Bill Onisick, comparing and contrasting virtual reality with spiritual reality, points out that neither can be seen with the naked eye—the first requires special apparatus, and the second requires the eye of faith and God's calling and getting. Faith is necessary for the interval between God's promise to his called-out ones and the fulfilment of the promise at the resurrection and glorification as members of God's family. During the lengthy sanctification process, our character is molded, shaped, and transformed into the replica of God the Father. We are to develop the kind of faith that moves mountains of doubt, disbelief, and pride, preparing us to see God as He is, being at one with Him, composed totally of Holy Spirit, able to accept our inheritance without needing protective goggles to gaze on His luminous face.
David C. Grabbe: As explained in Part One and Part Two, even though the Corinthian congregation had four exceptional teachers—including Jesus Christ Himself—their manifest carnality demonstrated that they were paying more heed to a fifth teacher ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reflects on the horrendous school shooting in Florida, perpetrated by a deranged student, Nicholas Cruz, who had just been transferred to an institution for students with behavioral issues. The police had been called to his house 32 times; the FBI had received timely warnings about him but failed to follow through. There appears to be four reasons for gun violence. 1.) There are too many guns in the hands of citizens, with inadequate or poorly-enforced restrictions. 2.) Many of these mass murderers are ignescent, suffering from the unpredictable, mind-altering effects of psycho-tropic drugs. 3.) The mentally ill individuals are running amuck, while few Americans want to trust an appointed government bureaucrat to determine who is insane. 4.) Society, through television, movies, video games, etc. has glorified violence, making life appear as cheap, numbing especially the young to the pain which attends violence. Resolving these problems is not possible unless policy-makers factor in the deceptiveness of human carnality. The solution is character reform, not political reform.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining the disgusting scandals involving Harvey Weinstein and other philanderers and child molesters exposed in the latest Hollywood debacles, observes that the liberal leftists seem to have tons of dirty laundry to expose to a somewhat more scrupulous public. The so-called victims of their advances coveted movie careers more than their own virtue. Hollywood has been waist deep in prurient slime since the 1930's and has waxed increasingly evil since that time, wallowing in sorts of perversion not even named among Gentile nations. America has descended into the cesspool of immorality in its entertainment as well as in its highest political circles, surpassing the vile immorality of the surrounding nations, just as ancient Israel became more corrupt than the nations around her. Because of her immorality, the Prophets of old, speaking on behalf of God, issued harsh condemnations. So too, America's disastrous downfall is just a matter of time.
David Grabbe, marveling that over the past 25 years the Church of the Great God has assembled a massive library of electronic resources as a service to the Greater Church of God, as well as to the world at large, asserts that God performed this work at a fraction of the cost incurred by our previous fellowship. Though our main focus has not been "to preach the Gospel to the world," we nevertheless provide prodigious quantities of spiritual food to anyone who requests it. If people are hungry, there is plenty of nourishing food to satisfy them. CGG.org received 1.7 million visitors last year and BibleTools.org 2.3 million. These figures testify that the world at large is receiving a witness. The things that we can quantifiably measure are not really important, the Head of the Church decides subscribers, members and income. Noah's warning was fruitless; Jesus Christ's ministry netted meager results. Without Christ, we could produce no fruit. What is important to God is faith—faith which He gives and by which we live. As technology becomes more affordable and available, the material world threatens to crowd God out of the picture. The information age will destroy us unless we learn to manage it properly, discarding carnality and diligently focusing on the Word of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, realizing that although some people regard approaching the Bible as literature to be demeaning or perhaps even heretical, contends that the literary approach can be a powerful tool to understanding and appreciating it more fully. A good story does not lay itself, but it takes a lot of work on the part of the narrator to make it impelling, memorable, or riveting. A successful play, a short story, a novel, or a poem unfolds as a three-part formula of (1) setting up the structure, (2) providing an intense complication, escalating the conflict between hero and villain until the situation appears hopeless, and (3) resolving the tensions, a process called the denouement. The book of Esther can certainly be dissected into these three elements, but because it follows the Oriental tradition rather than the Western tradition, the chiastic "X" structure provides a better paradigm of the plot. This structure can be seen in Psalm 64, in which the first five verses set the situation, reaching a massively disturbing complication at the middle, only to be overturned by the last five verses, which provide a corresponding set of positive circumstances cancelling out all the negative circumstances in the first five verses. Each verse in the second set of five verses systematically annuls a corresponding verse in the first set of five verses—6 overturns 1, 7 overturns 2, etc. The structure in the Book of Esther shows a similar pattern, with the negative events moving to a high point of tension when Esther decides to enter the King's presence uninvited, followed by a turning around and cancellation of all Haman's evil plans for the Jews and the restoration of Mordecai's honor, a truly dramatic reversal. The invisible God evidently loves a cliff-hanger.
