What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Genesis 3:7-10 illustrates how no one is ever quite the same after sinning with knowledge. Notice Adam and Eve's sin occurs after God had instructed them (Genesis 2:16-17). Nobody had to tell them they had done wrong—they knew! Now they looked at things differently than they had before; a sense of wrong rushed in on them immediately. Just moments before, all had been friendly and joyful. All of nature seemed obedient to their every wish, and life was good. Suddenly, however, they felt guilt and fear, and it seemed as if every creature in the Garden had witnessed their act and condemned them. Feeling exposed, they sought to hide, illustrating that separation from the purity of God began immediately. The virtue of their innocence began to lose its luster.
David writes in Psalm 40:11-13:
Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O LORD; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me. Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me!
Sin creates a sense of estrangement from God, leaving a tarnishing film on a person's mind. Paul reminds Titus, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15). Sin perverts the mind so that one does not look at life in the same way as before. Jeremiah 6:15 describes a sickening end to repeated sin:
"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD.
Some children are adorable because we love to see the beauty of their innocence. But what happens on the trip to adulthood? Sin alters the way a person looks at life and the world. With maturity, people become distrustful, sophisticated, competitive, cosmopolitan, cynical, suspicious, sarcastic, prejudiced, self-centered, and uninvolved. It is sin that drives people apart and creates fear.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Seven): Fear of Judgment
Exile is a form of punishment that God has used from the very beginning. Here in Genesis 3, in the book of beginnings, we have the first instance of exile imposed by God Himself. It was exile from the Garden of Eden, from all that was wonderful and good that God had created, the perfect environment in which He had placed Adam and Eve. They could never go back. God placed an angel with a flaming sword that would turn whichever way any man juked to get back. If it were still there, it would deny us "paradise" even now.
This context shows three reasons we can glean to determine why God uses exile. The first one is evident—it was punishment for their sins. Adam and Eve took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when God said they should not take of it. That is sin, breaking a direct command of God. Exile was the punishment.
What else can we glean? What did their exile do? It separated them from access to Him. So, secondly, exile separates man from God. He does not want to be separated from us, but because of sin, it happens. It must happen because He does not like sin in the least. So this is a kind of corollary to the first point. Sin brings exile, and sin causes separation from God.
The third point must be read into it, but it is obvious from God's intent and the way God is. God imposes exile to spur repentance because it should be the natural inclination of men who have known God and all the glorious things that we can have in His presence to return to His good graces.
In summary, the first point is exile occurs because of sin. The second point is exile happens because sinners must be separated from God. And the third point is God uses exile as a goad to motivate sinners to repent.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How to Survive Exile
The people were uniting themselves in disagreement against God, led by the arch-criminal and mastermind of this project, Nimrod. This time, instead of wiping them out in death as He had done through the Flood, God permitted them to live, but He segregated them by confusing their means of communication. In the end, they are separated from one another. All their glorious plans of building a great city and tower had to be abandoned because they could not communicate with each other.
Another tragic resulted from what happened in Genesis 11. All of these people who were scattered over the face of the earth were also separated from the holy line—a family through which God almost exclusively worked, that began with Shem. Actually, the line began after the death of Abel with Seth, the son of Adam, and came down through Enoch to Noah and from Noah to Shem. From Shem the descent finally produced Abraham. After Babel, the scattered people were, in fact, not only separated from that holy line, but also from God's Word, which this family preserved and passed down. This was another tragic result of their sin!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Division, Satan, Humility
The Hebrew word translated sign means "mark" or "evidence." The Sabbath day is the mark God gave His people to identify them as His own. By it, the folk of Israel would know the Source of their sanctification.
To sanctify is "to set apart for holy service,"or more basically, "to make holy." God's purpose for Israel from the start was to set it apart from other peoples by giving it His laws and His statutes. God has a special relationship with Israel. Speaking through the prophet Amos to "the whole family [i.e., all the tribes] which I brought up from the land of Egypt" (Amos 3:1), God reminds the people that, "you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (verse 2). God revealed His law only to Israel. When He did so, He made it clear that Israel would "be a special treasure to Me above all people, . . . a holy [sanctified, set apart] nation" (Exodus 19:5-6), if the people "obey My voice and keep My covenant" (verse 5). The theme is repeated in Deuteronomy 7:6: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, . . . [who] has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." (See also Deuteronomy 14:2.)
