Richard Ritenbaugh, marveling about biblical scholars' tying themselves into knots as they consider the proper genre for the book of the Esther— parable, comedy (in the classical sense), chronicle, morality play or fictional drama —reminds us that God wants us to study the Bible in depth, including the symbolic connections, but especially the plot and characterization, integral parts of the book of Esther. Mordecai, identified as a Benjamite (the tribe with a checkered past), lives and behaves as a man of God should, both an ideal Jew and a typical Jew, exiled as an aristocrat, an ethnic Jew related to King Saul, with special abilities from God, adopting his orphaned cousin Hadassah as his own daughter. Mordecai's sterling character does not change, but remains the standard against which all the other characters are judged, serving as a type of God, an invisible guiding force, concealing and protecting Hadassah from danger. Haman the Agagite is an evil, power-hungry schemer, a Satan-like being, the nemesis of the Jews, including Mordecai and Esther and King Ahasuerus. Esther is a Jewess living in a pagan culture, with a name referring to the goddess of love. Her Hebrew name represents a white flower with a perfume more exquisite than the rose. Just as Mordecai conceals Esther, God conceals His people in secret places under the shadow of His wings, in the sanctuary—the fellowship of the Church. Like Esther, we are pawns at the beginning of our conversion, but we must change dramatically to love God with all our hearts, actively doing His commandments, growing spiritually in responsibility as did Esther, who grew from her initial passive role to taking one of leadership, and that in sharp contrast to King Xerxes, an alcoholic whose advisers easily manipulate.
Martin Collins, focusing on an insight by Leonard Sax in his book Girls on the Edge, warns that the transition from girlhood to womanhood has been made extremely difficult because of impossible societal demands requiring young women to become sexy supermodels, a demand out of sync with the real adult world. Taylor Swift, in her poignant Love Story ballad, expresses a longing for a more tranquil time when love was not a cheap one-night stand. Fifty years ago, women were the gatekeepers of sexual activity, with virginal purity a high priority. Sadly, sexual purity in today’s media seems to be a badge of dishonor. Girls today often feel ashamed of appearing virtuous. The entertainment media, in the spirit of Isaiah 5:20, have called bad good and good bad. The penalty for sexual immorality is still death; the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman should still be the ideal for young girls transitioning into womanhood.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the words of the covenant which the Lord made with Israel, recorded in Deuteronomy 29, maintains that this covenant still applies to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) even though the vast majority of modern Israel have rejected this covenant and, consequently, can no longer claim to be God's "chosen people." We dare not go down the same path as our fellow Americans or our fellow descendants of Jacob have followed, remembering the absolute uniqueness of the Church (or Israel of God.) If we follow the dictates of our heart, as has physical Israel, we will not acquire peace, but will instead share in their curses. As long as we mirror God's characteristics, we are the Israel of God. We have been called to qualify to provide leadership under Jesus Christ, leadership which will be tested throughout a lifetime of testing and trial. We learn from our original parents that as soon as we sin, a stark change occurs throughout our nervous system, subjecting us to shame and fear. As part of God's judgment on Satan, a marvelous piece of workmanship who manifested himself in a heretofore beautiful creature, enmity was created between Adam and Eve's offspring and the serpent, a living organism forced to crawl on its belly rather than ambulate on its feet. Universal repulsiveness instantly replaced admiration. Sin turns all beauty into ugliness. Likewise, the creatures of nature expressed wariness of human beings, the same kind of wariness we should have for the fallen archangel, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. As Adam's offspring, we are forced to contend with a demonic presence in our worldview throughout our entire lives. Thankfully, the prophecy that Adam and Eve's offspring (Jesus Christ) will crush the head of the serpent advances the distinct likelihood that God intends to annihilate defective spirit beings permanently, including Satan and his entire demonic entourage, a prospect which fills them with terror and rage as the end of this age approaches.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, finding a commonality in three scriptures describing our calling and sanctification, answers the questions: "Who are we?" and "How do we fit?" God has demonstrated that He loves us in a different way than He does our neighbor (perhaps a neighbor having better traits than we do) calling us because He loves us—the very beginning of the sanctification process. Our responsibility is to respond to His love as a couple responds to one another at the beginning of a budding romance, conforming to desires and expectations. As we respond to God's calling, we find a hostile reaction from the world. As the moral darkness envelops the Israelitish peoples, the relationship between the church and fellow Israelites has grown more fractious and hostile and will continue to become more so in the future as physical Israel turns its back on God. As our forebears experienced a grueling walk through the desert for 40 years, our spiritual journey will take a lifetime, enabling us to get farther and farther from the world's influences, submitting to God, and growing in the stature of Christ. We are not in a physical desert, but we are battling the elements of a mental wasteland, resisting horrendous pressures from the world's dominant religion (intolerant secular humanism) to cease, desist, and conform, in much the same manner as the Israelites of Christ's time were bullied and intimidated by the Sadducees and Pharisees and just as the ancient Israelites were by the Egyptian religion. True religion must be motivated internally from within the heart; true sanctification is internal. If we really considered or believed in our hearts that our calling was truly a treasure, we would take extraordinary steps to prevent any loss of this treasure. When we realize that God has set the individual members of the body as He pleased, and when we finally understand our place in His plan, we become willing to do what God wants us to do in order to help us function more efficiently. Our sanctification will ne
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on I Thessalonians 5:16-18, gives all of us an assignment to become more appreciative by actively enumerating and writing down our blessings. Praying without gratitude is like clipping the wings of prayer. We have so much to be thankful for, but do not express our gratitude very well. Thankfulness and winning are not natural to carnal human nature which loves to grovel as timid worrywarts. If we would ponder all of the gifts God has given us, we would have an endless list of things to thank Him for, from the lub-dub of our heart chambers to the endless beauty of creation. Corrosive pride will destroy the spirit of gratitude because it is never satisfied. For that reason, God mercifully gives thorns in the flesh to puncture our pride, reminding us that we do not have anything that we did not receive from God. We need to commence making a list of what we are thankful for; the list will never end.
