David C. Grabbe: In Part Two, we considered the first two of the four elements found in God's instructions on the Feast of Tabernacles, particularly in Leviticus 23:40-43. ...
David C. Grabbe: As Part One closed, we saw that Leviticus 23 contains another command to rejoice at the Feast: "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees ...."
Ted Bowling, reminding us that we are to personally count for ourselves the 50 days to Pentecost, cautions that we need to be thinking continually of the lessons these days teach us about our spiritual journey, culminating in the permanent installation of God's Law into our spiritual bodies as offspring of God. Breaking an old negative habit and replacing it with a positive habit can take us at least 50 days, unlearning the costly mistakes of our forebears on the Sinai from the pages of Scripture, learning to see beyond the temporary miracles to the permanence of the Miracle Worker, seeing God relentlessly at work in our lives. We need to realize the interconnectedness of the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost, absorbing the lessons which will ensure our spiritual growth.
Martin Collins, reviewing the episode of Habakkuk's frustration that God would use an evil people to punish Israel, points us to the prophet's resolve to cease being a fretful worrier and to become a responsible watcher, determined to understand the purpose of God's dealing with His people. Only a faithful believer will ever stand acquitted before God's fearful judgment. While the taunt-song, dealing with the five woes, certainly applies to Babylon, it applies doubly to God's people Israel, who should have known better, but chose to become ignorant. The first two woes in Habakkuk 2:6-8 concerns the woe against greed, avarice, covetousness (a virulent form of idolatry), and selfish ambition, leading to the crime of usury, charging excessive interest on loans, making the debtor a virtual slave, totally against God's instructions in Deuteronomy 24:10-13. The earth metaphorically cries out against the oppressor who garners wealth by stealing from others and amassing fortunes by exploiting the poor. The third woe focuses on a nation's tyrannical oppression of captive peoples, building a city with bloodshed and establishing a town by violence, denuding forests, wantonly slaughtering animals in order to subjugate other defenseless peoples. The fourth woe results from a people corrupting others with drunkenness and lust, having both literal and metaphorical implications; today the intoxicating Babylonian system embraced by Jacob's descendants has caused our nation to resemble, both figuratively and literally, a drunk vomiting over itself, exposing its sins and folly to the entire world, after adamantly refusing to be governed by God's laws. The fifth woe leveled against the Chaldeans, and by extension to the modern descendants of Jacob, results from idolatry, the sin of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, applying to literal idols of stone and wood as well as to pagan new age religious practices and including anything we might exalt over God Almighty, including our physical possessions, talents, abilities,
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
John O. Reid: In a conversation with a friend sometime back, we could not help but notice the difference in people in both the world and church over the last forty or fifty years. ...
Bill Onisick asks us to imagine living the life of a shepherd 3,000 years ago in Bethlehem, tending the flocks from pen to pasture, and moving the flock continually to venues of food and safety. Equipped with a rod, a knife, and a sling, the shepherd safeguards the flock from predators. This profession is truly faith-building as one continually drops to his knees to ask for God's protection. During the night, the shepherd's life was sometimes frightening, and in the daytime, it was lonely and occasionally boring, but continually demanding. Thankfully, one had plenty of time to think, pray, and meditate, as well as hone one's skills with the sling. In the years caring for his flocks, David had to learn to deal with all kinds of physical threat. The greatest skill David learned was to trust in God. The trials God allowed David to go through strengthened his shepherding and leadership skills, making him able to destroy the champion of the Philistines, Goliath of Gath. David's entire life trusting in God had prepared him for this giant trial. His faith in God provided him the victory. Our great God leaves nothing to chance. God is preparing us the same way He did David, with smaller trials and tests preparing us for larger trials and tests, building ironclad faith, leading perhaps to a giant trial down the road, grooming us for eventual kingship. Every trial and test is for our good.
Joseph Baity, reflecting on mankind's desire to see into the future with a desire to control what is to come, realizing that knowing a future outcome can take the hazard out of decision-making, suggests that organizations which can predict future outcomes are considered visionary and worthy of respect. For those of us without this savvy, we are forced to hedge our bets, realizing there could be alternate outcomes and possibilities. Hedging consists of protecting us from harm by performing a counterbalancing action. The world of finance has always provided the strategy of hedging investments to minimize risks. Hedging always comes at a price; it is never free. In the chaotic fracturing of our nation into countless factions. Survivalism, a movement which originated in the 1930's, has been growing in adherents ever since. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and the ensuing insane nuclear arms buildup, Y2K, and 9-11 have greatly augmented the emerging survivalist mentality. Survivalists, or preppers, are preparing for the disruption of natural social order and its services by stockpiling food, medical supplies, as well as weapons and ammunition, in order to become self-sufficient and to survive a catastrophe. The survivalists have always attracted evangelicals, rebels, and control freaks inclined to join militias, skeptical of everything they hear or read, all of which make up a mindset which protects themselves from the normalcy bias. As the world becomes more chaotic, more and more people seem to be glomming on to basic survivalist precautions such as storing seeds, electronic equipment, food and water, as well as " a bug out bag" for immediate evacuation purposes. Preppers are defensive about a stigma attached to survivalist tactics, retorting that "God always helps those who help themselves" (not a verse in the Bible), and that Noah was the first prepper. Noah was not trying to save his own skin, but was following God's orders as an unselfish example of faith. We cannot seek a carnal so
In His Sermon on the Mount, our Savior gives us some basic but very helpful and necessary advice about living as Christians in this world: "Therefore do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ..."
