Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the devastating results of natural disasters, serious illnesses and accidents as well as violent crimes, anticipates the chorus of "why" questions engendered by these apparently random incidents: Why did God allow this to happen? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper? People ask these kind of questions to bring rationality and order into the seemingly helter-skelter events of life. Most answers proffered by counselors are mere platitudes. Those who attribute their own sins or the sins of others to such incidents are at cross-purposes to Jesus Christ, who pointed out that the victims of a collapsing tower (Luke 13:4) were no more sinful than any of us. Such tragic incidents, instead of inspiring blame, should inspire repentance. God does not want us to get stuck on "why" (as was echoed in Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"), but instead to move toward His sovereign goal, realizing as did Job (who lost everything but his life and wife in a deluge of disasters), "The Lord gives and the Lord takes; blessed is the name of the Lord." Everything God does stems from a motive of love.
John Ritenbaugh claims that millions of people who believe they are in contact with God are hopelessly deceived about Him in five essential ways: They do not understand (1) what causes estrangement between God and mankind, (2) that God under no circumstances can ever lie, (3) that no one seeks God, (4) that no one ever chooses God, but God exclusively does the choosing, and (5) that God's gift is not a question of human will. Exercising carnal human nature, an unconverted individual can never bring himself into favor with God. Every human being deserves to die. God selectively grants mercy and punishment to individuals based upon His divine plan. God's pronouncements are inscrutable to most of us, such as His decision to deny Moses, a model servant, entry into the Promised Land. God does not love everybody to the same degree, choosing whom He will favor (Jacob) and reject (Esau). In John 3:16, the world that God loves are His own converted children, all of whom were once children of wrath, with a death sentence hanging over their heads. Even though the way God exercises His sovereignty is to us inscrutable, calling the foolish to confound the wise, hiding the truth from the wise, but revealing it to babes, all He does fits perfectly into His master plan. As God's called-out ones, we must trust that Father knows best.
Richard Ritenbaugh detects a massive inconsistency in the persistently saccharine assessment of Jesus as meek and mild, ignoring His wrath, while at the same time teaching the concept of an ever-burning Hell. God's wrath is measured and just, not excessive and cruel. The breakaway Protestant daughters of the Roman Catholic Church have faithfully carried on the heretical error of their mother, promulgating the fantasies of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, while ignoring or twisting the clear meaning of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word transliterated "sheol" is simply the grave or pit—the inevitable destination of every human being. In this context, everyone who has ever lived will "go to hell." The Greek word transliterated "hades" is a synonym of sheol. The Greek word transliterated "tartaroo" applies to the place of restraint for Satan and his demons, but not for humans. The term "Gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem, made vile by the ancient pagan custom of infant sacrifice. Because it was the city dump, a fire burned there constantly, consuming a steady stream of refuge and garbage feasted upon by maggot. The maggots eventually turned to flies, which, reproducing, yielded more maggots, a cycle which informs the image of "their worm" never dying. Gehenna is not a metaphor for an ever-burning fire, but rather for the Lake of Fire into which God consigns the incorrigibly wicked, whose unquenchable flames will cease only after all the fuel is consumed. Oblivion, not eternal torment, is the merciful end for the wicked. God is both good and severe, but His mercy endures forever.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Psalm 78 reveals Israel's intermittent fractured-and-restored-relationship with God, emphasizes that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them. Israel has forgotten her unique position as the only people to whom God has revealed Himself. Sadly, Israel is squandering this treasured opportunity. As God's called-out ones, we must recognize our distinctiveness, thereby ensuring that we do not emulate Israel's unfaithfulness. Just as Jesus Christ personally selected every one of His original apostles, so has He hand-picked us by the will of the Father (John 6:44). There will be no "self-made men" in God's Kingdom, He having empowered us to fulfill a particular role in His masterplan. We assist God by yielding to Him, obediently submitting to His Laws and bearing righteous fruit. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus qualified as High Priest, giving vital instruction about living by faith in the New Covenant, which mandates that we keep all His commandments. We must not fall for the dangerous heresy that "since Jesus kept the Commandments, we do not need to keep them." If we refuse to submit to God's Laws, we will not be in His Kingdom. Through obedience, we provide evidence that our love for God is genuine. The offspring of Jacob today are reaping the consequences of disobedience to God's Covenant; These consequences include (1.) hordes of aliens seeking to dominate and destroy the host culture, (2.) secularists persecuting those who believe in God, (3.) a welfare state stealing from the productive and gratify the indolent, and (4.) a Government using 'education' as a control mechanism.
Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Perhaps the most critical question in every nation and every era is "Who is the true God?" In his final book, Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong titled the chapter explaining the first mystery ...
Christians have been known to toss about the word "love" with seeming abandon, quoting verses from Jesus' lips or the apostle John's pen as if they were talismans that can solve all problems. Joseph Baity, however, calls their bluff, suggesting that culture has so confused the common understanding of love that most people do not know what true, godly love is.
Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
Martin Collins, assessing Paul's admonition that God's people be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2), acknowledges that God possesses three non-transmittable attributes: omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (existing everywhere at once), and omniscience (knowing everything). These attributes will never become descriptive of God's people. But there are other, transmittable, attributes which we can make a part of our new nature. These include love, forgiveness, compassion, and longsuffering. God commands that we emulate Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us. He instructs us to humble ourselves, giving our entire self as a sacrifice of love. Paul explains that light symbolizes the regeneration of the new creation, totally separate from the old creation, lying in darkness. There must be a regenerative change in what we are, how we think, and the way we think. With God's help, we must obliterate our evil, carnal nature, replacing it with purity and holiness, both of which will be evident to those with whom we associate. They will observe that no filthiness or course speech comes from us, as we radiate God's behavior (symbolized by light) in a murky world of darkness. Just as God characterized the Prophet Danial as being a light, He has also called us to be lights to the world, to radiate His attributes of forgiving, giving, and living.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that most professing Christians are aware of the New Covenant, cautions us not to fall prey to the insidious error that much of the Protestant—especially the evangelical—world teaches. The error lies in misconstruing the significance of the New Covenant as a 'free pass into Heaven' without paying attention to the Law which, detractors almost universally claim, has been done away. Protestants ignore the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11, where God says He will "hard-wire" His Law into peoples' minds after a thoroughgoing transforming and renewing of those minds during sanctification, demanded as a part of our living sacrifice. Acceptance of the terms of this New Covenant may appear as insurmountable hurdles to the carnal mind. We are required to give up anything (family, esteem from friends and associates, fame, wealth, etc.) which conflicts with our loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father. We are obliged to soberly count the cost before we leap, realizing we have formidable enemies (both spiritual and physical) to conquer as well as continuous obstacles to overcome, for which we will need prodigious quantities of God's precious Holy Spirit. Like the apostle Paul, we must be willing to forego any attractions to fame, prestige, or influence if they conflict with God's divine purpose for us, considering these previous desires rubbish. Sanctification is not passive, but it is a rigorously active process in which God requires our full participation, yielding to His molding. We must put God before family, friends, and self. God will not create our spiritual character by fiat; we must be thoroughly involved in the process, keeping and meditating upon His Holy Law, making it our first nature instead of our second nature. We must look before we leap, but we must leap in the right direction and at the right time, setting our minds on things above, walking in the spirit and not in the flesh.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the dismal track record of a great many second and third marriages, suggests that liberals have sullied the marriage institution, ordained by God Almighty to be permanent and holy, elevating debased homosexual and transgender relationships, while treating God-ordained marriage with contempt, claiming that marriage is worse than slavery. Because of the hardness of their hearts, the offspring of Jacob are bringing defilement upon the land, reaping the consequences of covenant-breaking. God made us male and female, and has designed marriage to create one flesh, symbolic of Christ's love for the Church as His Bride. The evil of the mixed marriages in the Book of Malachi was a spiritual defilement, yoking spiritual and worldly elements, intrinsically unequal. Those evil men in Judah who rejected their wives, marrying pagan women, thought that their sacrifices to God would purify this violation of God's Law. Similarly, some in the greater Church of God (an institution which includes the Church of the Great God) have become careless in their marriage vows, beginning to imitate the world in their casual approach to the God-plane state of marriage. Sadly, certain individuals within God's Church are breaking both the spirit and letter of the marriage covenant, with callous husbands dealing treacherously with the wife of their youth, and wives similarly acting unfaithfully to their spouses. God hates divorce but has allowed divorce to take place because of the hardness of hearts. In the meantime, Jesus Christ, using the example of the prophet Hosea, models perfect love for an unfaithful spouse, taking her back after her display of hideous disloyalty. God's called-out ones resemble Hosea's unfaithful spouse, with Christ loving her and redeeming her despite her ignoble behavior. In our marriages, we must imitate the fathomless love that Jesus Christ has for His Bride—the Israel of God.