God prefaces the "Holiness Code" of Leviticus 18 and 19 by commanding Israel to be separate from other nations. This meant acting in a way different from that of the Gentiles, not walking "in their ordinances." Leviticus 18:3-4:
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances. . . .
In Leviticus 19:2, He makes His purpose clear: "You shall be holy [set apart], for I the LORD your God am holy." God's purpose, the intent behind all His laws, is to create a people like Himself (Genesis 1:26), a people sharing and reflecting His most salient attribute: holiness.
Sanctification is also the purpose behind God's often-denigrated physical laws. Consider, for example, the reason why God imposed the dietary law, as stated in Leviticus 11. God does not cite the maintenance of health as a reason to obey the dietary laws; the Scriptures do not specify that obedience of these laws will cause good health or prevent disease (though this is a secondary, albeit unmentioned, benefit). Rather, God concludes His dietary laws with a statement of His holiness and a command for His people to be like Him. Leviticus 11:44-45:
For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Obedience to God's law plays a crucial role in bringing about this sanctification. It is not that a people become sanctified (somehow, by God's grace) and, as a result, start obeying God's law. God's Word does not support the Protestant concept that sanctification imputed by God's grace mysteriously empowers one to obey His commandments. They have it backwards.
Rather, obedience to the law causes sanctification. Law-keeping and sanctification become intrinsically connected: To obey God's law is to be sanctified. By its nature, law-keeping brings about sanctification.
In a national context, God states that obeying His laws creates a people unlike others on the earth, a people set apart from others, a holy nation. National sanctification produces what Balaam saw in Israel: "A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations" (Numbers 23:9).
If commandment-keeping separates people from the nations while connecting them to God, disobedience of God's law has exactly the opposite effect. Commandment-breaking separates a people from God, and connects them to the ways of the nations. Individuals who disobey God's law become like the "world," the kosmos of the New Testament (I John 2:15).
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
This breaking up of whole families, many of whom had perhaps been living happily together for many years, was a drastic but necessary step. Ezra, who seemed to have God-given insight into the divine plan, understood what had to be done and the reasons for it.
The spiritual reasons are, of course, the most important. God says many times in the Pentateuch that intermarriage with pagans is spiritually dangerous (see, for instance, Deuteronomy 7:1-4). It was far more likely that, rather than the heathen spouses being won over to the worship of Israel's God, they would influence their sons and daughters to worship idols. If this were to happen frequently, Israel would soon be entirely idolatrous.
Although there is a bit of physical purity involved in this, God's demands are not for reasons of racial superiority but because He had a purpose for Israel - and the most important purpose is Jesus Christ. To fulfill the prophecies of the promised Seed, He had to be directly descended from Abraham through Judah, Jesse, and David, and because of a curse on Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22:24-30), He could not descend from that wicked king's bloodline. Only these particular circumstances could fulfill the prophecies and establish His righteous claim as the Messiah. Thus, Ezra's action was taken in large part to preserve David's line in preparation for Jesus' birth.
In addition, God wanted Israel to be a holy and separate nation (see Leviticus 19:1-2; Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:19; 28:9). The Israelites were to retain as many of their distinguishing traits and practices as He had given them at the beginning, and they could do this only as long as they remained separate from other nations. In this way, they could be the model nation, a people others would want to emulate, not because of any so-called racial purity or superiority, but because the true God was their God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part Two)
Sin or iniquity or lawlessness, however we want to read it, is what has caused the need for atonement or reconciliation. Iniquity, sin, and lawlessness produce the opposite of atonement. They produce separation, not coming together. Sin separates and builds barriers between us and God and between us and other people.
He says that He will not hear. We have to understand this. It is not that He cannot hear, but because of sin, He will not hear. God does not sin, so if there is a separation between a man and God—between us and God—then it is because we have done something. We are the ones who are drifting away. However, to the human being, it seems as though God has gone far away, when He has not moved at all.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement
"Breach" has a very interesting usage in the English language as it pertains to our relationship with God and the church's present state. Here is a list of synonyms for "breach" taken from The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Word Finder: "break, gap, opening, rupture, split, alienation, schism."
The first definition for breach is unusually appropriate as far as the situation in the church is concerned: "the breaking of, or failure to observe a law or contract or standard." We have a covenant, a contract, with God, and He has given us a standard, the Ten Commandments. This sounds a great deal like I John 3:4: "Sin [which separates, creates a breach] is the transgression of the law."
