John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Jesus handpicked the twelve apostles for a specific work, notes that there is a strong possibility that God has also handpicked each one of us to fulfill a particular role in the Body. Like an engineer on a building project, Jesus Christ has constructed a blueprint with detailed specifications. God is the Supreme Designer. He has called the common and the foolish people for the task of confounding the mighty. But after our calling, God sanctifies us, pounding out the foolishness, through His Holy Spirit putting His precious thoughts into our minds, making matters which were once cloudy clear. Accepting the gift of God's Holy Spirit comes with grave responsibility. We are required to place a high value on this precious gift, guarding it with all our heart. Where our heart is will be our treasure. Spiritual treasure will last, while all things material will deteriorate. Our heart is what makes us tick, what we set our minds to. God reveals that He has a heart and the capacity to feel tenderness. To a lost and hurting people, He assures Ephraim (symbolic of the wayward northern ten Tribes of Israel), "My heart churns within me" (Hosea 11:8). The book of Hebrews clarifies that the persecution on the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit did not come directly from God—but He did stir the pot that caused the persecuting in that fulcrum time in World History.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an article by Dave Berry, who suggests that the Post-Truth, fake news norm has created a milieu where people appear to be hallucinating, warns God's called-out ones against feeling the same kind of frustration as the rest of society as we become immersed in negative and false news. If we accept our Elder Brother Jesus Christ's invitation to be protected by His name, becoming an Ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe, we can rise above the swamp of negativism and evil which threatens to envelop us. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are members of God's family, metaphorically a component of God's Temple and a constituent of the Kingdom of God. In the current world, we are sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, and ambassadors, living among, yet separate from, the peoples of this present world. Our loyalty must be to the family to which we are called—the blood of Christ's sacrifice being thicker than water. We cannot be half-hearted Christians, attempting to take the narrow and broad way simultaneously. If we are not sure we are really committed to our calling, we should consider: (1.) Do we feel that we are an outsider when we are with our brethren? (2.) Do we feel more comfortable in "wordly" social contexts? (3.) Do we understand the argot of the Church family or does it seem foreign to us? (4.) Do we understand the subjects discussed and feel prepared to take part in the discussion or does everything seem like its in secret code? (5.) Are we in on the mysteries of the fellowship, or do we feel clueless? (6.) Do we feel comfortable with the laws of our fellowship or do they seem a burden? (7.) Do we have a spiritual birth certificate—God's Holy Spirit—that we carefully guard? If we are led by God's Spirit, having the spirit of adoption, we are the children of God and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, cautioning us to properly value the infinite blessings that God has given us, warns that underestimating God's gifts can lead us to undervalue the spiritual or overvalue the physical. Esau, despised his birthright, preferring a bowl of lentils to placate his stomach; Lot's wife, preferring material prosperity, became a pillar of salt; Achan chose the spoils of battle; Saul allowed the people to persuade him to amass the spoils of battle, disobeying God's command by sparing King Agag; Judas betrayed his Savior for 30 pieces of silver. God commands us to set our minds on things above and not on the earthly, seeking the eternal Kingdom of God rather than perishable treasures of this world. As we prepare our offerings, we must discern the countless spiritual gifts God has given us, realizing that God's gifts are priceless. Only God can measure what is in our hearts.
Richard Ritenbaugh recounts the bitter feud which took place between two brothers, Adolph Dassler (founder of Adidas® shoes), and Rudolph Dassler (founder of Puma® shoes), stemming from a misunderstanding during a time Adolf took shelter in a bomb-shelter with his brother, who had exclaimed “Here come those dirty bastards back again,” referring to Allied bombers. Adolf mistakenly thought his brother was referring to his family. Sadly, the two brothers went to their graves unreconciled, but the employees buried the hatchet after a friendly soccer game. Similarly, the breach or the separation between us and God the Father has been repaired by the blood of Christ shed for us. We have been predestined to be adopted as full children in God’s family, receiving unmerited favor from God, chosen for His honor. We must remember what we were and how far God has brought us out of that place, pulled out of the muck and brought into His glory. We should find joy in the fellowship of God, thirsting for it. Of all the people on earth, only God’s called-out ones have the right to interact with the God of Heaven.
