Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
Austin Del Castillo, affirming that correction is something that children and adults find odious, points out that paradoxically the friend who offers constructive correction helps us mature and grow more than a 'friend' who ignores our faults. The very reason we are called into God's Church is so he can mold us into members of His family. It should be a given in our thinking that we must be corrected for much of our walk in this life with our Maker. The Lord loves whom he chastens. Yielding to the correction we receive from Scripture, the ministry and our brethren brings a wholesome sense of humility, needed to learn and overcome. If we harden our hearts to protect ourselves from hurt, as the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkle song "I am a Rock, I am an Island," we render ourselves impervious to feeling compassion and to the ability to mature psychologically and spiritually, cutting ourselves off from the very ebb and flow of life, turning us into craven cowards, candidate for the Lake of Fire. We must cry out to God to soften our petrifying hearts, realizing that the antidote to the fear of repentance caused by pride is godly humility and the willingness to be set on the right spiritual course. The only rock we should cling to is Jesus Christ.
Joseph Baity focuses on a prophecy in Micah 7:2-6 describing a culture of corruption and distrust, ignored by watchmen and prophets, a prophecy of the end-time we are experiencing today, a time of economic disparity and emotional turbulence, a time when some of the most grievous conflicts occur between family members. Like people of Micah's time, our people also have serious trust issues, even between close friends and family members. When wealth and greed go unchecked, the poor pay a high price. Without trust, a community, state, or nation is ultimately doomed. Our culture is struggling with idolatry and income disparity. The mainstream faith in Judeo-Christian values is shrinking into oblivion. America is being divided by multiple lines of distrust as never seen before. The Oxford Dictionary's word of the year is "post-truth," which refers to the subjugation of facts to emotion. Trust, faith, and belief are so intertwined that the man who is unable to trust is unable to abide or trust in an unseen God. Without trusting in God, it is impossible to receive His Holy Spirit. Without His Holy Spirit, our faith dries up. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Sadly, some aspects of the post-truth mindset have entered the church, eroding relationships between God and brethren. Satan promotes insecurity and distrust—and he is good at it. We must be on guard against the wiles of Satan, continuing to trust in God and the brethren. As strong as Satan's will is to divide us, God's will to unite us is stronger by far.
Mark Schindler, establishing some foundational principles that God does not create chaos and confusion, but has re-established order after Satan's rebellion, points out the danger and folly of presumptuously choosing standards of right and wrong rather than trusting God's judgment. The essential dualities of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil are also foundational teachings, explaining how mankind got into the predicament it now finds itself. Since the temptation of Eve with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge , mankind has been plagued with the same temptation throughout history. Throughout the last years of his life, the lesson of the two trees was a hallmark message of Herbert W. Armstrong. This message was not the rumination of a feeble old man, but instead the key to understanding the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father. God is sovereign over His creation all the time—to the smallest detail, having built into His creation abundant failsafe mechanisms mitigating consequences of a possible failure, somewhat analogous to the hold-down bar of a power lawnmower, preventing accidental finger-severing. God, in His sovereignty, has not failed. The free-will He has allowed mankind has led to some tragic consequences or disruptions, but none of these are outside of His control. God's way never requires a fail-safe because God is never wrong. As God's called-out ones, we must trust the sovereignty of our Heavenly Father, surrendering exclusively to His will, as did our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. If we keep the law of God, provided by the love of God, we will receive the life of God.
