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.
If we were asked to list the reasons for the recent decline of the United States, we would probably reply that, among others, poor leadership is a primary cause. John Ritenbaugh asks us to consider that God is putting us through exercises to create leaders in His image. His covenants are a primary tool in this process.
Joe Baity, continuing his exposition on “Letting Go” suggests that the carnal man’s mission statement appears in Genesis 11:4—let us make a name for ourselves, let us build ourselves a tower, defining our own destiny , imposing our will on everyone, including our own Creator. Mankind is solemnly warned in Romans 1:28-32, that if it refuses to acknowledge God, the automatic penalty is the curse of a reprobate mind, degenerating into base, disgusting perversion, and a yawning void. There are NO carnal solutions which can fill this void, re-instating meaning to life. Social media, entertainment, self-help books cannot fulfill mankind’s longing for the meaning of life; only God’s Holy Spirit can do that. The more we compromise with the world, the more frustrated and anxiety laden we will become. As we follow God’s way, the more we will stick out like a sore thumb, but the more we will be appropriating the peace of God through His Holy Spirit, providing a beacon of light to our poor hapless neighbors who have not yet received God’s Holy Spirit. If we look at our unconverted neighbors and see a reflection of ourselves, we are not much of a witness. God expects us to radiate His character, demonstrating a positive escape from the horrible bondage of sin and carnality. Filling the void is not found in carnal solutions, but in the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, maintaining that our responsibility is to yield to God's sovereignty, nevertheless suggests that God has, by giving us free will, enabled us to freely sin, but holds us responsible for governing ourselves. The word govern, derived from the Latin noun gubern?tor, indicates a regulating, as in steering a ship with a rudder. The edict to submit to civil authority has a built-in exception when the civil government has explicitly asked us to do something contrary to God's Law. No power exists that is not in some degree permitted by God. All governments have the responsibility to protect the law-abiding, to punish evil doers, and to establish peace. The American government was established in a climate of rebellion against oppression and a desire to be free. The Founding Fathers were educated men, schooled in English Law and the ordinances of the Bible. John Adams warned that this government, based on maximum liberty, would only work for a moral citizenry. Sadly, the current citizenry is more concerned about their own selfish obsessions for entitlements than the welfare of the nation. God's government has also given us maximum liberty, but we have a daunting responsibility to govern ourselves. We have been called by God to do God's will, following in Christ's steps. In order to regulate ourselves, we must have the same kind of vision that Abraham and Moses possessed, leading them to the Promised Land. This vision can only occur if we have Christ within us, producing spiritual fruit. Without Christ, we can do nothing. As the physical Israelites had to eat manna to be sustained, the spiritual Israelites must be sustained on the true bread, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit (the mind of God the Father and Jesus Christ), giving us the ability to keep His commandments.
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.
As Christians, we have a desire to please God, and we want Him to protect and deliver us when the times ahead get tough. John Ritenbaugh illustrates four qualities of character that our full acceptance of God's sovereignty will build and that will prepare us for whatever work God may choose for us in these last days.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that although Jesus Christ is not the Absolute Deity, He is nevertheless the complement of the Father. Christ clearly distinguished Himself from the Father when He said, "The Father is greater than I," "The Father sent me," and "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." Both John the Baptist and Jesus were called "divine," but Jesus Christ had a pre-existence as the God of the Old Testament sent by the Invisible God. As Jesus deferred everything to the Father, we must also do likewise through Jesus Christ by emulating His life and behavior. Both Jesus Christ and the Father are unique in the Universe; the One to whom Jesus deferred is the source of everything and is accountable to no superior, while Christ has the Father over Him.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that amidst the erosion of doctrine in truth from the Gentile culture of moral relativism, we must, after the manner of Jeremiah and Nehemiah, build a wall, be a wall, and summon the courage to stand in the gap. We must stay focused in our thinking, girding up the loins of our minds, submitting to the will of God, realizing that in these perilous times we will be hated by the many. Conforming to God will set us apart, sanctify us, separating us from the world, making us a virtual wall. Our determination will determine the strength or the durability of this wall. Building a wall requires standing, holding firm, showing alertness and a readiness for action- even if it requires self-denial and unpleasant dirty work, ultimately aspiring to know God, living as He lives, cleansing ourselves from filth and becoming holy.
