Richard T. Ritenbaugh: In Jesus Christ's letter to the congregation at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), He pulls no punches in His evaluation of their works, essentially saying that they sickened Him with their lukewarm attitude ...
Gary Montgomery: We serve a God who is positive, working toward a glorious future for Himself and the multitudes of sons and daughters He is preparing for that wonderful world tomorrow. ...
Martin Collins, emphasizing that God does not do anything randomly, reveals that even scientists advancing the so-called chaos theory have discovered that disintegration and breakdown (entropy) proceed according to orderly laws. Dr. James Gleick, in his exposition of the Butterfly Effect, observes that even an apparently chaotic event like falling water is governed by predictable laws of physics. Amazingly, some deluded scientists, with all this substantiation of order, continue to advance the evolutionary hypothesis—an untenable position that order can somehow be the product of chaos. God is a God of order and not confusion; all He does follows a specific order—summarized by the adage, a time and a place for everything. One does not laugh and joke at a funeral nor weep uncontrollably at a wedding. Likewise, there is nothing inconsequential or out of place in God's Word, including 1.) the order of Noah's entering and leaving the ark, 2.) the order in which Jacob placed his servants and family in his meeting with Esau, 3.) the order in which Jacob and Moses blessed the tribes of Israel, 4.) the order in which Abraham and Lot separated their families and assets and 5.) the order in which Joshua dispatched the tribes into the Promised land. God made careful distinction between light and darkness, creating boundaries between clean and unclean, profane and holy, insisting that the time He has made holy be kept in a different manner from the rest of the time cycles. The Sabbath serves as the basic time-marker of the week, the year, and the Jubilee. To everything there is a season when the appropriate behavior is expected. God's called-out ones strive to yield to God's timing, realizing that the steps of a good man are ordered by God.
Martin Collins reflects that those who depict religion as a life of gloom and deprivation, full of do's and don'ts, are too short-sighted to realize that the empty husks of the world's entertainment do not satisfy the deepest need. In contrast, spiritual food satisfies our deepest cravings, including salvation and eternal life. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be satisfied. As we digest spiritual food in the form of God's word, we must mix believing with faith, analogous to enzymes and gastric juices, in order to properly digest. As spiritual food enters our minds, it must be believed or it will provide no benefit. Fasting adds clarity to our thinking about spiritual things. Do we love our smartphones or our physical money more than we love God? Physical blessings deteriorate; spiritual blessings endure eternally.
Martin Collins, warning us not to be swept up in the bandwagon effect of compromising with sin, challenges us to make sure our convictions are not merely preferences. Solomon, a man gifted with immense wisdom, and whose preparation for leadership involved writing out the Book of Deuteronomy, nevertheless succumbed to incremental compromising, including 1.) multiplying horses (the equivalent of today's arms race by a dominating military—industrial complex), 2.) multiplying wives (for political advantage leading eventually to turning away from God's counsel), and 3.) multiplying wealth (leading to a false estimation of invincibility and to the temptation of corruption). The longer the leaders of the Israelitish nations 'serve,' the more corrupt and vile they become. Like the leaders of ancient Israel, syncretizing religion with the pagan nations around them, so are the leaders of the Israelitish nations, encouraging a one world religion worshiping the earth via the lie of global warming embraced by the Vatican, the New Agers, the Nones, and the Wiccans alike. It is vitally important that God's called-out ones do not compromise core doctrines for the sake of expediency in piecemeal fashion until they become totally desensitized to sin. In doing so, they tacitly accept mainstream Christianity's trashing of God's truth, after the manner of Constantine, replacing the worship of God with the worship of the unconquered sun.
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.
