John Ritenbaugh, reacting to the secularist's complaint about God's failure to make clear His purpose, assures us that no one has any excuse for doubting God's existence or His carefully crafted purpose for mankind, whether revealed publicly through His Creation or privately to His people through the Holy Scriptures. Paul rejected the complaints of those Jews who decried God's calling of the gentiles. Similarly, secularists presumptuously skate on thin ice when they demand that God explain His purposes. The biggest obstacle in understanding God's purpose for our lives is our carnal mind (described in Romans 8:5-8) which prefers the phantom of perpetual control over the blessing promised by submitting to God. The Scriptures provide ample evidence as to God's purpose, including the account of the earth's creation and the joint planning of two personalities in the God family. All creatures designed by the Word reproduce after their kind, demonstrating a pattern through which the God family would also reproduce after its kind. God's ultimate purpose for mankind is clearly proclaimed in His Word, indicating that God the Father (in His special love for mankind created in His image) had already, having a foreknowledge of man's behavior, planned the redeeming death of His Son from before the foundation of the world. Christ's death for our sins was already in the blueprints from the foundation of this world's system. As Christ's death was pre-ordained, our calling was also orchestrated from the foundation of the world with the standards of judgment and qualification clear. Paul teaches us that God ardently planned our calling, our access to His Holy Spirit, and our future destiny as members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a classic radio program Lights Out in which one episode featured a terrifying accident in a laboratory in which a growing chicken heart could not be stopped until it consumed the entire earth, asks whether people think God is so irresponsible that He would allow something to come into existence He could not control. Most of modern Israel has been afflicted with a blindness of God's purposeful intent, even though it is eminently clear in both the public revelation (the creation itself, Romans 1:20) and the private revelation (God's Holy Scriptures unlocked through God's Holy Spirit). The apparent reason for Israel's current blindness is an adjustment on God's part to allow the "fulness of the Gentiles" to occur (Romans 11:25. Because God has purposely chosen to keep Himself invisible, even though His works proclaim ample evidence of a purposeful builder or designer, some presumptuous fools think they can call God into account, advising Him of better ways to manage His work. Even though the evidence from creation is insurmountable, people deliberately want to disregard it because accepting it would require that they submit to His will, something which the recalcitrant carnal mind from Adam and Eve to the present day is loath to do, preferring to satisfy its selfish, greedy desires. Our carnality wants wiggle room to dominate and to focus on the here and now rather than the ultimate purpose for which we were created. The lying, carnal mind, despite the testimony of creation and scripture, claims that if God exists He has no plan or purpose, ignoring God's stated intention of creating mankind in His image. Obviously, the majority of Israel, still under spiritual blindness, is oblivious to this intention. We must resist God-denying insanity of atheistic, 'progressive' evolution-based humanist education permeating our culture, reinforcing our rebellious carnal nature.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
Martin Collins asserts that miracles and signs from God, while certainly generating awe and fear, seldom lead to righteousness, but more likely to continued rebellion. Jesus points out that only an adulterous generation seeks after miracles and signs. No greater period of miracles took place in history than at the time of the Exodus, including the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Yet, the stiff-necked Israelites rebelled against God on ten separate occasions. The longest period of growth and stability in Israel occurred under David's and Solomon's reigns, a period attended by no miracles. Elijah and Elisha performed godly miracles during a massive apostasy. John the Baptist, proclaimed by Jesus as the greatest of men, performed no miracles whatsoever. The miracles and signs Jesus performed were received with awe, but also with much ridicule and scoffing from the religious leaders. Axiomatically, the spiritually weak need miracles; the more spiritually mature one becomes, the fewer signs and wonders he needs to sustain faith. God blessed the Corinthian congregation with spiritual gifts (of discerning prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, etc.), but the vanity which these gifts produced led to party-spirit and jealousy. In the future, the False Prophet and Beast will lead many astray by miracles and signs, deceiving most of the world. As God's called-out ones, walking humbly with God should displace any desperate need for signs and wonders.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the estimated 50,000 "Christian" organizations currently extant, suggests that a tiny fraction of the world's people are following "the Way." Doctrinal purity, according to Jesus Christ, does not consist of man-made traditions, which often conflict with God's Commandments. False doctrines cut people off from a wholesome relationship with God. Doctrinal purity is measured according to how one emulates Christ, a requirement for those desiring to qualify to be among the 144,000 following the Lamb. Differences in doctrinal interpretation wreaked havoc on our former fellowship. Jesus Christ engineered its break up and the ensuing scattering of His people for their protection, rendering the splinter groups more obscure in the face of the coming wave of persecution. Scattered brethren, torn away from ineffectual social clubs, are now forced to rely on Jesus Christ as their only bulwark, with the training wheels of groupthink discarded. Christ did not establish any corporate entity, including the Church of the Great God, as His own special group. As the constituent members of the Israel of God realize they cannot cope with the barrage of trials with their own resources, they come to rely on Jesus Christ alone. Only by developing the mind of Christ can one gain ascendancy over the hopelessly evil carnal nature which threatens to destroy all of mankind. God works with the humble and contrite but never with the proud. From the beginning of Creation, the carnal mind has sought its own way. The only way to defeat deadly carnal nature is to stay close to Christ, acquiring His mind, the fountainhead of righteousness and spiritual maturity.
