Revelation 20:1-3 prophesies a mighty angel taking hold of the Devil and casting him into the bottomless pit for a thousand years. While this is not depicting Satan's ultimate judgment, Richard Ritenbaugh explains that the binding of Satan for a thousand years will relieve humanity of a huge weight of spiritual oppression.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the term leadership appears nowhere in the King James Version of the Scripture, even though numerous examples of good and bad leadership abound, points out that the state of civic leadership in America is at a disastrous all-time, low from the President, Supreme Court Justices, and Congress, all the way down to the community leaders (mayors, judges, etc.) overwhelmingly choked with despicable cowardice, corruption, and graft, emanating from base, immature, foolish, reprobate minds who have rejected God's leadership. Isaiah 1:4-15 well describes the governments misgoverned by Jacob's offspring, collapsing into chaos, hopelessly laden down with iniquity, having forsaken and defying Almighty God. The whole American body politic (as well as that of all of modern Israel) has become covered with putrefying sores, and stands in mortal danger of being devoured from strangers because of the lack of Godly leadership coming from anywhere. The principal cause of the demise of the entire society is lack of leadership within the family; the breakdown of society derives from the breakdown and destruction of the family beginning with the dysfunctional childrearing practices of our original parents and the deliberate actions by the 'leaders' currently in power. The shepherds castigated in Ezekiel 34 include every parent, as well as the religious, political, educational, and corporate shepherds. Parents have the solemn obligation to teach their offspring God's way of life while simultaneously submitting to His loving rule. As God's called-out ones, we dare not abdicate our part of the leadership responsibility, or the neglect will create an unwholesome ripple-effect throughout the church and eventually throughout the entire human community. None of us ever live or die to ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes 6, appraises the book of Ecclesiastes as the most bluntly profound book in the entire Bible, pointing to our urgent need to develop a relationship with God. We did not create ourselves or give ourselves life. The Psalmist David realized we were made by somebody other than ourselves; we were made according to an intricate pattern. As God's called-out ones, we are a new creation. Are we making ourselves spiritually? We can mess this process up if we do not cooperate with the Potter. This relationship with the Potter is everything; without this relationship, there is no salvation. This relationship is often strengthened through hardship. We have to choose to yield ourselves to God, living for a much higher goal than raw materialism. If we have a relationship with God, we are promised gifts of pleasures forevermore. God can accomplish His purpose without our cooperation, but our choices matter; everything matters. We are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be; consequently, it is foolish to disagree with God. Following God's lead will energize and nourish us. Only God's Word contains the truth to direct and point us in the right direction. Only He knows what is good for us and knows what is coming next. Godly wisdom consists of skill in living.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Solomon's ruminations about life being seemingly futile and purposeless, reiterates that a relationship with God is the only factor which prevents life from becoming useless. As many celebrities and public figures withdraw to spend more time with families, so must we withdraw from the rat race of the world to seek a relationship with God. Most people on this earth are not spending quality time at seeking a relationship with Him, but are living "under the sun" lives. God gave us the gift of His Spirit, enabling us to attain a sound mind, empowering us to choose the way that will bring satisfaction in life. At our calling we receive a gift of spiritual life enabling us to make good use of our physical lives. God has never given any physical object to us that can bring a sustained satisfaction in life, but His Holy Spirit can enable us to enhance our life with Him. The fruit of the Spirit (attained by walking in the Spirit) does bring a sustaining satisfaction within us. Humility attracts us to God; conceit and pride repels us from God. When we commit our works to Him, He will enable us to succeed by directing our steps, giving us maximum enjoyment and contentment, as well as softening the effects of any calamity that afflicts us. Conversely, a life without God will never bring us satisfaction spiritually, psychologically, or physically.
Among the Old Testament's books of wisdom, Ecclesiastes stands as one seemingly out of place: full of frustration, blunt, and even a little hopeless. However, since God is its ultimate Author, its themes are realistic and necessary for us to grasp. With this article, John Ritenbaugh begins an extended series on Ecclesiastes and its trove of deep understanding.
Ours is a discontented world, and current events indicate that more unsettled times are just ahead, creating more anxiety and dissatisfaction. God's Word tells us, however, ...
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
John Ritenbaugh debunks the foolish notion that it does not matter what we wear if our heart is right on the inside. Our clothing as well as our outward conduct must match what is going on in our inner heart or being. Our clothing, often symbolizing righteousness, ought to reflect or symbolize our inward character. We are admonished to dress up to the standards that God finds acceptable. Old Testament examples of the importance of dressing up before God or when we enter His presence include Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons. When God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel, He dressed her up in quality clothing, but when Israel played the harlot, her seductive clothing became a symbol of defiance against God. As Aaron and his priestly sons were commanded to wear special clothing symbolizing purity and righteousness, we as a forming kingdom of priests, must give attention to our clothing as it symbolizes our inward spiritual character and submissiveness to God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the redemptive process, indicates that redemption obligates us to glorify God in our bodies and our spirit. Spiritually, we are literally owned by Christ and are duty bound to do what He asks. Hair length and clothing are outward indicators of a person's inner spiritual condition. Clothing serves as a testimony of what we are on the inside, reflecting our attitude and conduct. As Adam and Eve discovered, the intents of the heart cannot be hidden from God. Their clothing, consisting of sacrificed animal skins, to conceal their shame prefigures Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins. We advertise the contents of our hearts by what we wear. Unfortunately lust and sexual perversion fueled by discontentment drive the tastes of much the fashion industry. What we wear automatically influences our behavior. Like hair length, our clothing also indicates God ordained gender distinction.
