Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining Thomas Seeley's analysis of the swarm instinct of bee cultures, and sociologists' attempt to link that wired-in animal instinct to human behavior (opting usually for collective groupthink), suggests that there is a balanced approach to applying community behavior to Christian living, especially when we apply Paul's body analogies in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God's admonition that we learn from the ant does not teach us to yield to a hierarchical system but, rather, to unselfishly participate in a community, the final goal being its edification. Swarm behavior, flock behavior, and herd behavior, according to Tom Seeley is more democratic than authoritarian (as assumed in previous models). In the Body of Christ, we similarly work as an interdependent body of believers, serving one another, laboring for a common goal, as is rehearsed annually through God's appointed feasts and Holy days, all of which have unique qualities and lessons. On Pentecost, the priests baked loaves with leavening, representing those set apart before Christ's earthly ministry and those set apart after His ministry. We are obligated to be team players, looking after the needs of the entire body. Our rugged individualism must be tempered with the knowledge that we are part of a larger, interdependent body. Though God called us all individually, we need to think of ourselves as a part of the community, being just as protective of the flock as is our Elder Brother. Whether we are branches of a vine, God's field, God's building, God's flock, or the very bride of Christ, the common denominator is that God has designed us to serve one another. If we, as servants and fellow family members, all do our part, God will give the increase. There ought not be schisms in the Body; we will be living together eternally.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on the source of the Church's characteristics, reiterates that Jesus Christ is the architect, suggesting that the created institution or body must take on the characteristics of the builder, following assiduously His Commandments, hallowing the same Sabbath and Holy days that He did, and reflecting His character. Jesus Christ has handpicked those He wanted, gifting them with abilities to carry out their responsibilities, a process that has been underway for 2000 years, leading to a cumulative 144,000 beings, constituting the First-fruits and Bride of Christ, prepared to assist Him in governing. Those whom God has called are created in His image, but they are not yet of the God-kind until they receive a tiny portion of His Holy Spirit, enabling them to resist the carnal human nature with which they have been born. As God's Spirit displaces carnality, we become a new creation in Christ, born from above, developing godly character and displacing human nature. In developing and building character, we must voluntarily choose to obey, but God does virtually everything, giving us the will and power to work with His Holy Spirit. Spiritual birth occurs within the human heart—a total transformation of the human heart by the immaterial power that motivates us to acquire His characteristics. This transformation does not take place all at once but requires a lifetime to remove all the impurities. As the impurities are refined out of our character, the world will begin to hate the new creation being formed in us and will feel compelled to hatefully persecute us. We have no idea what God is doing with us as He begins to shape and mold us, but we need to remember that He owns us. As Adam contributed nothing to his physical creation, we contribute nothing to our spiritual creation except for our willingness to yield to His workmanship. The characteristics of the Church are being (and have always been) formed from on high.
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.
Joseph Baity, reflecting on Marcellus,' oft-quoted pronouncement from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "something rotten in the state of Denmark," suggests that this aphorism has served as a shorthand for political corruption and intrigue in our culture. In scanning the Internet, one finds impelling substantiation for this poignant observation in the bizarre headlines which surface on a daily basis, indicating that the family of man is becoming highly dysfunctional, reflecting an abnormal behavior contrary to what is intended, threatening social stability. Functional refers to fulfilling the role for what was intended or performing as designed. Functional families deal with conflict, avoiding abuse or neglect. When God created the earth, everything was called good—functioning according to how it was designed. The Mechanical Translation of the Torah translates the word good as functional. All of us were designed by our Creator to function in a specific way. We were designed to obey God's commandments; to disobey is to be dysfunctional, leading to chaos, disorder, and misery. Dysfunction comes from denying the truth regarding the chaos and disorder we experience. The Laodicean era could be considered a time of dysfunction. Spiritual creation did not end at the conclusion of physical creation, but only commenced. Satan tries to make us dysfunctional by focusing on the lures of the world, enticing us to be productive in our pursuit of them. When we try to blend the world with God's Truth, we actually water down the truth. Watered down truth is not truth. Knowing the truth is not equivalent to walking in the truth. Spiritually, to function is to use and process the truth. To function or not to function; that is the question.
Most long-time members of the church of God have Matthew 24:14 indeliably etched on their memories: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world. . . ." David Grabbe contends that many have failed to understand this verse as a prophecy, and have instead loaded it with meanings that the plain words do not contain. We should be encouraged that, by it, God guarantees that He will finish His work!