Martin Collins, continuing the exposition of the Book of Joel, reiterates that the locust plague serves as a vivid precursor to the impending Day of the Lord. Joel assures the victims of the devastating plague that, if they would repent of their sins, returning to the covenant, the land would become refreshed, prosperity would return, the political threat would be averted, and the years lost to the devastation would be restored. What God promised to physical Israel He promises to the Israel of God—the Church. On Pentecost, 31 AD, God typically fulfilled Joel's prophecy of His Spirit being poured out on all flesh; in the Millennium, He will finally fulfil it. Throughout the Old Testament, God's Spirit was poured out on selected servants who had specific commissions to lead and warn God's people. In the future, a healing of the land, national security, and the restoration of lost years will accrue to the remnants of Israel and ultimately to all mankind. As members of God's royal priesthood, we need to humbly look out for the wellbeing of others, not like Diotrephes, who desired to have pre-eminence, but rather like Jesus Christ, who willingly sacrificed Himself for others. When God's Holy Spirit dwells in us, the most convincing manifestation is our repentance and yielding to God's direction, as manifested in the servant who always carried out his master's will faithfully.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the people everywhere seem frazzled, distressed, and terrified as a dark, evil, sinister force seems to be engulfing the world. The continued angst from dealing with this continual pathogenic zeitgeist threatens to render all of us, including God's called-out ones, into a state of hopelessness, apathy, depression, with absolutely no reason to ever expect a positive outcome. The church must forcefully deal with this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness or it too will succumb to this terrifying vortex of despair. We live in the same kind of cultural milieu as Noah before the world perished in the Great Flood. Over the past few centuries, and especially the last 70 or 80 years, the 'liberal', 'progressive' humanist philosophers and educators have successfully hi-jacked the minds of our populace, steering them totally clear from any reliance upon God by poisoning their minds with the patently illogical theory of evolution, forced upon unwary, naïve minds as fact and truth. The Day of Trumpets militates against this foolishness by restoring hope for the establishment of God's Kingdom which will permanently terminate decay, sin, and death. As God's called-out ones, we are fish swimming against a violent current, compelled to turn to God and keep His Commandments when the rest of the world rejects Him. As God gave the original Promised Land to Jacob's children, He also gave the North American continent (largely virgin territory) to the descendants of Jacob. In 240 years, we have indulged in affluence, but forgetting its Provider.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Proverbs 30:7-9, in which Agur asks God to cushion him from the extremes of poverty or excessive wealth, allowing himself to live a balanced life of contentment. Wealth has a powerful influence on one's life, causing us to overestimate our own prowess and underestimate God's involvement with us. We must not forget that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. Although the caution applies especially to material wealth, it also applies to any skill, talent, or gift God has given us. Any gift may turn one inwardly, away from the giver of the gift. We should be grateful, but not proud of our gifts. The Bible contains many rags to riches stories, such as Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, all humble and righteous people who did not desire wealth, but knew they could fulfill their life's purposes if God were on their side. Job was a wealthy man who was also blameless and above reproach, but his health, family, and wealth were all stripped from him in a blink of the eye. His friends wrongly assumed that his loss of wealth was caused by sin, a foolish judgment not warranted by the facts. Solomon's wealth, on the other hand, turned him away from God. Outward prosperity does not provide an accurate indicator of spirituality. Christ warns us that our treasure needs to be in the right place, adding that: (1) We must be content with what we have, (2) We must be humble in our conduct, and (3) We must work faithfully and hard. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all of our might—energetically and intellectually (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The New Testament does not treat wealth as neutral because its power to persuade and influence does not allow many to control it. We dare not become enslaved to wealth's drugging power.
