Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
Martin Collins, assessing Paul's admonition that God's people be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2), acknowledges that God possesses three non-transmittable attributes: omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (existing everywhere at once), and omniscience (knowing everything). These attributes will never become descriptive of God's people. But there are other, transmittable, attributes which we can make a part of our new nature. These include love, forgiveness, compassion, and longsuffering. God commands that we emulate Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us. He instructs us to humble ourselves, giving our entire self as a sacrifice of love. Paul explains that light symbolizes the regeneration of the new creation, totally separate from the old creation, lying in darkness. There must be a regenerative change in what we are, how we think, and the way we think. With God's help, we must obliterate our evil, carnal nature, replacing it with purity and holiness, both of which will be evident to those with whom we associate. They will observe that no filthiness or course speech comes from us, as we radiate God's behavior (symbolized by light) in a murky world of darkness. Just as God characterized the Prophet Danial as being a light, He has also called us to be lights to the world, to radiate His attributes of forgiving, giving, and living.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the widespread belief in many pagan cultures that local tribal deities claim territoriality over their adherents' land, maintains that God had to disabuse Israel from believing such nonsense, using scattering and exile to partially accomplish His purpose. God is sovereign over the entire earth; His power is not venue-dependent. When Nebuchadnezzar had enough of Judah's rebellion, he transported the entire ruling class to Babylon, including Daniel and his companions. God used this event to scatter Judah and Benjamin through the prominent cultures of the earth. Jeremiah sent a letter in 597 BC, giving specific instructions to the captives as to how to conduct themselves in Gentile cultures, assuring them that they would be in this predicament for seventy years, after which God would rescue them. They were to improve their skills, buy houses, plant gardens, raise families, and be model citizens. Although they were not to assimilate inwardly, they were to blend in wherever God's Law was not violated. They were not to make a nuisance of themselves by proselyting, a principle still in effect today for God's called-out ones. In post-exilic times in Persia, God used concealed Jews (exampled by Mordecai and Esther) to ascend to levels of prominence on behalf of their people. Esther (her Persian name, a variety of Ishtar) and Mordecai (his Persian name, a variety of Marduk, a Babylonian deity) served as a kind of protective covering, enabling them to quietly carry on God's purpose. Paul applied the essence of Jeremiah's letter to Christians living in this present evil age, admonishing them to lead a quiet life, mind their own business, stay aloof from governmental affairs and set a godly example through diligence and good works.
Martin Collins, focusing on the designation of six cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12-13, finds a spiritual parallel outlined in God's annual Holy days, beginning with Christ as a refuge for us in the Passover and our making a refuge for others during the Feast of Tabernacles. The institution of cities of refuge, havens for those who have committed unintentional manslaughter, highlights the great importance God placed on the sanctity of life, especially in beings created in God's image. In the Ancient world, where blood revenge was widely practiced; a large number of people died violently. The cities of refuge prefigure Christ's final refuge from death, protecting us from Satan's murderous intentions. The elders of the city, Levitical priests, trained to counsel individuals in the ways of God, would examine the weapons used in the killing and would investigate the history of prior relationships between the killer and the victim in order to determine whether the verdict of manslaughter or murder be handed down. If the seeker of refuge were exonerated, he was confined to the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, at which time he could return home. When Christ, our High Priest, died for our sins, we were set free and allowed to reconcile with our Heavenly Father. Besides providing refuge for the twelve tribes of Israel, these cities became a refuge for non-Israelites who had killed another person unintentionally. The cities of refuge did not provide protection for premeditated murderers, unlike the bogus 'sanctuary cities' created by liberal progressives, which protect law-breakers and felons instead of protecting the innocent. The code of law in God's sanctuary cities is universal, not one set of standards for one ethnic group and one for another. Christ is our place of safety; we have refuge in Him at all times. The names of these cities all represent aspects of Christ's character. For example, Kedesh signifies setting apart as holy (Passover) while Golan represents joy and dancing in the Millennium.
