Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the Church of God should be at the forefront encouraging the reading of good literature. Faithfully translated, God's Word is the foremost example of good literature—containing examples of high-quality poetry, biography, history and even drama. Its frequent use of a large variety of multi-levelled figurative language is just one indicator of the quality of God's Word. Christ's description of His Words as Spirit and Life assure us that His Words (spoken or in print) have a quality that no other human words have because they have God, who by definition is Spirit, as their Source. Further, these words, if ingested, lead to eternal life. Seven sets of metaphors picture the uniqueness of the Holy Scripture. God's Word serves as: (1) A lamp and a light, identifying two aspects—an internal map or guidebook inside of us, and an external beacon illuminating the dangers around us (Psalm 119:105); (2) A health tonic for our spiritual body (Proverbs 4:20-22); (3) Rain and snow, initiating growth and fecundity (Isaiah 55:10-11); (4) A hammer and a fire, destroying evil and purifying us from sin (Jeremiah 23:8-9); (5) Food that nourishes our emerging spiritual bodies at every point on the sanctification process (Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 5:12); (6) A sword which can repel God's enemies with truth and an instrument to mortify our own carnal natures (Hebrews 4:12); and (7) Incorruptible seed which bears spiritual fruit (James 1:21, I Peter 1:22-23). God plants His Word and, as it interacts with His Spirit dwelling in us, expects a return on His investment (James 4:5), namely a high yield of Fruit (Galatians 5:22, John 15:4-5).
Martin Collins, reminding us that we are commanded to rejoice at the Feast of Tabernacles, observes that the world is clueless as to what constitutes both joy and happiness. Millennials, having turned inward, texting rather than talking, have abandoned a major factor in happiness, the joy of family and community. Hearing the cadence of the human voice, and hearing the Gospel, transcends looking at the freeze frames of the person speaking or preaching. Happiness is not an end it itself, but a by-product of our response to God's calling coupled with our determination to connect with the voices of our Heavenly Father, our Elder Brother, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paradoxically, we must lose ourselves in service to others to find happiness. Joy, on the other hand, is constant, a function of God's Holy Spirit, the Mind of Christ living within us; to God's-called out ones, joy is a birthright. The most exhilarating happiness comes from embracing the Way of life to which God has called us, having His Law written on our hearts. All other forms of happiness, including fame, fortune, and fun are short-lived and ultimately disappointing. With God's Holy Spirit within us, and our sins forgiven, the trials and tribulations of life will be whittled down to size as God fulfills the promises and blessings of the Beatitudes.
Ryan McClure reflects that the tearful goodbyes at the close of the Feast of Tabernacles often lead to a kind of post-Feast blues. Contemplating the soon-coming Satanic festivals of Halloween, Christmas and New Year's takes the edge off the Feast—and by the time Passover comes, Easter too will be at the door! We have come to the pass where some of the splinter groups in the Greater Church of God have grown exclusivist, forbidding contact with brethren in other fellowships of God's Church. We ask, "How far are we from the horror of brother delivering brother to death?" The antidote to post-Feast blues is to get our heads in the God's Word, meditating on the topic of endurance, thinking about what it takes to endure to the end.
David Grabbe, marveling that over the past 25 years the Church of the Great God has assembled a massive library of electronic resources as a service to the Greater Church of God, as well as to the world at large, asserts that God performed this work at a fraction of the cost incurred by our previous fellowship. Though our main focus has not been "to preach the Gospel to the world," we nevertheless provide prodigious quantities of spiritual food to anyone who requests it. If people are hungry, there is plenty of nourishing food to satisfy them. CGG.org received 1.7 million visitors last year and BibleTools.org 2.3 million. These figures testify that the world at large is receiving a witness. The things that we can quantifiably measure are not really important, the Head of the Church decides subscribers, members and income. Noah's warning was fruitless; Jesus Christ's ministry netted meager results. Without Christ, we could produce no fruit. What is important to God is faith—faith which He gives and by which we live. As technology becomes more affordable and available, the material world threatens to crowd God out of the picture. The information age will destroy us unless we learn to manage it properly, discarding carnality and diligently focusing on the Word of God.