Ryan McClure suggests that each year the calendar is filled with meaningful events, but what we consider important is modified by maturity and experience. Eventually, we learn that the world does not revolve around us and we defer to the needs of others. Our children teach us the magnitude of the selfishness we have emerged out of, or perhaps have not yet come out of. As we mature, we have an obligation to continually readjust our priorities, designating some things as more important than others. Warren Buffett suggests assembling a list of 25 things we would like to do, circling the five most important, and discarding or ignoring all the rest. Developing a relationship with God should always occupy the first priority, with a laser-sharp focus on our part, drowning out the noise of the world. Our job and our monetary wealth should never eclipse our relationships with God and with our family. If we seek God's righteousness and His Kingdom, our financial worries or concerns will be taken care of. God the Father and Jesus Christ never wavered from their priority of building a family. As God's called-out ones, we must screen out the allure of Babylon and make sure that God is always number one on our list of priorities.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 10:13, explains the context in which the statement "money answers everything" appears. Some people obsess about money, working their fingers to the bone to accumulate more. Money is neutral, but the inordinate desire or love of money has horrific, evil consequences. Money does indeed represent power, whether it equates to having more goods, influence over people, or control over one's life. Sadly, for those mesmerized by money, it is an illusory power, vulnerable to stock market crashes, inflation, and deflation—hardly something in which to put confidence. Money's perceived value may only be in the eye of the beholder. In the really important things in life, money is powerless. Wealth cannot buy the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or God's Holy Spirit. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath. If we trust in our riches, we will fall. Wealth cannot compensate for bad character. If we do not have godly character, wealth will control us, leading to disastrous consequences. God commands us to bring an offering before Him, realizing that the money or wealth has the potential of being a competitor to Him. An offering gives God a clear opportunity to evaluate us, showing where our trust really is. God is our security, and we have already given Him control over our lives. Our willingness to sacrifice (or not to sacrifice) shows where our loyalty and heart really are. Our motivation to sacrifice should resemble the woman who washed Jesus' feet with expensive, fragrant oil, showing her immense gratitude for having her sins forgiven.
Mike Ford, acknowledging that many of us are now in a de-leavening mode, suggests that getting rid of accumulated clutter is a positive goal as we simplify our lives in our preparation of extracting ourselves from the world and following God. Spring cleaning is a custom largely connected to Israelitish nations. Everybody has the carnal habit of accumulating stuff, cluttering up both our physical surroundings, as well as the inner chambers of our minds. As we symbolically apply the practice of de-leavening our homes, we should not elevate symbolism over substance, forgetting that the primary focus is to eradicate sin rather than crumbs. The primary leavening should be removed from our minds where we form the attachments to the physical idols which we have a difficult time discarding. As our ancient forbears were called upon to walk away from their stuff twice, we must be just as ready to walk away from any physical object for which we have developed an inordinate attachment.
Martin Collins, commenting on the progressive liberal media's charge that women are discriminated against, points out that the feminist-goaded media fails to take into account that more men place themselves in life-threatening, dangerous occupations which women generally eschew, often receiving less pay than women competing with men in safer occupations. Men account for 93% of the workplace deaths. The liberal, progressive media continually lies in their attempt to divide the genders, the races, and ethnic groups. Both men and women have received a judgment from God as a result of Adam and Eve's sin. For men, the ground has been cursed, and he has been forced to live by the sweat of the brow; for women, they would have anguish in childbirth. God wants to remind us of the manifestations and awful consequences of sin. God requires us to work and not deliberately seek welfare or food stamps; He also does not want us to obsess on acquiring riches. Sadly, many mainstream churches have waxed socialist in their social gospel, claiming that the early church was communistic. Our current government has catered to laziness and non-productivity by bailing out companies which underpay their employees for turning out inferior products. Mentally weak and docile men with "lace-hanky fairness" support the welfare system. Real men (and women) work hard to be charitable and generous. Our forefather Jacob worked for a scheming uncle, who changed his wages ten times, serving him as he would God. Likewise we, as God's called ones, must serve our employer as we would Jesus Christ, with a self-sacrificing attitude, desiring to benefit others. The Millennium, which this Feast symbolizes, will be a beehive of activity, with the wealth that the Gentiles will accrue as tribute, benefitting all of mankind. We must now trust God to supply our needs as we work for our employer with the loyalty we would have for God, with faith, firmness, and stability.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that satisfaction in life does not derive from material things or wealth, by instead from an eternal relationship with God who has given us abundant spiritual gifts which we must reciprocate by developing skill in living from using godly wisdom. Wisdom enables us to make the very best practical use of all of the other gifts He has given, to make the best practical use of our calling, mobilizing our knowledge, judgment, discernment, understanding, and skill in living in alignment with God's purpose. Any skill, whether it be welding or playing basketball, comprises multiple and complex aspects. In sports or military contexts, it is important that the participants accept the system, breaking old ingrown habits and changing the way they do things. Wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right measure. Godly wisdom is not given as a whole, but incrementally, involving much time and pressure. We must give ourselves willingly and patiently to this process in order that skill in living may be built. God has given the Book of Ecclesiastes to us to nudge us on to what is important and away from what is vanity, steering us to a perpetual mindset of faith and trust in God. Wisdom cannot at this time help us to understand all of life's mysteries. It is possible to act wisely in a given circumstance, but still feel frustrated because we do not see how all the pieces fit together. One should always look for the better choice, realizing the better choice is not necessarily the "best" one. In life's journey, a good reputation (a good name) and a positive relation with another (a wonderful marriage) is better than much material wealth. God admires integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, straightforwardness, and structural soundness of character in a person, the name a person has acquired by living righteously—a name which will last into eternity and an infinitely better life.
