Ryan McClure: As we saw in Part One, people have different ideas about God's involvement in the lives of people on Planet Earth. Deists believe that a Creator God exists but that He is disinterested in humanity ...
Ryan McClure: As we begin, we will jump aboard a metaphorical spaceship to take a speed-of-light journey through the cosmos. Our journey starts on the first day of January, and we exit Earth's atmosphere ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining our belief regarding the nature of God, which rejects both the Catholic-fabricated trinity as well as the Protestant assumption that Yahweh was the harsh God of the Old Testament while Jesus was the benevolent God of the New, explains the context in Deuteronomy 6:4—"the LORD is One." The Hebrew noun transliterated Elohim is plural, but takes a singular verb, denoting that it is a collective substantive. More than one Being constitutes the God Family. Before Christ revealed God the Father, the world as a whole was ignorant of the Father—that Our Lord has a LORD to which we are all subject. The Old Testament Scriptures provide powerful hints about the existence of the Father, beginning with the proclamation in Genesis 1:26, "Let Us make man in our image." The substantiation of God the Father's identity was obscured by a narrower cultural understanding that "My LORD said to my Lord (Psalm 110:1)" referred to any anointed Israelite king, who the Scriptures recognize to be a son of God. After Christ revealed the Father (acknowledging Him as the Supreme Deity), it became clear that: (1) God the Father is Our Creator; (2) We physically resemble Him; (3) He has strict, unchanging standards for eternal life; (4) He is sovereign; (5) He is the Father to Christ and to us; (6) He works through His Son; (7) He bestows authority in the Son; (8) He aims to set up an everlasting Kingdom that will bring peace everywhere. Deuteronomy 6:4 refers to God as one, signifying unity of purpose and single-mindedness in character!
Ryan McClure, taking us on a journey leading 20 trillion miles from earth, asks, "Is God personally involved with His Creation?" Deists believe they can prove the existence of God from His public revelation, that is, Creation itself. However, they assert that God has left this marvelous complex and interdependent creation to manage itself. Through the private revelation given to His called-out ones, God has provided ample assurance that He is actively involved in the maintenance of His creation, a revelation which includes the accounts of His direct interface with Adam and Eve, His instructions to Noah, and His interactions with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Hagar, Gideon, and with Samson's parents. Jesus assures us that even the hairs of our head are numbered. For God's called-out ones, the receptacles of His Holy Spirit, we carry His mind and thoughts with us continually. We can be sure that the omniscient God is not far off and will never leave us.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that it is a tough time to be a parent, especially with leftist 'progressive' draconian child endangerment laws, threatening to confiscate offspring if parents dare to publicly discipline them. Recently, the University of Virginia's Institute on Advanced Culture identified four current parenting styles ,(1) the faithful, (20% of the population) sticking to religious principles, talking about religion, (2) the engaged progressives (21% of the population), focusing on teaching children responsibility and decision-making, but leaving religion out, relying on personal and subjective experience , (3) the detached-hands off, non-interfering, laisses-faire style, (19% of the population), and (4) the over-indulgent American Dreamer style (27% of the population), putting their children on a pedestal, super-inflating their egos. British Nanny Emma Jenner, explaining the failure in modern child-rearing practices, suggests that parents now (1) have a fear of their children, not wanting to upset them, (2) have lowered the expectation bar, making no demands on them, (3) have lost support from the public in terms of instilling respect for authority figures, (4) have relied on shortcuts such as television and video games instead of genuine interactive supervision, and (5) have become worn-out slaves of their children. To counteract these deleterious practices, parents must take three actions. (1) They must establish their authority—the earlier the better, realizing that the biblical line of command consists of God the Father, Jesus Christ, the husband, the wife, and the children as subjects, and not the other way around. (2) Parents must also be consistent and on the same page, refusing to be manipulated by crafty dividing tactics of their offspring. (3) Finally, parents must be involved with their offspring, staying at post all the time, supervising their maturation into God-fearing people.