Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on a valuable insight he learned on an exercise treadmill listening to a sermon after a bad case of insomnia, insists that we do not have to be in control of all outcomes, winning every struggle through proper decision-making. The peace which passes all understanding accrues from yielding to God's will, asking Him for a soft, pliable heart to replace the calcified, hard heart of stubbornness. God will begin this heart transformation process, circumcising our heart, but demands that we reciprocate in an on-going process of replacing our prideful, stony heart with humble one, brimful of agape love. God assures us that He prefers a humble heart over a magnificent temple. Humility unites us to God and our spiritual siblings, while pride divides us. A person filled with pride detests even a tiny bit of pride in others. We must be aware of the danger of having a prideful, competitive heart taking over and willingly undergo a spiritual heart transplant, one which enables us to follow God's commands without corrosive stubborn pride.
Mike Ford, recalling a time in his youth when he indulged in too much of a good thing (in his case Coca-Cola unlimited), reminds us of Proverbs 25:16, which stresses that moderation is the best policy. Of all the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, self-control is the most difficult to attain. Many people, having a faulty, Aristotelian two-valued orientation, think that temperance means abstinence instead of moderation. As an example of the consequence of such errant thinking, consider that the vast government overreach in prohibiting all use of alcoholic drinks, rather than establishing public policies limiting intake to reasonable levels. Because people do not retain God in their personal evaluations of their behavior, God has turned them over to a reprobate mind, one which enslaves them to gluttony, alcoholism, sexual perversions, and other aberrations. God has given us free moral agency, not so we can give free reign to our impulses, but instead to facilitate the freedom to choose what is helpful. Through falling into excesses, we learn the appropriate boundaries, and can discipline ourselves as spiritual athletes to glorify God in our emergent righteous behavior.
Mike Ford cues in on the narrative about the religious hobbyist, Micah, in Judges 17, who practiced his own self-devised hybrid of religion, amalgamating some orthodox truth with abundant noxious, pagan admixtures, bringing a curse on himself and his community. Heretofore, when strong leadership existed, idolatry was held in check, but by chapter 17, the train (of undefiled worship) begins to go off the track. We cannot take anything from paganism and use it to worship God. Micah was a thief, having stolen the life savings from his mother, but returned it when she cursed the thief. Upon the return of the silver, Micah's mother blessed him profusely and then she had an idol made of the silver. Micah had procured an ephod and presumptuously consecrated his son a priest. Adam Clarke gives him a pass, claiming he was only replicating the temple in Shiloh and was merely worshiping the true God. But the preponderance of the evidence does not support Adam Clarke's faulty assumption that the ephod was connected only to the worship of the true God. Gideon's ephod, for example, became an idol. Some contemporaries of Gideon and Micah liked to dress idols in ephods, attempting to give them religious legitimacy. Micah and his household had abundant teraphim (or household idols like the ones possessed by Laban), negating the pure intentions ascribed to Micah by Adam Clarke. Albert Barnes makes the absurd assumption that the Hebrew people during the time of the Judges were illiterate. Micah certainly knew the laws of God, but he was enamored of the pagan rites, and tried to blend them into the worship of God. When Micah drafted the young, itinerant Levite, a grandson of Moses, he persuaded him to continue in the syncretized pagan rites. These presumptuous actions of Micah were disgusting in the eyes of God; it is dangerous to extrapolate anything from paganism to worship God just because we personally feel good about it.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that although Transcendentalism as a movement never had an abundance of adherents, submits that Emerson's teachings did permeate the schools of philosophy of American Ivy League Schools, institutions , ironically, which were started as Puritan Theological Seminaries. Harvard welcomed him with open arms, giving him an honorary doctorate and placing him in an influential teaching and advising role. In this capacity, having already jettisoned his Unitarian roots, Emerson waxed syncretistic, absorbing ideas from Mormonism, Paganism, Buddhism, and other Eastern philosophies, including the idea of "The Over-Soul"—a blobby plastic-like bubble where everything blends together without individual parts, making no distinction between Creator and creation. In Emerson's analysis, the only God to which we are beholden is the "god" in our own minds, trusting in ourselves rather than trusting in our Heavenly Father.
