Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with 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.
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.
Martin Collins, citing Dennis Prager's Town Hall article, Is America Still Making Men?, suggests that there is a profound dearth of real masculine leadership today, as young men seem to be protracting their pubescence, preferring to remain boys with no responsibilities than to embrace leadership roles. When boys fail to grow into men, women and all society suffers. The family is languishing for real leadership as well as all levels of government. As Joshua felt fearful at assuming leadership, most men also feel the same trepidation, but God Almighty has placed in their DNA the ability to lead, with a view that they lead their families with a balanced proportion of compassion and firmness. Courage is a gift given by God, augmented and amplified when we embrace His law as a part of us. God charges us to do a specific work (such as to lead one's family), requiring us to delve into the Scripture daily for guidance until we know the mind of God through continued practice of living and following His principles. The successful leader is first and foremost a follower of God and His Holy law. Confidence derives from a close relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that it is tough to be a Christian, especially during a time when the United States Supreme Court, staffed by a majority of justices who have been given over to a reprobate mind, have deemed murder) the law of the land, caving into radical Feminist and Homosexual lobbies, while removing God from the equation. In so doing, the Court has attempted a de facto annulment of the Fifth Commandment in the name of women's rights by authorizing the death, through abortion, of some 58 million babies—to date. This death toll is higher than that of all the 20th Century holocaust, pogroms and gulags combined. Furthermore, the Court has perpetrated a frontal assault on God's sacred institution of marriage by sanctioning "same-sex marriage," in effecting putting its stamp of approval on (homosexual) sodomy, thereby attempting to abrogate the Seventh Commandment. When the Supreme Court so totally perverts justice, pushing a toxic liberal progressive agenda, it demonstrates the hopelessly debased state of this nation's ethics. What compounds the gravity of the matter is that these justices should have known better. Psalm 75 reveals that God both promotes and removes individuals from positions of power and He has the final say as to how power will be administrated. If an aggregate of 'justices' continue their collision course with the will of God, these evil men and women will bring a curse on our nation. As God's called-out ones, let us show gratitude to Almighty God for our calling, and for our understanding of His purpose for us (especially, since this knowledge seems to be out of grasp for 7 billion others). God promises to have our right hand; He has given us an iron-clad promise never to leave us as along as we remain true to His Covenant. God is the only one who decides the fates of mankind and He will ultimately bring true justice to the entirety of mankind.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that we live in a changing, uncertain world, reminds us that human nature dislikes and resists change. The blatantly evil changes brought about by secular progressive legislation and federal judges declaring that sin is righteousness and righteousness is sin threaten to upend even the most stalwart. If it weren't for our calling and God's special revelation, we would all have ulcers and nervous breakdowns. The fact that God has handpicked us from the billions that live and have lived on the earth should give us a quiet confidence that God Almighty is providentially caring for us. The key to our abiding sanity is to dwell on God's plan for us and humanity, following Jesus Christ's example to focus on the future when God's Kingdom will bring to an end the foolishness of man's rule. In the meantime, we are instructed to be strong, bold, and of good cheer because Christ has already overcome the world and has promised to never leave us in our perilous but highly rewarding spiritual journey. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ .The forces that are with us are greater than the combined strength of the world's forces. It would be more profitable to ruminate on our blessings rather than the world's problems.
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, 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 contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh gives statistics from an army quartermaster who calculated the logistics of supplying food, shelter, and water for 2-3 million Israelites on their 40 year trek across the Red Sea and the wilderness—a task only an omnipotent God could fulfill. As was true in the physical journey of ancient Israel and the spiritual journey of the Israel of God, we have the powerful assurance that God will never leave nor forsake us. When God parted the Red Sea, the problems did not disappear. On our spiritual journey, once we have the benefits of Christ's Passover sacrifice applied to us, our problems do not instantly disappear. Our position is just as precarious as ancient Israel, if not more precarious. As ancient Israel was called out of Egypt, we are called out of spiritual Egypt. We have been in abject bondage to the world‚s corrupt systems and our own carnal desires, having lived our entire lives under Satan's dominion. Christ stated His intention in Luke 4 to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to recover the sight to the blind, and to set them at liberty. Jesus explains that the truth is the only thing that will set us free. A major player in our lives or spiritual journey is the truth and how we use it. Though Christ does not do our overcoming for us, He gives us abundant resources to accomplish this daunting task. He gives us in addition to the assurance that He will never abandon us as we struggle in our journey to the Promised Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on I John 4:17, marvels at the depth of love God the Father has for us as unique, special components of His creation, loving each of us as much as He loved Christ. The Father and the Son have worked cooperatively, harmoniously submitting to one another, in the planning and creation of this vast awesome universe- right down to the last tiny, minute detail. Our faith should have progressed far beyond the rudimentary question of whether God exists to the more mature iron-clad trust that God loves us, and would not put us through anything He didn't consider necessary for our spiritual growth and development. God freely gave us His Son, His calling, His Spirit (giving us the enduring love as well as the will and power to do His will), and trials to shape and fashion our character. For God's called out children, there is no such thing as time and chance. The events which seen random to us are totally purposeful to God, having artfully designed them for our ultimate good.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
John Ritenbaugh explores several nuances of the term grace, describing a generous, thoughtful action of God, accompanied by love, which accomplishes His will, equipping us with everything we will need to be transformed into the Bride. Even though we, like Jeremiah, may feel timid and underpowered, God is always out in front, providing us with those resources we need to accomplish His purpose. We need to learn to make choices and be subject to the consequences of these choices. Because God is sovereign, only choices made according to His compassionate purpose (as Jonah had to learn) will succeed or be productive.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that nothing takes place in a vacuum for those who are called; moreover "time and chance" no longer apply in the normal sense. Even when we exercise free moral agency, God engineers circumstances and outcomes so that we are virtually forced to make the right decision. Realizing that all things work together for good to those that love God, we must exercise our responsibility to the whole creation and to the body of Christ by improving our relationship with God regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Unlike the deplorable picture presented in the world's religions depicting God as a helpless, effeminate, maudlin, hand-wringing sentimentalist, desperately trying to save the world, repeatedly frustrated and thwarted by Satan, John Ritenbaugh brings into sharp focus the proper picture of God as governor, manager, and controller of all nations from the big picture to the minutest detail, having elaborate back-up plans and fail-safe mechanisms. Nothing and no one can thwart God's purposes. None of us, in or out of the body of Christ, have any control over the gifts, powers, experiences, or events that He prescribes for us. We need to develop the faith to yield and conform to His will as clay in the potter's hands.
Oskar Schindler was determined to rescue as many Jews as possible from the horrors of the Final Solution. God acts in a similar way with His people. Mark Schindler explains.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden