Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the riot which occurred in Ephesus when the silversmith Demetrius became alarmed that the apostle Paul was endangering the local economy, indicates that Rome had zero-tolerance for any activity disturbing the tranquility of Empire. That state of affairs clashes significantly with the modern American regard for free speech, in which protests against President Trump, police brutality, abortion, NFL player's kneeling because of perceived brutality against blacks, homophobia, killing whales, etc. abound. The chaotic circus continues because Americans have a high regard for free speech. God, on the other hand, shows little tolerance for incessant grumbling, complaining, or murmuring. God consistently warns His People to avoid keeping company with rebels lest they become like them. "Acting out" in protest is unacceptable behavior on the part of a faithful, God-fearing Child of God.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
"Fairness" is a major buzzword in these times. Special interest groups complain and sometimes agitate because they feel that society is not treating them fairly. Geoff Preston approaches the subject more personally, showing that our discontent over perceived mistreatment pales in comparison to what others have endured.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
Ronny Graham, reflecting on the frequent assassinations which have occurred in history throughout the world and in the pages of the Bible, focuses on an extremely dangerous kind of assassination— namely character assassination through murmuring and gossip, a kind of assassination of which many of us have been guilty. In Numbers 12:1-9, we learn about God's anger leveled against Miriam and Aaron for gossiping about Moses, complaining of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. In Proverbs 6:16, of the seven things God loathes and detests, thre pertain to the tongue and spreading discord among the brethren . Every time gossip is repeated, murder and character assassination is endlessly repeated. We dare not sell our birthright for a bowl of gos-soup.
A major theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is satisfaction. In his wisdom, Solomon assiduously sought out the answer to the question, "What brings a person true satisfaction?" John Ritenbaugh proposes that God desires far more for us than mere satisfaction: He wants to give us real contentment, a state that comes only through a relationship with Him.
Jeremiah and his scribe and companion, Baruch, lived during a time of great upheaval—in fact, during the decline and destruction of the Kingdom of Judah. In so many words, Baruch complained that God's plans against Judah and its people were crimping his own lofty ambitions. Charles Whitaker elucidates how God replied to Baruch's complaint and provides a lesson for us today.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the curse of a corrupt judicial system described in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9, warns us that corruption in the courts is a fact of life, but it will intensify before Christ returns. We should not be surprised by this curse, realizing that God, who is sovereign over everything, is aware of it and is purposely allowing it for a purpose. Our needs will be provided for. This world is driven by the selfish desire of power, creating a climate of perpetual corruption, going right to the top of human governments, ascending through a bloated self-serving bureaucracy. Nothing has really changed from Solomon's day. In the United States, it seems the bad guys win all the court cases. With all of its faults, corrupt government is preferable to lawless anarchy. Our culture seems to be suffering from affluenza, our yearning disease, trying to keep up with the Joneses. The antidote to this affliction (greed motivated by Satan) is to be content with what God has provided us, an attitude that has to be learned. God is always faithful; He will supply all our needs. The secrets of the Lord reside with those who fear Him. Wealth, silver, gold, or money does not satisfy the inner drive for contentment or permanent security because covetousness is not satisfied with 'just a little more.' Sadly, in the words of Oliver Goldsmith, "the future of a nation is bleak when wealth increases; when wealth increases, men degenerate." Government cannot (nor should be) relied upon; God can. We are to be content with the labor God has provided, satisfied continually with what our labor has produced, accepting both the job and what has provided as a gift from God. It is God's desire to keep us busy to enjoy blessings, storing up happy memories with no regrets.
The situation that faced God's prophet, Jeremiah, and his scribe and companion, Baruch, in the last days of Judah's monarchy was one of depravity and despair. Charles Whitaker explores the historical, cultural, and religious context of the months just before Jerusalem's fall to the Babylonians, putting Baruch's complaint (Jeremiah 45) in its proper setting.
Clyde Finklea: Most of us realize how important it is to concentrate on what we are doing. We have to focus on our work, our study, our conversations, our driving, and so forth ...
Martin Collins, warning us to take our priestly responsibilities seriously, draws some parallels from the biblical examples demonstrating the purification of Levitical priests. Purification is an ongoing process in which we must put out the influences of the world. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, compels us to sacrifice ourselves through our reasonable service. The book of Malachi, with its emphasis on declining spiritual conditions, demonstrates some parallels to the state of today's scattered and damaged church, preoccupied with internal difficulties. We are being trained as a holy priesthood, called to offer unblemished sacrifices, reverently honoring our Heavenly Father's name, forcefully putting down pride, presumptuousness, and arrogance. Priests must continually demonstrate obedience to God, motivated by an attitude of service, and unhindered by laziness. A priest must focus on magnifying God's name, offering prayer as incense, and having a burning zeal for worship with no weariness and no deception. It is an honor and privilege to be called to the office of priest to assist our Elder Brother, the High Priest, and the Epitome of perfection. We must accept this office in humility, having accepted Christ's sacrifice, having pure thoughts, faithfully submitting to God, and benefitting one another.
