John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
Christians living at the time of the end would do well to consider the character and behavior of Noah, a paragon of virtue and devotion to God. John Ritenbaugh explains that God and Noah worked side by side to deliver the small remnant of humanity through the waters of the Flood, God supplying the sanctification and grace and Noah obeying in faith. This is the kind of relationship God desires with us.
We carry an "old friend" around with us wherever we go, one whom we cherish and protect even though it frequently influences us to think, say, and do the wrong things. Referring to our human nature, our carnal or fleshly mind, John Ritenbaugh argues that, deceived or not, our sinful nature drives us to disobey God's laws, just as Adam and Eve transgressed by choosing the way of death. Such choices by all humanity have fashioned this present, evil world.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his comparison of the timid, insignificant sparrow with the virtually unnoticed, timid Church, reiterates that God has complete oversight over the awesome plan of creating offspring in His image. Consequently, we should not fear Satan, his demons, or the world, but we should fear and respect the One who has complete involvement in our lives. The calling of God the Father, compelling us to conform to the image of Christ, is in fact, a calling to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, reuniting mankind with God the Father through Jesus Christ. God's called-out ones, selected and predestinated before the foundation of the world, continue to submit to His instructions, while other professing 'Christians' throw out whole portions of His Law, including the Sabbath, a major tenant in both the Old and New Covenants, created, like light, water, air, and food, as a benefit and blessing to mankind. As God called out the Jew and the Greek, He began with the least significant of all people (including us) that no flesh should glory in His sight. Whatever gifts or assignments God has given us are to be used boldly for God's glory, not our own. We are undergoing sanctification, set apart for a special purpose of being refined into His likeness, a process which takes a lifetime, honing skills of endurance and resisting sin. Currently, the scattering of the church has furnished us a measure of protection, but Satan is doubling down on his plans for persecution, and we will (with God's Spirit dwelling in us) resist his pulls as did our Elder Brother before us. The battle lines have already been drawn between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve, with the separation of the line of Seth from the line of Cain. At least in part, God instituted marriage to reproduce, something angels cannot do (Luke 20:36). Though the sons of God have a natural fear of Satan, God has, in a sense, provided Satan to us for resistance, in order to develop godly character, becoming like Him, becoming one, as husband and
John Ritenbaugh reflecting on the curse imposed upon Satan and the enmity created between the serpent's seed and Eve, asserts that, paradoxically, this curse could be considered a blessing for those called of God, providing a practical means by which God creates character in those whom He called out before the foundation of the world. This understanding runs counter to the faulty dispensationalist theory which assumes that God, as a somewhat absent-minded tinker, must continually adjust His method of giving salvation (moving away from works to grace), making it easier and more inclusive. Dispensationalism assumes too much randomness or chance in God's plan, overlooking the intense purpose and planning of God's mind, having pre-planned or pre-destined all of us individually before the foundation of the world. Christ has full control of the church. Everything of consequence, including the development of our character, is engineered by Him; we did not find God by ourselves, but were chosen. The mystery of His plan, hidden from the world, has been revealed to the saints. The God who designed complex cells, molecules, and atoms certainly has the savvy to design a viable plan of salvation. God has had the same plan from the beginning of the world, having chosen us as the weak of the world so that no flesh could glory. The called-out church was not a passing fancy of God, but an entity which has been on His mind from the very beginning. Nothing happens randomly; God is in total control; the death of a sparrow (a rather insignificant and drab creature) does not occur without His full attention. We, like the sparrow, are undistinguished and drab by the world's standards, but given a glimpse of the mystery that God is reproducing Himself, bringing us altogether into one family in His Eternal Kingdom, at which time mother Eve's seed, from the line of Seth to the present, will be glorified.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Exodus 12:1-2, heralding the beginning of the sacred year in the springtime, when the foliage is sprouting and budding, points out that this season corresponds to one of the sacred appointed times of the year, the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Hebrew word used to mark these appointed times, regalim (or feet), connotes walking or a pilgrimage. The Hebrew year contained five paces, steps, or seasons, all corresponding to God's holy times. Patterns of five, grasped conveniently by the five digits of each hand, suggest grace or providence. Groupings of five arrange the seasons, the Torah (Pentateuch), the Megillot (Festival Scrolls), the Five Books of Psalms, and the summary Psalms. These recurring sets of five have common themes and patterns. The Song of Songs takes place in the springtime, awakening romance and love between the Shulamite and her Beloved, parallel to the romance between Christ and the Church. Genesis consists of a book of stories, accounts of the beginning of things, showing the consequences of wise and foolish choices. The Psalms in Book One of the Psalms deal with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, uttered