John Ritenbaugh states that every nation has its privileged—whether they are royalty, wealthy oligarchs, politicians, athletes, or entertainers. Surprisingly though, the masses have privileges which they do not recognize as such, namely the privileges of sight, hearing, walking and speech. God has provided in His Holiness Code proscriptions against taking advantage of those who are handicapped. Additionally, those God has blessed with material wealth have obligations to help the poor, as is seen in the command to avoid gleaning the corners of the fields. Our welfare programs have scriptural principles as their general inspiration, but unfortunately, politicians have abused these programs, encouraging on the part of recipients a toxic dependency which God never intended. Living in a land occupied by the children of the Patriarchs, to whom God revealed His Covenant, is a great privilege. Sadly, the majority of physical Israelites have rejected God's Covenant. God has healed the spiritual blindness and deafness of the members of the true Church, the Israel of God, at the same time calling them to become members of the God Family. As we contemplate our offerings, we should factor this insight into our sense of gratitude and responsibility.
Martin Collins, maintaining that giving a gift strengthens the bond between individuals, bringing about a warm feeling in the giver toward the one receiving the gift, suggests that there is a sentimental dimension factored into offerings. Jacob, in his voluntary gift to the leader of Egypt (whom he discovered later to be Joseph) was not focused on the monetary value, but on the need to establish a positive relationship with him. Our offerings, likewise, are both obligatory and voluntary. God is not focused on a specific monetary amount, but on the attitudes behind our giving, particularly the attitudes of humility, gentleness and patience. God expects us to bring our offerings, walking worthy of our calling, bearing with one another in the bond of peace, which represents a chain of friendship. Properly giving an offering mends and strengthens our relationship with God, especially when we offer our entire lives, time, treasure, and talents every day.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the thesis of Eric Hoffer's book, The True Believer, agrees that all mass movements share a cluster of similar characteristics. Although Herbert W. Armstrong, through his advertising acumen, was able to create in a peoples' minds a hope for radical change for their personal benefit, that hope was not for material, but for spiritual benefit, separating it from all other mass movements. Herbert W. Armstrong transferred his advertising skill from marketing products to teaching truth of God, unlike those peddlers of the 'Prosperity' gospel, who promise material blessings right now. When people begin to lose interest in what originally gave them hope, the movement is in danger of dying. Much of the apostle Paul's admonition was to remain steadfast in the faith. The Prophet Haggai issues an appeal for funds to repair of the physical temple when the people were apparently living in prosperity. Haggai suggests that, because their interest in spiritual priorities had waned, their prosperity was not bringing them frustration instead of satisfaction. As the world's system is crashing, it becomes easy to fall into the mindset of the people of Haggai's time, working increasingly harder, but not living by faith. We must not become indifferent to God due to world events. If we step out on faith, God promises blessings will accrue. Realizing that God is the source of all our prosperity, we must choose where our real treasure is.
Martin Collins, cautioning us to properly value the infinite blessings that God has given us, warns that underestimating God's gifts can lead us to undervalue the spiritual or overvalue the physical. Esau, despised his birthright, preferring a bowl of lentils to placate his stomach; Lot's wife, preferring material prosperity, became a pillar of salt; Achan chose the spoils of battle; Saul allowed the people to persuade him to amass the spoils of battle, disobeying God's command by sparing King Agag; Judas betrayed his Savior for 30 pieces of silver. God commands us to set our minds on things above and not on the earthly, seeking the eternal Kingdom of God rather than perishable treasures of this world. As we prepare our offerings, we must discern the countless spiritual gifts God has given us, realizing that God's gifts are priceless. Only God can measure what is in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that God does not do things uselessly, and certainly does not need our physical goods, examines the role of the offering and sacrifice rehearsed at each Holy Day. The nouns offering and sacrifice derive from two separate Greek words meaning "to bring forth" and "to kill" respectively. In Romans 12:1, God demands a living sacrifice which constitutes our reasonable service. The offering reminds us that we are to bring something forward to the altar to be sacrificed. We must choose to be killed through our obedience, daily mortifying the old man, who ghoulishly struggles to come back to life. We must be diligent in slaying our carnal nature and diligently loving God by keeping His commandments. The Apostle Paul gives us a success formula in presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in I Corinthians 9:23-27, where he states that: (1) We must realize the challenges we face are beyond our understanding and natural abilities, (2) We must determine to trust God. (3) We know we are not now perfect, but we must give our all. (4) We must understand that though God is merciful, we dare not squander our calling. (5) We race against ourselves and should allow ourselves no excuses for failure. (6) We must envision the reward, realizing that we will be rewarded on how well we do. (7) We need to know that Christ is with us the entire way. Being a living sacrifice produces successful living.