Perhaps the Devil's greatest deception has been his ability to fool mankind into thinking that he does not exist. Even his "churches" officially declare him non-existent! Even so, Joseph Baity relates how Satanism and occult religions are flourishing under today's liberal worldview.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within a few years of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment-breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the ruler of this world, Satan.
David Grabbe, focusing on Christ's warning about false prophets in His Sermon on the Mount, cautions us that every belief will produce something, either pointing us toward or away from God. The false prophet conceals something deadly, which will eventually yield poisonous or toxic spiritual fruit. If the belief derives from God's Holy Spirit, we reap love, joy, and peace. As Paul chastised the Corinthians for their divisiveness, each clinging to his hero or champion teacher, he also intimated that a fifth teacher seemed to be influencing them, a teacher syncretizing God's doctrines with the 'wisdom' of the age, using contemporary, philosophy, sociology, or psychology to adulterate the purity of doctrine with Gnosticism. evolution, or something far worse, all deriving their power from the prince and power of the air, the current ruler of the earth. All of these deadly admixtures will produce a bumper crop of bad fruit. As the human body is able to adjust to changes in the environment, our nervous system adjusts to darkness, stench, pollution, profanity, and every form of evil. What was once repulsive may now seem normal or tolerable. The media has corrupted the integrity of our consciences. The wisdom of this age literally saps spiritual growth. When our prior fellowship, after the new regime took over, imbibed of fallacious doctrines, our fellowship harvested an abundant crop of poisoned, contaminated fruit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the apostle Paul's response to the bitter altercation between Euodia and Syntyche, women church leaders at Philippi, who succeeded in polarizing the congregation by their contentious pride, placing their obsessive desire to be right over unity. Paul urges them to follow the example of Christ, who emptied Himself of His divinity, assuming the role of a bond servant, exalting others over Himself, prompting God the Father to exalt Him above all others. Godly leadership is a function of submitting to the covenants God has made with us, including the marriage covenant, setting the proper pattern of all forms of institutions, including educational, governmental, medical, and religious institutions. Secular, progressive humanists, inspired by Satan, in their hatred toward God's covenants, through their endorsement of moral relativity and the new morality, fostering adultery, fornication, as well as feminism, homosexuality, polygamy, and transgender aberrations, have savagely attacked God's marriage covenant. Progressive humanists over the years have succeeded in making divorce as easy as falling off a log, and murder on demand (abortion) a convenience attended with no longer any trace of resistance. Paradoxically, hedonism, a philosophy which holds that pleasure is the highest aim in life, can never lead to real pleasure, but seeking to please God by serving others brings maximum pleasure. The marriage relationship, becoming totally one with one another as God the Father and Jesus Christ are at one with one another, provides the pattern of the true meaning of love—not feelings, but actions (consisting of serving and caring). Keeping God's Commandments demonstrates the highest form of love. Along with all the other gifts in the universal Edenic Covenant, identifying God as our benevolent Creator, who designed this earth for mankind to tend and keep, providing the marriage covenant as a God-plane relationship, the Sabbath Day educates us for service in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the early success of such philosophers as Nietzsche, Darwin, Mill and Marx, suggests that they had no competition from alternative electronic media as they mesmerized their adoring sycophant educators in public education and throughout the universities. What these philosophers taught had no competition from other media. The educators sought their diversion through reading and talking about what they had read. American philosopher and educator John Dewey immersed himself in the works of Rousseau, Darwin, and Marx, applying their doctrines to his Humanist Manifesto, a work has molded and shaped the direction and outlook of American, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian educational philosophies, crafting societies which endorse abortion, the disintegration of the family, the ascendancy of the state, and the expulsion of God, and the eradicating of individualism, preparing a gullible people for socialism, Communism, and oppressive international collectivism and politically correct robot unity.