John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
Martin Collins, examining Jesus' purposeful delay in going to Lazarus' side as His friend succumbed to death, reminds us that 1) God's delays are always motivated by love, 2) His delayed help always comes at the right time, and 3) God's best help is never delayed. We dare not project the human traits of obstinacy and pre-occupation on God's delay. If God delays in answering a sincere prayer, His purpose is to increase faith, as in the case of His delay in providing Abraham with a son through Sarah. Similarly, our faith grows when God forces us to wait. We should never judge God's use of time against our uses of it, since God has not equipped us to know the beginning from the end. Like our Elder Brother, God gives all of us a certain amount of time and will not cut it short until we have fulfilled His purpose for us. Even though we have sufficient time, we cannot afford to waste a minute. Because time is precious and our life-span determined by God, we must walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, using this window of opportunity to do good. The lesson of the resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that, because Christ has the power to regenerate life, physical death is no terror to the believer, but is only a temporary rest before eternity. Paul assures us that, for God's called-out ones, death will never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
David Maas, focusing on Psalm 90:12, an admonition to number our days in order to get a heart of wisdom, launches the fourth installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, reflecting on the stark contrast between God's robust eternity and mankind's fragile mortality. Meditating on the perils of our transitory existence paradoxically leads to a longer, happier life now as well as in the future, as our portion of God's Spirit grows within us, satisfying our craving for something permanent and eternal- namely becoming a member of God's family. The scriptures are replete with metaphors describing the brevity of life, including a shadow, a sigh, a breath, smoke, withering grass, a vapor, a weaver's shuttle, a hand-breath, etc. The antidote to despairing about the brevity of life is to live in day-tight compartments, redeeming the time by yielding to God's Spirit, becoming firmly grafted into the vine (Jesus Christ) in order to enable ample bearing of spiritual fruit, overcoming carnality, building Godly character, and ultimately becoming a member of God's family.
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.
David Maas, in this third installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, reiterating the stark contrast between God's holy character and our inherent carnal nature, contends that developing the daily habit of meditation on God's Word (the very spigot of God's Holy Spirit) can displace that deadly carnal nature, replacing it with Godly character—the mind of God. Because character is the product of matured habits and morality is the product of matured manners, we must be content with beginning with small steps. Evidently, God does not execute His greatest works with frenetic bursts of energy, but instead very contemplatively, beginning with small and apparently insignificant steps, such as recruiting the undistinguished to confound the wise. By definition, meditation requires a tardigrade venue of solitude and quietude; hence, meditation's most fruitful time-frames are those moments before falling asleep and the time before the business of the day begins in earnest. If we habitually make God's Word our last thought every day, with the help of God's Spirit collaboration with our ever-active human spirit, we will be able to meditate on the Word of God "day and night." The key to our next day is what we think about before we hit the hay.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on our prayers for God to "bless the electronics," asks whether the marvels of modern electronics are really a God-send or something less than a blessing. Perhaps some of us need to change our thinking about electronic devices as we strive to stay awake while awaiting Christ's return. At this critical juncture, time management has become a "must have," not an option. Because our time is our life, we must be careful to avoid wasting precious time using various electronic devices. Although TV-watching may have modestly decreased, electronic demands on our attention (for example, via cellphones, I-Pads and computers) have more than filled the gap. The amount of time gobbled up by the combined sources of electronic media is mind-boggling, as well as mind-numbing. We need to carefully consider whether the Internet is really a blessing or a potentially life-threatening curse—another pull we are forced to resist.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that, in these times when innovation and knowledge are increasing, time appears to be speeding up as well, and that the emerging, Satanically-inspired Beast is already beginning to wear out the Saints. If we have not yet experienced persecution, it is around the corner. To combat our weariness, we must turn to God's Word, a document which is totally enigmatic unless we have the power of God's Holy Spirit to put it together slowly like a jig-saw puzzle, understood a little bit at a time. To the carnal mind, the Bible reads like gibberish. But, God's Word has both story line and theme, most prominently including 1.) the prophecy of the promised Seed, 2.) the holy line, beginning with Seth and culminating with Christ, and 3.) the "I will" promises to Abraham. The Bible also contains mysteries (best understood as God's invisible activities on our behalf) which have been 'hidden' in plain sight, but made clear by revelation from God's Holy Spirit. The spiritual cleansing and grafting in of the Gentiles, motivating Judah to jealousy and, ultimately, to repentance, is an example of one such mystery. Another mystery is the revealing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, attended by God's granting to those He calls the ability to understand the Gospel's message—God's reproducing Himself, creating the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, citing the findings of Dave Crenshaw, a business chaos crusher, alerts us that the average worker is interrupted 15 times per hour, many of which are self-inflicted, suggesting that these interruptions resemble small cuts which drain the life blood out of productivity. One of the most deceptively innocent, but deadly traps is the double-q (the quick question) now exacerbated by the ease of e-mail and social media. Regardless of the source of the interruption, productivity hemorrhages. To counteract wasteful interruptions, we must rid ourselves of vague goal setting, replacing this concept with that of a finish line or deadline, continually reminding us that time is a perishable resource. Because e-mail is a potential time waster, and a destroyer of focus, we should quarantine e-mail to specific times in the day to rapidly address correspondents' needs, and then get back to project at hand, concentrating on how to process it to completion.