Martin Collins reflects that those who depict religion as a life of gloom and deprivation, full of do's and don'ts, are too short-sighted to realize that the empty husks of the world's entertainment do not satisfy the deepest need. In contrast, spiritual food satisfies our deepest cravings, including salvation and eternal life. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be satisfied. As we digest spiritual food in the form of God's word, we must mix believing with faith, analogous to enzymes and gastric juices, in order to properly digest. As spiritual food enters our minds, it must be believed or it will provide no benefit. Fasting adds clarity to our thinking about spiritual things. Do we love our smartphones or our physical money more than we love God? Physical blessings deteriorate; spiritual blessings endure eternally.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 16:16 and Exodus 23:17, the traditional verses calling for an offering, admonishing not to come to Holy Day services empty-handed, reminds us that we are not really giving God anything because He owns everything. The experience of giving an offering is for our benefit. We receive benefits by giving them. There are reasons beyond money to prepare an offering. Offering and sacrifice are not the same, but they are inextricably related. An offering is something we value highly which we want to bring forward to the altar. A sacrifice implies that something is put to death. God intends that we bring ourselves to the altar and then give ourselves as living sacrifices, mortifying the old man, our carnal nature, allowing God to consume our talents and abilities in His service, disciplining our bodies as we run our spiritual race. We must imitate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who brought Himself to the altar, and then climbed onto the altar as a sacrifice. Similarly, when we are symbolically put to death in the waters of baptism, we offer ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice—our reasonable sacrifice. God is showing us a major pathway to our spiritual goal of membership in His family.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Middle East connotations casting disdain upon dogs, points out that the grounds of comparison may be their inclination to be sneaky, groveling scavengers feeding on the refuse of humanity, including human flesh. God's Word describes the ritual harlot and the sodomite as disgusting, vile dogs on the lowest echelon of humanity. The wages of a harlot or sodomite would defile any offering. God expects offering to Him to be undefiled, meeting His standards. An example is the Passover lamb, which was to be without blemish. The Israelites were not allowed to use livestock or produce from Gentiles or foreigners as offerings because they were contaminated. The very land metaphorically vomited them out. Consequently, the offerings we produce should emanate from the work of our own hands and not from any ill-gotten gains. When we give an offering, it should come from pure unsullied motives.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that we make choices every day of our lives, cautions that though a choice be large or small, everything matters. Sadly, we make most choices with very little thought The miscalculation based on the fear of famine prompted Abraham to go to Egypt, though God did not intend for him to take that course. Abraham, at this juncture, having a crisis of faith, did not trust God to take care of his family's physical needs. The episode involving his half-lie to Pharaoh lost Abraham considerable ground. Any self-seeking distrust may cost years of spiritual maturity or character. Even though we may have botched our lives and opportunities, we can, through repentance, like the Prodigal Son, be restored, but we may have to begin from scratch. Why risk this with a careless choice? Abram had to learn that God gives material prosperity to those who are not seeking it. Those who seek riches are destined to fall into a snare. People who seek to be rich are tempted to do all kinds of wrong things to achieve it. Fox-like cunning and wolf-like rapacity and self-centeredness characterize much of the world's business acumen. Abraham reveals his restored faith in his reaction to Lot's presumptuous choice, expressing therein his willingness to yield in a spirit of generosity, expecting God to supply all his needs. The less we strive about our 'rights,' the more our lives will be wrapped in peace. Lot was deceived by his eyes, choosing the watered plains of Jordan, leaving his uncle with the 'less desirable' hill country. Abram gave of himself; Lot took for himself. Abram made his choice by faith; Lot made his choice by sight. Abram became the friend of God; Lot distanced himself from God. Who made the right choice?
