David Grabbe, focusing on the unsearchable judgments of God described in Romans 11:33, points out that sometimes human nature sees God's decisions as unfair, as in the slaying of Uzzah, the favoring of Isaac over Ishmael, the favoring of Jacob over Esau, or the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. When we internalize the fact that all of us have sinned and are worthy of death, we come to recognize that God has demonstrated far more mercy than harshness. God is not obligated to love anybody; we were all vessels of wrath before our calling. Romans 9 classifies mankind into two groups: vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. Anyone who is not a vessel of mercy is a vessel of wrath. God's will is the only thing that matters; we must accept the impeccable timing of all His judgments. Whether Jew or Gentile, we dare not be haughty about our calling, realizing that the favor God has given us is undeserved. As vulnerable lumps of clay on the potter's wheel, we cannot question God's divine purpose but must trust both the goodness and severity of God's.
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that Jesus Christ has been the most misunderstood Being who ever lived, cautions us that we could possibly come to share the same sort of misconceptions His Own parents had. Jesus' question in Luke 2:49, "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" indicates that, at the early age of 12, Jesus knew the parameters of His mission. He realized from His earliest memory as a human being that He was more than a man and had existed with His Father from eternity. John 1:1-3 reveals Jesus Christ's pedigree as the Logos (or Spokesman), whose function was to declare or reveal the Father. God the Father was intimately involved in choosing His physical parents; yet, He left nothing to chance in His education, which consisted of continuous communication between Him and His Son. In John 14:10-11, Jesus proclaimed, "I do not speak on My Own authority but the Father in Me," implying that He and the Father had always been in each other's presence. The Father was in Him throughout His life, a relationship They seek to replicate in all of God's Children. When Christ cried out in agony the second the Father rejected Him because of our sins, He expressed the horror of losing His life-long link with His Father. Our faith rests on the indwelling of the Father and the Son. This special "bosom buddy" relationship Jesus, by teaching us about His Father, fervently desires as the ultimate destiny of God's Called-ones.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on Winston Churchill's famous description of Russia following the German invasion of Poland in 1939—"Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," observes that the majority of organized 'Christianity' have a similar view of God. Even to the vast numbers of the currently uncalled, God has made His invisible nature intelligible to the human mind—unless it has become reprobate by engaging in willful perversion. To God's called-out ones given the mind of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is not a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. God has called us that we, with His help, might transform our carnal natures into spiritual natures as we incrementally inculcate into our beings the nature of God. Charles Krauthammer, apparently without the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit, concluded that believing in either evolution and creation requires faith. He cautiously affirmed, "I cannot say I believe in God, but I fear Him." As God's called-out ones facing on-going judgment during our sanctification process, we are committed to knowing Him, taking on His attributes, and honoring His Holy name—which we aspire to become our family name.
David Grabbe, citing numerous scriptures that show God has the power to give sight to the blind, and conversely, to inflict spiritual blindness on others as a consequence of sin (Deuteronomy 28), argues that the Church's current understanding of II Corinthians 4:4 is incorrect. Translators use a lowercase "g" in "god of this age," yet it is the true God who does the blinding; He alone opens and closes eyes. Satan, on the other hand, deceives; he blurs the vision that God has made available. While Satan is opposed to truth, God embodies truth, yet does not reveal all truth all at once. There is no second witness of the Greek noun theos (rendered "god" in II Corinthians 4:4) denoting Satan. The New Testament writers refer to Satan as a ruler, but never as a god. Satan is certainly the prince of the power of the air and a major world ruler, but only in his wildest dreams is he a god capable of blinding.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating the day-for-a-year-principle, maintains that, as we count the 50 days toward Pentecost, we should reconsider the events of our lives (whether life-changing ones or those we might regard as incidental), coming to understand that they reveal God's on-going maintenance of our spiritual lives. As we study the Megilloth Ruth, we see Naomi, described as a pleasant, attractive personality, a God-fearing, common-sense individual who put others before herself. Yet, for all that, she exhibits the negative trait of bitterness as she responds to a series of experiences which she initially defines as curses. Like Moses, Elijah, and nearly all of God's called-out ones, Naomi found it difficult to see God's hand at work in the "big picture" of things. Naomi's pessimism disappeared once she perceived God's hand behind apparently 'accidental' events, including Ruth gleaning in Boaz's field, or 'circumstantial' ones, such as the attention he showered upon her. Naomi soon realized that God had meticulously orchestrated, towards the accomplishment of His own purposes, the famine, the death of her husband and sons, the loyalty of Ruth, the gleaning episodes, the marriage of Ruth to Boaz and the birth of Obed. Naomi's blessings, the result of God's providence, were far greater than her earlier losses. Let us emulate Naomi in her awakening realization that God choreographs even horrible incidents in our lives in order to fulfill His purposes. Yielding to His purpose will give us the desire of our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that human carnality