Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within a few years of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment-breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the ruler of this world, Satan.
How often have we heard—or cried ourselves—"How long, O Lord?" Our great hope is in Christ's return, but despite His assurances that He is coming quickly, it seems as if that time is delayed. David Grabbe, keying in on II Peter 3, cautions us not to be distracted by scoffers or cunning arguments, but trust that Christ will return at exactly the best time.
John Ritenbaugh, suggests that, although humanism as a philosophy came onto American campuses approximately 50 years ago, it has been a part of the world's culture since 1600, when technology enabled secular universities to counter-attack the explosion of Biblical knowledge, unleashed by the Protestant Reformation. Actually, humanism has been alive and well for thousands of years. American culture, steeped in materialistic humanism, is decidedly non-Christian in its current outlook, as Satan has achieved a measure of success by twisting and distorting the information disseminated by secular universities, savagely destroying faith and creating doubt in God's existence, let alone His ultimate authority.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
David Grabbe, cuing in on II Peter 3, asserts that there are good reasons why Christ has not yet returned, reminding us that scoffers and false teachers will test the faith of those who once accepted the truth. Some will yield to their natural desires, finding an excuse to forget about their commitment to God. In their desire to live for the moment, the warnings of the prophets will fade into ineffectiveness. We are in danger of becoming desensitized to righteousness. We need to keep a long-term perspective, suffering long while our Elder Brother Jesus Christ tends to our process of repentance until we finally become fully in His image. Jesus Christ will not wrap things up until we have completed our process of salvation. All material things will dissolve, to be replaced with a new Heaven and Earth in which righteousness will dwell. This world is passing away; we must focus on permanent spiritual priorities, reflecting God's righteousness in our lives. When Christ returns, we cannot be at odds with Him in any manner, but must have been following through on the salvation process, putting our spiritual houses in order.
David C. Grabbe: How are we different from those who have fallen away from the truth? How do we know that at some point in the future we will not also follow a path of deception and eventual apostasy? How can we be confident that we will not be deceived?
"Gnosticism" sounds like an old and very dry Greek philosophy, the subject of a somnolent college lecture. Not so, says David Grabbe. Gnosticism is very much in vogue today in books and movies—and in the belief systems of a great many people who profess to be Christian.
Martin G. Collins: Biblically, apostasy is rebellion against God or the abandonment of faith in God by those once enlightened by the truth. In the Old Testament it always relates to rebellion against God. In Israel, apostasy was a capital offense. One who sacrificed to another god was stoned to death. ...
Charles Whitaker expresses alarm about liberal education's drive to destroy the faith once delivered by introducing a mode of questioning they sometimes refer to as 'critical thinking,' an obsessive drive to bring every value and assumption held by society and parents under question. The ultimate effects of this practice has led to: (1) a disengagement from the past, (2) a state of lethargy, and (3) an abandonment of the traditions that have bound us together as a culture- leading to isolation and fragmentation of society. We need to guard against forces that would systematically undermine the faith once delivered to the saints, and learn not to denigrate the 'old stories' passed down from our forebears.
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.
John Ritenbaugh shares the significance of Herbert W. Armstrong's role in the church. Increasingly, some fail to realize Herbert Armstrong's stabilizing role in God's church. The scattering we have experienced since his death has been a blessing from God, revealing our collective, pitiable spiritual deficits. God deliberately engineered the scattering to save us from our precarious spiritual condition. Like the virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we have all slumbered. In the meantime, God has been working on His spiritual creation, fashioning us in His image. At this juncture, we are not being scattered because of persecution, but because of punishment brought about by our wholesale lack of obedience, requiring loving, firm corrective action. We are not victims of Satan, but bear much of the responsibility for this dismantling from our failure to discern false doctrine. The division of Israel and Judah (between Jeroboam and Rehoboam), occurring because of disobedience, was engineered by Almighty God, and was designed as a lesson for us. If we sin, God will scatter us. He who scatters the church will re-gather it in His good time. Herbert Armstrong, while not perfect, not infallible, and not sinless, nevertheless served as the custodian of the precious truths of God - occupying the role of God's servant and messenger. To reject the message from God's messenger is to reject God. We need to collectively repent and go back to the first works and the faith once delivered to the saints.
John Ritenbaugh contends that if our faith had been strong over the past 20 years, we would not have been scattered. Because we behave and make choices on what we believe, any affront to the belief system will alter our choices and behavior, placing us on a destructive trajectory. Satan's chief strategy is subtle deception, planting doubts by subtle little half-truths, equivocations, and deliberate lies. Among the lies Satan has foisted off on the world are: (1) God is weak and ineffectual (as seen in effeminate pictures of Jesus, crucifixes, etc.) (2) God is disinterested and has gone off somewhere. (3) God is so merciful that anything goes (we aren't obligated to keep His law).(4) Sin is pleasurable and leads to prosperity. (5) We deserve more than we have been given. By imbibing these deceptions, we shipwreck our faith and jeopardize our salvation.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
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