[Editor's note - Audio Quality improves at 5m30s] Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the spring cleaning associated with deleavening, reminds us that God is a God of order, sustaining and upholding all things, and encourages us to clean, maintain, dress and keep, improving what He has given us. As God's creation, He works to make improvements in each of us. Though we are sometimes neglectful, Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, is never neglectful, but is, with Our Heavenly Father, bringing all His called-out ones to spiritual maturity. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread rehearse the plan of God, beginning with our justification through Christ's blood, followed by a life-long sanctification process in which we discard sin, at the same time building Godly character by consuming the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In western culture, we have applied the command to deleaven (put out sin) and put on righteousness as an individual responsibility. In the Middle Eastern culture, people put the command in a communal light, with the patriarchs of each tribe showing a personal responsibility for their family. In the New Testament, Paul also puts the responsibility on the community, with husbands, wives, children, employers, and employees learning their responsibilities toward one another, indicating that our communal behavior can corrupt (symbolized by the fermentation of leaven) one another or provide a good example for one another. Our sphere of influence radiates far beyond ourselves to the entire community. If each of us individually puts out the leaven of malice and consume the Unleavened Bread of sincerity (free from hypocrisy), we would fulfill our community responsibility to our sphere of influence, cementing our relationships with one another, with Jesus Christ, and God the Father.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
Austin Del Castillo reminds us that the end of the Feast of Tabernacles represents the last century and one half of God's Millennial rule, a time when entirety of earth's population will be living under God's Law. At the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan from the Bottomless Pit. He will immediately set about deceiving, with the aim of destroying God's people. How is it that Satan can deceive people living at peace and prosperity under God's perfect Law? As God's called-out ones, we must make sure that we are well rooted in God's Word so that we never again fall for Satan's lies. When the grand deception came on the Worldwide Church of God, we became alarmed when we witnessed people who we thought were absolute pillars swallow the poisonous apostasy the new leadership taught. Apparently, not everyone had believed the true Gospel, but instead held some reservations about the Truth Mr. Armstrong taught. God grew tired of the lack of commitment of our previous fellowship; some of us, no doubt, were part of the problem. Today, Jesus Christ is observing us to see what kind of bride we are becoming. Many of us have been conditioned not to trust anyone, extending these trust issues to our brethren, and eventually to God Himself. When we take counsel only in ourselves, we run the risk of giving ourselves over to the one who influences our human nature, the prince of the power of the air, who is adept at convincing us that God is withholding something from us. Satan totally supports our feelings of resentment. Satan wants us to think we have been cheated. In this state of mind, we develop paper-thin skin when it comes to accepting counsel from our brethren, leading us to sever friendships with them. Our priority must be the restoration of our relationship with God, putting to death the idea that God is cheating us.
David C. Grabbe: ... Another aspect of reality, then, is that God puts people where He wants them and gives them the responsibilities that He desires them to fulfill. That was true for Israel, just as it is true for the Body of Christ. ...
