Bill Onisick, reflecting on a valuable insight he learned on an exercise treadmill listening to a sermon after a bad case of insomnia, insists that we do not have to be in control of all outcomes, winning every struggle through proper decision-making. The peace which passes all understanding accrues from yielding to God's will, asking Him for a soft, pliable heart to replace the calcified, hard heart of stubbornness. God will begin this heart transformation process, circumcising our heart, but demands that we reciprocate in an on-going process of replacing our prideful, stony heart with humble one, brimful of agape love. God assures us that He prefers a humble heart over a magnificent temple. Humility unites us to God and our spiritual siblings, while pride divides us. A person filled with pride detests even a tiny bit of pride in others. We must be aware of the danger of having a prideful, competitive heart taking over and willingly undergo a spiritual heart transplant, one which enables us to follow God's commands without corrosive stubborn pride.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
Bill Onisick, alluding to some insights in Bruce Wilkinson's book Secrets of the Vine, namely that there are many barriers to producing agape love, contends that lack of love is the biggest problem the greater Church of God struggles with today. We find it difficult to love our brethren as Christ loved us because we do not want to expose our vulnerability, which is anchored to self-focused pride. Peter sank in his abortive walk on the water because his sense of vulnerability eroded away the needed faith for this act. Only when we sacrifice our sense of vulnerability and our penchant for pride will we have the strength to yield to God.
Austin Del Castillo reminds us that the end of the Feast of Tabernacles represents the last century and one half of God's Millennial rule, a time when entirety of earth's population will be living under God's Law. At the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan from the Bottomless Pit. He will immediately set about deceiving, with the aim of destroying God's people. How is it that Satan can deceive people living at peace and prosperity under God's perfect Law? As God's called-out ones, we must make sure that we are well rooted in God's Word so that we never again fall for Satan's lies. When the grand deception came on the Worldwide Church of God, we became alarmed when we witnessed people who we thought were absolute pillars swallow the poisonous apostasy the new leadership taught. Apparently, not everyone had believed the true Gospel, but instead held some reservations about the Truth Mr. Armstrong taught. God grew tired of the lack of commitment of our previous fellowship; some of us, no doubt, were part of the problem. Today, Jesus Christ is observing us to see what kind of bride we are becoming. Many of us have been conditioned not to trust anyone, extending these trust issues to our brethren, and eventually to God Himself. When we take counsel only in ourselves, we run the risk of giving ourselves over to the one who influences our human nature, the prince of the power of the air, who is adept at convincing us that God is withholding something from us. Satan totally supports our feelings of resentment. Satan wants us to think we have been cheated. In this state of mind, we develop paper-thin skin when it comes to accepting counsel from our brethren, leading us to sever friendships with them. Our priority must be the restoration of our relationship with God, putting to death the idea that God is cheating us.
David C. Grabbe: ... Another aspect of reality, then, is that God puts people where He wants them and gives them the responsibilities that He desires them to fulfill. That was true for Israel, just as it is true for the Body of Christ. ...
John Ritenbaugh reflects on a ministerial refresher program years ago, in which Herbert W. Armstrong warned about increasing government involvement in practically every area of life, adding that Ambassador College would never receive government handouts as long as he were alive because government handouts automatically lead to dependence and loss of freedom. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has stated that Liberalism (or progressive, leftist political ideology) is the greatest and deadliest enemy this country has ever had to face. The gullible citizenry does not recognize that government freebies or entitlements are invitations to slavery. Political 'progressivism' and spiritual 'progressivism' are cut out of the same cloth, both attempting to subvert standards based on law and the covenant relationship by insurrection from malcontents believing they have a better way than God prescribed. Satan was the first spiritual progressive liberal, allowing his pride to make himself think he was superior to God's governmental structure, becoming a rabble-rousing community organizer to topple God's rule. Political liberal progressive activists, spreading the tentacles of leftist progressivism in the schools and universities from the 1920's to the present, slowed down by an occasional Reagan-type 'reactionary', have elevated sodomy and murder to the law of the land, ushering in a socialist totalitarian state cancelling liberties deemed to be inconsistent with the party line of political correctness. Neither political conservatism nor spiritual conservatism is popular because they demand adherence to the work ethic instead of the entitlement ethic, and humility rather than self-centered pride. Spiritual conservatism demands dogged adherence to Godly standards of righteousness and morality, belief, humility, and the smashing of pride.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the words of the covenant which the Lord made with Israel, recorded in Deuteronomy 29, maintains that this covenant still applies to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) even though the vast majority of modern Israel have rejected this covenant and, consequently, can no longer claim to be God's "chosen people." We dare not go down the same path as our fellow Americans or our fellow descendants of Jacob have followed, remembering the absolute uniqueness of the Church (or Israel of God.) If we follow the dictates of our heart, as has physical Israel, we will not acquire peace, but will instead share in their curses. As long as we mirror God's characteristics, we are the Israel of God. We have been called to qualify to provide leadership under Jesus Christ, leadership which will be tested throughout a lifetime of testing and trial. We learn from our original parents that as soon as we sin, a stark change occurs throughout our nervous system, subjecting us to shame and fear. As part of God's judgment on Satan, a marvelous piece of workmanship who manifested himself in a heretofore beautiful creature, enmity was created between Adam and Eve's offspring and the serpent, a living organism forced to crawl on its belly rather than ambulate on its feet. Universal repulsiveness instantly replaced admiration. Sin turns all beauty into ugliness. Likewise, the creatures of nature expressed wariness of human beings, the same kind of wariness we should have for the fallen archangel, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. As Adam's offspring, we are forced to contend with a demonic presence in our worldview throughout our entire lives. Thankfully, the prophecy that Adam and Eve's offspring (Jesus Christ) will crush the head of the serpent advances the distinct likelihood that God intends to annihilate defective spirit beings permanently, including Satan and his entire demonic entourage, a prospect which fills them with terror and rage as the end of this age approaches.
Joseph Baity, reflecting on mankind's desire to see into the future with a desire to control what is to come, realizing that knowing a future outcome can take the hazard out of decision-making, suggests that organizations which can predict future outcomes are considered visionary and worthy of respect. For those of us without this savvy, we are forced to hedge our bets, realizing there could be alternate outcomes and possibilities. Hedging consists of protecting us from harm by performing a counterbalancing action. The world of finance has always provided the strategy of hedging investments to minimize risks. Hedging always comes at a price; it is never free. In the chaotic fracturing of our nation into countless factions. Survivalism, a movement which originated in the 1930's, has been growing in adherents ever since. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and the ensuing insane nuclear arms buildup, Y2K, and 9-11 have greatly augmented the emerging survivalist mentality. Survivalists, or preppers, are preparing for the disruption of natural social order and its services by stockpiling food, medical supplies, as well as weapons and ammunition, in order to become self-sufficient and to survive a catastrophe. The survivalists have always attracted evangelicals, rebels, and control freaks inclined to join militias, skeptical of everything they hear or read, all of which make up a mindset which protects themselves from the normalcy bias. As the world becomes more chaotic, more and more people seem to be glomming on to basic survivalist precautions such as storing seeds, electronic equipment, food and water, as well as " a bug out bag" for immediate evacuation purposes. Preppers are defensive about a stigma attached to survivalist tactics, retorting that "God always helps those who help themselves" (not a verse in the Bible), and that Noah was the first prepper. Noah was not trying to save his own skin, but was following God's orders as an unselfish example of faith. We cannot seek a carnal so
Bill Onisick, reflecting on the shrewdness and deceptiveness of con schemes, citing many examples from Soapy Jefferson wrapping worthless soap in one hundred dollar bills, George Parker selling the toll privileges for the Brooklyn Bridge, Victor Lustig 'selling' the Eifel Tower, Charles Ponzi, selling worthless investment coupons, to pop-up screens enticing people into giving private financial data, suggests that these crooked schemes are hopelessly amateurish when compared to the master traveling salesman Satan the devil, who sold Eve a phony bill of goods by appealing to her innate desire to be self-sufficient, to be like God, and to get something for nothing. All individuals who have been duped into con schemes have the same perennial weakness—to be self-sufficient and to get something for nothing. In order to avoid being taken advantage of, we have to become poor in spirit, trusting in God rather than ourselves and trusting God for all of our provisions. Only the poor in spirit will inherit God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that words are more effective in winning a prolonged conflict than are weapons of war, asserts that words serve as invisible, immaterial influences on the mind, motivating action. Words motivate feeling, cause anger, excite, calm, clarify, and confuse, often lodging in the mind, to remain dormant until circumstances motivate people to do something. The Gutenberg Press accelerated power of the words, enabling philosophers to plant seeds of good or evil. The French philosopher Rousseau, an intelligent, but narcissistic sociopath, planted the toxic seeds of statist dogma, inspiring Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung, encouraging brutal schemes of redistribution of wealth and extermination of 'dissidents' as demonstrated in the mass executions on the guillotine during the French Revolution. Rousseau's malignant ideas have metastasized into a virulent cancer of collectivism, socialism and Communism, the centralization of power in the federal government, currently rising to ascendancy in America, snuffing out liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Joseph Baity, suggesting fearing the end of something we thoroughly know and have become emotionally attached to is every bit as terrifying as facing the unknown. In the western world, especially among the Israelitish nations, we have come to value rugged individualism and self determination, with the overriding idea that we can choose our country, home , religion, friends, and culture without interference from anyone else. The idea of self-determination has percolated into every law in our land and filtered into the Judeo-Christian ethic. This construct of self-determination has contributed to the establishment of the most successful nation on earth. As we prepare to enter the Kingdom of God, we are obligated to re-think this paradigm, realizing that while man proposes, God disposes. We need to allow God to take over the reigns of our self-determination as we submit to His leadership
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 10:13, explains the context in which the statement "money answers everything" appears. Some people obsess about money, working their fingers to the bone to accumulate more. Money is neutral, but the inordinate desire or love of money has horrific, evil consequences. Money does indeed represent power, whether it equates to having more goods, influence over people, or control over one's life. Sadly, for those mesmerized by money, it is an illusory power, vulnerable to stock market crashes, inflation, and deflation—hardly something in which to put confidence. Money's perceived value may only be in the eye of the beholder. In the really important things in life, money is powerless. Wealth cannot buy the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or God's Holy Spirit. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath. If we trust in our riches, we will fall. Wealth cannot compensate for bad character. If we do not have godly character, wealth will control us, leading to disastrous consequences. God commands us to bring an offering before Him, realizing that the money or wealth has the potential of being a competitor to Him. An offering gives God a clear opportunity to evaluate us, showing where our trust really is. God is our security, and we have already given Him control over our lives. Our willingness to sacrifice (or not to sacrifice) shows where our loyalty and heart really are. Our motivation to sacrifice should resemble the woman who washed Jesus' feet with expensive, fragrant oil, showing her immense gratitude for having her sins forgiven.
Martin Collins, suggesting that, while society has rejected religious principles and faith, it has glommed onto superficial feelingséwhatever feels good to us. Today's Christianity is more theatrics than theological; feelings have become the replacement for faith. When we stifle the truth of God's word to accommodate feelings, we destroy spiritual growth and character. Satan works on our feelings continually, causing us to worry about the past and be anxious about the future. There is a right place for emotions. No one can have a right balance in emotions without God's Holy Spirit. Too many submerge their feeling into their subconscious, causing aberrant social behaviors such as injustice collectors (that is, martyrs), pleasers, control freaks, and compulsive talkers, all of whom are out of sync with harmonic natural laws. As Christians, we need to thoroughly examine the causes of our damaged emotions, asking God how we may repair the damage. Our feelings should be channeled on obeying God from the heart, rejoicing in our calling or rescue. We cannot create feelings; the more we try the more miserable we become. Feelings, as well as temperament, dependent upon many variables, cannot be successfully controlled without help from God's Holy Spirit. Truth is primarily an intellectual stimulus rather than an emotional illness. It is important for us to regularly engage in self-examination, judging our own sins, and turning ourselves over to God, allowing Him to test the quality and strength of our faith. The fruits of God's Holy Spirit transcend feelings. Stirring up God's Spirit will enable us to control and channel our feelings. We need to seek righteousness instead of thrills. Happiness is a by-product of seeking righteousness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
John Ritenbaugh observes that, even though Western (Israelitish) governments are comparatively less tyrannical than their Gentile counterparts, they too have their ways of establishing influence over the populace. Gentile governments have historically exterminated more human beings than have disease or natural causes combined. Sadly, the American government is moving toward a Gentile-type tyranny at the helm of a President who does not share Western values. Aside from the mystery and confusion of his birth origin, President Obama spent a large portion of his formative life outside of the United States, absorbing Muslim and collectivist values and loyalties. He has never been a product of the ghetto (even though he has appealed to that segment of American society); he has been a product of an upper middle class family with loyalties to Marxist socialism, intending to 'transform' this country into a collectivist state with decidedly Gentile ways of dealing with its clientele, including destroying the opposition by vilification, criminalization, and ultimate extermination. The current far left Democrat Party plan of 'exporting' millions of children from South America into the United States is to create a population of dependents beholden to the 'benevolent' ruling party. The leaders of this same party, having adopted the political correctness poison from the secular progressives, establishing homosexual unions, radical feminism, and a tolerance for mass murder of infants (abortion), now are playing the Republican Party like a violin. For the past half century, the progressives have had almost complete control of public education, softening the culture for the acceptance of socialism and collectivism though political correct Orwellian doublespeak. The handwriting is on the wall, forecasting dangerous times ahead for Christians.
