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.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
Martin Collins, arguing that the subtle infiltration of secularism is the major cause of fissures in the greater Church of God, warns church members how secularism threatens spiritual growth. During our pre-Passover period of self-examination, we must focus on what the Father demands of us and embrace His truth with all our might, esteeming God's words over everything else. Sadly, mainstream 'Christianity' gives little heed to God's Word, valuing consensus (a plurality of 51%) over doctrinal truth as revealed by the Scriptures. We seriously err if we rely on the secular media to give us spiritual understanding. God sends strong delusion to those who do not love the truth. We cannot reject obeying God, but we must reject the world's theology, as it defends degeneracy. The dominant world culture militates against God's Sabbath, allowing sporting events, shopping, and entertainment to take its place. In the latter days, secular concerns have increased; "everybody does it." Being set apart requires we become an example (which will appear alien to the world), serving, metaphorically, as lighthouses in a dark world. Thankfully, Christ has our back by sanctifying us with His truth and giving us the will and power to do His work thorough the means of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating the highly important principle that the lessons a child learns early will impact them years later (Proverbs 22:6), states that this principle has society-wide meaning as well. If parents have not assumed their rightful roles as the gatekeepers of their children's culture, other philosophies will capture their attention and warp their perception of reality. Daniel Greenfield proclaimed that all wars are culture wars, a fact of which America and Britain have unfortunately been oblivious for many decades. Consequently, these peoples have seemingly lost the last culture war and are on the brink of having their way of life replaced by something vastly inferior. Because we did not think our culture important enough to protect, it will be taken from us. Often God has raised a leader to steer His people in the right direction, but Israel failed to follow him. The ruler of this world has been successfully poisoning our offspring with the garbage of humanist thinking. The current Roman Catholic Pope has even proffered the despicable lie that Joseph and Mary are equivalent to Muslim refugees fleeing from oppression. Children not protected from such lies will succumb to them.
David C. Grabbe: In Part Two, we began to consider the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree: "He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none...."
John Ritenbaugh, citing the findings of Dave Crenshaw, a business chaos crusher, alerts us that the average worker is interrupted 15 times per hour, many of which are self-inflicted, suggesting that these interruptions resemble small cuts which drain the life blood out of productivity. One of the most deceptively innocent, but deadly traps is the double-q (the quick question) now exacerbated by the ease of e-mail and social media. Regardless of the source of the interruption, productivity hemorrhages. To counteract wasteful interruptions, we must rid ourselves of vague goal setting, replacing this concept with that of a finish line or deadline, continually reminding us that time is a perishable resource. Because e-mail is a potential time waster, and a destroyer of focus, we should quarantine e-mail to specific times in the day to rapidly address correspondents' needs, and then get back to project at hand, concentrating on how to process it to completion.
Ryan McClure, contemplating that we are now counting toward Pentecost, asks us to take a thoughtful inventory of how careful we have been in our deleavening process from which we have recently emerged. Our forebears on the Sinai witnessed many miracles as they traversed the Red Sea and received the Law on Mount Sinai, but their attention was short-lived as they prevailed upon Aaron to make a gold calf. Like the ancient Israelites, our carnal human nature gravitates toward sin, a deadly weight which impedes our spiritual progress and jeopardizes our prospects of salvation. Paul warns us not to allow sin to reign in our bodies, but to mortify the evil pulls of the flesh continually. Living by the pulls of the flesh has a short shelf-life, but living by the prompts of the Holy Spirit brings eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, quoting from efficiency expert or "business chaos crusher" Dave Crenshaw, urges that distractions and interruptions caused by phone, e-mail, computers, or texting, are detrimental to productivity and to the operating a business at a profit. The average worker is interrupted 15 times per hour, 120 times in 8 hours, 4800 times per week, or 240,000 times per year. These interruptions are like tiny cuts destroying productivity, as blood flows from a wound, When we allow our focus to become divided, we are unable to give our full attention to the assigned task. The continuous shifts in our attention seriously damage our focus. One research company calculates that the average clerical worker loses 28% of his work per day because of interruptions, adding up to losing an entire work week each month. In our journey to the Kingdom of God, we frequently become magnets for distraction. We must organize our priorities and our time to play defense against continuous distractions, refusing to respond when we are focused on a task, assuming if necessary the profile of a curmudgeon when focused on an important task. Establishing and enforcing definite and rational anti-interruption strategies are especially important when we are communicating with God through study and prayer. We need to ensure that we hardwire these strategies as top priorities in our daily chores.
John Ritenbaugh, upon hearing an advertisement for a book whose subtitle was "Age of Distraction," reflected on Daniel's prophecy about knowledge increasing and people madly dashing to and fro, pointing to the frenetic conditions at the close of the age, when multiple distractions prevent people from thinking straight , a time when minds keep busy, but accomplish nothing. A distraction is any event that breaks our focus or attention. Though it may last only a moment, it may ruin the rest of our day. The boxer breaks the focus of an opponent through a feint, drawing his attention in another direction, only to deliver a decisive, debilitating blow. While our hopelessly corrupt government has deliberately distracted our attention toward illegal immigration, it has silently encouraged massive legal immigration of Muslims and have distributed 'legal' green cards to millions of aliens. Satan's chief stock in trade is the distraction, creating confusion and consternation for all, including God's called-out ones. God wants to see how focused we are on His truth, warning us that, even though we live in the world, love for the world and its corrupt systems cannot coexist with love for God and His truth. We dare not let a feint from the Dragon distract us from our work of developing God's character.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we are approaching the end of a seven year cycle, the seventh year on the Hebrew calendar, a time of the year of release, when the Law was publicly and solemnly read. This event has always proved more solemn with a sense of urgency than the services of a regular Feast of Tabernacles. In the current grim background of the accelerating decadence of the western democratic democracies, we must remember that for God's called-out ones the responsibility for a life of faith is not the church, but rather on the individual. Because none of us are privy to the time of Christ's return, we must continually seek God's counsel rather than being distracted and mesmerized by the Zeitgeist around us. During the time of Noah, there was a lengthy witness from a preacher of righteousness before God's hammer of judgment (in the form of the flood) fell upon the world's populace. We must be continually aware and alert to our own spiritual condition, remembering that the times would be identical to Noah's, when people were absorbed into the spirit of the time, failing to heed God's warning. God's called-out ones must remain single-minded, fortifying their spiritual reserves with Bible study, prayer, and meditation, maintaining a vigilant, watchful eye out for the surreptitious lures of Satan's decadent socio-cultural milieu.
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
Ted Bowling, acknowledging that faith is a foundation of our assurance in the reality of God, uses a submarine analogy with its sonar equipment to illustrate faith. The crew of the submarine must rely on the ping of a sonar signal to keep from crashing into underwater cliffs, trusting in a power they cannot see. God has given to us spiritual sonar to help us to navigate in uncharted venues. If we rely on God, He will make our ways straight. As we pray, study, and meditate, we sharpen our spiritual sonar, seeing that God is active in our lives, helping us to navigate through Satan's demonic world, fraught with multiple distractions. God alone knows what trials we go through and what they will accomplish. Like Elisha's servant had to learn, the forces with us are more than are with the enemy. Angelic forces are available to all of God's called-out ones. Without the spiritual sonar of faith, supplied by God's Holy Spirit, we will not be able to see God working in our lives.
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.
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.
David Grabbe, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, reminds us that God has designed sequential seasons in which various events occur as a part of a long-term plan. God plans the season; we only get to choose whether and how to respond. There is a time to gather and a time to throw away; there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Our fellowship was once gathered to a level that we had more than 100,000 members, distributing multiple millions of magazines monthly, and blanketing the globe with radio and television. Because of negligence and dereliction of some spiritual duties, God mercifully scattered our fellowship, demanding that we seek a relationship with Him first, before we presumptuously seek unity with our scattered brethren on the basis of compromising with one another. As we all seek unity with God and His commandments, God will grant us unity. At the time of Christ's return, remnants of all seven churches on the mail route in Revelation 2-3 will be extant. Currently, we all yearn to be re-united with our scattered brethren, but until our own personal walk with God is attained, and until we intently seek Him first, unity of the spirit will not happen.