Mark Schindler, establishing some foundational principles that God does not create chaos and confusion, but has re-established order after Satan's rebellion, points out the danger and folly of presumptuously choosing standards of right and wrong rather than trusting God's judgment. The essential dualities of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil are also foundational teachings, explaining how mankind got into the predicament it now finds itself. Since the temptation of Eve with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge , mankind has been plagued with the same temptation throughout history. Throughout the last years of his life, the lesson of the two trees was a hallmark message of Herbert W. Armstrong. This message was not the rumination of a feeble old man, but instead the key to understanding the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father. God is sovereign over His creation all the time—to the smallest detail, having built into His creation abundant failsafe mechanisms mitigating consequences of a possible failure, somewhat analogous to the hold-down bar of a power lawnmower, preventing accidental finger-severing. God, in His sovereignty, has not failed. The free-will He has allowed mankind has led to some tragic consequences or disruptions, but none of these are outside of His control. God's way never requires a fail-safe because God is never wrong. As God's called-out ones, we must trust the sovereignty of our Heavenly Father, surrendering exclusively to His will, as did our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. If we keep the law of God, provided by the love of God, we will receive the life of God.
Martin Collins, observing that, in the first five books in the Bible, there are no statements of "Thank you," nevertheless reminds us that the thank offerings in Leviticus 21:29 indicate that thanksgiving has a singularly profound meaning. King David was prolific in his expressions of gratitude to God, as was the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. We should be thankful to God for His Holy Spirit, freedom of worship, spiritual blessings, fellowship, as well as God's promise that He will finish what He has started and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Before the foundation of the world, God has already pre-destined specific calling and sanctification for individuals; God will keep on whittling away at our carnality until He has accomplished what He has purposed. The purpose of grace is to motivate good works, not to do away with them. Our first and foremost reaction to receiving God's Grace should be an outflow of love for our brethren, including the ones we have not met. Drawing an analogy from electrical theory, all good works depend on God's love, which is the pressure behind good works. Good works depend on a channel in which the amperage can be high. Our lives must not be filled with resistors which selfishly collect the flow or condensers which pirate this power for private use. The law of God multiplied by a life free of resistance equals good works. Our life must be freed from obstructions and imperfections, reflecting the fruits of the spirit as we are attached to the Vine, just as a faucet must be connected to a pipeline to produce water. Happiness is found only in the truth of God.
Bill Onisick, alluding to some insights in Bruce Wilkinson's book Secrets of the Vine, namely that there are many barriers to producing agape love, contends that lack of love is the biggest problem the greater Church of God struggles with today. We find it difficult to love our brethren as Christ loved us because we do not want to expose our vulnerability, which is anchored to self-focused pride. Peter sank in his abortive walk on the water because his sense of vulnerability eroded away the needed faith for this act. Only when we sacrifice our sense of vulnerability and our penchant for pride will we have the strength to yield to God.
Ted Bowling, drawing a spiritual analogy from the growth of a pineapple, observes that it takes a long time from planting to harvest—approximately three years for the plant to mature. At first, all that matures is the foliage. The majority of the growth or maturation takes place from within. The same holds true for our calling and conversion. After our baptism and the laying on of hands, we do not see the effects immediately: no different feeling, no sudden display of self-control; spiritual maturity takes a long time. God determines the pace of growth. To spiritually mature, we must, like the pineapple, remain attached to the powerful stalk which bears us up and nourishes us. As the pineapple is subject to weather changes, we endure a series of trials and tests, but never more than we can handle and always for our ultimate good. We can access the throne of Almighty God at any time for the needed strength to overcome; God has promised to never abandon us. At the end of the growth process, we (and all our brethren) will resemble our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, just as the plants in the pineapple field resemble each other.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that remaining or abiding in Christ's word separates us from everybody else, exhorts us to treasure and appreciate the truth we have. Ezekiel prophetically warns Israelites today of imminent cultural collapse because of godly leadership. America, sadly, has never been a Christian nation; the hearts of the people have never been converted to God's truth, as a casual observance of a daily tabloid would attest. The fledgling Radio Church of God in the 1950's had a positive package of beliefs we referred to as "the truth"; members referred to the church itself and our calling as "the truth" or "coming into the truth." Regretfully, we had a skewed concept of grace in those formative years and still do for the most part because of the Protestant 'cheap grace' concept denigrating any kind of good works as earning salvation. God's grace begins everybody's history; there is nothing we have that did not come from Him, including our spiritual gifts, enabling us to carry out His divine purpose in us. Grace is an Old Testament concept just as much as a New Testament one (ordained before the foundation of the world), with the apostle Paul greatly augmenting the concept by splicing the Greek word charis (gifts) to the Old Testament Hebrew word chesed (connoting kindness, steadfast love, mercy, and devotion), greatly amplifying the meaning of the secular Hebrew and Greek words for grace. The precision of the Greek language gave the term grace a wider spectrum, as is indicated in the wide panorama of gifts indicated in James 1:16-18. The entire physical creation, including the elements, minerals, plants and animals are God's gift to man, and, as such, are part of His grace. Further, even the patterns of the sciences and the arts serve as a demonstration that God is the Giver of all gifts.
