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.
Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Joseph Baity, stressing the need to strengthen the bonds of our fellowship with each other, suggests that in the past, the Church of God may have focused too intensely on elusive esoteric principles and neglected the basics, such as developing solid relationships within the body of Christ, forgetting the principle that iron sharpens iron. From creation, we realize that man is not independent from woman, and woman is not independent from man. Remarkably, the natural birth ratio of men to women is 50/50. Likewise, God does not want brethren to be cliquish and stand-offish, preferring to be 'independent' Christians; rather, He wants them to be complementary servants of one another. Sadly, because of transgression of God's law, the hearts of the people have grown dull, callous, and resentful toward one another. When we become isolated from one another, we grow dull and unproductive. Unity within the body of Christ inevitably is accompanied by discomfort from the sparks of iron sharpening iron, but discomfort is a small price for ultimate unity. If Satan can weaken the bonds of our fellowship, he will render us vulnerable. God's called-out ones must not let that kind of deterioration happen.
Martin Collins, focusing on the Prophet Habakkuk, whose name means "one who embraces" or "one who clings," suggests that a major theme of the Book of Habakkuk is the importance of clinging to God regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Habakkuk's prophecy seems to be up-to-date when describing God's called out ones today, who are compelled to cling to God as evil change agents threaten to destroy our civilization. Habakkuk evidently lived following the times of Josiah's massive reforms, a time of spiritual decay following the bright times of Josiah, a transitional time something like we are experiencing today, a time the law is powerless and justice no longer prevails. We should never be tripped up when we see bad things happen to good people or vice versa, realizing that history is indeed following God's timetable. God's timing is perfect. We should never doubt the justice of God, remembering that terrible events cannot separate us from the love of God. When we feel overwhelmed, we need to (1) stop and think, refraining from rash speaking, (2) calmly restate basic principles, (3) put events in their right context, and (4) return to God for further clarification. Habakkuk followed this formula as he reflected upon every attribute of God, realizing that God had been continually faithful to His people and that the impending invasion of the Babylonians was not the last event in God's plan, but only a tool in bringing about God's ultimate purpose. Like Habakkuk, we must detach ourselves from the problem at hand, return to the ramparts and seek God's counsel, staying in the watchtower, seeking God in prayer and study until God gives us the answer, remembering that the just shall live by faith.
Ryan McClure, referring to the aggressive, offensive, and sometimes violent interaction between internet users called flaming, asks if we are flamers, or if are we pursuing righteousness in our speech and communication. It is important how we interact with our brethren and others. We can look to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who chose His words carefully. We do not want to spark flames with our opinions. When we speak, we should speak truth only, in kindness and gentleness.
We live in a world that is always changing. One day things are chaotic, the next day things seem peaceful. Sometimes people are cordial, saying nice things ...
Bill Onisick, cuing in on Isaiah 9:6, reminds us that God gave Jesus Christ to us to restore peace, reconciliation, and harmony with God. We must follow Christ's example of sacrifice to be at peace with God. Our God is called a God of Peace and our Savior is called the Prince of Peace. In the Beatitudes, the peacemakers are called sons of God. To achieve the title "Son of God, one must emulate His proclivity for peacemaking. Besides practicing the absence of strife, peacemakers must augment harmony and joy. Godly peace goes way beyond truce and superficial cessation of hostilities, but actively builds harmony, unity, and tranquility within the God family. We are admonished not to be a peace breaker, causing our brother offense, but instead to actively build up harmony and unity with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren in Christ. Among the seven things God absolutely hates is one who spreads discord among his brethren. We constantly offend and are offended by brethren, making us peace breakers. God certainly does not need our help in correcting others. We should avoid heavy handed opinions, gossip, and other harmony-destroying activities. Peace breakers are not sons of God, but are sons of Satan. Peace in the God family begins with our relationship with God the Father. If we are not reconciled to God, we will not be reconciled to our brethren. We are not called to be peace lovers, but peacemakers, using His Holy Spirit to guide our behavior, bringing joy and harmony to the God-family as a true Son of God.
Martin Collins, focusing on the danger of pride of intellect and knowledge, affirms that knowledge of the truth is essential, but it must be God's knowledge, and not a syncretistic mixture of worldly philosophy or mystical Gnostic admixtures. Political correctness, a modern application of Gnosticism, can usher in some unacceptable consequences, such as occurred with the prideful 'tolerance' of incest as practiced in the Corinthian congregation. Like leavening, toleration of one offense would lead to toleration of other offenses. Progressives in American politics shamelessly call evil good and good evil, murdering fetuses in the name of 'women's rights and practicing sodomy in the name of marriage 'equality.' All of these progressive insights emanate from Satan, who has 'transformed' himself as an angel of light. Similarly, ditchism in religion (veering from one extreme or the other, such as overly strict or overly lenient) leads to unpleasant imbalances. Relying "solely" on human intellect is one such ditch when it is isolated from the heart and from practice. Proper knowledge must always be joined to the will of God. A person who is puffed up parades his knowledge either by exhibiting impatience, intolerance, or an obsequious false modesty, marginalizing what they consider to be the weak or uneducated. Some prideful people, caught up in their wealth of knowledge, are rendered totally useless in serving others. Conversely, the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge, putting us into proper humble and lowly perspective; to know and love God is to understand Him. Knowledge of God creates love for God as well as perfecting our relationships with others. The happiest people in the church are those who know His teachings and practice them 24 hours a day, growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, actively practicing love as motivated by God's Holy Spirit, instilling in us the mind of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
Martin Collins focuses on the second and third epistles of John, letters. Second John warns Christians against false teachers and the necessity not to let down their guard, realizing that deception is possible when they move 'progressively' against doctrines of Christ, as had occurred in the final years of the Worldwide Church of God. Third John was written to Gaius, whom John commended for his hospitality in welcoming genuine servants of God. John warns Gaius of the treachery of Diotrephes, who had arrogantly initiated a mutiny against God's true apostles and ministers, pompously assuming the behavior of putting out of the church those who did not follow his arrogant leadership (a practice sadly practiced in some of the splinter groups of the greater Church of God). Both Gaius and Demetrious are commended for their sterling receptivity of the truth as well as their generous hospitality, serving as lights to the world, while Diotrephes is rebuked for his arrogance and his caustic divisive behavior as is seen in his malicious gossip and hatred for God's true servants. Third John provides some practical counsel on dealing with friction and bitterness, attaining peace in the process.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 constitutes a useful roadmap for the confusing labyrinth of life. God's ways are inscrutable to most people; grasping these revelations requires a special gift. Unless God calls us and gifts us with this insight, we will have absolutely no clue as to our eventual purpose, explaining why eternity has been planted in our hearts. God has given gifts to all men. He has revealed to all of mankind knowledge of His existence through public observation of the creation (Romans 1:18-20). It takes greater 'faith' to believe in evolution. God also gave mankind a conscience as a kind of wired-in moral law (Romans 2:14-15) establishing a basic standard of morality. God has given the entire human race a grasp of the concept of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Only those called by God are given further detailed instructions of God's grand design, making living by faith possible. God will add understanding as we are able to make use of it. Fear of God, the beginning of understanding, holds us on track, keeping us in alignment with God. We must learn that the time and the events God has set are unchangeable; whatever God does endures forever. We must trust God's timing on everything. Compared to our fallible or haphazard timing, God "runs a tight ship." What God has purposed will be done. We are obligated to submit to His creativity, trusting that He will bring to fruition what He has purposed; we are His workmanship, fashioned to perform good works—our permanent assignment regardless of the circumstances. Past, present, and future are inextricably bound together as a continuous stream; God alone controls the historical segments, giving us practical experience as to what works and what does not. The circularity of history provides instructive correction and guidance, enabling us multiple opportunities to repent and overcome. In the life of the called, everything matters. The work of God endures forever. We are known by God; He is in control. Judgment is a prominent t
Anger can be outwardly visible, but it can also show up in ways that are subtle, indirect, and deceptive. Proverbs 26:24-26 provides an example of this...
In his book Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner makes this colorful observation: "Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun...."
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.
As much as we wish our church congregations could get along peacefully, Jesus tells us that, sadly, offenses must come (Luke 17:1). Comparing our congregations to islands, this article explains our Savior's instructions about dealing with offenses, enabling church members to feel united and secure on their "islands" amidst a sometimes tumultuous world.
Martin Collins suggests that the world is becoming angrier. Anger, whether explosive or smoldering, can lead to high blood pressure, migraine headaches, or can ultimately lead to our spiritual demise. God gets angry with the wicked every day, but is solution oriented. Jesus had anger toward the Pharisees for the hardness of their hearts as well as for the money changers defiling the temple. We ought to have indignation and anger at our own sin with righteous or godly sorrow. If we love God we must hate evil motivated by a hopelessly debased, reprobate mind. While we are commanded to be indignant or angry, we can not be angry in a sinful manner, allowing ourselves to become provoked or irritated, seething with rage. Anger should not be nursed until it becomes an entrenched condition. We parents dare not provoke our children to wrath, discouraging them. Several wrong ways to deal with anger are to try to bury anger, to bottle it up, or to ventilate it. We must ask God for the power of the Holy Spirit to remove uncontrolled anger.
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.
With great privilege comes great responsibility. The nation of Israel was clearly privileged, for God tells her, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). God says that because of His blessing and favor, Israel was to be a living testimony to Him and His sovereign power--a great responsibility indeed...
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that the self-indulgent, immoral culture of Corinth parallels today's America and the current fractured state of the church. Paul, before he gives the Corinthians a corrective message on factions and party spirit, reminds them that they are sanctified members of Christ's body, which should not be divided by schism. He pleads with them to present a united front, all adhering to the same doctrines. Getting rid of pride and selfish ambition makes attaining unity as genuine Christians very difficult. Ironically, fractures or schisms in the church serve as a litmus test, distinguishing those faithful who really belong to Christ. Our ultimate responsibility is to zig and zag with Christ in faith, and not become deceived or distracted by human reason. A true, godly minister does not draw people to himself, but instead to Jesus Christ and the Father. Not placing Christ at the forefront will lead to carnal-mindedness and retardation of spiritual growth and maturity.
In the world, it is common practice to use whatever means necessary to grasp the brass ring, but such selfish ambition should be absent from the church. In light of the example of Korah, have we allowed ourselves to be led by men or are we really following God?
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.
This world lauds warmakers, but God says that peacemakers are blessed. John Ritenbaugh explains the beatitude in Matthew 5:9.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
We live in a world that has little or no idea what true peace is or how it is achieved. John Ritenbaugh shows how we can produce godly peace even in the midst of turmoil and why it is such an important virtue.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
Focusing upon the rising tide of societal incivility, Richard Ritenbaugh warns that discourtesy and ugly in-your-face attitudes (fruits of the flesh) have also manifested themselves in the greater church of God. These disgusting works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) are exactly the opposite of what God expects of us- the opposite of Agape love. Good manners (minor morals or the small change of virtue) are the fundamentals of love for others and love for God. Unfortunately, good manners and courtesy do not come naturally, but have to be learned and continually practiced. The common denominator of etiquette is to esteem others more and making ourselves less. When we show courtesy to others, we imitate God.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
Goats are intelligent creatures, but they are also loners and devious. Mike Ford illustrates their characteristics and shows how we can apply this understanding to our spiritual lives. Spiritually, we don't want to be goats!
John Ritenbaugh describes the prevailing mindset in human society as one of contention, division and disagreement. The source of division and separation from the source of life is sin that has become practiced as a way of life. Throughout the course of Biblical history, whenever sin appears, confusion, division and separation are the automatic consequences (James 4:1-2). The Day of Atonement pictures the means to bring back unity with God- the covering of our sins with the blood of Christ. Satan, the author of confusion and misinformation, hates this day above all days because he is fingered as the source of sin. Virtually none of the world's spiritually malnourished churches realizes the significance of the Day of Atonement. We are encouraged to humble ourselves before God, resisting pride, the propelling force of sin.
The Bible commands us to glorify God in all we do, but sometimes we are not sure just how we can do that as sinful human beings. Martin Collins shows that the key is righteous character.
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
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