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the formative years of the Church of the Great God, remembers that certain individuals wanted to make radical changes in the church service, including using a contentious debate format. When Herbert W. Armstrong first decided on the method of worship for the Radio Church of God and the Worldwide Church of God, he based it on principles of order and decorum found in large part in I Corinthians, insisting that all things be done decently and in order. Paul's instructions on order are found in I Corinthians 9, 11, 12, and 14, establishing practical guidelines for ministerial authority, the pattern of church governance, the conduct of members and proper observance of the Passover, the organization and division of labor in the church, and establishing guidelines for worship, bringing order out of chaos.
Focusing upon Galatians 4:6, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus Christ constitutes that Spirit that had been designated to dwell within us. There is no third person in a closed trinity. Jesus Christ and God the Father are one in spirit and purpose, purposing to draw us toward that same kind of unity that currently exists between them. The word Elohim is not limited to god-beings, gender, or family. There are two God beings working in such harmony (John 10:30) that they are one family. The Father and the son are both of the God-kind (group, class, family)- creating, ruling beings. Absolute can be considered a synonym for supreme; there is no one to whom God the Father must submit. Jesus Christ did yield to the Father and had as His function revealing the Father. By Jesus' own testimony, Jesus recognized the Father as greater (or superior) than He (John 5:30; 6:38; 8:29; 12:49-50; 14:28). Paul recognized that the Father was superior to Christ in rank (I Corinthians 15:27-28). Revelation 3:12 The lesser is submitting to the greater. As fully spirit, Jesus still recognized the Father's superiority; Jesus was admitting He was not the Absolute God, even though both were equal in terms of their kind. In terms of function and responsibility, God the Father is superior (I Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, I Timothy 3:17); God's family has hierarchy. Jesus, subject to the Father- the Absolute God, is our Lord, Master, and Savior, and High Priest, and entirely worthy of our worship (Matthew 9:18, John 9:38).Jesus, His cousin John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul gave substantiation to Christ's eternal pre- existence (John 1:1-2,30, 3:13, 8:58, 1 Corinthians 10:9, Hebrews 11:27)The God of the Old Testament was Jesus Christ. Jesus begotten siblings, once born into the God family as God-beings, are worthy of worship (Revelation 3:9); they are NOT the God head.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
Many people may have seen "Lessons from the Geese" in a business setting, but Mike Ford shows how these lessons can benefit us in God's church.
John Ritenbaugh, using illustrations from the God's creation, observes that comparing the grandeur and intricacy of God's creation with man's most magnificent accomplishments gives us both a sense of humility at our own puniness and a sense of awe for God's handiwork. God is the source of all of the splendor and greatness of the universe. God has called us to be in His image, to be holy (having transcendent purity) as He is holy, having fellowship with the Father and the Son. Transcendent purity cannot coexist with sin. If we want to be like God, we need to (using God's Holy Spirit) work on purifying ourselves, purging out sin and uncleanness, reflecting our relationship with God in every aspect our behavior. Sanctification is a process, with each person's walk as difficult as it needs to be for God's transforming glorifying purpose for him or her to be fulfilled.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh, after delving into questions of how people living during the Millennium will develop faith, as well as the reason for re-establishing a sacrificial system, focuses on the significance of Christ's sacrifice and His glorification. Christ's perfect life and His sacrificial death was a prerequisite for our reconciliation with God, demonstrating how far God will go to save us. Only living our lives as God the Father and Jesus Christ live their lives will bring about abundant life. Eternal life is to know God, seeking Him to imitate Him, living as He does, and developing an intimate relationship with Him. Christ manifested the Father's attributes as He lived, setting us an example to live our lives the same way, becoming similar imitations of the Father. Christ's extensive prayer for His disciples is for our guarding, preservation, protection, and unity with our brethren as we bear the name of God. As God gives us challenges and responsibilities, He also gives the necessary tools to fulfill them.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the startling uniqueness of John's message that God could become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In order for Christ to be our savior, He had to become subject to the pulls of the flesh in order to empathize with those He would later serve as High Priest and Advocate. Those who would become sons of God (qualifying for roles as kings and priests) must learn to trust or rely on Him, conducting their lives according to His name, conforming to the character that name represents. If we follow the living example of Jesus Christ, using the gifts of God's Holy Spirit, we will find inexhaustible resources for overcoming, serving, and growing in grace and knowledge, conforming to Christ's righteous and genuine character. Those who wrote the Gospels were eyewitnesses to the spectacular events (none of them done in a corner) in the life of Jesus Christ, providing a testimony that we may believe and develop iron-clad faith. Many extra-biblical sources such as Tacitus, Seconius, Justin Martyr, Pliny, and Josephus substantiate, corroborate, and validate the veracity of the biblical accounts of the historicity, identity, and divinity of Jesus.
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