Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the popular song, "My Way," (popularized by Frank Sinatra) warns that God's Called-out ones should never emulate the haughty and self-willed attitude this song glorifies. God created us in His image, giving us the wherewithal to expand Eden worldwide. If Adam and Eve had followed God's instructions, they and their posterity would have accomplished this. Instead, the drives of carnal nature proved to be more important to them than obedience to their Creator, an orientation which dashed all hopes they would spread Edenic bliss worldwide. In Psalm 14, we learn that no one has of himself overcome the pulls of carnality to overt evil, rebellion and hostility toward God. Carnal human nature and Godly character are polar opposites, as Paul illustrated in Romans 7, where he bemoans the power of his carnality to compel him to do the opposite of what he knew to be God's will. Carnal pulls are easy to follow because they lead us to "go with the flow" of the world. To walk in the Spirit means swimming against the current, aligning ourselves with God's will by doing three things: (1) Becoming a living sacrifice, committing ourselves to lifelong service to God, (2) actively participating or cooperating in our transformation by adjusting our thoughts to be in sync with His and (3) employing three essential baseline attitudes—humility, clear-headed thinking, and faith. The Apostle James points out that to know what is right and to willfully go against this knowledge is sin. All of us stand guilty under that definition of sin. God wants to see striving in the battle against sin.
Bill Onisick, identifying humility as the gateway character trait to God's Kingdom, focuses on the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, contrasting pride and humility. Any time we feel prompted to exalt ourselves, we demonstrate Satan's spirit of pride, thereby jeopardizing our entry into God's family. Sadly, most of us would receive a D or F on a simple quiz of 20 "yes or no" questions, such as: 1. Do I readily seek other peoples' opinions? 2. Am I happy when something good happens to someone else? 3. Do I ever get offended? 4. Do I do more listening than speaking? and 5. Do I ever say anything negative about a brother in Christ? Paradoxically, the key to exaltation is to esteem others over self rather than exalting self over others. When we become self-aware of our carnality, we discover our penchant to tear others down while exalting ourselves. It is our obligation to emulate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who taught us to wash feet, assuming the role of a servant.
Martin Collins, arguing that the subtle infiltration of secularism is the major cause of fissures in the greater Church of God, warns church members how secularism threatens spiritual growth. During our pre-Passover period of self-examination, we must focus on what the Father demands of us and embrace His truth with all our might, esteeming God's words over everything else. Sadly, mainstream 'Christianity' gives little heed to God's Word, valuing consensus (a plurality of 51%) over doctrinal truth as revealed by the Scriptures. We seriously err if we rely on the secular media to give us spiritual understanding. God sends strong delusion to those who do not love the truth. We cannot reject obeying God, but we must reject the world's theology, as it defends degeneracy. The dominant world culture militates against God's Sabbath, allowing sporting events, shopping, and entertainment to take its place. In the latter days, secular concerns have increased; "everybody does it." Being set apart requires we become an example (which will appear alien to the world), serving, metaphorically, as lighthouses in a dark world. Thankfully, Christ has our back by sanctifying us with His truth and giving us the will and power to do His work thorough the means of God's Holy Spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with God.
