Ronny H. Graham: What does it mean to be first? Those who have children have heard them say, "I want to be first!" or "I want to go first!" or "Pick me first!" or "I want the first bite!" Human nature has a desire to be first. God has certainly created us with the ability to compete or a desire to win. Maybe a better way to put it would be a desire and an ability to overcome. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reports on a recent Harris Poll's conclusion that the most educated among us tend to disbelieve in the literal existence of Satan, even though 60% of the American people (according to a Barna Poll) claim to be knowledgeable about the Bible—a document chock-full of substantiation for the existence of the diabolical, evil being we call the devil. A recent Barna Poll also revealed that over 60% of Americans profess to be followers of Christ—Someone Who had many face-to-face dealings with the prince and power of the air and the ruler of this earth, including witnessing Satan's expulsion from Heaven and cast down to this earth, a venue created as the angel's original domain. The being who eventually morphed into Satan was created in perfection as a covering cherub who originally was in Eden, a beautiful creature with immense musical skills. This being, called Heylel, became lifted up in overweening pride because of the abundance of his trading, leading him to be excessively competitive, driving him to an insane resentment against God. Heylel attempted a coup against his Creator and was cast to earth as his jail cell, sharing this venue with us, whom he regards as interlopers. His fate, and that of his fellow demons, is to be confined to the bottomless pit, giving this earth a welcome respite.
Bill Onisick, maintains that in one context, evolution is absolutely real—that is, in the transition of one of God's called-out ones from a state of abject fear to a state of transcendental agape love. Every human being fears that he is going to lose something of value and develops a flight or fight protective mechanism to maintain a stable self-image. In our spiritual development, we shed our spirit of fear and take on a spirit of self-control as we ingest God's Spirit and take on a Spirit of Godly wisdom, displacing the fear of death with a craving for Eternal life. The way of get disappears and the way of give leads to godliness.
Bill Onisick, analyzing his fears in this pre-Passover season, comes to the conclusion that fear, Satan's most effective tool, is a result of lack of faith. Fear manifests itself in many forms, including pride, anger, and excessive competition, stemming from feelings of inadequacy and not measuring up to what we pretend we are—a kind of self-protecting rationalization. As we approach Passover, it is incumbent to come face-to-face with our fears, displacing them with a fear of God, motivated by God's Holy Spirit.
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.
II Corinthians 5:7 is clear that God wants us to walk—live our lives—by faith, but our pride and vanity, mirroring the attitude of Satan the Devil, frequently get in the way. John Ritenbaugh delves into the depths of pride and its tragic results for the individual and for all mankind, most of all because it causes us to reject God and His Word.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that competition is the root cause of all war, business takeovers, and marital discord. Carl Von Clausewitz observed that war is nothing more than politics brought to the battlefield. Evolution has glorified competition, enshrining the survival of the fittest. Historically, the competitive nature has its roots in the mind of Satan, who had the audacity to take on the leadership of Almighty God. Man's rivalry with one another has been described by Solomon as a striving after wind. Abraham literally "took the high ground," separating himself from strife with his ambitious nephew who wanted to seek gain on the plains of Sodom. The apostle Paul showed willingness to forgo his well-deserved wages, willing to work privately, avoiding conflict and strife. Christianity should be service- oriented rather than profit- oriented, should reward the worker for his labor, and should replace competition with cooperation. Biblical history records the tortured chronicle of people striving against God. The Gentiles cut themselves off from God by rejecting God's teachings through the patriarchs. We must replace the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, willing to yield and submit rather than to strive, quarrel, and compete. Satan has successfully deceived the entire world by mixing a little truth with much error, appealing to our pride and tissue needs. On the Day of Atonement, we (as God's called-out remnant) are commanded to afflict our souls, putting down the striving competitive, pride-filled drives of human nature, with its intense appetites, mortifying our flesh, controlling ourselves by submitting to God in humility, taking the cue from our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
David C. Grabbe: Genesis 10 and 11 contain the brief description of Nimrod, the founder of Babylon and the Babylonian system, which has so greatly influenced the course of this world. ...
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that unless the splinters of the greater church of God repair their mangled relationships with the Almighty, recoupling will be impossible. A major contributory factor in the scattering is the deceitful heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9) and carnal nature (Romans 8:7) which attempts to substitute charm and social skills (passing it off as conversion) for sincerity and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:3). Because God's scrutiny penetrates right through to the inner heart (I Samuel 16:7), it is foolish and pointless to use the same duplicity toward Him as we use to deceive others and sadly, even ourselves.
This world lauds warmakers, but God says that peacemakers are blessed. John Ritenbaugh explains the beatitude in Matthew 5:9.
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
The Bible states that offenses will come. John Ritenbaugh explains how to handle offenses and how to keep minor irritations from growing into bitterness.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
In this sermon on overcoming Satan, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy (James 3:16) In confronting our wily adversary (the source of all this confusion), we must maintain constant vigilance (James 4:7, I Peter 3:5-8), resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure.If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken (I John 3:8, 5:18). Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes (II Corinthians 10:3-5) where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
[Editors Note: Audio quality improves at the 4 minute mark.]