Mark Schindler, reflecting on Winston Churchill's famous description of Russia following the German invasion of Poland in 1939—"Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," observes that the majority of organized 'Christianity' have a similar view of God. Even to the vast numbers of the currently uncalled, God has made His invisible nature intelligible to the human mind—unless it has become reprobate by engaging in willful perversion. To God's called-out ones given the mind of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is not a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. God has called us that we, with His help, might transform our carnal natures into spiritual natures as we incrementally inculcate into our beings the nature of God. Charles Krauthammer, apparently without the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit, concluded that believing in either evolution and creation requires faith. He cautiously affirmed, "I cannot say I believe in God, but I fear Him." As God's called-out ones facing on-going judgment during our sanctification process, we are committed to knowing Him, taking on His attributes, and honoring His Holy name—which we aspire to become our family name.
David Grabbe reiterates that the term "god of this age" (II Corinthians 4:4) would be a colossal anomaly if Paul used it to refer to Satan. Except of the 2nd Century heretic, Marcion of Sinope, apostolic writers and early Church writers understood that this verse referred to God and not to Satan. The Protestant reformer John Calvin misunderstood the Scripture, declaring that "nobody of sound judgment can think of any other than Satan in this verse." God does not share with any other being the power to blind, though Protestant scholars like to equivocate, substituting the word "deceive" for "blind." Satan encourages this playing fast and loose with the truth. The use of the lowercase "g" as in "their god is their belly" does not apply to II Corinthians 4:4 because the article "the" there is specific, referring to the God of this age (aion) Who has the power to blind. As Moses had to veil his luminous face, so, metaphorically, the God of this age mercifully blinds carnal individual because light hurts their eyes. As we see in the incident of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ also has the prerogative to heal the blindness and take away the veil of ignorance. For those who are perishing, the Gospel is veiled; only the elect see the truth, but for the present, dimly.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon Deuteronomy 29:4, where God reveals that He had not given the ancient Israelites an understanding mind "until that very day," discusses His revelation in Deuteronomy 29 and 30. These chapters have four salient themes: 1.) Today, with its counterpart "tomorrow," the future generations of Israelites; 2.) The land—"this land," referring to the land of promise, and "that land," referring to the land of exile of future Israelites; 3.) The "Covenant," with its attendant blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience and 4.) the concept of "revelation," that God reveals hidden matters to the end that people may obey His law. Historically, when Israel obeyed God, she received blessings; when Israel disobeyed God, she was cursed. This axiomatic truth is so evident to the gentiles that they will marvel that the hapless descendants of Jacob could not understand the cause-effect relationships of obedience and disobedience. Sadly, we live in a time when Abraham's offspring have rebelled mightily, waxing just as evil and perverted as ancient Sodom and Gomorrah. If modern Israel (including the Israel of God) disobeys the terms of the covenant, the fact that God made a covenant with them will not deflect the full impact of God's judgment. As God's called-out ones, having additional revealed knowledge and the gift of God's Holly Spirit, we are instructed to choose life "right now, this very day," just as were our ancient forbears.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that, in these times when innovation and knowledge are increasing, time appears to be speeding up as well, and that the emerging, Satanically-inspired Beast is already beginning to wear out the Saints. If we have not yet experienced persecution, it is around the corner. To combat our weariness, we must turn to God's Word, a document which is totally enigmatic unless we have the power of God's Holy Spirit to put it together slowly like a jig-saw puzzle, understood a little bit at a time. To the carnal mind, the Bible reads like gibberish. But, God's Word has both story line and theme, most prominently including 1.) the prophecy of the promised Seed, 2.) the holy line, beginning with Seth and culminating with Christ, and 3.) the "I will" promises to Abraham. The Bible also contains mysteries (best understood as God's invisible activities on our behalf) which have been 'hidden' in plain sight, but made clear by revelation from God's Holy Spirit. The spiritual cleansing and grafting in of the Gentiles, motivating Judah to jealousy and, ultimately, to repentance, is an example of one such mystery. Another mystery is the revealing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, attended by God's granting to those He calls the ability to understand the Gospel's message—God's reproducing Himself, creating the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that human carnality keeps humanity separated from God, warns us not to trivialize carnal nature, but consider it a sure generator of death. Yielding to any carnal thought is potentially as dangerous as committing murder and, if not avoided beforehand or repented of afterwards, places us on a trajectory into the Lake of fire. God, having no competitive teacher, forearmed Adam and Eve against Satan's wiles, but they willingly yielded to their own carnal lusts which were in sync with Satan's subtle suggestions. Sinning increasingly hides God's purposes from the sinner. When God calls us, placing His Holy Spirit in us, He gives us a measure of added protection that our original parents did not have, infusing us with a desire and ability to overcome our carnal nature, if we choose to so by obedience to Him. Carnality at its core is self-centeredness, pride, and greed. God's gift of faith—one aspect of His Holy Spirit—bequeaths to us the desire and the power to control and subdue our carnal nature. The daunting mystery that confounded Nicodemus, insight into God's plan and purpose, grows crystal clear if we use God's gifts to soften the hardness of our heart. Most of humanity demonstrates total ignorance of God's purpose and plan. God's called-out ones have the privilege to understand both, but must be willing to swim upstream against a powerful current of unbelievers to whom they will appear as oddballs and fools. God purposed this seemingly untenable condition so He could systematically test the genuineness of our faith. God's mysteries have been in plain sight from the beginning of time, but carnality has obscured them from mankind. Though we carry our carnal nature with us continually, we cannot allow its tentacles to strangle us, separating us from God.
