Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the perennial desire of all cultures to return to a mythologized "Golden Age," a paradise wherein peace, abundance and harmony abound. When people claim that "old times" were better, they often overlook the thorny problems besetting those living then. God's people also have a proclivity to perceive the early Church nostalgically, focusing on a few Scriptures which point to the unity of that era. Reading the Scriptures more maturely however, we find that early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today. The early churches had to experience the same God-ordained process of sanctification (I Peter 1:3-7) and the same fiery trials (I Corinthians 10:13) we do today. Paul found it necessary to admonish (1) the Roman congregation to be discerning, shunning false teachers, (2) the Corinthian congregation to flee envy and strife, (3) the Galatian congregation to flee from tendencies to return to Judaism, (4) the members of the Ephesian congregation to maintain their "first love," (5) the Philippian congregation to put away division, (6) the Colossian congregation to eschew Jewish-gnostic philosophies, and (7) the Thessalonian congregation to reject interpretations of prophecy informed more by theory and rumor than by Scripture. The Golden Age has not yet arrived but will be coterminous with the Kingdom of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us of the "fake news" in the First Century that Christians were cannibals, atheists and unpatriotic. This view was fact-based, but the facts were contextually contorted by detractors. The Romans had their own version of a media which twists facts through rumor and innuendo. Every culture is prone to interpret facts erroneously—indeed, illogically—and to pass those misshapen interpretations along through various sorts of "whisper campaigns." Today, social media provide a technically advanced conduit for character-assassination. The apostle James recognizes how the tongue, driven by carnal nature, can metaphorically start a dangerous fire. James warns everyone that gossip, tale-bearing and being a busy-body is just as damnable in God's eyes as first-degree murder. Listening to gossip is just as serious an offence as being an accessory to murder. Shockingly, we have a big chunk of the hostile world in our mouth, a potentially deadly three-inch appendage capable of slaying a six-foot human being. When we slander another human being in a whisper campaign, we are diligently performing Satan's work. The prohibition against talebearing occupies a prominent location in the Holiness Code. If we have been guilty of talebearing and gossip—as all have been, we must: 1) ask for God to forgive us, and 2) ask Him to help us present our tongues as instruments of righteousness to God, for healing and edifying, rather than destroying, people.
Martin Collins points out that the graphic imagery of a turbulent sea appearing in Isaiah 57:19-20 describes the troubled minds experienced by those who reject God's laws. God's called-out ones must earnestly strive for peace, realizing that Satan has countless ways to trouble people. It is impossible to grow spiritually in a climate of animosity and jealousy. If we use the power of God's Holy Spirit, peace will naturally accrue as one of the fruits. If we have offended a brother in Christ (or anyone for that manner), we should: (1) admit any mistake in attitude or action, (2) not make excuses for our behavior, (3) acknowledge the hurt we have caused, expressing genuine sorrow, (4) accept consequences, as well as make restitution, (5) overcome our negative behavior by changing our attitude and actions, (6) face up to the offended person, and (7) ask for forgiveness. Similar formulas appear in this message for rebuilding relationships with God and spouse. Another formula for putting an end of contention consists of: (1) praying for humility and wisdom in handling conflict, (2) putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, (3) anticipating likely reactions in order to plan responses, (4) choosing the right time and place, (5) talking face to face if possible, (6) assuming the best about the other, (7) speaking only to build others up, (8) asking for feedback from the other person, and (9) recognizing our own limits, realizing God alone can change a person's mind. We should exercise the same kind of forgiveness and reconciliation to others that Christ has shown us.
Charles Whitaker, referencing game theory, reminds us that the failure to make a decision in fact represents a decision. Consequences—even of inaction—are inevitable; everything matters. The act of "passing" in a poker game effects all the players' chances to win. Among God's people, the consequences of indifference to service become particularly burdensome in the current context of geographic scattering and corporate fragmentation. Additionally, Christians who "sit out" opportunities to serve, becoming in effect couch potatoes, commit sins of omission which, if not repented of, lead to the Lake of Fire. Hence, service is a salvational issue; engagement with God's people is not an option, but a mandate; the Christian failing to gather with Christ becoming one who by default scatters with Satan. Hence, indifference is destructive; inaction is tantamount to active scattering. As the Parable of the Good Samaritan indicates, failure to act can endanger even the lives of others, a fact which illustrates why passive indifference and active hatred are not opposites. Rather, indifference is in fact a species of hatred. Old and New Testaments teach that God's people are to "open their hands" to others, as opportunity affords, playing the cards (talents) God has dealt us, not "passing," knowing that everything we do—or don't do—matters.