Secular sociologists and psychologists have done extensive research and observation on most human behaviors, and anger in its various forms is no exception. During World War II, military psychologists first used the term “passive-aggressive” ...
Which leadership style do you follow: Andy Griffith's or Barney Fife's? Using experiences from his own life, David Maas explains that the desire to be in control and to win takes a toll on both one's relationships and one's health.
Men discovered long ago that religion can be big business. ...
In this Bible Study, John Ritenbaugh profiles the narcissistic personality, characterized by a highly self-absorbed and manipulative individual who, on one hand, has abused his God-given gifts and, on the other hand, neglected the responsibility of using them properly. Probably the biblical character best exemplifying the narcissistic personality is David's son, Absalom, clearly a spoiled son in a dysfunctional family. David was not noted for his childrearing skills, rarely calling any of his children into account for their behavior, but pampered them and indulged their multiple transgressions. Moreover, in both David's and Jacob's polygamous marital situations (tolerated but not condoned by God), fairness would have been next to impossible. Absalom developed a highly deceitful charm, able to "sweet-talk a bird out of a tree" with his disarming verbal eloquence, learning to be a controller par excellent. Using his scheming manipulative skills, he stealthily (taking the law in his own hands) arranged the murder of his older brother, a competitive contender for the throne. Absalom, using his manipulative charm and unctuous verbal skills, won the hearts of the common people, undercutting his father's honor and authority. For his vanity, his self-aggrandizement, and super-inflated ego, he became a "pin cushion" at the order of Joab. Absalom used his gifts and talents only for himself. With Absalom's negative example in mind, we need to make sure we do not use our spiritual gifts for self-service or self-aggrandizement, or worse yet, not to use them at all. Our children are gifts from God; we as parents must pass on to our children the sense of responsibility that has been given to us. We have to make ourselves answerable and responsible for their behavior, disciplining them for their carelessness and reinforcing their thoughtfulness. If Absalom would have been reared with these principles, much of David's bitterness and heartache would have been alleviated.
The Bible warns us that a great False Prophet will soon arise to sway mankind into idolatry. In addition, numerous passages speak of other false prophets and false teachers in the church and in the world. David Grabbe, in exposing the differences between false prophets and true ones, explains what we need to look out for as the end nears.
In the world, it is common practice to use whatever means necessary to grasp the brass ring, but such selfish ambition should be absent from the church. In light of the example of Korah, have we allowed ourselves to be led by men or are we really following God?
David C. Grabbe: Genesis 10 and 11 contain the brief description of Nimrod, the founder of Babylon and the Babylonian system, which has so greatly influenced the course of this world. ...
In the church, the argument over evolution was settled long ago, but such is not the case in the wider world. David Grabbe goes beyond the science to what embracing evolution actually says about a person's—and a society's—relationship with God.
The first six element of motivation were positive, but the last in negative. John Ritenbaugh explains that our fear of being judged negatively by our Judge should spur us to greater obedience and growth toward godliness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, in reflecting upon biblically ordained marriage roles, realizes they are at odds or in conflict with cultural expectations, especially the influences of radical feminism and postmodernism, which viciously militate against the truths of the Bible. This message focuses upon the characteristics and attributes of the perfect wife, designed to be a comparable aide, companion, or helper, to complete a "one-flesh" unit. If either the husband or wife steps outside their prescribed, ordained roles, automatic friction and strife will occur. Biblical instructions concerning marriage roles'submitting and loving (not always the easiest to fulfill)'are intended to bring us back to the perfect state that existed before sin entered the picture. Fulfilling our roles reverses the curse placed upon our parents Adam and Eve. Marriage could be likened to a school enabling us to learn God-plane behavior.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
That God is sovereign means that He IS God, the absolute governor of all things. This has profound implications for us—it means He chooses goodness or severity, according to His will and purpose.
John Ritenbaugh, citing the maxim that 'the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree,' suggests that the nation of Israel and the Israel of God, having the same aggresive, controlling, and contentious spirit as their forefather Jacob, must learn to let God provide blessings rather than, through crafty scheming, grabbing them from others for themselves. As Jacob had to pay with a lame hip, his offspring may have to suffer privation, scattering, having their pride of their power broken, and eventual captivity until they learn that Israel means 'God prevails' and it is God who orders life.
We live in a world that has little or no idea what true peace is or how it is achieved. John Ritenbaugh shows how we can produce godly peace even in the midst of turmoil and why it is such an important virtue.
In this Pentecost message, John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the receiving of God's Holy Spirit is not so much for our use as it is for God's use that He might carry out His creative effort in our lives. Metaphorically, the Holy Spirit can be compared to the water which the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency. God's Spirit brings about a transformation- turning something from a state of destruction into a state of purity. God desires to give us His Spirit and gifts in abundance, but on the condition that our motives for wanting them are unselfish. God uses His Spirit: (1) as a bridgehead through which He works His spiritual creation,(2) to empower the church, and (3) to empower us to yield to Him.
Unlike the deplorable picture presented in the world's religions depicting God as a helpless, effeminate, maudlin, hand-wringing sentimentalist, desperately trying to save the world, repeatedly frustrated and thwarted by Satan, John Ritenbaugh brings into sharp focus the proper picture of God as governor, manager, and controller of all nations from the big picture to the minutest detail, having elaborate back-up plans and fail-safe mechanisms. Nothing and no one can thwart God's purposes. None of us, in or out of the body of Christ, have any control over the gifts, powers, experiences, or events that He prescribes for us. We need to develop the faith to yield and conform to His will as clay in the potter's hands.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
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 pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
A major distinguishing characteristic of mankind is his free moral agency, presenting him with choices and the right to make decisions. We need free moral agency to be transformed into God's image. The volition to do right has to come from the core of our character or nature. Paradoxically, the way to maximum freedom is to yield to God's way of doing things. Unless one has the Spirit of God, he cannot exercise the necessary internal control to be subject to the government of God. Even though the church is not the government of God (John 18:36; I Corinthians 15:50), we need to respect the ministry as well as lay members, being subject to one another (I Corinthians 11:1). The operation of God's government absolutely depends upon each person governing himself, never going beyond the parameters of the authority God has given him.
John Ritenbaugh explains the origins of our foremost adversary, Satan the Devil. And his host of fallen angels or demons (Revelation 12:3-12; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19). In our precarious situation of sharing a prison cell with these formidable wicked spirits, we need to take heart in: 1) the tremendous numerical advantage of the good over the evil angels; 2) the hopeless division in the demon world, preventing them from "getting their act together"; 3) as with Job, God has set limits on Satan's ability to harass us (Job 2:6); and 4) God has provided us with adequate spiritual armor to withstand the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-12). Even though with our own limited strength, we could be easily annihilated, God has promised us protection if we yield to Him and keep His commandments.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only those who are governable will ever be allowed to govern. No government (not even God's government) will work without each individual submitting in his area of responsibility. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, qualified to rule because of his feeling of responsibility (1) to God, in submitting to Him, and (2) to man, in using His powers to provide salvation for all mankind. Following in his footsteps, we must realize that leadership requires becoming a slave or servant. (Matthew 20:24-28)
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that where our eyes are fixed upon (looking to for guidance and direction) determines how we will conduct our lives. Like our forebears in Ezekiel 20, we have also been influenced by our father's idols, placing us (ignorantly perhaps) in opposition to God's laws and judgments. Immorality is the natural cause-effect consequence of rejecting God's counsel, forcing one to embrace evil as good and reject good as evil, totally perverting standards of morality. Rejecting the true God automatically leads to idolatry, worshipping the god of this world, a being bent on our destruction. Idolatry constitutes the fountainhead from which all other sins flow, all of which amplify obsessive self-centeredness and self-indulgence. We need to educate our conscience to worship (cultivate a relationship with) the true God rather than misconceptions manufactured by our misguided imaginations.
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