Martin Collins, by way of introductory comments to his sermon-series on the history of the true Church, reminds us that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. God's people have an obligation to acquire, safeguard, and transmit the history of our fellowship to future generations. The Apostle John, as well as Jesus' brothers Jude and James, warned of interlopers taking over the flock from within, expelling true believers as heretics. The parabolic problem of the tares threatening the wheat has continued from the Apostolic Era. Even in our times, ravenous wolves, hating the weekly and annual Sabbaths, have expelled the true believers in the Worldwide Church of God, discarding God's Law, while ushering in practices of the lawless, satanically-ruled world. In His seven letters to the churches, Jesus Christ warns us to hold fast to true doctrine regardless of circumstances. Secular historians (e.g., Eusebius and Josephus) help us discover the identity of the small flock repeatedly rescued from apostasy. For example, Polycarp and Polycrates, disciples of the Apostle John, protected the church of Smyrna from heresy proffered by prelates of the Roman Church who advocated Easter over Passover and Sunday worship in place of the Sabbath. The Roman Church did not accept the canon of Scripture formulated by the Apostles until 485 A.D., and then only after it had "added to" Scripture by appending a collection of apocryphal works.
Ryan McClure, addressing the topic of human regret and Godly remorse, maintains that feelings of remorse and regret have the possibility of either leading to destruction or to repentance. Examples of regret and remorse permeate the scripture, including the regret of ancient Israel for having left the "comforts" of Egypt. Any sorrow which does not lead to repentance and a resolution to follow God's way is deadly, leading to re-imprisonment to sin and to the deadly consequences of carnal human nature. As God's called ones, once we have put our hand to the plow, we dare not look back wistfully, as Lot's wife did, but instead must keep doggedly plowing toward God's Kingdom. Worldly sorrow is superficial and unproductive, while Godly sorrow is highly productive, yielding not only repentance, but also a bumper crop of the fruits of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Ephesians 2:1-3, cautions us that, although God has sanctified us, we share the same spiritual roots as every other human being, namely, carnal nature, which Scripture defines to be at enmity with His law, walking according to the sway of the world and the prince of the power of the air. Satan has taught mankind well the art and craft of war between nations, within families, in politics, in sports—everywhere. The descendants of Jacob have brought military dominance—a warfare culture—to a whole new level in the modern world. As God's called-out ones, we must resist being dragged into partisan battles, the spirit of which, encourages us to hate other individuals to the extent of wanting their destruction. The dynamics of the two-party system is rooted in conflict, with a never -ending pattern of divisive hatred toward " the other side." Chaos has become the order of the day. Christ admonishes His Children against taking sides in political battles, as involvement in sectarian conflicts draws our attention away from our primary objective—overcoming and being sanctified for service in God's Kingdom. Current events are not happening accidently or randomly, but with deliberate planning on the part of Satan. Though we might sympathize with the expressed goals of certain political factions, we should not align ourselves with worldly causes, as they find their roots in Satanic belligerence. The instructions God gave to the kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (that is, the prohibition of appointing non-Israelites to the office and the injunctions against the king's accumulation of wives, horses and wealth) are practical guidelines to protect Israel (past and present) from returning to Egypt-a type of slavery and sin. Had Israel obeyed God, she would never have needed to develop a military-industrial complex because God promised to care for His covenant-keeping people.
Martin Collins, warning us not to be swept up in the bandwagon effect of compromising with sin, challenges us to make sure our convictions are not merely preferences. Solomon, a man gifted with immense wisdom, and whose preparation for leadership involved writing out the Book of Deuteronomy, nevertheless succumbed to incremental compromising, including 1.) multiplying horses (the equivalent of today's arms race by a dominating military—industrial complex), 2.) multiplying wives (for political advantage leading eventually to turning away from God's counsel), and 3.) multiplying wealth (leading to a false estimation of invincibility and to the temptation of corruption). The longer the leaders of the Israelitish nations 'serve,' the more corrupt and vile they become. Like the leaders of ancient Israel, syncretizing religion with the pagan nations around them, so are the leaders of the Israelitish nations, encouraging a one world religion worshiping the earth via the lie of global warming embraced by the Vatican, the New Agers, the Nones, and the Wiccans alike. It is vitally important that God's called-out ones do not compromise core doctrines for the sake of expediency in piecemeal fashion until they become totally desensitized to sin. In doing so, they tacitly accept mainstream Christianity's trashing of God's truth, after the manner of Constantine, replacing the worship of God with the worship of the unconquered sun.