Charles Whitaker: Deuteronomy 29:29 contains one of the final thoughts of Moses before he went up Mount Nebo to die and before Israel crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land: "The secret things belong to the LORD ..."
Martin Collins, reflecting on anti-biblical "scholarship" emanating from pseudo-experts, assures us that, when properly evaluated, there are no discrepancies in scripture; God is not the author of confusion, but of peace and order. God purposely refrained from unfolding His Holy Word as a factual historical report in order that we may learn to place "precept with precept," discovering something new every time we read the Bible. The Atheist may feel a certain degree of smugness in denying the Bible. Those of us called of God learn to progress from milk to solid food, stimulating our curiosity in progressive stages, as God brings us to new levels of understanding. God does not enlighten us until we are mature enough to absorb and use knowledge. God may use paradoxes and apparent contradictions to put balance into our behavior, for example, understanding the contexts in which riches or poverty can be either a blessing or a curse. God's Word forces us to value the Spirit above the Letter, walking as a living epistle, rejecting the counterfeit main-stream Christianity's notion that grace gives license to disobey the Law, as we come to recognize that the doers of the law will be justified. Faith without works is dead, but living faith is demonstrated by godly works. The testimony of the Bible and that of the physical universe are not discordant, but harmonious, demonstrating that God is the designer and sustainer of all life. Those who have given their lives to discredit the Bible must shamefully eat their own words in the fullness of time. Bible difficulties are designed to stimulate our minds and make us curious, to lead us to value Spirit over letter and to sharpen our abilities solve paradox and so-called contradiction. God's inspiration of His Word is perfect.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that there is a malaise of hopelessness, anxiety, and dread permeating this nation like never before, systematically explains: (1) how we arrived at this crisis, (2) why God has ordained that we live in these conditions, (3) how bad choices by the trillions eroded the moral foundation of our culture, and (4) why we need these horrific times to learn the consequences of these foolish decisions in order to ensure that nothing like this happens ever happens again. Modern Israel resembles the Prodigal Son who squandered the inheritance bequeathed to Father Abraham's descendants. The founders of this nation, though they were not true Christians, nevertheless placed many biblical principles in the Constitution, and were for the most part far more moral and God-fearing than the despicable crop of public servants holding office today. Approximately 80 years ago, our leaders began turning their backs on Constitutional principles as well as any respect or reverence for God and His laws. Proverbs 29:18 teaches us that when there is no revelation (from God's communication and guidance) people will run wild, casting off moral restraint, rejecting all of God's counsel, preferring to elevate so-called science, fashioned on the deleterious foolish theory of evolution. Humanism attempts to elevate science over God's Law. Where there is ignorance of God's word, crime and sin run wild. Harvard, an institution founded as a Puritan Theological seminary, is now a hotbed of godless humanism, elevating carnal, perverted human reasoning over God's law. Moral foundations are on the verge of destruction; internal stability is already moribund. We need to place our entire faith in God, not allowing the pervasive negativism of this world's culture to poison us as Job became dispirited by the counsel of his friends. Realizing that none of us are guaranteed passage to a place of safety, we should be willing, if required, to glorify God by martyrdom.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Deuteronomy 29:29 which teaches that the secret things belong to God, but that God reveals things needful to those He has called, suggests that this principle resonated throughout the entirety of Scripture. Clearly, God's purpose for mankind for the most part is a mystery, and has been revealed only in a fragmentary part to those He has been calling and shaping through the ages. The book of Deuteronomy, given to ancient Israel as very specific instruction for those being prepared to enter the Promised Land, was intended for all of God's people for all time until His purposes have been fulfilled. The book of Deuteronomy was to be thoroughly reviewed every seven