John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the estimated 50,000 "Christian" organizations currently extant, suggests that a tiny fraction of the world's people are following "the Way." Doctrinal purity, according to Jesus Christ, does not consist of man-made traditions, which often conflict with God's Commandments. False doctrines cut people off from a wholesome relationship with God. Doctrinal purity is measured according to how one emulates Christ, a requirement for those desiring to qualify to be among the 144,000 following the Lamb. Differences in doctrinal interpretation wreaked havoc on our former fellowship. Jesus Christ engineered its break up and the ensuing scattering of His people for their protection, rendering the splinter groups more obscure in the face of the coming wave of persecution. Scattered brethren, torn away from ineffectual social clubs, are now forced to rely on Jesus Christ as their only bulwark, with the training wheels of groupthink discarded. Christ did not establish any corporate entity, including the Church of the Great God, as His own special group. As the constituent members of the Israel of God realize they cannot cope with the barrage of trials with their own resources, they come to rely on Jesus Christ alone. Only by developing the mind of Christ can one gain ascendancy over the hopelessly evil carnal nature which threatens to destroy all of mankind. God works with the humble and contrite but never with the proud. From the beginning of Creation, the carnal mind has sought its own way. The only way to defeat deadly carnal nature is to stay close to Christ, acquiring His mind, the fountainhead of righteousness and spiritual maturity.
Mark Schindler, analyzing the philosophical profile of the man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, Paul Winfield Tibbetts, a focused and dedicated man with lofty standards, reveals that Tibbets, upon his death, had no regrets about the decision to drop the bomb because its detonation saved the lives of millions of Allied soldiers. Surviving residents of Hiroshima, injured and suffering the effects of radiation did not share the same lofty thoughts about the greater good. Wiping the terrorists out completely may seem clear-headed, but our decisions must be based on Micah 4:1-7, envisioning a time when peoples will beat their swords into plowshares. In the day God will gather the outcasts, the resurrected saints will have an opportunity to teach God's ways to humanity. In the meantime, God's called-out ones must extricate themselves from the world's solutions and prepare to take on the tasks of the Millennial rule of Christ, yielding to His specific plan for us. Realizing that the physical creation will burn up, we must soberly commit ourselves to the purpose of our calling.
Martin Collins, warning us not to be swept up in the bandwagon effect of compromising with sin, challenges us to make sure our convictions are not merely preferences. Solomon, a man gifted with immense wisdom, and whose preparation for leadership involved writing out the Book of Deuteronomy, nevertheless succumbed to incremental compromising, including 1.) multiplying horses (the equivalent of today's arms race by a dominating military—industrial complex), 2.) multiplying wives (for political advantage leading eventually to turning away from God's counsel), and 3.) multiplying wealth (leading to a false estimation of invincibility and to the temptation of corruption). The longer the leaders of the Israelitish nations 'serve,' the more corrupt and vile they become. Like the leaders of ancient Israel, syncretizing religion with the pagan nations around them, so are the leaders of the Israelitish nations, encouraging a one world religion worshiping the earth via the lie of global warming embraced by the Vatican, the New Agers, the Nones, and the Wiccans alike. It is vitally important that God's called-out ones do not compromise core doctrines for the sake of expediency in piecemeal fashion until they become totally desensitized to sin. In doing so, they tacitly accept mainstream Christianity's trashing of God's truth, after the manner of Constantine, replacing the worship of God with the worship of the unconquered sun.
Martin Collins, reviewing the significance of Christ's final post-Resurrection sayings, "Feed My sheep" (appearing thrice) and "Follow me" (appearing twice), emphasizes that these words apply to all of God's called-out ones). We have a mandate to study the Bible comprehensively and responsibly, not becoming self-proclaimed 'experts' in prophecy or esoteric mysteries. When we pray and study, we should be conscious we are meeting with God, allowing us to be sensitive to God's purpose for our lives. Like the apostle Peter, we are admonished not to compare our spiritual lot with that of our brethren, riveting our attention on Christ rather than on ourselves or on our spiritual siblings. God has called individuals with different temperaments (impetuous activists, contemplative thinkers, etc.), giving them a variety of spiritual gifts to work interdependently. If we take our eyes off Christ, we run the risk of bumping into someone else and becoming unprofitable. Following Christ involves self-denial and taking responsibility for what God has crafted in us through the power of Christ living in us through His Holy Spirit. John's Gospel provides a comprehensive witness from Christ's contemporaries. As the recipients of this reliable testimony, we are obligated to add our testimony, feeding God's sheep and following Jesus Christ.
