Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that the civil Festival of Purim in the Jewish community, commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in ancient Persia, explains that this festival is celebrated with a notable spirit of merriment because it depicts a miraculous rescue from a hopelessly impossible situation brought about by a perennial, anti-Semitism. In terms of plot of the Book of Esther, the writer uses a chiastic X-like pattern, in which a situation grows grave and hopeless in the first half of a narrative, leading up to a peripeteia (that is, the axis point or the center of the X), in which a sudden reversal takes place, turning everything around from hopelessness to joy. This ubiquitous pattern of a sudden reversal recurs throughout scripture, demonstrating how God deals with the children of Israel, humbling them into repentance in order that He may bring them good in the end. This pattern of reversal-of-fortune provides an insight as to how God deals with us individually. God allows each of us to experience trials and tests to humble us, leading us to repent, obey and trust. Going through this process we learn to be steadfast and to endure. The axial moment in the Book of Esther seems to be a series of mundane events beginning with the king's inability to sleep—- mundane, yet leading to Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai's advancement and the salvation of the Jewish people. These seeming coincidences (a powerful "unseen hand" reveals God's sovereign protection over His godly seed, which ultimately produced Our Savior Jesus Christ, who currently protects the godly spiritual seed (comprising the Church or the Israel of God, the Bride of Christ), descendants of Abraham through God's Holy Spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
David C. Grabbe: In John 6:35-40, Jesus expands on His earlier saying that believing in Him is the work of God: "And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me ...'"
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his comparison of the timid, insignificant sparrow with the virtually unnoticed, timid Church, reiterates that God has complete oversight over the awesome plan of creating offspring in His image. Consequently, we should not fear Satan, his demons, or the world, but we should fear and respect the One who has complete involvement in our lives. The calling of God the Father, compelling us to conform to the image of Christ, is in fact, a calling to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, reuniting mankind with God the Father through Jesus Christ. God's called-out ones, selected and predestinated before the foundation of the world, continue to submit to His instructions, while other professing 'Christians' throw out whole portions of His Law, including the Sabbath, a major tenant in both the Old and New Covenants, created, like light, water, air, and food, as a benefit and blessing to mankind. As God called out the Jew and the Greek, He began with the least significant of all people (including us) that no flesh should glory in His sight. Whatever gifts or assignments God has given us are to be used boldly for God's glory, not our own. We are undergoing sanctification, set apart for a special purpose of being refined into His likeness, a process which takes a lifetime, honing skills of endurance and resisting sin. Currently, the scattering of the church has furnished us a measure of protection, but Satan is doubling down on his plans for persecution, and we will (with God's Spirit dwelling in us) resist his pulls as did our Elder Brother before us. The battle lines have already been drawn between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve, with the separation of the line of Seth from the line of Cain. At least in part, God instituted marriage to reproduce, something angels cannot do (Luke 20:36). Though the sons of God have a natural fear of Satan, God has, in a sense, provided Satan to us for resistance, in order to develop godly character, becoming like Him, becoming one, as husband and
John Ritenbaugh reflecting on the curse imposed upon Satan and the enmity created between the serpent's seed and Eve, asserts that, paradoxically, this curse could be considered a blessing for those called of God, providing a practical means by which God creates character in those whom He called out before the foundation of the world. This understanding runs counter to the faulty dispensationalist theory which assumes that God, as a somewhat absent-minded tinker, must continually adjust His method of giving salvation (moving away from works to grace), making it easier and more inclusive. Dispensationalism assumes too much randomness or chance in God's plan, overlooking the intense purpose and planning of God's mind, having pre-planned or pre-destined all of us individually before the foundation of the world. Christ has full control of the church. Everything of consequence, including the development of our character, is engineered by Him; we did not find God by ourselves, but were chosen. The mystery of His plan, hidden from the world, has been revealed to the saints. The God who designed complex cells, molecules, and atoms certainly has the savvy to design a viable plan of salvation. God has had the same plan from the beginning of the world, having chosen us as the weak of the world so that no flesh could glory. The called-out church was not a passing fancy of God, but an entity which has been on His mind from the very beginning. Nothing happens randomly; God is in total control; the death of a sparrow (a rather insignificant and drab creature) does not occur without His full attention. We, like the sparrow, are undistinguished and drab by the world's standards, but given a glimpse of the mystery that God is reproducing Himself, bringing us altogether into one family in His Eternal Kingdom, at which time mother Eve's seed, from the line of Seth to the present, will be glorified.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are right on schedule. As God watches over the sparrow, He can protect His people in the midst of any upheaval.