Joe Baity, insisting that borders and boundaries are essential, claims that America's border problems pale into insignificance when compared to those of Europe, where Muslim Jihadi terrorists have flooded the landscape. More important than any national border is the hedge God has placed around His people on the condition that they trust and obey Him. Even as God promised protection to the remnant who remained in Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day if it would trust God rather than seek aid in Egypt, God has promised His called-out ones protection if they stay within the boundaries prescribed by His holy law. We must remember that our fight is spiritual and cannot be helped by anything in the physical realm. God controls everything but our will; we must exercise character by trusting Him for our protection.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Americans, whose country was founded on the principle of freedom, are fiercely protective of their rights, narcissistically claiming freedom means to do, go, say, or think whatever they want, often selfishly insisting on material acquisitions (fulfilling freedom from want) which are not rights at all. The common denominator in western culture seems to be self-determination and the freedom to determine one's destiny. God grants His called-out ones self-determination, free moral agency and true freedom under the protective blessing of His Law. Any freedom to choose must be accompanied by a set of standards against which choices are made. The people of the world do not have this freedom because they are held captive by their own lusts, the lures of this world, and the current ruler of this world, Satan. Goethe lamented that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. If freedom is not anchored in God's Law, it is not freedom at all, but abject bondage to sin. True freedom only occurs when one has a relationship with God, the One who did all the heavy lifting in our liberation from sin. Truly converted people incrementally act more like God and less like men. If we sow spiritually, we will reap spiritually; if we sow carnally, we will reap carnally. License is not a synonym for liberty or freedom, but instead equates to bondage to lusts and the captivity to sin. The dark underbelly of freedom alerts us that freedom apart from God's Law and a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ is bondage to sin and death.
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.
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.
Joe Baity, focusing upon the cautionary statement of Christ in Luke 17:32, "Remember Lot's Wife," examines the possible motivation for God's choosing a salty demise for Lot's wife. In Genesis 19, we read the detailed account of how the super-patient angels continually urged Lot and his family to get out of Sodom as quickly as possible. Lot, having established roots in Sodom, precariously and dangerously lingered, having contracted the deadly contagion of worldliness. The angels gave Lot and family five urgent warnings, but they stubbornly dragged their feet. Lot expressed the desire to go to Zoar rather than follow the angels to a place of safety. Lot, as the patriarch, undoubtedly marched all his family ahead of him, looking out for their safety. His wife would have had to look around him, expressing a longing for the culture they had left; the consequences evidently took place in a split second, shocking Lot to the depths of his nervous system. The choice of salt seems to be intertwined with its use as a preservative, in this case to preserve the memory of the consequences for longing to go back into the sinful world after one has been delivered. Lot, by clinging to the customs and culture of Sodom, was partly to blame for the demise of his wife. He immediately was persuaded of the seriousness of the situation and opted to move beyond Zoar. We must remember that the more we cling to the world, the more Satan can tug at our emotions to reject God's calling. We have a mandate to flee idolatry and the contagion of worldliness, realizing if we seek to save our lives by embracing worldliness, we will lose our lives.
Kim Myers, tracing ancient Israel's abject bondage to the Egyptians and their subsequent redemption and journey to their great gift (that is, the Promised Land), draws a parallel to the Israel of God. We have been in bondage to sin, enslaved to alcoholism, adultery, lying, and other carnal pulls. Like the ancient Israelites, we have a tendency to gripe and complain, wrongly thinking that the days before conversion were enjoyable, forgetting we were wallowing in slop and eating garbage. Like the ancient Israelites, we sometimes come to yearn for our previous bondage. Because God loved ancient Israel, He spoke to Moses 72 times, giving specific guidance; He has given us His Holy Spirit for the same purpose. The ancient Israelites grumbled when God gave them the land of the Amalekites, fearing God would not back them, even after the backdrop of witnessing many incontrovertible miracles. After the deaths of the recalcitrant first generation (a collection of rebels who preferred bondage to godly freedom), an emergent second generation entered the land of milk and honey, with God winning all their military victories for them. No other people in the world have been given a gift like that. If we understood God's divine purpose for us, we would live our lives entirely differently. God's ways from the world's point of view are strange; the world thinks we are nerds. But living God's ways will enrich us with the fruits of the Spirit. Most of us do not comprehend the magnitude of the gift God has given us, a trillion times better than the gift He gave to the ancient Israelites. Obedience to God's law is the key factor in growing toward God's Holiness.
Ryan McClure, focusing on the concept of recidivism (the tendency of a released ex-convict to return to a life of crime), reports that after three years from release, 2/3 returns to a life of crime, and, shockingly, after five years from being released ¾ return to criminal activity. Only ¼ of the prison population become functionally rehabilitated. In one sense, all of us are spiritual ex-cons, who have a penchant to return to our comfort zone after being redeemed by our Savior. As our ancient forbears longed for the comfort zone of Egypt, we feel drawn to our old sins like a dog returning to its vomit. We should instead look with disgust and abhorrence on our sins, preferring bondage to Christ rather than slavery to sin. As we become slaves to Christ, we become transformed into brothers, sisters, and fellow heirs of His Kingdom.
Mike Ford, acknowledging that many of us are now in a de-leavening mode, suggests that getting rid of accumulated clutter is a positive goal as we simplify our lives in our preparation of extracting ourselves from the world and following God. Spring cleaning is a custom largely connected to Israelitish nations. Everybody has the carnal habit of accumulating stuff, cluttering up both our physical surroundings, as well as the inner chambers of our minds. As we symbolically apply the practice of de-leavening our homes, we should not elevate symbolism over substance, forgetting that the primary focus is to eradicate sin rather than crumbs. The primary leavening should be removed from our minds where we form the attachments to the physical idols which we have a difficult time discarding. As our ancient forbears were called upon to walk away from their stuff twice, we must be just as ready to walk away from any physical object for which we have developed an inordinate attachment.
Joseph Baity, reflecting on Marcellus,' oft-quoted pronouncement from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "something rotten in the state of Denmark," suggests that this aphorism has served as a shorthand for political corruption and intrigue in our culture. In scanning the Internet, one finds impelling substantiation for this poignant observation in the bizarre headlines which surface on a daily basis, indicating that the family of man is becoming highly dysfunctional, reflecting an abnormal behavior contrary to what is intended, threatening social stability. Functional refers to fulfilling the role for what was intended or performing as designed. Functional families deal with conflict, avoiding abuse or neglect. When God created the earth, everything was called good—functioning according to how it was designed. The Mechanical Translation of the Torah translates the word good as functional. All of us were designed by our Creator to function in a specific way. We were designed to obey God's commandments; to disobey is to be dysfunctional, leading to chaos, disorder, and misery. Dysfunction comes from denying the truth regarding the chaos and disorder we experience. The Laodicean era could be considered a time of dysfunction. Spiritual creation did not end at the conclusion of physical creation, but only commenced. Satan tries to make us dysfunctional by focusing on the lures of the world, enticing us to be productive in our pursuit of them. When we try to blend the world with God's Truth, we actually water down the truth. Watered down truth is not truth. Knowing the truth is not equivalent to walking in the truth. Spiritually, to function is to use and process the truth. To function or not to function; that is the question.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that, though we are born equally, we rapidly become vastly different due to the forces and elements which shape us. Those who have been called by God have been given an enviable treasure, something which must be guarded and esteemed above everything else. What we treasure will determine what we think, say, or do throughout our lives. What we treasure is that which is closest to our hearts. The responsibility given to the Church Christ has called out of this world to expand the teachings of Christ, magnifying them and making them clear and honorable. This process began with the Sermon on the Mount. Christ is the head; the church is to fill Christ out. Like the physical body, the spiritual body has many interdependent organs designed to serve the entire body. Nobody's calling was accidental. Consequently, the church continues with the same work Christ began, serving as a teaching institution, teaching the world and teaching its members. Over one billion people proclaim themselves to be Christian, but only one body keeps His commandments, including His Sabbath and Holy Days and the whole testimony of Christ. This group is a little flock compared to the rest of the aggregate that refuse to follow God's way. We have been reared in a nation that claims to be Christian, with its Constitution constructed upon biblical elements, but those elements have been ravaged and superseded by the traditions of man who have no respect for the things of God. When Christ first came to earth, the conditions were similar with the teachings of the Sadducees and Pharisees usurping God's ways—the way Protestant and Catholic teachings do today. We are cautioned about the leavening of the modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees, the doctrines of the world's religions.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing on Deuteronomy 30:15-20, maintains that our worldview must include the value of our calling, determining the kinds of choices we make to overcome and pursue our spiritual journey. We alone can determine the value of that calling. The primary responsibility of the church is to continue what Jesus started in His ministry. We have to carry on , doing what the disciples did, walking the walk Jesus had given to them. The church has the responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world and to magnify and sharpen the teachings of Christ to the called-out ones, showing them the Way. Every member of the body of Christ has priestly responsibilities, not hiding our witness under a bushel. We don't hide God's way from others, keeping God's Commandments. We have all been given different, specific responsibilities. Every single one of us has been gifted for the equipping of the saints. Ministry is a synonym for service pertaining to equipping and teaching. We don't want to go beyond the gifts that have been given to us, but must use them with humility,employing them to edify the body. The Church is a teaching institution preaching the Gospel to the World. Each member of the body has been gifted by Christ. Human reaction to one another is deeply wired in our brain, compelling us to "follow the crowd" The human mind has an overpowering compulsion to follow what everybody else does. We need to be thinking people, realizing that everything matters: it is not a walk in the park. Satan in the most influential entity aligned against us, using the world and its systems as his tool. Government and educational institutions have been formed to deceptively use language to create and manipulate attitudes have made us vulnerable to Satanic, worldly influences, twisting and influencing our minds. The state-controlled media (that is, television, radio, and newspapers) are owned by the same groups of sinister, clandestine elite progressives, whose goal is collective manipulation of the sheep-like masses. We are
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
John Ritenbaugh contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
As God promised in Leviticus 26:30, the pagan high places of Israel and Judah were destroyed long ago. Their gods have essentially passed into history ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
Contrary to the common idea that the Christian life is one of peace and contentment, John Ritenbaugh explains that it is really a constant, grueling battle against enemy forces such as our own human natures, this evil world, and 'principalities and powers' that do not want to see us inherit the Kingdom of God. Even so, if we are steadfast in the faith, we can prevail.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
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.
How often have we wished we could live some part of our lives over again to correct a wrong? In discussing second chances, David Maas reveals that God gives us not only second chances but multiple chances to change our character for the better in preparation for His Kingdom.
Human history proves that individuals quickly absorb the course of the world, losing their innocence and becoming self-centered and deceived like everybody else. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians must continue to fight against these anti-God attitudes long after their calling to deepen and strengthen their relationships with God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
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.
