Mark Schindler, reflecting on Winston Churchill's famous description of Russia following the German invasion of Poland in 1939—"Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," observes that the majority of organized 'Christianity' have a similar view of God. Even to the vast numbers of the currently uncalled, God has made His invisible nature intelligible to the human mind—unless it has become reprobate by engaging in willful perversion. To God's called-out ones given the mind of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is not a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. God has called us that we, with His help, might transform our carnal natures into spiritual natures as we incrementally inculcate into our beings the nature of God. Charles Krauthammer, apparently without the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit, concluded that believing in either evolution and creation requires faith. He cautiously affirmed, "I cannot say I believe in God, but I fear Him." As God's called-out ones facing on-going judgment during our sanctification process, we are committed to knowing Him, taking on His attributes, and honoring His Holy name—which we aspire to become our family name.
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, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
Gary Garrett, acknowledging that, while the Old Testament Israelites, under the Prevailer with God, provided the type of the Israel of God, Jesus Christ, who was called out of Egypt, fulfilling multiple Messiahship prophecies, is actually God's Israel. The Israel of God makes up the body identified in Galatians 6:15-16. The Israel of God identifies the Church which He established, and over which Christ is the Head. The Church, symbolized as a woman, serves as a remnant of all Israel, (1) overcoming Satan by the blood of the Lamb, (2) overcoming Satan by its testimony, and (3) turning their lives over to God. As God will spare one portion of the Israel of God, bringing it to a place of safety, He will require a second portion to demonstrate its loyalty during fiery tribulation. As God's called-out ones, we must seek the Lord while He may be found, diligently conforming to the image of Jesus Christ, rather than risk becoming refined the painful way by tribulation.
Austin Del Castillo, recalling his reaction to several encounters he had with evangelical "Jesus Freaks" year ago, with their saccharine "Have you given your heart to Jesus?" approach, remembers that their behavior seemed syrupy, making him extremely uncomfortable. Because Protestants have seemingly denigrated God's Law and championed Jesus Christ as the liberator from its so-called bondage, the late Herbert W. Armstrong emphasized God the Father, seemingly de-emphasizing the role of Jesus Christ as the betrothed fiancée of the Israel of God—that is, Church. It behooves God's called-out ones to recognize Jesus Christ as providing the access to God the Father, the Way and the Life. The vine and branch metaphor suggests that we are to form an intimate relationship with our Bridegroom. We need to please our fiancé, trying to do what He wants and refraining from what He hates, in contrast to those 'Christian' organizations who claim to love Him but which do not obey Him.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the estimated 50,000 "Christian" organizations currently extant, suggests that a tiny fraction of the world's people are following "the Way." Doctrinal purity, according to Jesus Christ, does not consist of man-made traditions, which often conflict with God's Commandments. False doctrines cut people off from a wholesome relationship with God. Doctrinal purity is measured according to how one emulates Christ, a requirement for those desiring to qualify to be among the 144,000 following the Lamb. Differences in doctrinal interpretation wreaked havoc on our former fellowship. Jesus Christ engineered its break up and the ensuing scattering of His people for their protection, rendering the splinter groups more obscure in the face of the coming wave of persecution. Scattered brethren, torn away from ineffectual social clubs, are now forced to rely on Jesus Christ as their only bulwark, with the training wheels of groupthink discarded. Christ did not establish any corporate entity, including the Church of the Great God, as His own special group. As the constituent members of the Israel of God realize they cannot cope with the barrage of trials with their own resources, they come to rely on Jesus Christ alone. Only by developing the mind of Christ can one gain ascendancy over the hopelessly evil carnal nature which threatens to destroy all of mankind. God works with the humble and contrite but never with the proud. From the beginning of Creation, the carnal mind has sought its own way. The only way to defeat deadly carnal nature is to stay close to Christ, acquiring His mind, the fountainhead of righteousness and spiritual maturity.
David C. Grabbe: Jesus Christ declares that among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28). John was the forerunner of the Messiah ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the lyrics of Bob Dylan's war protest song in 1964 "With God on Our Side," analyzes the conundrums Dylan proposes, "If God is on our side, is He as murderous as we are?" "If God is really on our side, what does that do with our perception of God's character?" The clear majority of professing Christians who claim they know God really do not because they have no relationship with Him—and most have rejected the Sabbath. As God's called-out ones, we are required to be doers as well as hearers, walking in His steps. Historically, the Israelitish nations have been talkers, but not doers. When ancient Israel wanted a king to be like the gentile nations, they virtually stripped God of His power, in doing so receiving the curse of a darkened, reprobate, animalistic mind. Humanists are foolish ignoramuses about what really matters in life. The framers of our Constitution were sincere educated men, but they were unconverted. Having experienced the turmoil of the Catholic—Protestant clash in Europe, they did not want any sect dictating religious doctrines or practices. A follower of Christ is mandated to: (1) follow Christ; (2) walk with Christ; (3) imitate Christ; and (4) walk in Christ's steps—doing exactly what Christ does. Consequently, as physical Israel is still reeling from the curse of I Samuel 8 (rejecting God's rule to replace it with a tyrannical Gentile-like government), we need to guard against the multitudinous distractions, realizing that God is sovereign, totally regulating the political and cultural upheaval, shaping it to accomplish His ultimate purpose.