Bill Onisick, warning us that we are continually in danger of being deceived by our hearts and carnal nature, a nature which distracts us from following God, though we go through the motions, cautions us to not practice hypocrisy before Almighty God. Most have deluded themselves into thinking their ways are pure and acceptable to God, when in reality their hearts are not with God at all, but have been distracted by the flood of Satan's misinformation, subtly instilled through cultural transference, packaging Satan's approaches in food, art, clothing, customs, education, music, movies, sports, philosophy, and entertainment of the world in which we live—the transmission of ideas, meanings, values, and shared norms. Global cultural transference had its origin with Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle. Alexander aspired to conquer the world by homogenizing the language, culture, and philosophy of the Western world, subjecting it to Greek or Hellenistic thought, squashing local customs and replacing them with the cosmopolitan outlook of the Hellenistic mindset. From Spain to India, the known world became Hellenized, creating a virtual global cosmopolitan city, embracing humanistic rather than Divine orientation, homogenizing art, music, and cuisines of the global community. Ironically, the Hellenistic bent on creating a global community advanced the spread of God's word since the standard Greek language became the medium for transmitting the New Testament and the translated Old Testament throughout the world. The Pharisees exemplify the hypocritical deluded mindset, setting themselves in a spirit of pride above all other people, a mindset of which members of the end-time church are not immune. We are potentially hypocritical and evil as we allow ourselves to become deluded by Satan's flood of misinformation. God is concerned with our thoughts and our beliefs, asking us to concentrate on the weightier matters of the law.
In Christ, our earthly citizenships are essentially inconsequential. Paul writes in Philippians 3:19 about the enemies of Christ who "set their minds on earthly things" or "side with earthly things." One area in which we can evaluate how much our heavenly Kingdom means to us is how much we set our minds on earthly kingdoms.
As He was finishing His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus charged His disciples, "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:37). It is an intriguing command because He does not specify in so many words what we are to watch. Pat Higgins argues that the evidence points to the fact that watching has everything to do with spiritual preparation.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
Among God's many names and titles is one that proclaims His supremacy over all others: "Most High God" or "God Most High." This name is first used when Melchizedek meets Abram after his victory over the kings who had taken Lot and his family captive. David Grabbe traces the usage of this divine name through the Bible, illustrating how it should give us confidence in God's governance over our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on our mind's tendency to wander when the details get too fast and furious, losing bits and pieces of the unfolding time-element, warns us that, if this happens when we study prophecy, we could be off by hundreds or thousands of years. The understanding of the "when" of prophecy is absolutely crucial. Regarding the return of Jesus Christ, commentaries classify the following views: the pre-millennial view (Christ will return before establishing His thousand year rule), the post-millennial view (Christ made plans for His thousand year rule when He ascended to Heaven in 31 A.D., leaving the work to convert the entire earth to Christianity to the church fathers), and the a-millennial view (the thousand year rule was just a metaphor). Other views consist of: idealism (insisting the prophecies are merely metaphors standing for greater principles, such as the ultimate eradication of evil), historicism (a religious explanation for historical events, showing God's hand in historical events, regarding prophecy as human constructs), futurism (believing that most prophecies have future fulfillment, suggesting duality—type and anti-type in prophecy), and preterism (reflecting on what has already taken place, suggesting that all prophecy has already been fulfilled in AD 70.) Some preterists will admit that some prophecies, like Christ's Second Coming, have not been fulfilled. Preterists hang their entire philosophy on the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of "this generation" in Matthew 24:34. Any speculation about the future is about as certain as meteorological "predictions." Interpretation of prophecy is open to many variables. We cannot be sure about any of our speculations. Herman Hoeh's and Herbert W. Armstrong's speculations (as sincere as they were) had a high degree of error. We cannot be fixed on a trajectory (as we have in the past) of interpretation which obliviously ignores vital signs. Language (and the interpretation of language) is a slipper
John W. Ritenbaugh: My last essay addressed the fact that change is always present in every person's life. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon a vivid dream in which two lions entered the meeting hall, describes the terror he had as they came toward him. The dream reminds us that Satan and his demons are prowling around like ravenous lions, seeking whom they may devour. On the Day of Atonement, we afflict our souls to humble ourselves and abstaining from work. Christ came to this earth to shed His blood in love and self-sacrifice to redeem us and all mankind from our sins. We are to gather together in a holy convocation, symbolizing our unity in God. It is a time of rendering ourselves poor in spirit, preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God. When we afflict ourselves on the Day of Atonement, we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Tabernacles. We do no work on this day, illustrating that we cannot justify ourselves, but must rely totally on God. Satan is currently paroled, dwelling in the holding facility of this earth, taking every opportunity to deceive and destroy the sons of man in the short time he has left. Satan especially wants to attack those who are faithfully keeping God's laws. We must ardently trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, practicing what God has taught us, denying ourselves in the process, emulating Jesus Christ. When confronting Satan, we must be sober and self-controlled, vigilant and watchful, resisting Satan at every opportunity, standing firm in the faith, remaining steadfast as a rock. If we resist the Devil, God will draw close to us and Satan will be compelled to flee.