Bill Onisick, asserting that any addiction (e.g., drugs, alcohol, food, work, hobbies) can enslave and control our brain, suggests that addiction takes us on a pleasure-seeking shortcut. Our IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is not much help in preventing or controlling addiction, but development of our EQ (Emotional Quotient) takes us to a new dimension in managing our (and others') emotions. When we develop our EQ, we develop self-awareness, preventing us from thinking more highly than we ought to. We also develop an awareness of our own ignorance, and we develop an awareness of where our emotions are coming from. When we move to the next level, GQ (Godly Quotient), we learn to empathize with other people (because we recognize we have similar proclivities and failings), and we incrementally transform from selfish and self-centered to selfless and other-centered with agape love. The development of GQ through God's Holy Spirit leads to genuine self-control.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that America's relationship with slavery has indeed been checkered, with chattel slaves and indentured servants contributing to the prosperity of earlier times, counters the 'Progressivist' claim that America invented slavery and historically practiced the most tyrannical abuses in the world. In point of fact, every ethnic group has both practiced slavery and has been victims of slavery. Israelites have been slaves multiple times, to the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. A culture of slavery pervaded life in the early Christian church , forcing Paul to pen instructions accommodating this practice in the context of love. As well, slavery was a part of the culture of ancient Israel, where God codified as part of His Law humane regulations, guaranteeing liberation of Israelite slaves after six years of service and the Jubilee. These regulations obligated masters to make provisions ensuring their slaves' successful transition to freedom. Contrasting the harsh treatment of slaves by some American slaveowners, God's treatment of us as slaves of righteousness is mild, with Christ's promise that His yoke is easy. Christ, having purchased us from a prior slave owner who was cruel, demands only a lifetime of reasonable service to our brethren with the same rigor as Christ has served us. God has given us a variety of talents and responsibilities to facilitate our serving one another in a spirit of humility, with none exalting himself above another. When we fulfill all the conditions for Christian behavior outlined in I Corinthians 12 and 13, we are still unprofitable servants unless we learn to forgive and meld in love (that is, in sincerity), compassion, and humility with our siblings in the God family.
Ronny Graham answers the complaints of timid people who feel that they have not been gifted by God by maintaining that God has gifted every called-out-one. Living in America has been an inestimable gift. All gifts are from above and are meant to be mutually complementary. God has gifted everyone in the church, but not everyone is bold enough to use his gifts, as is witnessed by the abortive choir at this Feast. No gift is more glamorous or more important than any other gift. As in the physical body, some of the homelier looking parts receive the greatest honor. Every human being has a voice box with functional vocal cords; attendees of next years feast should enjoy a large (Mormon Tabernacle proportion) choir.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
James Beaubelle: In Part One, we saw that our character is who we are in God's estimation, since only He truly knows us. Our reputation, on the other hand, is what other people ...
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warns the Pharisees about crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed, an act of blasphemy that is commonly called "the unpardonable sin." David Grabbe explores the Bible's references to this often-misunderstood subject, showing that, while rare, one could fall into it through bitterness or neglect.
David Grabbe, examining the righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job, asks what this righteousness consisted of. God characterizes Job as blameless, far beyond Pharisaical law-keeping. Job assiduously avoided the wrong things, but consistently practiced the right things, like visiting the orphans and providing for the widows. Even Satan did not bring an accusation against Job. Job desired to meet God face-to-face, as if he considered himself on equal footing with the Creator. After 34 chapters of point and counterpoint, God obliges Job and begins putting things into perspective. God is the sovereign Creator; Job is not. Job, like the rest of us, was the way he was because of the work of the Creator, forming Job's righteousness out of nothing, carefully guiding events before Job's birth and providing an environment in which Job's character could be formed. Without God's intervention and adoption, we are all Satan's children. Job indeed was blameless, but he, like many of us, lost sight of the vast difference between God and humans, forgetting our pitiful vulnerability. God may have highlighted Leviathan because Job seemed to be following in Satan's footsteps. God has called the weak and the base; when we think too highly of ourselves, we open the door to all manner of evil.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the movie the King's Speech as an example of a man who is reluctant to step into the role which circumstances thrust upon him. Do we as God's called-out ones find ourselves reluctant heirs to the throne or priesthood? We are all commoners, not yet equipped for rulership. The Parables of the Minas and the Talents indicates that we need to be faithful over what we have been given to do, and if we do, we will be given more responsibility in the future. God chooses the base and the weak because they are more pliable and teachable, more productive soil. We are getting the absolute best training in rulership or leadership in the Church of God finishing school, a virtual university of leadership. Much of our training derives from profiting from our mistakes. Thankfully, we have the ability to go right to the Father to ask for wisdom. If we keep the lines of communication open, through Bible Study and prayer, this wisdom (the hidden wisdom of God) is being inculcated into our character. The Holy Spirit is given to all of us (who are currently all over the map) binding us all together in one body. God desires us to acquiesce and defer to His Wisdom in all things. In this context, we should not be reluctant to take up our thrones or future responsibilities. We will be an essential part of God's blessing on humanity, as an extension of Jesus Christ. God will provide us all the power and know-how we will need.