Austin Del Castillo reminds us that the end of the Feast of Tabernacles represents the last century and one half of God's Millennial rule, a time when entirety of earth's population will be living under God's Law. At the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan from the Bottomless Pit. He will immediately set about deceiving, with the aim of destroying God's people. How is it that Satan can deceive people living at peace and prosperity under God's perfect Law? As God's called-out ones, we must make sure that we are well rooted in God's Word so that we never again fall for Satan's lies. When the grand deception came on the Worldwide Church of God, we became alarmed when we witnessed people who we thought were absolute pillars swallow the poisonous apostasy the new leadership taught. Apparently, not everyone had believed the true Gospel, but instead held some reservations about the Truth Mr. Armstrong taught. God grew tired of the lack of commitment of our previous fellowship; some of us, no doubt, were part of the problem. Today, Jesus Christ is observing us to see what kind of bride we are becoming. Many of us have been conditioned not to trust anyone, extending these trust issues to our brethren, and eventually to God Himself. When we take counsel only in ourselves, we run the risk of giving ourselves over to the one who influences our human nature, the prince of the power of the air, who is adept at convincing us that God is withholding something from us. Satan totally supports our feelings of resentment. Satan wants us to think we have been cheated. In this state of mind, we develop paper-thin skin when it comes to accepting counsel from our brethren, leading us to sever friendships with them. Our priority must be the restoration of our relationship with God, putting to death the idea that God is cheating us.
Every generation or so, a populist leader arises to grip public attention, the electorate to support grassroots policies that other politicians have ignored. Recognizing that Americans have rushed to support two populist candidates during this cycle's primary season, Richard Ritenbaugh cautions that populism has a tendency to spin out of control.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
Dan Elmore: In His Sermon on the Mount, our Savior gives us some basic but very helpful and necessary advice about living as Christians in this world: "Therefore do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ..."
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the May 15, 2014 opening of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, noticed that former President George Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney were highly conspicuous by their absences, while President Obama, a rather timid warrior on the War on Terrorism was boldly front-and-center at this event. It gives one cause to reflect that the events of 9/11, and the subsequent reactions, may have all been carefully crafted by multinational conspiracy intent upon destroying the culture and dominance of the west. Sadly, the current Administration has developed the reputation for hyper-mendacity, unparalleled and unsurpassed for over 230 years. Senator Ted Cruz has documented 76 major lies since President Obama's tenure in office, including his birth status, the Fast and Furious Program, arming drug cartels to murder rivals, the cowardly retreat and cover-up of Ben Ghazi, IRS intimidation of political opponents, attempted bullying and land takeovers in Nevada and New Mexico, seemingly provoking anger and rebellion on a scale to justify martial law. The mendacious propaganda produced in Washington makes the work of Goebbels look amateurish.
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 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.
The world is so full of lying and other forms of deceit that "bearing false witness" has become a way of life for the vast majority of humanity. In discussing the ninth commandment, John Ritenbaugh reveals the relationship between telling the truth and faithfulness, virtues that are necessary parts of an effective witness.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
How important is faith? What is the faith God requires us to have? Pat Higgins explains that faith is simple in concept, but difficult to display in our lives. Nevertheless, we must exercise this gift of God to pass the tests that are sure to precede the return of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God's called-out ones must perpetually walk a razor's edge with the allurement of the world (leading to death) on one side and the love of God (leading to eternal life) on the other. At birth, human nature is relatively neutral, with a slightly stronger pull to the self. Inspired by the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2-3), the prevailing Zeitgesist(the dominant spirit or mindset of the time) pulls the believer away from the love of God (and immortality) to the world (and death). The element which will tip the scale toward following God (there is no quick fix to conversion) is to displace the love for the world with the love for God(a gift from God flowing from His Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) and setting our hearts on spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-20).
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
Most of us are aware of a phenomenon that too often takes place within the church of God. It should not happen, but it does. This phenomenon is that if an attitude or trend begins to develop in the world, we can expect that it will soon enter the church. When it does, it shows that we are not as attuned to the Kingdom of God as we should be—that we are still too attached to the world. John W. Ritenbaugh explains.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that what a person believes is a major driving force of his conduct, determining the outcome of his life. At the time of the end, iniquity is going to be so pervasive and so compelling a force that our only resource for enduring its influence will be our contact and relationship with God. Faith is the foundational building block (II Peter 1:5-8) in this lifelong process. Everything in Christianity flows from the relationship we have with God, a relationship having trust or faith as its foundation or starting point. Walking by faith implies a responsibility to use the spiritual tools God has given us to overcome, grow, and to show our love by keeping His Commandments. God enables us to believe, to live by faith, but He will not do our part of the responsibility for us
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.
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