The second definition of breach is also rich: "A breaking of relations; an estrangement; a quarrel, a broken state."
Together, these describe almost exactly what has happened to the church as a result of breaking the covenant (as a result of breaking laws, as a result of sin). There has been a breaking of relations with God because of the church's failure, as a body, to live up to the contract that we made with Him.
Spiritually "a repairer of breaches" is one who restores the right way, beginning with himself. He may have no influence or control over what others do, but he does have control over what he does, and when he repairs his own personal breach with God, the breach in the wall closes a bit. It is as if a stone or a brick were added to the wall—another person is again in a good relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)
Verses 23-24 go on to indicate the consequence of Israel's refusal to become sanctified by obeying God's laws: God says He "lifted [His] hand in an oath, . . . that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths. . . ." If Israel insisted on acting like the nations of the world, God says He would physically place them among those nations; Israel would become separated from God and the land He promised them. They would become "sifted" (see Amos 9:9) among the Gentile nations.
Leviticus 18:24-30 outlines the inevitable separation that a nation (or an individual) will undergo as a result of commandment-breaking: "The land vomits out its inhabitants" (verse 25). This is the national consequence of breaking the commandments. God states the result to individuals in verse 29: "Whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people." Vomiting and cutting-off are both metaphors for separation.
Nationally and individually, commandment-breaking always yields the same ultimate punishment: separation from God. That separation may come slowly, as Ecclesiastes 8:11 points out, but always surely.
The history of the children of Israel proves the point. God wanted Israel to be a special, sanctified nation; a holy one. He promised to bestow incredible blessings on it if it acted to separate itself from the social and religious practices of other nations. Israel failed as a nation because it failed to be holy!
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
Notice that the sheep pass under the rod. Besides being an instrument of both offense and defense—the rod was, in effect, a two-foot club—it also functioned as a tool, under which the sheep passed. What does this picture? First of all, it pictures counting. The shepherd would count the sheep in his flock to make sure they were all present and accounted for.
It pictures something else too. As the sheep passed under the rod—a symbol of the Word of God—they would undergo a close scrutiny. The shepherd would run his rod backward or across the grain, as it were, of the wool. The rod separated the wool, allowing the shepherd to look down onto the sheep's skin. He was then able to see both the quality of the skin and of the wool.
God is illustrating that by means of His rod, He is giving us careful, close scrutiny for two reasons: One, it gives Him the opportunity to evaluate the quality of His sheep. Two, it provides a means of separation. Quality and separation are the two reasons for His scrutiny of us.
Recall Matthew 25 and the separation of the sheep and the goats. The rod aids in identifying or making sure of possession. Sheep's ears were often bored through or distinctively notched as a mark of identification. Sometimes, since the shepherds could not always see that identifying mark due to several flocks being mixed together in the pasture, they would make the sheep pass under the rod. When they did, the shepherd would flip back the ear to see the mark of possession. Again, it also gave them a chance to evaluate and determine the relative health and quality of that sheep.
We are all under the rod right now. Now is the time of our judgment (I Peter 4:17), and we are under evaluation to determine to whom we really belong: God or Satan. Who is our shepherd? The rod is a vitally important instrument for a shepherd. No good shepherd would be without one.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part Three)
After He spares the God-fearing, it will be clear who is really part of His ekklesia. God will intervene on behalf of His people!
Will Christ intervene directly to correct His church? Most members hope that He will. Most agree that problems exist. They agree that they dislike what is going on. But their justification for remaining with it is that they expect that Christ will intervene.
If Christ is going to intervene, then why did He not intervene during the Ephesian era? If He would have intervened then, the Catholic and Protestant churches would never have begun. But He did not intervene. Instead the Ephesian church broke into small groups of those who wanted to hold fast to the doctrines that the apostles had given them. The main body went on and eventually blended back into the world.
So how will God make the distinction between the righteous and the wicked (Malachi 3:18)? What form will His intervention take?
The context of Malachi 3 indicates it, but a clearer prophecy of this time can be found in the book of Revelation.
But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent . . . . And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:14, 17)
This is how He will intervene! This is how He will fulfill what He said in Malachi 3.
He will cause a separation!