Because we are human—and want to be seen in a good light by others—we try to project an image of ourselves that people will like and respect. John Ritenbaugh explains that, unfortunately, the image we project is often based in pride. The Old Testament story of Job provides us an example of a man whom God forced to see himself as he really was, and his true self-image paved the way to a spectacular leap forward in spiritual growth.
John W. Ritenbaugh: II Corinthians 13:5 charges us with the responsibility of examining ourselves. This is appropriate at any time during the year, but it is especially helpful as we prepare to take the Passover and renew our covenant with God through Jesus Christ. One very important area to search out concerns self-righteousness because it lies at the root of many other sins. ...
David C. Grabbe: Some of the least-understood diseases within human pathology are autoimmune diseases. ...
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.
In this message on overcoming anxiety and fear of the future, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that since September 11, anxiety, fear, depression, and panic disorders have increased dramatically in America, characterized by feelings of loss of control, and hopelessness for the future. The key to overcoming the fear of loss of control is to admit that God is in control. If we have our priorities straight (Matthew 6:33) God will take care of the anxieties we encounter. If people do not have God's vision of the future, they will end up in aberrant behavior, eventually leading to death, but happy and blessed are they who keep God's direction.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the implication of Dathan and Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-5, agitating for a democratization of priestly responsibilities. God clearly reveals that not everybody set apart is holy in the same way, nor is God dealing the same way with each person. The privileges granted the priesthood are accompanied with equally weighty responsibilities. The New Testament church as a priesthood has been 1) set apart by God (not by people or self), 2) totally belongs to God, 3) has been awarded gifts for very specific functions, and 4) given the exclusive duty of drawing near to God.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
John Ritenbaugh, using illustrations from the God's creation, observes that comparing the grandeur and intricacy of God's creation with man's most magnificent accomplishments gives us both a sense of humility at our own puniness and a sense of awe for God's handiwork. God is the source of all of the splendor and greatness of the universe. God has called us to be in His image, to be holy (having transcendent purity) as He is holy, having fellowship with the Father and the Son. Transcendent purity cannot coexist with sin. If we want to be like God, we need to (using God's Holy Spirit) work on purifying ourselves, purging out sin and uncleanness, reflecting our relationship with God in every aspect our behavior. Sanctification is a process, with each person's walk as difficult as it needs to be for God's transforming glorifying purpose for him or her to be fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
That God is sovereign means that He IS God, the absolute governor of all things. This has profound implications for us—it means He chooses goodness or severity, according to His will and purpose.
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
Focusing upon the rising tide of societal incivility, Richard Ritenbaugh warns that discourtesy and ugly in-your-face attitudes (fruits of the flesh) have also manifested themselves in the greater church of God. These disgusting works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) are exactly the opposite of what God expects of us- the opposite of Agape love. Good manners (minor morals or the small change of virtue) are the fundamentals of love for others and love for God. Unfortunately, good manners and courtesy do not come naturally, but have to be learned and continually practiced. The common denominator of etiquette is to esteem others more and making ourselves less. When we show courtesy to others, we imitate God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the over-riding motivation for the individuals bringing to Jesus the woman caught in adultery was to trap Him, impaling Him on the horns of a dilemma. (Condemning the woman to death would have brought Him into conflict with Roman law; not condemning Her would have brought Him into conflict with the law of Moses.) Jesus, when He wrote in the dirt, perhaps listed instances in which the spirit of the law was violated in the thoughts or behaviors of the accusers, exposing the cruel, condemnatory attitude of the Pharisees. God's approach to authority is that it should be used to serve, and that the chief function of judging (from the stance of humility, mercy, and understanding) is to evaluate and to gently correct and reclaim rather than to condemn. Jesus, claiming to be the light of the world (drawing on a familiar temple ceremony involving candelabras), emphasizes His function as the Messiah, the embodiment of truth, giving form, shape, and substance to our lives, guiding us around or through life's difficulties. Believing that Jesus is God will motivate us to submit to Him in every aspect of our lives, providing an antidote to enslaving fears common to all of mankind, freeing us from the bondage of sin.
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