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Ephesians 1:13-23, reminds us that as God's Called- out ones, we are recipients of the promised seed made to Adam and Eve, the Holy Line, beginning with Seth leading through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Jesus Christ, the promises given to Abraham which include being a blessing to all nations. The Gentiles would be grafted in as spiritual descendants of Abraham, as was seen in Cornelius' household receiving the Holy Spirit in a similar fashion as on Pentecost. As we examine the obscure details of God's promises to Abraham, we see how He engineered the boundaries for all of Jacob's children, and later the migration patterns for physical Israel, literally filling up a virtually empty continent with people seeking religious liberty and improving their economic status from serf to landowner. Where the Israelitish people are right now came about as the result of God's blessings to Abraham's offspring, even though they did not prove faithful to the covenant. Though the United States was not established as a Christian nation, the Puritan forbears implanted a sense of morality and the founding Fathers established a legal system, based upon biblical ethical standards of British common law. The Protestant Reformation and the revolt against Roman Catholicism ignited the unsettling of Europe and the population of the North American continent. Desire for better economic circumstances motivated the completion of the migration to America. God has a purpose for where He has placed all peoples. In the fullness of time, the reason for the population distribution patterns of God will become clear as final preparations are made for the return of Jesus Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that incidents of terrorism are on the rise, occurring two to three times a day, many of which are not reported by the Mainstream media. These gruesome incidents, perpetrated within the Israelitish nations by foreign immigrants with a Satanic, insane, Jihadist agenda, are exponentially on the increase. Many have blamed the spike in terrorism on religious fervor or tolerant left-wing politics, but the most compelling explanation of all is that God is allowing these acts of terrorism as punishment for our peoples' forsaking the Covenant with Him and despising His holy law. Part of the curses listed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy identifies terrorism and harassment from the strangers in Israel's midst. If our minds are continually seeking God and trusting His providence, He will provide protection, allowing us to dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that the civil Festival of Purim in the Jewish community, commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in ancient Persia, explains that this festival is celebrated with a notable spirit of merriment because it depicts a miraculous rescue from a hopelessly impossible situation brought about by a perennial, anti-Semitism. In terms of plot of the Book of Esther, the writer uses a chiastic X-like pattern, in which a situation grows grave and hopeless in the first half of a narrative, leading up to a peripeteia (that is, the axis point or the center of the X), in which a sudden reversal takes place, turning everything around from hopelessness to joy. This ubiquitous pattern of a sudden reversal recurs throughout scripture, demonstrating how God deals with the children of Israel, humbling them into repentance in order that He may bring them good in the end. This pattern of reversal-of-fortune provides an insight as to how God deals with us individually. God allows each of us to experience trials and tests to humble us, leading us to repent, obey and trust. Going through this process we learn to be steadfast and to endure. The axial moment in the Book of Esther seems to be a series of mundane events beginning with the king's inability to sleep—- mundane, yet leading to Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai's advancement and the salvation of the Jewish people. These seeming coincidences (a powerful "unseen hand" reveals God's sovereign protection over His godly seed, which ultimately produced Our Savior Jesus Christ, who currently protects the godly spiritual seed (comprising the Church or the Israel of God, the Bride of Christ), descendants of Abraham through God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing our father Abraham's thought processes as he contemplated God's "I will" promises to him, concluded that Abraham realized he would be long dead before their fruition in the fullness of time. Nevertheless, he realized he needed those unspecified blessings applied to him, blessings that would apply to a descendant far greater than himself, a descendant which would be the source of the blessing—the Lord reincarnate, with whom Abraham had been communicating. Abraham realized that his descendant could not possibly be a mere human being, but the Creator Himself. Both Abraham and his descendent David reached the same conclusion, perceiving that fulfilment would be far into the future. Further, they both realized the promised seed (originally proclaimed to Eve, beginning a lineage from Seth to Abram, Isaac and Jacob) would be born into their family line. God promised Abraham that all peoples of the earth would be blessed by him, including those non-Israelite gentile peoples who would be grafted into the commonwealth of spiritual Israel though God's special calling, followed by receiving the Holy Spirit, becoming holy seed within the dynasty of Jesus Christ. No one is physically born into this family, but must be separated spiritually from the rest of the world by a special calling from God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that 30 years have passed since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, and 24 years since the founding of the Church of the Great God, marvels that the greater church of God continues to scatter over 400 separate organizational