Geoff Preston: Discontentment began with Satan the Devil and that he broadcasts his continual unhappiness to humanity. We have to control our minds and not allow his attitude to affect us. ...
Ours is a discontented world, and current events indicate that more unsettled times are just ahead, creating more anxiety and dissatisfaction. God's Word tells us, however, ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4). ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
Have you ever observed someone acting churlishly, throwing a wet blanket on an otherwise enjoyable time? Ronny Graham discovers that the Bible confronts such party-poopers, condemning their killjoy attitudes and commanding us to rejoice appropriately.
Many longtime students of the Bible have trouble accepting that the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 could be God's people, Israel. However, John Ritenbaugh shows that God's Word frequently paints unfaithful Israel in this light because she has consistently played the harlot in her relationship with God.
Most of us are living in the midst of the end-time manifestation of Babylon the Great. We can resist its influence if we understand what makes it so attractive to human nature. John Ritenbaugh explains what makes the Mystery Woman tick and why God judges her so severely.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the admonition of Christ that we must take the straight gate or the narrow way (symbols of grave difficulty), indicates that our experience in overcoming and developing character will be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, God will provide the power to get through all this difficulty and anguish of spirit if we have true faith. Murmuring and grumbling are clear indications of lack of faith, and are in the same category as murder, idolatry, and fornication. Godliness with contentment is something we have to learn, stemming from absolute confidence in God's providence- beginning with the sacrifice of His Son-to each of us individually. The sacrifice of Jesus was the idea of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the redemptive process, indicates that redemption obligates us to glorify God in our bodies and our spirit. Spiritually, we are literally owned by Christ and are duty bound to do what He asks. Hair length and clothing are outward indicators of a person's inner spiritual condition. Clothing serves as a testimony of what we are on the inside, reflecting our attitude and conduct. As Adam and Eve discovered, the intents of the heart cannot be hidden from God. Their clothing, consisting of sacrificed animal skins, to conceal their shame prefigures Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins. We advertise the contents of our hearts by what we wear. Unfortunately lust and sexual perversion fueled by discontentment drive the tastes of much the fashion industry. What we wear automatically influences our behavior. Like hair length, our clothing also indicates God ordained gender distinction.
Some of us cannot seem to realize a blessing if it slaps us across the face! Mark Schindler, in recounting a personal story, shows how ingratitude can hold us back in our relationship with God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: We live in the most prosperous society that humanity has ever known. ...
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that individuals arrogating to themselves the authority to change doctrine are on extremely dangerous ground, presumptuously or boldly setting up idols in place of God. We dare not put words into God's mouth. The work of God in the latter days is to turn the people from their sin and back to God. Any other work is either window dressing or directly contrary to God. The consequences of presumptuous (intentional) sins are far more deadly and permanent than for sins committed in ignorance (unintentional). Presumptuousness equates to competition with God, following in the footsteps of Satan. The antidote to presumption is to 1) submit to God, 2) remain humble, and 3) wait for Him to exalt us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the calculated Hebrew calendar reflects God's faithfulness in providing His Spiritual offspring a reliable calendar. To concoct one's own calendar with errant human reason and assumptions equates with the presumptuous way of Cain. Some of the bedrock American values such as competition and individualism, when applied to changing established doctrine and established ordinances, bring an automatic curse of scattering and a seared conscience upon those who do these things. We cannot take the community's laws into our own hands, tweaking them for our own advantage, and still be a good Christian. Challenging the calendar is tantamount to challenging the laws of the Commonwealth of Israel (including its calendar) and challenging the sovereignty of Almighty God.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
The apostle Paul predicted the end-time generation to be unthankful. As Christians, we need to buck this trend and show our appreciation to God and fellow man.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the value of understanding sovereignty as a basic foundational doctrine, providing a link between knowledge and practice as well as providing motivation to yield and conform to God's purpose for us. Understanding sovereignty (1) exalts the supremacy of God and our veneration of Him, (2) destroys any possibility of salvation by works, (3) gives us a deep sense of humility, (4) provides a solid foundation for true religion, (5) provides absolute security, and (6) greatly aids us to be resigned to God's will.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.
Goats are intelligent creatures, but they are also loners and devious. Mike Ford illustrates thier characteristics and shows how we can apply this understanding to our spiritual lives. Spiritually, we don't want to be goats!
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
Men have searched for centuries for the keys to success in life. Many have found rules to live by to bring them physical wealth and well-being, but all of them have neglected the most important factor: God!