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that the philosophers who have made a lasting negative impact on western culture (Darwin, Marx, Emerson) were born within one decade after the 19th Century began, warns that Satan has been exponentially stepping up his diabolical attack on all of mankind, using the poisonous pens of these philosophers to caustically erode religion, economics, science, and theology. All of these philosophers had been born into religious families; some of which had fathers which were pastors. Another radical philosopher who fits into this mold was Friedrich Nietzsche, who was the both the son of and nephew of Lutheran pastors, but was influenced by Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, to totally cut his ties with any form of religion. Nietzsche's ideas were extremely toxic, having powerful influence inside Germany, branding him, in some circles, as the most dangerous philosopher of the Millennium, having unmitigated arrogance and a demonic hatred toward Christ. In 1888, Nietzsche identified himself as the anti-Christ, about a month before he became clinically insane, never to recover his lucidity. Despite his abject insanity, his ideas became instrumental in modern psychology, especially the emerging tributary of existentialism, a philosophical stance regarding experience as unexplainable, ruling out the possibility of any Creator God who is working out any purpose on earth. Nietzsche's "will to power" translates into the authoritarian "might makes right" stance practiced by many individuals, including Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung, as well as many of those wielding and seeking power today. Nietzsche desired that the strong would overpower and liquidate the weak, claiming that the noblest class were the barbarians—a survival -of -the-fittest scheme that fit into and shaped Darwin's teachings. Nietzsche's ideas also shaped the human potential movement as well as the literary works of George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O'Neill, Ernest Hemmingway, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fit
Martin Collins, citing Dennis Prager's Town Hall article, Is America Still Making Men?, suggests that there is a profound dearth of real masculine leadership today, as young men seem to be protracting their pubescence, preferring to remain boys with no responsibilities than to embrace leadership roles. When boys fail to grow into men, women and all society suffers. The family is languishing for real leadership as well as all levels of government. As Joshua felt fearful at assuming leadership, most men also feel the same trepidation, but God Almighty has placed in their DNA the ability to lead, with a view that they lead their families with a balanced proportion of compassion and firmness. Courage is a gift given by God, augmented and amplified when we embrace His law as a part of us. God charges us to do a specific work (such as to lead one's family), requiring us to delve into the Scripture daily for guidance until we know the mind of God through continued practice of living and following His principles. The successful leader is first and foremost a follower of God and His Holy law. Confidence derives from a close relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh, while agreeing that philosophers may not be as well-known as movie stars, rock stars, or athletes, asserts that philosophers in academia have had a greater influence on our thoughts, as well as on the precarious turns our culture has taken. When the works of academic philosophers come in contact with political movers and shakers, they wreak havoc on liberty and morality, exalting the state over the family, removing God from the equation altogether. Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, following in the self-centered, sociopathic teachings of Rousseau, ushered in the radically, politically left-wing progressives (called the Jacobins), bringing in a reign of terror using the guillotine and vindictively slaughtering all ‘dissidents.’ Rousseau’s and Robespierre’s philosophies encouraged abortion, the destruction of the family, and the ascendancy of the state. Even though mass abortion is higher in Russia and China, American leftist liberal secular ‘progressives’ have murdered (in the name of ’women’s’ rights) 60 million children, far outstripping the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin and Pol Pat combined.
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.