John Ritenbaugh, asserting that God is a Creator who enjoys work and places a high value on it, urges us, those created in God's image, to embrace the work ethic and to diligently inculcate it into our children. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. God the Father and Jesus Christ have been working continually (having never gone on a vacation) and desire that the energetic, conscientious, focused pursuit of working and creating become a part of our character and the character of our offspring. Training a child to be industrious helps him to be successful, which in turn promotes a stable family, community, and nation and will transfer eternally into God's Kingdom, netting vast rewards as taught by the Parable of the Talents. Neglecting to train our children to be diligent promotes chaos, disorder, and chronic instability. Our industriousness, and that of our children, should be directed outwardly for the good of others and not turned in selfishly on ourselves.
Richard Ritenbaugh recounts the bitter feud which took place between two brothers, Adolph Dassler (founder of Adidas® shoes), and Rudolph Dassler (founder of Puma® shoes), stemming from a misunderstanding during a time Adolf took shelter in a bomb-shelter with his brother, who had exclaimed “Here come those dirty bastards back again,” referring to Allied bombers. Adolf mistakenly thought his brother was referring to his family. Sadly, the two brothers went to their graves unreconciled, but the employees buried the hatchet after a friendly soccer game. Similarly, the breach or the separation between us and God the Father has been repaired by the blood of Christ shed for us. We have been predestined to be adopted as full children in God’s family, receiving unmerited favor from God, chosen for His honor. We must remember what we were and how far God has brought us out of that place, pulled out of the muck and brought into His glory. We should find joy in the fellowship of God, thirsting for it. Of all the people on earth, only God’s called-out ones have the right to interact with the God of Heaven.
John Ritenbaugh, citing a quotation from Paul Minear that the Bible is "an album of casual photographs of laborers . . . a book by workers, about workers, for workers," reminds us that love for work is a significant part of God's image. In the very beginning, in Genesis 2:2, God is described as ceaselessly working and enjoying His work, unlike the melancholy lament of Louis Armstrong, wishing he could be like "that lucky old sun" with nothing to do except to "roll around heaven all day," with seemingly no responsibilities. As God's called-out ones, we cannot adopt this attitude. Jesus told the Pharisees that His Father has been working continually, setting an example for all of us to develop a passion for creating, something He gave to Adam and Eve in their awesome task of tending and keeping the Garden of Eden, becoming, in effect, co-workers with God. Work has noble divine roots and is part of natural law; man will never become complete without working in cooperation with God. Contrary to popular belief, work did not originate with sin, but became cursed with a kind of resistance after Adam and Eve sinned, subjected to the futility described in Romans 8:19-20. If we view work from an "under the sun" perspective, we will ultimately come to regard it as futile drudgery, but if we view it from an "over the sun" perspective, we will come to see work as a marvelous gift, perhaps even a profound act of worship.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that, after Adam and Eve's sin, being in God's presence has been problematic for all of their offspring, points out that the intercessory prayer of Moses led to the promise of God to accompany His people and dwell among His people, sanctifying them by His glory. When God shows mercy, it is because He has chosen to do so. By going with them, God made them a special, distinguished people. Today, God's called-out ones are a distinguished people having the only religion based on truth. The most acceptable offering we could ever give is a broken and contrite heart, worshiping God in spirit and truth. Our offerings should consist of prayer, service to others, as well as material or monetary contributions, reflecting our gratitude for material and spiritual blessings, acknowledging God's presence in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Proverbs 30:7-9, in which Agur asks God to cushion him from the extremes of poverty or excessive wealth, allowing himself to live a balanced life of contentment. Wealth has a powerful influence on one's life, causing us to overestimate our own prowess and underestimate God's involvement with us. We must not forget