David Grabbe points out the cause-effect relationship between sin and "madness, blindness, and confusion of heart." Sin automatically causes blindness, and blindness begets more sin. Romans 1:18-28 explains that individuals enslave themselves to a reprobate mind by following their perverted desires. God gives those hapless individuals up to their choices, as well as to the deadly consequences of their lusts. As they embark on their deadly downward spiral, God takes His hand off from them, allowing them to experience the consequences. As we make the choice to follow any course which is opposed to God's purpose(defined Scripturally as Mammon), our spiritual understanding begins to darken until we become blissfully unaware of danger. The Scriptures plainly show us areas of potential blindness, as with the warning that he who hates is brother is blind (I John 2:1) or with the connection between blindness and lacking faith, self-control, perseverance and other godly character traits (II Peter 1:5-9). God wants us to overcome blindness, but we must make the choice to obey Him and eschew sin before He restores our spiritual visual acuity.
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 anti-biblical "scholarship" emanating from pseudo-experts, assures us that, when properly evaluated, there are no discrepancies in scripture; God is not the author of confusion, but of peace and order. God purposely refrained from unfolding His Holy Word as a factual historical report in order that we may learn to place "precept with precept," discovering something new every time we read the Bible. The Atheist may feel a certain degree of smugness in denying the Bible. Those of us called of God learn to progress from milk to solid food, stimulating our curiosity in progressive stages, as God brings us to new levels of understanding. God does not enlighten us until we are mature enough to absorb and use knowledge. God may use paradoxes and apparent contradictions to put balance into our behavior, for example, understanding the contexts in which riches or poverty can be either a blessing or a curse. God's Word forces us to value the Spirit above the Letter, walking as a living epistle, rejecting the counterfeit main-stream Christianity's notion that grace gives license to disobey the Law, as we come to recognize that the doers of the law will be justified. Faith without works is dead, but living faith is demonstrated by godly works. The testimony of the Bible and that of the physical universe are not discordant, but harmonious, demonstrating that God is the designer and sustainer of all life. Those who have given their lives to discredit the Bible must shamefully eat their own words in the fullness of time. Bible difficulties are designed to stimulate our minds and make us curious, to lead us to value Spirit over letter and to sharpen our abilities solve paradox and so-called contradiction. God's inspiration of His Word is perfect.
John Ritenbaugh dives into a study of the Abrahamic Covenant, a covenant made with one man which impacts all of mankind to the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth and beyond, involving billions of people. The Abrahamic Covenant is one of the most massive collection of promises of God ever made, promises of which most of mankind are not aware. The many cataclysmic events which have occurred after the Flood (such as World War II) indicate that human nature has not changed one iota. None of us are immune to the temptation of the worst kinds of sin, including adultery and murder. Nimrod, whose rogue kingdom brought about Babel and the Nephilim, was the grandson of Noah. Civilization changes rapidly, and hardly ever for the better because people rarely think about God, let alone obey Him. After the Flood, people had fair warning from God, from the preaching of Noah and Shem, but the clear majority rejected these teachings. Like our father, Abraham, we have been reared in a pagan culture, even though we may have once been 'nominally' Christian. The knowledge of God's plan is given from above—anothen—the beginning of something brand new. Our calling is exclusively God-driven, beyond our control. God is completely in charge of the people He is converting to become a part of His family. God's grace precedes faith, understanding, practice, and sanctification. We make use of His grace through our works. Conversion produces the works of God. We need to remember that, like our father Abraham, God's calling of us will tear us away from relationships we have had for decades. God told Abraham to go to a land that He would give to his descendants, where He would make him a great nation, bless him, and make his name great, blessing those who blessed him, and cursing those who cursed him.