Joseph Baity, commenting upon Google's nefarious desire to rank websites according to 'truthfulness,' points out that Google, along with any other search engine, government influenced or not, is hopelessly influenced by the Babylonian system, and is consequently out-of- sync with real truth. God alone possesses truth and we must seek this truth as we would seek precious gems. Pride, the kind that undid Satan, could be described as disagreement with the truth. If we have pride, we will not be privy to God's truth, but will be clouded in self-deceptive haze. In order to hear God, we must acknowledge that without Him we can do nothing, realizing that Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnality is perpetually at war with the truth. As we face the new Tower of Babel, via the Internet and managed news sources, we must listen carefully and critically, to ensure that we do not heed a lie, and, acting on it, compromise God's truth.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Mike Adam's blog post "I miss America," warning that 34 precious freedoms have disappeared over the past 40 years which will never come back, marvels that this frightening erosion of freedom has taken place seemingly within a nanosecond. Though we are living in the terrifying climax of a technological revolution, Satan has been meticulously and carefully preparing for a war against Almighty God for millennia, stepping up the pace as technology (from the time of Gutenberg until now) has developed exponentially, taking our breath away. Human life is short, but Satan's life is a great deal longer, and he can prepare new generations of human beings to carry out his deceptive, mendacious plans, bold and ambitious, (attempting to educate people on a worldwide basis, instilling into them his lies and misinformation). We can be thankful that God has placed limitations on Satan's ability to destroy mankind.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
Charles Whitaker, citing British philosopher Arnold Toynbee's warning that when a civilization responds to a challenge successfully, it survives, and when it does not, it commits suicide, proclaims that because America, over the last several decades, has not responded to the challenge, the die is cast for its destruction. History could be characterized as "a panoply of responses" from forceful, extreme, wimpy, or Band-Aid and non-existent. King David, because of his botched-up, indulgent, child-rearing practices, failing to deal with pride, rebellion, and self-centeredness of his offspring, brought havoc upon the nation of Israel. Responses on the macro or national level must begin on the micro or family level; there cannot be national governance unless there is first successful individual governance. In the 1930's, the comic book and the movie cartoon arrived on the American scene, exploring and traversing the boundaries of decency. Bimbo's Initiation is an example of this low level of decency. Conservative religious circles responded to the deterioration of moral values, forcing the comic book industry to police itself, more with the motivation of protecting their profits than from any twinge of conscience. In 1954, nevertheless, the descent into the cesspool was temporarily averted, at least for a couple of decades, when crime was punished instead of glorified, when policemen were respected instead of vilified, when females were drawn realistically, and sexual perversion was abnormal rather than normal as it is portrayed today by liberal progressive humanists. Since 1971, the comic industry has destroyed its own code, and smut and filth is the new normal. We have no bold Phineases today who are unafraid of political correctness. The die has been cast for morally bankrupt America (and modern Israel as a whole). As God's called-out ones, we must draw close to our God as our nation reaps the harvest of its crop of sin and iniquity.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the entire world is under the sway of Satan the devil (I John 5:19, Revelation 12:9, Ephesians 2:1-3), warns us to analyze and evaluate everything that enters our minds from the contaminated, mendacious media sources, media sources primarily promoting a leftist, secular humanist agenda, bent on pumping a deluge of lies into our helpless nervous systems, impacting our belief system, throwing us into a state of utter confusion. Recently, the impact of worldwide media has painted the rocket firing Hamas as helpless victims and the Israeli's as Nazi exterminators. Ironically, both the Arabs and Jews are Semite peoples, but the collective leftist media wants to foment anti-Semitism in western Israelitish nations. Satan hates God's chosen people and will do everything he can to destroy both Israel and the Israel of God. In a hateful world, thoroughly dominated with Satan's mindset, where the UN ( in a vote of 33 to 1) condemned Zionism as equivalent to Nazism, God's called ones have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate everything through the sieve of God's Holy Scriptures, which the world we currently live in abhors with vehemence. Most of our opinions, prejudices and beliefs we accept unconsciously just as we acquire our dialects; we must scrutinize our own beliefs through the standards and principles of God's Holy Sciptures, making sure they are not contaminated and marinated with Satan's diabolical deception. God's people will be known for their fear of lying motivated by their fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the entire world is under the sway of Satan the devil (I John 5:19, Revelation 12:9, Ephesians 2:1-3), warns us to analyze and evaluate everything that enters our minds from the contaminated, mendacious media sources, media sources primarily promoting a leftist, secular humanist agenda, bent on pumping a deluge of lies into our helpless nervous systems, impacting our belief system, throwing us into a state of utter confusion. Recently, the impact of worldwide media has painted the rocket-firing Hamas as helpless victims and the Israeli's as Nazi exterminators. Ironically, both the Arabs and Jews are Semite peoples, but the collective leftist media wants to foment anti-Semitism in Western Israelitish nations. Satan hates God's chosen people and will do everything he can to destroy both Israel and the Israel of God. In a hateful world, thoroughly dominated with Satan's mindset, where the United Nations (in a vote of 33 to 1) condemned Zionism as equivalent to Nazism, God's called ones have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate everything through the sieve of God's Holy Scriptures, which the world we currently live in abhors with vehemence. We accept most of our opinions, prejudices, and beliefs unconsciously just as we acquire our dialects; we must scrutinize our own beliefs through the standards and principles of God's Holy Scriptures, making sure they are not contaminated and marinated with Satan's diabolical deception. God's people will be known for their fear of lying motivated by their fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent untimely death of Amanda Allen , focuses on some lyrics of a popular song recorded in 1975 by Matt Monro, titled "Yesterday When I Was Young." Sadly, wisdom is not a trait valued or acquired by youth, but takes second place to strength, beauty, or fun. We get too soon old and too late smart. Everything we do, eat, or think about matters, impacting on our total quality of life. There is still time to seek and dedicate our lives to God for our eternal profit and satisfaction.