Martin Collins, returning to the annoying questions asked by the priests in the book of Malachi as to God's alleged tardiness of justice, declares that their call for justice was unwise, considering that they would be fried to a crisp when they received what they deserved. The same applies to us: we need to be careful when we ask for justice, for our request might very well come back to bite us.. Those relentlessly begging for justice will indeed get what they ask for. Their presumptuous questions are all answered by Malachi, indicting both ancient and modern Judah and Israel. God's coming in judgment will be against those who are critical of His judgments. God, like a refiner of precious metals, will skim off the dross until He can see His face. Before the day of vengeance, a lengthy time of grace will precede, including 400 years from the time of Malachi to Christ's reading from Isaiah about bringing liberty and sight to the blind. Another 2,000 years have been added, and the same national sins, such as defiling God's Sabbath and robbing His tithes and offerings (both given before the Mosaic law), still dog our society today. Even though it is axiomatic, according to surveys conducted by Christianity Today and the Barna Group, that individuals who give 10% or more are generally better off than those who do not, the majority of modern Israel have cursed themselves by withholding tithes and offering, mirroring the days of Malachi and Haggai. All we have belongs to God, yet paradoxically if we give back 10%, we are incredibly blessed. Tithing provides for preaching the Gospel, Feast expenses, and helping the needy. Robbing God of His tithes brings curses on the created order, interpersonal relationships, and the covenental relationship. In the matter of tithing, God (1) calls for obedience to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, (2) issues a challenge to test Him, (3) accompanies His challenge with bountiful promises, and (4) reminds us of the ultimate blessing of being an example to the world.
Clyde Finklea, decrying the careless way the world uses the word “love,” does some etymological explorations of the Hebrew words ahavta and chesed connoting giving, commitment, unfailing love, devoted to acts of kindness, mercy, and longsuffering. These connotations are also captured by the Greek word agape, which prompts us to avoid retaliation, and instead practice concrete acts of kindness, not only putting up with one another, but attempting to add joy and comfort into each other’s lives. When David took all the guff from King Saul, and then later showed his mercy to Saul’s extended family, he demonstrated the true essence of godly love. Agape, chesed, and ahvata are in that respect interchangeable. God is love; how we practice love determines how we know God.