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
Human beings are fearful folk. All kinds of strange phobias have been documented, and some people are so timid that they jump at their own shadows when caught unaware. Yet, our fears can have far more serious consequences. Pat Higgins shows that the Bible warns that the wrong kind of fear is sinful and could keep a person from entering God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable accomplishments and honor bestowed on God's servant Moses, who sacrificed immense worldly honor and fame to become a servant of God, demonstrating real servant leadership in action. The greatness of a nation depends on its responsiveness to God's preachers. If a preacher fails in his responsibility, the nation goes down the drain. Although Moses was highly educated, he was very humble and meek, driving him continually to God for sustenance and power. God commends Moses for his trustworthiness and faithfulness, comparing him favorably with Jesus Christ, who always did things to please His Father. We need to emulate Moses, being faithful in using the gifts God has parceled out to us. After he was cast out of Egypt, he learned to be humble, reflective, and wise as he tended sheep in Midian. The combination of his life experience made him ready to lead a rebellious, complaining slave people. As God knew Moses, David and Jeremiah from the womb, God has also predestined us for a unique calling. As can be seen in the intricacies of a blueprint or schematic diagram, no part of God's creation escapes His mind. We must emulate Moses in his faithfulness, doing our best with what God has given us, remembering that the road to leadership commences with humility and submissiveness, a virtual bond-slave to God. As God continually enabled Moses, God will always provide us what we need to succeed as long as we are faithful.
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.
Having a goal is a wonderful thing, but it is worthless without a plan for achieving it. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians also need to have a conscious plan in seeking God, recommending several essential qualities that must be included in any successful course of action.
Human beings, even those who have been called to be children of God, have an innate fear that God will not always provide for us. John Ritenbaugh contends that this fear originates in doubt about God's power—a doubt that falls to pieces before God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.
As the return of Jesus Christ marches ever nearer, Christians need to be sure of one critical matter: Where does real power reside? John Ritenbaugh shows that all power has its source in God—and not just the kind of power we typically think of.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that all power belongs to God, including health and wealth. We must perceive ourselves as part of God's plan; we are being brought to a state where we will see ourselves as transformed in Christ's image. At the present time, we are going through a period of hopelessness, but must believe that all things work together for those who believe and are called for His purpose. Even though being fearful is natural, God has the necessary power to fulfill His purpose. As very difficult times are coming, we will need to draw close to God for a more intimate relationship with Him. Satan cannot do anything except as God permits. There is no authority except as God ordains. For God, things are not out of control. The events which currently take place in the world are under God's direction. All power was given from the Father to Christ. When Jesus needed help, He went directly to the Father. God calls us, gives us repentance, faith, His Spirit to overcome, His love, and sanctification, writing His laws on our mind, preparing us for membership in His family. God is the source of everything pertaining to our salvation.
John Ritenbaugh gives statistics from an army quartermaster who calculated the logistics of supplying food, shelter, and water for 2-3 million Israelites on their 40 year trek across the Red Sea and the wilderness—a task only an omnipotent God could fulfill. As was true in the physical journey of ancient Israel and the spiritual journey of the Israel of God, we have the powerful assurance that God will never leave nor forsake us. When God parted the Red Sea, the problems did not disappear. On our spiritual journey, once we have the benefits of Christ's Passover sacrifice applied to us, our problems do not instantly disappear. Our position is just as precarious as ancient Israel, if not more precarious. As ancient Israel was called out of Egypt, we are called out of spiritual Egypt. We have been in abject bondage to the world‚s corrupt systems and our own carnal desires, having lived our entire lives under Satan's dominion. Christ stated His intention in Luke 4 to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to recover the sight to the blind, and to set them at liberty. Jesus explains that the truth is the only thing that will set us free. A major player in our lives or spiritual journey is the truth and how we use it. Though Christ does not do our overcoming for us, He gives us abundant resources to accomplish this daunting task. He gives us in addition to the assurance that He will never abandon us as we struggle in our journey to the Promised Kingdom of God.
