John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
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.
Government may very well be the most important subject in all the Bible because it contains the vital knowledge of how Christians are to govern themselves under the sovereignty of God. John Ritenbaugh concludes his series on our full acceptance of God's sovereignty by highlighting how Christ helps us to follow God's will as He did.
Many of us have been members of the church of God for decades, and because of our long association with God's festivals, we forget that new members have little or no idea how to keep them and can be intimidated about what God requires of them during these appointed times. Richard Ritenbaugh points out the foundational principles new members need to keep in mind in observing the Feasts of God throughout the year.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 14:10-12, suggests that the Days of Unleavened Bread depict a period of intense judgment on the collective body, the church, or the Israel of God. We are being actively judged by God individually and collectively right now. As God's called- out ones, we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth, with our citizenship in heaven. Our pilgrimage to our Promised Land (the Kingdom of God), like our ancient forbears, may not go in a direct straight line, but in many circuitous routes. We are obligated to trust God in spite of all these apparent detours, following His lead, traversing through a spiritual wilderness with no familiar signposts. We walk by faith, not by sight, to the beat of a different drummer, requiring an intense reserve of faith. We could use the book of Numbers and the summary in I Corinthians 10 as a kind of roadmap, pointing out particular pitfalls. As God kept our forbears perpetually on edge, He does the same thing with us, continually leading us and correcting us, promoting our growth in order to save us. We have to be on guard against lusting, distorting the truth, infidelity, cowardice or fearfulness, peer pressure, presumptuous rebellion, rejecting God by rejecting God's representatives, grumbling, murmuring, complaining, and acting impulsively or rashly. Most of the people making the covenant in the wilderness church did not reach the Promised Land.
Most Christians realize that I Corinthians 13:13 lists faith, hope, and love as the three great Christian virtues, and love, as "the greatest of these," seems to get all the attention. However, through the life of Abraham, John Ritenbaugh illustrates how foundational faith—belief and trust in God—is to love and salvation itself.
Far more than on any other hero of faith in Hebrews 11, the apostle Paul concentrates on Abraham as the father of the faithful, the Bible's premier example of a human being's walk with God. John Ritenbaugh illustrates how Abraham's faithfulness to God sets a clear pattern for us to follow.
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.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, recounting incidents from the movie Jeremiah Johnson, indicates that conflict and pressure in life's journey are the norm. We may try to run, but we cannot hide from life's troubles, stresses, or tribulations. Sin cannot be contained or isolated, but its effect spreads like leavening—to the guilty and innocent alike. The way that one lives provides testimony and witness. To witness and endure these trials, we must have faith in what we are. By submitting to God, we bring honor to our name. We are required by God to fulfill the uniqueness of what our biblical names and titles suggest, including the called, the Chosen, the Redeemed, the Bride of Christ, the Sons of God, and many others. Fortified with these acquired names and titles, we can have the strength to endure the inevitable trials we face.
Richard Ritenbaugh affirms that in spiritual matters, as in athletics, those who have mastered the fundamental skills are the best. The fundamentals of the Feast of Tabernacles consists of a harvest image, depicting a massive number of people coming to the truth, while the journey or pilgrimage depicts a time of judgment. We are currently undergoing our period of judgment, preparing to reign with Christ as spiritual kings and priests during His millennial rule, bringing salvation and judgment releasing bands of suppression and bondage, bringing healing, and enabling the wastelands and deserts to reach an Edenic standard.
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 suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon vision - an especially vivid picture in the mind's eye (undergirded by faith, scriptural revelation, and prompted by God's Holy Spirit) to anticipate and plan for events and results which have not yet occurred. This foresight or revelation, strengthened by analyzing, comparing, and applying scriptural principles, produces a common (or uncommon) sensical prudence of conduct, insuring that a person's life (temporal or eternal) is preserved and plans fulfilled.
Why does God want us to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? John Ritenbaugh shows that the Feast is far more than a yearly vacation!
Christians must live by faith. But what is faith? John Ritenbaugh navigates the misconceptions of this topic, emphasizing just how vital it is!
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 stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon a generally pessimistic treatise, read in the annual cyclical Jewish tradition, during the Feast of Tabernacles, illustrates the disillusionment that love for this world will inevitably bring (I John 2:17). Realizing that the world is passing away, our priorities should be on fearing God and keeping his commandments. The temporary booths (short lived and quickly deteriorating) at the Feast depicts our temporary and impermanent, often unpleasant and disappointing (Hebrews 2:10) earthly pilgrimage or sojourn, contrasted with the permanence of Christ's rule and our future eternal life. (Romans 8:17-18). Without living for God's purpose for us, this life is absolutely meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 1:10-12)
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 examines the changing Israelitish mindset following two world wars, negatively influenced by affluence and cynicism which has undermined our ability to endure hardship and sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy national goal. Instead of discipline, indomitable will and character with pure national goals we have opted for self-indulgence, laxity, and compromise. In God's plan, the development of uncompromising character requires struggle and sacrifice. Our victory over Satan requires continual drill, tests and development of internal discipline. Like the military, the victory is built incrementally in the mind; the warfare is the drill. (Luke 16:10)
John Ritenbaugh examines the three levels of faith exercised by the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11: (1) Faith that motivates (2) Faith that provides vision, and (3) Faith that brings understanding- accumulated incrementally by calculating or adding up the evidence God has provided for us. Abraham, the father of the faithful, did not have a 'blind faith,' but it was based upon observation of God's proven track record of faithfulness. Like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, or Moses, we are also called upon to give up a relatively stable life (the seeming 'rock solid' certainty of world) and embrace the tenuous life of a pilgrim, soberly calculating or adding up the certainty of God's promises- based upon God's proven faithfulness in our life- relying on the motivation, vision, and understanding of an incrementally developed mature faith.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
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