Austin Del Castillo, observing the ballooning prayer list, the continuing fractures occurring throughout the greater Church of God, and the high frequency of people offended, asserts that, unless our primary relationship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ, a positive relationship with our called-out brethren will be impossible, and we will come to feel alone in our spiritual battle. Too many have become strangers to God. Our relationship with God must be real and not imaginary, much closer than any family member or friend. God loves us far more than we love our children. Through accessing His Holy Spirit as metaphorical branches of the vine, we take on godly characteristics, having love for our brethren, willing to sacrifice our lives for them, if necessary, exceeding the bravery of the mythical Aragorn and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. Jesus will never force us to love Him; only we can do that. Absolutely no one should be closer and more intimate with us than Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining the Apostle's Creed, a formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief, in probability crafted by believers of the first century as a memory tool summarizing what the apostles taught, points out that absolutely no concept of a trinity appears in this document (a notion that did not appear in Catholicism or Orthodoxy until the 4th Century at the Council of Nicaea). Further, the Apostle's Creed provides a powerful affirmation of the Resurrection and Eternal Life as a cardinal doctrine. In the formative years of our previous fellowship, the death of Christ and putting away sin was emphasized, but His Resurrection from the Dead was sadly de-emphasized because it was felt that it brought to mind Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox associations with Easter worship. The doctrine of Christ's resurrection is of paramount importance to us, because Christ alone has the keys to our own resurrection and eternal life as First Fruits. The reality of Christ's resurrection permeates the New Testament from John's vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ to the boldness expressed by Christ's disciples and other eye-witnesses to this miraculous event recorded in the Gospels. Paul's encapsulation of the Resurrection in I Corinthians 15 was perhaps the template for the Apostle's Creed. Paul assures the Corinthians that if Christ has not risen from the Dead, paving the way for our resurrection, our whole practice of religion is futile and useless. But the reality of the Resurrection is: (1) Jesus became our Mediator and High Priest, (2) allowing us to have a relationship with God the Father. Through the New Covenant, He has put His Laws into our hearts and minds. As the Second Adam, the First Born resurrected from the dead, He has opened the door of the resurrection and eternal life for those who believe. There is absolutely no resurrection apart from our active relationship with Jesus Christ, striving to emulate Him in every area of life, enduring to the end, when we too will be chan
David Grabbe, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are about leaving one venue (sin and Satan) and moving toward deliverance, warns us that as we leave sin, we do not want to leave our first love, as did the Ephesus congregation as recorded in Revelation 2:1. The Ephesians had a strong sense of duty to not let down, as well as serving as a vanguard in the battle against the false doctrines of the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans. What was lacking was the devotion to Christ, Who had given His life; the spark of love had gone and was replaced by a mechanical going- through- the- motions. They were not zealously attempting to form a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In an environment of turmoil, it is easy to draw inward in protection of the self, ignoring our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow to the stature of Jesus Christ, or our works are meaningless and will not produce fruit or light. Our prior fellowship lost its lamp-stand because of losing its first love. We do not dare follow in its footsteps, but must reignite our first love with the help of God's Holy Spirit.
Part One ended with considering Proverbs 18:24—“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”—in relation to the meaning of Passover and Christ’s giving of His life for His friends ...
David C. Grabbe: John 15:4-5 in the Phillips translation gives us a great deal to consider: "You can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. ...
David C. Grabbe: The New Testament in Modern English, commonly known as the "Phillips Translation," contains a salient rendering of John 15:1-8: "I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser. ...