Martin Collins, reviewing the significance of Christ's final post-Resurrection sayings, "Feed My sheep" (appearing thrice) and "Follow me" (appearing twice), emphasizes that these words apply to all of God's called-out ones). We have a mandate to study the Bible comprehensively and responsibly, not becoming self-proclaimed 'experts' in prophecy or esoteric mysteries. When we pray and study, we should be conscious we are meeting with God, allowing us to be sensitive to God's purpose for our lives. Like the apostle Peter, we are admonished not to compare our spiritual lot with that of our brethren, riveting our attention on Christ rather than on ourselves or on our spiritual siblings. God has called individuals with different temperaments (impetuous activists, contemplative thinkers, etc.), giving them a variety of spiritual gifts to work interdependently. If we take our eyes off Christ, we run the risk of bumping into someone else and becoming unprofitable. Following Christ involves self-denial and taking responsibility for what God has crafted in us through the power of Christ living in us through His Holy Spirit. John's Gospel provides a comprehensive witness from Christ's contemporaries. As the recipients of this reliable testimony, we are obligated to add our testimony, feeding God's sheep and following Jesus Christ.
Kim Myers, asking us whether we see God working in our lives, contends that Job was able to endure the multiple trials and tragic events in his life (the deaths of his offspring, the assaults on his health and livelihood, and the attacks on his reputation and integrity from his 'friends') by seeing the hand of God in his life, realizing that God works in his (and our) lives in both good and bad times. We must follow Job's example, looking for God's hand in both the blessings and trials, including the deaths of those closest to us, the deterioration of our own health, financial reverses, persecutions, etc. Amid our most horrendous trials, God often opens a joyous way of escape, including the ability to endure horrific pain. As we experience both blessings and trials, we should see evidence of God's intervention in our daily activities. The more we study and pray, the more we see God working in our lives. If we are not trying to live by every word of God, emulating Jesus Christ, we cannot be transformed into God's offspring. We are going to need the perspective Job attained as he was transformed through his horrendous, but faith-building trial.
Clyde Finklea, marveling at how quickly heresies infiltrated the early church, as identified by the warning messages of Paul, John, Jude, and James, asserts that Peter in his second epistle (II Peter1:1-7) provides not only an effective antidote to corrosive heresies, apostasy, and false teachers, but also a practical formula for spiritual growth. The process incrementally moves from faith to diligence, valor and courage, knowledge of God's truth as revealed in His Word, self-control and temperance, patience, endurance, dogged determination to overcome and endure under the severest trials, respect, love, and awe for Almighty God. The ultimate result consists of an active outgoing agape love for our brethren. As we examine ourselves for Passover, we need to determine whether we are incrementally developing our spiritual maturity from faith to love.
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.
James Beaubelle reminds us that the creation process did not stop on the sixth day. Rather, the spiritual process of God's making offspring in His image has gone on continually from the foundation of the world. God has individually selected His people to become a part of the process of sanctification and transformation into God's family. Some of us may occasionally experience doubt whether we can complete the course set before us; sadly, sowing the seed of doubt can undermine our resolve. Doubt is a destroyer of faith. Sometimes we have doubts about what is and what is not our duty to God. Sometimes we have doubts about the gray areas within the doctrines and commandments. To have doubt is normal, but we must not stay in doubt. Thankfully, doubt can be an effective tool to drive us to seek God and His counsel, where there are plenty of resources to stabilize us from wavering between two opinions. If we remain in doubt, our faith will begin to erode. Five things we can do to dispel doubt include: 1) loving God with all our strength and might, 2) studying and meditating upon God's Word, 3) praying for wisdom and insight, 4) seeking counsel from others in the faith, and 5) giving earnest heed to the things we have heard, building steadfast faith in Almighty God.