David Grabbe, engagin in a futile exercise of estimating the total value of the creation, and a Creator, worth infinitely more than all the phenomena we can possibly see or comprehend, ponders how such a Creator would divest Himself of all His power, becoming flesh and blood like us, laying down His life. Nothing in existence has the relative worth of the Being Who has called us. When we consider the value of our calling, we must look at Paul's warning about discerning the Body of Christ more soberly, maintaining our loyalty to the body of believers, future fellow-heirs Christ has called. We are admonished to keep, not create, the unity of the Spirit. Whatever we do to the 'least' in Christ's body, we do to Christ. In our culture of rugged individualism, we need to learn that what we do and say can have a positive or negative effect on others at different levels of spiritual maturity. Some things that we know to be entirely lawful may not be expedient or edifying. We must be ready to set our own interests aside for the good of the whole, practicing the same values as our Heavenly Father and Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that remaining or abiding in Christ's word separates us from everybody else, exhorts us to treasure and appreciate the truth we have. Ezekiel prophetically warns Israelites today of imminent cultural collapse because of godly leadership. America, sadly, has never been a Christian nation; the hearts of the people have never been converted to God's truth, as a casual observance of a daily tabloid would attest. The fledgling Radio Church of God in the 1950's had a positive package of beliefs we referred to as "the truth"; members referred to the church itself and our calling as "the truth" or "coming into the truth." Regretfully, we had a skewed concept of grace in those formative years and still do for the most part because of the Protestant 'cheap grace' concept denigrating any kind of good works as earning salvation. God's grace begins everybody's history; there is nothing we have that did not come from Him, including our spiritual gifts, enabling us to carry out His divine purpose in us. Grace is an Old Testament concept just as much as a New Testament one (ordained before the foundation of the world), with the apostle Paul greatly augmenting the concept by splicing the Greek word charis (gifts) to the Old Testament Hebrew word chesed (connoting kindness, steadfast love, mercy, and devotion), greatly amplifying the meaning of the secular Hebrew and Greek words for grace. The precision of the Greek language gave the term grace a wider spectrum, as is indicated in the wide panorama of gifts indicated in James 1:16-18. The entire physical creation, including the elements, minerals, plants and animals are God's gift to man, and, as such, are part of His grace. Further, even the patterns of the sciences and the arts serve as a demonstration that God is the Giver of all gifts.
Ryan McClure, acknowledging that self-reflection over our own spiritual progress (perhaps without seeing any progress) has potentially a negative effect, avers that we should understand self-reflection as a God-given tool to produce abundant spiritual fruit. The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 teaches that God requires a return on His investment in our calling. We will continue to develop spiritual fruit if are eating our manna (God's Word) daily, moving beyond the doctrinal basics. When, through self-reflection, we determine we have slipped spiritually, we need to get back up and continue overcoming, rather than remain wallowing in the muck of Babylon. We should run our spiritual race with our focus on God.
Martin Collins, reflecting that precious stones are highlighted in Scripture 26 times, focuses on the stones in the New Jerusalem referenced in Revelation 21:9ff The 12 precious stones radiate pure light. When precious stones are the recipients of polarized light, all colors of the rainbow are generated (anisotrophic) or they go pure black (isotrophic). Jewels in Scripture are symbols of permanence. The Creator of the Holy City has abundant resources. Each tribe of Israel has its own gate constructed of a precious gem. Our offerings must reflect the radiance of Christ. Only God can assess the quality of light in the precious stones He has called.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on offertory sermonettes he has heard in the past, many of which seemed to emphasize that people were not sacrificing enough for the work, explores other motivations for giving. When Paul attempted to motivate the Corinthians (a wealthy congregation which had received spiritual gifts), he compared them to the congregation at Philippi (a poorer congregation in comparison) who were more generous and liberal with what they had than the monetarily richer Corinthians. In the manner of giving, God is not concerned so much with the monetary amount, but instead with the attitude of generosity and willingness to help our brethren. God has established a principle that sowing generously will bring about an abundant spiritual crop. God's generosity is not always manifested by physical wealth, but in abundant spiritual gifts. Our sacrifice should not be limited to money, but should include time, service, and empathy. Earning should increase our industriousness; saving our earnings should make us ready to share; giving will bring exponential blessings upon us. We always receive back many times more than we gave.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the multiple nuances of the Hebrew words translated into the English word "wisdom," suggests that an acquired skill for living represents the common denominator in all of these definitions. Godly wisdom is only attained with a high degree of training. Carnal wisdom, through the labyrinth of life, has practical value even without a spiritual context, but living by faith requires that we trust and obey God in those areas where we do not have all the facts. Faith is a spiritual work. Wisdom is not hidden and is readily available if we retain God in our thoughts. Wisdom and the fear of the Lord are inextricably bound together. Both wisdom and foolishness produce fruit according to their nature. Wisdom produces life; foolishness produces death. We reap what we sow. If we repent of our sins, and cry out for understanding, we will receive knowledge, discernment, and God's Holy Spirit. Wisdom must be continually sought after. God wants us to use wisdom to change ourselves, humbly replacing our perspective with God's perspective. Only God gives wisdom. God gives wisdom as a component of His grace to His family, far more valuable than gemstones. Godly wisdom, incompatible with pride and arrogance, cannot be mined out of the earth, and it is more valuable than anything so mined, transferable through the Millennium into eternal life. The fear of the Lord is the source of spiritual wisdom.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the television program Shark Tank, which displays a nexus of entrepreneurs and wealthy investors who have the power to make things happen, draws some spiritual analogies examining what makes and breaks deals. The wealthy investor (or the shark) desires to make ambitious entrepreneurs successful by combining their investments with the entrepreneur's desire to be successful enough to willingly sacrifice everything for the sake of the project. Interestingly, the investors find pride a disgusting deal breaker, while they look favorably upon wholehearted zeal and willingness to work 24/7 with a single-minded focus to get the job done. God can take misdirected zeal, as in the case of Saul, who became the apostle Paul, rechanneling it to a positive purpose. God wants to protect His investment in us, calling those whom He knows will exercise the ardency, zeal, willingness to sacrifice, and pure sitzfleisch to stick with the project until it is completed. Are we able to see the investment God has made in us? Are we willing to make a 24/7 commitment to our calling?