Gary Garrett, reflecting that Adam and Eve had a direct fellowship with God at the beginning of man’s history, asserts that fellowship and fellowshipping are important to God. After Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden, the sacrificial system was the only way to maintain contact with God. Adam and Eve were progenitors of an Edenic culture that had a fellowship based on the presence of the Lord, whereas Cain established a culture in Nod, based purely on human reason independent of God. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, but only Abel followed the instructions outlined by God, which required an animal sacrifice, prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice, a grain or cereal offering, was intended to symbolize love for brethren, which was demonstrated to be false by his intense jealousy and murder of Abel. Cain aligned himself with the wicked way of Satan and ignored God’s counsel for him to repent. If we lack love for our brethren who live in the presence of God, we are emulating Cain. It is God’s desire that we stay in the fellowship. Cain denied the importance of the Edenic fellowship, causing him to be separated from God, as well as his fellow men. Today the church is our Edenic fellowship; we must cling to each other as we continue our spiritual pilgrimage.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that sometimes the pace of the Feast of Tabernacles can be wearying, reminds us that God has commanded His people to rejoice and to develop a beneficial fear and respect for Him. Enjoying the feast to the hilt physically does not necessarily mean we had a good feast. If we do nothing to make a fine feast for someone else, we probably will not have a good feast. God commanded the Israelites to offer more sacrifices at the Feast of Tabernacles than at all the other Holy Days combined. We attain spiritual regeneration by participation. After the Babylonian captivity, people felt more inclined to serve than before, having cultivated a new appreciation for what they had lost—namely, God's precious law. Just because we are keeping God's festivals does not necessarily mean we are in sync with God's Law or His purpose for our lives. God commissioned Amos to write a powerful, stirring message to the ten northern tribes, warning them to prepare to meet their God and to change the attitudes which were polluting God's feasts. Israel, in the time of Amos, had drifted into the same moral cesspool as the modern Israelitish nations have today, laden down with corruption and bloodshed, just as America's Supreme Court has made sodomy and murder the law of the land. Amos warned against exalting symbolism over substance, clinging to Bethel as a religious shrine, while neglecting the fact that Bethel was the location where God renamed Jacob to Israel. God wants each of us individually to go through the same transformation as our father Jacob—from conniving schemer to a totally converted and submissive servant.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that much of Protestantism shares more of an approach to Deism (that is, God establishes His laws and then abandons His creation to their machinations) than to Theism (that is, God maintains watchful control on His Creation), takes issue with the Dispensationalist views of John Darby and Cyrus Scofield, both of whom believed that God, like an absent-minded inventor, continually changed His approach, in the process dumbing down the process for salvation. In reality, God has had the same plan from the beginning, creating godly seed in His image, having His inner character. From the beginning, God has set certain individuals apart, putting them through an intensive sanctifying process, purifying, cleaning, and perfecting their character until they reflect His image like a mirror. From the line of Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God has called individuals who demonstrated blamelessness in their dealings, providing them grace, giving them tools to perform tasks He ordained for them, continually proving their faithfulness. Sanctification requires that we clean up our act, from our physical lives to our spiritual lives, having clean and wholesome thoughts as we wear clean garments. As we, the descendants of Seth, Noah, and Abraham, progress in the sanctifying (sanitizing and cleaning) process, we can expect antagonism and enmity from the seed of Satan, that is, the descendants of Cain, those who, under Satan, move and shake to this present evil generation), those who hate and reject God's Law and His covenants.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his comparison of the timid, insignificant sparrow with the virtually unnoticed, timid Church, reiterates that God has complete oversight over the awesome plan of creating offspring in His image. Consequently, we should not fear Satan, his demons, or the world, but we should fear and respect the One who has complete involvement in our lives. The calling of God the Father, compelling us to conform to the image of Christ, is in fact, a calling to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, reuniting mankind with God the Father through Jesus Christ. God's called-out ones, selected and predestinated before the foundation of the world, continue to submit to His instructions, while other professing 'Christians' throw out whole portions of His Law, including the Sabbath, a major tenant in both the Old and New Covenants, created, like light, water, air, and food, as a benefit and blessing to mankind. As God called out the Jew and the Greek, He began with the least significant of all people (including us) that no flesh should glory in His sight. Whatever gifts or assignments God has given us are to be used boldly for God's glory, not our own. We are undergoing sanctification, set apart for a special purpose of being refined into His likeness, a process which takes a lifetime, honing skills of endurance and resisting sin. Currently, the scattering of the church has furnished us a measure of protection, but Satan is doubling down on his plans for persecution, and we will (with God's Spirit dwelling in us) resist his pulls as did our Elder Brother before us. The battle lines have already been drawn between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve, with the separation of the line of Seth from the line of Cain. At least in part, God instituted marriage to reproduce, something angels cannot do (Luke 20:36). Though the sons of God have a natural fear of Satan, God has, in a sense, provided Satan to us for resistance, in order to develop godly character, becoming like Him, becoming one, as husband and
Martin Collins, acknowledging that, after Adam and Eve's sin, being in God's presence has been problematic for all of their offspring, points out that the intercessory prayer of Moses led to the promise of God to accompany His people and dwell among His people, sanctifying them by His glory. When God shows mercy, it is because He has chosen to do so. By going with them, God made them a special, distinguished people. Today, God's called-out ones are a distinguished people having the only religion based on truth. The most acceptable offering we could ever give is a broken and contrite heart, worshiping God in spirit and truth. Our offerings should consist of prayer, service to others, as well as material or monetary contributions, reflecting our gratitude for material and spiritual blessings, acknowledging God's presence in our lives.