Kim Myers maintains that, while many people in the world likes some of God's laws, such as the proscriptions against murder and theft, they like to pick and choose when it comes to the rest, preferring a blend of their own preferences with some of God's laws added in. The penalties that result from breaking God's laws are sure and exacting, as we witness in homes in which adultery or fornication has taken place. Breaking any of God's laws is the height of stupidity. The experiences of those who have once committed to God's ways and then started to compromise have not been pleasant or successful. Young people, unfortunately, seem to be oblivious to painful cause-and-effect relationships. One does not conceal his foolishness in a vacuum, but it is on display for everyone to see. Our nation has felt the incremental effect of God's curses as it systematically replaces tenets of God's Law with foolish laws concocted from human reason. God's called-ones must not follow suit, deciding which of God's laws we keep, and which to discard. We must embrace the full counsel of God, trembling before His every Word. We want to have joy by living by every word that comes from His Mouth.
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.
David Grabbe, focusing on Christ's warning about false prophets in His Sermon on the Mount, cautions us that every belief will produce something, either pointing us toward or away from God. The false prophet conceals something deadly, which will eventually yield poisonous or toxic spiritual fruit. If the belief derives from God's Holy Spirit, we reap love, joy, and peace. As Paul chastised the Corinthians for their divisiveness, each clinging to his hero or champion teacher, he also intimated that a fifth teacher seemed to be influencing them, a teacher syncretizing God's doctrines with the 'wisdom' of the age, using contemporary, philosophy, sociology, or psychology to adulterate the purity of doctrine with Gnosticism. evolution, or something far worse, all deriving their power from the prince and power of the air, the current ruler of the earth. All of these deadly admixtures will produce a bumper crop of bad fruit. As the human body is able to adjust to changes in the environment, our nervous system adjusts to darkness, stench, pollution, profanity, and every form of evil. What was once repulsive may now seem normal or tolerable. The media has corrupted the integrity of our consciences. The wisdom of this age literally saps spiritual growth. When our prior fellowship, after the new regime took over, imbibed of fallacious doctrines, our fellowship harvested an abundant crop of poisoned, contaminated fruit.
Ted Bowling, asserting that meditation, prayer, and Bible study are inextricable, points out that King David commented more on meditation than did any other biblical luminary. Some synonyms for meditation include contemplation, reflection, ponder, weigh, and ruminate, describing what we think about continually. Contrary to false concepts of meditation set forth by Eastern religions, advocating losing control of the mind, God's called-out ones are mandated to maintain control of their minds, fully focusing on a problem or idea, using meditation as a teaching tool. David, in developing his meditative skills, in addition to scanning the heavens, probably also had a scroll of God's Law nearby, which he could ponder in depth, allowing him to meditate on those things which glorify God. Meditation proves a companion tool in prayer, allowing us to ruminate on specific occurrences during the day, enabling us to compare our choices with what the Scriptures teach us. We need to look through a mental magnifying glass, examining specific foibles or transgressions we have committed in order that we can repent with precision. As we pray for others, we should meditate to empathize with them, reflecting how our success in weathering trials may bolster them. Meditation, prayer, and study all one unified activity.
Martin Collins, observing that President Obama's speech immediately following a prior address by Pope Francis to the United Nations, occurring simultaneously on the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles, was perhaps the keynote speech of a sinister new world order (a Satanic counterfeit of God's coming Kingdom) in which the sovereignty and liberties of individual nations would be extirpated, replaced by a greatly strengthened United Nations committed to climate change legislation and a Marxist-style redistribution of wealth. In this emerging toxic socio-cultural milieu, God's called-out ones have been warned not to be conformed to the world, but to become transformed into the glorious likeness of Christ. The world view of God's church and the world's view are antagonistic toward each other. The secularist progressive humanist proponents are highly narcissistic, placing human pride and achievement over God's sovereignty, introducing relativism, a philosophical belief that all truth and standards of morality are relative. The consequences of the humanistic mindset (the mindset of the prince of the power of the air) has enervated and sickened the helpless inhabitants of the earth, subjecting them to war, degenerative diseases, and an insane reprobate mind. The entire creation groans for the Millennial Harvest, when God's resurrected saints will assist in administering God's standards of mercy, justice, and peace. When God's Holy Spirit will be poured out on mankind, mankind will rejoice.
Jesus Christ was the most misunderstood man of His time, and not much has changed since. Part of that was intentional. Matthew 13:15 spells out why He spoke in parables: ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The Bible may be the world's bestselling book that is never read. "Never" may be a bit hyperbolic, but people who study such things tell us that fewer people are reading it and not as often. ...
Kim Myers, reminding us that we are in a lifelong battle with Satan every second of each day, cautions that all enticements to sin start in man's mind, beginning with attitudes. This battle commences at our baptism and does not cease until we are resurrected as Spirit being—or until we give up and yield to our carnal nature, marinated in Satan's foul attitudes. The process of being taken over by sin usually takes place over a lengthy period of time as we allow Satan's deceptive words to corrode our attitudes, permanently warping our character. Satan, in the first rebellion, took his time, probably persuading one angel at a time until he had a cadre of like-minds, poisoned with Satan's pride and discontent. As Satan corrupted other angels with words (all of the company of demons were at one time pure angelic beings), Satan also attempts to corrupt God's called-out ones with persuasive words. Satan corrupted our original parents with words; Satan may have fostered the final effect over a long period of time, but when doubt, lust, and pride were activated in Eve, her resistance became attenuated until it broke apart. As the Second Adam, our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, resisted the persuasive words of Satan with the words of Holy Scriptures, we must employ scripture in the same way, counteracting the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. As we approach the end times, we must continually guard against deception, especially since some of Satan's ministers are able to convincingly perform miracles. We are warned to cling to the faith once delivered, guarding against destructive heresies. We are in this work together, surrounded by both wheat and tares. Because Satan will attack us when and where we are the most vulnerable, we need to know God's words inside and out, being instant in prayer, continually "cracking the Book" for wisdom, counsel and godly insight, as well as to gain ammunition against the deadly spiritual forces around us, realizing the times will be much tougher as we approach the end of the age.
Mark Schindler, reflecting upon a recent survey by the Barna Group reporting that, while a majority of Americans accept Jesus as a historical personage, beliefs in His divinity and His sinlessness precipitously decline with each successive generation, declares that, if we do not trust in Christ as our salvation, we will encounter Him as a stumbling block, offense, or tripping point. We reinforce our faith in Christ by studying the bedrock of knowledge, God's word, and applying it continually in our lives, loving one another as Christ loved us. As God's called-out ones, we have the mandate to sanctify God, imitating Christ, regarding Him and His Word as precious. In this capacity, we must respect those who bring us the word through preaching and teaching, refraining from bringing them grief by nitpicking at non-essentials, but to patiently seek and apply the spiritual insights in the messages. In the Body of Christ, rancorous debate should not exist. Through simmering rancor and anger, we could easily bring on dishonor, making the Rock of Christ a stumbling block to our brethren.
Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
Bill Onisick, using a fly fishing analogy, cautions us that Satan is selective in the lure he uses to trap us. We do not all succumb to the same temptations. Some people are tempted by food or alcohol, and others may be tempted by fame, while others may be tempted by pride. The vigilant trout become stream-smart about the lures that are tossed their way. Like the wary trout we must be cautious, realizing that the lure of sin, regardless how it is disguised, means death. We must be vigilant like the fish which can spot the fisherman's reflection. We need to trust and rely on God's faithfulness to help us resist and provide a way of escape. We should study and apply God's Word, hiding it in our heart for those times when we will need it, and cry out to God for power to resist the temptations.
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.
Martin Collins, asking us about the longest period we have had to wait for something, reminds us that waiting for God is an acquired virtue requiring patience and longsuffering. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit in 31 AD, Christ's initial followers experienced a period of delay or a waiting period, a time to practice obedience and fellowship with those who were also waiting. People need other people of like mind; we do not become Christians in isolation. We are obligated to have a dialogue with Almighty God through the means of prayer and Bible study, a conversation in which we listen significantly more than we speak. As Christ's disciples did not know what was expected from them as they waited, we also to do not know what to expect as we wait for Christ to establish His Kingdom. Peter, during his waiting until Pentecost, thoroughly studied the Scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit, enabling him to give a powerful message, a combination of Old Testament Scripture and explanation, focusing on God the Father and Jesus, emphasizing the ministry of Christ, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, and His current ministry. Peter's first sermon powerfully influenced 3,000 people. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit emboldened the apostles, bringing effectiveness in ministry, making effective proclamation of the Gospel, giving power for victory over sin, Satan, and demonic forces, making possible a wide distribution of gifts for the ministry, and the power to work miracles.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
In a world influenced by Satan the Devil, fear is a constant that we must all deal with. We may be confused, though, because we can see two contradictory sides of fear, the good fears and the bad ones. Pat Higgins explains the paradoxes of fear, encouraging us to begin and remain in the proper fear of God.
God grants His chosen people many gifts through His Holy Spirit, one of which is the gift of discerning spirits, the ability to determine the source of a spiritual manifestation. David Maas explains that this gift must be used in conjunction with a thorough knowledge and understanding of God's Word.
John Ritenbaugh expresses alarm that within one generation tolerance for homosexuality and same-sex marriage has gained national approval. Behavior such as exhibited in our current culture is identical to the shameless, greedy culture described by the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. After the 1960's, the sense of shame in America rapidly eroded as the Hippie Movement emerged. President Clinton's re-election was a clear referendum for sin. Today, President Obama lies continually about political policies, aided by a willing liberal media. End-time modern Israel is following the same trajectory as ancient Judah and Israel. We are destined to be conquered and scattered because of a hopeless lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6) demonstrated by modern "Churchianity's" tolerance for sin and compromise, deliberately ignoring the righteousness of God, even though the Bible is readily available. The mega-churches grow on smooth talk, glitz, and show-biz, while disobeying God's laws, mimicking the pagans. The fear of God does not come naturally; it must be learned by purposeful effort and meditation. Modern Israel has a form of religion, denying God's power and doing its own thing. Consequently, God feels compelled to severely punish modern Israel as He was compelled to 'blow apart' and 'scatter' the dysfunctional Worldwide Church of God. God is sovereign; He has Satan on a tight leash. We must develop our faith by assimilating the Word of God, making it a part of our lives. Since God is sovereign over His creation, we need to be careful about reviling someone in authority, even someone who may have been appointed to bring evil. We must learn to implicitly and explicitly trust God's decisions, yielding unconditionally to God's sovereignty.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Luke 4 contains Satan’s temptation of Christ, and it is instructive to see what Jesus did in the face of evil. ...
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on an article in Christianity Today, suggests that a nation's religion generally determine the moral standards of a nation. In the United States, 70% -80% consider themselves as Christians, but only 19% are active church goers, 20% of professing Christians are much less involved, while 30% described themselves as liturgical, participating in ritual, but rarely study the Bible. 24% own a Bible but never read it. 21% claim to be cultural Christians, but are tolerant of 'all roads' which lead to God. D. Michael Lindsay, Professor of Sociology at Rice University, charges that the country is currently afflicted with biblical illiteracy.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that faith and love require reciprocal works on our part, even though God has made the initial step, providing His only Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. As God calls us, He provides the power both to will and to do. If we do not work with God in our conversion process, things will fall apart. Because our responding to God's love is so important, we need to respond reciprocally to God. If we love another person we like to think about him/her, to hear about him/her, to read about him/her, please him/her, to be friends with his friends too, and we are jealous about their reputation and honor. We will not bring dishonor on our spiritual family's name by our behavior, not forgetting that we are collectively the temple of God and the Body of Christ.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
One of the most widely occurring metaphors in the Bible involves eating. David Maas contends that it is not just what we ingest spiritually that is important, but that we also develop the ability to feed ourselves properly.