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing onto Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, observes that we must do what we must to keep a relationship with God. Solomon teaches us that money may provide some security, but it cannot be relied upon for satisfaction; only a relationship with God will fill that yawning vacuum. Money is neutral commodity, serving either good or bad purposes. If we use it in God's service, we will derive joy as we progress through our spiritual journey. In Warren Wiersbe's estimation, loving the gift but disregarding the giver constitutes idolatry. Satisfaction depends on being assured, having a low level of anxiety. The book of Ecclesiastes was expressly written for the sons of God, not really intended for those uncalled. For those called by God, life and work are not purposeless; for those called by God everything matters in the journey to Eternity, having a meaningful relationship with God, our Creator, Defender, Bridegroom , Sustainer, Intimate Friend, and Father, involved in every aspect of our lives. God has created us as "new' Creations, fashioning us for specific roles in His Kingdom. Whenever we fear the world or mankind, we are subject to neurotic or psychotic bondage and driven to sin; when we fear God, we are released from this bondage, given a balanced, sound mind through His Holy Spirit. No physical thing will ever satisfy us permanently; In John D. Rockefeller's estimation, it is never enough, but will always require a little more. God alone has the power to grant us satisfaction, allowing us to grow in grace and spiritual knowledge. We have a long way to go in developing a relationship with God, realizing that He is there at all times. Wealth, work, posterity, and the future carry absolutely No satisfaction unless God is involved in our lives. We need to live our lives in the here and now with our family in godly enjoyment with a large measure of godly love.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
John Ritenbaugh expresses alarm that within one generation tolerance for homosexuality and same-sex marriage has gained national approval. Behavior such as exhibited in our current culture is identical to the shameless, greedy culture described by the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. After the 1960's, the sense of shame in America rapidly eroded as the Hippie Movement emerged. President Clinton's re-election was a clear referendum for sin. Today, President Obama lies continually about political policies, aided by a willing liberal media. End-time modern Israel is following the same trajectory as ancient Judah and Israel. We are destined to be conquered and scattered because of a hopeless lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6) demonstrated by modern "Churchianity's" tolerance for sin and compromise, deliberately ignoring the righteousness of God, even though the Bible is readily available. The mega-churches grow on smooth talk, glitz, and show-biz, while disobeying God's laws, mimicking the pagans. The fear of God does not come naturally; it must be learned by purposeful effort and meditation. Modern Israel has a form of religion, denying God's power and doing its own thing. Consequently, God feels compelled to severely punish modern Israel as He was compelled to 'blow apart' and 'scatter' the dysfunctional Worldwide Church of God. God is sovereign; He has Satan on a tight leash. We must develop our faith by assimilating the Word of God, making it a part of our lives. Since God is sovereign over His creation, we need to be careful about reviling someone in authority, even someone who may have been appointed to bring evil. We must learn to implicitly and explicitly trust God's decisions, yielding unconditionally to God's sovereignty.
The serious Christian looks on this ever-declining world—a world that reflects the rebellious, anti-God attitudes of Satan the Devil—and wonders how anyone can truly live by faith. Some may even begin to doubt that God is in control of events here on earth. John Ritenbaugh, however, contends that God's sovereignty over His creation is complete, and the course of world events are moving according to His will.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the perennial "Handwriting on the Wall" theme from prior Feasts, suggests that as we mature, our ability to judge should exponentially increase even though perceiving reality is difficult. As we search for the truth, we cannot be "all over the place" but must abide in the truths of morality that come from God. The search for truth is often complicated by obstacles and distractions, including entertainment. A godly life is busy; we must discipline ourselves to stay on track as we find time is running out. We are admonished to seek the Lord while He may be found. Although a camera technically does not lie, when a picture is taken from different angles or perspectives the camera could distort the image, deceiving the viewer. A perception or intuitive judgment (a person's point of view) is how we affix significance to what we look at. Sadly, with a distorted perception, we will not accept reality; our perception becomes our reality. We have to be able to change our perceptions in order to accommodate or accept reality. Satan, by manipulating our perceptions, has deceived the whole world, religiously, politically, and socially. In John 2-4, many individuals stumbled at Jesus' words because they could not break out of their stultifying perceptions of scripture which they had filtered through their traditions. Islamic terrorists, hopelessly in darkness, feel a commission from God to slay the infidels. We are admonished to put on the armor of light (the truth of God) bringing our perceptions into alignment with God's will.
