[Editor's note - Audio Quality improves at 5m30s] Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the spring cleaning associated with deleavening, reminds us that God is a God of order, sustaining and upholding all things, and encourages us to clean, maintain, dress and keep, improving what He has given us. As God's creation, He works to make improvements in each of us. Though we are sometimes neglectful, Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, is never neglectful, but is, with Our Heavenly Father, bringing all His called-out ones to spiritual maturity. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread rehearse the plan of God, beginning with our justification through Christ's blood, followed by a life-long sanctification process in which we discard sin, at the same time building Godly character by consuming the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In western culture, we have applied the command to deleaven (put out sin) and put on righteousness as an individual responsibility. In the Middle Eastern culture, people put the command in a communal light, with the patriarchs of each tribe showing a personal responsibility for their family. In the New Testament, Paul also puts the responsibility on the community, with husbands, wives, children, employers, and employees learning their responsibilities toward one another, indicating that our communal behavior can corrupt (symbolized by the fermentation of leaven) one another or provide a good example for one another. Our sphere of influence radiates far beyond ourselves to the entire community. If each of us individually puts out the leaven of malice and consume the Unleavened Bread of sincerity (free from hypocrisy), we would fulfill our community responsibility to our sphere of influence, cementing our relationships with one another, with Jesus Christ, and God the Father.
Charles Whitaker, focusing on the image of James and John mending their nets, asserts that, just as God maintains what He has framed, keeping it in good repair after He had repaired the damage Satan and his demons brought on the physical creation, not only restoring but adding value to make it better, so we, as God's workmanship, cooperate with our Heavenly Father to maintain and repair damage inflicted on what has been entrusted to us as we make our spiritual journey, not only repairing what has become damaged, but actually improving and enhancing its quality. God improved the physical creation by adding mankind and the Sabbath. When auto enthusiasts restore old automobiles, they add custom features such as better steering wheels, souped-up carburetors, or better radios, improving the value of the vehicle. God's initial command to Adam and Eve was to dress and keep the Garden of Eden. For our task of restoration and maintaining, God has given us spiritual gifts that enable us to accomplish our part of the task, equipping and strengthening us for the arduous sanctification process that God began before the foundation of the earth. God has laid the foundation before the foundation of the earth, and will maintain, repair, and mend until the project is completed, promising to remain with us from start to finish. Our responsibility is to run the race with our whole might, knowing that God has provided us everything we need to win, and has promised to never give up on us as long as we maintain our part of the covenant He has made with us.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ezekiel 34, in which the self-centered shepherds devour the flocks, reminds us that in addition to religious leaders, shepherds also include governmental, corporate, educational, and family leaders. In the combined history of Judah and Israel, when the leaders abandoned the covenants with God, the citizenry generally followed suit. Today, the prophecy in Isaiah 3:12 has come to pass in full force. Isaiah's prophecy, "children are their oppressors is being fulfilled on several levels, from youthful gang violence and leaders "Childish," immature minds, unable to grasp the true demands of leadership. God desires to create leaders who can show by example rather than tyrannically dominate by brute force. It seems that the vast majority of Israel's leaders have had serious deficits in leadership skills. The only Being who is worthy to rule is Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12)], who qualified by what He did in the past, totally yielding Himself to the will of God the Father, following Him unconditionally. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to follow the same course, qualifying to become a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9), and co-heirs with Christ as His collective Bride. The Leadership that God desires of us is what we learn following the Lamb, conforming to His example. Without a broad comprehension of God's covenants, we cannot presume to lead. None of us had a trace of leadership skills before our calling; what we accomplish is only due to God's working with us, imprinting His leadership skills in us. Covenants are unifying agents (as long as we pay attention to what God says), revealing not only His purpose, but also His judgments. The vast creation serves as a teaching device, instructing mankind about God's grace. The first covenant is the Edenic, which teaches that (1) God is the Creator, (2) God is orderly, (3) creation mirrors God's perfection, (4) creation is not to be worshiped, and (5) God has tasked mankind with managing His creation.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Year of Release which falls on the Feast of Trumpets, relates that the Year of Release has ushered in major historical events, such as the September 11th attack and two financial collapses in 2001 and 2008. The Year of Release reminds us that God gives land as a gift to mankind to produce wealth. God is the Owner; we are the tenant as long as we exercise responsibility to dress and keep it. The Year of Release cancels, drops, and remits debts. The land continues to be God's. This year reminds us that God is the Creator, and we must trust God for sustenance every day. Man does not hold land in perpetuity, but only under the Eternal's trust. We own nothing until God entrusts us with His spiritual gifts. The Year of Release is a time lenders should forgive debts, mirroring God's forgiving our sins. The ancient Israelites had a difficult time forgiving debt. When we left spiritual Egypt, we were on death row, but all our sins were forgiven and the penalty dropped. The land Sabbath is a type of the weekly Sabbath wherein the land is given time to regenerate and restore its fertility. There was to be no sowing, no reaping, no pruning, and no storing, but the farmer, the animal, and the poor could glean the produce. The seventh year was also the time to release those who had fallen into servitude for monetary ineptitude.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that we have an ambivalent attitude to change, resisting it when it upsets our equilibrium or desiring it when we are in dire straits, proclaims that God deliberately places change in our lives to bring about spiritual growth toward perfection. The second law of thermodynamics teaches us that all matter is in a perpetual state of decay unless energy is expended to halt the process. God's command to Adam to dress and keep the environment indicates the dynamics of this principle. Our offspring would be stalled at a premature state of their developmental process if they did not weather tests and developmental tasks, some of them extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable. God as our Parent is no different; He will not curtail change in our lives until we are conformed into His image. God is the author of change in order to bring events to the conclusion He wants.
