John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
John Ritenbaugh contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
If we don't know where we're going, we aren't going to get there! John Ritenbaugh illustrates that our vision of our goal—the Kingdom of God—is a compelling motivation to overcome, grow, and bear fruit in preparation for eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the doctrinal changes made by the leaders in the Worldwide Church of God were intended to destroy the vision of the purpose God is working out. Ignoring the last portion of Ephesians 2:10, the proponents of the no works, no conditions, no standards, cheap grace mentality have perverted the name of Christianity, adopting the fruit of the world's brand of Christianity, cutting itself off from the law and rule of God. In contrast to this adolescent "obey because we feel like it"- "all roads lead to heaven" mentality is God's package, consisting of a body of laws, a body of beliefs or doctrines, and a way of life, all of which are working to produce a magnificent product- not merely to save us.
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 explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
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