years at the conclusion of Shemitah (the year of release) at the Feast of Tabernacles. In retrospect, highly significant events, both in our previous fellowship and in the Church of the Great God, have occurred during or aligned with the year of release (Shemitah). Deuteronomy receives special honor, given to no other book of the law, having been placed alongside the Ark of the Covenant, as a perpetual commentary on the Tablets of the Law inside the ark intended by God as instruction well into the future. Because physical Israel rejected His covenant, God made a New Covenant with the Israel of God (His called-out Church), body committed to obeying His Laws with the prompt of the Holy Spirit. One Israel is converted; the other Israel, who has brazenly played the harlot, is not yet. The book of Deuteronomy, quoted by Jesus Christ more than any other source as bedrock doctrine, is addressed to the Israel of God, a group of God's called out ones who have been convicted that the Law has not been done away.
Ronny Graham, drawing some comparisons from the example of the town crier who provided the sole means of news and communication for the relatively illiterate society of Medieval Britain, reminds us that hearing is also a large part of our Christian lives. The Old and New Testaments are replete with admonitions to hear, such as “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.” In the Parable of the Sower, a major contributory factor in producing good seed is hearing the Word of God. As we hear instructions from sermons, we ought to be applying those principles to our lives immediately. We are responsible for what we choose to hear; consequently, we must take heed what we hear.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
Martin Collins, reminding us that Daniel had received wisdom, influence, and health from God, also points out that God placed Daniel in a position of greater influence after He exposed Him to greater danger. God is sovereign over our lives in every circumstance, enabling us to cope with anything the world and Satan can throw at us, giving us the promise of the power to endure. The book of Daniel, written partially in Hebrew and part in Aramaic indicates that God intended the message to both the Hebrews and the Chaldeans, substantiating the authenticity of this document. The circumstances surrounding Nebuchadnezzar's fearful dream set the stage for God's revelation of His power, plan, and prophetic intentions (through His servants) as well as the foolishness of astrology. Daniel, despite the fearful events, kept his focus upon God and didn't arrogate any powers to himself, but humbly acknowledged and thanked God for the wisdom and power. Because of Daniel's faith and his fervent prayer, God revealed the contents of the dream, providing a witness to Nebuchadnezzar and his idolatrous nation that God is absolutely sovereign over time and ultimately controls the outcome of all worldly events, predicting the fate of Babylon (the prototype of all world empires), the Medo-Persian empire, the Graeco-Macedonian empire, and the Roman empire, partly strong and partly fragile. Because of the precarious colloidal mixture of iron and clay at the end of the age, it will be extremely difficult for things to hold together. Thankfully, God's everlasting Kingdom having Jesus Christ as the capstone or cornerstone) will bring an end to these competitive, fractious, arrogant, and evil worldly systems, which have degenerated over epochs of time, using technology to swap greatness and magnificence for raw power and control. God always plans ahead for the protection of His people.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: ...Only a little more than a generation had passed since the founding of the church, yet false gospels, perversions of the truth, were making serious trouble for those early Christians ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The Bible is not against what we might call scholarship or intellectual pursuit. From all that history can tell us, the apostle Paul may have been one of the most intellectual men who have ever lived. ...
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.
Many prophecy watchers have made their guesses about who the Two Witness of Revelation 11 are, but not all of their ideas have solid, biblical foundations. Charles Whitaker tackles a common view among interpreters, explaining that Scripture precludes it on very solid grounds.
When Satan confronted humanity's first parents, Adam and Eve, he fed them three heresies that he continues to promote to deceive the world today. David Grabbe expounds on these three lies, revealing how Gnosticism incorporated them into its parasitic philosophy and way of life.