Bill Onisick suggests that if we inculcate the mission statement found in Deuteronomy 6:1-5 (known as the Shema), we will have a high certainty of life and a huge chance at success. If we get this one thing right (loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind) we will succeed at our objectives. Jesus Christ pointed out that the commandment to love God with all our being was the Great Commandment, teaching us that nothing is more important than our relationship with God. Anything else that competes for our attention is an idol, which we need to immediately scuttle. Our core purpose is to become like our Creator, morphing into His image as we dispose of our carnal nature. This process will take a great deal of time, but it is not impossible if we allow our Creator to mold us into His image.
Over the last two decades, we have witnessed the scattering of the church of God from one corporate organization into hundreds. ...
John Ritenbaugh gives his perception of Herbert W. Armstrong, suggesting that Mr. Armstrong was single-minded about preaching the Gospel, sometimes without financial savvy. It is possible that for many Herbert Armstrong had become an icon. The scattering which happened in the Worldwide Church of God could have been caused by members making him an icon or idol. As soon as the icon died, the income and membership started to plummet. Herbert Armstrong was not the Elijah, but that he was an apostle—one bearing a message. There apparently were four categories of apostles; Herbert Armstrong could possibly be in the fourth level along with Barnabas or Silas. Herbert Armstrong spent his life bearing a message, speaking to his generation in a way it could understand.
John Ritenbaugh examines our society's inability to deal with reality, turning instead to media-concocted distortions. By refusing to believe God's Word, rejecting His doctrine, society does not find God to be real (including many church-going people, who pick and choose their own beliefs apart from Scripture). He cannot be real to people who refuse to adhere to His Word, which is a far more reliable gauge of reality than the most observant eyewitness. If we allow His Word to illuminate our lives, we will make the necessary steps to conform to His will, diligently keeping His commandments. We can account for God's seeming delay in His plan by realizing: 1) His schedule is on His time, not ours; 2) a delay allows more to be called, 3) giving us more time to overcome; and 4) lawlessness has not yet reached its peak. What God puts us through is designed to reveal reality to us. Accepting His doctrine without looking for loopholes will keep us true.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the Sabbath constitutes a recurring appointment with the Deity, a special time for developing and building our relationship with God. It is from the proper use of this day—in fellowshipping with Him and getting to know Him—that we derive true spiritual rest and refreshment. Keeping the Sabbath properly, as a special date with God, will restore our energy, renew our strength, and liberate us from bondage to sin and worldly entanglements. We need to vigilantly guard our minds from any unlawful desire which detracts from the Sabbath, taking the place of God. This idol will destroy our relationship from God. We desperately need this vital seventh of our lives to rehearse and experience what we are to become.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the reprobate mind God consigned to nonbelievers (a mind incapable of moral judgment) constitutes the basis for the world's dubious standards of morality and idolatry. Discernment of right and wrong comes exclusively from doing the will of God. Idolatry derives from worshiping the work of our own hands or our own mental fabrications (imposing our own will against God's) rather than the true God (to be worshiped only in spirit and truth). Whatever consumes our thoughts and behavior (motivated by lust or covetousness for something forbidden by God's law) has become our god or our idol.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that where our eyes are fixed upon (looking to for guidance and direction) determines how we will conduct our lives. Like our forebears in Ezekiel 20, we have also been influenced by our father's idols, placing us (ignorantly perhaps) in opposition to God's laws and judgments. Immorality is the natural cause-effect consequence of rejecting God's counsel, forcing one to embrace evil as good and reject good as evil, totally perverting standards of morality. Rejecting the true God automatically leads to idolatry, worshipping the rulerd of this world, a being bent on our destruction. Idolatry constitutes the fountainhead from which all other sins flow, all of which amplify obsessive self-centeredness and self-indulgence. We need to educate our conscience to worship (cultivate a relationship with) the true God rather than misconceptions manufactured by our misguided imaginations.
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