What is double-mindedness? David Maas explains that this harmful trait is analogous to being a double agent, serving two masters. As Christ says, one master will be neglected—and unfortunately, it is usually God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant seals the agreement with the body and blood of Christ, which is consumed inwardly. Partaking of this cup indicates that we are in unity with those in the body—fellow heirs of the world, as Abraham's seed, participating in the death and resurrection of our Savior. We must thoroughly examine ourselves, exercising and strengthening our faith, actively giving love back to God, to avoid taking this solemn event in a careless, irreverent, or nonchalant manner, jeopardizing our relationship with God, our relationship with our brethren, and our Christian liberty.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that there is a very clear "them and us" demarcation in God's mind regarding which is the true way and which is not. We were formerly children of Satan (John 8:44) until God rescued us from this evil system (Ephesians 2:3), making us at odds with the entire world (I John 5:19). The churches of this world have attempted to appropriate the name of Christ and the grace concept, but then vigorously have thrown out God's law. The acid test indicating God's true church consists of obedience of His laws (John 14:15) including the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16-17), preventing the confusion and shameless compromising (the fruits of disobedience) which characterize the majority of the world's religions.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the scattering of the greater church of God, examines this event within the context of a larger global disintegration of religious influence. The moral agenda of this country and others is set by non-religious organizations and groups. The disintegration of the Catholic Church (described by Malachi Martin) and the disintegration of the greater church of God (the systematic destruction of its uniqueness and vision) have eerie parallels. The declining vigor and looseness of religious conviction will eventually be pulled together and galvanized by the power of the Beast—the mystery Babylon of the Bible, the Mystery of Iniquity—the real objective of those who would create a new world order. The antidote is to desire the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 1:26).
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the fulfillment of the Day of Trumpets has the biggest immediate impact on us of all the Holy Days. This day depicts the time immediately before and after Christ's return, a time that if God would not intervene, no flesh would survive (Matthew 24:22). The Baby Boomers enabled us to annihilate life in many different ways many time over. The characteristics of their offspring - the Thirteenth Generation (or Generation X) provide a perfect match to the characteristics of II Timothy 3:1-3. These attitudes provide positive substantiation that we are living in the last days. Realizing these signposts should give us the urgent incentive to repent and overcome, preparing for the time fulfilled in the Day of Trumpets- the Day of the Lord.
When the mixed multitude came out of Egypt with Israel, God gave them an opportunity to join His chosen people. Charles Whitaker weaves together some vital lessons for us from this.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh shows that God has set a pattern of separating people from the world, making a covenant with them, and enabling them to be a blessing to others as an example of faithfulness and obedience to the covenant. Because of Israel's unfaithfulness and disobedience, God scattered them among the nations, causing them to forget who they were, and they blended in with the world. Like Nehemiah, our worldview must be shaped by a fear of God, a love and concern for His people, and a hatred for the world's practices that destroy our intimate relationship with God. As God's called-out church (Abraham's spiritual offspring, the Israel of God), we have the sobering responsibility of staying loyal to the New Covenant, keeping the spiritual Temple free from the world's defilement — or lose our spiritual identity as ancient Israel lost its physical identity.
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
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).
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
Abraham's example has taught us that in our attempt at living by faith, we do not have a smooth transition from begettal to maturity, but the annoying or pesky problems we deal with are gradually removed (gradually disconnected) or conquered by faith and our relationship with God. God removes us from our problems in an unraveling process, sometimes taking us backwards through the consequences of the bad habits we have accumulated, educating us to examine and analyze the process that produced the sin in the first place. Character cannot be created by fiat, but must be created in a climate of free moral agency, learning the consequences of our mistakes (as had Abraham, Sarah, and Lot) as well as the consequences of our right behavior. From Lot's example, we learn not to blend or syncretize God's ways with the world's ways.
John Ritenbaugh examines the three levels of faith exercised by the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11: (1) Faith that motivates (2) Faith that provides vision, and (3) Faith that brings understanding- accumulated incrementally by calculating or adding up the evidence God has provided for us. Abraham, the father of the faithful, did not have a 'blind faith,' but it was based upon observation of God's proven track record of faithfulness. Like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, or Moses, we are also called upon to give up a relatively stable life (the seeming 'rock solid' certainty of world) and embrace the tenuous life of a pilgrim, soberly calculating or adding up the certainty of God's promises- based upon God's proven faithfulness in our life- relying on the motivation, vision, and understanding of an incrementally developed mature faith.
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.
Can a Christian commit a sin, and still be a Christian? Or would this be "the unpardonable sin"? Or would it prove he never was a Christian? Thousands worry, because they do not understand what IS the sin that shall never be forgiven.
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