Bill Onisick, identifying humility as the gateway character trait to God's Kingdom, focuses on the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, contrasting pride and humility. Any time we feel prompted to exalt ourselves, we demonstrate Satan's spirit of pride, thereby jeopardizing our entry into God's family. Sadly, most of us would receive a D or F on a simple quiz of 20 "yes or no" questions, such as: 1. Do I readily seek other peoples' opinions? 2. Am I happy when something good happens to someone else? 3. Do I ever get offended? 4. Do I do more listening than speaking? and 5. Do I ever say anything negative about a brother in Christ? Paradoxically, the key to exaltation is to esteem others over self rather than exalting self over others. When we become self-aware of our carnality, we discover our penchant to tear others down while exalting ourselves. It is our obligation to emulate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who taught us to wash feet, assuming the role of a servant.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that Americans have a reputation for kindness warns that we are likely more and more to see a dark underside of America, where hardness of heart supplants kindness. In this milieu, chesed (covenant loyalty and mercy, or showing loving kindness to the most aggravating sinner) cannot exist. David demonstrated chesed by displaying kindness to Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, in spite of the potential dangers doing so could bring to himself. The greater David, our Savior Jesus Christ, also exhibits chesed, loving us while we were still hostile to Him. Both Ruth and Naomi demonstrated covenant loyalty, remaining loyal to the marriage covenant long after the death of their spouses. Ruth faithfully continued to serve her mother-in-law, at what appeared to be great sacrifice to her own interests. Through her choice to become betrothed to Boaz, declining the attentions of more youthful suitors, she demonstrated a special covenant loyalty for which God blessed her by including her in the genealogy of the Messiah. Like Ruth and like Our Savior Jesus Christ, we must assume the role of a servant, obeying the marching orders of Micah 6:8: Walking humbly, justly, and demonstrating chesed.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating the day-for-a-year-principle, maintains that, as we count the 50 days toward Pentecost, we should reconsider the events of our lives (whether life-changing ones or those we might regard as incidental), coming to understand that they reveal God's on-going maintenance of our spiritual lives. As we study the Megilloth Ruth, we see Naomi, described as a pleasant, attractive personality, a God-fearing, common-sense individual who put others before herself. Yet, for all that, she exhibits the negative trait of bitterness as she responds to a series of experiences which she initially defines as curses. Like Moses, Elijah, and nearly all of God's called-out ones, Naomi found it difficult to see God's hand at work in the "big picture" of things. Naomi's pessimism disappeared once she perceived God's hand behind apparently 'accidental' events, including Ruth gleaning in Boaz's field, or 'circumstantial' ones, such as the attention he showered upon her. Naomi soon realized that God had meticulously orchestrated, towards the accomplishment of His own purposes, the famine, the death of her husband and sons, the loyalty of Ruth, the gleaning episodes, the marriage of Ruth to Boaz and the birth of Obed. Naomi's blessings, the result of God's providence, were far greater than her earlier losses. Let us emulate Naomi in her awakening realization that God choreographs even horrible incidents in our lives in order to fulfill His purposes. Yielding to His purpose will give us the desire of our hearts.
David C. Grabbe: "Hardness of heart" is used several ways in Scripture, but a person can develop this sinful attitude toward both God and man. ...
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the reality of God is not a mathematical formula beyond the reach of garden-variety human reason and observation, warns us that God's reality is not the root of the human problem. Rather, the powerful pulls of our carnal nature, innately hostile to God's law, prevents us from believing Him or obeying Him. The deadliest enemy to our spiritual well-being is within us. God calls the weak and base of the world to put the intellectual and strong to shame. To provide a counterweight to the destructive carnal nature, God provided His Holy Spirit—as well as spiritual gifts—in order to enable His called-out ones to put to death their carnal natures, as they refocus their attention to things above, bringing about a life-giving fellowship with the Creator. God does not create character by fiat, but has ordained that His true children exercise their power of choice to build an intimate relationship with Him, a task not impossible, but not easy. God has providentially given us trials to build character, proving beyond a doubt that we believe Him and have a burning desire to be at one with Him. We exercise these spiritual gifts in order to kill our carnal nature, not to win salvation. Unlike the first Adam, who yielded to his carnal lusts, choosing to please himself, we must follow the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who always submitted to the will of the Father. All people are without excuse when it comes accepting God's existence. Refusal to believe or obey God puts blinders of foolishness on the ungodly, preventing them from knowing God. When one observes the consistently law-governed Creation, it is foolish to embrace atheism.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
The prophet Elijah set the standard for all the prophets, calling forth God's power to bring about a drought and calling down fire, embarrassing and exterminating the priests of Baal. After warning the people not to halt between two opinions, he fell into a dilemma of either fearing God or fearing man, and ended up fearing Jezebel rather than God, thinking he was alone in his zeal for God. Sadly, some of our fellow splinter groups have succumbed to the Elijah complex, thinking they are the only ones carrying on the work of God, looking down on their brethren as Laodicean or unconverted. We dare not elevate our self-importance over our brethren in different groups. God foretells seven churches, but one body, all contemporaneous when Christ comes again.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
The apostle Paul endured tremendous hardship, and his example teaches us that we have the ability—and even responsibility—to choose how we let our circumstances affect us. Paul had to decide whether to let his circumstances weigh him down or to rise above them so God could use him. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us what we have that we did not receive, concludes that 100% of what we have received has come from God (and to a degree, other people). Even though we have good looks and a sparkling personality, even though we have attained a certain degree of material success, a certain amount of knowledge, a certain set of skills, we did not accomplish these things alone. We had nothing to do with our calling, redemption, or salvation; God gave us all these things. Ultimately, it all goes back to God. We have nothing to boast about; we are totally obligated to God. We have good reason to be humble and grateful. The Day of Atonement points out how needy and dependent we are. We are to afflict our souls by fasting. Because we are so incredibly frail, 24 hours with no food or drink makes a deep impression upon us, showing our total dependency upon a merciful God to which we are eternally obligated. This humble attitude leads us to subject ourselves to God. On this day, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, we are to do no work at all, forcing us to turn our total attention to God, refraining to speak our own words or think our own thoughts. God's atoning work is unmerited grace, for which we remain eternally grateful. The atoning work is applied universally until all sin is atoned for, and everything is made holy. Psalm 102 reminds us how weak, destitute, and temporary we are as compared with God's sovereignty, eternal power and changelessness. God allows us to go through a trial to bring about a change in us. Thankfully, when God's people renounce their sins and repent, God will show mercy. Death is no impediment to God; He will resurrect us from the grave. Psalm 103 extols God for all His benefits; everything good, both physical and spiritual, comes from God. Foremost among all these benefits, he forgiveness of our sins. God extends these benefits to those who fear and honor Him, keeping His commandments, practicing His way of life.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
Joe Baity, reflecting on the seeming Narcissistic Zeitgeist displayed by our generation, promoting self-gratification, self-realization, and self-indulgence, with a plethora of self-help books promoting elevating self interest above others, cautions that this approach damages both our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellowman, threatening to defile our fellowship within the body of Christ. Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul teach us to esteem others over ourselves, focusing on the betterment of others. Any self-improvement we can garner from self-help books composed by secular humanists pales into insignificance alongside the spiritual benefits from exercising outgoing concern for others, a mindset we can only attain by humbly submitting to God.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are about leaving one venue (sin and Satan) and moving toward deliverance, warns us that as we leave sin, we do not want to leave our first love, as did the Ephesus congregation as recorded in Revelation 2:1. The Ephesians had a strong sense of duty to not let down, as well as serving as a vanguard in the battle against the false doctrines of the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans. What was lacking was the devotion to Christ, Who had given His life; the spark of love had gone and was replaced by a mechanical going- through- the- motions. They were not zealously attempting to form a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In an environment of turmoil, it is easy to draw inward in protection of the self, ignoring our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow to the stature of Jesus Christ, or our works are meaningless and will not produce fruit or light. Our prior fellowship lost its lamp-stand because of losing its first love. We do not dare follow in its footsteps, but must reignite our first love with the help of God's Holy Spirit.