by David, but lived by Jesus Christ. The themes consist of trust in God, suffering, facing opposition, and persecution, the Messianic themes of redemption, salvation, and kingship, leadership, and rulership, distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, two separate paths with two separate ends, tests and trials leading to hope, growth, and fruit. Psalm 1 is an instructional psalm, delineating two distinctive paths with positive consequences (derived from meditating the things of God) and paths with negative consequences (as a result of rejecting God and His instructions). Jesus Christ is the personification of all that instruction. When God calls us out the world, He transplants us next to His stream of living water, enabling us to bear spiritual fruit and attain eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 constitutes a useful roadmap for the confusing labyrinth of life. God's ways are inscrutable to most people; grasping these revelations requires a special gift. Unless God calls us and gifts us with this insight, we will have absolutely no clue as to our eventual purpose, explaining why eternity has been planted in our hearts. God has given gifts to all men. He has revealed to all of mankind knowledge of His existence through public observation of the creation (Romans 1:18-20). It takes greater 'faith' to believe in evolution. God also gave mankind a conscience as a kind of wired-in moral law (Romans 2:14-15) establishing a basic standard of morality. God has given the entire human race a grasp of the concept of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Only those called by God are given further detailed instructions of God's grand design, making living by faith possible. God will add understanding as we are able to make use of it. Fear of God, the beginning of understanding, holds us on track, keeping us in alignment with God. We must learn that the time and the events God has set are unchangeable; whatever God does endures forever. We must trust God's timing on everything. Compared to our fallible or haphazard timing, God "runs a tight ship." What God has purposed will be done. We are obligated to submit to His creativity, trusting that He will bring to fruition what He has purposed; we are His workmanship, fashioned to perform good works—our permanent assignment regardless of the circumstances. Past, present, and future are inextricably bound together as a continuous stream; God alone controls the historical segments, giving us practical experience as to what works and what does not. The circularity of history provides instructive correction and guidance, enabling us multiple opportunities to repent and overcome. In the life of the called, everything matters. The work of God endures forever. We are known by God; He is in control. Judgment is a prominent t
One of the lessons of Ecclesiastes is that God is intimately involved in the lives and futures of those He has called into His purpose. To this end, He has given His people tremendous gifts that, if properly used, will build their faith and draw them closer to God. John Ritenbaugh encourages us that we matter to God: He wants to see us succeed in life and be prepared for life in His Kingdom.
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.
In this keynote address of the 2007 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Abraham's pattern of life, answers the question, 'Why is the Church of the Great God doing what it is doing at this time?' Abraham and Sarah's life of faith is the pattern that God's called-out ones are obligated to follow. Interestingly, though Abram, a highly educated man and a scientist, was exceedingly rich, he never owned a home or put down roots, living as an alien or a sojourner in his own land, having considered something else (a better country, a city whose Builder and Maker is God) more important. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are also sojourners, seeking a transcendent goal of a future kingdom. We keep the Feast of Tabernacles to learn to fear God in the same way Abraham feared God, trusting God to take care of all our needs. As He had with Abraham, God is closely analyzing scrutinizing the motives and intents of our minds, judging and evaluating our behaviors, thoughts, and affairs. God is always watching us, often painfully tweaking our behaviors, with the ultimate objective of saving us. Like Abraham, we must realize that our sovereign God rules, having a predetermined purpose and plan for everybody. The scattering of the greater church of God was God-ordained, providing a test for godliness and love. The myopic isolating demonstrated by some splinter groups is an abomination and an affront to God's sovereignty. We must see God in the midst of these events.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on I John 4:17, marvels at the depth of love God the Father has for us as unique, special components of His creation, loving each of us as much as He loved Christ. The Father and the Son have worked cooperatively, harmoniously submitting to one another, in the planning and creation of this vast awesome universe- right down to the last tiny, minute detail. Our faith should have progressed far beyond the rudimentary question of whether God exists to the more mature iron-clad trust that God loves us, and would not put us through anything He didn't consider necessary for our spiritual growth and development. God freely gave us His Son, His calling, His Spirit (giving us the enduring love as well as the will and power to do His will), and trials to shape and fashion our character. For God's called out children, there is no such thing as time and chance. The events which seen random to us are totally purposeful to God, having artfully designed them for our ultimate good.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
How involved in man's affairs is God? Is He merely reactive, or does He actively participate—even cause events and circumstances? John Ritenbaugh argues that God is the Prime Mover in our lives and in world events.