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.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
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 content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
Ecclesiastes 3 is among the best-known chapters of the Bible, and its major theme is a subject that concerns us all: time. Solomon reveals that God is solidly in control of time. John Ritenbaugh teaches that knowing that God is sovereign over time should fill a Christian with faith in God's work in him, in the church, and in His plan for humanity.
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.
Because we are human—and want to be seen in a good light by others—we try to project an image of ourselves that people will like and respect. John Ritenbaugh explains that, unfortunately, the image we project is often based in pride. The Old Testament story of Job provides us an example of a man whom God forced to see himself as he really was, and his true self-image paved the way to a spectacular leap forward in spiritual growth.
We live in a world based on the "get" principle; everyone is out to acquire as much as possible for himself. The tenth commandment, however, is intended to govern this proclivity of human nature, striking at man's heart. John Ritenbaugh exposes the essence of covetousness and its marked link to the first commandment.
The eighth commandment seems so simple: "You shall not steal." Yet, it seems that just about everyone on earth has his hand in someone else's pocket! John Ritenbaugh documents the ubiquity of thievery, particularly in the U.S., explaining that the solution is equally simple: honest, hard work.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: How should one describe the news that the world's largest automaker and the United States' biggest corporation, General Motors (GM), will cut 30,000 jobs (17% of its 173,000-employee North American workforce) and close a dozen facilities by 2008? By all rights, Americans should consider it to be huge news. ...
The first parable of Matthew 13 lays the groundwork (pun intended) for the remainder of the chapter. Martin Collins explains the various soils upon which the seed of the gospel falls, and the reasons why growth—or its lack—results.
In the rich young ruler, we see a very polite, respectful, and eager young man who leaves Christ and goes away sorrowful. Why? Mike Ford explores this encounter, pondering the lessons God wants us to learn from it.
The Parable of the Great Supper is Jesus' response to a fellow dinner guest exclaiming, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" In the parable, Jesus exposes and corrects the ignorance of those who, in their pride, misjudge their true moral condition.
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, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
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 the cosmos) 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 (or the gate of God) 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 (including a proud, bold, ambitious attempt at a one world government) will not succeed. Coming out of Babylon will undoubtedly require suffering, pain, and self denial, but the sacrifice will pay immense spiritual dividends.
Jesus teaches in this parable that we need to guard against every kind of covetousness. Even if we have everything we could ever want or need, when we die, our goods will do nothing for us. It is the height of folly to believe that one has no need of God.
God spreads His Word liberally among the world's people. Besides God's direct involvement in converting people, the difference between one growing in it and another "dying on the vine" is the soil in which the Word is planted, explained in Jesus' Parable of the Sower.
Jesus' Parable of the Treasure in Matthew 6:19-21 is designed to get us to evaluate the relative values of material wealth and "treasures in heaven." Martin Collins expands on the metaphors of moths, rust, and thieves.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the metaphor of eating as a symbol of fornication or the regarding of something as profane, illustrated by the harlot dismissing her affair as if she were consuming a meal,(Proverbs 7:18) and Esau, who regarded his birthright as profane, preferring the immediate gratification of a meal. (Genesis 25: 29-30). Jacob, on the other hand deceptive and cunning as he was, realized the intrinsic holy value of the birthright, willing to curb his appetites and delay his gratification as Christ curbed His appetite in His temptation from Satan to qualify as our Savior and High Priest. Like Jacob and Christ, we must learn to delay gratification, learning to distinguish holy from profane.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon several abuses of one of God's gifts to mankind — eating and drinking. While drunkenness and gluttony indicate self-centeredness, lack of discipline, often leading to poverty and ill health, moderation in all things is the way to glorify God in our bodies. God's called out ones must exercise moderation in their approach to eating of food, imbibing of alcohol, and excesses of anything in which there might be a possibility of borderline conduct. God has provided the blessing of (1) family union, (2) food and drink, (3) clothing, and (4) work with the condition that we exercise responsible stewardship over these gifts practicing moderation in all things.