In this message on the subject of planning and God's sovereignty, John Ritenbaugh stresses that we are obliged to respond to God because He has interfered in our lives, causing us to repent, giving us His Holy Spirit, and limiting our options. We should plan our lives to be in sync with God's planning and purposes for our lives. Even though we have the free moral agency to run counter to God's detailed sovereign purposes, we court disaster if we presumptuously or boastfully plan against these purposes. We ought to plan, exercising living faith in God's sovereign control in everything we do (James 4:15) for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10: 31). Belief in God's sovereignty is of little comfort if we don't also believe in His love and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
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.
What is worship? What should our attitude be in worship? How do we worship God? Our God is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and truth!
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that being reared in a democratic nation sometimes complicates our relationship with God. The type of liberty we have in this form of government is different from our liberty granted by God, a condition of our slavery to righteousness. God's government is actually a sovereign, benevolent dictatorship. Our entrance into the Kingdom of God requires total submission ' to the spirit, letter, and intent of His law. The scriptures are replete with examples of the consequences of murmuring or rebellion- including exile and scattering. If someone rejects a servant of God, who speaks the truth,he also rejects God the Father and Jesus Christ. Both submission and rebellion are totally voluntary, but the consequences are different. God has both a good and a severe side.
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 again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
When Jesus became mentally exhausted and enervated, he became invigorated and refreshed by seeing God's will completed, regarding it metaphorically as food and nourishment (John 4:34) Similarly we can become energized and motivated by our high calling and summons to do the will of God, seeing how vitally important we are to God's purpose. Modifying the slogan of the United States Marines, John Ritenbaugh characterizes the Saints as "The few, the humbled, the called."
Does it seem like your prayers never reach God's throne—that at best they are only recorded on God's answering machine? This article gives a new perspective on prayer that just may add new impetus to your prayer life!
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the consequences of the reorientation of culture from family or group concerns to individual rights, pleasure seeking, or the elusive drive toward equality. If everyone seeks his own gratification at the expense of the general welfare (family, church, society) conflict is inevitable (James 4:1). Because God sanctions all authority (Romans 13:1, I Peter 2:13), the only way a society can work (family, church, civil) is for everyone to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Biblical submission is the respecting of divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ. Our model of submission should be after the manner of our Elder Brother (Philippians 2:6-8). Submission is an act of faith in God, and an act of love for all concerned.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that in matters of submission, God wants us to think things through rather than merely comply through blind obedience. The bitter fruit of multiculturalism (without God's guidance) has demonstrated that unless someone is willing to submit, we have the makings of conflict and chaos. In order to have peace, order, and unity, both Israelite and Gentile have to subordinate their traditions, submitting to the traditions of Christ (Ephesians 2:19). Conflict between all cultural traditions will never end until they are all brought into submission to the traditions of Christ. We have to overcome our cultural mis-education and our desires to gratify the self. Liberty without guidelines will turn into chaos. We will be free only if we submit to the truth (John 8:32). All authority, even incompetent and stupid authority, ultimately derives from God's sanction (John 19:11).
John Ritenbaugh insists that if mankind is separated from one another, it is also separated from God. Moreover, atonement with God will occur when mankind loves one another, loving as an action rather than simply a feeling. Contrary to the antinomian position taken by many Protestants, repentance—something that Christ does not do for us alone—is something we must do with the precious free moral agency God has given us. As sin brought a change in perspective and separation to our parents Adam and Eve, repentance, in one sense, brings us back to Eden—to the tree of life (via God's Holy Spirit). Reconciliation is an ongoing process enabling us to draw closer to what God is, having His mind installed in us.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that, following Abraham's example, a life centered on God is a way of inner peace—an inner strength that keeps life from falling apart. Focusing upon God gets the focus off from ourselves and onto something more enduring, reliable, and permanent than us. If we give ourselves to God (through the New Covenant) in complete surrender, allowing Him to shape character in us, then He will forgive our sins, removing the death penalty, enabling us to live in hope, giving us direct access to Him, providing a relationship with Him, giving us a more abundant, purposeful, meaningful life. The Covenant, initiated by God, must be on God's terms. Obedience is not outward compliance, but must come from the inside out. We should not confuse the sign (circumcision, baptism, putting out leaven, etc.) from the reality it represents.
John Ritenbaugh, prior to the study of Lamentations, explains the significance of the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5:25, referring to a systematic calculation of time. The key is to convert the monetary measures into units of time, employing the day-for-a year principle established elsewhere. This calculation provides a clue for the resurrection of Babylon. In Lamentations 3, the narrator looks at the horrible affliction of his people and sees ultimate good coming from this tribulation, realizing that it has been God's tool of correction. Our responsibility in such a context is to submit to the yoke God has prepared for us, and to be willing to follow God's will, realizing that chastening has been for our ultimate good.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.