We assess costs and values all the time in our daily lives: Is it better to buy used or new? Should we prefer traditional or contemporary? Paper or plastic? John Ritenbaugh employs the same process to God's love for us in giving His Son as the sacrifice for sin. What costs have been paid for our redemption?
John W. Ritenbaugh: During the Passover season, our minds are more forcibly focused on the importance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to our salvation. ...
John W. Ritenbaugh: Many of us have experienced an event that completely altered the direction we were heading. ...
John O. Reid: It is not unusual today for a member of God's church to feel ill at ease with the world around him. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: One of the most popular series of advertisements in recent years has been MasterCard's "Priceless" commercials. ...
In this pre-Passover sermon, John Ritenbaugh compares God's flawless works to the imperfect works of mankind. In addition to being flawless, God's works have a multiplicity of purposes, while man's works have limited utility and many flaws. Like air, having multiple uses, God's Word also has many uses; any one scripture can be used in dozens of different applications. The closer one looks at the multifaceted aspects of Christ's offices (Creator, King, Redeemer, High Priest, Savior, etc.) the more we realize the preciousness of His life and the high cost of the sacrifice for our sins. The focus of our self-examination should not be self-centered or comparing ourselves with others, but on the awesome significance of His sacrifice.
The Bible mentions eating around 700 times, highlighting the broad practicality of the Bible's instruction. Its lessons for us are drawn from life itself, and eating is a major part of everyone's experience. Regardless of race, wealth, education, gender, or age, everybody eats. By studying eating in the experiences of others, we plumb a deep well of instruction from which we can draw vital lessons to help us through life.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the metaphor of eating as a symbol of fornication or the regarding of something as profane, illustrated by the harlot dismissing her affair as if she were consuming a meal,(Proverbs 7:18) and Esau, who regarded his birthright as profane, preferring the immediate gratification of a meal. (Genesis 25: 29-30). Jacob, on the other hand deceptive and cunning as he was, realized the intrinsic holy value of the birthright, willing to curb his appetites and delay his gratification as Christ curbed His appetite in His temptation from Satan to qualify as our Savior and High Priest. Like Jacob and Christ, we must learn to delay gratification, learning to distinguish holy from profane.
The Bible has a great deal to say about honor and whom we should honor. This article gives us a hard but necessary lesson in honor.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
When Jesus became mentally exhausted and enervated, he became invigorated and refreshed by seeing God's will completed, regarding it metaphorically as food and nourishment (John 4:34) Similarly we can become energized and motivated by our high calling and summons to do the will of God, seeing how vitally important we are to God's purpose. Modifying the slogan of the United States Marines, John Ritenbaugh characterizes the Saints as "The few, the humbled, the called."
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, acknowledging that salvation cannot be earned or bought, reminds us that a gift is still a gift even though a condition has to be met. Meeting a condition does not (as Protestants would have us believe) change the character of a proposition. Keeping the commandments is the way we express love for God. The works that God demands of us consists of overcoming our flesh, the world, and Satan, as reflected in keeping God's commandments (John 14:15, I John 5:3). There is a direct relationship between loving Christ and doing the right works. God's love for us places us under a compelling obligation to reciprocate and to pass it on to others.
John Ritenbaugh insists that, when it comes to the consequences of sin, "there ain't no free lunch" (likewise there is no such thing as a victimless crime.) Children (actually all of us) need to learn that we often suffer the consequences of other people's sins. Children, because of their failure to connect cause and effect or time connections, do not seem to comprehend the devastating long-range consequences of sin. Only the immature think they can escape the penalties of broken laws. God's Law is immutable and unchanging. Parents need to teach their children to consider the long-range consequences of current behaviors, chastening and disciplining them while there is hope. The historical testimony of the scriptures reveals that God's purpose or counsel cannot be altered and that His judgments are totally impartial. If we, as parents, realize these principles, we will rear our children to fear God and respect authority. Children must be taught the long-range as well as the short-range cause/effect relationships between sin (or lawbreaking) and the deadly certain penalties that follow.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the special sacrificial extravagance of Mary, having expended a half-year's wages for perfume to anoint Jesus' feet, demonstrating extraordinary godly love and devotion, indicating that there are some areas of life where extravagance and waste are not even relevant. Judas, a man of talent and skill for fiscal management, but whose mind had become defiled through temptation, could not relate to or comprehend this sublime expression of love. The totally selfless sacrifice of Mary paralleled or prefigured the sacrifice Christ was later to make, giving His precious life for mankind. The key to the real abundant life and glorification is to follow our Elder Brother's example of forcing His will into submission to the Father's will, even to the point of death. We must guard against the precarious blinders of tradition and self-interest — blinders that prevented Judas, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the multitudes from comprehending or following the truth. Instead, we are admonished to walk in the light while we have the light, being willing to sacrifice ego and self-interest, unconditionally yielding to the Father's will in order that we may also become glorified members of the God family.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.
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