keeps humanity separated from God, warns us not to trivialize carnal nature, but consider it a sure generator of death. Yielding to any carnal thought is potentially as dangerous as committing murder and, if not avoided beforehand or repented of afterwards, places us on a trajectory into the Lake of fire. God, having no competitive teacher, forearmed Adam and Eve against Satan's wiles, but they willingly yielded to their own carnal lusts which were in sync with Satan's subtle suggestions. Sinning increasingly hides God's purposes from the sinner. When God calls us, placing His Holy Spirit in us, He gives us a measure of added protection that our original parents did not have, infusing us with a desire and ability to overcome our carnal nature, if we choose to so by obedience to Him. Carnality at its core is self-centeredness, pride, and greed. God's gift of faith—one aspect of His Holy Spirit—bequeaths to us the desire and the power to control and subdue our carnal nature. The daunting mystery that confounded Nicodemus, insight into God's plan and purpose, grows crystal clear if we use God's gifts to soften the hardness of our heart. Most of humanity demonstrates total ignorance of God's purpose and plan. God's called-out ones have the privilege to understand both, but must be willing to swim upstream against a powerful current of unbelievers to whom they will appear as oddballs and fools. God purposed this seemingly untenable condition so He could systematically test the genuineness of our faith. God's mysteries have been in plain sight from the beginning of time, but carnality has obscured them from mankind. Though we carry our carnal nature with us continually, we cannot allow its tentacles to strangle us, separating us from God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: A stroll through just about any cathedral in Europe, not to mention many a church just about anywhere in the world, would bring to the eye the sight of perhaps a handful or even dozens of ...
Joe Baity, focusing on Zophar's truism in Job 11:7, "Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?", marvels that scientists who aspire to control the destiny of mankind and discover the secrets of the Universe do not realize that they mock themselves, driving themselves into a frightening nervous breakdown. Since the time of Isaac Newton, physicists who have smugly assumed that their theories would explain the mysteries of creation, making them masters of human destiny, have forgotten to factor the magnitude into their equations. Though God has indeed placed eternity in our hearts, the collective contributions of humans (each bound by 70-100+ years of existence) does not give the human race much opportunity to plumb the depths of nature—neither in the infinite galaxies of outer space or the infinite galaxies of inner space. If human beings could travel at the speed of light, it would take four years to reach our nearest star. If it were possible to squeeze all of the space out of "matter" in this earth, the material left over could be contained in a 2-inch cube. Even with impressive advancements in quantum physics and astronomy, scientists do not know much about the secrets of life, and each new discovery brings more complications and questions. Without factoring God into their equations, physicists and other scientists prove themselves abject fools. We dare not follow in their arrogant, self-defeating footsteps.
Josh Montgomery, drawing on his experiences in internet marketing, describes how some have manipulated the search engines, using key word saturation to give unscrupulous bloggers and 'experts' the ability to distort the truth and create an alternate reality totally at variance with the truth. Satan has successfully deceived the whole world, conditioning nominal Christianity to appropriate pagan festivals as 'Christian' celebrations and creating an alternate perspective of God that is not true. With this false, impotent picture of God that Satan has created, other lies, such as evolution and false toxic doctrines, can be substituted by godless teachers and institutions. Our only antidote to this barrage of lies and distortion is to stay close to God's Word, trusting continually in His providence and His promises to protect us as we obey Him and stay close to Him.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The Bible tells us that, far from being the unconcerned and inattentive Creator that the Deists envisioned, God is a micro-manager of His universe. Jesus, who knows the Father best, says of Him: "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will" (Matthew 10:29). ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that for over 50 years the Worldwide Church of God had no confusion about the nature of God, but in 1993, with the publication of the "God is..." booklet, the understanding of God as a family was surreptitiously replaced by the trinity doctrine, designated by the Roman Catholic Church as the most important doctrine in Christendom. The true understanding of the concept of Elohim thoroughly dismantles the entire trinity argument. What people worship is important to the quality of life within a nation, determining the ethics, art, fashions, and their vision for the future. As Emerson avers, we become what we worship. Unfortunately, there are many gods which compete for the loyalty we owe to the Almighty God, the God over all. God revealed Himself to Israel, but Israel has forsaken the legitimate knowledge of His nature, turning instead to vain Christological speculation. As late as 325 (at the Nicean conclave), the Catholic church could not find consensus with the trinity doctrine; not until more than 126 years later, in 451 AD, before the doctrine became accepted, as the people who would not accept it died off. Elohim wanted us to know that more than one personality (working in unity and harmony) was responsible for the creation of man. Jesus declared that the Son of Man came to reveal the Father of the spiritual creation, revealing how mankind can become children of God. God is recreating or reproducing Himself; we are being prepared to become a part of Elohim. To insert a third co-equal personality in the Godhead denies our opportunity for membership in the God family, and denies Christ's insistence that the Father is greater than He.