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.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
Is a Christian denied a pleasurable life? Are we relegated to lives of drab monotony and duty? David Maas ponders these questions from the standpoint of the drives God created in humankind, concluding that there is a godly way to fulfill our desires for pleasure.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
The first parable of Matthew 13 lays the groundwork (pun intended) for the remainder of the chapter. Martin Collins explains the various soils upon which the seed of the gospel falls, and the reasons why growth—or its lack—results.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
John Ritenbaugh, taking both a backward and a forward look at the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles, poses the question, "What is so bad about Babylon?" The Babylonian system (code name for the world's political, religious, economic, and cultural systems) poses a menacing danger to God's people, but God wants us to work out His plan within the Babylonian system- obligating us to struggle against its ever-pervasive sensual pulls, a system that had its dim beginnings with the dictatorial, violent, and enslaving rule of Nimrod—the first celebrity rebel of note—a hunter, enslaver, and destroyer of men. The significance of the tower of Babel reflects Satan's overweening pride and hubris (a triumph of human reasoning) to displace God. What man does through his clever inventiveness and creativity will not outlast God's eternal works. If men do not become aligned with God's thoughts, their grandiose plans will not succeed. Coming out of Babylon will undoubtedly require suffering, pain, and self denial, but the sacrifice will pay immense spiritual dividends.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that several parallels exist in the account of Balaam and one's approach to God. As God's children, we have to be on guard against people who are intimidated by righteousness and will seek to destroy its practice. Balaam, motivated by self-interest, believing that the ends justify the means, willing to do anything to get his way, shows himself spiritually inferior to a donkey when it comes to yielding to God's correction. The Laodicean, motivated by blind self-interest and the wages of unrighteousness, totally oblivious to the consequences, imitates Balaam's approach to God. In evaluating the Balaam episode in Numbers 22, we would do better to imitate the donkey than her master.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
More than seven weeks have passed since the disastrous terrorist attacks on September 11. ...
John 6 has always been a difficult chapter to explain. However, within his series on the physical/spiritual parallels in the Bible on eating, John Ritenbaugh shows how clear Jesus' teaching is and what it means to us.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
Luke 21:36 is a memory scripture for many, but are we applying it too narrowly? In reality, we can apply it generally anytime we face trials and crises in our lives.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
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.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the watchman responsibility as defined in Ezekiel 33:2 and Isaiah 62:6, consisting of both physical and spiritual aspects. Part of the pastor's responsibility is to carefully observe economic, social, meteorological, and political trends, warning the flock to take prudent precautions, including making a prayer offensive, making careful and thoughtful self-examination, actively repenting, submitting to God, looking to God's providence for a possible way of escape, but realizing that the place of safety has conditions attached to it. The exact standards of qualification for a Philadelphian have been left purposely vague to keep the prod to spiritual growth fairly intense. Our focus should be to seek God's kingdom, reciprocating God's love, committing ourselves to a life of service fulfilling His purpose for us, doing so without complaining, or comparing our lot with others, realizing He will supply exactly what we need.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh addresses the controversial topics of conspiracy theories, Sovereign Citizenship and the New World Order. These, for too many, burn up countless hours of precious time in vain speculation and useless anxiety. The drive toward one world government is a transparent reality having several biblical prototypes (Genesis 10:8-13; Daniel 2:36-44), all inspired by demonic opposition to God's rule. There is nothing new in this game-plan; conspiracy seems to be a part of our human nature. Satan, manipulating self-interest and pride in various groups and individuals, will only be able to hold his inharmonious confederation together for a short while. If our fear is not in God, this conspiracy will distract, immobilize, and paradoxically tempt us to compromise with it. Our fear ought to be in God who has sovereignty and the final say over all things (Isaiah 8:11-13).