structures. Realizing that God evidently determined to effect this diaspora, our primary goal should be spiritual rather than organizational unity, as we endeavor to achieve the same kind of unity Christ has for God the Father, a unity He prayed for His disciples at the last supper, and for all His called-out ones. Much of the onus for the fracturing of the WCG rested with the leadership, based on a philosophy of authoritarian gentile leadership Christ warned against, mimicking sheriffs rather than shepherds, driving rather than leading. To successfully lead the church, leaders or overseers must: (1) Realize that God is sovereign, always in control and always at work, responsible for good and calamity. (2) Know that Jesus is the head of the Church; God the Father put everything under His feet.. As parts of a spiritual body, with roles assigned by Christ, neither leaders nor lay people should arrogate responsibility not given us. (3) Ministers are servants rather than overlords; all the Bible luminaries, including Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, referred to themselves as servants. (4) The authority for the leadership in the church is spiritual, not physical, political or authoritarian. God has commissioned pastors to lead and persuade, equipping the saints to function as god has ordained, rather than to browbeat and give orders. (5) The pastor's job description is to be a shepherd, guiding, protecting, feeding, and walking in front of the flock, leading them rather than driving them.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that wisdom is not the answer to all of life's problems, indicates that it is still a valuable virtue, transforming us for good and a sense of well-being. In the matter of deference to civil authority, we must remember that, as ambassadors and sojourners in a foreign land, we must give governing officials respect, even though they may be the basest scoundrels on earth. God may have not directly appointed them, but He passed on their placement in office. Being subject to these officials does not mean that we can obey human laws which conflict with God's laws. We are to pay deference to governing authorities both for conscience sake and so that their oversight enables us to live in peace, a necessary pre-requisite for spiritual growth. Even the local magistrates, elected locally, have been passed on by the Almighty, similarly to Moses' selection of captains of 100, 50, and 10, which were possibly democratically elected by people who knew them best. Our current judicial system, with its appellate levels, evidently was patterned after this Jethro-like concept. Realizing that God allows for human foolishness and that He has allowed the basest scoundrels to hold the highest offices in the land, we are nevertheless, as painful as it may seem to us, obligated to treat them with respect and dignity, realizing that God has a purpose for all of His appointments. Government has been established so that (1) law abiding citizens can be protected, (2) evil doers can be restrained, and (3) order and tranquility can be established. As bad as government can become, the alternative, anarchy, is unthinkable madness and chaos. At our baptism, we made a covenant with Almighty God, giving Him our lives, and remembering that His purposes take precedence over everything else
Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
Richard Ritenbaugh reflects that the creation offers compelling testimony to the complexities and intricacies which preclude even the possibility of evolution. The symbiosis of the Clownfish and the sea anemone could not have occurred without design. Birds, with their lightweight bones, multifaceted feathers, lungs, beaks, and sophisticated aeronautical brains, could not have simply appeared by chance or natural selection. The DNA strand dwarfs any kind of man-made databank ever made, even having self-correcting enzymes. Evolution is a feeble-brained attempt to get rid of God. Job knew that the earth was a sphere hung in space, an insight that science only discovered in the last hundred years or so. Science has not yet determined the laws governing cloud formations. The secrets of our physiognomy, beginning with a uniting of ovum and sperm, are known only by God. Many of these secrets have been revealed to us in His Holy Word, showing God as a Being of intelligence and purpose, a Being with which we can form a relationship. God designed the creation to work, from the one-celled organism to the complex multi-cellular organism. If God takes such pains to create a snail, imagine what pains He is taking with us, creating us to be His sons and daughters. God's vast power compels us to give Him respect. Psalm 104 depicts God as Creator, the giver and maker of good things, designed to bring us to glory. David admonishes us to praise God for His creation; everything that God made is designed to work together with all the rest of creation. God's creation provides public revelation of God's existence, enabling us to understand something of Him, who is exponentially greater than His creation, including the power of fire, water, wind (hurricanes, and tornadoes). Not only does God sustain us, but the entirety the flora and the fauna through beneficent cycles and seasons are designed to enhance life. God is intimately involved in every aspect of His Creation including enlarging His family through the medium of His Holy Sp
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.