Contrary to the common idea that the Christian life is one of peace and contentment, John Ritenbaugh explains that it is really a constant, grueling battle against enemy forces such as our own human natures, this evil world, and 'principalities and powers' that do not want to see us inherit the Kingdom of God. Even so, if we are steadfast in the faith, we can prevail.
It is a wonderful thing that God has called us out of this world and paid the penalty for our sins, but what happens next? After making the covenant with God, how does a person avoid backsliding as so many biblical examples show? John Ritenbaugh answers these questions by explaining what seeking God is really all about.
John Ritenbaugh warns that if we are not moving forward, we will be swept back into the world. The warnings given to the people addressed by Amos and Isaiah were people (like us) who had already made a covenant with Him. Despite their having made the covenant with God, they did not really know God. After we have been called out by God, we have to seek Him and His way realizing that our conduct is motivated by our concept of God. We must be continually seeking God and living the way God lives. Abraham, when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, added up what He knew about God, calculating that Isaac was the promised seed and would have to be replaced or resurrected. Eternal life, according to Barclay, was more than endless life, but the quality of life God lives. Coming to know God is the church's biggest problem. Romans 1:20 teaches that God's nature can be seen in the creation itself, but failure to have awe before God and to love Him leads to a confused reprobate mind. Emerson suggested that whatever people worship, they will become.
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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: On anyone's list of world religious figures of all time, Moses would certainly rank in the top-5 spots. ...
God not only rules in heaven, but He is also sovereign on earth! He is not an absentee landlord, but One who is actively involved in administering His creation.
John Ritenbaugh contends that in this time of scattering, our faith in God has been put on trial. Our highest good is to know God (far beyond mere theoretical knowledge) and to live a life that reflects His righteousness, love, and justice. The better we know Him (experientially know), the better off we are. If we don't know God, we can't trust Him. A confused person, having no conviction or faith, cannot worship God.As bearers of His name, we must aspire to Holiness (transcendent and powerful purity). Only God is truly holy. God can put us into a state of holiness by sanctifying us (setting apart for a special purpose) to His use. By using God's Holy Spirit to yield to Him, humbly obeying Him, forming a relationship with Him, we become perfected in Holiness. Perfecting Holiness is the process by which we are transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that we must have established some relationship with God before we can rightly fear Him. Fear, faith hope and love serve as the four cornerstones upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rests. A holy fear of the Lord is the key to unlocking the treasuries of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Paradoxically the fear of God, because it unlocks knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth, should draw us toward God. Conversely, if we do not respect God, reciprocally God will not respect us. In order to reverence God, we must know Him. Christianity is experiential; we must live it to understand it. Our concept of God (and our fear of God) needs to come from observing His creation and absorbing His revealed word rather than the precepts of men.
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 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.
Unlike the deplorable picture presented in the world's religions depicting God as a helpless, effeminate, maudlin, hand-wringing sentimentalist, desperately trying to save the world, repeatedly frustrated and thwarted by Satan, John Ritenbaugh brings into sharp focus the proper picture of God as governor, manager, and controller of all nations from the big picture to the minutest detail, having elaborate back-up plans and fail-safe mechanisms. Nothing and no one can thwart God's purposes. None of us, in or out of the body of Christ, have any control over the gifts, powers, experiences, or events that He prescribes for us. We need to develop the faith to yield and conform to His will as clay in the potter's hands.
Instead of some grandiose title, God asks us to call Him simply "Father." We have human fathers, church fathers and since our calling, a spiritual Father. The role of father is very important!
