John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Genesis 6:5, prior to the Flood, in which mankind's thoughts and intents were evil continually, warns us that a parallel time is on the horizon for those living today. Like our ancient ancestors, we share a habitation with Satan and his demons, evil beings who have been preparing for our demise for thousands of years. The hideous perversions (such as homosexuality and infanticide) did not arrive on the scene instantaneously, but the demonic world has been working to make them the cultural norm for thousands of years. Demons have fostered to the point of fury the ancient conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau. These spirit beings chose to become demons into order to stop God's purpose. They have succeeded to erase all discussion of God out of the public schools by spreading the humanist agenda previously introduced into the universities by anti-God philosophers such as Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche. John Dewey promulgated this 'progressive' doctrine into the public schools, where it has spread like leavening, fostering a whole generation of individuals lacking any knowledge of God at all. As God's called-out ones, we have entered (through baptism) the same Covenant God made with our forebears before they entered the Promised Land God has not removed the demonic influence which plagued our forebears, deeming it necessary for our spiritual growth. However, God has given us gifts our forebears never received, such as His Holy Spirit, thereby enabling us to advance in the face of massive enemy fire. We are marching to the beat of a different drummer from the rest of the world.
Richard Ritenbaugh, marveling about biblical scholars' tying themselves into knots as they consider the proper genre for the book of the Esther— parable, comedy (in the classical sense), chronicle, morality play or fictional drama —reminds us that God wants us to study the Bible in depth, including the symbolic connections, but especially the plot and characterization, integral parts of the book of Esther. Mordecai, identified as a Benjamite (the tribe with a checkered past), lives and behaves as a man of God should, both an ideal Jew and a typical Jew, exiled as an aristocrat, an ethnic Jew related to King Saul, with special abilities from God, adopting his orphaned cousin Hadassah as his own daughter. Mordecai's sterling character does not change, but remains the standard against which all the other characters are judged, serving as a type of God, an invisible guiding force, concealing and protecting Hadassah from danger. Haman the Agagite is an evil, power-hungry schemer, a Satan-like being, the nemesis of the Jews, including Mordecai and Esther and King Ahasuerus. Esther is a Jewess living in a pagan culture, with a name referring to the goddess of love. Her Hebrew name represents a white flower with a perfume more exquisite than the rose. Just as Mordecai conceals Esther, God conceals His people in secret places under the shadow of His wings, in the sanctuary—the fellowship of the Church. Like Esther, we are pawns at the beginning of our conversion, but we must change dramatically to love God with all our hearts, actively doing His commandments, growing spiritually in responsibility as did Esther, who grew from her initial passive role to taking one of leadership, and that in sharp contrast to King Xerxes, an alcoholic whose advisers easily manipulate.
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.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on some bizarre psychological and physiological reactions experienced by many sports fanatics, warns us that the competitive spirit to dominate and crush the competitor, not confined to athletic contests, militates against God’s mandate that we esteem others over ourselves. The exalting of self and of putting down others does not square with Jesus Christ’s admonition that we adopt a servant attitude in our relationship with others. The mob competitive spirit apparent in some athletic contests may be an attempt to fill a void left by the destruction of the family. If we allow our desire to dominate and exploit others to get out of control, as some of our political candidates have obviously done, we are taking on the spiritual mark of the beast, conforming our minds to Satan’s prideful and arrogant character. While sports provide many positive benefits, such as teamwork, discipline, respect for authority, and control of emotions, an uncontrolled manipulative, back-stabbing competitive spirit can undo all of the positive benefits. In our relationship with others, we must diffuse all tendencies to hold grudges and resentment, replacing these negative emotions with agape love.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines excellence as “the state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority. The verb excel means “to do or be better than; surpass; to show superiority, surpass others.” It and its synonyms all suggest the idea of going beyond a limit or standard. ...
Ronny H. Graham: What does it mean to be first? Those who have children have heard them say, "I want to be first!" or "I want to go first!" or "Pick me first!" or "I want the first bite!" Human nature has a desire to be first. God has certainly created us with the ability to compete or a desire to win. Maybe a better way to put it would be a desire and an ability to overcome. ...