Martin Collins, emphasizing that God does not do anything randomly, reveals that even scientists advancing the so-called chaos theory have discovered that disintegration and breakdown (entropy) proceed according to orderly laws. Dr. James Gleick, in his exposition of the Butterfly Effect, observes that even an apparently chaotic event like falling water is governed by predictable laws of physics. Amazingly, some deluded scientists, with all this substantiation of order, continue to advance the evolutionary hypothesis—an untenable position that order can somehow be the product of chaos. God is a God of order and not confusion; all He does follows a specific order—summarized by the adage, a time and a place for everything. One does not laugh and joke at a funeral nor weep uncontrollably at a wedding. Likewise, there is nothing inconsequential or out of place in God's Word, including 1.) the order of Noah's entering and leaving the ark, 2.) the order in which Jacob placed his servants and family in his meeting with Esau, 3.) the order in which Jacob and Moses blessed the tribes of Israel, 4.) the order in which Abraham and Lot separated their families and assets and 5.) the order in which Joshua dispatched the tribes into the Promised land. God made careful distinction between light and darkness, creating boundaries between clean and unclean, profane and holy, insisting that the time He has made holy be kept in a different manner from the rest of the time cycles. The Sabbath serves as the basic time-marker of the week, the year, and the Jubilee. To everything there is a season when the appropriate behavior is expected. God's called-out ones strive to yield to God's timing, realizing that the steps of a good man are ordered by God.
Austin Del Castillo, asking us what we would do to receive the approbation "the friend of God" as did father Abraham, reminds us that, as the affianced Bride of Christ, we do have this distinction "right out of the gate." God the Father has called many to be the bride, but only a relative few have been chosen. We have the honor of having God as our friend just as much as Abraham. To fulfill that role, we must do whatever He commands from the heart, not grudgingly or mechanically, keeping the Spirit as well as the letter of His Holy Law with an honest desire to please Him and be like Him. But in these last times, with many schisms having emerged among the Church of God, the love of many has grown cold. This waning of godly love manifests itself as a difficulty to love others with the same intensity Christ does. Those of us who may feel someone has offended us beyond reconciliation should remember that Jesus Christ washed the feet of the man who would betray Him. No one has ever been offended as much as our Bridegroom, but He has mandated that we love our spiritual siblings as well as our enemies, esteeming every other human being more than ourselves. The way we treat our least favorite brother is the way we treat Christ. God wants our loyalty, choosing to treat the world as He does. If we can do that, we are keeping the First Commandment.
Ryan McClure, contemplating that we are now counting toward Pentecost, asks us to take a thoughtful inventory of how careful we have been in our deleavening process from which we have recently emerged. Our forebears on the Sinai witnessed many miracles as they traversed the Red Sea and received the Law on Mount Sinai, but their attention was short-lived as they prevailed upon Aaron to make a gold calf. Like the ancient Israelites, our carnal human nature gravitates toward sin, a deadly weight which impedes our spiritual progress and jeopardizes our prospects of salvation. Paul warns us not to allow sin to reign in our bodies, but to mortify the evil pulls of the flesh continually. Living by the pulls of the flesh has a short shelf-life, but living by the prompts of the Holy Spirit brings eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that we make choices every day of our lives, cautions that though a choice be large or small, everything matters. Sadly, we make most choices with very little thought The miscalculation based on the fear of famine prompted Abraham to go to Egypt, though God did not intend for him to take that course. Abraham, at this juncture, having a crisis of faith, did not trust God to take care of his family's physical needs. The episode involving his half-lie to Pharaoh lost Abraham considerable ground. Any self-seeking distrust may cost years of spiritual maturity or character. Even though we may have botched our lives and opportunities, we can, through repentance, like the Prodigal Son, be restored, but we may have to begin from scratch. Why risk this with a careless choice? Abram had to learn that God gives material prosperity to those who are not seeking it. Those who seek riches are destined to fall into a snare. People who seek to be rich are tempted to do all kinds of wrong things to achieve it. Fox-like cunning and wolf-like rapacity and self-centeredness characterize much of the world's business acumen. Abraham reveals his restored faith in his reaction to Lot's presumptuous choice, expressing therein his willingness to yield in a spirit of generosity, expecting God to supply all his needs. The less we strive about our 'rights,' the more our lives will be wrapped in peace. Lot was deceived by his eyes, choosing the watered plains of Jordan, leaving his uncle with the 'less desirable' hill country. Abram gave of himself; Lot took for himself. Abram made his choice by faith; Lot made his choice by sight. Abram became the friend of God; Lot distanced himself from God. Who made the right choice?
