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.
John Ritenbaugh, explaining that an individual's worldview is shaped by his past experiences, family values, and the culture into which he were born, warns us that a person's worldview influences every decision he makes. If we do not give God the prominent position in our worldview, we will make self-destructive choices, as did our original parents, Adam and Eve. Our worldview is volatile, subject to change as we are drawn away by the enticements of Satan, the world, and our powerful carnal nature. If God's people do not nourish God's gift of His Holy Spirit by meditating on His Word and responding to its prompts to morality and character, Satan will come to control our worldview through his tools of mainstream media, pop culture, and humanistic education—all of which are now the basic determinants of the worldview of the godless. God admonishes His called-out ones to nourish and augment the "God factor" in our worldview, lest we be drawn away to spiritual death.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that counting Pentecost should not be a thoughtless, mechanical act, but should involve deep reflection as to how God has steered our lives and as to how we are managing the spiritual resources He has graciously given each of us. The fifty days towards Pentecost likely symbolize the fifty years (on average) from the day of our baptism to the day we fall asleep. The Megilloth which we examine each Pentecost contains a fascinating narrative of a strong, enduring woman who outlived a relatively fearful husband and two sons. Naomi's attractive personality, selflessness, Godly conviction and common sense characterize her relationship with her Gentile daughters-in-law. She won the heart of her daughter-in law, Ruth. Despite her godly qualities, Naomi had a negative attribute: Her inability to believe that, through all her trials, God was working for the good of her and her family. Her request to be called Mara (or bitterness), rooted in her conviction that God had abandoned her, anticipates attitudes that many of God's called-out ones feel when overwhelmed by an experience we cannot understand. God, who knows the end from the beginning, realizes that we need a measure of affliction to stay on the trajectory that He has prepared for us. We need to emulate Naomi's godly behaviors, while shunning her inability to faithfully see God's hand at work in our lives.
Martin Collins, reminding us that God has designed the human condition to be governed by a series of life-or-death choices, focuses on the life-choices of Gideon as a source of encouragement to us all. Gideon, whom the writer of the Book of Hebrews included in the "Faith Chapter," began his life as a coward, became a conqueror, and ended a compromiser, all the while needing continuous assurances from God to bolster his flagging faith. Gideon wondered 1.) whether God really cared about him, 2.) whether God knew what He was doing, 3.) whether God would take care of him and 4.) whether God would keep His promises. To this anxiety-laden man, God demonstrated His faithfulness and forbearance, in stark contrast to Gideon's continuous tests and childish demands, disturbing traits that some of us also display. We must learn that God always keeps His promises and cares for us so much that He is willing to chasten us to bring us to life-saving repentance. As His workmanship, we receive God's personal attention, guiding us through the baby steps needed as He strengthens our wobbly faith, giving us increasingly more abilities as the scope of our tasks increases. As God answered all four of Gideon's questions in the affirmative, He will do the same for those who are going through faith-testing trials. As God incrementally built Gideon's faith, allowing him to prove it privately before he would take a public stand, God will do the same for us, knowing that our frame is weak and frail, totally helpless without the power of His Holy Spirit.
Charles Whitaker, referencing game theory, reminds us that the failure to make a decision in fact represents a decision. Consequences—even of inaction—are inevitable; everything matters. The act of "passing" in a poker game effects all the players' chances to win. Among God's people, the consequences of indifference to service become particularly burdensome in the current context of geographic scattering and corporate fragmentation. Additionally, Christians who "sit out" opportunities to serve, becoming in effect couch potatoes, commit sins of omission which, if not repented of, lead to the Lake of Fire. Hence, service is a salvational issue; engagement with God's people is not an option, but a mandate; the Christian failing to gather with Christ becoming one who by default scatters with Satan. Hence, indifference is destructive; inaction is tantamount to active scattering. As the Parable of the Good Samaritan indicates, failure to act can endanger even the lives of others, a fact which illustrates why passive indifference and active hatred are not opposites. Rather, indifference is in fact a species of hatred. Old and New Testaments teach that God's people are to "open their hands" to others, as opportunity affords, playing the cards (talents) God has dealt us, not "passing," knowing that everything we do—or don't do—matters.
