Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the Roman Catholic Church's teaching that suicide constitutes a mortal sin, demanding punishment in eternal hell fire, focuses on a poignant movie in which Denzel Washington portrays a man, desirous to commit suicide, who sacrificed his life for a noble cause of enabling someone else to live. In America today, suicide is the leading cause of death, surpassing automobile collisions, and this insidious plague shows no signs of abating in the immediate future. A major contributory factor of suicide is the liberal progressive education in the public schools, brainwashing young people into thinking their lives are of no more importance than that of an insect. The politically correct mindset, making it a federal crime to harbor orthodox biblical beliefs without being branded a homophobe or bigot, plagues many God-fearing people. If we have become tainted by this progressivist poison, we can attain the antidote through the healing pages of the Scripture, which affirm that God crafted all of us uniquely to serve a purpose in His divine plan. Contrary to liberal progressive propaganda, we are neither mindless insects nor yellow pencils, but uniquely fashioned and set apart for a godly purpose. No two human beings are alike; all have a unique (albeit often unknown or forgotten function. If our lives are in sync with God's purposes, when we are in harmony with God, we will never want to commit suicide.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that joy is enumerated second in the order of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22, speculates upon the possibility that God intended a pre-determined order for these spiritual gifts, perhaps from the most important to lesser degrees of importance. If this is the case, Joy occupies a lofty position on this descending scale, following love, which the apostle Paul rates as the most important of all virtues. Because we live in a troubling world, our reserves of joy are probably somewhat low, making us feel that we are deficient in our apportioned measure of God's Holy Spirit. Because we are, through the Internet and media, profoundly cognizant of upheaval of the entire world community, our sense of angst is super-amplified. The ubiquitous craving for constant entertainment reflects a desire to anesthetize the nervous system from stark reality, anxiety, and depression. Solomon demonstrated that seeking relief through pleasure leads to a dead-end. Laughter seems to him sheer madness. Laughter and pleasure often hide grief and sorrow. C.S. Lewis distinguishes joy from happiness or pleasure, but suggests it is more synonymous with cheerfulness or calm delight. In Greek both grace and joy have the same etymological root. Consequently, joy is what God gives rather than what men chase after and produce. Biblical joy is a God-given sense of satisfaction and sense of well-being despite the difficulties of life. Joy is a calm cheerfulness, a hopeful, upbeat attitude which does not spring from anything earthly, but instead is inseparable from godly love. Biblical joy can only arise with a relationship with God. The quality of this relationship will determine our ability to withstand the horrible trials and tests ahead.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Deuteronomy 29:29 which teaches that the secret things belong to God, but that God reveals things needful to those He has called, suggests that this principle resonated throughout the entirety of Scripture. Clearly, God's purpose for mankind for the most part is a mystery, and has been revealed only in a fragmentary part to those He has been calling and shaping through the ages. The book of Deuteronomy, given to ancient Israel as very specific instruction for those being prepared to enter the Promised Land, was intended for all of God's people for all time until His purposes have been fulfilled. The book of Deuteronomy was to be thoroughly reviewed every seven years at the conclusion of Shemitah (the year of release) at the Feast of Tabernacles. In retrospect, highly significant events, both in our previous fellowship and in the Church of the Great God, have occurred during or aligned with the year of release (Shemitah). Deuteronomy receives special honor, given to no other book of the law, having been placed alongside the Ark of the Covenant, as a perpetual commentary on the Tablets of the Law inside the ark intended by God as instruction well into the future. Because physical Israel rejected His covenant, God made a New Covenant with the Israel of God (His called-out Church), body committed to obeying His Laws with the prompt of the Holy Spirit. One Israel is converted; the other Israel, who has brazenly played the harlot, is not yet. The book of Deuteronomy, quoted by Jesus Christ more than any other source as bedrock doctrine, is addressed to the Israel of God, a group of God's called out ones who have been convicted that the Law has not been done away.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent untimely death of Amanda Allen , focuses on some lyrics of a popular song recorded in 1975 by Matt Monro, titled "Yesterday When I Was Young." Sadly, wisdom is not a trait valued or acquired by youth, but takes second place to strength, beauty, or fun. We get too soon old and too late smart. Everything we do, eat, or think about matters, impacting on our total quality of life. There is still time to seek and dedicate our lives to God for our eternal profit and satisfaction.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Solomon's ruminations about life being seemingly futile and purposeless, reiterates that a relationship with God is the only factor which prevents life from becoming useless. As many celebrities and public figures withdraw to spend more time with families, so must we withdraw from the rat race of the world to seek a relationship with God. Most people on this earth are not spending quality time at seeking a relationship with Him, but are living "under the sun" lives. God gave us the gift of His Spirit, enabling us to attain a sound mind, empowering us to choose the way that will bring satisfaction in life. At our calling we receive a gift of spiritual life enabling us to make good use of our physical lives. God has never given any physical object to us that can bring a sustained satisfaction in life, but His Holy Spirit can enable us to enhance our life with Him. The fruit of the Spirit (attained by walking in the Spirit) does bring a sustaining satisfaction within us. Humility attracts us to God; conceit and pride repels us from God. When we commit our works to Him, He will enable us to succeed by directing our steps, giving us maximum enjoyment and contentment, as well as softening the effects of any calamity that afflicts us. Conversely, a life without God will never bring us satisfaction spiritually, psychologically, or physically.
One of the lessons of Ecclesiastes is that God is intimately involved in the lives and futures of those He has called into His purpose. To this end, He has given His people tremendous gifts that, if properly used, will build their faith and draw them closer to God. John Ritenbaugh encourages us that we matter to God: He wants to see us succeed in life and be prepared for life in His Kingdom.
Among the Old Testament's books of wisdom, Ecclesiastes stands as one seemingly out of place: full of frustration, blunt, and even a little hopeless. However, since God is its ultimate Author, its themes are realistic and necessary for us to grasp. With this article, John Ritenbaugh begins an extended series on Ecclesiastes and its trove of deep understanding.
"Things fall apart. The center cannot hold," wrote W.B. Yeats in his famous, "The Second Coming," a short poem about the declining morality of the twentieth century. ...
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon a generally pessimistic treatise, read in the annual cyclical Jewish tradition, during the Feast of Tabernacles, illustrates the disillusionment that love for this world will inevitably bring (I John 2:17). Realizing that the world is passing away, our priorities should be on fearing God and keeping his commandments. The temporary booths (short lived and quickly deteriorating) at the Feast depicts our temporary and impermanent, often unpleasant and disappointing (Hebrews 2:10) earthly pilgrimage or sojourn, contrasted with the permanence of Christ's rule and our future eternal life. (Romans 8:17-18). Without living for God's purpose for us, this life is absolutely meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 1:10-12)
In this Passover message, John Ritenbaugh observes that the world's religions are in abject bondage to falsehood because they do not observe the Passover. Freedom comes to God's called out ones incrementally from continuing on the way- the relationship between God and us. It is this relationship which is the most important thing Christ has died for. We need to be sobered at the awesomeness of the cost to set us free from sin- how far Christ was willing to be pushed. Immense have been the preparations for our ransom- involving billions of years (Hebrews 11:3, I Corinthians 10:11) and the death of our Savior. Because we have been purchased, we have an obligation to our Purchaser.
Men have searched for centuries for the keys to success in life. Many have found rules to live by to bring them physical wealth and well-being, but all of them have neglected the most important factor: God!
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