In this sermon on the meaning of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh warns that emphasizing our initiative at putting out sin is wrong. Unleavened bread serves as a memorial of God's initiative of delivering us from the bondage of sin. Like our forebears, we have to realize that our part of the salvation process is to follow God's lead, cooperating with His will. When we metaphorically leave Egypt (a type of the world), we leave the location of our sin, leaving behind anything that will hinder us from reaching the Promised Land. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes following God's lead, doing righteousness, and imitating the righteousness of God.
Who is God? What is His nature? Is God one Being? Two? Three? Is God a family? What does Elohim mean, and does it speak of one or more than one Being? Students of the Bible have searched for the answers to these questions for centuries. The answers are found in the revelation of the Bible, the only place where true knowledge of God, His plan and His ways is explained. The truth is simple—and astounding!
John Ritenbaugh insists that God must be considered in a class apart. Incomparable, and unapproachable in the sense that there is nobody anywhere that even comes close to being like Him (Exodus 15:11). Our responsibility as the Israel of God is to reveal to the people of Israel (primarily) the holiness of God and the direction of life God requires of them for being chosen. Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. In contrast, low views of God will destroy those who hold them because these idolatrous thoughts are unworthy of Him. Holy things are cut apart from the rest, consecrated, sanctified, and transcendentally separate. God wants to transform us into that very image.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the hallmark of true Christian character is humility, which comes about only when one sees himself in proper comparison to God. Then he can see himself in proper comparison to other men. The opposite of humility—pride, arrogance, and an inordinate self-esteem—leads us to put down, scorn, or make perverted comparisons between others and ourselves. Because a pride-filled person feels overlooked or his accomplishments undervalued, harboring pride leads to depression, frustration, self-centeredness, self-pity, and rebellion, totally eliminating God from the picture. What makes pride so dangerous is that even though we instantaneously see it in others, we seldom detect it in ourselves. God scorns the proud, but accepts the lowly.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
God is a multidimensional personality who always acts in accordance with His perfect character. John Ritenbaugh explains that God is a whole Being whose wonderful, perfect attributes work together—and whose traits we are to come to know and reflect.
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that the prohibition against taking God's name in vain is the least understood commandment, asserts that the names of God (more than 250 mentioned in the Scriptures, eight of them concentrated in Psalm 23) represent the multitudinous characteristics, traits, attributes, or the very character or nature of God Almighty. Through the life, words, and works of Jesus Christ (The Way), we can see God the Father revealed. If we faithfully follow His example (emulating His life), we will not only find the Father, but also bring respect for God's character by our conduct. Eternal life is to know God by emulating His Character- living life as God lives life. Our most valuable asset we have is God's family name. When we bear God's name (which we acquire through our calling and baptism) we are also obligated to bear His character and nature, and not dishonor or blaspheme His precious name through our conduct.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that where our eyes are fixed upon (looking to for guidance and direction) determines how we will conduct our lives. Like our forebears in Ezekiel 20, we have also been influenced by our father's idols, placing us (ignorantly perhaps) in opposition to God's laws and judgments. Immorality is the natural cause-effect consequence of rejecting God's counsel, forcing one to embrace evil as good and reject good as evil, totally perverting standards of morality. Rejecting the true God automatically leads to idolatry, worshipping the rulerd of this world, a being bent on our destruction. Idolatry constitutes the fountainhead from which all other sins flow, all of which amplify obsessive self-centeredness and self-indulgence. We need to educate our conscience to worship (cultivate a relationship with) the true God rather than misconceptions manufactured by our misguided imaginations.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that whom we believe in is every bit as important as what we believe in. The last part of the first chapter focuses upon the selection of the disciples, many of whom had known one another and had been in business together. John and James were directly related to Jesus. Nevertheless, all had to have the Messiah revealed to them. When Jesus chose the disciples, He (having the ability to look into the innermost hearts) looked past their current flaws to their long-term potential. In the second chapter, focusing on the beginning of signs (the miracle of turning water into wine), Jesus' relationship with His mother now turns from dependent son to authoritative savior. This miracle reveals that God is involved in the simple little details of our lives as well as the great events in the course of human events. Likewise, God desires to be involved in the practical aspects of our lives, relieving our burdens and saving us from embarrassment. In the driving out of the moneychangers from the temple, Jesus revealed another aspect of His personality, showing contempt for underhanded, extortionist financial transactions conducted in the name of God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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