that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. Although the caution applies especially to material wealth, it also applies to any skill, talent, or gift God has given us. Any gift may turn one inwardly, away from the giver of the gift. We should be grateful, but not proud of our gifts. The Bible contains many rags to riches stories, such as Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, all humble and righteous people who did not desire wealth, but knew they could fulfill their life's purposes if God were on their side. Job was a wealthy man who was also blameless and above reproach, but his health, family, and wealth were all stripped from him in a blink of the eye. His friends wrongly assumed that his loss of wealth was caused by sin, a foolish judgment not warranted by the facts. Solomon's wealth, on the other hand, turned him away from God. Outward prosperity does not provide an accurate indicator of spirituality. Christ warns us that our treasure needs to be in the right place, adding that: (1) We must be content with what we have, (2) We must be humble in our conduct, and (3) We must work faithfully and hard. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with all of our might—energetically and intellectually (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The New Testament does not treat wealth as neutral because its power to persuade and influence does not allow many to control it. We dare not become enslaved to wealth's drugging power.
Martin Collins, reflecting that precious stones are highlighted in Scripture 26 times, focuses on the stones in the New Jerusalem referenced in Revelation 21:9ff The 12 precious stones radiate pure light. When precious stones are the recipients of polarized light, all colors of the rainbow are generated (anisotrophic) or they go pure black (isotrophic). Jewels in Scripture are symbols of permanence. The Creator of the Holy City has abundant resources. Each tribe of Israel has its own gate constructed of a precious gem. Our offerings must reflect the radiance of Christ. Only God can assess the quality of light in the precious stones He has called.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that human nature has to be continually reminded of God's providence even when people are undeserving of the bountiful blessings. Sadly, our forebears often forgot the frequency of God's merciful intervention and declared that it was useless to serve God. Satan loves to manipulate our nervous systems, leading us to believe that injustices are continually perpetrated against us. Human nature loves to feel downtrodden, abandoned, unloved, and taken advantage of, wallowing in self-pity. The Feast of Tabernacles serves as an antidote to incessant injustice collecting. To the ancient Israelites, the harvest testified to God's providence; to the Israel of God, the produce of the fruits of Spirit testifies to God's providence in our spiritual growth. All of the Holy Days are reminders of God's supervision and oversight of His masterplan for the Israel of God. In the context of God's spiritual blessings, it takes some thought and consideration to put a dollar value on something that is priceless. God never said that Christian life would be easy; Jesus Christ warned us to count the cost. God never promised that life would be fair; Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Elijah all suffered unjustly. Facing trials is a part of God's way of life because we are being trained and prepared for something beyond this life, requiring a thorough regimen of necessary proving and testing to know what is in our hearts. God never loses track of anybody. David's decision to grant the spoils of victory against the Amalekites to both the stouthearted and weary fall behinds alike indicated God's care and providence to all. This is the way God looks at each and every person in the Israel of God. Nobody is favored above another regardless of what they have done. Everybody is treated equally. God doesn't deal in favoritism. Every little cell in the Body of Christ is equally important. To whom much is given, more is required.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting how flames from a fire can be mesmerizing, observes that the fire quickly consumes what it touches, reducing the thickest log to ash and smoke. The phrase “offering by fire” is used 63 times throughout the Scriptures (King James Version). The sons of Aaron had to be consecrated through the ritual of an offering by fire, consuming animal parts. They were, in turn, to serve as sacrifices, giving their entire lives to the priesthood. As God’s called out ones, we are also a kingdom of priests, called to be unconditional living sacrifices, ardently serving God, with a view of being consumed or used up in service to Him.