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the lyrics of the Mills Brothers song, "You Always Hurt the One You Love," maintains that family members, especially siblings, inflict more pain on each other than strangers. Scripture has abundant examples of sibling rivalry from Cain and Abel through Jacob and Esau—a rift unsettled to this day. In I Corinthians 12, we learn God has intended that the spiritual body to which we have been called should have no schisms—no divisions. We are all metaphorically body parts having a specific function, totally interdependent on each other. Paul admonishes husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. As members of God's family, we need to be quick to forgive one another for real or imagined slights and offenses, realizing that in God's Kingdom, we will all be working together as one interdependent unit sharing the same family purpose.
Austin Del Castillo, observing the ballooning prayer list, the continuing fractures occurring throughout the greater Church of God, and the high frequency of people offended, asserts that, unless our primary relationship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ, a positive relationship with our called-out brethren will be impossible, and we will come to feel alone in our spiritual battle. Too many have become strangers to God. Our relationship with God must be real and not imaginary, much closer than any family member or friend. God loves us far more than we love our children. Through accessing His Holy Spirit as metaphorical branches of the vine, we take on godly characteristics, having love for our brethren, willing to sacrifice our lives for them, if necessary, exceeding the bravery of the mythical Aragorn and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. Jesus will never force us to love Him; only we can do that. Absolutely no one should be closer and more intimate with us than Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Joseph Baity focuses on a prophecy in Micah 7:2-6 describing a culture of corruption and distrust, ignored by watchmen and prophets, a prophecy of the end-time we are experiencing today, a time of economic disparity and emotional turbulence, a time when some of the most grievous conflicts occur between family members. Like people of Micah's time, our people also have serious trust issues, even between close friends and family members. When wealth and greed go unchecked, the poor pay a high price. Without trust, a community, state, or nation is ultimately doomed. Our culture is struggling with idolatry and income disparity. The mainstream faith in Judeo-Christian values is shrinking into oblivion. America is being divided by multiple lines of distrust as never seen before. The Oxford Dictionary's word of the year is "post-truth," which refers to the subjugation of facts to emotion. Trust, faith, and belief are so intertwined that the man who is unable to trust is unable to abide or trust in an unseen God. Without trusting in God, it is impossible to receive His Holy Spirit. Without His Holy Spirit, our faith dries up. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Sadly, some aspects of the post-truth mindset have entered the church, eroding relationships between God and brethren. Satan promotes insecurity and distrust—and he is good at it. We must be on guard against the wiles of Satan, continuing to trust in God and the brethren. As strong as Satan's will is to divide us, God's will to unite us is stronger by far.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
John Reiss: Sometimes when we talk after church services, we review instances that have happened in our efforts to obey God that have put a strain on our relationships with others. ...
Ted Bowling, acknowledging that our sins have separated us from God, asserts that, if we want to walk with God, it must be without sin. It is for our benefit that God holds such a high standard; we would not want God to lower His standards one iota. The thick curtains separating the people from the Holy of Holies indicates the seriousness of God's desire to separate Himself from sin. The curtain. 60 feet high and four inches deep, dramatically illustrated the intensity of the separation. David, a man after God's own heart, nevertheless felt hopelessly separated from God as he penned Psalm 22. David's life was not the best all the time. Psalm 51 demonstrates David's desire to tear down the wall of separation. Sin divides everything; like David, we must be alert for distractions that will lead us into sin. Thankfully, we have been given a gift, namely Christ's sacrifice, giving us the boldness to enter the Holy Place.
Joe Baity reminds us that we live in a world divided, as seen in the impending implosions of the two major political parties, the fragmentation of the European ‘Union,’ fratricide among the Islamic factions, race wars, gender wars, class wars, and bitter vitriol, anger, and resentment rule the day. People are no longer hearing one another, but only their own amplified, distorted, and poisoned perceptions they carry of others. Babylon is blinded with bitterness. The Church of God has not escaped the poison of resentment and bitterness following the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, leading to the wholesale apostasy and diaspora which followed. Our ability to discern falsehood is directly related to our ability to recognize truth and act on it. Emotions such as pride, stubbornness, resentment, and envy (a root of bitterness influenced by the culture around them) have split congregations, dividing brethren more than doctrinal disputes. We are implored to seek and pursue peace with everyone. Resentment unresolved can make us physically and spiritual sick. Carrie Fisher contends that “Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die.” When resentment goes underground, it raises havoc with our nervous system as well as jeopardizes our salvation. It is okay to get angry—just as long as we do not stay there. As God’s called-out ones, we must learn how to take the hit and turn the other shoulder.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree. Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature. Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies. The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.
Martin Collins, returning to the annoying questions asked by the priests in the book of Malachi as to God's alleged tardiness of justice, declares that their call for justice was unwise, considering that they would be fried to a crisp when they received what they deserved. The same applies to us: we need to be careful when we ask for justice, for our request might very well come back to bite us.. Those relentlessly begging for justice will indeed get what they ask for. Their presumptuous questions are all answered by Malachi, indicting both ancient and modern Judah and Israel. God's coming in judgment will be against those who are critical of His judgments. God, like a refiner of precious metals, will skim off the dross until He can see His face. Before the day of vengeance, a lengthy time of grace will precede, including 400 years from the time of Malachi to Christ's reading from Isaiah about bringing liberty and sight to the blind. Another 2,000 years have been added, and the same national sins, such as defiling God's Sabbath and robbing His tithes and offerings (both given before the Mosaic law), still dog our society today. Even though it is axiomatic, according to surveys conducted by Christianity Today and the Barna Group, that individuals who give 10% or more are generally better off than those who do not, the majority of modern Israel have cursed themselves by withholding tithes and offering, mirroring the days of Malachi and Haggai. All we have belongs to God, yet paradoxically if we give back 10%, we are incredibly blessed. Tithing provides for preaching the Gospel, Feast expenses, and helping the needy. Robbing God of His tithes brings curses on the created order, interpersonal relationships, and the covenental relationship. In the matter of tithing, God (1) calls for obedience to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, (2) issues a challenge to test Him, (3) accompanies His challenge with bountiful promises, and (4) reminds us of the ultimate blessing of being an example to the world.
David Grabbe, contending with the popularly held assumption that the days preceding Christ’s return would be characterized by near-apocalyptic, cataclysmic disaster, points to the Scriptures that people will be eating, drinking, and marrying as in the days of Noah and the days of Lot, indicating that there will be enough relative normalcy to allow for commerce and “business as usual” for much of the world. Right up to the day of the flood and the firestorm on Sodom, people were carrying on with mundane everyday activities, with a certain amount of ease in committing sins of self-indulgence and complacency, with people having enough security to kick back and bask in protected mediocrity as their work ethic eroded. Like Sodom and ancient Babylon, modern Babylon’s obsession is with materialism and guaranteed security, as government, union, and many academic positions protect—even encourage—mediocrity, incompetency, and malfeasance. God is not against prosperity unless it leads to materialism and self-indulgence, displacing godliness, righteousness, and contentment. Our current moral and economic state is not terribly unlike the days of Noah and the days of Lot.
David Grabbe, describing several contexts of the term "anti-Christ," points out that one meaning of anti-Christ is those who believe that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah, but a mortal, who may have been a good teacher, but was not a Savior or a literal Son of God. Two-thirds of the Abrahamic religions—Judaism and Islam— fall into this category. The apostle John dealt with a group of false apostles in the early Church who had embraced the Gnostic teaching of Docetism, which considers anything physical impure, thereby precluding Christ's physical presence as having any consequence, but considered only the other part of the dual nature, the spiritual, worthy of worship. The teaching of Docetism led to a passive idea of repentance, causing people to accept Jesus' sacrifice and grace, but reject any attempt at overcoming and living by His laws. Sadly, most professing Christians have accepted this deception, rejecting the idea that God's Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to walk in His commandments, enabling spiritual growth into the stature of Jesus Christ. They may claim to follow Him, but they reject His commandments. With God's Spirit in us, prompting spiritual growth, we will mature into the fullness of Christ. Without His Spirit, we will have the spirit of anti-Christ.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
Richard Ritenbaugh, describing a horrific case of child abuse occurring in Pennsylvania in 2012, and the judge's decision as to its resolution, eliciting a mixed review of condemnation and approval, asks us, as future judges in God's Kingdom, if we have the biblical savvy to come to an equitable judgment. Are we ready, at this stage in our spiritual growth, to apply chapter and verse all the biblical principles that apply in this case. In the last message, Richard Ritenbaugh enumerated seven such principles: (1) All authority for law and justice resides in God, (2) the breaking of any law incurs a penalty, (3) sinful actions have inherent cause-and-effect consequences, (4) God has relegated the execution of judgment to constituted authority, (5) everyone is equal under the law, (6) everyone must obey the same laws, and (7) jurisdictions should organize courts in a hierarchical manner to handle cases of increasing difficulty. In this sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh expands his enumeration of principles of godly jurisprudence. The principles of justice in Exodus 21:22-27, sometimes simplified to the "eye for eye' principle or lex talionis, that the punishment should fit the offence , has been applied differently from culture to culture, with the Muslims applying it literally, chopping off a hand of a thief, while the Israelitish cultures apply the principle of proportional or monetary restitution. Jesus Christ applied a much higher standard in the Sermon on the Mount, based upon mercy and forgiveness—a standard that not even His followers, burdened with human nature, can yet attain. The monetary penalties prescribed by Old Testament law were intended to serve as deterrents to crime, as were the stern laws imposed on false witnesses and any form of perjury. Mob or vigilante behavior was outlawed, as well as partiality in judgment and bribery. The judge, in the interest of truth, had to have the intestinal fortitude and the strength to withstand the pressures of errant public opinion. God's judicial system purp