Those who are to be spared will depart from the main body and be protected from the great time of trouble just ahead. The other group must prove their dedication to God by bearing the full force of Satan's wrath. There must be two separate bodies of people, or they would share a common fate!
The exact time the separation is to occur is not given. Revelation 12 only shows that it will occur. When it occurs, it will be abundantly clear who was faithful and righteous and who was not. Compare these scriptures with Revelation 3:10-11, 16-19.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
The depth of Jesus' sorrow exceeded that of any man, either before or since these final moments of His human freedom:
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the Lord has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger. From above He has sent fire into my bones, and it overpowered them; He has spread a net for my feet and turned me back; He has made me desolate and faint all the day. (Lamentations 1:12-13)
Note the words "all the day." Jesus, on this last day of His human life, would be afflicted with utter desolation and faintness. We cannot comprehend the level of incomparable sorrow and distress into which Jesus descended on His arrival at Gethsemane. Our modern ideas of depression do not even come near it. The words "even to death" in Matthew 26:38 strongly suggest that, had He sunk any lower, He would have died right then and there. But He was determined to stay alive because He knew that the time set for His death had not yet come and that, to fulfill all things, He had to bear the sins of the world for several hours more.
We tend to equate agony with great bodily pain, but even though no one had physically laid a finger on Jesus at this point, His time of great agony had begun: "And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44).
But why did our Savior suddenly become so very sorrowful? What was in His mind that brought such agonizing sorrow upon Him? Was it because of the despite and rejection by every generation of mankind? Or that His closest friends were either betraying Him or forsaking Him? Was it because He feared the fast-approaching hours of physical torture? Or that He dreaded the blackness of death itself? These may have been factors, but the evidence renders it more likely that the major reasons were these:
» The humanly unbearable weight and pain of the knowledge and burden of thousands of years of mankind's sins.
» The horrifying fact that, as the sins of the world were being laid upon Him, He was actually becoming the sin of the world (II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13).
» The knowledge that His Father must now turn away from Him because of the sin that He—Jesus—bore and was now becoming.
» The thought of the fast-approaching, total separation from His Father.
On this last point, Isaiah 53:8 prophesies that Jesus would be "cut off from the land of the living." He was to be cut off from His human brothers and sisters who were imperfect, who enjoyed a temporary, physical life, but whose sins had caused His suffering and death. More importantly and painfully for Him, He was to be cut off from communication with His perfect, loving, and eternal Father: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Matthew 27:46)
"Forsaken" comes from the Greek verb egkataleipo, indicating that Jesus, in the delirium that preceded His death, was crying out to His Father, "Why have You deserted Me? Why have You left Me behind in this place?"
Jesus' Final Human Thoughts (Part One)
Perhaps it was not just the approaching physical torture that Jesus dreaded as He made this plea to His Father. For every microsecond of eternity (with the possible two exceptions of His time in Mary's womb and His human babyhood), He had enjoyed a level of consciousness, involvement, control, and communication with God the Father that no other human could even begin to comprehend. It must have been almost intolerable for the Son of God, the great YHWH of the Old Testament, to contemplate being totally unconscious and "out of the picture," even for a mere 72 hours.
Jesus' agony no doubt included the foreknowledge of the spiritual torture of billions of sins committed throughout human history being laid on His innocent head. Jesus knew that His mind would soon become besmirched, infected, and injected with every filthy sin that man had ever committed in the past and would commit from that time on.
God tells us in I Corinthians 15:56, "The sting of death is sin." Most of us have been stung by a spider, bee, wasp, or hornet. The pain of an insect sting increases rapidly as its poison spreads through the blood vessels, deep into the body part that has been stung, and it can sometimes be almost unbearable. Nevertheless, it is impossible for us to imagine a fraction of the spiritual agony that those billions of "stings of death" caused our Savior as all the sins of the world were laid upon Him.
With all His might, He strove to dwell on better things (Philippians 4:8). He struggled to look beyond those hours of torture, despite His foreknowledge of their severity. Jesus knew what would happen after this day of agony and shame that was just beginning. More than any other human being who ever lived, He understood what lay beyond the split second of death and His short stay in the tomb. Just hours before this prayer in Gethsemane, He had spoken joyfully to His Father about their approaching reunion and regaining His former glory (John 17:5, 11, 13).
How did King Nebuchadnezzar feel when God gave him back his status as a real human being and a great king after living the existence of the lowest, slinking animal in the wild (Daniel 4:29-36)? How much more did Jesus look forward to waking after three days and three nights in the tomb as the Eternal God!