David C. Grabbe: God is keenly interested in whether His people overcome Satan, including this world, which the Devil has shaped, and our own human nature, which he has corrupted and continues to influence. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the times we are about to go through will be unparalleled history, suggests that we need to keep our vision before us. We have the obligation to be loyal to Jesus Christ. We cannot, as our forebears did on the Sinai, harden our necks in disbelief and disobedience as a result of flagging faith. Our forebears were charged with enthusiasm as they left Egypt, but their faith ultimately waned. Our current day fellowship faced a similar attenuation of faith, leading to a precarious decline in membership. We have an obligation to place our faith in a Living Being. Christ is not going to draw back from us, but we might allow something to come between us and our High Priest. The people of Hebrews, like us, were living in an end time, prior to the destruction of the temple. For the recipients of Hebrews and for us, faith is a use it or lose it proposition. God sought us out; we didn't find Him by our seeking. What God has given us He has given to very few people. Humility must be at the foundation in the relationship between us and Jesus Christ. The church exists solely because what God has purposed and done, not because anything we have done. When pride exists within us, God can do nothing with us. God dwells with those who exhibit contrite and humble hearts. In His spiritual creation, God has demonstrated extraordinary planning and foresight, planning and caring for the destinations of billions of individuals. With God, nothing happens randomly; even mistakes we have made can work for our ultimate good. As God's called-out ones, we are special.
David C. Grabbe: In examining the letter to Laodicea, we can easily see to what extent a relationship deficit stands at its core. Beginning with the name, Laodicea means "the people judge." ...
David C. Grabbe: The letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21), the Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants (Luke 12:35-40), and the fifth chapter of the Song of Songs all picture Jesus Christ standing behind a door, waiting for His people to respond. ...
In the unsettling letter to the church of Laodicea, Jesus Christ paints a picture of Himself in relation to the end-time church. Notice the figure He uses in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
In this keynote message of the 2006 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh again alludes to the handwriting is on the wall episode in Daniel 5:5, reminding us that power belongs to God. David also states this in Psalm 62:11. Paul realized that only through using his reciprocity to strengthen his relationship with God was he able to both abound and be abased (Philippians 4:4). When we are in trouble, we, like David, need to contact God first. God is the only sure place of protection. When we are in deep distress, why not go directly to the top? To those who now believe, there is no being more trustworthy than God.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
We live in a society that is increasingly concerned about ownership. We have a proclivity to assume ownership over things we find in our grasp. David Grabbe considers this principle in relation to the Sabbath. Who owns it—and how does the answer to this question affect our keeping of it?
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.
Some know that Christ is at the door, but they will not rouse themselves from their spiritual lethargy to open it. Pat Higgins explains that failing to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities and tools God has provided for us is gambling with eternal life!
As he begins concluding his series, John Ritenbaugh writes that the offerings have a great deal to do with our relationship with God. How closely do we identify with Christ? Are we walking in His footsteps? Are we being transformed into His image?
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
The Bible frequently uses analogies from physical life to explain spiritual principles. Food and eating are no exceptions. In fact, there are over 700 references to eating in Scripture. The lessons we can learn from them must be important!
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of "the fellowship of His sufferings" and "being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10). Christ's death had both a substitutionary and a representative aspect. The former pays for our sins, but the latter provides an example (He is the archegos) that we must emulate or imitate. When we obligate ourselves (something God cannot do for us) to mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13), refusing to feed the hungry beast of our carnal nature and killing the old man, we suffer the ravaging effects of sin. Experiencing suffering for righteousness' sake accelerates our spiritual growth and enables us to know Christ.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
Can a book like the Song of Songs contain prophecy that is applicable to today? Richard Ritenbaugh shows that, far from being just a book about married love, the Song of Songs relates to the present condition of the church.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that salvation cannot be earned or bought, reminds us that a gift is still a gift even though a condition has to be met. Meeting a condition does not (as Protestants would have us believe) change the character of a proposition. Keeping the commandments is the way we express love for God. The works that God demands of us consists of overcoming our flesh, the world, and Satan, as reflected in keeping God's commandments (John 14:15, I John 5:3). There is a direct relationship between loving Christ and doing the right works. God's love for us places us under a compelling obligation to reciprocate and to pass it on to others.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Old Testament emphasis on the dwelling in booths and the sacrifices as the context for rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40-44). Even though the Feast is an interlude from our customary activities, it is not a vacation (a cessation from our spiritual sacrifices, duties, or responsibilities). If we do not prioritize properly, (fearing God -Deuteronomy 14:23 and seeking God's Kingdom- Matthew 6:33), the miscellaneous distractions of this world (Mark 4:19) could railroad our most important priority. The booths depict our current lives as pilgrims, people on the move, not living in our own country, wandering single-mindedly toward our destination as our forefather Abraham had earlier set the pattern (Hebrews 11:8), fully determined that the cares of the world would not deter him from his goal.
John Ritenbaugh insists that nine steps had to be included with the Passover process, including the eating of the lamb, all within the house until the morning. The time frame designated for Passover was ben ha arbayim—a period of time between the going down of the sun and complete darkness (dusk), totally within the confines of the designated day, in this case the fourteenth, as God had commanded. To use scholarship that contradicts the Bible—relying upon tradition rather than God's Word—is not unlike carrying the Ark of the Covenant in the oxcart.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
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