Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the riot which occurred in Ephesus when the silversmith Demetrius became alarmed that the apostle Paul was endangering the local economy, indicates that Rome had zero-tolerance for any activity disturbing the tranquility of Empire. That state of affairs clashes significantly with the modern American regard for free speech, in which protests against President Trump, police brutality, abortion, NFL player's kneeling because of perceived brutality against blacks, homophobia, killing whales, etc. abound. The chaotic circus continues because Americans have a high regard for free speech. God, on the other hand, shows little tolerance for incessant grumbling, complaining, or murmuring. God consistently warns His People to avoid keeping company with rebels lest they become like them. "Acting out" in protest is unacceptable behavior on the part of a faithful, God-fearing Child of God.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
Bill Onisick, focusing on Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage, asserts that, because a brain with a positive attitude has higher levels of dopamine and serotonin, it is more successful and productive. We can draw some spiritual analogies from Shawn Achors's work, utilizing some of his exercises to attain the joyful advantage. Daily meditation on God's Law and His Word will increase feelings of calm and empathy, rewiring our brains to be more positive. Anticipation of promised future rewards will also lead to feelings of joy. We should be performing conscious acts of goodness and reflecting upon these deeds, realizing that charitable deeds to those deemed insignificant are in reality done for Christ Himself. Satan has rewired our carnal nature to be negative; we need to daily reprogram our neural pathways using words of affirmation, meditation and prayer, constantly comparing the fruits of Satan's negative attitudes with God's positive outlook. If we follow our Savior's example of living as profitable servants, we have a promise of joy that cannot be taken from us.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on an incident involving a noisy talking disturbance at a recent graduation ceremony leading to a visual mental picture of physical revenge, declared that the more the crass behavior on the part of this group went on, the more his attitude spiraled down the tubes out of control. How often have we allowed someone else to create a bad attitude? We could define an attitude as a settled pattern of behavior or set of emotions directed at another person, group, object, or incident. An attitude is a predisposition to respond positively or negatively. Attitudes influence our choice of responses, encapsulated by the acronym CAB for Cognitive (our thoughts), Affective (emotions and feelings), and Behavior. Our attitude automatically influences our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. An Old Cherokee Parable gives us an insight that a battle between two wolves (representing two opposing thoughts) will be won by the wolf that we feed the best. Even though attitude is one of the few things we can really control, once it has begun to set, it is extremely hard to fix or re-adjust. Consequently, we must work on conditioning our attitudes before an unsettling incident takes place, walking in God's Spirit, employing self-control, stripping our carnal nature from our inner core. We cannot control others, but we can control our attitudes and responses to their behaviors. If we follow our Savior's example of assuming the attitude of a servant, living in accordance with the will of God, the fruits of God's Holy Spirit should begin to be recognized by everyone, but especially to our Heavenly Father.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on I Thessalonians 5:16-18, gives all of us an assignment to become more appreciative by actively enumerating and writing down our blessings. Praying without gratitude is like clipping the wings of prayer. We have so much to be thankful for, but do not express our gratitude very well. Thankfulness and winning are not natural to carnal human nature which loves to grovel as timid worrywarts. If we would ponder all of the gifts God has given us, we would have an endless list of things to thank Him for, from the lub-dub of our heart chambers to the endless beauty of creation. Corrosive pride will destroy the spirit of gratitude because it is never satisfied. For that reason, God mercifully gives thorns in the flesh to puncture our pride, reminding us that we do not have anything that we did not receive from God. We need to commence making a list of what we are thankful for; the list will never end.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
Martin Collins, warning us to take our priestly responsibilities seriously, draws some parallels from the biblical examples demonstrating the purification of Levitical priests. Purification is an ongoing process in which we must put out the influences of the world. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, compels us to sacrifice ourselves through our reasonable service. The book of Malachi, with its emphasis on declining spiritual conditions, demonstrates some parallels to the state of today's scattered and damaged church, preoccupied with internal difficulties. We are being trained as a holy priesthood, called to offer unblemished sacrifices, reverently honoring our Heavenly Father's name, forcefully putting down pride, presumptuousness, and arrogance. Priests must continually demonstrate obedience to God, motivated by an attitude of service, and unhindered by laziness. A priest must focus on magnifying God's name, offering prayer as incense, and having a burning zeal for worship with no weariness and no deception. It is an honor and privilege to be called to the office of priest to assist our Elder Brother, the High Priest, and the Epitome of perfection. We must accept this office in humility, having accepted Christ's sacrifice, having pure thoughts, faithfully submitting to God, and benefitting one another.
