David C. Grabbe: "Hardness of heart" is used several ways in Scripture, but a person can develop this sinful attitude toward both God and man. ...
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
John Ritenbaugh, asserting that the term leadership never explicitly appears in the King James Version of the Bible,while the terms follow and follower are abundantly distributed, concludes that any form of leadership must be preceded by following. God tells us what we are to follow in the Covenants, legal entities, unfortunately, that neither the ministry nor the membership have exhibited much interest in studying. Because of lack of covenant knowledge, Israel (both ancient and modern) have been perennially cursed with a massive breakdown of leadership. The whole body from head to feet is sick, covered with putrefying sores; we are a people laden with iniquity. God places the blame for the lack of leadership on the shepherds: the ministry, the President, Congress, Supreme Court Justices, heads of Corporations, heads of educational institutions, mayors, city council members, and perhaps the most important shepherd of all, the parent. Our first parents Adam and Eve totally botched their child-rearing responsibilities, but our father Abraham provided us a better example of how to lead our families, pointing them to the laws of God. Our citizenry has rejected God's laws and have wallowed in a mire of incessant lies. Consequently, the world is hopelessly lost morally and spiritually. God's called-out ones must separate themselves from this despicable anti-God mindset. We need to qualify to lead by internalizing the contents of the covenants, not only believing God, but doing what He says, realizing that the covenants are not as complicated or complex as Satan has lead his 'ministers' to believe. God's word—the Bible, and especially the book of Deuteronomy—provides the keys to true leadership. The world's 'Christianity' has largely rejected Deuteronomy, especially the binding commandment to keep God's Sabbath forever. For those yet uncalled, God is truly not in their minds; we cannot afford to emulate them.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
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.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us what we have that we did not receive, concludes that 100% of what we have received has come from God (and to a degree, other people). Even though we have good looks and a sparkling personality, even though we have attained a certain degree of material success, a certain amount of knowledge, a certain set of skills, we did not accomplish these things alone. We had nothing to do with our calling, redemption, or salvation; God gave us all these things. Ultimately, it all goes back to God. We have nothing to boast about; we are totally obligated to God. We have good reason to be humble and grateful. The Day of Atonement points out how needy and dependent we are. We are to afflict our souls by fasting. Because we are so incredibly frail, 24 hours with no food or drink makes a deep impression upon us, showing our total dependency upon a merciful God to which we are eternally obligated. This humble attitude leads us to subject ourselves to God. On this day, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, we are to do no work at all, forcing us to turn our total attention to God, refraining to speak our own words or think our own thoughts. God's atoning work is unmerited grace, for which we remain eternally grateful. The atoning work is applied universally until all sin is atoned for, and everything is made holy. Psalm 102 reminds us how weak, destitute, and temporary we are as compared with God's sovereignty, eternal power and changelessness. God allows us to go through a trial to bring about a change in us. Thankfully, when God's people renounce their sins and repent, God will show mercy. Death is no impediment to God; He will resurrect us from the grave. Psalm 103 extols God for all His benefits; everything good, both physical and spiritual, comes from God. Foremost among all these benefits, he forgiveness of our sins. God extends these benefits to those who fear and honor Him, keeping His commandments, practicing His way of life.
Joe Baity, reflecting on the seeming Narcissistic Zeitgeist displayed by our generation, promoting self-gratification, self-realization, and self-indulgence, with a plethora of self-help books promoting elevating self interest above others, cautions that this approach damages both our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellowman, threatening to defile our fellowship within the body of Christ. Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul teach us to esteem others over ourselves, focusing on the betterment of others. Any self-improvement we can garner from self-help books composed by secular humanists pales into insignificance alongside the spiritual benefits from exercising outgoing concern for others, a mindset we can only attain by humbly submitting to God.
Jeremiah and his scribe and companion, Baruch, lived during a time of great upheaval—in fact, during the decline and destruction of the Kingdom of Judah. In so many words, Baruch complained that God's plans against Judah and its people were crimping his own lofty ambitions. Charles Whitaker elucidates how God replied to Baruch's complaint and provides a lesson for us today.
The eighth commandment seems so simple: "You shall not steal." Yet, it seems that just about everyone on earth has his hand in someone else's pocket! John Ritenbaugh documents the ubiquity of thievery, particularly in the U.S., explaining that the solution is equally simple: honest, hard work.
Beginning with Acts 3:21, John Ritenbaugh speaks of a future time of refreshing and restitution after things get a whole lot worse, a time when the Beast would attempt to wear out the saints. God has a plan to recreate Himself, bringing mankind into at-one-ness with Him. Peter preached to the called out ones to repent and yield to God through His Holy Spirit. We need to be in awe of the cost of Christ's sacrifice for us, demonstrating reciprocity as we wholeheartedly yield to God. Mankind has separated itself from God, having followed the example of our parents, Adam and Eve. God's solution to mankind's separation was sending a second Adam, Jesus Christ to make reconciliation and justification possible. Believing Christ and His message has the effect of making a repentant person at one with God. Through sanctification, a person in Christ becomes a new creation. Fasting not only emphasizes that we can resist a powerful bodily drive, but shows us plainly our dependence upon God.
Many longtime students of the Bible have trouble accepting that the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 could be God's people, Israel. However, John Ritenbaugh shows that God's Word frequently paints unfaithful Israel in this light because she has consistently played the harlot in her relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
We all have low days on occasion, but when our despondency turns to self-pity, we have a problem. The "woe is me" attitude can mire us in stagnation and severely hamper our growth because self-pity is just another form of self-centeredness.
James' exhortation about the use of our tongues seems to stop with James 3:12. However, the rest of the chapter provides additional wisdom on controlling our speech.
Maybe the most basic impediment to overcoming is our innate selfishness. Our goal, however, is to bear the character of our God, whose primary characteristic is love or outgoing concern for others.
Joy, the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, is more than just happiness. There is a joy that God gives that far exceeds mere human cheerfulness. John Ritenbaugh shows how the Holy Spirit produces it in us.
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 explores the role of human nature in the fatal attraction to sin. Though relatively neutral at its inception, human nature is subject to a deadly magnetic pull toward self-centeredness, deceit, and sin (Jeremiah 17:9). By the time God calls us, we are hopelessly ensnared and enslaved by sin. To counteract this deadly pull, we must imitate Christ's standard of active righteousness (going about doing good; Acts 10:38) as opposed to the Pharisee's more passive righteousness (a meticulous, reactive avoidance of evil). The sins of omission (the majority of our sins), neglect, and ignorance have the tendency to dissolve when we practice Christ's standard of active righteousness.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
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 sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the limited window of opportunity recipients of a dire prophecy have to take action. The one who hears the warnings does not have an abundance of time to repent and return to God. A lion's threat is not idle. If no action is taken, the stalking roar will turn into a growl of contentment, the lion having consumed its prey. At the time of Amos's message, Israel was: 1) threatened by the imminent displeasure of God; 2) lacking repentance and true spirituality; 3) full of corruption; 4) departing from the truth; 5) proud, complacent, and self-satisfied; 6) setting itself on a pedestal; and 7) smugly prejudiced against the world. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including the Israel of God) cannot see the connection between its own faithlessness to her covenant with God and the violence and tumult of society that mirror her spiritual condition.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
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