Whether we were born yesterday, born with a silver spoon in our mouth, or born and raised a stick in the mud, we hear and most likely use clichés a million times a day. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Proverbs 29:18 about lacking vision and the grade school game of dodge ball, suggests that the pace of life has picked up so drastically that no one could have been prepared for the changes. Information is being shoved at us at a lightning quick speed, leaving us helpless in regard to making sense of any of it. We need to protect ourselves from this toxic information overload by keeping the vision of our calling in front of us, living for the future. Young people in Israelite nations are preoccupied by computer games while Asian teens are outstripping them academically. We cannot be distracted by the enticement of entertainment, making ourselves virtual stimuli gluttons, while ignoring the impelling vision of our spiritual calling.
John W. Ritenbaugh: During the Passover season, our minds are more forcibly focused on the importance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to our salvation. ...
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the pervasive influence of pornography on the Internet, television, music, and print media, suggests that young people engaging in premarital sex are acting like sheep to the slaughter, totally oblivious to the real facts of life. Dating should be preceded by wholesome group activities; God created us as social beings, placing a longing in each individual for a member of the opposite sex. The purpose of dating should not be considered merely a pre-marriage ritual designed to prepare one for marriage, but instead (1) to develop wholesome interactions with the opposite sex in contrast to the world's dating games, totally mired in the lures of temptation and emotion described by James 1:14-15; (2) to help individuals to see their own strengths and weaknesses, gradually understanding themselves; (3) to develop practice in serving others, and (4) to discover the person one will marry. The more similarities there are in a relationship, the less likelihood that conflicts will emerge. A key ingredient in the dating process is faith in God's purpose in each person's life. The relationship one has with God takes precedence over any relationship with any other human being.
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
Everything we can know is communicated to us in some form. Usually, we are able to identify the sources of these communications through our senses. Yet, as John Ritenbaugh explains, we are also open to invisible communication from the spirit world—communication designed to conform us to "the course of this world."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Within the past month, I read an article denouncing both government and industry for its use of fluoride in drinking water, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other dental applications. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that one perennial theme of the major and minor prophets is the deplorable faithlessness of Israel, depicted as a fickle, spoiled, pampered, well-dressed streetwalker, suggests that the day of Israel's calamity is right upon the horizon. To the remnants of this decadent civilization of modern Israel, God's begotten children, God provides the book of Proverbs as an antidote. Wisdom is inextricably linked with fear and reverence for God. Without wisdom, genius and brilliance is useless at best and dangerous at worst. Wisdom warns us not to let the world squeeze us into its mold. Unfortunately, as a nation, we have rejected wisdom in favor of foolishness, bringing about major devastating calamities: famines, pestilence, earthquakes, cosmic disturbances (graphically depicted in Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 4, and Ezekiel 2-3,6-7) upon our apostate faithless people after the prior devastation of Gentile nations who didn't have a relationship with God.
Most commentators identify Babylon the Great, the Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18, as either a church specifically or a broader cultural system. John Ritenbaugh, however, produces biblical evidence that the Harlot is overwhelmingly portrayed as a powerful nation that dominates the world at the end time.
John Ritenbaugh examines our society's inability to deal with reality, turning instead to media-concocted distortions. By refusing to believe God's Word, rejecting His doctrine, society does not find God to be real (including many church-going people, who pick and choose their own beliefs apart from Scripture). He cannot be real to people who refuse to adhere to His Word, which is a far more reliable gauge of reality than the most observant eyewitness. If we allow His Word to illuminate our lives, we will make the necessary steps to conform to His will, diligently keeping His commandments. We can account for God's seeming delay in His plan by realizing: 1) His schedule is on His time, not ours; 2) a delay allows more to be called, 3) giving us more time to overcome; and 4) lawlessness has not yet reached its peak. What God puts us through is designed to reveal reality to us. Accepting His doctrine without looking for loopholes will keep us true.
