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.
David Maas cautions that in a dangerous and troubled world in which everyone is being manipulated and conned into squaring off in hatred for one another, being enticed to take the spiritual mark of the Beast (seething anger and hatred toward one another), we must find common ground, not only with our fellow citizens, but especially among the multiple splinter groups in the greater church of God. Following the apostle Paul's example, when we encounter groups with differing views from ours, we must find common ground, finding things praiseworthy about them, providing the framework for mutual understanding, always on the basis of God's covenants to all of mankind and to His called-out firstfruits. In the current configuration of the greater church of God, blown to smithereens in the early 1990's, each group finds itself on a continuum, with an authoritarian fringe on one extreme and an assimilation or conforming to the world extreme on the other fringe. Each group has gifts and insights, as well as blind-spots and deficits in understanding, both of which will be cleared up by Almighty God in the fullness of time. In the meantime, we are commissioned to do our part of the work, always esteeming others over ourselves, respecting and loving one another, and striving to conform to God's covenant with all of us.
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.
Pat Higgins: A recent Forerunner article pointed out that division has been the rule in true-church history almost from the beginning. The unity experienced during Herbert Armstrong's leadership ...
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
With many "churches of God" around the world claiming to be part of or even the only church of God, the question "Is There a True Church?" is a pertinent one. John Ritenbaugh examines, not their claims, but what the Bible reveals about the makeup of God's church, especially as time draws near to the return of its Head, Jesus Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that the self-indulgent, immoral culture of Corinth parallels today's America and the current fractured state of the church. Paul, before he gives the Corinthians a corrective message on factions and party spirit, reminds them that they are sanctified members of Christ's body, which should not be divided by schism. He pleads with them to present a united front, all adhering to the same doctrines. Getting rid of pride and selfish ambition makes attaining unity as genuine Christians very difficult. Ironically, fractures or schisms in the church serve as a litmus test, distinguishing those faithful who really belong to Christ. Our ultimate responsibility is to zig and zag with Christ in faith, and not become deceived or distracted by human reason. A true, godly minister does not draw people to himself, but instead to Jesus Christ and the Father. Not placing Christ at the forefront will lead to carnal-mindedness and retardation of spiritual growth and maturity.
If you knew you would live forever, how would you live? John Ritenbaugh explains that, biblically, eternal life is much more than living forever: It is living as God lives!
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that we must continually upgrade our decorum and formality in our approach to God, striving to emulate Him in all that we do. Our culture (paralleling the second law of thermo-dynamics) has seriously degenerated in decorum and standards, pulling everyone down into casual, slovenly and disrespectful behavior. Morally and socially, we must resist the ever-present antagonism toward law, rules, and decorum, choosing instead to submit ourselves to God's standards of order enabling the whole body to be organized, training to become a holy priesthood before God. We must exercise temperance concerning food and drink, dress and demeanor. The non-negotiable rules or instructions given for the organization and administration of the tabernacle were clear, unambiguous and served to enforce strict decorum and formality. What is practiced on the outside reinforces what is on the inside.
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is not just an eye condition. It also describes a worldview that is quite limited and limiting. Understanding Christian myopia can help us to see the "big picture."
In this message focusing on the "tail wagging the dog," Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the motivations for proclaiming the true gospel and the motivation for teaching false gospels or heresies. For a genuine minister the gospel of the Kingdom creates a compulsory inner pressure causing him to virtually "explode" with truth, totally unrelated to the need for numbers or ego-stroking. The motivation for the bogus minister stems from a desire to pander to the "itching ears" of the prospective clientele telling them whatever they want to hear, catering to their desires and lusts (Ezekiel 33:32), mixing truth with error, creating a poisonous fatal mixture. While the true minister affirms God's law, the false minister grants license to do whatever one pleases.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
By this point, it should be clear that God is sovereign in everything! In this installment, John Ritenbaugh shows God's sovereignty in whom He calls to salvation.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
Ron Sellers, a religious trend watcher, sees great instability in world religion, and it is mirrored in God's church. Richard Ritenbaugh shows how this dovetails with Bible prophecy of the end time.
In this keynote address of the 1997 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh warns that people are not going to understand the significance of prophecies until the prophecies are being fulfilled or have been completely fulfilled. Understanding prophecy is secondary in importance to overcoming, growing, developing character, and being in the image of God. One significant event, the scattering of the greater church of God, reflects a more general trend on the world scene—the disintegration of the major religions into millions of pieces (reflecting a general world wide disdain for hierarchical structure), making possible a post-modern syncretistic reconstruction of millions of personal private religions, incorporating feel-good palliatives and allowing for moral laxity. In the wake of this pernicious self-expression, we must desperately hold fast, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
The world's ways, ideas and attitudes naturally flow into the church over time. The question is, How well do we resist and/or reject them? Richard Ritenbaugh examines three areas that have crept into the modern church and wreaked havoc.
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
A great many Americans feel that they do not have to submit to the government. John Reid brings the Bible's viewpoint into this discusssion.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
Most of us are aware of a phenomenon that too often takes place within the church of God. It should not happen, but it does. This phenomenon is that if an attitude or trend begins to develop in the world, we can expect that it will soon enter the church. When it does, it shows that we are not as attuned to the Kingdom of God as we should be—that we are still too attached to the world. John W. Ritenbaugh explains.
Goats are intelligent creatures, but they are also loners and devious. Mike Ford illustrates their characteristics and shows how we can apply this understanding to our spiritual lives. Spiritually, we don't want to be goats!
John Reid uses the analogy of a minefield to illustrate Satan's diabolical obstacles to keep us from attaining our objective?the Kingdom of God. The Devil sets specific kinds of mines: a) the lusts of the world (greed, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.), analogous to the Claymore mine, designed to kill individuals; b) doctrinal confusion, analogous to the Bouncing Betty mine, designed to take out, confuse, and destroy whole groups of people. He also suggests ways to help get out of the minefields, including calling out to God for help in tracing our route back to what led to our spiritual disorientation. To navigate safely through, we must ask for God's protection, maintaining humility, watchfulness, and diligence in our task of overcoming and walking in the footsteps of the Mine Detector (I Peter 2:21).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the deceiver.
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.
This is an oft-repeated refrain in these days of distrust of the ministry. But is it a proper, Christian attitude? What does the Bible say about human leadership in God's church?
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 continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Philip's request to "show us the Father," suggests that Jesus has provided the way of knowing how God would lead His life in the flesh. Jesus is the way, the embodiment of the truth, and the mirror image of the Father. As a human born into an ordinary family, Jesus experienced all the responsibilities, struggles, frustrations, temptations, and pains that we do. We have an Elder Brother who has been on the front lines, providing us a model to live our lives. Jesus taught us that love is a moral act rather than a feeling, based upon pleasing God by fulfilling His Commandments. Love and obedience are inseparable. Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising to send the Holy Spirit to help them (and us) to cope with the rigorous demands of living the Christian life, making us sensitive to God and educating us to the purposes of God. As we continue to obey, yielding to His purpose, we enter a closer relationship with God, until eventually, having attained the mind of God, loving and personifying truth, we become like the Father and the Son.
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