David Grabbe, unraveling several apparently contradictory scriptures, exposes a fundamental flaw in western thinking—namely the binary (that is, either-or) thinking that leads us to construct false dilemmas. Perhaps the best example of this is the one delineated by Protestant theologians who conceptualize law and grace at the opposite sides of a continuum. They cannot imagine how God's sovereignty and man's free moral agency can co-exist. God is benevolent, but He is also severe. God is not waiting to smash us, but neither is He indulgent. If we acknowledge God as our sovereign, it stands to reason that we are duty bound to follow what He has said. As we walk in His grace, we begin to develop wisdom as to what is godly behavior and what is not. God's grace never undermines His sovereignty. Our daily walk with God should lead us to make choices resulting in wisdom and discernment.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining Thomas Seeley's analysis of the swarm instinct of bee cultures, and sociologists' attempt to link that wired-in animal instinct to human behavior (opting usually for collective groupthink), suggests that there is a balanced approach to applying community behavior to Christian living, especially when we apply Paul's body analogies in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God's admonition that we learn from the ant does not teach us to yield to a hierarchical system but, rather, to unselfishly participate in a community, the final goal being its edification. Swarm behavior, flock behavior, and herd behavior, according to Tom Seeley is more democratic than authoritarian (as assumed in previous models). In the Body of Christ, we similarly work as an interdependent body of believers, serving one another, laboring for a common goal, as is rehearsed annually through God's appointed feasts and Holy days, all of which have unique qualities and lessons. On Pentecost, the priests baked loaves with leavening, representing those set apart before Christ's earthly ministry and those set apart after His ministry. We are obligated to be team players, looking after the needs of the entire body. Our rugged individualism must be tempered with the knowledge that we are part of a larger, interdependent body. Though God called us all individually, we need to think of ourselves as a part of the community, being just as protective of the flock as is our Elder Brother. Whether we are branches of a vine, God's field, God's building, God's flock, or the very bride of Christ, the common denominator is that God has designed us to serve one another. If we, as servants and fellow family members, all do our part, God will give the increase. There ought not be schisms in the Body; we will be living together eternally.
John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the Elements of Judgment series by focusing on Deuteronomy 32:1-4, a passage which characterizes all of God's ways as exemplifying justice, challenges us] to emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberative. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straight-forward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of Truth; sin does not operate in a straight-forward manner, but follows serpentine routes requiring much discernment.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the multiple nuances of the Hebrew words translated into the English word "wisdom," suggests that an acquired skill for living represents the common denominator in all of these definitions. Godly wisdom is only attained with a high degree of training. Carnal wisdom, through the labyrinth of life, has practical value even without a spiritual context, but living by faith requires that we trust and obey God in those areas where we do not have all the facts. Faith is a spiritual work. Wisdom is not hidden and is readily available if we retain God in our thoughts. Wisdom and the fear of the Lord are inextricably bound together. Both wisdom and foolishness produce fruit according to their nature. Wisdom produces life; foolishness produces death. We reap what we sow. If we repent of our sins, and cry out for understanding, we will receive knowledge, discernment, and God's Holy Spirit. Wisdom must be continually sought after. God wants us to use wisdom to change ourselves, humbly replacing our perspective with God's perspective. Only God gives wisdom. God gives wisdom as a component of His grace to His family, far more valuable than gemstones. Godly wisdom, incompatible with pride and arrogance, cannot be mined out of the earth, and it is more valuable than anything so mined, transferable through the Millennium into eternal life. The fear of the Lord is the source of spiritual wisdom.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent observation of Independence Day, suggests that this event should furnish us with an opportunity to reflect on the philosophies and ideas of the Founding Fathers, including their beliefs about human nature. The Founding Fathers shared the belief, for the most part, that human nature was depraved, shaped by the Calvinistic Protestant doctrine of total depravity and Augustine's notion of original sin, positing that all humans are affected by depravity, and that even the good things in our nature are tainted by evil. Because the Founders knew that government consisted of power, they placed checks and balances in order to protect the electorate against tyranny, with varying lengths of tenure for members of the three branches. The Founding Fathers realized that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unfortunately, the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had instituted have severely eroded; carnal human nature has taken control. The secular progressives mistakenly believe that human nature is perfectible, guided by the parameters of evolution. Conservatives tend to believe that human nature is evil and that the best anyone can do is control it. The Bible takes a rather dim view of carnal human nature; we struggle against it until our death. Satan, in the Garden of Eden, turned the minds of our parents against God and onto serving ourselves. We absorb sinful attitudes from our parents, siblings, and the world. The spirit in man is receptive to Satan's negative spirit. Our flesh is essentially selfish, making us vulnerable to carnality. We are commanded to fight against self, society, and Satan through the power of God's Holy Spirit, submitting ourselves as a sacrifice to God, transformed to God's way of life and image, designed to function this way since creation. God cannot create godly character by fiat. Hence, He has given us free moral agency so we can make choices. This factor—the ability to improve or corrupt nature—is controlle
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the perennial "Handwriting on the Wall" theme from prior Feasts, suggests that as we mature, our ability to judge should exponentially increase even though perceiving reality is difficult. As we search for the truth, we cannot be "all over the place" but must abide in the truths of morality that come from God. The search for truth is often complicated by obstacles and distractions, including entertainment. A godly life is busy; we must discipline ourselves to stay on track as we find time is running out. We are admonished to seek the Lord while He may be found. Although a camera technically does not lie, when a picture is taken from different angles or perspectives the camera could distort the image, deceiving the viewer. A perception or intuitive judgment (a person's point of view) is how we affix significance to what we look at. Sadly, with a distorted perception, we will not accept reality; our perception becomes our reality. We have to be able to change our perceptions in order to accommodate or accept reality. Satan, by manipulating our perceptions, has deceived the whole world, religiously, politically, and socially. In John 2-4, many individuals stumbled at Jesus' words because they could not break out of their stultifying perceptions of scripture which they had filtered through their traditions. Islamic terrorists, hopelessly in darkness, feel a commission from God to slay the infidels. We are admonished to put on the armor of light (the truth of God) bringing our perceptions into alignment with God's will.
David C. Grabbe: The term "Nanny State" has come to describe a government that insists on over-regulating the individual in order to force him to act according to the government's wishes, rather than allowing the individual to make his own choices. ...
Praying always and watching—or overcoming—affect every facet of a Christian's life. Pat Higgins relates how deeply examining ourselves for flaws and shortcomings, as we do each year before Passover, helps us to accomplish Christ's Luke 21:36 command.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the statement of Almighty God in Psalm 50 that He needs absolutely nothing from us, proclaims God's absolute sovereignty and power over everything. Surprisingly, mankind refuses to acknowledge God in their daily dealings. Unfortunately, mankind will marshal their 'brilliance' and 'intelligence' in technology to nearly wipe life off the face of the earth. Young people (and all of us) must make a choice in favor of God's will for us. We have the freedom of choice to set our destiny, and must bear the consequences of our choice. The book of Deuteronomy is perhaps the most important guide to Godly choices. God has urged that we choose life (keeping God's commandments), requiring an act of the will as we are confronted with alternatives. Only those who choose to live life as God lives will live eternally. Life consists of a constant stream of choices, leading to the development (or destruction) of character. Young people must choose: (1) the right set of standards to live by, finishing high school, refraining from premarital sex, and staying faithful to our lifelong partners once we become married. (2) To work to develop a continuous relationship with God- the source of eternal life. (3) To develop a strong relationship with their parents, submitting in respectful humility. (4) Their friends wisely. (5) Carefully choose the occupation they will go into, making proactive preparations, choosing according to our talents, and (6)Have the right relationship with the opposite sex.
John Ritenbaugh explores the negative symbolism of wine (as representing intoxication and addiction) in Revelation17 and 18. The entire Babylonian system (highly appealing to carnal human nature) has an enslaving addicting, and inebriating quality, producing a pernicious unfaithfulness and Laodicean temperament. As in Solomon's time, each dramatic increase in technology and knowledge does not bring a corresponding improvement in inherently corrupt human nature or morality. In evaluating the influence or teaching skills of Babylon, we must evaluate (1) the character and conduct of the teacher (2) whether the teaching is true, and (3) the kind of fruit it produces. Poisonous weeds cannot produce good fruit. Babylon's (the Great Whore's) anti-God, anti-revelation, man-devised cultural and educational system(the cosmos) is poisoning the entire world. What was crooked from the very beginning cannot be made straight. In order to attain eternal life, we must consciously reject the Babylonian system and consciously conform to God's will.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that several parallels exist in the account of Balaam and one's approach to God. As God's children, we have to be on guard against people who are intimidated by righteousness and will seek to destroy its practice. Balaam, motivated by self-interest, believing that the ends justify the means, willing to do anything to get his way, shows himself spiritually inferior to a donkey when it comes to yielding to God's correction. The Laodicean, motivated by blind self-interest and the wages of unrighteousness, totally oblivious to the consequences, imitates Balaam's approach to God. In evaluating the Balaam episode in Numbers 22, we would do better to imitate the donkey than her master.
Most of us have heard the courtroom mantra, "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." John Reid, however, applies these criteria to our behavior, showing that many of us shy away from "nothing but the truth"!
Though fasting deprives the physical body of nutrition and strength, a proper, biblical fast adds conviction and depth to the inner, spiritual man.
In many places in Scripture, God promises to guide us along the godly path. Also within the pages of the Bible—our main source of information about spiritual matters—are the details about the way we are to conduct our lives. Mike Ford shows the steps we should take when faced with trials, problems and decisions.
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon God's management of mankind. God has consistently moved His creation toward its ultimate purpose, setting the bounds of nations, motivating rulers (Proverbs 12:1) to pursue a certain course of action, sometimes against their will. It is God's will that we submit to governmental authority (legal or illegal), obeying God, of course, rather than men (Acts 5:29) to the end that by doing good, we provide a good example, silencing the foolish accusations of men. God has chosen a tiny fragment of weak individuals, rescuing them from Satan's rebellious mindset (Ephesians 2:1-3) to fashion into obedient and submissive vessels of glory.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
John Ritenbaugh insists that, when it comes to the consequences of sin, "there ain't no free lunch" (likewise there is no such thing as a victimless crime.) Children (actually all of us) need to learn that we often suffer the consequences of other people's sins. Children, because of their failure to connect cause and effect or time connections, do not seem to comprehend the devastating long-range consequences of sin. Only the immature think they can escape the penalties of broken laws. God's Law is immutable and unchanging. Parents need to teach their children to consider the long-range consequences of current behaviors, chastening and disciplining them while there is hope. The historical testimony of the scriptures reveals that God's purpose or counsel cannot be altered and that His judgments are totally impartial. If we, as parents, realize these principles, we will rear our children to fear God and respect authority. Children must be taught the long-range as well as the short-range cause/effect relationships between sin (or lawbreaking) and the deadly certain penalties that follow.
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, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]