The Bible is full of symbols and types. The offerings of Leviticus, though they are no longer necessary under the New Covenant, are wonderful for teaching us about Christ in His roles as sacrifice, offerer, and priest. And they even instruct us in our roles before God too!
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
God provided physical Israel manna to eat every day for forty years. Now we, as spiritual Israel, have the Bible, God's Word, as our daily bread. Are we taking advantage every day of this wonderful blessing God gives us, or are we allowing God's Word to spoil through neglect?
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the architects and custodians of the trinity concept admit that it is a "somewhat unsteady silhouette," unsupportable by Scripture unless one forces external presuppositions, assumptions, and inferences onto it—as did Catholic theologians at the end of the fourth century. The Holy Spirit constitutes the non-physical, invisible essence of God's mind which He miraculously joins to the minds of those He calls, transferring His thoughts, attitudes, and character, and enabling us to have the will and the ability to carry out the creative work of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of the eye, clear vision, and light metaphors in Matthew 6:22-23, stating that the eye represents understanding (as the metaphorical eye of the heart) while the light represents truth. It is not enough to have knowledge of the right treasure; we also need to have the understanding of where all the pieces fit. Clear vision lightens the way spiritually, ethically, and morally. If the eye of the heart is aimed at spiritual treasure and the glory of God, it will remain singly focused. Using this spiritual vision or understanding, the best way to protect the heart is to saturate it with the word of God.
John Ritenbaugh compares the multi-faceted, infinite, marvelously complex, and perfect works of God with the limited, flawed works of man. Like geodes, hiding magnificent structural and aesthetic designs, the biblical types, emblems, or allegories are deceptively simple on the surface, but deep, complex, and awesome as one begins to scrutinize. Sometimes the least favorite scriptures yield the most profound lessons. As Christ is represented in the sacrificial types of Leviticus, we must apply these principles, examples, and lessons to our own lives, applying intense effort and diligence to extract the meaning that these densely packed types have for us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan, through subtle doctrinal changes, has attempted to obliterate one major step in the conversion process, namely the sanctification step. Sanctification is the only step which shows (witnesses) on the outside; its effects cannot be hidden. Sanctification is produced by our choosing to do works pleasing to Almighty God. Works are not meant for our salvation, but for our transformation and growing in the knowledge of God. Without transformation, there is no Kingdom to look forward to (Romans 14:10; II Corinthians 5:10; and Revelation 20:13). As with physical exercise, spiritual exercise also mandates: no pain, no gain.
John Ritenbaugh explains that justification is not the end of the salvation process, but merely the doorway to a more involved process of sanctification, symbolized by the long journey through the wilderness toward the promised land, a lengthy purifying process involving Christ's work (of regeneration- making us pure) and our work of applying God's Word to our lives, enabling us to get all the spots and wrinkles out of us. Like the outward signs of a woman's pregnancy, sanctification is the part of the process where we bear fruit, giving visible evidence of God's Holy Spirit working in us.
Taking issue with those who have embraced the widely held notion that God does not have body parts, John Ritenbaugh asserts that just because spirit is invisible to the present physical receptors, much the same as wind or electromagnetic waves (John 3:8), it is nevertheless real - able to be comprehended by spiritual receptors (II Kings 6:17, I John 3:2). The numerous figures of speech describing God's body parts substantiate that God has shape and form and occupies a specific location. Figures of speech always have legitimate grounds of comparison. The term omnipresent, rather than suggesting some ethereal grotesque omnibody, can be explained by being "in union with His spirit" as in John 14:19-20 in which God the Father, Christ, and the Called out ones are depicted to be "in" one another- one unit as analogous to a marriage union when two become one flesh through sharing combined goals, aspirations and a kindred spiritual presence.