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
Joseph Baity, reflecting on Marcellus,' oft-quoted pronouncement from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "something rotten in the state of Denmark," suggests that this aphorism has served as a shorthand for political corruption and intrigue in our culture. In scanning the Internet, one finds impelling substantiation for this poignant observation in the bizarre headlines which surface on a daily basis, indicating that the family of man is becoming highly dysfunctional, reflecting an abnormal behavior contrary to what is intended, threatening social stability. Functional refers to fulfilling the role for what was intended or performing as designed. Functional families deal with conflict, avoiding abuse or neglect. When God created the earth, everything was called good—functioning according to how it was designed. The Mechanical Translation of the Torah translates the word good as functional. All of us were designed by our Creator to function in a specific way. We were designed to obey God's commandments; to disobey is to be dysfunctional, leading to chaos, disorder, and misery. Dysfunction comes from denying the truth regarding the chaos and disorder we experience. The Laodicean era could be considered a time of dysfunction. Spiritual creation did not end at the conclusion of physical creation, but only commenced. Satan tries to make us dysfunctional by focusing on the lures of the world, enticing us to be productive in our pursuit of them. When we try to blend the world with God's Truth, we actually water down the truth. Watered down truth is not truth. Knowing the truth is not equivalent to walking in the truth. Spiritually, to function is to use and process the truth. To function or not to function; that is the question.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the fiery, feisty, vindictive temperament of Andrew Jackson, and his response to Presbyterian minister Dr. Edgar's question about willingness to forgive enemies, asserts that forgiving one's enemies is a defining mark of a real Christian. Andrew Jackson, after Dr. Edgar's persistent probing, finally displayed a tiny bit of one of the fruits of God's Spirit, prautes, or gentleness (meekness), possibly the second hardest fruit to develop, beginning with humbleness of mind and ending with longsuffering. In the apostle Paul's enumerations of Christian attributes, meekness always appears at near the end, reflecting the difficulty of attainment. Our modern understanding of meekness seems to be at variance with Paul's understanding of prautes. Sadly, language changes linguistic drift have degraded the original understanding, replacing it with "overly submissive and docile," tantamount to weakness and not having a backbone, a notion reinforced by Charles Wesley's hymn, Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. The combined force of these connotations makes Jesus look like a doormat. The original denotation of the Greek prautes denoted a quiet confidence, strength, and self-composure, a sign of inner power and self-control, having trust and confidence in God. Meekness is the gentle, quiet spirit of selfless devotion to God, the very antithesis of arrogant pride. It is a quality prompted by God's Holy Spirit on the inside manifesting as graciousness on the outside. The meek person accepts what God is doing as a good thing. Meekness is humble submission to God, allowing us to bear injury without being turned emotionally inside out. Love is a major facet of meekness, a quality exemplified in Moses as he serenely shrugged off the abuses and slander from Miriam, Aaron, and other disgruntled, complaining Israelites. Jesus Christ exercised meekness in response to all the false accusations from the Sanhedrin, scribes, and Pharisees, exercising forbearance without an ounce of vindictiveness, refusing
Ryan McClure, reflecting on the oft-repeated Rodney King quotation, "Can we all get along?" asks us how we are doing with our relationships, dealing with people with whom we find it difficult to get along. The Scriptures provide many examples of how difficult relationships were dealt with by humility, deference, and longsuffering, including Abram to Lot, David to Saul, and Jacob to Esau. Our relationship challenges can be vastly improved if we increase our regimen of prayer and putting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit into action.
Joe Baity, reflecting on the seeming Narcissistic Zeitgeist displayed by our generation, promoting self-gratification, self-realization, and self-indulgence, with a plethora of self-help books promoting elevating self interest above others, cautions that this approach damages both our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellowman, threatening to defile our fellowship within the body of Christ. Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul teach us to esteem others over ourselves, focusing on the betterment of others. Any self-improvement we can garner from self-help books composed by secular humanists pales into insignificance alongside the spiritual benefits from exercising outgoing concern for others, a mindset we can only attain by humbly submitting to God.
