John Ritenbaugh, observing that we make choices every day of our lives, cautions that though a choice be large or small, everything matters. Sadly, we make most choices with very little thought The miscalculation based on the fear of famine prompted Abraham to go to Egypt, though God did not intend for him to take that course. Abraham, at this juncture, having a crisis of faith, did not trust God to take care of his family's physical needs. The episode involving his half-lie to Pharaoh lost Abraham considerable ground. Any self-seeking distrust may cost years of spiritual maturity or character. Even though we may have botched our lives and opportunities, we can, through repentance, like the Prodigal Son, be restored, but we may have to begin from scratch. Why risk this with a careless choice? Abram had to learn that God gives material prosperity to those who are not seeking it. Those who seek riches are destined to fall into a snare. People who seek to be rich are tempted to do all kinds of wrong things to achieve it. Fox-like cunning and wolf-like rapacity and self-centeredness characterize much of the world's business acumen. Abraham reveals his restored faith in his reaction to Lot's presumptuous choice, expressing therein his willingness to yield in a spirit of generosity, expecting God to supply all his needs. The less we strive about our 'rights,' the more our lives will be wrapped in peace. Lot was deceived by his eyes, choosing the watered plains of Jordan, leaving his uncle with the 'less desirable' hill country. Abram gave of himself; Lot took for himself. Abram made his choice by faith; Lot made his choice by sight. Abram became the friend of God; Lot distanced himself from God. Who made the right choice?
We carry an "old friend" around with us wherever we go, one whom we cherish and protect even though it frequently influences us to think, say, and do the wrong things. Referring to our human nature, our carnal or fleshly mind, John Ritenbaugh argues that, deceived or not, our sinful nature drives us to disobey God's laws, just as Adam and Eve transgressed by choosing the way of death. Such choices by all humanity have fashioned this present, evil world.
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.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the scripture commanding the saving of second tithe, focuses on the admonition that we learn to fear God, having awe, respect, with a certain measure of dread. We are admonished to internalize the book of Deuteronomy in preparation for our future leadership roles. In one sense, Deuteronomy serves as the Reader's Digest Condensed Book or the Cliff Notes, outlining the details for our salvation, providing us instructions for our relationship to God and our guidebook to the Promised Land. Deviating from this set of instructions leads to apostasy, idolatry or spiritual adultery, a situation in which physical Israel perennially found itself, having become repeatedly immersed in degenerate heathen religious practices. Ezekiel 16 is directed to modern Israel, a people who have outstripped their ancestors in their zeal to defile themselves in a moral and spiritual cesspool. Unfortunately, all of us have been tainted by this degenerate culture. Modern Israel's major sin is idolatry. Once the First Commandment is broken, the others topple like a house of cards. Most of the world worships pictures or sculptures of gods and lords. Those who trust these false entities are as good as dead. There is no alternative to worshipping the one true God. Israel's propensity for idolatry is deeply ingrained in them, impatiently and emotionally clamoring for something they could see—a malleable idol. Unfortunately, this propensity toward idolatry is part of human nature, a natural extension of self-centered coveting; transforming ourselves into the god we serve. God will not brook competition under any circumstances, demanding total destruction of all alternative forms and methods of worship—no form of syncretism with anything pagan whatsoever.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
John Ritenbaugh insists that a Christian's perspective or point of reference should always be from God's point of view, as determined by the pages of the Bible. Our human heart, looking and evaluating on the outward appearance, perpetually drawn to the world, must be replaced with the motivation from God's Holy Spirit- cleaning up character and removing defilement from within. How we dress and how we act on the outside is determined by what is in our heart. God desires that we dress, behave, and act according to His upgraded standards. Both clothing and hair length have been perennial flashpoints, signaling and reflecting areas of rebellion, defiled attitudes, and spiritual health providing a reliable barometer of a person's character, as in the cases of Absalom and Nebuchadnezzar. Casualness or carelessness in matters of hair length show rebelliousness in acceptance of covenant prescribed governmental or gender roles.
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
John Ritenbaugh warns that the narrow "pay and pray" mentality experienced by many in our previous fellowship took our attention away from the more important overcoming and growing aspect, preparing for the Kingdom of God. We desperately need to become immersed in a cause, yielding to God's creative power, personally and individually, getting us ready for God's Kingdom. We must guard our time, not allowing busy-ness and involvement with activities of the world to prevent us from forming a deep intimacy with God. Developing this intimacy requires walking by faith, going beyond the superficial academic into an intense, in-depth practical application of actively searching for, yielding to, and obeying God.
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.
No one seems to talk much about sin anymore, but it still exists! John Ritenbaugh explains the basics of sin and the great effects it produces on our lives.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon vision - an especially vivid picture in the mind's eye (undergirded by faith, scriptural revelation, and prompted by God's Holy Spirit) to anticipate and plan for events and results which have not yet occurred. This foresight or revelation, strengthened by analyzing, comparing, and applying scriptural principles, produces a common (or uncommon) sensical prudence of conduct, insuring that a person's life (temporal or eternal) is preserved and plans fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
John Ritenbaugh ponders the qualifier "righteous" when applied to Lot. Unlike Abraham who separated himself from sinful society, Lot seemed to involve himself in the affairs of the perverted city, arrogating to himself the role of a judge, attempting to change the behavior of the people- but nevertheless, attempting to co-exist with sin. Evidently Lot's close proximity to the evil behavior, while not corrupting him personally, gave him a somewhat confused divided attention, compromising the safety and morality of his family, leading him to prostitute his principles to gain favor of the world. When communicating with God, Lot, unlike Abraham, equivocated with God's instructions, looking for conditions and escape clauses, showing him to be a very self-centered, worldly wise, carnal Christian, attached to or compromised by the values of the corrupt world.
In this study, John Ritenbaugh teaches us that Abraham's iron clad faith was developed incrementally as a result of calculating or "adding it all up," matching the promises of God (perceiving His overall intent) with the current situation, realizing from his ongoing relationship with God, that it was impossible for Him to lie. We learn from Abraham's experience to trust God even when we have incomplete data. We learn from Abraham's experience, that when we attempt to take the expedient way out (embracing a carnal or worldly solution), we will run into grave difficulties- forcing us back to the fundamentals of faith. As descendents of Abraham, we must learn to trust God, forming an on-going relationship with Him, realizing that God's ways and the world's ways do not mix.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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