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
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating the warning of the apostle Paul that evil company corrupts good habits, warns us that the desire to sin is highly contagious and is a deadly, communicable disease. Because the world we inhabit swims in sin, we have the obligation to become a thinking people, voluntarily choosing God's purpose for ourselves rather than Satan's shameless appeal to self-centeredness, as demonstrated with Satan's enticement of mother Eve. Like mother Eve, we also contend against spiritual principalities for which we need the whole armor of guard and to be guided by God's Holy Spirit to defeat our deadly, carnal nature. The best defense a newborn, minimally contaminated by Satanic nature, has against the influence of sin are parents who ardently love God and His commandments. Solomon had to learn that wisdom, in its purest human form, does not give us complete understanding into the ultimate purposes of God, but wisdom, accompanied with unconditional faith in God, will actually brighten an individual's countenance, as was seen in the example of Daniel and his friends; godly wisdom has the power to change a person's appearance and brings about personal transformation. In a difficult situation, especially when dealing with tyrannical human governments, trusting God is the ultimate wisdom.
The author of Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches us not to despise the rigors, the difficulties, that come from God, but to take them as evidence of God’s work with us: "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons ..."
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that we have been marking nearly 6,000 years since Abel's offering was accepted and Cain's offering was rejected by God, an event revealing the carnal proclivity for jealousy leading to the first murder, reminds us that the Bible clearly shows that the requirement for the offering was in-force at the time of Adam and Eve. Cain's penalty was banishment from his family. An offering is a gift given to God. Seven times a year, we are required to appear before the Lord with a gift, and not empty-handed. The gift is protocol, opening the door to the King's presence, establishing a relationship. Offerings —gifts—are transactions that bring people together. We are giving back to God only what God has already given to us. The offerings unify the whole group. A quality, acceptable offering involves faith, proper valuation, and righteousness, being cheerfully given with a measure of sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the analogy or metaphor of wilderness wanderings, focuses on the role of suffering or persecution (pressure) in perfecting the saints. God the Father perfected Jesus Christ (our Elder Brother, High Priest, and Mediator) through suffering. Likewise, God the Father has determined that His called-out ones would also be prepared for the reward and inheritance through the same manner. We need to develop the character to govern ourselves because those who cannot rule themselves are not fit to rule anything. As we put on Jesus Christ, we also are required to put on His suffering. As we are called to suffer like our Elder Brother, we are similarly called to glorification. Glory follows suffering. Christ's suffering was not confined to crucifixion, but also consisted of rejection, snubbing, humiliation, and the duress of persecution. God is still with us when we are suffering, perfecting our character. Suffering comes with the territory of being prepared for the Kingdom of God. The path to glory lies through suffering for righteousness sake; there is no intrinsic value in any other kind of suffering. Since we will be working with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, God the Father will allow us to have parallel experiences as our Elder Brother endured. The ultimate rewards of this temporary suffering are mind-boggling if we doggedly follow our Archegos, Prodromou, Scout, Forerunner, and Trail-blazer, Jesus Christ, who gave us the example of leadership through service. God is equipping and perfecting us to work with Jesus Christ, using the tools of suffering, tests, and trials to build the right kind of godly character.
The world is so full of lying and other forms of deceit that "bearing false witness" has become a way of life for the vast majority of humanity. In discussing the ninth commandment, John Ritenbaugh reveals the relationship between telling the truth and faithfulness, virtues that are necessary parts of an effective witness.
One beautiful summer afternoon, as a welder in a steel mill, I was performing a task that required a fair amount of concentration. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on the phenomena of rogue waves (unpredictable destructive waves that reach up to 100 feet), suggests that many lives have been lost at sea because of them. Sea imagery and maritime metaphors are used throughout scripture to depict chaos, destruction, turbulence, and disorder. In contrast to the tumultuous waves, the sea of glass in front of God's throne is tranquil and serene, as well as awe-inspiring. Before we can stand before God on this sea of glass, we are required to be totally cleansed and consecrated. Solomon had a bronze sea constructed (holding 17,000 gallons of water) to symbolize the sea of glass before God's throne, used for the cleansing of the priests in the temple. The imagery of the turbulent worldly sea (from where the Beast emerges) stands in stark contrast with the imagery of the sea of glass like crystal before God's throne, depicted in Revelation 4, a throne surrounded by an emerald rainbow. God's throne will be the focal point for all future periods of judgment and installation into His family. Even when it is seen in vision, the throne room of God itself makes stalwart individuals weak as gelatin because of the awe and splendor of the surroundings.
Praying always and watching—or overcoming—affect every facet of a Christian's life. Pat Higgins relates how deeply examining ourselves for flaws and shortcomings, as we do each year before Passover, helps us to accomplish Christ's Luke 21:36 command.
Jesus' admonition in Luke 21:36 has a far deeper meaning to the people of God at the end time than most people have realized. Pat Higgins answers the next obvious questions: How does 'praying always' work, and why is it such a powerful tool in the process of overcoming?
Jesus remarks that our lips tell the tale our hearts try to hide. Using this proverb as a foundation, John Reid asks us to consider our prayers in a similar way. What do they tell God about us?
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon the memorial aspect of the Day of Trumpets, especially the blowing of trumpets and shouting. One major incident involving the blowing of trumpets, occurring at the outset of Israel's incursion into Canaan, was the fall of the city of Jericho (Joshua 5-6), when Joshua (a type of Christ) meets the Commander of the Armies of the Lord (Yahweh, the one who became Christ), whose sword is drawn in a posture of judgment. Jericho, undoubtedly the most invulnerable fortress in all of Canaan, nevertheless was delivered (as an inheritance) into the hands of God's chosen people through the blowing of trumpets or rams' horns (announcing the presence of God). The battles of Jericho and Armageddon provide the opening salvos establishing God's chosen people in occupied territory, driving out the abominable influence of the previous occupants.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on God's presence in the pillar of cloud and fire, suggests that it is a vital part of the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread and depicts God's visible presence and protection, His Shekinah, which appeared continuously for forty years above the Tabernacle. God has appeared to many people in various forms and in various degrees of glory. We dare not fixate or limit God's appearing to one form or another. Ultimately, God's glory is His awesome goodness and righteous character, embodied in Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth. His glory is composed of all those things that are part of God's way and character. Remarkably, these godly attributes may and should (by means of the Holy Spirit, Christ in us) be transferred to us, unifying us with the Father and the Son, our hope of eternal glory.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the shock and awe bombardment in Iraq, focuses upon the original shock and awe display on Mount Sinai, as well as the ultimate shock and awe campaign the world will experience at the second coming of Christ. Descriptions of this calamitous event abound throughout the Psalms and prophecies, depicting in awesome graphic detail the carnage and destruction of the Day of the Lord—the time of which no one knows! When these events begin to unfold (like a thief in the night), they will occur at meteoric speed. We dare not be caught sleeping but must show continual vigilance.
John Ritenbaugh debunks the foolish notion that it does not matter what we wear if our heart is right on the inside. Our clothing as well as our outward conduct must match what is going on in our inner heart or being. Our clothing, often symbolizing righteousness, ought to reflect or symbolize our inward character. We are admonished to dress up to the standards that God finds acceptable. Old Testament examples of the importance of dressing up before God or when we enter His presence include Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons. When God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel, He dressed her up in quality clothing, but when Israel played the harlot, her seductive clothing became a symbol of defiance against God. As Aaron and his priestly sons were commanded to wear special clothing symbolizing purity and righteousness, we as a forming kingdom of priests, must give attention to our clothing as it symbolizes our inward spiritual character and submissiveness to God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes how intimately God is involved with the intimate details of our life, including our conception and birth, supplying spiritual gifts or abilities to carry out His work. David reflects that God knows us searchingly, even our secret thoughts and desires before we are even aware of them (Psalm 139:2). David takes comfort in the boundaries God has set for him, gratefully submitting and yielding to His will, letting God have control or metaphorically taking the reins over his innermost thoughts. God is as intimately involved with His called out ones as He was with David.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that both the time element and the significance of the Great White Throne has been lost on most of the Catholic and Protestant world because they refuse to keep God's Holy Days. Far from being the dreadful Dies Irae, not only does judgment proceed from the throne of God, but also salvation and eternal life. There is a good, perfect balance of His severity and goodness, something a perfect judge should have. Because of His perfect holiness and righteousness, every individual will receive a "fair shake."