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on I Thessalonians 5:16-18, gives all of us an assignment to become more appreciative by actively enumerating and writing down our blessings. Praying without gratitude is like clipping the wings of prayer. We have so much to be thankful for, but do not express our gratitude very well. Thankfulness and winning are not natural to carnal human nature which loves to grovel as timid worrywarts. If we would ponder all of the gifts God has given us, we would have an endless list of things to thank Him for, from the lub-dub of our heart chambers to the endless beauty of creation. Corrosive pride will destroy the spirit of gratitude because it is never satisfied. For that reason, God mercifully gives thorns in the flesh to puncture our pride, reminding us that we do not have anything that we did not receive from God. We need to commence making a list of what we are thankful for; the list will never end.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on the medieval classification of the seven deadly sins, observes that all of these sins could be categorized as a facet or aspect of lust. Satan's pride was motivated by lust for power; all sinful things on the earth emerge from lust and pride. Lust could be described as evil or inordinate desire. God designed us to have proper desires, just as His desires are always proper. God has a desire for a family; Jesus Christ experienced the same desires as we do. Evil desires consist of lust for things contrary to God's law, such as fornication, uncleanliness, covetousness, and idolatry. God never tempts anyone, but we are tempted by our own evil desires. Trials are pressures to test us; temptations are pressures to cause us to sin. Our own evil desires hook us and drag us where we really do not want to go; we are seduced into sin. Evil desire led to man's first sin; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was pleasing to the eyes and contained a (false) promise to make wise. Eating of this tree was the first act of lust resulting in sin and ultimate death. If evil desires are allowed to gestate instead of becoming aborted, sin will result. All sinful acts begin in the mind as desire, including the acts of murder, lying, adultery, and idolatry. As evil desire begins in the mind, overcoming also begins in the mind. We are admonished to flee fornication—not to stick around and contemplate it. We may have to physically remove ourselves from locations or certain acquaintances. When we drive out an evil thought, we must replace it with a godly thought; if we put good thoughts in, it will lead to good thoughts out. To guard against evil thoughts, we need to cultivate the habit of praying continually, guarding against or displacing all evil desire, winning the battle between the flesh and spirit.
A major theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is satisfaction. In his wisdom, Solomon assiduously sought out the answer to the question, "What brings a person true satisfaction?" John Ritenbaugh proposes that God desires far more for us than mere satisfaction: He wants to give us real contentment, a state that comes only through a relationship with Him.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the pop song "My Way" composed by Paul Anka, written for and made famous by Frank Sinatra, observes that to the carnal mind, this song represents a triumph of the human will and a declaration of pride, a determination to kneel to no one . Even though we may claim to follow God's way, there is a considerable measure of selfishness in our own pathways, a tendency to be dismissive of other people, and a determination to keep our own counsel. If we do not yield to God, following the narrow way, as exemplified by our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, we have the tendency to develop a hybrid way—following our way with just a few of God's principles attached—as was practiced by Cain (adjusting God's instructions to suit ourselves), Balaam (using the spiritual to satisfy greed), Korah(mixing God's principles with criticizing others), or Jeroboam (counterfeiting God's instructions through false words, creating stumbling blocks before others). By following these hybrid ways, we will put ourselves under a curse. We must instinctively respond, along with Christ, "Not my will, but Your will be done."
Martin Collins, reflecting that the human conscience can be incrementally conditioned to tolerate sin, decommissioned, and ultimately put to sleep, asserts that God can restore it to usefulness as He did in the lives of Joseph's brothers, by forcing them to go to the location to which they had sold their brother. God sometimes allows the consequences of sin to take effect (i.e. plague, famine, or other form of deprivation) in order to stir the conscience. Anxiety of deprivation drove the prodigal son to repentance and reconciliation with his father. It took Joseph's brothers a harsher measure than physical deprivation, including imprisonment, punitive treatment, and harsh words. God chose the means to force Joseph's brothers into repentance by carefully crafted words and enforced solitude, all designed to refresh their memories and expose their sin. Calamity is sometimes used to bring forgotten transgressions to our minds, driving us to repentance of our secret failings and motives of our hearts. A good conscience (the judgment of the mind concerning right and wrong—an attendant witness of a person's conduct) can only be formed or enlightened by yielding to God and having it cleansed by the blood of Christ.
Martin Collins observes that the book of Daniel at chapter 8 is recorded in Hebrew and refers more to prophetic events which occur at the end-times rather than the previous narrative recorded in the first half of the book. The ram and goat symbolize the events describing the succession of the Medo-Persian Empire and the Greco-Macedonian Empire, the latter ruled by Alexander's four generals. The vision of the little horn on the male goat is for the time of the end, in which a king or ruler with supernatural powers has the audacity to stand up to the returning Christ. Historically, Antiochus Epiphanes fulfilled this role as a type or forerunner of a later prophetic fulfillment, a time when a sanctuary will be trodden underfoot and must undergo cleansing. The unfolding of these prophecies in the future will substantiate God's giving of these prophecies. Whatever God has determined cannot and will not be altered by any human interpretation of prophecy. We need to emulate Daniel by assiduously studying the Scripture and praying for understanding, asking God for what He has promised and for His will to be done. We can pray with more confidence when we are in sync with God's will. Daniel's prayer, in Chapter 9, provides a model of how we can effectively pray for our sinful nation and the degenerate culture around us.