John Ritenbaugh, quoting from efficiency expert or "business chaos crusher" Dave Crenshaw, urges that distractions and interruptions caused by phone, e-mail, computers, or texting, are detrimental to productivity and to the operating a business at a profit. The average worker is interrupted 15 times per hour, 120 times in 8 hours, 4800 times per week, or 240,000 times per year. These interruptions are like tiny cuts destroying productivity, as blood flows from a wound, When we allow our focus to become divided, we are unable to give our full attention to the assigned task. The continuous shifts in our attention seriously damage our focus. One research company calculates that the average clerical worker loses 28% of his work per day because of interruptions, adding up to losing an entire work week each month. In our journey to the Kingdom of God, we frequently become magnets for distraction. We must organize our priorities and our time to play defense against continuous distractions, refusing to respond when we are focused on a task, assuming if necessary the profile of a curmudgeon when focused on an important task. Establishing and enforcing definite and rational anti-interruption strategies are especially important when we are communicating with God through study and prayer. We need to ensure that we hardwire these strategies as top priorities in our daily chores.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
It is amazing to consider that, despite the fact that every human being will face death, so very few take the time to contemplate it, much less prepare for it. In covering the comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, John Ritenbaugh surveys the Bible's attitude toward death, particularly its insistence that we should allow the reality of death to change our approach to life.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
Time is perhaps our most precious commodity, and once it passes, it is lost forever. Even so, we tend to waste it at a profligate rate. With the tragic story of the Donner Party's journey to California as a background, Mike Ford encourages us make wise use of the time we have left because it is inexorably running out.
Mike Ford: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell examines how some people have become successful. Using case studies, the author shows how family and friends played significant roles ...
David C. Grabbe: In last week's essay, we traced the connection between manna and "the true bread from heaven," Jesus Christ (John 6:32). ...
Having a goal is a wonderful thing, but it is worthless without a plan for achieving it. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians also need to have a conscious plan in seeking God, recommending several essential qualities that must be included in any successful course of action.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that meddling or being a busybody is a sin, as serious as murder or robbery. We must learn as Christians to operate in our appointed spheres of responsibility and not to meddle in someone else's—taking the job or prerogative of another. Jesus and the apostle Paul give us sterling examples of refusing to assume responsibilities not expressly given to them. We must learn to exercise judgment in helping others, but not to judge them now, not yet being qualified for or appointed to that weighty responsibility. Idleness is a major contributory cause of meddling, and gossip and tale-bearing are frequent accomplices. Meddling in another's affairs may actually complicate or interfere with God's capable work in them, so we need to apply the Golden Rule when seeking to help another. In working out our own salvation, we have enough do to without trying to meddle in someone else's.
Richard Ritenbaugh explores the significance of the number fifty, counting fifty, and the myriad applications of the number fifty throughout the Bible, such as in the measurements of the Tabernacle and Millennial Temple, as well as the 50 year Jubilee, a time of liberation and forgiveness of debts. Metaphorically, it represents counting the cost, evaluating our spiritual progress and priorities. In Psalm 90, Moses reckons the average lifespan to be 70 years. Subtracting the 20 years of youth, we have a remaining 50 years—a time to thoughtfully measure our days, redeeming and prioritizing our time properly in order to gain a godly heart of wisdom.
John 6 has always been a difficult chapter to explain. However, within his series on the physical/spiritual parallels in the Bible on eating, John Ritenbaugh shows how clear Jesus' teaching is and what it means to us.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the narrow "pay and pray" mentality experienced by many in our previous fellowship took our attention away from the more important overcoming and growing aspect, preparing for the Kingdom of God. We desperately need to become immersed in a cause, yielding to God's creative power, personally and individually, getting us ready for God's Kingdom. We must guard our time, not allowing busy-ness and involvement with activities of the world to prevent us from forming a deep intimacy with God. Developing this intimacy requires walking by faith, going beyond the superficial academic into an intense, in-depth practical application of actively searching for, yielding to, and obeying God.
Time—it marches relentlessly on, and we have only so much of it. Yet we waste a lot of it on foolish pursuits, procrastination and distractions. John Ritenbaugh explains how getting control of our time puts us in the driver's seat in our pursuit of God's Kingdom!
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Old Testament emphasis on the dwelling in booths and the sacrifices as the context for rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40-44). Even though the Feast is an interlude from our customary activities, it is not a vacation (a cessation from our spiritual sacrifices, duties, or responsibilities). If we do not prioritize properly, (fearing God -Deuteronomy 14:23 and seeking God's Kingdom- Matthew 6:33), the miscellaneous distractions of this world (Mark 4:19) could railroad our most important priority. The booths depict our current lives as pilgrims, people on the move, not living in our own country, wandering single-mindedly toward our destination as our forefather Abraham had earlier set the pattern (Hebrews 11:8), fully determined that the cares of the world would not deter him from his goal.
John Ritenbaugh warns that benign neglect of the Sabbath covenant can incrementally lead us into idolatry, as it apparently led Solomon into idolatry. We are admonished to respect or treat this holy time as different from the other days of the week, forsaking our mundane concerns, but allowing God to perform intense spiritual work, redeeming us from spiritual bondage, increasing our faith, and working out salvation in us. The Sabbath provides us the necessary time to systematically inculcate God's Word into our inner beings, fellowshipping with God and other called-out brethren. We need to carefully prepare for the Sabbath, making careful use of this precious preparation time for future service in His Kingdom. The Sabbath typifies the time of full redemption of Salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth- a millennial rest for this creation.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.