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 suggests that competition is the root cause of all war, business takeovers, and marital discord. Carl Von Clausewitz observed that war is nothing more than politics brought to the battlefield. Evolution has glorified competition, enshrining the survival of the fittest. Historically, the competitive nature has its roots in the mind of Satan, who had the audacity to take on the leadership of Almighty God. Man's rivalry with one another has been described by Solomon as a striving after wind. Abraham literally "took the high ground," separating himself from strife with his ambitious nephew who wanted to seek gain on the plains of Sodom. The apostle Paul showed willingness to forgo his well-deserved wages, willing to work privately, avoiding conflict and strife. Christianity should be service- oriented rather than profit- oriented, should reward the worker for his labor, and should replace competition with cooperation. Biblical history records the tortured chronicle of people striving against God. The Gentiles cut themselves off from God by rejecting God's teachings through the patriarchs. We must replace the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, willing to yield and submit rather than to strive, quarrel, and compete. Satan has successfully deceived the entire world by mixing a little truth with much error, appealing to our pride and tissue needs. On the Day of Atonement, we (as God's called-out remnant) are commanded to afflict our souls, putting down the striving competitive, pride-filled drives of human nature, with its intense appetites, mortifying our flesh, controlling ourselves by submitting to God in humility, taking the cue from our Elder Brother.
Deuteronomy 4:24 may strike an astute reader as somewhat controversial, if not contradictory. How can our holy and perfect God be jealous? Knowing that the Bible is consistent in its revelation of God, Ronny Graham reasons that since God's Word is not at fault, it is our limited understanding of godly jealousy that must be expanded.
The twin sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, are perhaps the classic model of sibling rivalry, and their contentious relationship has had a tremendous impact on history. Richard Ritenbaugh introduces the ancient people known as the Edomites by examining the life of the original Edomite, Esau.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the metaphor of eating as a symbol of fornication or the regarding of something as profane, illustrated by the harlot dismissing her affair as if she were consuming a meal,(Proverbs 7:18) and Esau, who regarded his birthright as profane, preferring the immediate gratification of a meal. (Genesis 25: 29-30). Jacob, on the other hand deceptive and cunning as he was, realized the intrinsic holy value of the birthright, willing to curb his appetites and delay his gratification as Christ curbed His appetite in His temptation from Satan to qualify as our Savior and High Priest. Like Jacob and Christ, we must learn to delay gratification, learning to distinguish holy from profane.
Focusing upon the rising tide of societal incivility, Richard Ritenbaugh warns that discourtesy and ugly in-your-face attitudes (fruits of the flesh) have also manifested themselves in the greater church of God. These disgusting works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) are exactly the opposite of what God expects of us- the opposite of Agape love. Good manners (minor morals or the small change of virtue) are the fundamentals of love for others and love for God. Unfortunately, good manners and courtesy do not come naturally, but have to be learned and continually practiced. The common denominator of etiquette is to esteem others more and making ourselves less. When we show courtesy to others, we imitate God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on God's meticulous management of all living creatures, including insects, animals, humans, angelic and demonic beings. All conform to His ultimate spiritual purpose-which overrides all other concerns. A converted person, accepting God's sovereignty, accepting that He takes specific care with His children, realizes that both blessings and curses, prosperity and deprivation, should be considered tools in the Creator's workshop, crafting out a magnificent spiritual purpose. This insight, not available to everyone, should instill a deep profound peace, trust, and faith.
Even though Joseph was born into a highly dysfunctional family, he nevertheless had a "high batting average" when it came to making the right moral choices, even when the consequences appeared initially to his own detriment. Joseph stayed the course, doing good even when it became a stumbling block with his associates, trusting in the fairness and righteousness of God. His experiences and their impact on his family reveal that God can use people and bring about their repentance without taking away their free moral agency. As a type of Christ, Joseph serves as a model of making right moral choices despite intense opposition.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
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