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing comparisons between the vast offerings given collectively by the nation of Israel for the building of the temple, equaling 1 billion, 400 thousand dollars in today's wealth, and King David's personal contribution, in excess of 1 billion, 600 thousand dollars, avers that both were dwarfed into significance when compared to the widow described in Luke 21:1-4, who gave a paltry 2 mites—that's only a quarter of one cent. She gave considerably more because she sacrificed all she had, while the richer contributors gave from their excess. God, who needs nothing from any of us, nevertheless is moved when (1) we carefully and thoughtfully consider our offering, (2) we give it with a certain measure of sacrifice, (3) we give it in faith, and (4) we give it ungrudgingly, realizing that God is no respecter of persons, but measures each person's attitude and intent individually.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the foulest smelling item on the earth, namely the Titan Arum flower, emitting the odor of rotting flesh, contrasts it with the wonderful aromas recorded in scripture, sweet aromas from burnt offerings, fragrant incense, symbolic of prayers. If the Israelites were to use this incense for profane or personal purposes, they would be cut off from their people. A righteous man compromises with God's Law, resembles dead flies in perfume. Incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints; sweet aromas are as horrible as the odor of Titan Arum if offered by people in defiance. Our offerings, as our prayers, should remain holy for the Lord, exuding a fragrant aroma.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 10:13, explains the context in which the statement "money answers everything" appears. Some people obsess about money, working their fingers to the bone to accumulate more. Money is neutral, but the inordinate desire or love of money has horrific, evil consequences. Money does indeed represent power, whether it equates to having more goods, influence over people, or control over one's life. Sadly, for those mesmerized by money, it is an illusory power, vulnerable to stock market crashes, inflation, and deflation—hardly something in which to put confidence. Money's perceived value may only be in the eye of the beholder. In the really important things in life, money is powerless. Wealth cannot buy the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or God's Holy Spirit. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath. If we trust in our riches, we will fall. Wealth cannot compensate for bad character. If we do not have godly character, wealth will control us, leading to disastrous consequences. God commands us to bring an offering before Him, realizing that the money or wealth has the potential of being a competitor to Him. An offering gives God a clear opportunity to evaluate us, showing where our trust really is. God is our security, and we have already given Him control over our lives. Our willingness to sacrifice (or not to sacrifice) shows where our loyalty and heart really are. Our motivation to sacrifice should resemble the woman who washed Jesus' feet with expensive, fragrant oil, showing her immense gratitude for having her sins forgiven.
Martin Collins, maintaining that America culture prides itself on rugged individualism and independence, cautions that in spiritual matters, dependence upon God gives us the resolve, firmness, and tenacity for our spiritual journey. None of the heroes are heroines of faith faced their challenges by themselves, but were aware of God's protection and power, a power much greater than themselves. Without God, we are incomplete. We do not stand alone; furthermore we stand on the shoulders of all the faithful people who came before us, passing the baton to us, running a race that will last through eternity. We stand with the patriarchs who have come before us. We will fall if we don't learn from their examples. If they can do it, we can too. Our race is a long, long, marathon, not a quick sprint. Consequently, we must discard the weight of useless emotional baggage, leaving behind old resentments and frustrations. We can't afford to look only after number one, but must consider ourselves cooperating with a great cloud of witnesses, who had to jettison the weights that encumbered them, making them less vulnerable to sin which clings like vines around us. Our temptations bubble up from the interior of our minds. Even though the race seems to go on endlessly, the model set for us by our Elder Brother and the motivation of God's Holy Spirit will help us finish the race.