Most of us are living in the midst of the end-time manifestation of Babylon the Great. We can resist its influence if we understand what makes it so attractive to human nature. John Ritenbaugh explains what makes the Mystery Woman tick and why God judges her so severely.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that most religious-professing people (including many members of the greater church of God) have not used the Word of God as their standard of morality and conduct, but instead are allowing society and culture to shape their attitudes, tolerating the disgusting incremental escalating perversion of moral standards. Sadly, society is rapidly replicating the dangerous downward spiral extant during the time of Noah, a time in which the intent of every thought was to do evil. People (conditioned or reinforced by the mass media) rely upon their deceitful 'hearts' or 'feelings' rather than the Bible to determine moral standards. The House of Joseph (often claiming to be the last bastion of morality) now leads the world in exporting filth to the rest of mankind. Our only safeguard against moral pollution is to ingest (or assimilate) God's word (spiritual manna- or the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth) every day of our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
PBS's "Merchants of Cool" on Frontline is a sober probe into the research and marketing of what teens consider "cool." Knowing the way big business and big media push-the-envelope today, the results should not be shocking. The conclusion of the documentary is that every new teen fashion, music, movie, television, and language trend is marketed and sold to the teen—and pre-teen—set by the media in cahoots with major advertisers. Our kids are being manipulated to absorb and reflect a deviant culture. ...
David C. Grabbe: A local radio talk-show host frequently uses the term "reality narcolepsy" to describe the human condition of being asleep—and thus blind—to the truth of what is occurring. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. ...
John Ritenbaugh, noting that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates 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 Babylonish 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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It never ceases to amaze. ...
David C. Grabbe: If the mainstream media is a bellwether, the earth is about to be invaded by beings from another planet—or it already has been. ...
Today's society is becoming increasingly insensitive and calloused to the base and profane words. This article examines this issue and gives suggestions for eliminating obscenities from our lives.
Martin Collins, citing compelling statistics proving a greater causal connection between exposure to media violence and commiting acts of violence than between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, poses the question, "Are we inadvertently conditioning ourselves to sin?" The defilement which begins in the heart (Mark 7:20-21) is shaped, molded, and conditioned by the media, training people to override their natural impulses of conscience (Romans 2:14), desensitizing themselves to violence, feeling no compunction to brutally maim and kill. Once our hearts are rendered cold and brittle through the saturation of sin, it will take intense, fiery trials to make them malleable again. It is wiser to avoid the evil conditioning in the first place than to force God to put us through these trials to decondition or deprogram us from this cumulative hardness.
Is there a distinction between black and white magic? Martin Collins in his exploration of the fastest growing religion in the United States (witchcraft) traces both practices to Satan the Devil. The Bible clearly condemns charmers, divination, gnosticism, necromancy, soothsayers, sorcery, spiritism and witchcraft, identifying all of these practices as hideous abominations, based upon lying, idolatry, and contacting evil demonic spirits.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
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.
We have a tendency to put matters behind us once we are finished with them, but we cannot afford to do this with the lessons we learn from the Days of Unleavened Bread. John Reid shows that those lessons are eternal!
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the doctrines entrusted to us through Herbert Armstrong's apostleship remain a major plank in the foundation of our faith. Adopting a revolutionary stance (Proverbs 24:21) for the sake of change, variety, or relieving boredom will systematically destroy the faith once delivered. Through the sanctification process, we incorporate Christ's righteousness by obedience, prayer, study, bearing fruit, sacrificing, serving, and yielding to God's Spirit, enabling us to develop character. In the current scattering, God is testing us to see whether we will hold fast, resisting heresies and false doctrines. Our vision must be kept alive and ever growing or our zeal, motivation, and unity will wane.
A wall is a defense against undesirable forces gaining entrance to what is inside it. Spiritually, we need walls to keep Satan's world out of our lives.
The Bible has a great deal to say about honor and whom we should honor. This article gives us a hard but necessary lesson in honor.
The author comments on his impressions of Britain during a recent visit to his homeland. Ephraim, like silly dove, is indeed going down the road God predicted in the Bible.
God does not just want us not to sin, He also wants us not even to appear to be doing evil. John Reid shows how Christians must guard their thoughts, words and deeds at all times.
It is quite rare to see a person who truly hungers and thirsts after God's way, but this is the kind of desire God wants us to have. John Ritenbaugh explains what Jesus means in this fourth beatitude.