Bill Onisick, reflecting on a theme in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which a weatherman (played by Bill Murray, who gets caught in a blizzard he failed to predict, doomed to relive the same day over again until he gets it right) sees a spiritual parallel in our process of overcoming well-entrenched perennial sins. Self-control is a spiritual gift that must be practiced; to not exercise this gift is tantamount to resisting and quenching God's Spirit. As spiritual adolescents, we often develop a defiant resistance to change, change which would ultimately make our lives easier and spiritually functional. If we become stiff-necked, like our ancestors at Sinai, we are clearly not submitting to God's Holy Spirit, sabotaging our overcoming and our path to salvation. Spiritual self-control is activated by regularly studying, meditating, praying, and crying out for more Holy Spirit and exercising it by our behavior.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the words of the covenant which the Lord made with Israel, recorded in Deuteronomy 29, maintains that this covenant still applies to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) even though the vast majority of modern Israel have rejected this covenant and, consequently, can no longer claim to be God's "chosen people." We dare not go down the same path as our fellow Americans or our fellow descendants of Jacob have followed, remembering the absolute uniqueness of the Church (or Israel of God.) If we follow the dictates of our heart, as has physical Israel, we will not acquire peace, but will instead share in their curses. As long as we mirror God's characteristics, we are the Israel of God. We have been called to qualify to provide leadership under Jesus Christ, leadership which will be tested throughout a lifetime of testing and trial. We learn from our original parents that as soon as we sin, a stark change occurs throughout our nervous system, subjecting us to shame and fear. As part of God's judgment on Satan, a marvelous piece of workmanship who manifested himself in a heretofore beautiful creature, enmity was created between Adam and Eve's offspring and the serpent, a living organism forced to crawl on its belly rather than ambulate on its feet. Universal repulsiveness instantly replaced admiration. Sin turns all beauty into ugliness. Likewise, the creatures of nature expressed wariness of human beings, the same kind of wariness we should have for the fallen archangel, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. As Adam's offspring, we are forced to contend with a demonic presence in our worldview throughout our entire lives. Thankfully, the prophecy that Adam and Eve's offspring (Jesus Christ) will crush the head of the serpent advances the distinct likelihood that God intends to annihilate defective spirit beings permanently, including Satan and his entire demonic entourage, a prospect which fills them with terror and rage as the end of this age approaches.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
Martin Collins, suggesting that, while society has rejected religious principles and faith, it has glommed onto superficial feelingséwhatever feels good to us. Today's Christianity is more theatrics than theological; feelings have become the replacement for faith. When we stifle the truth of God's word to accommodate feelings, we destroy spiritual growth and character. Satan works on our feelings continually, causing us to worry about the past and be anxious about the future. There is a right place for emotions. No one can have a right balance in emotions without God's Holy Spirit. Too many submerge their feeling into their subconscious, causing aberrant social behaviors such as injustice collectors (that is, martyrs), pleasers, control freaks, and compulsive talkers, all of whom are out of sync with harmonic natural laws. As Christians, we need to thoroughly examine the causes of our damaged emotions, asking God how we may repair the damage. Our feelings should be channeled on obeying God from the heart, rejoicing in our calling or rescue. We cannot create feelings; the more we try the more miserable we become. Feelings, as well as temperament, dependent upon many variables, cannot be successfully controlled without help from God's Holy Spirit. Truth is primarily an intellectual stimulus rather than an emotional illness. It is important for us to regularly engage in self-examination, judging our own sins, and turning ourselves over to God, allowing Him to test the quality and strength of our faith. The fruits of God's Holy Spirit transcend feelings. Stirring up God's Spirit will enable us to control and channel our feelings. We need to seek righteousness instead of thrills. Happiness is a by-product of seeking righteousness.
Secular sociologists and psychologists have done extensive research and observation on most human behaviors, and anger in its various forms is no exception. During World War II, military psychologists first used the term “passive-aggressive” ...
David C. Grabbe: The term "Nanny State" has come to describe a government that insists on over-regulating the individual in order to force him to act according to the government's wishes, rather than allowing the individual to make his own choices. ...
Which leadership style do you follow: Andy Griffith's or Barney Fife's? Using experiences from his own life, David Maas explains that the desire to be in control and to win takes a toll on both one's relationships and one's health.