David Grabbe, assessing the impact of struggles, pressures, and tribulations of our spiritual journey, reveals that Christ's followers will have to endure afflictions and fiery trials as He prepares them for His Kingdom. Some detractors have tried to preach that "godliness is a means of gain," implying that if we were better people, we would never enter into tribulation. That assumption is not true. God uses both blessings and tribulations to shape His people. Our peace comes from God's grace, not a life of ease and smooth sailing. Those who have peace with God will also have hardship. The rigors God puts us through are not to crush us, but to shape us, transforming us from carnal to spiritual—the new man we are putting on. True spiritual gain is walking through the anguish in victory. As long as God is involved in our life, we are already experiencing the love of God. We do not have to be dismayed about the transformative pressures from the mortar and pestle of our lives.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes 6, appraises the book of Ecclesiastes as the most bluntly profound book in the entire Bible, pointing to our urgent need to develop a relationship with God. We did not create ourselves or give ourselves life. The Psalmist David realized we were made by somebody other than ourselves; we were made according to an intricate pattern. As God's called-out ones, we are a new creation. Are we making ourselves spiritually? We can mess this process up if we do not cooperate with the Potter. This relationship with the Potter is everything; without this relationship, there is no salvation. This relationship is often strengthened through hardship. We have to choose to yield ourselves to God, living for a much higher goal than raw materialism. If we have a relationship with God, we are promised gifts of pleasures forevermore. God can accomplish His purpose without our cooperation, but our choices matter; everything matters. We are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be; consequently, it is foolish to disagree with God. Following God's lead will energize and nourish us. Only God's Word contains the truth to direct and point us in the right direction. Only He knows what is good for us and knows what is coming next. Godly wisdom consists of skill in living.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, affirms that enjoyment from one's labor comes from the LORD and that the proper use of our allotted time becomes increasingly more relevant as we anticipate the conclusion of our physical lives. Solomon instructs us to adjust our attitude from under the sun (carnal, self-centered) to above the sun (reflecting God's approach). God has designed us to work and labor; laboring is a God-designed gift in which only mankind and celestial beings can participate. No animal can do such a thing. We need to be thankful for such a circumstance. God gives gifts such as wisdom, intelligence, and understanding to those who are thankful and content. Our calling from God is the most precious gift, enabling God to be involved in our lives in blessings and shaping trials. We are to rejoice always in all of our circumstances, having a continual state of contentment, anticipating spiritual gain. Without God's involvement in our life, we drift into discouragement. In order to make the best of our lives, we must realize that God is sovereign over time all the time, even though it is running out for all of us. God will be working to make the most of every situation in our lives, even the stupid choices we have made. God has not abandoned us in any case. There is a distinct time for every purpose being worked out. God evidently allowed the breakup of our previous fellowship for our protection and well-being. The fact that we do not know God's ultimate purpose may be because He desires us to place trust in His decisions. The trials that we experience in life seem to morph into larger trials. We need to trust God to work things out since we do not see the entire picture. In the meantime, we must do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, and tremble at God's word. The ultimate purpose of our existence can only be revealed through God's calling, made explicit through His Word. We are being created for the Kingdom of God. Our satisfaction must come from an over the sun relationship with Almi
John Ritenbaugh, claiming that one major reason people find Ecclesiastes to be pessimistic is that much of life also contains negativity, suggests that Solomon, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, found much of life discouraging, disappointing, trying, and fraught with vanity. Nevertheless, his lifetime observations provide the reader with insight and practical counsel to navigate the twists and turns of our journey through life. God has given time to mankind as a gift, manipulating its use for each and every person. We need to be thankful to God for physical life itself, considering that the bad as well as the pleasant aspects are fashioned for our ultimate good. We have the obligation to give ourselves over to His fashioning in the best and the worst of times, realizing that God's purpose is being worked out in the process. God's calling turns our lives upside down, giving us challenges we never heretofore considered facing, forcing us to make decisions. We need to be thankful for what God is putting us through, realizing that God is continually with us and is overseeing all the shaping circumstances. It is necessary to live our lives by faith, trusting God in all circumstances (which He designs) with the help of His Holy Spirit. In the poem (or music) of life, God is playing the tune. God is totally sovereign over time, continually involved in the purpose of His creation, working with billions of people at different stages of growth, knowing our limitations and making adjustments accordingly, all the while allowing for our free moral agency. When we go through grim circumstances, whether as individuals or institutions, we need to see God behind the overall manipulations. In the scattering of our previous fellowship, God, not Satan, was in total control of the circumstances. God knows the end from the beginning.