Ryan McClure, reflecting on his recent experience preparing for a pesky jury summons, reviews the major reasons a Christian should not serve on a jury. Our Elder Brother Jesus Christ has counseled us that we should not judge lest we be judged, or that we should not condemn lest we be condemned. Jesus Christ came to save the world, not to condemn it. Only God has the ability to look on the hearts; as mortal human beings, we do not yet have this capability. That is why we should not judge those who are in the world. Our current responsibility consists of discerning godly versus worldly conduct, applying those standards to our own conduct—not to assess somebody else's spirituality or turpitude. What if we judge or condemn when Jesus Christ has given forgiveness? Ultimate judgment is reserved for Jesus Christ. God Himself gave Christ that responsibility.
Martin Collins, citing Dennis Prager's Town Hall article, Is America Still Making Men?, suggests that there is a profound dearth of real masculine leadership today, as young men seem to be protracting their pubescence, preferring to remain boys with no responsibilities than to embrace leadership roles. When boys fail to grow into men, women and all society suffers. The family is languishing for real leadership as well as all levels of government. As Joshua felt fearful at assuming leadership, most men also feel the same trepidation, but God Almighty has placed in their DNA the ability to lead, with a view that they lead their families with a balanced proportion of compassion and firmness. Courage is a gift given by God, augmented and amplified when we embrace His law as a part of us. God charges us to do a specific work (such as to lead one's family), requiring us to delve into the Scripture daily for guidance until we know the mind of God through continued practice of living and following His principles. The successful leader is first and foremost a follower of God and His Holy law. Confidence derives from a close relationship with God.
Bill Onisick, asking whether God would consider us zealous, reminds us that both the congregation at Ephesus and Laodicea were cited for lost or flagging zeal. Zeal is a quality which could be characterized as ardent, passionate, energetic, or being on fire. Our God has been described as a consuming fire that cannot be restrained or held back. Jesus Christ exemplified this kind of zeal as He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. One metaphor of zeal is a cloak, selected as a grounds of comparison because of its use in protecting against cold, providing bedding, and shelter keeping the soldier warm against the elements. A cold and wet soldier is easily de-motivated. Zeal consumed Christ as it should consume all of us in our daily spiritual preparation. We are called to a life of self-sacrifice, glorifying God, building up His temple, no longer living for ourselves, but transformed with the love of Christ, igniting a burning zeal which consumes and overtakes us like an erupting volcano. We need to be demonstrating agape love for God and His family, building up God's Church with zealous good works. Our spiritual armor should include the protective cloak of zeal.
Martin Collins, asking us to ponder God's promise to support and save us in our trials, reminds us of the biblical examples of deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar evidently did not like the end of Daniel's interpretation of his dream, desiring that more, or perhaps all, of the image should have been gold. Nebuchadnezzar's jealousy or the jealousy of his cohorts evidently led to the conspiracy against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the commands of a secular state conflicts with God's commands, we face the same dilemma as was faced by these three brave Jewish men. Even though rulers have been appointed by God, their disregard for God does not give us license to follow suit or rationalize ourselves into dangerous compromises. Like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel who realized that God is sovereign, thoroughly knew the Scriptures, and were willing to die for their convictions, we must exercise our spiritual convictions rather than our preferences. Do we require other people to stand before we take a stand? Are our beliefs non-negotiable? Must we be assured of victory before we stand? Do we live what we claim to believe? Do others see that we live these beliefs consistently? Do others see our faith in action? Are we prepared to say that going against these convictions constitutes sin? God stands with His believers in their trials. Nebuchadnezzar's refusal to acknowledge God's sovereignty led to insanity, madness, and psychotic behavior. The Most High rules and has the last word; all sins will be eventually judged. America's pride will be destroyed because its leaders have arrogated to themselves that which only applies to God. This behavior makes them beast-like. When man turns away from God, God gives them up to a base, perverted, degenerate, and reprobate mind with wicked, obsessive desires, far, far worse than any natural beast. If we humble ourselves, not arrogating God's glory, He has promised to exalt us.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
With all the military metaphors in the Bible, there can be no doubt that God likens the Christian life to a fight, a war, against the evils and temptations we face daily. In this light, John Ritenbaugh begins to examine Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, showing that the patterns revealed in it provide deep instruction for us in our Christian fight.
People seems to talk a lot about character and values, but finding a person or a company with integrity is a tall order. Using the example of baseball legend Ted Williams, Mike Ford describes what integrity is all about and how vital it is both for our own character growth and the growth of the church.
There is no doubt that America's culture is plunging to depths many of us never imagined. To Christians, having to deal with the world is a frightening prospect. Here are five steps we can take to mitigate its influence on our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
The first six element of motivation were positive, but the last in negative. John Ritenbaugh explains that our fear of being judged negatively by our Judge should spur us to greater obedience and growth toward godliness.