Mark Schindler, maintaining that it is indeed a privilege to be in the body of Christ, cautions us to be mindful of our calling, and to remember that we are indeed the weak of the world, still seeing through a glass darkly, having incomplete knowledge as to how God is using us. We do know that the most intelligent and wise of all human beings is no match for God. Having God's spiritual gifts should not incline us to exercise any measure of pride because we have nothing that has not been given to us by God. We should not consider ourselves superior to others because we have been gifted. Satan wants us to fail by allowing our spiritual gifts to make us prideful. The only thing we dare boast about is what God has done. How we handle our opportunity of having these priceless gifts of understanding makes a big difference, especially when we realize that judgment is now out on the Household of God. The apostle Peter serves as a type of all those who have been gifted by God, occasionally needing to be redirected to a humble approach after falling. As we yield to God more, and rely on ourselves less, we mature spiritually, achieving wisdom and understanding. We will always have what we need if we submit to God's wisdom. No matter how many spiritual gifts we have been given, all glory belongs to our Great God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asserting that the history of the United States, compared to the mother country Great Britain, is relatively brief, holds that it is nevertheless well-documented by extremely literate Founding Fathers (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, etc.), many of whom had a grasp of classical and modern languages. We have a superabundance of their lucid, learned writings in letters, diaries, and official documents, laying bare their goals and aspirations. Sadly, liberal 'progressive' American educators, instead of going back to the primary sources for historical information, create 'redacted,' distorted, hopelessly twisted misinformation, deliberately casting a gloomy shadow on the goals of the Founding Fathers, ridiculing any notion of American exceptionalism. Liberal 'progressive' historians want to focus on blemishes and social problems such as slavery (racism) and women's suffrage (feminism), and imperialism, denigrating any noble and upright motivations our nation may have had. The writings of the founders serve as the foundation for the concept of the American Republic and a Constitution limiting the corrosive power of the Federal government. Historically and spiritually speaking, the beginning of things set the stage for what comes after. Our parents Adam and Eve did not put up much of a struggle resisting sin; unfortunately, we do not either. We are weak and subject to temptation from evil spiritual forces. Thankfully, Almighty God, in the first chapters of Genesis unfurls His plan to call out a spiritual family created in His image. God wants us to learn events, personalities, and principles before they were sullied by subsequent damaging events. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to follow the lead of our righteous forebears Abraham and Sarah, pursuing righteousness and yielding to God's shaping power. The theme of Psalm 78 is to go back, recalling God's past acts and works, learn the lessons from them, and repent, with the recurring motif: "God acts; Israel rebels; God responds; God
Jesus Christ was the most misunderstood man of His time, and not much has changed since. Part of that was intentional. Matthew 13:15 spells out why He spoke in parables: ...
Christianity includes the most noble invitation possible: God calls each person to a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ, and thus to Him through Christ. Jesus speaks of this in John 6:44: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." He essentially repeats this in verse 65: "Therefore I said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the terrifying events at the close of the age described in Matthew 24:4-13, asks us who really deserves our loyalty ? Several years ago, the intensity of persecution started to mount against Christianity. The Coptic Christians of Egypt have been severely persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood, with beheadings becoming commonplace. Persecution against Christianity has been intensified in America lead by liberal- Progressive Nones, who are annoyed with every aspect and vestige of anything that smacks of Christianity. In the wake of this impending threat, God's called-out ones need to be involved in preparation for its ultimate reality. When we are called, we are asked to count the cost and plan accordingly. We must totally give ourselves over to becoming fashioned into His image. We are cautioned that it is dangerous to know God's will and not do anything about it or prepare for it. God is well aware of the conditions in our environment, and has prepared us to successfully overcome the obstacles. God wants us to work in the preparation with him, in spite of the dangers and anxiety -laden news ahead of us. Because of high level of murders in America's largest cities, it has the reputation of the most violent nation on the earth. The liberal progressives would like to use this information to disarm all the populace because of the reputation of these urban cesspools. God's called-out ones must maintain a fair modicum of neutrality in the conflict between the socialist far left and the patriotic far right. God in His word reminds us that we have arrived at the consummation of this age. We need to be able to be focused on godly preparations, ignoring the distractions of the "right-left" conflict. Accusations against neutrals are a historical reality; both extremes will regard the neutral party with suspicion. As our Elder Brother told pilot, our kingdom is not of this world or cosmos (anything not part of the church). The Kingdom of God has citizens on this world, but loyal to a fu
