Proverbs 14:12 reveals that, when men follow a way of life that they think is right, it ultimately ends in death. Only God's way of life results in more life. John Ritenbaugh expounds on the truth that humanity's failing to pursue godliness has repeatedly resulted in catastrophes like the Flood. But God provides deliverance and sanctification to those He chooses.
John Ritenbaugh, citing a quotation from Paul Minear that the Bible is "an album of casual photographs of laborers . . . a book by workers, about workers, for workers," reminds us that love for work is a significant part of God's image. In the very beginning, in Genesis 2:2, God is described as ceaselessly working and enjoying His work, unlike the melancholy lament of Louis Armstrong, wishing he could be like "that lucky old sun" with nothing to do except to "roll around heaven all day," with seemingly no responsibilities. As God's called-out ones, we cannot adopt this attitude. Jesus told the Pharisees that His Father has been working continually, setting an example for all of us to develop a passion for creating, something He gave to Adam and Eve in their awesome task of tending and keeping the Garden of Eden, becoming, in effect, co-workers with God. Work has noble divine roots and is part of natural law; man will never become complete without working in cooperation with God. Contrary to popular belief, work did not originate with sin, but became cursed with a kind of resistance after Adam and Eve sinned, subjected to the futility described in Romans 8:19-20. If we view work from an "under the sun" perspective, we will ultimately come to regard it as futile drudgery, but if we view it from an "over the sun" perspective, we will come to see work as a marvelous gift, perhaps even a profound act of worship.
David Maas, endeavoring to explain the conundrum as to why God would place a desire for eternity in a perishable creature, begins a two-part series, "From Pilgrim to Pillar," exploring classical and modern, biblical and secular, metaphors depicting sanctification, a process through which God transforms perishable raw materials into permanent, indestructible beings—literal members of the God-family. The first message explores the cleansing metaphors of water, appearing in the refining of gold and silver ore, and the potter and clay analogy, in which dross, slag and impurities are discarded and the artifact is softened for shaping and molding. Modern metaphors from print, audio, and visual media liken God the Father and Jesus Christ as copy editors, sound engineers, producers and directors creating magnificent motion pictures from a series of crude graphite penciled sketch-pads. Our carbon-based fleshly bodies are just as temporary as these charcoal etchings: The end product far transcends the prototypes.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Romans 8 provides assurance that we are of God, asks us to consider that the sufferings we go through now are miniscule compared to the glory which we will later receive, completely eclipsing the glory of Adam and Eve before their fall. Our suffering is temporal, fleeting, and momentary, as compared to our glory which will be eternal. Though our outer body wastes away, our inner being waxes more powerful. Sadly, we are limited by our mortality and our materialism from seeing the full picture which God has been revealing to us; Paul wants us to take the time to think it though. The whole material creation has been subject to futility; we groan, Creation and the Holy Spirit, both personified by Paul, groan. Nature is not a self-perfecting entity, but an entity subject to decay and entropy. People who do not know God will either worship or destroy the creation instead of worshipping its Creator. Either way, they are slaves to nature, cursed by Adam's sin. We, as God's called out ones, also groan waiting for our redemption into spirit bodies, enabling us to see God as He is. Our groaning is more akin to the expectant groaning of a woman in childbirth, awaiting a new life. Childbirth pangs last relatively for a short time compared to the aftermath blessing. We groan in hope, realizing that our bodies will be delivered in future glory, when we experience adoption into the very family of God, the final trajectory of our hope.
None of us is perfect. We are all, in a sense, broken to some degree, whether from birth or by the constant grind of life. We have little hope of repair. James Beaubelle, however, finds real hope in Scripture, arguing that, if our hope is in our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, we can have faith that our hope will be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, emphasizing that God continually uses perennial types, patterns, and examples, indicates that humankind, nature, and Satan (including his demonic legions) have been mortally impacted by sin, and that the entirety of nature awaits redemption through the appearance of God's offspring. Nature has become a slave of death and decay after the sin of Adam and Eve, whose offspring have been forced to share a prison cell with demonic forces, subject to a death penalty imposed as a consequence of sin. Neither Satan nor his demons cause us to sin; we chose to sin, and we die as the result of our own sins. We were created upright, but bring on judgments by ourselves; the judgments reveal we are still accountable. The same Creator God who placed judgment on Adam and Eve is still on His throne. Thankfully, as offspring of Adam and Eve, we reap the benefit of the curse placed on the serpent, but we must also endure hardship of pain and suffering in our sanctification process. We learn that as we sin, we impact all people; sin is never committed in a vacuum. Thankfully, God has given us gifts, skills, and abilities to enable us to accomplish our responsibilities. Ironically, the original sin revolved around food; all of the Holy Days focus on food, including the Day of Atonement where fasting automatically carries our minds to food. We live in our ancestors, in the sense that Levi paid tithes through Abraham while still in his loins.. We are all subject to the consequences of sin brought about by our first parents. The Edenic covenant was a radiant picture of joy and hope; we are all subject to the consequences of the failure of our parents to keep their part of the agreement. Like Adam and Eve, we are responsible for our part of the covenant. Everything, including ourselves, wears down by God's design, but those whom God has called out have been given a glimpse and hope of a glorious pain-free future.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
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.
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.
Human beings, even those who have been called to be children of God, have an innate fear that God will not always provide for us. John Ritenbaugh contends that this fear originates in doubt about God's power—a doubt that falls to pieces before God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.
John Ritenbaugh uses an impelling example of some Ukrainian Jews who applied foresight and sacrifice to escape from the impending onslaught of the Nazis, saving themselves from certain destruction. The sermon then focuses upon the dangers of sloth and procrastination, coupled with the effects of the second law of thermodynamics (the tendency of all physical matter to break down). If we as Christians fail to dress and keep, cultivating, embellishing, and improving what has been entrusted to us (including our bodies and health), we are equivalent to a destroyer. Fighting the forces of decay - a continuous struggle of overcoming planned for us by almighty God - requires constant, life-long work and vigilance. We should never delude ourselves that we are "innocent victims" of our own sins or destructive habits. We have a sobering responsibility to analyze our health needs, continually adjusting and changing as we learn, faithfully maintaining the temple of God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that we must continually upgrade our decorum and formality in our approach to God, striving to emulate Him in all that we do. Our culture (paralleling the second law of thermo-dynamics) has seriously degenerated in decorum and standards, pulling everyone down into casual, slovenly and disrespectful behavior. Morally and socially, we must resist the ever-present antagonism toward law, rules, and decorum, choosing instead to submit ourselves to God's standards of order enabling the whole body to be organized, training to become a holy priesthood before God. We must exercise temperance concerning food and drink, dress and demeanor. The non-negotiable rules or instructions given for the organization and administration of the tabernacle were clear, unambiguous and served to enforce strict decorum and formality. What is practiced on the outside reinforces what is on the inside.
Is God an environmentalist? Should Christians care about the ecological health of the earth and its inhabitants, human or otherwise? Richard Ritenbaugh explains the Bible's position on the environmental issue.
In the conclusion to this series, Richard Ritenbaugh explains the extent of God's curse on Adam—and thus mankind—in the Garden of Eden. He is promised great toil and suffering throughout his life, but just as in all things God does, a silver lining appears amidst the woe!
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)