Blessedness and mourning seem contradictory to our way of thinking, but obviously Jesus saw spiritual benefits to sorrow. John Ritenbaugh shows why true, godly mourning gets such high marks from God.
In many ways, we have been called to a life of avoiding, enduring and overcoming temptation. Martin Collins explains the process of temptation, sin and their products, destruction and death.
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the pressures and conflicts that the church has undergone is part of a larger Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has embroiled institutions religious and political institutions worldwide. The mindset reflects (and is a function of) an unseen spirit world under the sway of the prince and power of the air. This Zeitgeist or wisdom of men (evidenced by carnality) could well dominate our lives. We need to be extremely careful about what we allow into our minds, from academia, psychology, politics, and especially from people supposedly speaking for God (false prophets), but having their taproot in the world and Satan the Devil. Any message, true or false, has the capability of producing a faith. Faith in the wrong thing will bring deadly consequences. To counteract the heresies emanating from the spirit of the world, we must have union with Christ (through His Spirit), giving us direct access to God's wisdom.
The world's ways, ideas and attitudes naturally flow into the church over time. The question is, How well do we resist and/or reject them? Richard Ritenbaugh examines three areas that have crept into the modern church and wreaked havoc.
Sexual topics and imagery are all around us, yet God covers the whole subject with His very terse and direct seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Sex and marriage are God-given experiences that Christians need a proper perspective of, as this article shows.
What is pornography? Is nudity wrong? Discover the attittudes behind pornography and why Christians must strive for purity. This article also includes the insets, 'Government Research and Conclusions on Pornography' and 'Modesty in Clothing.'
Satan seems to be planting into men's minds the thought that an alien force will one day invade earth. Perhaps the Devil is conditioning mankind for Christ's return?
John Ritenbaugh warns that the narrow "pay and pray" mentality experienced by many in our previous fellowship took our attention away from the more important overcoming and growing aspect, preparing for the Kingdom of God. We desperately need to become immersed in a cause, yielding to God's creative power, personally and individually, getting us ready for God's Kingdom. We must guard our time, not allowing busy-ness and involvement with activities of the world to prevent us from forming a deep intimacy with God. Developing this intimacy requires walking by faith, going beyond the superficial academic into an intense, in-depth practical application of actively searching for, yielding to, and obeying God.
Time—it marches relentlessly on, and we have only so much of it. Yet we waste a lot of it on foolish pursuits, procrastination and distractions. John Ritenbaugh explains how getting control of our time puts us in the driver's seat in our pursuit of God's Kingdom!
We know the holy days typify the steps in God's plan. What happens between Pentecost and Trumpets, the long summer months? John Ritenbaugh expounds on the subject of sanctification.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that a recurring pattern God uses is to set apart one group of people to become a blessing to the rest of the world by keeping His covenant, providing a good example. Ancient Israel was asked to purge the land of Gentile customs and practices. In the New Testament, the church (the Israel of God) was asked to come out of the world, having as little contact as possible with its political, educational, and social institutions (with its unseen spiritual influences). Like Nehemiah, our worldview has to stem from a fear of God. Adopting the world's standards automatically makes one an enemy of God. Our enemy is not the people of the world, but the subtle satanic spiritual influences that determine their attitudes and values. Our intimate fellowship should not be with the world, but be concentrated upon God and those who have made the Covenant with God, loving them as we would ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
Solomon uses the analogy of burning oneself to describe sinning. "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?" John Reid explains.
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the depth of our beliefs, showing the difference between our preferences and our convictions. He looks at both legal and spiritual ramifications of this subject.
We often take our children's toys for granted, but they are actually tools that can teach either right or wrong. John Reid gives some guidelines for choosing proper toys for our kids.
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, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
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!
In this sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prophecies concerning the Man of Sin refer to a personage having immense political power with global significance rather than to an errant leader of a small church. The mystery of lawlessness which Paul warns about 19 years after Christ's resurrection (II Thessalonians 2:7) was the insidious religious deception of the Babylonian mystery religion infiltrating the church, appropriating the name of Christ, but despising and rejecting His Law, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 3-4). The mystery of iniquity is progressive in nature, building to a fearful climax just before the return of Christ, when the Man of Sin, along with the Beast, will have aligned a major portion of the world in a fierce battle against Christ. If we don't love the truth, we will be absorbed into this hideous system.
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.