the 4 minute mark.]
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the special sacrificial extravagance of Mary, having expended a half-year's wages for perfume to anoint Jesus' feet, demonstrating extraordinary godly love and devotion, indicating that there are some areas of life where extravagance and waste are not even relevant. Judas, a man of talent and skill for fiscal management, but whose mind had become defiled through temptation, could not relate to or comprehend this sublime expression of love. The totally selfless sacrifice of Mary paralleled or prefigured the sacrifice Christ was later to make, giving His precious life for mankind. The key to the real abundant life and glorification is to follow our Elder Brother's example of forcing His will into submission to the Father's will, even to the point of death. We must guard against the precarious blinders of tradition and self-interest — blinders that prevented Judas, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the multitudes from comprehending or following the truth. Instead, we are admonished to walk in the light while we have the light, being willing to sacrifice ego and self-interest, unconditionally yielding to the Father's will in order that we may also become glorified members of the God family.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode in Matthew 20, in which Jesus was deep in thought, reflecting on the prophecies leading up to His crucifixion. At this point, His disciples were not converted, but displayed considerable carnality. The mother of two of the disciples asked for places of honor for her sons; none of the disciples had even an inkling of servant leadership. True greatness does not come from dominance but from serving and sacrificing with the attitude of a slave. Love is sacrificial. Willingness to sacrifice self is the secret to success in God's plan for us. If we would sacrifice instead of attempting to dominate one another, our marriages would be successes. Drinking ones cup is emblematic of enduring whatever we must go through, different for every human being. Our cup is to follow Christ in any situation, supreme sacrifice or lifelong commitment, acting how He would act. No one can really count the cost in advance. When the opportunity comes to learn spiritual truths, we must seize the opportunity as aggressively and boldly as the two blind men sought healing, rejecting any inkling of timidity. In our prayers, we must come before the throne of God boldly and then show gratitude for His response. God is not against doing something dramatic once in awhile in order to make an impact. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, it possibly attracted the attention of 2 ½ million people, most of them visitors. Evidently this event had been planned rather than done on the spur of the moment. His arrival prompted the overwhelming response "Hosanna" or "save now." The crowd was selecting the Lamb to be sacrificed. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
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