Martin Collins, noting that the Book of Malachi is a post-exilic transition, link, and bridge book between the Old and New Testaments, indicates the dating of the book can be determined contextually, namely that the temple had been rebuilt, and the Jews were under a civil ruler before the death of Nehemiah. Malachi, one of last Old Testament prophets, is oriented to the future. John the Baptist arrived 400 years later. The same attitudes existing at that time are prevalent today. The offenses mentioned are 1) arrogance—-mankind's thinking man thinks that he knows better than God, 2) mixed marriages, and 3) neglect of tithes. We can see these attitudes by noting the use of the words "wherein," "in what way," and "how." The Priests, asking "How?" seven times in the wrong way in Malachi. In Genesis 18:23-33, Abraham asked God "how?" with respect. Malachi lists four personal failures of the Priests in Malachi 1:6-14. The Priests 1) offered defiled sacrifices on God's altar, 2) harmed the people, 3) were responsible for disparaging the Priest's office, and 4) demonstrated a brazen defiance of God. True ministers must: 1) show a proper relationship to God—fear equals reverence; 2) exhibit a personal commitment to the truth of God's Word; 3) demonstrate of integrity characterized by Godly character and devotion, faithful and Godly, in submission and obedience; and 4) guard the truth and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Deuteronomy (the Old Covenant in its fullest form) constitutes instruction for the Israel of God, serving as a compass and guide, preparing God's people to enter the Promised Land. None of Deuteronomy is done away. The singular book that was read by Shaphan to Josiah was Deuteronomy; the curses in chapter 28 particularly alarmed the king, leading to a re-affirmation of the Covenant and a major house- cleaning, ridding the land of idolatry. Deuteronomy is a compass, giving guidance of how to submit to God, providing us a God approved world-view. We need to evaluate our spiritual heritage and pass it on to our children, as a kind of rite of spiritual civic citizenship. If one does not have a grasp of the history of his nation, he has no real claim to citizenship. If we are not equipped, by knowing our heritage through the study of history to live in Kingdom of God, we will be terrible citizens, ill-equipped to rule. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants are a major part of our heritage. Our heritage is tied to a higher standard of life than we have come out of. The Bible is primarily a history book containing the exploits of God's family. Deuteronomy has been written to keep us on track, to be reviewed thoroughly every seven years. Deuteronomy is a detailed, renewed covenant document. We are to be doing the same things required of physical Israel, except on a much higher level; we must consequently respond on a higher level. Deuteronomy is a law doctrine which is ruthlessly monotheistic; God will not brook idolatry. In Deuteronomy, the character of God is described explicitly. We are exhorted against hiding our relationship with God by compromising with the world's culture. Our faithfulness to God must reciprocate His faithfulness with us. We are a sanctified people, separated from the world as a treasure of God, who is faithful to us because He loves us. Loving Him is the key to our being faithful to Him. Love motivates willing submission to Him in obedience.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
Clyde Finklea, asking us what identifies a person as a true disciple of Christ, points to the command in John 13:34, commanding that the disciples love one another as Christ loved us—loving to the extent that He would give up His life. God is composed of love, as described in its many facets in Galatians 5:22 and I Corinthians 13. Two positive facets identified in I Corinthians are longsuffering (the opposite of retaliation and vengeance), as exemplified by David in his response to Saul, and kindness or compassion, as expressed by David to Jonathan's heir. As Christians, we must exercise longsuffering and kindness to all, including to those that have done ill to us. The only way we can be considered disciples of Christ is if we love one another with His standard.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ, moves to the climactic point of the narrative in Genesis 45, in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph knew and recognized his brothers before they knew him. God knows our guiltiest secret sins which we think we have effectively hid. All things are open before God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph loved his brothers before they loved him, using tough love to bring them to repentance. Like Jesus, Joseph saved his brothers before they realized they were being saved. Actually the brothers thought they were lost. Sin cannot be hidden; we cannot escape its consequences. Like Jesus, Joseph called his brothers when they would have preferred to run from those. Joseph treated them with compassion as a loving brother; Christ calls us in the same manner. As a type of Christ, Joseph was more concerned about God's will than anything else, giving him a stable perspective, seeing God's providence. God prospered Joseph, making him governor of all Egypt. God saved the lives of Joseph's brothers, indicating that He plans well in advance. God saved other lives in the process of saving Joseph's household. God can use our errors to further His ultimate good; God's purpose will be done, and He is sovereign. Joseph, as a type of Christ, had the ability to forgive, in contrast to the anger and vindictiveness of Simeon and Levi, assuring them that he held no bitterness. Forgiveness is love fused to grace.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the reaction of Joseph's brothers on the binding of Simeon and the returning of their money mentioned in Genesis 42, claims this was the first time in their lives these 'raised in the church kids' had ever seriously acknowledged the working of God in their lives. God had softened their hardness of heart while showing grace. The proclivity of the brothers to lie and deceive had not yet been eradicated, but God continued to turn up the pressure in order to bring them to full repentance. As confession and repentance is attained and the guilty conscience is cleansed, the heart becomes other-centered rather than self- centered. In our lives, we also have guilty consciences like Joseph's brothers and self-pity like our father Jacob (or later by Elijah fearing Jezebel), but we can have major breakthroughs in our lives if we acknowledge God in our lives as Jacob did at Bethel and Elisha did by assuring his timid servant at Dothan. Like Elijah, we must remember that, after a significant spiritual victory in our lives, a wicked Jezebel is usually waiting in the wings if we take our eyes off God and focus them on ourselves. Like the example of Elijah, we can lose faith by anxiety and unrelieved stress. Like Elijah and Joseph's brothers, we need to be brought to solitude to set our spiritual house in order, often pointing out the importance of supportive spiritual family. Like Elijah, we must be keenly aware when our nervous energy becomes overtaxed, when we become sensitive to loneliness, and when we look away from God and begin to focus on the around-and-about. God repaired Elijah's nervous system by allowing him to sleep, feeding him with food, providing him with angelic care, allowing him to express his grief, revealing Himself and His ways, telling him good news, and giving Him more to do.
Martin Collins, warning us to take our priestly responsibilities seriously, draws some parallels from the biblical examples demonstrating the purification of Levitical priests. Purification is an ongoing process in which we must put out the influences of the world. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, compels us to sacrifice ourselves through our reasonable service. The book of Malachi, with its emphasis on declining spiritual conditions, demonstrates some parallels to the state of today's scattered and damaged church, preoccupied with internal difficulties. We are being trained as a holy priesthood, called to offer unblemished sacrifices, reverently honoring our Heavenly Father's name, forcefully putting down pride, presumptuousness, and arrogance. Priests must continually demonstrate obedience to God, motivated by an attitude of service, and unhindered by laziness. A priest must focus on magnifying God's name, offering prayer as incense, and having a burning zeal for worship with no weariness and no deception. It is an honor and privilege to be called to the office of priest to assist our Elder Brother, the High Priest, and the Epitome of perfection. We must accept this office in humility, having accepted Christ's sacrifice, having pure thoughts, faithfully submitting to God, and benefitting one another.
In nominal Christianity, God's saving grace is placed at the center of the message of the gospel and is often emphasized to the point of overshadowing many of Christ's other teachings. Agreeing that grace is vital to a Christian's walk with God, John Ritenbaugh defines the term, showing that God gives grace from start to finish in a person's relationship with Him. It cannot be limited merely to justification and His forgiveness of our sins.
The serious Christian looks on this ever-declining world—a world that reflects the rebellious, anti-God attitudes of Satan the Devil—and wonders how anyone can truly live by faith. Some may even begin to doubt that God is in control of events here on earth. John Ritenbaugh, however, contends that God's sovereignty over His creation is complete, and the course of world events are moving according to His will.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on popular music involving the theme of romantic love as the answer to all the world's ills, remarks that the composers of these lyrics have no idea as to what love really is. The fuzzy definition of love is responsible for tolerance of sin, deviancy and liberal, multi-cultural mis-evaluations. We should have a more mature understanding of love for God and love for neighbor. The outgoing concern toward other beings begins with God the Father to Jesus Christ to us. Without godly love, real love does not exist. Real love does not exist in isolation; another being must always be the object of real love. God's plan involving the reciprocal sharing of love among members of God's Family began well before the foundations of the world, at which time a possible sacrifice for sin had to be factored in. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The love of God, through the mechanism of His Holy Spirit, works on our inner beings (our mind and spirit), making us like Him, demonstrating the love of God, loving God with all our minds (keeping His commandments) and our neighbors (including our enemies) as ourselves. The extent that we love our brethren may be an accurate gauge as to how much we love God.
Among the best-known signs of the end of the age is Jesus' declaration in Matthew 24:12 that "the love of many will grow cold." However, David Grabbe advises caution in judging that such a state exists in others, in a church group, or in the church as a whole. Could love be there but just not as we might expect it?
John Ritenbaugh affirms that faith and love require reciprocal works on our part, even though God has made the initial step, providing His only Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. As God calls us, He provides the power both to will and to do. If we do not work with God in our conversion process, things will fall apart. Because our responding to God's love is so important, we need to respond reciprocally to God. If we love another person we like to think about him/her, to hear about him/her, to read about him/her, please him/her, to be friends with his friends too, and we are jealous about their reputation and honor. We will not bring dishonor on our spiritual family's name by our behavior, not forgetting that we are collectively the temple of God and the Body of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that even though the Father and the Son work as one, they are distinctive Beings with separate functions. The Father is the source of all power, while the Son serves as the sole Mediator and the channel through which we interface with the Father. Through the Son (the Image, reflecting the Father's character and mind), we see the Father's power and wisdom. Jesus Christ is unique, serving as the divine link between God and man, intervening and negotiating on behalf of frail man with the full knowledge of the Father's mind and will. The ultimate goal of humanity is to know the Father and the Son, learning to live as they do. Only Christ has been composed of both divine and human natures, serving as Firstborn (having pre-eminence) of a special creation'one in which we are involved due to our calling. Hebrews 1-9 define His uniqueness as the Mediator (High Priest) between God and man, exalted over the angels, but nevertheless submissive to the Father.
John W. Ritenbaugh: Shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, I wrote a brief column because so many were asking, "Where was God?" implying, "Why did He allow such an event to occur?" Perhaps a few made outright accusations such as, "How could He be so cruel?" but mostly it was implied. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, after reading a testimonial of a Charismatic, describing being "filled with the Holy Ghost," leading to barking, laughter, violent jerking, and inebriated behavior (a kind of "Pentecostalism on steroids"), asks us to ponder what the Holy Spirit will actually motivate a person to do. Scripture reveals that the Spirit constitutes the active, creative power and mind of God, 1) motivating God's people to do His will, 2) giving them discernment and wisdom, 3) endowing them with strength to do God's work, 4) enabling them to see truth clearly, 5) setting individuals apart (for specific purposes) by ordination, 6) providing physical and spiritual power to overcome and resist the Devil, 7) inspiring a person to speak God's words clearly, and 8) inspiring fellowship with God and His people. God's Spirit will never prod us to do anything that is not out of godly love, and because it a spirit of a sound mind, it will never motivate us to do stupid or crazy things.
How important is faith? What is the faith God requires us to have? Pat Higgins explains that faith is simple in concept, but difficult to display in our lives. Nevertheless, we must exercise this gift of God to pass the tests that are sure to precede the return of Christ.
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 Ritenbaugh asserts that Christianity has both an inward aspect (building godly character or becoming sanctified) and an outward aspect (doing practical philanthropic good works.) Both aspects are vitally necessary, with righteous character serving as the well - spring or fountainhead for the second (outward) aspect. Godly good works, of necessity, should reflect a great deal of thought and concern, with considerable attention to the long-term consequences of the extended help. Soft-heartedness must not be accompanied by soft-headedness, but must take into account long-term solutions (the ultimate well-being of the recipient of the charity) involving thoughtfulness and common sense, carefully considering God's will in the matter. Good works are the fruit of righteousness, not an end in itself. We need to give according to our abilities, freely, generously, with a view of honoring God.
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 Reid, contrasting the world's self-serving, lust-driven "way of get" (mistakenly called love) with God's example of sacrifice and way of outgoing concern, concludes that what the world needs now is the agape love modeled by the Father and Jesus Christ. We are called to take on the very nature of God, to put on the love of God that casts out all fear. Our goal is to take on the likeness of Jesus Christ, developing His character, thereby reflecting the true love of God. If we have lost our first love, we need to rekindle it by ardently keeping God's Commandments, demonstrating both love for God (the first four) and love for mankind (the last six). Attaining God's nature and love requires that we keep His commandments. Of all the spiritual gifts we could ever hope to attain, the love of God surpasses all of them. Love is the way God lives throughout eternity.
God's sovereignty and free moral agency set up a seeming paradox. John Ritenbaugh shows just how much choice we have under God's sovereign rule.
In the third part of this series, John Ritenbaugh uses the Beast power of Revelation 13 to compare with God's sovereignty. Who will we yield to in the coming years?
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the Sabbath constitutes a recurring appointment with the Deity, a special time for developing and building our relationship with God. It is from the proper use of this day—in fellowshipping with Him and getting to know Him—that we derive true spiritual rest and refreshment. Keeping the Sabbath properly, as a special date with God, will restore our energy, renew our strength, and liberate us from bondage to sin and worldly entanglements. We need to vigilantly guard our minds from any unlawful desire which detracts from the Sabbath, taking the place of God. This idol will destroy our relationship from God. We desperately need this vital seventh of our lives to rehearse and experience what we are to become.