John Ritenbaugh, synthesizing the topics God's sovereignty, Ecclesiastes, and God's will, observes that God does not prevent us from sinning, and furthermore judges sin on a sliding scale of seriousness, based upon intent and premeditation. God has distinguished, for example, murder and manslaughter. The latter offense receives a far less severe penalty. Adam and Eve's transgression has inflicted the death penalty on the whole human race. Thankfully, the Second Adam has provided a means to neutralize this horrible penalty. As all in Adam died, all in Christ shall be made alive. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that everything in life matters. God has over-riding purposes that He is working out, purposes that have been worked on since the foundation of the world. God hates sin, but God's purpose permits a person to sin, as well as allowing a person to experience the tragic effects of sin. Not all of God's will is revealed through the pages of the Bible; it is progressively revealed through time on a need-to-know basis. The secret things belong to God, but those things that are revealed (through the passages of the Scriptures) belong to us. God knows the end from the beginning, but He does not give us all the details at once, except as they are necessary for us to process in our journey through life's labyrinth. What will eventually emerge for us is a clear understanding of God's will.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on our calling, gives a Scripture-by-Scripture account of our Divine destiny. God's called-ones have been given the ability to decipher the scattered concepts, revealing the purpose of their destiny throughout the Scriptures. God has allowed us to become familiar with His secret purpose, a purpose fashioned before the foundation of the world, but He has not yet revealed it to the rest. God's plan is being worked out in two stages: the animated clay model stage subjected to death and decay and a spiritual anti-type composed of Spirit, constituting the expansion of the God family. As God's called-out ones, we are metaphorically part of His body, His building, or His family. In the Garden of Eden, mankind was designated as having been created in the God-kind. Mankind is different from the other aspects of creation, having been given authority and dominion over it. Man has been given the mandate to make decisions about good and evil through the use of reason, analyzing cause and effect relationships. Mankind has been fashioned to marry, becoming one with another human being. Ultimately, through a marriage, we will become one with God. We are fashioned to be capable of sin, as well as given the power to resist its influence. We are modeled after our Creator in shape and form, but not yet of the same spiritual substance. All of mankind has been created after the God-kind, but some at this time have been selected to go beyond the animated model stage.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
Throughout its recent history, the "born again" or "begotten again" doctrine has time and again been a point of controversy in the church of God. Clearly an important principle, it is the subject of Jesus' first discourse in the book of John, a gospel made up of our Savior's expansions on vital, spiritual subjects. John Ritenbaugh explains that "born again" is entirely a spiritual matter, a fact that Nicodemus misunderstood and one that continues to elude many even today.
After debunking the popular assumption that this is the only day of salvation, Martin Collins describes the minuscule spring harvest (the first resurrection) and the abundant fall harvest (the second resurrection), which are the respective times of calling and glorification. The Holy Spirit has the following effects or functions: It1) combines with our human spirit, bearing witness that we are the children of God; 2) impregnates us with God-life, enabling us to become heirs; 3) gives us the spirit of understanding; 4) imparts the love of God within us; 5) gives us faith (by which Jesus performed His miracles); 6) enables us to overcome, transferring us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness; 7) enables us to produce holy character, fulfilling God's purpose of reproducing Himself.
It is true that we cannot physically "see" the invisible God, but that does not mean that we cannot recognize His involvement in our lives. John Ritenbaugh helps us to realize just how much God wants to be part of our lives.
Using the analogy of Maestro Arturo Toscanini's ability to anticipate mistakes or sense when something was amiss, Martin Collins examines the vital subject of discernment— both physical and spiritual. Human discernment, according to Dr. N. Scott Peck, can be developed and exercised, triggering early warning systems with the reactions of revulsion and confusion when confronted by the presence of evil. Discernment can be developed by paying close attention to a person's vocabulary, his tone of voice, laughter, and body language. True spiritual discernment is a gift from God imparted through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to judge between good and evil, comparing things in life with God's word to see whether it matches God's standard. Like human discernment, spiritual discernment must be exercised by daily use until it becomes a habit. (Hebrews 5:14)
Although some people have mistakenly used the Bible as a cookbook, a marriage manual, a financial planner, or a childrearing book, it was not designed for those purposes. Herbert W. Armstrong referred to the Bible as a jig-saw puzzle or a coded book, seeming like gibberish to most of the world, but with the aid of God's Holy Spirit, God's elect can put all the pieces together, finding all the essentials for salvation. Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that while it does not contain all knowledge, it does contain foundational principles, enabling people imbued with the mind of Christ to function independently in a godly manner- expanding the law beyond the letter into a more spiritual dimension.