God's sovereignty seems to imply that prayer is a fruitless exercise—that God has everything already planned. John Ritenbaugh explains, however, that we must change our ideas about the function of prayer: It is not to change God's mind but ours!
If God is manipulating everything in His sovereignty, why pray? What does prayer teach us? John Ritenbaugh explains why the sovereign God commands us to come before Him in prayer.
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
God is working to build a relationship with us, dispensing gifts for overcoming and working out His greater purpose. God's Spirit is 1) an immaterial, invisible force which motivates, impels, and compels; 2) whenever referring to a person clearly identifies the Father and the Son; 3) when not referring to a person is the essence of God's mind; and 4) can be communicated to our minds. We receive more of this Spirit as we respond to His calling, drawing near to His presence and reversing Adam and Eve's fatal errors of 1) being convinced that their way was better than God's, 2) developing pride, and 3) trying to justify themselves. Reversing these three steps brings nearness to God and spiritual growth.
Joy, the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, is more than just happiness. There is a joy that God gives that far exceeds mere human cheerfulness. John Ritenbaugh shows how the Holy Spirit produces it in us.
Many people think the third commandment deals only with euphemisms and swearing, but it actually goes much deeper than that! John Ritenbaugh explains that this commandment regulates the quality of our worship and involves glorifying God in every aspect of life.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that prayer is perhaps the most important thing we do in terms of maintaining our salvation. The purpose of prayer is not to overcome God's reluctance, but rather to yield and conform us to His will. The oft quoted slogan 'Prayer changes things' is only true if the prayer conforms to God's will (James 4:13-15). Unlike indulgent tolerant parents, God does not give into the whims of His children, but instead grants petitions which lead to greater spiritual growth and conformity to His image.
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.
Taking issue with those who have embraced the widely held notion that God does not have body parts, John Ritenbaugh asserts that just because spirit is invisible to the present physical receptors, much the same as wind or electromagnetic waves (John 3:8), it is nevertheless real - able to be comprehended by spiritual receptors (II Kings 6:17, I John 3:2). The numerous figures of speech describing God's body parts substantiate that God has shape and form and occupies a specific location. Figures of speech always have legitimate grounds of comparison. The term omnipresent, rather than suggesting some ethereal grotesque omnibody, can be explained by being "in union with His spirit" as in John 14:19-20 in which God the Father, Christ, and the Called out ones are depicted to be "in" one another- one unit as analogous to a marriage union when two become one flesh through sharing combined goals, aspirations and a kindred spiritual presence.
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that the Sabbath is the major means by which He protects His investment, the spiritual creation of His family. The Sabbath, far from being the least of the commandments, is a special creation, a very specific period of holy time (only God can set apart something as holy) given to all of mankind, reminding us that God does not stop creating, but elevates His attention to spiritual creation, providing us with unified instruction designed to free us from sin, celebrate life, develop a special relationship with Him, providing a major tool for our conversion, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. No other commandment so specifically defines God's purpose. Breaking the Sabbath is tantamount to idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh compares prayer to a tool we must learn to use more efficiently or effectively. God's chief work on this earth is to produce holiness in His offspring, transforming our carnal, perverse nature into God's own image. Because we have the tendency to take on the characteristics of those with whom we associate (for bad or good), we need to be keeping company with God continually through prayer, letting His character rub off on us, developing His mind in us as we learn to shape petitions according to His will and judgment.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
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
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the superiority of Christ and the Melchizedek priesthood, pointing out that in every way it is superior to the Aaronic priesthood because Christ tenure is eternal rather than temporal, guaranteeing both continuity and quality. Hebrews 7 is the only portion of scripture that carefully examines Christ's credentials as High Priest, giving us concrete hope of our salvation. His blameless and undefiled life made Him an appropriate guarantor or co-signer covering our imperfections. After establishing the need for a change of the priesthood, Paul describes the details as to how the new priesthood will administer the New Covenant, amplifying and bringing into stark reality what had been only seen in shadowy outline in the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is established on better promises, not law changes.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
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