Richard Ritenbaugh, referring to himself as an armchair conservationist, maintains that conservationists and environmentalists do not have the same goals or objectives. Conservationists want to manage the environment for people; environmentalists want to maintain the environment at the expense of people, looking at humans as the "enemy" of the earth. We have been commissioned by Almighty God to tend and keep the environment. Mankind has severely damaged the earth through industrial pollution, wrong methods of agriculture, genetic modification, and poisonous chemicals. Tending our garden is fraught with complications and difficulties. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's was caused by irresponsible farming methods, tearing up virgin prairie soil, formerly verdant with buffalo grass covering the High Plains. This mismanagement caused much of the topsoil to blow across the nation into the Atlantic Ocean. Farmers had to be retrained to think of their land as part of a greater whole, requiring rotation, land Sabbaths, and natural symbiosis of nature's components. God does things in a sequential order, establishing a hierarchy of order in the family, the church, the entirety of nature, as well as the entire universe. Men and women (converted husbands and wives) are in this symbiotic process together as parts of an interdependent single entity working toward the same goals. If we make the same mistakes as our original parents, trusting our own senses, blaming others, and glomming onto Satan's deception, we will reap similar consequences. Adam sinned willfully, having abdicated his leadership position. Sin is failure to do what God has commanded us. Because of this sin, posterity has been cursed with overwhelming toil just to stay ahead, paradoxically for our ultimate benefit. We are perfected in trials, suffering, privations, hardship, and hard work, all of which we can consider a blessing and gift from God.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, affirms that enjoyment from one's labor comes from the LORD and that the proper use of our allotted time becomes increasingly more relevant as we anticipate the conclusion of our physical lives. Solomon instructs us to adjust our attitude from under the sun (carnal, self-centered) to above the sun (reflecting God's approach). God has designed us to work and labor; laboring is a God-designed gift in which only mankind and celestial beings can participate. No animal can do such a thing. We need to be thankful for such a circumstance. God gives gifts such as wisdom, intelligence, and understanding to those who are thankful and content. Our calling from God is the most precious gift, enabling God to be involved in our lives in blessings and shaping trials. We are to rejoice always in all of our circumstances, having a continual state of contentment, anticipating spiritual gain. Without God's involvement in our life, we drift into discouragement. In order to make the best of our lives, we must realize that God is sovereign over time all the time, even though it is running out for all of us. God will be working to make the most of every situation in our lives, even the stupid choices we have made. God has not abandoned us in any case. There is a distinct time for every purpose being worked out. God evidently allowed the breakup of our previous fellowship for our protection and well-being. The fact that we do not know God's ultimate purpose may be because He desires us to place trust in His decisions. The trials that we experience in life seem to morph into larger trials. We need to trust God to work things out since we do not see the entire picture. In the meantime, we must do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, and tremble at God's word. The ultimate purpose of our existence can only be revealed through God's calling, made explicit through His Word. We are being created for the Kingdom of God. Our satisfaction must come from an over the sun relationship with Almi
John Ritenbaugh, claiming that one major reason people find Ecclesiastes to be pessimistic is that much of life also contains negativity, suggests that Solomon, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, found much of life discouraging, disappointing, trying, and fraught with vanity. Nevertheless, his lifetime observations provide the reader with insight and practical counsel to navigate the twists and turns of our journey through life. God has given time to mankind as a gift, manipulating its use for each and every person. We need to be thankful to God for physical life itself, considering that the bad as well as the pleasant aspects are fashioned for our ultimate good. We have the obligation to give ourselves over to His fashioning in the best and the worst of times, realizing that God's purpose is being worked out in the process. God's calling turns our lives upside down, giving us challenges we never heretofore considered facing, forcing us to make decisions. We need to be thankful for what God is putting us through, realizing that God is continually with us and is overseeing all the shaping circumstances. It is necessary to live our lives by faith, trusting God in all circumstances (which He designs) with the help of His Holy Spirit. In the poem (or music) of life, God is playing the tune. God is totally sovereign over time, continually involved in the purpose of His creation, working with billions of people at different stages of growth, knowing our limitations and making adjustments accordingly, all the while allowing for our free moral agency. When we go through grim circumstances, whether as individuals or institutions, we need to see God behind the overall manipulations. In the scattering of our previous fellowship, God, not Satan, was in total control of the circumstances. God knows the end from the beginning.