Ronny Graham, reflecting on the history and circumstances of offerings in the Bible, including the Queen of Sheba's fabulous gift to Solomon, Cain and Abel's respective offerings, and Abraham's offering to Melchizedek, focuses on the most significant offering ever given to a dignitary—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—given to Jesus by the magi. Gold, because of its beautiful luster and its rarity, is difficult to attain, and its permanence symbolizes royalty. Frankincense, a fragrance used in incense, symbolic of prayers, was not allowed to be used for private use, but only for God's use. Myrrh is fragrant oil used for anointing prior to death. All three of these gifts brought by the magi were prophetic symbols of Christ. Any offering, to be pleasing to God, should be from the heart and must involve sacrifice. Consequently, the amount is irrelevant, as the widow's mite proved. But God wants our offerings to be genuine, sacrificial, and from the heart, as His gifts are toward us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on offertory sermonettes he has heard in the past, many of which seemed to emphasize that people were not sacrificing enough for the work, explores other motivations for giving. When Paul attempted to motivate the Corinthians (a wealthy congregation which had received spiritual gifts), he compared them to the congregation at Philippi (a poorer congregation in comparison) who were more generous and liberal with what they had than the monetarily richer Corinthians. In the manner of giving, God is not concerned so much with the monetary amount, but instead with the attitude of generosity and willingness to help our brethren. God has established a principle that sowing generously will bring about an abundant spiritual crop. God's generosity is not always manifested by physical wealth, but in abundant spiritual gifts. Our sacrifice should not be limited to money, but should include time, service, and empathy. Earning should increase our industriousness; saving our earnings should make us ready to share; giving will bring exponential blessings upon us. We always receive back many times more than we gave.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the "blessings of the Lord" descriptor in Deuteronomy 16:16, reminds us that though many of us are not well off materially, nor are we counted among the great of the world, we have nevertheless been given a priceless calling and a spiritual conduit (through His Holy Spirit) which more than compensates for our base and foolish position from which we were called. Because we do not have an abundance of material blessings, we are gently forced to go back to Almighty God for our sustenance, much the same way as He did for our forebears on the Sinai. To the world, we are anonymous numbers: to God we are family members who share in the blessings. When King David went into battle, he made sure the entire family (or body) shared in the spoils of the enemy. Each member of the body is a vital necessary part. One of the primary blessings we receive from God is the intimate relationship He has created with us. Bearing the name Christian is the highest honor ever conferred on anyone. We are co-heirs with Jesus Christ of every imaginable blessing.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that we have been marking nearly 6,000 years since Abel's offering was accepted and Cain's offering was rejected by God, an event revealing the carnal proclivity for jealousy leading to the first murder, reminds us that the Bible clearly shows that the requirement for the offering was in-force at the time of Adam and Eve. Cain's penalty was banishment from his family. An offering is a gift given to God. Seven times a year, we are required to appear before the Lord with a gift, and not empty-handed. The gift is protocol, opening the door to the King's presence, establishing a relationship. Offerings —gifts—are transactions that bring people together. We are giving back to God only what God has already given to us. The offerings unify the whole group. A quality, acceptable offering involves faith, proper valuation, and righteousness, being cheerfully given with a measure of sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the sacrificial system of Leviticus typifies spiritual sacrifices which we perform under the New Covenant. Although the slaying of an animal may seem archaic, the spiritual insight is significant. Abel's offering of an animal was acceptable, whereas Cain's offering of the produce of the land was not. With the sacrifice of an animal, we sacrifice a being with which we have established a close relationship. The cutting of the animal's throat typifies the degree of self-sacrifice demanded of us. Our submission to God must take precedence over love for family or anyone or anything else. The Old Testament sacrifices focused more on total commitment and sacrifice rather than on dying.
In this offertory message, John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that many of us are slaves of economic fears, reminds us that according to the reciprocity principle, we will reap what we sow; if we sow in fear, we will reap fear, but if we sow in faith, trust, and love, we will reap spiritual and physical abundance. Expectations determine cause and effect results. Stinginess begets penury, but liberality begets abundance. In a true story, a Japanese farmer saved his village from a tidal wave by burning his crop while the villagers saved their lives by trying to save the farmer's crop. Sacrificial giving yields bountiful blessings.
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