The September 11 bombings were certainly tragic and terrible. Some have since asked, "Was God involved? Is He to blame?" John Ritenbaugh soberly answers some of these tough questions, concluding that God certainly allowed them to occur for our ultimate and eternal benefit.
God's sovereignty seems to imply that prayer is a fruitless exercise—that God has everything already planned. John Ritenbaugh explains, however, that we must change our ideas about the function of prayer: It is not to change God's mind but ours!
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh explores the different nuances of the verb "know," indicating that to know God requires experience, positive emotional responses, and the involvement with the whole person. Unlike merely "knowing about" (book knowledge), we don't really know something unless we have done it. Knowing God manifests itself in the way one lives, reflecting faithfulness and true obedience.Knowing God is to live as God lives if God were a man, applying instinctively or habitually the myriad principles of His instruction (Torah), merging experientially thinking and doing. Eternal life is to know God, living as God lives.
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 emphasizes that prayer is perhaps the most important thing we do in terms of maintaining our salvation. The purpose of prayer is not to overcome God's reluctance, but rather to yield and conform us to His will. The oft quoted slogan 'Prayer changes things' is only true if the prayer conforms to God's will (James 4:13-15). Unlike indulgent tolerant parents, God does not give into the whims of His children, but instead grants petitions which lead to greater spiritual growth and conformity to His image.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon God's management of mankind. God has consistently moved His creation toward its ultimate purpose, setting the bounds of nations, motivating rulers (Proverbs 12:1) to pursue a certain course of action, sometimes against their will. It is God's will that we submit to governmental authority (legal or illegal), obeying God, of course, rather than men (Acts 5:29) to the end that by doing good, we provide a good example, silencing the foolish accusations of men. God has chosen a tiny fragment of weak individuals, rescuing them from Satan's rebellious mindset (Ephesians 2:1-3) to fashion into obedient and submissive vessels of glory.
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who have made a covenant with God can be seduced or corrupted unless they make a concerted effort to know God. Knowing God means to realize that God has the right and the power to do with any one of us as He pleases. John the Baptist, when he saw his influence waning, graciously and humbly acquiesced to God's desire, realizing who was in control. Like David and Christ in Psalm 22:6, metaphorically comparing themselves to worms, we must humbly acknowledge our insignificance as well as our gratitude for our calling.
In this keynote address of the 1995 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh asserts that because cultural restraints which once held human nature in check have been removed, vile human nature has waxed increasingly more corrupt and depraved, approaching conditions described in Genesis 6:5-7. Skyrocketing statistics on social spending, abortion, violent crime, illegitimate births, divorce, teenage suicides etc. indicate a worsening cancerous degeneracy (Isaiah 1:6). Paradoxically, increased social spending, by creating dependency, has actually worsened the problems. God has indicted our people (Hosea 4:1-3, Ezekiel 7:23-27) for its bloody violence and disregard for the preciousness of life. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures a refreshing time when these problems will be dealt with from the just and equitable mind of God.
Addressing the problem of our supposed anonymity and insignificance, John Ritenbaugh asserts that the little things we do make big impacts in the grand scheme of things; little things make a big difference. Corollaries of this "little things count" principle include: 1) In the reproductive process, there is a powerful tendency toward increase. 2) Every action has a corresponding reaction. 3) We reap what we sow. 4) The fruit produced will be more than what was sown. Sin produces increase (the leavening effect) just as righteousness does. In carnal human nature, there is no impediment to sin. Sin has an addictive, drug-like quality that requires more and more to satisfy. Degeneracy (as a consequence of natural law) is exponentially incremental. Like Achan's "hidden" transgression, what we do in secret eventually comes to light, making an impact on the whole body.
John Ritenbaugh, expanding on God's swearing by His Holiness, adds that when God looks upon people who call themselves by His name, He expects to see certain family characteristics- exemplified by holiness, purity, and morality. Amos indicated that God could not identify these characteristics in people appropriating His name. God's called out ones are obligated to avoid defilement from any source whatsoever, taking special care not to mix God's truth with worldly tradition and rank paganism, forming a syncretistic religion. Amos, using the unflattering image of cows of Bashan, censures the women of Israel (normally the safeguard for the family morality) for abandoning morality, living exclusively for pleasure, materialism, and self-centeredness (often at the expense of the poor and needy), while practicing devoutly a form of syncretistic religion. God, through His prophets, warns that God (with a motive of love) will chasten His people with increasing severity until they repent and begin to reflect His characteristics.
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