John Reid identifies four separate ways we are taught: (1.) God's Holy Spirit (John 14:26) imparted to us after our calling (John 6:44) and baptism (2) His Word (II Timothy 2:14-15), (3) through physical observation (Romans 1:20), and (4) through the ministry. The purpose of the ministry is to take members from their point of calling, bringing them to the point where they can be of service to God, edifying them, equipping them for their job of ministering in divine things (Ephesians 4:11-12, I Corinthians 6:2-3), establishing spiritual unity, and bringing them to spiritual maturity or adulthood to the measure of Jesus Christ. The minister serves as a shepherd, teaching not autocratically, but through example (I Peter 5:1-3)
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.
In one sense, we take the Bible for granted. In other times possessing God's Word was rare and expensive. Here is why having such ready access to God's Word is one of our richest blessings.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that the Bible paradoxically is both simple and profound, understandable only to those who have been called, love the truth, and are given to careful scrutiny, enabling the searcher to describe every nuance of what it is they desire. The obsessiveness of both a lover and a sports-trivia enthusiast characterize the level of effort involved. The life sustaining manna of the Bible, while abundant and plentiful, is hidden'layered in types, symbols, and allegories. In the typology of the four Edenic rivers flowing from one source (Genesis 2:10) and the four living creatures (Revelation 4:6-8: lion, calf, man, and eagle) lies the foundation for understanding the gospels as four distinct representations of the same Life.
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.
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 studies the "Get way" or the "Keep up with the Joneses" (lust or coveting) principle with which advertisers and politicians shamelessly (and successfully) manipulate us. A commentator once remarked, "All public crime would cease if this [Tenth] Commandment were kept." Jesus taught that all outward sin stems from inner inordinate desire. What we desire or lust after automatically becomes our idol. If our imaginations are fed "dirt", our minds will become "dirty." We desperately need to learn to radically "amputate" or "mortify" the self-centered lusts and desires that will inevitably (if followed to completion) lead us to the lake of fire. The Tenth Commandment (like the First) serves as a "control" or "regulator," enabling us to successfully keep all the other commandments. Ardently desiring the Word of God and His Kingdom (realizing that happiness and joy come only from spirituality) serves as the most effective antidote to lust and covetousness.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Jesus Christ, through His voluntary humility (giving up all the perks of being God), has given us a model of the mindset that we need to have in order to attain membership in the family of God. Paul, desiring the Philippian congregation to attain spiritual maturity, urges that they (and we) take responsibility for the nuts and bolts process of overcoming or renouncing our carnal selves (working out our own salvation by the practical application of head knowledge) upon ourselves, cooperating with the shaping power of God (giving us the power to will and to do by means of His Spirit), who desires that we learn in the here and now the style of life (in a climate or environment of love as well as fear of soiling the family name of God) we will live for eternity.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
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 focuses upon the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, perhaps an exemplification of the entire unconverted world, but also symbolic of a church, initially hardened, self-willed and skeptical when called out of the world, but afterwards zealous and energized when enlightened by the truth. As Jesus revealed Himself to her and exposed the disgusting details of her past, so God does the same thing to us when we are called. As the woman had to be drawn away from false concepts of worship, we must be weaned away from poisonous superstitions and false doctrine polluting our worship of God. Only those who attain the Spirit of God within their inner beings will worship God in spirit and in truth. Spiritual sacrifices include humility, fidelity, and service. As the woman had to be diverted from using the living water for selfish purposes, we must learn to derive satisfaction from serving others, emulating Christ's example of becoming energized by doing the work of God, planting and reaping the spiritual harvest.
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