John Ritenbaugh profiles the narcissistic personality, characterized by a highly self-absorbed and manipulative individual who, on one hand, has abused his God-given gifts and, on the other hand, neglected the responsibility of using them properly. Probably the biblical character best exemplifying the narcissistic personality is David's son, Absalom, clearly a spoiled son in a dysfunctional family. David was not noted for his childrearing skills, rarely calling any of his children into account for their behavior, but pampered them and indulged their multiple transgressions. Moreover, in both David's and Jacob's polygamous marital situations (tolerated but not condoned by God), fairness would have been next to impossible. Absalom developed a highly deceitful charm, able to "sweet-talk a bird out of a tree" with his disarming verbal eloquence, learning to be a controller par excellent. Using his scheming manipulative skills, he stealthily (taking the law in his own hands) arranged the murder of his older brother, a competitive contender for the throne. Absalom, using his manipulative charm and unctuous verbal skills, won the hearts of the common people, undercutting his father's honor and authority. For his vanity, his self-aggrandizement, and super-inflated ego, he became a "pin cushion" at the order of Joab. Absalom used his gifts and talents only for himself. With Absalom's negative example in mind, we need to make sure we do not use our spiritual gifts for self-service or self-aggrandizement, or worse yet, not to use them at all. Our children are gifts from God; we as parents must pass on to our children the sense of responsibility that has been given to us. We have to make ourselves answerable and responsible for their behavior, disciplining them for their carelessness and reinforcing their thoughtfulness. If Absalom would have been reared with these principles, much of David's bitterness and heartache would have been alleviated.
James Kelley: Growing numbers of people around the world are worried about the food supply—and they should be. ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that without our special calling and the gift of God's Holy Spirit, we would be about as clueless as to the purpose of our life as Solomon was throughout Ecclesiastes. Understanding is totally different from knowledge. Some people with ample knowledge are incredibly stupid when discerning the plan of God. Without God's Spirit the Bible makes no sense whatsoever. The mystery of God's plan, that special secret code, can only be discerned through special revelation powered by God's Holy Spirit. God did the choosing (often choosing the weak and base of the world); we did not. God is totally running the show; our lives must be in complete submission to His will, totally devoted to preparing for the next stage of God's purpose for our lives. The Millennium will be but a blip in the whole scheme of time propelling us as immortal beings and the very offspring of the immortal God into the vast infinitude and plenitude of the universe—all eventually under the subjection of God's family. Mankind is designed to be a builder, not a destroyer like Satan. The family will be the basic building block of the new government. Scriptural understanding will only become activated if we believe it, are committed to it, and are led by God's Holy Spirit following the pattern of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.
Is there anything to the constant cries from environmentalists about global warming? Or are they crying wolf? Charles Whitaker tackles this major controversey, relating that there is far more to it than dire predictions.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God's promise to heal (spiritually or physically) is inextricably coupled with the obligation to exercise responsibility, demonstrating physical and spiritual works in accordance with existing laws, while trusting in God throughout the healing process. The Bible is replete with individuals applying physical remedies (balms, poultices, as well as a competent physician's counsel) in tandem with trusting God. We cannot (in the manner of Asa and Ahaziah) leave God out of any process in our lives. As we pursue healing, we must 1) first seek God, 2) begin working on the solution, seeking wise counsel, 3) repent from the sin that has caused the malady, and 4) ardently obey God's laws, requiring works. Complying with these conditions, all who trust God will be healed in His time and His manner. Exercising faith in healing is in no way passive. God is creating problem solvers—not problem continuers.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the necessity of work (dressing and keeping our life, our health, our possessions, our calling, etc.). God has called us to a lifetime of productive work. We cannot allow Satan to cause us to resent working or to feel victimized, slighted, bitter, or lazy, rejecting God's ordained purpose for us—creating obedient children who work as He does. It takes hard work to live up to the virtues of God; it does not happen automatically. Living by faith requires patience but certainly not passivity; it requires that we work toward a God-ordained purpose (of which we currently do not entirely see the outcome). Both spiritual and physical healing require us to work intensely, asking for God's merciful intervention while actively working toward a solution, exercising wisdom and common sense as we consider the array of possible procedures.