Compromise usually begins small and can grow to encompass once strongly held beliefs. Martin Collins uses the story of Solomon to illustrate how this process works.
What is it to be poor in spirit? John Ritenbaugh describes this attribute in its biblical usage. Those who are truly poor in spirit are on the road to true spiritual riches!
John Ritenbaugh 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 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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) is responsible for influencing the Zeitgeist (dominant spirit or mindset of the time)pulling us away from God and His commandments. Our heart at the time of conversion is incurably sick (Jeremiah 17:9) incapable of being repaired, but only replaced. God deliberately places His called-out ones in a position of choosing the temporal allurement of the world or eternal life (Matthew 6:24) Guarding our heart (Proverbs 4:23) and setting it upon spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-23) will enhance our spiritual security.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God's called-out ones must perpetually walk a razor's edge with the allurement of the world (leading to death) on one side and the love of God (leading to eternal life) on the other. At birth, human nature is relatively neutral, with a slightly stronger pull to the self. Inspired by the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2-3), the prevailing Zeitgesist(the dominant spirit or mindset of the time) pulls the believer away from the love of God (and immortality) to the world (and death). The element which will tip the scale toward following God (there is no quick fix to conversion) is to displace the love for the world with the love for God(a gift from God flowing from His Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) and setting our hearts on spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-20).
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that being poor in spirit (a precursor to humility) is a necessary, foundational spiritual state one must have to qualify for God's Kingdom. As the polar opposite of pride, poor in spirit describes a condition of being acutely aware of ones dependency and unworthiness. Because of this deep inner felt need and want, those who are poor in spirit are primed to receive and apply the Gospel's instruction to their lives. Poor in spirit (not a product of human nature) does not equate with physical poverty (there is often much pride in indigence), but instead a spiritual state of felt need in which one renounces his smug self-sufficiency, recognizing his intense dependency upon God for all things.
Laodiceans think of themselves as rich, while God sees them as poor. On the other hand, the Smyrnans see themselves as poor, yet God says they are rich! What are true riches?
Why does God want us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? John Ritenbaugh shows that the Feast is far more than a yearly vacation!
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
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 studies the "Get way" or the "Keep up with the Joneses" (lust or coveting) principle with which advertisers and politicians shamelessly (and successfully) manipulate us. A commentator once remarked, "All public crime would cease if this [Tenth] Commandment were kept." Jesus taught that all outward sin stems from inner inordinate desire. What we desire or lust after automatically becomes our idol. If our imaginations are fed "dirt", our minds will become "dirty." We desperately need to learn to radically "amputate" or "mortify" the self-centered lusts and desires that will inevitably (if followed to completion) lead us to the lake of fire. The Tenth Commandment (like the First) serves as a "control" or "regulator," enabling us to successfully keep all the other commandments. Ardently desiring the Word of God and His Kingdom (realizing that happiness and joy come only from spirituality) serves as the most effective antidote to lust and covetousness.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that God intended land to be the basis for all wealth, desiring that families should own and retain property. The Jubilee Laws indicate that God never intended any kind of state collective (or corporate) ownership of property, but that families should retain what has been given to them. The Federal Government, through confiscatory taxes, has violated the commandment against stealing- modeling theft for society at large. Beside predatory street crime (dramatically on the increase), blue collar and white-collar theft have even more dramatically contributed (and continue to contribute) to the demise or failure of many large businesses and to the economic woes of our country in general- literally stealing from (the inheritance of) future generations. In modern Israel, we are drowning in thievery, forcing the land to vomit us out. Wealth accumulated by honest work and diligence will be blessed, but hastily acquired by any kind of theft or dishonesty will be cursed.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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!
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