At times the paradox is painful, but it is nevertheless true. True Christians "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon [us]" (Acts 1:8), yet even with that divine power there is much that we would like to do but cannot. ...
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Over the past several days, I have been very uncomfortable. Since my adrenal fatigue set in during the summer of 2008, I have had a more-or-less persistent ache in the area of my right hip....
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: ...Is that not all it takes? All we have to do, according to this formula, is to get world leaders in one room, and after a few handshakes and a couple of beers—voila! World peace! It is so simple: Just let them jabber at each other for a few hours, and they will walk out arm in arm, best friends forever! ...
Last time, we saw that the lessons of Abel, Enoch, and Noah are sequential—they must be learned and applied in order if a person or organization is to make a faithful witness of God. ...
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
David F. Maas: How many of us have felt embarrassed after finding leavening in our homes during the Days of Unleavened Bread? Far more embarrassing is to reclaim leavening after throwing it out, yet I had such an experience, one I was ashamed for years to admit had happened. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on the pervasive influence of pornography on the Internet, television, music, and print media, suggests that young people engaging in premarital sex are acting like sheep to the slaughter, totally oblivious to the real facts of life. Dating should be preceded by wholesome group activities; God created us as social beings, placing a longing in each individual for a member of the opposite sex. The purpose of dating should not be considered merely a pre-marriage ritual designed to prepare one for marriage, but instead (1) to develop wholesome interactions with the opposite sex in contrast to the world's dating games, totally mired in the lures of temptation and emotion described by James 1:14-15; (2) to help individuals to see their own strengths and weaknesses, gradually understanding themselves; (3) to develop practice in serving others, and (4) to discover the person one will marry. The more similarities there are in a relationship, the less likelihood that conflicts will emerge. A key ingredient in the dating process is faith in God's purpose in each person's life. The relationship one has with God takes precedence over any relationship with any other human being.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Satan's great rebellion when he rallied one-third of the angels against the government of God. They were cast down to the earth, where they have since held a beachhead of operations, even though the venue has been downgraded from a headquarters to a prison. Though these demons share the habitation with us, they are greatly restrained. Ultimately the demonic powers will be unleashed again. As an indication of potential problems in the future, we have experienced a number of seemingly insoluble relationship problems. Some of the demons ability to communicate with mankind has been opened up to them. The battles are likely to be psychological and spiritual. Cities are places of concentrated evil. Air is that medium through which most media travels, including radio and television—and spirit in general. Experimenter Emoto discovered that negative attitudes can distort the molecular structure of water. The demons who already inhabit the earth look upon us as interlopers. We need to monitor our thought impulses, lest we might be bothered by demons. Trench and Bengel suggest that the cosmos, the spirit of the world or the zeitgeist entraps us into carnal and human nature- moving us along into aberrant behavior.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
Martin Collins, reflecting upon the impatience demonstrated in the world's holidays, concludes that most of mankind has a serious patience deficit. Demonstrating or developing patience, a cardinal characteristic of God, in the face of trying events is a clear indication that we are developing genuine godliness. We must learn to turn trials into positive growth opportunities, as did Jacob, who had to develop patience in the midst of myriad, frustrating delays. We must learn to endure patiently, with the help of God's Spirit, waiting for God to accomplish His purpose in us. After identifying 18 negative consequences of impatience, the sermon offers five steps to developing patience: 1) staying focused on the goal, 2) learning to think before speaking, 3) looking for ways to give our service to others, 4) working out our conflicts with others, and 5) working with God through the Spirit to develop godly patience in us, developing a calm, positive attitude and peace of mind.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
How important is faith? What is the faith God requires us to have? Pat Higgins explains that faith is simple in concept, but difficult to display in our lives. Nevertheless, we must exercise this gift of God to pass the tests that are sure to precede the return of Christ.
Remember "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? In most cases, this is a lie. The hurtful words that we speak can create scars that last longer than any physical scar that sticks and stones may cause. Christians need to learn to harness the power of the tongue.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that meddling or being a busybody is a sin, as serious as murder or robbery. We must learn as Christians to operate in our appointed spheres of responsibility and not to meddle in someone else's—taking the job or prerogative of another. Jesus and the apostle Paul give us sterling examples of refusing to assume responsibilities not expressly given to them. We must learn to exercise judgment in helping others, but not to judge them now, not yet being qualified for or appointed to that weighty responsibility. Idleness is a major contributory cause of meddling, and gossip and tale-bearing are frequent accomplices. Meddling in another's affairs may actually complicate or interfere with God's capable work in them, so we need to apply the Golden Rule when seeking to help another. In working out our own salvation, we have enough do to without trying to meddle in someone else's.