John Ritenbaugh profiles the narcissistic personality, characterized by a highly self-absorbed and manipulative individual who, on one hand, has abused his God-given gifts and, on the other hand, neglected the responsibility of using them properly. Probably the biblical character best exemplifying the narcissistic personality is David's son, Absalom, clearly a spoiled son in a dysfunctional family. David was not noted for his childrearing skills, rarely calling any of his children into account for their behavior, but pampered them and indulged their multiple transgressions. Moreover, in both David's and Jacob's polygamous marital situations (tolerated but not condoned by God), fairness would have been next to impossible. Absalom developed a highly deceitful charm, able to "sweet-talk a bird out of a tree" with his disarming verbal eloquence, learning to be a controller par excellent. Using his scheming manipulative skills, he stealthily (taking the law in his own hands) arranged the murder of his older brother, a competitive contender for the throne. Absalom, using his manipulative charm and unctuous verbal skills, won the hearts of the common people, undercutting his father's honor and authority. For his vanity, his self-aggrandizement, and super-inflated ego, he became a "pin cushion" at the order of Joab. Absalom used his gifts and talents only for himself. With Absalom's negative example in mind, we need to make sure we do not use our spiritual gifts for self-service or self-aggrandizement, or worse yet, not to use them at all. Our children are gifts from God; we as parents must pass on to our children the sense of responsibility that has been given to us. We have to make ourselves answerable and responsible for their behavior, disciplining them for their carelessness and reinforcing their thoughtfulness. If Absalom would have been reared with these principles, much of David's bitterness and heartache would have been alleviated.
Richard Ritenbaugh, in reflecting upon biblically ordained marriage roles, realizes they are at odds or in conflict with cultural expectations, especially the influences of radical feminism and postmodernism, which viciously militate against the truths of the Bible. This message focuses upon the characteristics and attributes of the perfect wife, designed to be a comparable aide, companion, or helper, to complete a "one-flesh" unit. If either the husband or wife steps outside their prescribed, ordained roles, automatic friction and strife will occur. Biblical instructions concerning marriage roles'submitting and loving (not always the easiest to fulfill)'are intended to bring us back to the perfect state that existed before sin entered the picture. Fulfilling our roles reverses the curse placed upon our parents Adam and Eve. Marriage could be likened to a school enabling us to learn God-plane behavior.
John Ritenbaugh, citing the maxim that 'the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree,' suggests that the nation of Israel and the Israel of God, having the same aggresive, controlling, and contentious spirit as their forefather Jacob, must learn to let God provide blessings rather than, through crafty scheming, grabbing them from others for themselves. As Jacob had to pay with a lame hip, his offspring may have to suffer privation, scattering, having their pride of their power broken, and eventual captivity until they learn that Israel means 'God prevails' and it is God who orders life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
John Ritenbaugh addresses the controversial topics of conspiracy theories, Sovereign Citizenship and the New World Order. These, for too many, burn up countless hours of precious time in vain speculation and useless anxiety. The drive toward one world government is a transparent reality having several biblical prototypes (Genesis 10:8-13; Daniel 2:36-44), all inspired by demonic opposition to God's rule. There is nothing new in this game-plan; conspiracy seems to be a part of our human nature. Satan, manipulating self-interest and pride in various groups and individuals, will only be able to hold his inharmonious confederation together for a short while. If our fear is not in God, this conspiracy will distract, immobilize, and paradoxically tempt us to compromise with it. Our fear ought to be in God who has sovereignty and the final say over all things (Isaiah 8:11-13).
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
A major distinguishing characteristic of mankind is his free moral agency, presenting him with choices and the right to make decisions. We need free moral agency to be transformed into God's image. The volition to do right has to come from the core of our character or nature. Paradoxically, the way to maximum freedom is to yield to God's way of doing things. Unless one has the Spirit of God, he cannot exercise the necessary internal control to be subject to the government of God. Even though the church is not the government of God (John 18:36; I Corinthians 15:50), we need to respect the ministry as well as lay members, being subject to one another (I Corinthians 11:1). The operation of God's government absolutely depends upon each person governing himself, never going beyond the parameters of the authority God has given him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only those who are governable will ever be allowed to govern. No government (not even God's government) will work without each individual submitting in his area of responsibility. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, qualified to rule because of his feeling of responsibility (1) to God, in submitting to Him, and (2) to man, in using His powers to provide salvation for all mankind. Following in his footsteps, we must realize that leadership requires becoming a slave or servant. (Matthew 20:24-28)
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
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