Jeremiah and his scribe and companion, Baruch, lived during a time of great upheaval—in fact, during the decline and destruction of the Kingdom of Judah. In so many words, Baruch complained that God's plans against Judah and its people were crimping his own lofty ambitions. Charles Whitaker elucidates how God replied to Baruch's complaint and provides a lesson for us today.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Deuteronomy 28:63, suggests there is a context in which God rejoices in cursing or judgment. God's rejoicing does not always have to be attending to good or positive events, but sometimes in painful judgments. God can take satisfaction that He is doing the right thing. In the early days of the Radio Church of God, people seemed to exercise extraordinary diligence and resourcefulness in keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, with virtually none of the perks we have today. A well-planned Feast can be a downer if we do not participate in serving or fellowship. If we do not give of ourselves, we will receive nothing in return. The Feast is not intended to be "one big blast," but a time of spiritual growth, which may take some helpful course correction. Their result, ultimately will be rejoicing. When we keep God's Holy Days just to please our materialistic appetites, we will be keeping the Feast in an unworthy manner, and are flirting with God's harsh judgment. Rejoicing is a choice; we have the power over our attitudes. If we seek God's direction, God will reciprocate by directing our paths. It is our obligation to make sacrifices during the Feast of Tabernacles, an event which requires more sacrifice than any other time of the year. Sacrificing and rejoicing are linked, although today the emphasis should be more on the spiritual rather than the physical aspect. We are expected to bring our harvest of spiritual fruits, also known as good works, bearing one another's burdens, uplifting one another. The Feast of Tabernacles is not expected to be problem- or trouble-free, nor will the Millennium be trouble-free, but it will be the most opportune time to produce the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a time to rebuild the ruined and desolate places. When we begin to act like God, we will know that He is the Lord. The very fact that He has commanded us to rejoice means that it does not come naturally. Let us give of ourselves in service.
In the last two editions, we saw that Israel and Judah both improperly regarded the Temple, esteeming it higher than the God for whom it was built, and putting their confidence in the fact that they had the Temple in their city. ...
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that without the proper emphasis on thanksgiving and praise, our prayers degenerate into the "gimmes" with the emphasis exclusively on self. We need to learn to give God thoughtful thanks in every circumstance, including sickness, health, prosperity, and adversity, all having a useful niche in our spiritual growth if we cultivate the right perspective. While gratitude is a major support of faith, pride is a major exponent of vanity and uselessness. Gratitude is the natural reaction to what God has done. Thanksgiving supports true faith because it helps us to focus on the Creator rather than the created. If we see, hear, taste, and feel God in our lives, we should experience a torrent of praise and thanksgiving in our lives.
James' exhortation about the use of our tongues seems to stop with James 3:12. However, the rest of the chapter provides additional wisdom on controlling our speech.
In this pre-Passover sermon, John Ritenbaugh compares God's flawless works to the imperfect works of mankind. In addition to being flawless, God's works have a multiplicity of purposes, while man's works have limited utility and many flaws. Like air, having multiple uses, God's Word also has many uses; any one scripture can be used in dozens of different applications. The closer one looks at the multifaceted aspects of Christ's offices (Creator, King, Redeemer, High Priest, Savior, etc.) the more we realize the preciousness of His life and the high cost of the sacrifice for our sins. The focus of our self-examination should not be self-centered or comparing ourselves with others, but on the awesome significance of His sacrifice.
Mercy is a virtue that has gone out of vogue lately, though it is much admired. Jesus, however, places it among the most vital His followers should possess. John Ritenbaugh explains this often misunderstood beatitude.
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 asserts that physically emancipating people from slavery does not automatically unshackle their hearts or minds or preparing them for productive responsibility in a free society. Likewise, our emancipation from sin does not automatically remove our acquired spiritual shackles. We must gradually grow out of the slave mentality into liberty and freedom by committing our lives to the truth (John 8:30; Romans 8:6), replacing acquired insecurity and fear with faith and the love of God (I John 4:18). Like our forefather Abraham, we have to gradually or incrementally grow into a model of faithfulness. God's Spirit provides us the mechanism for transforming our enslaved, fearful, carnal minds to liberty (II Corinthians 3:17).
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