John Ritenbaugh insists that a Christian's perspective or point of reference should always be from God's point of view, as determined by the pages of the Bible. Our human heart, looking and evaluating on the outward appearance, perpetually drawn to the world, must be replaced with the motivation from God's Holy Spirit- cleaning up character and removing defilement from within. How we dress and how we act on the outside is determined by what is in our heart. God desires that we dress, behave, and act according to His upgraded standards. Both clothing and hair length have been perennial flashpoints, signaling and reflecting areas of rebellion, defiled attitudes, and spiritual health providing a reliable barometer of a person's character, as in the cases of Absalom and Nebuchadnezzar. Casualness or carelessness in matters of hair length show rebelliousness in acceptance of covenant prescribed governmental or gender roles.
Does God protect His people even today? Indeed, God's arm has not been shortened!
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
John Ritenbaugh explores the source or origin of sin. God gave us a nature oriented to the physical, having a heavy pull toward self-centeredness, totally ignorant of moral responsibility, but capable of being enlightened. Because of this blindness and ignorance, our human nature has a predisposition toward sin - leading to a continuous indwelling struggle, something God intended us to endure, enabling us to build character by resisting its powerful pull. Though influenced by Satan and the world, sin is still a personal choice rooted in pride and vanity (originated by Satan). Christ's sacrifice and God's Holy Spirit provide our only defense against its deadly pulls.
Atonement, when we are commanded to afflict our souls through fasting, is a time of self-evaluation and repentance. This is the only way to have real unity with God.
The Bible states that offenses will come. John Ritenbaugh explains how to handle offenses and how to keep minor irritations from growing into bitterness.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a phenomenon described by Alvin Toffler as Future Shock, a stressful malady caused by an inability to accommodate or adjust to rapid change. Over-stimulation and rapid change (accompanied by the death of permanence) eventually produces apathy and future shock. The antidote to future shock (or attaining the way back to permanence) includes (1) becoming goal oriented toward permanent things (Matthew 6:33), (2) making sure of permanent values (Deuteronomy 4:40; Hebrews 13:8) (3) working to build wholesome habit, custom or routine (Exodus 31:13), and (4) building quality human relationships (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10; Ecclesiastes 4:9)
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon a generally pessimistic treatise, read in the annual cyclical Jewish tradition, during the Feast of Tabernacles, illustrates the disillusionment that love for this world will inevitably bring (I John 2:17). Realizing that the world is passing away, our priorities should be on fearing God and keeping his commandments. The temporary booths (short lived and quickly deteriorating) at the Feast depicts our temporary and impermanent, often unpleasant and disappointing (Hebrews 2:10) earthly pilgrimage or sojourn, contrasted with the permanence of Christ's rule and our future eternal life. (Romans 8:17-18). Without living for God's purpose for us, this life is absolutely meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 1:10-12)
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that pride comes about in a person because of a perverted comparison—a comparison that will elevate one above another, make one feel better than another, or more deserving than others. Because of its arrogant self-sufficiency, it stands between our relationship with God, the source of all true spirituality and spiritual gifts. Pride, subtly elevating man to the same level of God (a perverted comparison) results in his rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation. Our dependence upon God for what we are and what we know is essential for the production of humility. The truly humble, realizing their dependence, cry out to God continually for help—all the way through life into the resurrection.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
John Ritenbaugh examines the metaphor of light as a symbol of God's truth or God's Holy Spirit, convicting us of our self-deception, rescuing us from ignorance, and demonically inspired philosophies, leading us into a wholesome relationship with God. Without the Spirit of God, looking at God's truth resembles looking into the darkness. We see shape and forms of things, but without the Spirit of God, the things (the truths that make up all the mechanisms of God's purpose), all of the doctrines, all of the teachings'none of these make sense or give us a clear picture of what God is doing. With the Spirit of God (the light of God), we see the true shape and form of things and reality appears as something we can see clearly.
In this sermon on overcoming Satan, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy (James 3:16) In confronting our wily adversary (the source of all this confusion), we must maintain constant vigilance (James 4:7, I Peter 3:5-8), resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure.If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken (I John 3:8, 5:18). Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes (II Corinthians 10:3-5) where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
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 reiterates that if one does not give up control to God (does not submit to Him), then one is never going to live the Government of God; and one will never be able to understand it. The church is neither an institution nor a corporation, but a living organism- a body connected to the Head (Jesus Christ). The body exists and functions by reason of its vital union to the living Jesus Christ. Church government is family government, with each member submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21). The ministry's authority consists of teaching, edifying, and equipping the members for sainthood, but not to wield dictatorial power over their lives
John Ritenbaugh indicts modern Israel for its blatant hypocrisy, playing games with God's truth. A community can only be established upon a foundation of stability and truth. The two most influential persons in any community are the preacher and king — roles that our Elder Brother Jesus has rightfully assumed by virtue of His inherent embodiment of truth. The Ninth Commandment carries some striking harmonic parallels with the Third Commandment, the latter regulating the quality of our relationships with others as the former regulates the quality of our relationship with God. God wants our relationship with other men to be based upon His truth, establishing a solid reputation for honesty, faithfulness, and reliability. Conversion (and being a good witness) hinges upon recognizing, submitting to, and embracing truth, totally uncovering and displacing any deceptive shameful hidden things in our lives.
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 observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
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