John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, marveling about biblical scholars' tying themselves into knots as they consider the proper genre for the book of the Esther— parable, comedy (in the classical sense), chronicle, morality play or fictional drama —reminds us that God wants us to study the Bible in depth, including the symbolic connections, but especially the plot and characterization, integral parts of the book of Esther. Mordecai, identified as a Benjamite (the tribe with a checkered past), lives and behaves as a man of God should, both an ideal Jew and a typical Jew, exiled as an aristocrat, an ethnic Jew related to King Saul, with special abilities from God, adopting his orphaned cousin Hadassah as his own daughter. Mordecai's sterling character does not change, but remains the standard against which all the other characters are judged, serving as a type of God, an invisible guiding force, concealing and protecting Hadassah from danger. Haman the Agagite is an evil, power-hungry schemer, a Satan-like being, the nemesis of the Jews, including Mordecai and Esther and King Ahasuerus. Esther is a Jewess living in a pagan culture, with a name referring to the goddess of love. Her Hebrew name represents a white flower with a perfume more exquisite than the rose. Just as Mordecai conceals Esther, God conceals His people in secret places under the shadow of His wings, in the sanctuary—the fellowship of the Church. Like Esther, we are pawns at the beginning of our conversion, but we must change dramatically to love God with all our hearts, actively doing His commandments, growing spiritually in responsibility as did Esther, who grew from her initial passive role to taking one of leadership, and that in sharp contrast to King Xerxes, an alcoholic whose advisers easily manipulate.
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, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
Allen Saunders, an American writer, journalist, and cartoonist, once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans." So, why bother with planning? ...
God fashions our experiences, trials, and lessons for us on an individual basis, and as we learn from them, He desires that we help others get the most out of their experiences with Him. ...
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
John Ritenbaugh declares that God has carefully called each individual member, gifting each one differently, but with the ultimate function of edifying the body. We are mandated to live by faith, being given trials of faith in order to chisel our character. We must totally and unreservedly accept God's sovereignty. We must place Jesus Christ above everything else in our life. Seeing God's influence provided the motivation for our forebears to reach the Promised Land. Unlike Satan and his demons, will we be loyal to God as God crafts out our place personally? Jesus Christ is concerned about us and is overseeing every aspect of our lives. Our Savior is a person, not an abstract idea; He is personally involved in our lives. What God is doing with each of us will fit perfectly. Can we live by faith that He is, that He knows what He is doing, shaping our lives according to His purpose? We have our ways of doing things, demanding our comfort, but our Creator may have different ideas. God directs everything in our life according to the counsel of His will. If we are living by faith, we will allow Him to mold us into what He intends. Jesus Christ is personally involved with us, doing what He absolutely pleases. We need to trust Him that He is there and that He knows what is going on in our lives, and that He cares- in the big and the little things in our lives. Do we trust His judgment? Everything He does is according to His pleasure with our welfare at heart, even when we are put through calamity. Jesus Christ blew the Worldwide Church of God apart, scattering it all over the world, in order to ultimately rescue the saints from fatal error. Our goal is to believe Jesus Christ, trusting Him unconditionally, enabling us not to disappoint Him in any way.
The Gospel of Mark (one of the Synoptic Gospels) has some characteristics which distinguish it from the others. Scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel which the other gospel writers lifted from and added things to, focusing on different audiences and different purposes. The text of Mark is the shortest of all the gospels, with the emphasis on action more than narrative or long discourses of the others. The apostle Peter had a kind of paternal relationship with Mark, who perhaps had knowledge of Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Papius writes that Mark served as Peter's interpreter. Clement of Alexandria states that the early church commissioned Mark to provide a permanent record before memories would grow dim. Mark as the spokesman for Peter, wrote bluntly and forcefully, addressing a Gentile audience, providing them with a primer for new Christians who had little or no knowledge of Jesus Christ, completed probably before the Council of Jerusalem. Mark describes the miraculous transformation of crude 'unwashed' disciples (who nevertheless responded enthusiastically) to develop (under Christ's meticulous tutelage) into mature converted teachers and fishers of men. Mark emphasizes that Jesus hand-picked 12 individuals from the marginally accepted groups of society, an aggregate who would become a brand new family, united by righteous action. Mark demonstrated Jesus' exasperation and frustration with His disciples for their slow comprehension and their rudimentary development of faith and spirituality. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of this gospel, they are ready for marching orders.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that we are being fitted as lively stones into an already formed Kingdom, being conformed to the image of Christ, who has been designated as the Cornerstone. As God's future priests, becoming living sacrifices, we will constitute God's department of health, education, and welfare, serving and helping humanity. The Israel of God becomes God's firstborn, being set aside as a chosen generation to help the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This role as Christ's assistants is what we are being prepared for, a role which will call for rigorous discipline. This rigor will enable us to be totally transformed from the inside out, bringing about a renewal of our minds and a change of character. We are appointed on men's behalf to deal with things pertaining to God. We will become the link between men and God. We will offer sacrifice, largely consisting of intercessory prayer. We have to have compassion, sympathy, and empathy with mankind, realizing the repertoire of our own weaknesses. Like Christ, we must learn from the things we have suffered, making us able to aid those who have been tempted. God has hand-picked or chosen us as forerunners because He loved us; we dare not squander this precious calling of training for the Royal Priesthood. The more we know God, the stronger and more insightful we will get, enabling us to build one another up in Godly love, thinking with the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ, with His Law written in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing with his exposé of the world's "original sin" doctrine, asserts that it demonstrates the hopelessly deceitful nature of the human heart. God did not create this vile human nature. God gave Adam and Eve a neutral spirit and free moral agency; our parents presumptuously chose the toxic Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, negatively predisposing their offspring to sin. Human nature is the product of mankind's neutral spirit contaminated with Satan's evil prompts. The apostle Paul realized this prompt or force (another law warring in his members Romans 7:23) ravaging and captivating his mental processes. Everyone is individually responsible for sin. The spirit God initially placed within Adam was very good; Satan contaminated man's heart, but encouraged him to blame God. As God calls us, we are to strive to be holy, or to be like God. Conversely, sin is the departure from God's revealed will (commission or omission). God gives us a new heart and the ability to repent; we must respond to God's efforts to change us. It is a life and death matter. We need to cling intimately to God, earnestly seeking God's forgiveness and guidance to continually make the right choices.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 14:10-12, suggests that the Days of Unleavened Bread depict a period of intense judgment on the collective body, the church, or the Israel of God. We are being actively judged by God individually and collectively right now. As God's called- out ones, we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth, with our citizenship in heaven. Our pilgrimage to our Promised Land (the Kingdom of God), like our ancient forbears, may not go in a direct straight line, but in many circuitous routes. We are obligated to trust God in spite of all these apparent detours, following His lead, traversing through a spiritual wilderness with no familiar signposts. We walk by faith, not by sight, to the beat of a different drummer, requiring an intense reserve of faith. We could use the book of Numbers and the summary in I Corinthians 10 as a kind of roadmap, pointing out particular pitfalls. As God kept our forbears perpetually on edge, He does the same thing with us, continually leading us and correcting us, promoting our growth in order to save us. We have to be on guard against lusting, distorting the truth, infidelity, cowardice or fearfulness, peer pressure, presumptuous rebellion, rejecting God by rejecting God's representatives, grumbling, murmuring, complaining, and acting impulsively or rashly. Most of the people making the covenant in the wilderness church did not reach the Promised Land.
John Ritenbaugh gives statistics from an army quartermaster who calculated the logistics of supplying food, shelter, and water for 2-3 million Israelites on their 40 year trek across the Red Sea and the wilderness—a task only an omnipotent God could fulfill. As was true in the physical journey of ancient Israel and the spiritual journey of the Israel of God, we have the powerful assurance that God will never leave nor forsake us. When God parted the Red Sea, the problems did not disappear. On our spiritual journey, once we have the benefits of Christ's Passover sacrifice applied to us, our problems do not instantly disappear. Our position is just as precarious as ancient Israel, if not more precarious. As ancient Israel was called out of Egypt, we are called out of spiritual Egypt. We have been in abject bondage to the world‚s corrupt systems and our own carnal desires, having lived our entire lives under Satan's dominion. Christ stated His intention in Luke 4 to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to recover the sight to the blind, and to set them at liberty. Jesus explains that the truth is the only thing that will set us free. A major player in our lives or spiritual journey is the truth and how we use it. Though Christ does not do our overcoming for us, He gives us abundant resources to accomplish this daunting task. He gives us in addition to the assurance that He will never abandon us as we struggle in our journey to the Promised Kingdom of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Two Witnesses seem to have carte blanche authority from God to annihilate those who interfere with their work as well as power over weather patterns and natural elements in the spirit, power, and manner of Elijah and Moses. These miracles dramatize just how far mankind has turned from God. The lack or pollution of water signifies the lack or the defilement of God's Holy Spirit. The pattern of two witnesses (God often works in pairs) was established as a precedent from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 19:15), and is repeated many times throughout the scriptures.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the first major concern of the Two Witnesses will be directed to the church rather than to the world at large, expunging worldliness out of the church. Their work to the world will last 1260 days, 42 months, or three and one half years (Revelation 11: 2-3, 13:5). Christ will endow them with power to do miracles, to communicate or give testimony (evidence) to what they have seen about the Creator God, testifying against the evil of the world and the necessity for Christ's coming. The symbolism of the olive trees, lampstands and golden bowl in Zechariah 4:1-5 is connected to Revelation 1:20 and 2:1.
John Ritenbaugh explores several nuances of the term grace, describing a generous, thoughtful action of God, accompanied by love, which accomplishes His will, equipping us with everything we will need to be transformed into the Bride. Even though we, like Jeremiah, may feel timid and underpowered, God is always out in front, providing us with those resources we need to accomplish His purpose. We need to learn to make choices and be subject to the consequences of these choices. Because God is sovereign, only choices made according to His compassionate purpose (as Jonah had to learn) will succeed or be productive.
In beginning a series on the Two Witnesses, Richard Ritenbaugh, wary of previous abuses of prophecy, asserts that God wants us to recognize them as they occur or shortly after they have occurred. For individuals to cling dogmatically to an interpretion before the events happen has perennially led to debate and missing vital details. It is more important to know the prophecies than their interpretation. This sermon explores Revelation 10:8-10 and Ezekiel 2-3, focusing on the symbolism of eating the little book (ingesting God's Word) and its link to the ministry of the Two Witnesses of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that nothing takes place in a vacuum for those who are called; moreover "time and chance" no longer apply in the normal sense. Even when we exercise free moral agency, God engineers circumstances and outcomes so that we are virtually forced to make the right decision. Realizing that all things work together for good to those that love God, we must exercise our responsibility to the whole creation and to the body of Christ by improving our relationship with God regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
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 reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.