Martin Collins, reflecting on an article by Dave Berry, who suggests that the Post-Truth, fake news norm has created a milieu where people appear to be hallucinating, warns God's called-out ones against feeling the same kind of frustration as the rest of society as we become immersed in negative and false news. If we accept our Elder Brother Jesus Christ's invitation to be protected by His name, becoming an Ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe, we can rise above the swamp of negativism and evil which threatens to envelop us. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are members of God's family, metaphorically a component of God's Temple and a constituent of the Kingdom of God. In the current world, we are sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, and ambassadors, living among, yet separate from, the peoples of this present world. Our loyalty must be to the family to which we are called—the blood of Christ's sacrifice being thicker than water. We cannot be half-hearted Christians, attempting to take the narrow and broad way simultaneously. If we are not sure we are really committed to our calling, we should consider: (1.) Do we feel that we are an outsider when we are with our brethren? (2.) Do we feel more comfortable in "wordly" social contexts? (3.) Do we understand the argot of the Church family or does it seem foreign to us? (4.) Do we understand the subjects discussed and feel prepared to take part in the discussion or does everything seem like its in secret code? (5.) Are we in on the mysteries of the fellowship, or do we feel clueless? (6.) Do we feel comfortable with the laws of our fellowship or do they seem a burden? (7.) Do we have a spiritual birth certificate—God's Holy Spirit—that we carefully guard? If we are led by God's Spirit, having the spirit of adoption, we are the children of God and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Kim Myers maintains that, while many people in the world likes some of God's laws, such as the proscriptions against murder and theft, they like to pick and choose when it comes to the rest, preferring a blend of their own preferences with some of God's laws added in. The penalties that result from breaking God's laws are sure and exacting, as we witness in homes in which adultery or fornication has taken place. Breaking any of God's laws is the height of stupidity. The experiences of those who have once committed to God's ways and then started to compromise have not been pleasant or successful. Young people, unfortunately, seem to be oblivious to painful cause-and-effect relationships. One does not conceal his foolishness in a vacuum, but it is on display for everyone to see. Our nation has felt the incremental effect of God's curses as it systematically replaces tenets of God's Law with foolish laws concocted from human reason. God's called-ones must not follow suit, deciding which of God's laws we keep, and which to discard. We must embrace the full counsel of God, trembling before His every Word. We want to have joy by living by every word that comes from His Mouth.
Richard Ritenbaugh, 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.
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.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
Gary Montgomery: At this time of year, religious people around the world look at their individual decisions and choices of the past. Some choose to go to special mid-day services ...
Clyde Finklea: In Part One, we saw that it is necessary to concentrate on what we are doing. If we let our minds wander or allow something to distract us, bad things are likely to happen. ...
Martin Collins, focusing upon various interpretations of who or what constitutes antichrists, examines several characteristics of this group of beings, including fostering deception and confusion, preventing fellowship, and creating intense spiritual conflict. Realizing that our real enemies are not human beings at all, but demonic principalities emanating from the spirit of darkness, we are mandated to put on the whole armor of God, embracing the truth. The mystery of evil and lawlessness has been extant from the beginning of the early church, recognized by Paul and John. Some teachers in the early church actually attained leadership and influence in the teaching of noxious false doctrine. Ultimately, the being or order emerging as the antichrist will be motivated directly by Satan. Historically, antichrist teachers have proclaimed that Jesus was only a man, or that He had a phantom body and never really experienced death. The syncretistic new religion of Chrislam is actually a prime example of antichrist doctrine. The false prophet and the great political leader in Revelation 13 and 17 will both be worshipped by people duped by Satan to believe a strong delusion. We need to be on guard for antichrist influences attempting to penetrate the greater church of God. We are admonished to test the spirits, realizing that heretical tares have been permitted to test our faith. The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well today, attempting to sabotage our spiritual welfare and steal our spiritual crown.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
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.