John Ritenbaugh uses an impelling example of some Ukrainian Jews who applied foresight and sacrifice to escape from the impending onslaught of the Nazis, saving themselves from certain destruction. The sermon then focuses upon the dangers of sloth and procrastination, coupled with the effects of the second law of thermodynamics (the tendency of all physical matter to break down). If we as Christians fail to dress and keep, cultivating, embellishing, and improving what has been entrusted to us (including our bodies and health), we are equivalent to a destroyer. Fighting the forces of decay - a continuous struggle of overcoming planned for us by almighty God - requires constant, life-long work and vigilance. We should never delude ourselves that we are "innocent victims" of our own sins or destructive habits. We have a sobering responsibility to analyze our health needs, continually adjusting and changing as we learn, faithfully maintaining the temple of God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the cosmology of ancient Greece (a combination of pagan and scientific thought), explains that these ideas and notions—many totally saturated with astrology and Gnostic dualism—filtered into the doctrines of the early church. These syncretized, polluted Hellenistic ideas have never left the cardinal doctrines of mainstream Christianity. The incorporation of Gnostic dualism into doctrine has led to sloppy stewardship of physical health laws (dressing and keeping our bodies), a consequence of anti-nomian thought processes. The denigration of grace to license—"sin, that grace may abound"—derives directly from Gnosticism. "Modern" Gnostic thought (including the pernicious doctrines of progressive revelation and the immortality of the soul) literally destroyed or blew apart the Worldwide Church of God. We need to ensure that these virulent strains have not infected us.
We live in a society where both food and information are readily available. John Ritenbaugh asks, "What is our approach to them? How are we using attitude toward and application of them makes all the difference.
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!
John Ritenbaugh points out 700 references to the act of eating, all providing contexts or vehicles of serious spiritual instruction. Banquets invariably provide springboards for instruction, from Abraham's entertaining of angels, to Joseph's banquet for his brothers, to Esther's banquet for Haman to Belshazzar's feast featuring the handwriting on the wall to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Banquets- eating or refraining from eating- not only display God's faithful provisions and human righteousness, but eating (or refraining from eating) displays tests of a person's morality such as Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the sign of keeping the covenant (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and Christ's refusal to be tempted by food (Matthew 4). Eating reminds us that God's provision and human need also apply on a spiritual level.
John Ritenbaugh draws parallels between earthy (or physical) and spiritual things. The cleanliness laws in Leviticus, prescribing washing, cleansing, and quarantine procedures, apply to the spiritual dimension as well. God will not tolerate uncleanness, either spiritually or physically. Spiritual sin and filth (physical or spiritual) is the primary contributory cause in devastating diseases such as AIDS or E. Coli contamination. We, as priests-in-training, have the sobering responsibility of keeping our bodies, our quarters, our thoughts, and behaviors clean and pure. Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we need to flee uncleanness wherever the source.
John Ritenbaugh, using Paul's metaphor of the human body as the temple of God's Spirit (II Corinthians 6:16) insists that stewardship of our bodies or keeping ourselves healthy is (like the Levitical maintenance of the literal tabernacle) an aspect of holiness, promoting the strengthening of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The principle of dressing and keeping (Genesis 2:15) given to our original parents applies to our physical bodies as well. Good health is not an inherited right; it accrues as we apply God's standards and health laws to our behavior. Even though we may have inherited some genetic weaknesses from the sins of our ancestors, we have a God- given responsibility to maintain what we have been given in top condition, if necessary, glorifying God in our affliction.
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
John Ritenbaugh, soberly reflecting on the $19 trillion dollar national debt and with 25% of American private citizens two days away from bankruptcy, he warns that the prudent shouldn't continue to live in a fool's paradise, but should make common sense preparations, like the ant, (Proverbs 6:6-8) storing up provisions for at least a season. Prophetic warnings are given to motivate preparation. Both the watchman and the one who hears (Ezekiel 3:17) have a grave responsibility to make prudent economic and spiritual preparations for bad times, tightening belts, helping themselves and others through the tough times.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
Of all creation, man is the only creature made in God's image and given dominion over the rest of creation. When God breathed in the spirit of man (Genesis 2:7) to enable thinking, feeling, and creating, He imbued God-like characteristics, giving mankind the capability of subduing, controlling, and directing the rest of creation—a power not given to animals (Genesis 1:26, 28). With dominion comes responsibility to maintain (Genesis 2:15). The sad history of mankind shows that he has badly mismanaged his power, bringing about disease, war, and famine. Such people will be brought into account (Revelation 11:18). God's Spirit enables us to direct this power in a responsible, godly manner.
John Ritenbaugh acknowledges that most people have an ambivalent attitude toward government, on one hand fearing it as an evil instrument to deprive rights and on the other hand an instrument for social progress. God intended government to be a positive force of bringing order out of chaos, keeping on a straight course, educating, edifying, and to give laws which ensure an entity (family, organization, or country) does not become extinct. Governmental leaders from governor to judge to head of the family have the awesome responsibility to instill the proper fear of God and His commandments, giving instructions on the process of attaining abundant life (Deuteronomy 30:11-16).
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