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.
David C. Grabbe: An incident in John 21 contains a powerful lesson that must be kept in mind when considering our part of our Father's business. The first half of John 21 contains a significant miracle, the eighth and last of the Messianic signs found in the book of John. The miracle—a great catch of fish—is a strong echo of the time when Jesus called these fishermen three and a half years before. ...
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.
Knowing God is vital to our salvation and eternal life, and it is not just knowing that He exists. Truly knowing God is a specific and detailed knowledge of His attributes and attitudes. John Ritenbaugh reveals that fully accepting God's sovereignty should drive us to seek Him so that we can come to know Him as completely and personally as possible.
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.
The serious Christian looks on this ever-declining world—a world that reflects the rebellious, anti-God attitudes of Satan the Devil—and wonders how anyone can truly live by faith. Some may even begin to doubt that God is in control of events here on earth. John Ritenbaugh, however, contends that God's sovereignty over His creation is complete, and the course of world events are moving according to His will.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread, not just as a memorial of the Passover and Exodus event, but because of what the Lord did to bring us out of sin (typified by Egypt). What God does sets everything in motion, significantly eclipsing what we are required to do. God continually does battle for us, breaking down the resistance of Satan (typified by Pharaoh). While God compels us to make choices, He is with us all the way, leading us out of our abject slavery to sin into freedom and eternal life. It is God's calling that makes a difference; no one ever volunteers to follow Him. All that God did to get physical Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land served as a type of what God does for us, calling us out of this world into the Kingdom of God. God is sovereign, necessitating that we diligently seek Him in order to be like Him, yielding to His sanctification, getting rid of all our false gods, worshipping Him in spirit and truth. As a branch attached or grafted to a vine, we cannot do anything without Jesus Christ, who alone enables us to produce or bear fruit through God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, and Christ's own Spirit dwelling in us. God is exclusively the God of His people and no one else.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that all power belongs to God, including health and wealth. We must perceive ourselves as part of God's plan; we are being brought to a state where we will see ourselves as transformed in Christ's image. At the present time, we are going through a period of hopelessness, but must believe that all things work together for those who believe and are called for His purpose. Even though being fearful is natural, God has the necessary power to fulfill His purpose. As very difficult times are coming, we will need to draw close to God for a more intimate relationship with Him. Satan cannot do anything except as God permits. There is no authority except as God ordains. For God, things are not out of control. The events which currently take place in the world are under God's direction. All power was given from the Father to Christ. When Jesus needed help, He went directly to the Father. God calls us, gives us repentance, faith, His Spirit to overcome, His love, and sanctification, writing His laws on our mind, preparing us for membership in His family. God is the source of everything pertaining to our salvation.
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.
A vital understanding we can reach from the many articles that appeared in the media following the recent devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia is the appalling ignorance of God's involvement in the minds of the inhabitants of Western-world cultures. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Secular Americans snicker at insurance policies that refer to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters as "acts of God," when they, in their scientific arrogance, prefer to call them "acts of nature" or "weather events." ...
Martin Collins maintains that mainstream Christianity does not know who God the Father really is, seeing Him as a relatively ineffectual third Member of a closed Trinity, largely responsible for harnessing mankind with a harsh oppressive law that Jesus later annulled. Jesus Christ, designated as the logos, Spokesman or Word, reveals that the Father (the Creator and Sustainer of the universe) has always had supreme authority, and that He and His Father are absolutely at one in purpose. The Father is totally composed of spirit, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. His purpose or plan is to call individuals, regenerating them with His Spirit and instilling His changeless statutes into their minds, to transform them into members of His Family. We need to conform to the image of the Father Jesus revealed to us.