Kindness, the fifth fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, goes hand-in-hand with love. It is an active expression of love toward God and fellow man. As we come out of this calloused world, we must develop kindness through the power of God's Spirit.
Christ says in God's Word that we can show no greater love than in sacrificing our lives for our friends. How do we do this? We must come to the point where we are doing this daily!
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
A Bible study on love, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who have made a covenant with God can be seduced or corrupted unless they make a concerted effort to know God. Knowing God means to realize that God has the right and the power to do with any one of us as He pleases. John the Baptist, when he saw his influence waning, graciously and humbly acquiesced to God's desire, realizing who was in control. Like David and Christ in Psalm 22:6, metaphorically comparing themselves to worms, we must humbly acknowledge our insignificance as well as our gratitude for our calling.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God does not love everybody equally. Nowhere does He tell us to prefer the world of the ungodly, adopting the pagan customs of the world's religions. Though God commands us to love our enemies, He does not tell us to be kindly affectionate to them. Though God says He is not willing that any should perish, universal salvation is not a doctrine of the Bible. The objects of God's love in John 3:16 are His children who have reciprocated His love by keeping His laws. God loves His own.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
In this sermon, John Ritenbaugh expounds the symbolism of the blood as a witness in I John 5:6. Blood atonement, referenced 427 times in the Bible, dramatically magnifies the seriousness God places on the consequences of sin. Only blood can atone for sin (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). No forgiveness of sin is possible without death. We dare not minimize or trivialize the impact or consequences of our sins. Forgiveness is not a casual matter with God. The pain of seeing the mangling of His Son's body makes forgiveness a most anguishing and sobering matter. The blood of Christ, a propitiation or appeasing force, the only means to satisfy God's pure sense of justice, is a testimony of God's intense love for us. This willingness to sacrifice needs to be incorporated in our relationship with our brethren (I John 4:10-11).
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that salvation cannot be earned or bought, reminds us that a gift is still a gift even though a condition has to be met. Meeting a condition does not (as Protestants would have us believe) change the character of a proposition. Keeping the commandments is the way we express love for God. The works that God demands of us consists of overcoming our flesh, the world, and Satan, as reflected in keeping God's commandments (John 14:15, I John 5:3). There is a direct relationship between loving Christ and doing the right works. God's love for us places us under a compelling obligation to reciprocate and to pass it on to others.
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
The world really hasn't the foggiest idea of what love really is. Of all God's spiritual gifts, love is the preserving agent preventing any of the other gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, or tongues to become corrupted. Love, an attribute of God Almighty, needs to be the driving force of everything we do. Without love, some normally positive attributes like drive, courage, and determination become brittle and self-seeking. God is the sole source of love; mankind by nature does not have it. It is only by knowing God that we can have this love. Love can be described as a cycle, which God initiates. As we give it back to Him, He gives more to us because we are growing and our love must be perfected. Love is not feeling but action. As God loves us, He expects us to reciprocate back to Him and out to our fellowman, and by so doing we become credible witnesses for God.
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 reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Jesus Christ, through His voluntary humility (giving up all the perks of being God), has given us a model of the mindset that we need to have in order to attain membership in the family of God. Paul, desiring the Philippian congregation to attain spiritual maturity, urges that they (and we) take responsibility for the nuts and bolts process of overcoming or renouncing our carnal selves (working out our own salvation by the practical application of head knowledge) upon ourselves, cooperating with the shaping power of God (giving us the power to will and to do by means of His Spirit), who desires that we learn in the here and now the style of life (in a climate or environment of love as well as fear of soiling the family name of God) we will live for eternity.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Philip's request to "show us the Father," suggests that Jesus has provided the way of knowing how God would lead His life in the flesh. Jesus is the way, the embodiment of the truth, and the mirror image of the Father. As a human born into an ordinary family, Jesus experienced all the responsibilities, struggles, frustrations, temptations, and pains that we do. We have an Elder Brother who has been on the front lines, providing us a model to live our lives. Jesus taught us that love is a moral act rather than a feeling, based upon pleasing God by fulfilling His Commandments. Love and obedience are inseparable. Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising to send the Holy Spirit to help them (and us) to cope with the rigorous demands of living the Christian life, making us sensitive to God and educating us to the purposes of God. As we continue to obey, yielding to His purpose, we enter a closer relationship with God, until eventually, having attained the mind of God, loving and personifying truth, we become like the Father and the Son.
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