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
We tend to take our friendships for granted, but they are important parts of our Christian lives. David Maas explains how we should cultivate and appreciate our friendships, for they are a necessary tool in growing in godliness.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: For those of us who are not scientists, the Second Law of Thermodynamics can be a brain bruiser. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon the awesome cost of bringing two former enemies together. Reconciliation is the product of a sacrifice made by a person to pacify the wrath of an offended person. We are to imitate Christ in His approach toward hostility from others (1) taking abuse patiently, (2) committing to God's righteous judgment, and (3) sacrificing for the good of the other party. From the point of our justification, we must participate in the reconciliation process through our sanctification, reflecting the righteousness of God- taking on His perfect character. Our reconciliation with God leads to our reconciliation with other members of the body of Christ.
Many of us tend to be pack-rats, saving everything for years and years until we have collected a mass of—well, junk! David Maas compares this with accumulated sin. The time has come to get rid of it!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
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.
God calls us 'living stones' in I Peter 2. Bill Keesee illustrates why this description is so apt view of God's work making us His jewels.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Kingdom of God or of Heaven has past (Hebrews 11:13), present (Hebrews 12:22), and future (Hebrews 12:28) aspects. The Kingdom parables primarily provide instruction for the present aspect, a time when struggle and suffering are part of the mix (Matthew 11:12). The first parables of Matthew 13 reveal Satan's battle plan to: (1) attack in the early stages of development, (2) infiltrate with secret agents, (3) cause the church to grow large and worldly, exceeding God's prescribed limits, and (4) corrupt by false doctrine, destroying the relationships between the brethren. These parables describe the last quarter century in the church of God.
Men have a love-hate relationship with mercy: They love to receive it, but hate to give it! Mercy, though, is one of the most important virtues, according to our Savior Jesus Christ. This article provides reasons why we should lean toward mercy in all our judgments.
Our society is becoming increasingly violent. John Ritenbaugh shows how the sixth commandment covers crime, capital punishment, murder, hatred, revenge and war.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the meal offering or grain offering. In context, the burnt offering represents the fulfillment of the first of the great commandments, while the meal offering represents the fulfillment of the other (Matthew 22:36-40). As the commandments cannot be separated (duty to God/duty to man), the offerings also must be done together. The grinding of the grain into a talcum powder consistency suggests that in our service to our fellow man, there is much grinding self-sacrifice and surrender required. If we approach the level of Christ's service, the more we will be bruised. The oil poured on the flour represents power to fulfill (God's Holy Spirit), the frankincense represents character sweetened under intense heat and salt represents stability and preservation from corruption.
Following our too frequent mess-ups in life, forgiveness is so refreshing! John Reid examines forgiveness, highlighting how necessary it is for us to forgive others.
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
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.
John Ritenbaugh uses an analogy of a 1910 automobile as opposed to a modern one. Obsolete doesn't mean, as Protestant understanding would have it, "done away." The fault of the Old Covenant was with the hearts of the people. Christ took it upon Himself, with His death, to amend the fault enabling us to walk in the light, keeping the commandments. Salvation and conversion is a cooperative effort between God and His called-out ones, requiring both a calling and a response (justification and sanctification), a circumcision of the heart, imposing responsibilities on the participants of the covenant. Though the process took a unilateral act of sacrifice on behalf of the Testator to make it work, God demands of us unconditional surrender.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
Throughout the generations, war has been mankind's solution to problems. Is there hope for the future? John Ritenbaugh gives the comforting answer: at-one-ment is possible with God!
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 being persistent in prayer does not mean incessant pestering, whining, or cajoling God into action. Luke 11:1-13 purposefully contrasts the generous nature of God with that of a reluctant stranger or a malicious tyrant. Because His timeframe is different from ours, we sometimes feel that we have totally lost control. God always looks at our petitions from the vantage-point of His purpose, sometimes testing our fervency or sincerity, sometimes flatly refusing our requests because they would harm us. We must persevere in prayer, realizing that faith always works toward what it asks for while it waits. God has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), provided we cooperate with Him, letting Him work out His purpose in our lives.