After showing that today's Europe is far from "Beastly," John Ritenbaugh speculates on the identity of the Woman depicted in Revelation 12. Is she, as the church has dogmatically taught in the past, the church itself—or is she another prophetic entity that we can see active in the world today?
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 shares the significance of Herbert W. Armstrong's role in the church. Increasingly, some fail to realize Herbert Armstrong's stabilizing role in God's church. The scattering we have experienced since his death has been a blessing from God, revealing our collective, pitiable spiritual deficits. God deliberately engineered the scattering to save us from our precarious spiritual condition. Like the virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we have all slumbered. In the meantime, God has been working on His spiritual creation, fashioning us in His image. At this juncture, we are not being scattered because of persecution, but because of punishment brought about by our wholesale lack of obedience, requiring loving, firm corrective action. We are not victims of Satan, but bear much of the responsibility for this dismantling from our failure to discern false doctrine. The division of Israel and Judah (between Jeroboam and Rehoboam), occurring because of disobedience, was engineered by Almighty God, and was designed as a lesson for us. If we sin, God will scatter us. He who scatters the church will re-gather it in His good time. Herbert Armstrong, while not perfect, not infallible, and not sinless, nevertheless served as the custodian of the precious truths of God - occupying the role of God's servant and messenger. To reject the message from God's messenger is to reject God. We need to collectively repent and go back to the first works and the faith once delivered to the saints.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the scattering of the greater church of God, examines this event within the context of a larger global disintegration of religious influence. The moral agenda of this country and others is set by non-religious organizations and groups. The disintegration of the Catholic Church (described by Malachi Martin) and the disintegration of the greater church of God (the systematic destruction of its uniqueness and vision) have eerie parallels. The declining vigor and looseness of religious conviction will eventually be pulled together and galvanized by the power of the Beast—the mystery Babylon of the Bible, the Mystery of Iniquity—the real objective of those who would create a new world order. The antidote is to desire the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 1:26).
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).
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon vision - an especially vivid picture in the mind's eye (undergirded by faith, scriptural revelation, and prompted by God's Holy Spirit) to anticipate and plan for events and results which have not yet occurred. This foresight or revelation, strengthened by analyzing, comparing, and applying scriptural principles, produces a common (or uncommon) sensical prudence of conduct, insuring that a person's life (temporal or eternal) is preserved and plans fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that, contrary to Protestant misconception, no part of God's Law has been done away or set aside. Christ Himself torpedoed this notion by His proclamation in Matthew 5:17, "I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill." The balance of Matthew 5 magnifies, intensifies, placing a far more binding penetrating spiritual application of the law. The irony of the antinomian argument is that it is impossible tp keep God's law in the spirit without also keeping it in the letter. Without Torah (law, teaching, precepts, judgments, ordinances, instruction), man flounders. David realized that God's law, by revealing our flaws (the hidden plaque of our secret sins Psalm 19:12), when coupled with the power of God's Spirit, is a major tool for cleaning us up spiritually, equipping us to live in God's Kingdom.
We all want to be known as seekers of the truth. None of us would want to follow a lie! Yet oftentimes, searching for the truth brings us into conflict with others' beliefs, causing separations between brethren in the church of God. How do we tell truth from lie?
The story of building the Tabernacle serves as an encouraging example for us today as we colaborate with God in building His church. God will provide what we need to finish the job to His specifications!
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, 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, 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.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the ability to do miracles does not identify a speaker as a representative of God, especially if the signs entice one to depart from the Word of God. Jesus warns that if we ask God for protection from demonic influence, we cannot sit back passively; Satan always counterattacks. Evil must be displaced with good. Jesus encourages us to develop spiritual family relationships within the Church of God coupled with common experiences to reinforce godly behavior. Generally, we cannot expect this kind of special reinforcement from our blood relatives or physical friends. The parable of the sower reflects the various levels of receptivity and conversion among people who are exposed to the Word of God. Matthew 13:22-23 seems to be aimed at the ministry, providing encouragement to keep plugging away despite some un-germinated seed. Like a farmer, the minister must learn patience before results are realized. We must use and develop what God has given or it will dissipate. The study concludes with an exposition of the tares (Darnel) and wheat parable, indicating that Satan has planted false brethren that are hard to distinguish from the real. God is the only one fit to judge.[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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