God spreads His Word liberally among the world's people. Besides God's direct involvement in converting people, the difference between one growing in it and another "dying on the vine" is the soil in which the Word is planted, explained in Jesus' Parable of the Sower.
If we don't know where we're going, we aren't going to get there! John Ritenbaugh illustrates that our vision of our goal—the Kingdom of God—is a compelling motivation to overcome, grow, and bear fruit in preparation for eternal life.
Conversion, our walk with God, is a lifelong process in which we endeavor to see things as God does. John Ritenbaugh admonishes Christians to understand and act on the fact that God is deeply involved in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the essential core of the human heart is evil, self-centered, responding to Satan's wavelength, placing us into slavery and psychological bondage. Our freedom lies in (1) the conviction of God's Holy Spirit of the reality and hideousness of sin (2) a conviction of righteousness (influencing conduct) and (3) a conviction of judgment and retribution. Real repentance and conviction should dramatically augment prayer, study, meditation, but most importantly application.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the processes of developing faith and hope, indicates that the rules for making the calendar, a very complex activity, are not contained in the Bible. To put ones efforts into such a project (especially with limited or elementary knowledge of astronomy or mathematics) constitutes foolish, misguided zeal. Using errant human assumption, some in the greater church of God have concocted no less than nine conflicting calendars. The preservation of the oracles (including the keeping of the calendar) has not been entrusted to the church but to the tribe of Judah (Romans 3:2). Some of the anti-Jewish bias in the would-be calendar makers smacks of anti-Semitism. We need to have faith in God's ability to preserve a working calendar, believing Him unconditionally as Abraham did.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
Bravery or courage is a character trait Christians need to possess. Many servants of God have had to face severe trials and hardships, and having a brave heart will help us to get through these tough times.
John Ritenbaugh discusses how Christ's redemption of us obligates us to obey and serve Him. We show our gratitude for this priceless gift by doing good in acts of love and service to others.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the depth of our beliefs, showing the difference between our preferences and our convictions. He looks at both legal and spiritual ramifications of this subject.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
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.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
In this Passover message, John Ritenbaugh observes that the world's religions are in abject bondage to falsehood because they do not observe the Passover. Freedom comes to God's called out ones incrementally from continuing on the way- the relationship between God and us. It is this relationship which is the most important thing Christ has died for. We need to be sobered at the awesomeness of the cost to set us free from sin- how far Christ was willing to be pushed. Immense have been the preparations for our ransom- involving billions of years (Hebrews 11:3, I Corinthians 10:11) and the death of our Savior. Because we have been purchased, we have an obligation to our Purchaser.
John Ritenbaugh examines the metaphor of light as a symbol of God's truth or God's Holy Spirit, convicting us of our self-deception, rescuing us from ignorance, and demonically inspired philosophies, leading us into a wholesome relationship with God. Without the Spirit of God, looking at God's truth resembles looking into the darkness. We see shape and forms of things, but without the Spirit of God, the things (the truths that make up all the mechanisms of God's purpose), all of the doctrines, all of the teachings'none of these make sense or give us a clear picture of what God is doing. With the Spirit of God (the light of God), we see the true shape and form of things and reality appears as something we can see clearly.
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that modern Israel's national sins consist of fraud, deceit and faithlessness- reflected in sexual immorality and idolatry (spiritual adultery or spiritual harlotry). Modern Israel has proved to be faithless in her covenant with Almighty God, boldly, shamelessly, and lustfully pursuing her lovers, showing fickleness toward God's standards of morality, turning instead to a syncretistic mixture of rank paganism with a thin veneer of God's truth. Israel, whose loyalty is unstable like quicksilver, has trouble being faithful to anything; this disgusting unreliable behavior—emanating from Satan's nature—seems to be in the genes. It is absolutely impossible for lust (or perverted taste based upon lust) to bring about any kind of satisfaction. Adultery cannot be entered into without irrevocably damaging relationships.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh examines the three levels of faith exercised by the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11: (1) Faith that motivates (2) Faith that provides vision, and (3) Faith that brings understanding- accumulated incrementally by calculating or adding up the evidence God has provided for us. Abraham, the father of the faithful, did not have a 'blind faith,' but it was based upon observation of God's proven track record of faithfulness. Like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, or Moses, we are also called upon to give up a relatively stable life (the seeming 'rock solid' certainty of world) and embrace the tenuous life of a pilgrim, soberly calculating or adding up the certainty of God's promises- based upon God's proven faithfulness in our life- relying on the motivation, vision, and understanding of an incrementally developed mature faith.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
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.