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.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the necessity to attain fellowship with God, defining fellowship as "joint participation with someone else in things possessed by both." At our calling (John 6:44) we have virtually nothing in common with our Creator. Through the shaping power of God's Holy Spirit, He starts to fill the chasm, which divides us by (1) convicting us of sin, (2) convicting us of righteousness, and (3) convicting us of judgment, aiming our lives at the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a singular disaster to befall modern Israel, involving captivity-largely as a result of its shameless toleration of rising violent crime. God ordained capital punishment, but because of the flawed legal system, with the exceptions for insanity, youth, and police mistakes, the deterrent value has been rendered ineffective in modern Israel. The prison system, actually producing academies for learning crime, is pitifully inferior to God's system of justice. Nevertheless, resisting civil governmental authority (a buffer against chaos) is tantamount to resisting God's authority. People who reinforce in themselves the habit of rebellion (resisting God's as well as man's authority) will be mercifully terminated in a lake of fire. Jesus, by emphasizing the spirit of the law, places deterrents on the motive- preventing the actual murderous deed from ever taking place. Brooding anger, bitterness, resentment, revenge, and scorn constitute the activating motives for actual murder. We need to develop the maturity and faith to allow God to take vengeance rather than presumptuously taking this prerogative upon ourselves. Christ teaches that we also need to learn to (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) proactively promote peace by attending to the physical needs of our 'enemies,' responding as Christ would respond.
John Ritenbaugh, pointing out the Apostle Paul's contention that any righteousness or morality attained by our own law keeping falls short of the righteousness required for salvation, asserts that only the righteousness of Christ attained through faith will pass muster. Unlike man's limiting, myopic, self-centered righteousness, excluding others from their circle, the righteousness of Christ (emanating from Christ's knowledge) focuses on selfless outgoing service to others, leading to exponential spiritual growth with limitless possibilities. Like Christ, we must willing to yield and trust in God's ability to create and shape us, willing to be corrected and changed as He sees fit. If we become self-satisfied with our spiritual progress, God cannot work with us. Working out our salvation is to make faith practical by experience, yielding continually to God's prompts through His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, after delving into questions of how people living during the Millennium will develop faith, as well as the reason for re-establishing a sacrificial system, focuses on the significance of Christ's sacrifice and His glorification. Christ's perfect life and His sacrificial death was a prerequisite for our reconciliation with God, demonstrating how far God will go to save us. Only living our lives as God the Father and Jesus Christ live their lives will bring about abundant life. Eternal life is to know God, seeking Him to imitate Him, living as He does, and developing an intimate relationship with Him. Christ manifested the Father's attributes as He lived, setting us an example to live our lives the same way, becoming similar imitations of the Father. Christ's extensive prayer for His disciples is for our guarding, preservation, protection, and unity with our brethren as we bear the name of God. As God gives us challenges and responsibilities, He also gives the necessary tools to fulfill them.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the humble, serving, or footwashing attitude exemplified by Jesus in John 13 provides a clear insight into the mind of God. Jesus humbled Himself, pouring out His divinity to serve mankind, providing an example for us to also serve others. The loving way in which Jesus appealed to Judas leaves us further insights about Jesus conscious choice to accept His Father's will, glorifying His Father through His sacrifice for man's benefit. The Father likewise glorifies His Son by resurrecting and honoring Him. God expects us to follow Christ's example of loving others, with all of their flaws and weaknesses, more than ourselves. This kind of love does not come naturally, but must be acquired through God's Holy Spirit. In chapter 14, Jesus, anticipating His imminent death, provides encouragement, comfort and assurance to His disciples (all of us actually) that they would have a role in His future kingdom. Jesus, by His example, teaches us not to get discouraged if we don't see immediate results from obeying God or carrying out His will. The results may not be realized this side of the grave. By following Christ's example, we follow in the Way of truth, leading to Eternal life and glorification.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that in Matthew 5:21-22, there exist degrees in the spirit of murder, with destroying a reputation as the worst. All sin is against God, but before one attempts to establish a relationship with God, he should heal the breach with his fellow man. If a conflict exists between husband and wife, his prayers could be hindered. We are admonished to take care of problems while they are small rather than allow them to brood, exercising moderation and self control. If we continually fill our mind with good thoughts and motivations, we won't be thinking base or unclean thoughts. Jesus, desiring to restore the spirit as well as the letter of the law, warned against rash or hasty divorces, taking oaths or vows, invoking God's name frivolously, realizing that a covenant is binding whether we formally invoke His name or not. As God's people, our word should be good as gold. The Lex Talionis (eye for an eye) principle provided the foundations for an equitable solution, allowing for equal justice or monetary compensation for pain, time, indignity, etc. Jesus set a standard of non-retaliation and non-vengeance—not getting even for an insult, suffering for righteousness as our Elder Brother Jesus Christ did for us. We need to be more concerned about our duties or obligations than our rights. When we are conscripted into service and when we lend to the poor, we need to realize God will make it right to us. When we love conditionally, with the hope of getting something back, we have no reward, but if we love with unconditional, godly agape love, loving our enemies, removing any thought of vengeance, becoming godlike in the process, doing what we were created for.
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