Richard Ritenbaugh insists that the Bible, in both parables and prophecies, interprets itself and remains consistent in its use of symbols. We cannot arbitrarily pull symbols out of the air and attach meaning. The first four parables of Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, and Leaven) all describe Satan's plan to destroy the church: (1) attacking at early stages of growth, (2) infiltrating through secret agents, (3) influencing unchecked, unnatural growth going beyond God's ordained limits, inviting worldly and demonic influence, and (4) influencing yielding to sin and false doctrine.
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
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!
In this sobering message, John Ritenbaugh warns us about our attitude or our perception of the greatest axial period (turning point) that will ever take place on this earth. We need to be sober and alert, realizing that we don't have an infinitude of time to prepare for Christ's second coming. We cannot allow ourselves to become surfeited with the world's distractions, being lulled off to sleep as the foolish virgins, wasting our precious time. We need to exercise steadfast faithfulness, exercising vigilance as we approach the Day of the Lord in order that we don't let it take us by surprise. Living righteously on a continuous basis will put us in the right attitude, keeping us prepared for this event, causing us to properly have love for His appearing. Sorrow, fear, anguish, and dread characterize those who are unprepared.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
The book of Amos is an astounding prophecy, closely paralleling the conditions in modern Israel today. This first part deals with introductory materials, Israel's covenant responsibilities, God's judgment and how unrighteousness affects society.
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
Drawing an analogy between kudzu and the thorns in the Parable of the Sower, Mike Ford shows how we have to "weed out" detrimental habits that choke our lives. If we want to produce quality fruit, we must weed the garden!
In Matthew Christ likens end-time events to the time of Noah's Flood. John Ritenbaugh gives insight into how this end time flood might manifest itself and what we can do to avoid being swept up in it.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that because of our close proximity to a materialistic world filled with man's works, our faith cannot take root. The Sabbath is the day consecrated by God for building faith, energizing our minds for fellowship with God. We dare not defile, profane, offer blemished sacrifices, or put to common use this holy time. Our approach to the Sabbath needs to be quality, whole-hearted, aimed at perfection rather than slipshod, lackadaisical, or "Dutching" it just to get by. The Sabbath contains three principal themes or motifs, focusing upon the past (creation), the present (redemption) and the future (prefiguring the Kingdom of God). We must diligently strive to enter this rest.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
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, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
Satan and his demons regard us as invaders of their first estate, and have consequently have engaged us in a fierce spiritual battle to destroy our relationship with God and His purpose for us to be born into His Family. We fight our battle in the mind, in the subtle thought processes (II Corinthians 10:5). We need to be aware of Satan's modus operandi, including the stratagem of disinformation (subtle, plausible lies) spread through false ministers (wolves in sheep's clothing; Matthew 7:15), teaching the smooth, broad way to destruction, encouraging spiritual fornication and eventual enslavement to sin. The apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (I John 4:1-3), making sure that belief and practice are carefully aligned.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh reflects that the book of Hebrews is perhaps the least understood, most complex and most scholarly of all the books in the New Testament. However, in terms of spiritual insight, it is a pivotal book, whose function is to bridge the purposes and themes of the Old and New Testaments. It focuses on the work of a Master—the Son of God—who has done something far superior than anyone else has ever done. The primary purpose for this combination treatise-sermon-epistle was to encourage a group of people, presumably Jews in Rome or Judea, who lived at a close of an era and were bewildered and weary of well-doing, to maintain their resolve to continue their spiritual journey.
Receive Biblical truth in your inbox—spam-free! This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving.