Ronny Graham, exploring some of the stories behind the amazing accomplishments of the athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, suggests that participants often make great sacrifices, setting virtually all else aside for a chance at a perishable crown. The Apostle Paul was certainly aware of the obsessiveness of Olympic athletes but stressed that sacrificing for the achievement of eternal godly character was a far wiser investment. Organized games, such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Commonwealth Games and other "world cup" tournaments, as well as NASCAR competitions, mesmerize spectators. Highly successful racer Carl Edwards recently ended his career because he recognized it was robbing precious time from his family and other important interests. Could it be that we are obsessing over futile games—all forms of idolatry, giving insufficient thought to the demands of our calling? In the supremely important exercise of qualifying for God's Kingdom, there is no reward for second place.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Ephesians 2:1-3, cautions us that, although God has sanctified us, we share the same spiritual roots as every other human being, namely, carnal nature, which Scripture defines to be at enmity with His law, walking according to the sway of the world and the prince of the power of the air. Satan has taught mankind well the art and craft of war between nations, within families, in politics, in sports—everywhere. The descendants of Jacob have brought military dominance—a warfare culture—to a whole new level in the modern world. As God's called-out ones, we must resist being dragged into partisan battles, the spirit of which, encourages us to hate other individuals to the extent of wanting their destruction. The dynamics of the two-party system is rooted in conflict, with a never -ending pattern of divisive hatred toward " the other side." Chaos has become the order of the day. Christ admonishes His Children against taking sides in political battles, as involvement in sectarian conflicts draws our attention away from our primary objective—overcoming and being sanctified for service in God's Kingdom. Current events are not happening accidently or randomly, but with deliberate planning on the part of Satan. Though we might sympathize with the expressed goals of certain political factions, we should not align ourselves with worldly causes, as they find their roots in Satanic belligerence. The instructions God gave to the kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (that is, the prohibition of appointing non-Israelites to the office and the injunctions against the king's accumulation of wives, horses and wealth) are practical guidelines to protect Israel (past and present) from returning to Egypt-a type of slavery and sin. Had Israel obeyed God, she would never have needed to develop a military-industrial complex because God promised to care for His covenant-keeping people.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the lyrics of the Mills Brothers song, "You Always Hurt the One You Love," maintains that family members, especially siblings, inflict more pain on each other than strangers. Scripture has abundant examples of sibling rivalry from Cain and Abel through Jacob and Esau—a rift unsettled to this day. In I Corinthians 12, we learn God has intended that the spiritual body to which we have been called should have no schisms—no divisions. We are all metaphorically body parts having a specific function, totally interdependent on each other. Paul admonishes husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. As members of God's family, we need to be quick to forgive one another for real or imagined slights and offenses, realizing that in God's Kingdom, we will all be working together as one interdependent unit sharing the same family purpose.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on some bizarre psychological and physiological reactions experienced by many sports fanatics, warns us that the competitive spirit to dominate and crush the competitor, not confined to athletic contests, militates against God’s mandate that we esteem others over ourselves. The exalting of self and of putting down others does not square with Jesus Christ’s admonition that we adopt a servant attitude in our relationship with others. The mob competitive spirit apparent in some athletic contests may be an attempt to fill a void left by the destruction of the family. If we allow our desire to dominate and exploit others to get out of control, as some of our political candidates have obviously done, we are taking on the spiritual mark of the beast, conforming our minds to Satan’s prideful and arrogant character. While sports provide many positive benefits, such as teamwork, discipline, respect for authority, and control of emotions, an uncontrolled manipulative, back-stabbing competitive spirit can undo all of the positive benefits. In our relationship with others, we must diffuse all tendencies to hold grudges and resentment, replacing these negative emotions with agape love.
Martin Collins, asserting that prolonged inactivity will cause muscle mass to deteriorate, draws some compelling parallels to the equally alarming deterioration of masculine leadership, currently under attack in our culture by liberal progressive humanists and strident radical feminists. Consequently, many of our young men have become namby-pamby or self-centered, unable to provide for a family or contribute something productive to society. Although men have no moral or mental advantages over women, God has commissioned them to actively lead, providing a measure of security and stability to family and society. Man and woman are both fashioned in God's image, each gender having only a portion of the composite picture. Together, they are commissioned to be fruitful and multiply. In the family structure, man was instructed to lead the family and ardently love his spouse, while woman was commissioned to submit to his leadership, as both submitted to God's leadership. In assuming leadership roles, men need to abandon self-centeredness and adopt other-centeredness, being willing to go the extra mile as a living sacrifice. Feminism and cultural Marxism cannot give society the leadership our culture needs; only God's ordained family structure, with a man willing to be a living sacrifice, will fulfill that pressing need.
The Christian concept of excellence is far different from this world’s idea of competitive superiority over others. The Bible's teaching does not include any notion of climbing over others to reach the top of one's field of endeavor. ...
Clyde Finklea: The American Heritage Dictionary defines excellence as "the state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority. The verb excel means "to do or be better than; surpass; to show superiority, surpass others." It and its synonyms all suggest the idea of going beyond a limit or standard. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on an incident which occurred recently in Maryland, declares that the quality of life in America has precipitously declined since his boyhood. The meteoric rise of immorality and crime in this country has made it dangerous, leading people to select charismatic, but tyrannical leaders to lead them into safety, security, and dependency. These dominant leaders in government, education, media, and economics resemble the tyrannical Nephilim who brought the world to perdition before the flood. For the past 500-600 years, these dominant charismatic luminaries have been drawing people to their teachings, creating the means for the Beast and all his horrific forces to bring the world to the brink of destruction.
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. ...
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.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing on Deuteronomy 30:15-20, maintains that our worldview must include the value of our calling, determining the kinds of choices we make to overcome and pursue our spiritual journey. We alone can determine the value of that calling. The primary responsibility of the church is to continue what Jesus started in His ministry. We have to carry on , doing what the disciples did, walking the walk Jesus had given to them. The church has the responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world and to magnify and sharpen the teachings of Christ to the called-out ones, showing them the Way. Every member of the body of Christ has priestly responsibilities, not hiding our witness under a bushel. We don't hide God's way from others, keeping God's Commandments. We have all been given different, specific responsibilities. Every single one of us has been gifted for the equipping of the saints. Ministry is a synonym for service pertaining to equipping and teaching. We don't want to go beyond the gifts that have been given to us, but must use them with humility,employing them to edify the body. The Church is a teaching institution preaching the Gospel to the World. Each member of the body has been gifted by Christ. Human reaction to one another is deeply wired in our brain, compelling us to "follow the crowd" The human mind has an overpowering compulsion to follow what everybody else does. We need to be thinking people, realizing that everything matters: it is not a walk in the park. Satan in the most influential entity aligned against us, using the world and its systems as his tool. Government and educational institutions have been formed to deceptively use language to create and manipulate attitudes have made us vulnerable to Satanic, worldly influences, twisting and influencing our minds. The state-controlled media (that is, television, radio, and newspapers) are owned by the same groups of sinister, clandestine elite progressives, whose goal is collective manipulation of the sheep-like masses. We are
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, describing the development of the Feminist movement from its beginning in England, France, and later in the United States, suggests that the strident demands for abortion and in-your-face demands for 'equality' have led to high degree of social chaos. Some of the grievances feminists have expressed were legitimate, but the support of mass murder (abortion) as a "woman's right over her body" has side-tracked and obscured the legitimate concerns. Spiritually, male and female have equal potential and should have equal rights under the Law. But rights and legalities are far less important than spiritual development, subject to God-ordained gender roles. Together, men and women are made in the image of God; God was the template for all humanity, producing clay models which would serve as prototypes for permanent, spiritual beings. God gave humankind His attributes and abilities, having dominion over the earth, but not over other people. God made humanity in two flavors, but they are both in His image, dividing His traits equally between them. Men and women mutually excel each other in their God-ordained roles. Each gender complements the other as one flesh —one whole unit unified by marriage, an institution hated by radical feminists and homosexuals alike. Marriage is a God-plane relationship, prefiguring God's family (a reproducing of the God-kind), made possible by being fruitful and multiplying—the ultimate human good. Adam and Eve's sin complicated, but did not stop, God's ultimate plan for mankind. Sin destroyed our first parents' innocence, making them susceptible to shame and guilt, separating themselves from each other, fracturing (but not destroying) the one-flesh principle, sowing the seeds for a perennial battle of the sexes, bringing about drudgery and hard labor for both women and men. If women put down their desire to control their spouses and men really love their spouses, it will begin to reverse the consequences of the judgment oracles (stated in Genesis 3:16-
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
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.
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). ...
David C. Grabbe: In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey observes that most people are entrenched in what he calls a "scarcity mentality": They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: All the news that is fit to print these days seems to revolve around our hobbled economy. ...
Back in my college days, one of my roommates was continually bemused by the football fanatics who identified with their team so closely that they would speak in the first person. ...
After twenty months of primaries and caucuses, conventions, campaign speeches, countless roadside signs, and front-lawn endorsements, the extended election season has finally ended. ...
We frequently use words and phrases whose meanings and origins are unknown to us. What is behind the phrase "Devil's Advocate"? Should Christians be engaged in taking the wicked one's side in anything?
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
During the last few decades of the church of God, one of the scriptures most quoted or referred to has been Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. ...
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.
We all have many biases—toward the food we eat, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and even the detergent we use in our washing machines! However, not all biases are good. Dan Elmore provides biblical examples of partiality that caused no end of troubles. More importantly, we need to avoid partiality for the problems it can cause in the church.
The twin sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, are perhaps the classic model of sibling rivalry, and their contentious relationship has had a tremendous impact on history. Richard Ritenbaugh introduces the ancient people known as the Edomites by examining the life of the original Edomite, Esau.
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 focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the essential core of the human heart is evil, self-centered, responding to Satan's wavelength, placing us into slavery and psychological bondage. Our freedom lies in (1) the conviction of God's Holy Spirit of the reality and hideousness of sin (2) a conviction of righteousness (influencing conduct) and (3) a conviction of judgment and retribution. Real repentance and conviction should dramatically augment prayer, study, meditation, but most importantly application.
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).
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.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Daniel's prayer, observes that there are no hollow threats with God. Confusion, disorder and scattering (the current state of the greater church of God) are the automatic (God-engineered) results of sinning against His law. Under the current scattering, we must acquiesce to the responsibility that God has called us to, and not presumptuously attempt to do something we were not appointed to do. Success in spiritual things does not consist in growing large and powerful, but humbly living by faith, overcoming, being faithful, and yielding to God's shaping power, establishing a dynamic relationship with Him. Unity will only occur when we are yielded to God's leadership. If we were scattered because of sin, we will be unified because of righteousness.
In this powerful conclusion of the sin series, John Ritenbaugh warns that, contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
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 stresses that being persistent in prayer does not mean incessant pestering, whining, or cajoling God into action. Luke 11:1-13 purposefully contrasts the generous nature of God with that of a reluctant stranger or a malicious tyrant. Because His timeframe is different from ours, we sometimes feel that we have totally lost control. God always looks at our petitions from the vantage-point of His purpose, sometimes testing our fervency or sincerity, sometimes flatly refusing our requests because they would harm us. We must persevere in prayer, realizing that faith always works toward what it asks for while it waits. God has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4), provided we cooperate with Him, letting Him work out His purpose in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh counsels us not to have an apathetic relationship toward God (Revelation 3:15), but instead to ardently, earnestly, diligently, and fervently seek God in order to imitate His behavior in our lives. The fervency of a passionate courtship and marriage relationship provides the grounds for comparison of the kind of relationship God wants with us. Jesus, David, and Jacob exemplified the passionate fervor and heat (both to purify good and to destroy evil) God demands of us. If we search for God with all our hearts, looking for something which is a vital necessity for us (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:12-13; Hebrews 11:6) God will reward us, giving us what we are seeking: a warm, ardent relationship, transforming us into what He is.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
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 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. In confronting our wily adversary, we must maintain constant vigilance, 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. Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
Satan and his demons regard us as invaders of their first estate, and have consequently have engaged us in a fierce spiritual battle to destroy our relationship with God and His purpose for us to be born into His Family. We fight our battle in the mind, in the subtle thought processes (II Corinthians 10:5). We need to be aware of Satan's modus operandi, including the stratagem of disinformation (subtle, plausible lies) spread through false ministers (wolves in sheep's clothing; Matthew 7:15), teaching the smooth, broad way to destruction, encouraging spiritual fornication and eventual enslavement to sin. The apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (I John 4:1-3), making sure that belief and practice are carefully aligned.
John Ritenbaugh explains the origins of our foremost adversary, Satan the Devil, and his host of fallen angels or demons (Revelation 12:3-12; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19). In our precarious situation of sharing a prison cell with these formidable wicked spirits, we need to take heart in: 1) the tremendous numerical advantage of the good over the evil angels; 2) the hopeless division in the demon world, preventing them from "getting their act together"; 3) as with Job, God has set limits on Satan's ability to harass us (Job 2:6); and 4) God has provided us with adequate spiritual armor to withstand the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-12). Even though with our own limited strength, we could be easily annihilated, God has promised us protection if we yield to Him and keep His commandments.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only those who are governable will ever be allowed to govern. No government (not even God's government) will work without each individual submitting in his area of responsibility. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, qualified to rule because of his feeling of responsibility (1) to God, in submitting to Him, and (2) to man, in using His powers to provide salvation for all mankind. Following in his footsteps, we must realize that leadership requires becoming a slave or servant. (Matthew 20:24-28)
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
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 observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
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