It seems counter-intuitive to think that the world's population is shrinking, but trend lines show the possibility of a 95% reduction in population over the next 500 years. Charles Whitaker examines the reasons for this precipitous decline, asserting that God's Word prophesies an altogether different scenario.
Life sometimes seems to be one trial after another. However, Pat Higgins asserts that God has revealed an astounding facets of our relationship with Him that should give us the faith to soldier on despite our many trials.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the admonition of Christ that we must take the straight gate or the narrow way (symbols of grave difficulty), indicates that our experience in overcoming and developing character will be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, God will provide the power to get through all this difficulty and anguish of spirit if we have true faith. Murmuring and grumbling are clear indications of lack of faith, and are in the same category as murder, idolatry, and fornication. Godliness with contentment is something we have to learn, stemming from absolute confidence in God's providence- beginning with the sacrifice of His Son-to each of us individually. The sacrifice of Jesus was the idea of God the Father.
Many Christians today believe that killing in self-defense is sanctioned by the Bible. David Grabbe explains that this is a terrible misunderstanding of Christ's teaching.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the atmosphere of disorder which has emerged in the greater church of God, caused by individuals (ministry and lay members alike), obsessed with the urge to change doctrine, convinced that God was too weak to control Herbert W. Armstrong. The unspoken accusation is that God raised up a messenger, sent him with His gospel, and then allowed us to use a faulty calendar. Because no proponents of the calendar change are in agreement, any calendar change will produce more confusion. The priorities in Matthew 6:33 (The Kingdom and His righteousness) indicates that the primary emphasis should be on repentance and overcoming rather than mastering some inconsequential technicality.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the calculated Hebrew calendar reflects God's faithfulness in providing His Spiritual offspring a reliable calendar. To concoct one's own calendar with errant human reason and assumptions equates with the presumptuous way of Cain. Some of the bedrock American values such as competition and individualism, when applied to changing established doctrine and established ordinances, bring an automatic curse of scattering and a seared conscience upon those who do these things. We cannot take the community's laws into our own hands, tweaking them for our own advantage, and still be a good Christian. Challenging the calendar is tantamount to challenging the laws of the Commonwealth of Israel (including its calendar) and challenging the sovereignty of Almighty God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the processes of developing faith and hope, indicates that the rules for making the calendar, a very complex activity, are not contained in the Bible. To put ones efforts into such a project (especially with limited or elementary knowledge of astronomy or mathematics) constitutes foolish, misguided zeal. Using errant human assumption, some in the greater church of God have concocted no less than nine conflicting calendars. The preservation of the oracles (including the keeping of the calendar) has not been entrusted to the church but to the tribe of Judah (Romans 3:2). Some of the anti-Jewish bias in the would-be calendar makers smacks of anti-Semitism. We need to have faith in God's ability to preserve a working calendar, believing Him unconditionally as Abraham did.
John Ritenbaugh, citing the maxim that 'the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree,' suggests that the nation of Israel and the Israel of God, having the same aggresive, controlling, and contentious spirit as their forefather Jacob, must learn to let God provide blessings rather than, through crafty scheming, grabbing them from others for themselves. As Jacob had to pay with a lame hip, his offspring may have to suffer privation, scattering, having their pride of their power broken, and eventual captivity until they learn that Israel means 'God prevails' and it is God who orders life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
John Ritenbaugh again warns that anxiety and fretting (symptoms of coveting, lusting, and idolatry) in addition to cutting life short, erode and destroy faith, destroying today's serenity by borrowing tomorrow's troubles, bartering away eternity for cheap, perishible items. Jesus uses the argument from the lesser to the greater (because God meticulously takes care of the smaller forms of life (birds, flowers, etc.) He will also take care of humans. In order to avoid yielding to Satan or the world, we must place as top priority seeking God's kingdom today (Matthew 6:33). As we use faith, God increases the supply for upcoming trials. God provides both the will and the power to grow toward spiritual maturity and sanctification (Phillipians 2:12)
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.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that physically emancipating people from slavery does not automatically unshackle their hearts or minds or preparing them for productive responsibility in a free society. Likewise, our emancipation from sin does not automatically remove our acquired spiritual shackles. We must gradually grow out of the slave mentality into liberty and freedom by committing our lives to the truth (John 8:30; Romans 8:6), replacing acquired insecurity and fear with faith and the love of God (I John 4:18). Like our forefather Abraham, we have to gradually or incrementally grow into a model of faithfulness. God's Spirit provides us the mechanism for transforming our enslaved, fearful, carnal minds to liberty (II Corinthians 3:17).
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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