John Ritenbaugh highlights a dangerous flaw in our evaluation of religious truth. If the God of the Bible (who cannot lie and is not a God of confusion) were involved in the religions of the world—mainstream Christianity and Islam - there would be no strife between them. The bitter fruits indicate that the god of both of them is not the God of the Bible, but instead the ruler of this world, Satan the Devil, who inspires warfare and adversarial relationships. The false teachings of this world's belief systems can adversely erode and destroy the faith in members of the greater church of God. "The Way" is distinct from the world's belief systems, polluted by the tolerant and inclusive attitudes of the liberal far left - a position shockingly embraced by a large segment of evangelical, born-again Christians.
If we don't know where we're going, we aren't going to get there! John Ritenbaugh illustrates that our vision of our goal—the Kingdom of God—is a compelling motivation to overcome, grow, and bear fruit in preparation for eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh assures us that God is involved in the minute details of every converted person's life just as much as He is in the major historical world events. As a new creation of God (II Corinthians 5:17) we receive continuous, meticulous, detailed attention through the creative activity of His grace which never stops. God, as Creator, takes the initiative (as the potter over the clay) for the elect's salvation, enabling us to build the repertoire of habits called character. In this process, bringing certain things together in the lives of the called, both calamitous as well as positive, God fulfills His purpose. Even though we don't at times know where we are headed, we need to develop the faith or trust in God's vision for us.
How involved in man's affairs is God? Is He merely reactive, or does He actively participate—even cause events and circumstances? John Ritenbaugh argues that God is the Prime Mover in our lives and in world events.
God's sovereignty and free moral agency set up a seeming paradox. John Ritenbaugh shows just how much choice we have under God's sovereign rule.
John Ritenbaugh, using Paul's metaphor of the human body as the temple of God's Spirit (II Corinthians 6:16) insists that stewardship of our bodies or keeping ourselves healthy is (like the Levitical maintenance of the literal tabernacle) an aspect of holiness, promoting the strengthening of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The principle of dressing and keeping (Genesis 2:15) given to our original parents applies to our physical bodies as well. Good health is not an inherited right; it accrues as we apply God's standards and health laws to our behavior. Even though we may have inherited some genetic weaknesses from the sins of our ancestors, we have a God- given responsibility to maintain what we have been given in top condition, if necessary, glorifying God in our affliction.
Is God sovereign over angels? mankind? John Ritenbaugh explains that God's sovereignty is absolute as He directs events toward the culmination of His plan.
God not only rules in heaven, but He is also sovereign on earth! He is not an absentee landlord, but One who is actively involved in administering His creation.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
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.
John Ritenbaugh, defining providence as the protective care of God, suggests that the providence of God also touches on the pains and sufferings of persecution. To the elect whom God foreknew, all things- pleasant or unpleasant- happen for ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Tragic things, calamities, trials, anxiety, evil, and curses happen to Christians too, as well as blessings, in order to become fashioned and molded into the glory of God's image. As Christ learned from the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), we must also develop patience, refrain from murmuring, and realize that "time and chance" no longer apply to those whom God has called. Whatever it takes to bring God's purpose to pass, we need to develop the humility, obedience, and faith to accept.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on God's meticulous management of all living creatures, including insects, animals, humans, angelic and demonic beings. All conform to His ultimate spiritual purpose-which overrides all other concerns. A converted person, accepting God's sovereignty, accepting that He takes specific care with His children, realizes that both blessings and curses, prosperity and deprivation, should be considered tools in the Creator's workshop, crafting out a magnificent spiritual purpose. This insight, not available to everyone, should instill a deep profound peace, trust, and faith.
Using primarily the story of Joseph, John Ritenbaugh expounds the lessons we can learn and the encouragement we can glean from God's dealings with men during the time of the Feast of Trumpets.