John Ritenbaugh, synthesizing the topics God's sovereignty, Ecclesiastes, and God's will, observes that God does not prevent us from sinning, and furthermore judges sin on a sliding scale of seriousness, based upon intent and premeditation. God has distinguished, for example, murder and manslaughter. The latter offense receives a far less severe penalty. Adam and Eve's transgression has inflicted the death penalty on the whole human race. Thankfully, the Second Adam has provided a means to neutralize this horrible penalty. As all in Adam died, all in Christ shall be made alive. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that everything in life matters. God has over-riding purposes that He is working out, purposes that have been worked on since the foundation of the world. God hates sin, but God's purpose permits a person to sin, as well as allowing a person to experience the tragic effects of sin. Not all of God's will is revealed through the pages of the Bible; it is progressively revealed through time on a need-to-know basis. The secret things belong to God, but those things that are revealed (through the passages of the Scriptures) belong to us. God knows the end from the beginning, but He does not give us all the details at once, except as they are necessary for us to process in our journey through life's labyrinth. What will eventually emerge for us is a clear understanding of God's will.
Most converted Christians realize that God is sovereign, or they at least recognize His sovereignty over all things intellectually. But sometimes the Bible reveals something about God that makes them uncomfortable. John Ritenbaugh asks if we truly accept His sovereignty without reservation despite our lack of complete understanding.
What does Scripture say about free-moral agency? Do we have it, or are we human puppets on a string, dancing to the tune of someone else's will? ...
As the return of Jesus Christ marches ever nearer, Christians need to be sure of one critical matter: Where does real power reside? John Ritenbaugh shows that all power has its source in God—and not just the kind of power we typically think of.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
David C. Grabbe: The subject of God's sovereignty has sparked endless thoughts, conversations, debates, and commentary. Most professing Christians will at least agree that God is sovereign, but there is a wide range of beliefs with regard to just how involved God is in their lives. ...
If you knew you would live forever, how would you live? John Ritenbaugh explains that, biblically, eternal life is much more than living forever: It is living as God lives!
In this message on God's promises of protection and healing, Richard Ritenbaugh identifies several conditions for receiving them, including God's sovereignty, God's purpose, and one's level of growth. A way to see things "God's way" involves replacing our carnal, egocentric viewpoint with outgoing concern. We must transpose our "me first" attitude with a "you first" one. Nonetheless, God's promises stand, and He is very willing to fulfill them for us.
One aspect of sovereignty that causes some confusion is predestination. John Ritenbaugh explains how God's sovereignty does not remove a person's free moral agency.
Is God sovereign over angels? mankind? John Ritenbaugh explains that God's sovereignty is absolute as He directs events toward the culmination of His plan.
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 reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
John Ritenbaugh explores the different nuances of the verb "know," indicating that to know God requires experience, positive emotional responses, and the involvement with the whole person. Unlike merely "knowing about" (book knowledge), we don't really know something unless we have done it. Knowing God manifests itself in the way one lives, reflecting faithfulness and true obedience.Knowing God is to live as God lives if God were a man, applying instinctively or habitually the myriad principles of His instruction (Torah), merging experientially thinking and doing. Eternal life is to know God, living as God lives.
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 the value of understanding sovereignty as a basic foundational doctrine, providing a link between knowledge and practice as well as providing motivation to yield and conform to God's purpose for us. Understanding sovereignty (1) exalts the supremacy of God and our veneration of Him, (2) destroys any possibility of salvation by works, (3) gives us a deep sense of humility, (4) provides a solid foundation for true religion, (5) provides absolute security, and (6) greatly aids us to be resigned to God's will.
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.
John Ritenbaugh demonstrates the relationship of God's will, predestination, and choice (or free moral agency). Using the analogy of a child summoned by a parent to clean up his room, he points out that the dawdling, complaining, and other acts of disobedience are not predestined nor are they part of God's will. Acts 13:48 and Romans 8:29-30 indicate that predestination (an ordained divine appointment) is part of the conversion process. Considering our calling (I Corinthians 1:26-27) as weak, base, and foolish, we need to develop the proper humble recognition of whom and what we are in relation to the Sovereign, making choices based upon the value we place on God's love and His Revelation to us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon God's management of mankind. God has consistently moved His creation toward its ultimate purpose, setting the bounds of nations, motivating rulers (Proverbs 12:1) to pursue a certain course of action, sometimes against their will. It is God's will that we submit to governmental authority (legal or illegal), obeying God, of course, rather than men (Acts 5:29) to the end that by doing good, we provide a good example, silencing the foolish accusations of men. God has chosen a tiny fragment of weak individuals, rescuing them from Satan's rebellious mindset (Ephesians 2:1-3) to fashion into obedient and submissive vessels of glory.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of listening over merely hearing, suggesting that only from God's Word can we know who is really regulating the affairs on the earth and which truth to believe. The scriptures, substantiating God's sovereignty, assure us that Israel's history was no accident, the church's succession of Israel was no accident, and our calling into the church was no accident. Even though God's thoughts are not [yet] our thoughts and His judgments unsearchable, we have the assurance that just because scary, inexplicable things happen in our lives, God is still sovereign; we must develop the childlike faith to trust in Him for the solution.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.