In this Pentecost message and the conclusion for the "What Does God Really Want?" series, John Ritenbaugh insists that God's Spirit comes first before anyone is empowered to do anything. God's gifts are in reality tools to do His work. In every situation, God provides the gift before it is actually needed so that when it is needed, everything is prepared for the person to do as he has been commissioned to do. As God had handpicked Bezaleel and Aholiab, He knows exactly whom He wants to do His work and will empower that person with spiritual gifts to carry it out.
The Bible is full of symbols, allegories, parables, types and keys. What do they mean? How can we understand them, and thus understand God's Word?
John Ritenbaugh again warns that anxiety and fretting (symptoms of coveting, lusting, and idolatry) in addition to cutting life short, erode and destroy faith, destroying today's serenity by borrowing tomorrow's troubles, bartering away eternity for cheap, perishible items. Jesus uses the argument from the lesser to the greater (because God meticulously takes care of the smaller forms of life (birds, flowers, etc.) He will also take care of humans. In order to avoid yielding to Satan or the world, we must place as top priority seeking God's kingdom today (Matthew 6:33). As we use faith, God increases the supply for upcoming trials. God provides both the will and the power to grow toward spiritual maturity and sanctification (Phillipians 2:12)
John Ritenbaugh warns that it is possible to have an enjoyable feast, but not keep the feast properly, failing to derive any spiritual profit. God expects the Feast of Tabernacles to be the spiritual high of the year. Paradoxically, if we go to the Feast with the goal of physically enjoying, we may lose out on both the spiritual and physical benefits. The attitude and purpose for keeping the Feast should focus upon the spiritual: serving, growing, overcoming, transforming, and producing spiritual fruit. The lesson of Amos 5 indicates that going through the motions, perhaps superstitiously acknowledging the historical ambience of the event, but in a smug, carnal, self-indulgent mode - without including the spiritual component - makes the entire event an abomination.
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of the eye, clear vision, and light metaphors in Matthew 6:22-23, stating that the eye represents understanding (as the metaphorical eye of the heart) while the light represents truth. It is not enough to have knowledge of the right treasure; we also need to have the understanding of where all the pieces fit. Clear vision lightens the way spiritually, ethically, and morally. If the eye of the heart is aimed at spiritual treasure and the glory of God, it will remain singly focused. Using this spiritual vision or understanding, the best way to protect the heart is to saturate it with the word of God.
What is the Holy Spirit? What does it do? Who has it? How does it work? What does it produce?
Richard Ritenbaugh insists that the Bible, in both parables and prophecies, interprets itself and remains consistent in its use of symbols. We cannot arbitrarily pull symbols out of the air and attach meaning. The first four parables of Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, and Leaven) all describe Satan's plan to destroy the church: (1) attacking at early stages of growth, (2) infiltrating through secret agents, (3) influencing unchecked, unnatural growth going beyond God's ordained limits, inviting worldly and demonic influence, and (4) influencing yielding to sin and false doctrine.
The late spring Feast of Pentecost shows the harvest of firstfruits, God's church. It is a continual reminder of our part in God's plan!
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the deceiver.
In this foundational message on the Passover, John Ritenbaugh insists that the annual reaffirmation of the covenant—through the Passover—is at the heart and core of an on-going relationship with Jesus Christ and God the Father, a life-and-death choice beginning the process to perfection. The Passover, specifically commanded on the fourteenth at twilight(dusk), is a memorial of God's passing over the firstborn covered by the blood, distinctly different from the memorial of "going out from Egypt (Unleavened Bread).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.
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