John Ritenbaugh, differentiating Pentecost from the other High Holy Days, suggests that its uniqueness consists of the extra-special gift to God's called-out ones, namely the precious additive of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to perform the tasks God has prepared, giving us the power to overcome, build character, and attain membership in His family. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnal nature is hostile to all His purposes. In the context of physical death, there is no difference between the spirit of man and the spirit of an animal. But, with the sealing of God's Holy Spirit is the promise of becoming His offspring and serving productively in His family. The spirit in man separates mankind from animals, giving man the ability to plan, analyze, create art, music and literature, developing technology that makes our heads spin. Without God's Holy Spirit, mankind has never been able to live at peace. When we yield to God's Holy Spirit, we receive the power to do the things God has prepared His firstfruits to accomplish, adding exponentially to the capabilities and the achievements of the spirit in man.
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warns the Pharisees about crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed, an act of blasphemy that is commonly called "the unpardonable sin." David Grabbe explores the Bible's references to this often-misunderstood subject, showing that, while rare, one could fall into it through bitterness or neglect.
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, warning us not to complain about our lack of talents or spiritual gifts, assures us that, if we were called because of our talents, we would be able to brag. However, we were called solely for the purpose of fulfilling what God has in mind for us. To that end, God has given diverse gifts to all He has called, intending that we produce abundant spiritual fruit, glorifying God. As Adam did not create himself, we, called as first-fruits of a spiritual creation, have not and are not creating ourselves either. We are being trained to become leaders, but before we can lead, we must be able to carry out responsibilities, conforming to God's leadership, carefully meeting the demands of His covenants (solemn agreements between God and man). Covenants, contracts, and compacts are all designed to draw individuals together, unifying them in agreement to establish a purpose. Of the 70 billion people who have lived on the earth, only a meager fraction have entered into a covenant, the legal foundation for any relationship with God. Keeping any of the covenants involves faith in the Creator, the one who gives life and breath to each living being. All human beings have been given a basic understanding of right and wrong, having been imbued with a conscience (Romans 2:14), but the converted are presently more involved with God, and are expected to conform to a higher standard. In order to become a leader, one must be a good follower, pursuing with a high level of energy, appropriating the character of God. The covenants provide overviews of what we must follow, giving broad principles rather than specific details. The Sovereign God spells out the terms and the penalties, demonstrating patience and long-suffering as we slowly learn the rudiments. The first covenant recorded in Scripture, the Edenic Covenant, establishes the Sabbath, the solemn marriage relationship, and clearly shows God to be the source of all blessings, providing a pattern for all the covenants to follow.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Satan's power of persuasion and deception has gone undetected throughout most of human history, largely because God has allowed Satan free access to those not yet called, and a hedge of protection around those whom He has called, cautions that the natural carnal human mind is already halfway on Satan's side, compliant with his mindset—enmity against God . It seems that the means of persuasion are currently tilted toward Satan's side. The deck is stacked against mankind, and in favor of our enemy. Nevertheless, we must work within the parameters with which God has set for us. The carnal mind can be easily manipulated to sin. Even though Adam and Eve had a relationship with God, the first time the serpent appeared, sin seemed inevitable. Through our parents, Adam and Eve, all of mankind sinned at the very first attack of the enemy. Satan's conquest was as easy as apple pie. As a little leaven leavens the whole lump, as Adam and Eve's children emulated their parents' example, sin spread throughout the entire human race. Throughout the past 200 years, Satan has raised up a series of charismatic leaders, secular "Nephilim" in education— philosophers or religious leaders. Satan will place their disciples into education, politics, economics, and religion. Those leaders will spearhead the anti-God , secular, humanistic philosophies of the "Nephilim," adapting those teachings to their field of expertise, spreading the leavening everywhere.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the times we are about to go through will be unparalleled history, suggests that we need to keep our vision before us. We have the obligation to be loyal to Jesus Christ. We cannot, as our forebears did on the Sinai, harden our necks in disbelief and disobedience as a result of flagging faith. Our forebears were charged with enthusiasm as they left Egypt, but their faith ultimately waned. Our current day fellowship faced a similar attenuation of faith, leading to a precarious decline in membership. We have an obligation to place our faith in a Living Being. Christ is not going to draw back from us, but we might allow something to come between us and our High Priest. The people of Hebrews, like us, were living in an end time, prior to the destruction of the temple. For the recipients of Hebrews and for us, faith is a use it or lose it proposition. God sought us out; we didn't find Him by our seeking. What God has given us He has given to very few people. Humility must be at the foundation in the relationship between us and Jesus Christ. The church exists solely because what God has purposed and done, not because anything we have done. When pride exists within us, God can do nothing with us. God dwells with those who exhibit contrite and humble hearts. In His spiritual creation, God has demonstrated extraordinary planning and foresight, planning and caring for the destinations of billions of individuals. With God, nothing happens randomly; even mistakes we have made can work for our ultimate good. As God's called-out ones, we are special.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
II Corinthians 5:7 is clear that God wants us to walk—live our lives—by faith, but our pride and vanity, mirroring the attitude of Satan the Devil, frequently get in the way. John Ritenbaugh delves into the depths of pride and its tragic results for the individual and for all mankind, most of all because it causes us to reject God and His Word.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: There would be no need for conversion without the existence of sin and its destructive effects on humanity. Sin and the anti-God world it has spawned is what Christians must turn from so that they can truly follow God's way of life. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The world contains over a billion professing Christians—of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox creeds, not to mention the hundreds of denominations. ...