The book of Amos is an astounding prophecy, closely paralleling the conditions in modern Israel today. This first part deals with introductory materials, Israel's covenant responsibilities, God's judgment and how unrighteousness affects society.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the trials of Joseph are a clear exposition of the principle of Romans 8:28 that "all things work together for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Even allowing for mankind's free moral agency, propensity to sin, stumbling, and getting into difficulties, God continues to work out His purpose (making lemons into lemonade) even when people do not know it is for their good (Genesis 50:20). The key to Joseph's greatness is that he allowed his affliction and hardship to humble him, giving him a Christ-like character.
John Ritenbaugh summarizes the true nature of God in contradistinction to the Trinitarian error: 1) God is not mere essence; both the Father and the Son have separate, substantive bodies. They are one in mind and purpose, just as we can be one with Them. Scripture indicates 2) He has the same body parts as ours. 3) He is located in one place at one time. 4) He moves about from place to place. 5) He becomes informed the same basic ways we do: evaluating, inspecting, and watching. 6) He limits Himself within the purpose of what He is accomplishing, respecting our free moral agency. 7) Having created us in His form and shape, He desires to develop us into His character image, so we can share life with Him on His level.
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
In this sermon on the meaning of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh warns that emphasizing our initiative at putting out sin is wrong. Unleavened bread serves as a memorial of God's initiative of delivering us from the bondage of sin. Like our forebears, we have to realize that our part of the salvation process is to follow God's lead, cooperating with His will. When we metaphorically leave Egypt (a type of the world), we leave the location of our sin, leaving behind anything that will hinder us from reaching the Promised Land. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes following God's lead, doing righteousness, and imitating the righteousness of God.
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 reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the false religions embraced by the descendants of Jacob are not preparing God's people for the harsh punishment God will surely bring to modern Israel. Amos indicts rampant dishonest practices in modern Israel, placing dishonest gain above honesty, morality, or ethics, and arrogantly and covetously exploiting the needy for profit. Competition-eat or be eaten- becomes the dominant business ethic in modern Israel. Amos suggests that a major contributory cause of natural disasters (earthquakes, drought, famines, and floods) is the epidemic of immorality omnipresent in the land of Jacob (totally neutralizing the otherwise positive effects of prosperity and technology)Prophecy should serve as a prod or motivation to prepare appropriately for the future, zealously guarding the truth against a counterfeit (politically active or influential) syncretistic pagan religion [patterned after the manner of Jeroboam I], safeguarding against an impending famine of the word. God will demolish this satanic religious-political system, re-gathering a repentant bruised and battered remnant of His people.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Amos severely chides Israel for exalting symbolism over substance, superstitiously trusting in locations where significant historical events occurred: Bethel- the location of Jacob's pillar stone and Jacob's conversion; Gilgal- the location where the manna ceased and the Israelites partook of the produce of the land; and Beersheeba —the location from where Jacob journeyed to become reunited with his family. Consequently, Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheeba became associated with hope, possession, and fellowship. Amos seems to suggest, "it's not where you are, but what you are — or what you become." Instead of superstitiously regarding these locations like the shrines of Lourdes or Fatima, God's called out ones need to make permanent internal transformations in their lives. Likewise, going to a particular site for the Feast of Tabernacles is worthless if our lives are not permanently transformed by a close relationship with God, motivating us to keep His laws, and reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh, expanding on God's swearing by His Holiness, adds that when God looks upon people who call themselves by His name, He expects to see certain family characteristics- exemplified by holiness, purity, and morality. Amos indicated that God could not identify these characteristics in people appropriating His name. God's called out ones are obligated to avoid defilement from any source whatsoever, taking special care not to mix God's truth with worldly tradition and rank paganism, forming a syncretistic religion. Amos, using the unflattering image of cows of Bashan, censures the women of Israel (normally the safeguard for the family morality) for abandoning morality, living exclusively for pleasure, materialism, and self-centeredness (often at the expense of the poor and needy), while practicing devoutly a form of syncretistic religion. God, through His prophets, warns that God (with a motive of love) will chasten His people with increasing severity until they repent and begin to reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
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