Did Jesus look forward to His death? No. He looked beyond His hours of suffering and beyond the instant of His death. He looked forward to life!
Death of a Lamb
Jesus explains in John 5:25-29 that there is more than one resurrection. To understand the resurrections, it is important to discern the meaning of the word krisis, variously translated "judgment" or "condemnation" (verses 22, 27, 29-30). According to The Complete Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhiates, krisis generally means "separation," "decision," "division," "turn of affairs," and "judgment." The Companion Bible defines it as "a separating, a judgment, especially of judicial proceedings." Notice that it does not necessarily indicate the end of an affair.
A very clear similarity exists between the Greek krisis and the English "crisis." Crisis means "a turning point for better or worse" in the progress of an affair or a series of events. It is not necessarily the end, but a critical juncture, and the affair continues on. In this sense, krisis indicates a turn of affairs, a turning point, in a person's life. It may be the end, but, then again, it may be a time when his life takes a considerable turn for the better! Maybe God has, for the first time, revealed Himself and His purpose to him so he may be judged.
In the biblical sense, judgment can imply a period during which a process is ongoing. The decision, or sentence, comes at the end of the judgment. I Peter 4:17 shows this pattern in relation to the church. "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?"
Here the word translated "judgment" is from the Greek krima. According to Zodhiates, this word derives from the same root as krisis, but in this case, it indicates the act of judging, that is, a process including the final decision or sentence. The Bible uses this word only in reference to future reward and punishment.
Again we have indications of an active process, not merely a final decision. The active process includes both what the Judge is doing (observing, evaluating; Psalm 11:4) as well what the judged are doing. A judgment cannot be made without both aspects. In I Peter 4:17, God is judging "the house of God" and "those who do not obey the gospel" within the framework of how they live their lives.
Peter says, "The time has come for judgment to begin," implying that judgment did not officially start until Christ founded the church. Now that it has begun, all mankind will eventually be included within God's judgment. The pattern for judgment is therefore being established in the church.
When we see the overall picture of God's purpose, we can better understand what occurs in a Christian's life. God calls and grants repentance. We are baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and are put into the church, where we begin to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ until we come to the measure of the stature of His fullness. During this period of sanctification, God puts us through trials, and we overcome, producing the fruits of His Spirit. Sanctification prepares us for God's Kingdom and determines our reward.
Paul helps us understand this in Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character;and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us.
All of this requires time. It is not God's purpose merely to save us, but to bring us to His image so that we will be prepared for His Kingdom. Our God is a Creator. He is reproducing Himself in us. Like a wise parent, He is judging, evaluating what is best for our development, then putting us through the next step in that ongoing process until we inherit His Kingdom. This is a true understanding of a major portion of the doctrine of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Final Harvest
He did not necessarily choose us as individuals before the foundation of the world, but He did decide that He would have a church, a group of people impregnated by His Spirit, a unique Family of His who would be in the image of His Son. The word "choose" suggests taking a smaller number out of a larger. In this case, the larger is the population of the earth, and the smaller number is that tiny remnant God has been working with - His church, His group, His family. The word "holy" implies the choosing had a moral aim in view. In other words, God was choosing a small number out of a large number, and the reason He was choosing this smaller number is to make this small number holy - holy as He is. He had a moral purpose in mind.
The apostle is saying we have been called, elected, become a part of this small group with a definite purpose in mind - that we should become holy. In order for us to become holy, God had to reveal some things to us, which Paul discusses in verses 5-12.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation
1 Peter 5:6-8
Satan may or may not be the cause of difficult situations, where all seems hopeless and we're going through great difficulty, but even if he is not, he is prowling around to take advantage of it in the hopes that he might pick us off. What does the roaring lion most likely attack? The strays, the ones on the fringes, and those not keeping up with the flock. Spiritually, the ones most likely to be attacked are those who are not spiritually with it. Wearied by a barrage of problems, they begin to separate themselves, then Satan, the roaring lion, picks them off.
He is especially adept at taking advantage of people's feelings. All too often, we are dominated by our emotions rather than facts or, we could say, the truth of God. In such a circumstance, it is easy for us to get our feelings hurt, ignore the facts, and proceed to lie to ourselves, just as Satan did to himself when he first sinned.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)
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