Martin Collins, citing Ephesians 4:29-32, warns against corrupt, bitter, and wrathful communication, a practice which may grieve or attenuate God's Spirit. We have the tendency to nurse or harbor grievances and bitterness, souring our outlook on everything, creating a cynical or hardened mindset, focusing on the faults and blemishes in everything. Our bitterness grieves Jesus Christ. Wrath and clamor permanently injure others. As the African proverb reminds us, "The axe forgets, but the tree remembers." Evil speaking, slander, and malice must be expunged from a Christian's verbal repertoire. We displace evil-speaking by flooding our minds with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness, cultivating an entirely new emerging personality, useful and helpful to others, emulating Jesus Christ. Driving out the evil must be followed by cultivating goodness and righteousness. Positivity cancels out negativity. An antidote to depression is to get our hearts tenderheartedly focused on someone else, showing mercy and compassion, after the manner of the Good Samaritan, as well as of our Elder Brother and our Heavenly Father. We need to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
Richard Ritenbaugh urges us to look upon the Passover as a beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless milieu. The book of Job, initially a seeming extended treatise of hopelessness, turns into Job"s speculation about a possible resurrection, realizing from his prior experience that God enjoys the company of men and wants men to be like Him. Hope can be defined as "confident, enduring expectation," and the heart of hope is faith in God. The strength of our hope depends upon how deeply we know God. Abraham, after 50 years of experience trusting God, knew He would provide despite the visible circumstances. Jesus provided hope to His disciples at His last Passover, exuding confidence and hope, despite His knowledge of what was immediately ahead. In Hebrews, we are counseled to emulate Jesus, who endured due to the joy before Him. We can have rock-solid hope that God will provide despite the intensity of our trials.
Everything we can know is communicated to us in some form. Usually, we are able to identify the sources of these communications through our senses. Yet, as John Ritenbaugh explains, we are also open to invisible communication from the spirit world—communication designed to conform us to "the course of this world."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you generally up or down? Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Do you believe "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28) or "all is vanity and grasping for the wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:17)?
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
Sometimes small things make big impacts. Such a small thing was Simon of Cyrene's carrying of Christ's cross. Do we in God's church today consider our "smallness" to be a blessing or a curse?
Not only must Christians follow the correct doctrines, but they must also live God's way in the proper attitude. John Reid uses Jonah's and Moses' examples, among others, to explain how important a right attitude is to God's people.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
Continuing with the definition of spirit, John Ritenbaugh explains that the preposition 'in'—as in the expressions 'in Christ,' 'in the church,' 'in you," or 'in the spirit'—refer not to literal physical dimensions, but instead our 'concern with' or 'involvement with' something. As being 'in love' or 'in the mood' require no physical location, or having family characteristics requires no family members dwelling literally in us, so Christ in us (Romans 8:10), His Spirit dwelling in us (Romans 8:11), or dwelling in the the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27) does not require a third person of the trinity but instead refers to absorbing God's characteristics through His Spirit, transmitted chiefly through life-giving words (John 6:63).
Our society is becoming increasingly violent. John Ritenbaugh shows how the sixth commandment covers crime, capital punishment, murder, hatred, revenge and war.
Atonement, when we are commanded to afflict our souls through fasting, is a time of self-evaluation and repentance. This is the only way to have real unity with God.
There is a conspiracy to bring this world under one government! However, Earl Henn shows that its real, "behind the scenes" leaders are Satan and his demons. Humans involved in it do not realize they are being influenced to fulfill Satan's desires!
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.
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