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.
John Ritenbaugh insists that a Christian's perspective or point of reference should always be from God's point of view, as determined by the pages of the Bible. Our human heart, looking and evaluating on the outward appearance, perpetually drawn to the world, must be replaced with the motivation from God's Holy Spirit- cleaning up character and removing defilement from within. How we dress and how we act on the outside is determined by what is in our heart. God desires that we dress, behave, and act according to His upgraded standards. Both clothing and hair length have been perennial flashpoints, signaling and reflecting areas of rebellion, defiled attitudes, and spiritual health providing a reliable barometer of a person's character, as in the cases of Absalom and Nebuchadnezzar. Casualness or carelessness in matters of hair length show rebelliousness in acceptance of covenant prescribed governmental or gender roles.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the doctrines entrusted to us through Herbert Armstrong's apostleship remain a major plank in the foundation of our faith. Adopting a revolutionary stance (Proverbs 24:21) for the sake of change, variety, or relieving boredom will systematically destroy the faith once delivered. Through the sanctification process, we incorporate Christ's righteousness by obedience, prayer, study, bearing fruit, sacrificing, serving, and yielding to God's Spirit, enabling us to develop character. In the current scattering, God is testing us to see whether we will hold fast, resisting heresies and false doctrines. Our vision must be kept alive and ever growing or our zeal, motivation, and unity will wane.
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who emphasize one trait of God at the expense of the others (or one doctrine at the expense of the others) run the risk of distorting the truth, creating a grotesque caricature. Almighty God, having both a good and severe nature, much like a loving parent, will move Heaven and earth, including using a rod of correction, to see that His offspring conform to His will and purpose. We need to adopt the humble, unassuming characteristic of a little child to make sure we yield to His awesome sovereignty.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that the Bible paradoxically is both simple and profound, understandable only to those who have been called, love the truth, and are given to careful scrutiny, enabling the searcher to describe every nuance of what it is they desire. The obsessiveness of both a lover and a sports-trivia enthusiast characterize the level of effort involved. The life sustaining manna of the Bible, while abundant and plentiful, is hidden'layered in types, symbols, and allegories. In the typology of the four Edenic rivers flowing from one source (Genesis 2:10) and the four living creatures (Revelation 4:6-8: lion, calf, man, and eagle) lies the foundation for understanding the gospels as four distinct representations of the same Life.
The sin of pride underlies many of our other sins, and it is often the reason for the contentions we get into as brethren. John Ritenbaugh looks at the origins of pride and shows how it manifests itself in us.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
In this message on the definition of grace, John Ritenbaugh insists that God has never acted unjustly to any one of us, even one time. It is utterly impossible for Him to do so. Through the parables, we learn that our forgiveness by God is directly linked to our forgiveness of other men. The entire life of Christ (God incarnate) was a manifestation of God's grace, a gift to us, revealing the nature of God by means of a life lived- a life intended to give us an example to follow. In Christ's life, God ceases to be an abstraction, but instead a concrete reality for God's called-out ones to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh explains the origins of our foremost adversary, Satan the Devil, and his host of fallen angels or demons (Revelation 12:3-12; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19). In our precarious situation of sharing a prison cell with these formidable wicked spirits, we need to take heart in: 1) the tremendous numerical advantage of the good over the evil angels; 2) the hopeless division in the demon world, preventing them from "getting their act together"; 3) as with Job, God has set limits on Satan's ability to harass us (Job 2:6); and 4) God has provided us with adequate spiritual armor to withstand the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-12). Even though with our own limited strength, we could be easily annihilated, God has promised us protection if we yield to Him and keep His commandments.
John Ritenbaugh studies the "Get way" or the "Keep up with the Joneses" (lust or coveting) principle with which advertisers and politicians shamelessly (and successfully) manipulate us. A commentator once remarked, "All public crime would cease if this [Tenth] Commandment were kept." Jesus taught that all outward sin stems from inner inordinate desire. What we desire or lust after automatically becomes our idol. If our imaginations are fed "dirt", our minds will become "dirty." We desperately need to learn to radically "amputate" or "mortify" the self-centered lusts and desires that will inevitably (if followed to completion) lead us to the lake of fire. The Tenth Commandment (like the First) serves as a "control" or "regulator," enabling us to successfully keep all the other commandments. Ardently desiring the Word of God and His Kingdom (realizing that happiness and joy come only from spirituality) serves as the most effective antidote to lust and covetousness.
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