Martin Collins, citing Ephesians 4:29-32, warns against corrupt, bitter, and wrathful communication, a practice which may grieve or attenuate God's Spirit. We have the tendency to nurse or harbor grievances and bitterness, souring our outlook on everything, creating a cynical or hardened mindset, focusing on the faults and blemishes in everything. Our bitterness grieves Jesus Christ. Wrath and clamor permanently injure others. As the African proverb reminds us, "The axe forgets, but the tree remembers." Evil speaking, slander, and malice must be expunged from a Christian's verbal repertoire. We displace evil-speaking by flooding our minds with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness, cultivating an entirely new emerging personality, useful and helpful to others, emulating Jesus Christ. Driving out the evil must be followed by cultivating goodness and righteousness. Positivity cancels out negativity. An antidote to depression is to get our hearts tenderheartedly focused on someone else, showing mercy and compassion, after the manner of the Good Samaritan, as well as of our Elder Brother and our Heavenly Father. We need to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
Idolatry is probably the sin that the Bible most often warns us against. John Ritenbaugh explains the first commandment, showing that we worship the source of our values and standards. God, of course, wants our values and standards to come from Him and Him only, for there is no higher Source in all the universe!
David C. Grabbe: During these restless days in the church of God, it is common for us to wonder when the really exciting things are going to begin happening, what God is doing now, and where He is working. ...
Martin Collins suggests that many singles have found dating in the church difficult, consequently turning to the world for companionship, courting dangerous consequences. Marriage is not anything to jump into compulsively or impatiently. Before commitment to an engagement, time, cultivation, and restraint are necessary components of responsible dating. Three steps of dating include (1) keeping the relationship moving from acquaintance into friendship on a totally non-romantic basis, (2) working to discern in the other person his or her attitude toward God and His truth, and (3) only as it is clear that God is calling the other person can one consider turning the relationship into a romantic one. If singles rely upon God, He will provide the right mate at the right time. It is important that one does not become unequally yoked; difference in values will ultimately destroy the relationship. Singles need to cultivate godly faith and hope, seeing God's plan unfold in their personal lives, realizing that God will provide a mate at the right or proper time.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It is not uncommon to hear of hardened soldiers--trained to fight, kill, destroy, cuss, and drink--throwing themselves on grenades to save their buddies. ...
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the necessity to attain fellowship with God, defining fellowship as "joint participation with someone else in things possessed by both." At our calling (John 6:44) we have virtually nothing in common with our Creator. Through the shaping power of God's Holy Spirit, He starts to fill the chasm, which divides us by (1) convicting us of sin, (2) convicting us of righteousness, and (3) convicting us of judgment, aiming our lives at the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only a converted person humbles himself before the truth, making a conscientious, unflagging effort to follow the light of evidence, even to the most unwelcome conclusions, resisting desire, passion, and prejudices acquired through our culture. Human nature is hostile to God's truth, but rejecting truth leads to idolatry and a debased mind (Romans 1:28). We have been redeemed from the traditions and philosophies produced by corrupt men, inspired by demons, the patterns of thinking and conduct that are at odds with the truth of God. We have to desperately fight the perverse downward pull of human nature (inspired by the culture into which we are immersed) to ignore the truth.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the spirit in man God has given us is initially good, but capable of being molded, influenced by the spirit of this world, and surcharged with Satan's negative attitudes. Consequently, God makes available His Holy Spirit to discern those things we cannot detect by our five senses. Angels are continually working within our environment, stirring up the human spirit, and making sure God's purposes are being established. By God's Spirit, we can detect the subtle influences of Satan, who concentrates on the lusts of our flesh, broadcasting self-indulgent impulses to those who are tuned in. The only way to block this signal is to tune him out (Galatians 5:19-21), discerning the bitter, sullen fruits of his thinking.
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