John Ritenbaugh asks the question, "How much leavening would God allow to infiltrate into the church, society, or the individual before He steps in to correct it?" Leaven can symbolically represent false teaching, as in the stifling traditions of the Pharisees, the skepticism of the Sadducees, and the secularism of Herod, all producing deadly cynicism and pessimism. With immense forbearance and patience, God carefully timed the cumulative wickedness of a people (when every thought would become saturated with evil) before He intervened. Likewise, we have no insight as to how much sin God will tolerate in the church or our own lives before He will sternly intervene. The tares and wheat (sin and righteousness, heresies and truth, or unconverted and converted) must coexist until the harvest when the fruit will become clearly seen, at which time a separation and judgment will take place, when the good will be contrasted from the evil. In the meantime, the persecution we receive now will show God definitively where our loyalties lie.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
We often speak confidently of friends and relatives who will rise in the second or general resurrection to have their opportunity for salvation—but what a shame it would be if we were not there to greet them! Mike Ford, reminiscing about being there for his grandfather, urges us all to make our election sure!
The story of Esau and his selling his birthright for a bowl of soup is a cautionary tale for Christians today. What it is we really value? What we treasure will ultimately determine our destiny.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in the turbulent and uncertain times ahead, we will need extraordinary fortitude and courage. From the confusion and anxiety of our trials, we run, hide, fight, or patiently work through the difficulties. Not much in this world inspires hope or permanent relief. As our Designer and Producer, God has designed us to run or function smoothly and productively on a godly formula of faith, hope, and love. Trials, when rightly handled with this powerful formula, produce a higher level of spiritual maturity, a higher level of perfection, improving perseverance or active endurance, motivating a person to overcome and grow in holiness. Our entire hope and faith (to be conformed and resurrected in Christ's image) must be anchored in God (the Promise Maker) 'with Christ's mind placed within us.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
Globalism has an equal and opposite counterpart: tribalism. Charles Whitaker explains what tribalism is and how it affects the world and the church.
In this message on recognizing and detecting the anti-Christ, Richard Ritenbaugh identifies three aspects of the term:(1) the man of sin who appears at the end of the age (I John 2:18) (2) False teachers who pretend to be loyal to Christ's precepts, but covertly oppose His doctrines and example, and (3) anyone who is in opposition to His doctrines (in part or whole). The shocking thing about this third aspect is that all of us have anti-Christ tendencies in us, and must work vigorously to root out the anti-Christ elements within ourselves and to become like Christ.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon part of the festival scrolls (the Megilloth) read during Pentecost, reveals that although many of the lessons allude to Old Covenant teachings, Ruth prefigures New Covenant principles also, including (1) God's mercy and mankind's loyalty to the covenant (Boaz serves as a type of Christ and Ruth serves as a type of the church), (2) God's unilateral work on our behalf (typified by Boaz's proactive watchful care for Ruth), (3) the vessels of water (Ruth 2:9) as a type of God's Holy Spirit, and (4) Boaz's acceptance of Ruth despite her gentile status indicates God's extension of His covenant or family relationship beyond Israel by means of union with Christ.
How does God define the church? What comprises it according to the Bible? The ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the Bible, is not a humanly defined corporation, but the mystical body of Christ, having the Spirit of God. The true church of God is an invisible, spiritual organism, of those people that have and are led by the Spirit of God. And such a person will not turn away from the teaching delivered by the apostles.
John Reid uses the analogy of a minefield to illustrate Satan's diabolical obstacles to keep us from attaining our objective?the Kingdom of God. The Devil sets specific kinds of mines: a) the lusts of the world (greed, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.), analogous to the Claymore mine, designed to kill individuals; b) doctrinal confusion, analogous to the Bouncing Betty mine, designed to take out, confuse, and destroy whole groups of people. He also suggests ways to help get out of the minefields, including calling out to God for help in tracing our route back to what led to our spiritual disorientation. To navigate safely through, we must ask for God's protection, maintaining humility, watchfulness, and diligence in our task of overcoming and walking in the footsteps of the Mine Detector (I Peter 2:21).
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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