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.
When a society falls into chaos and blatant immorality, as the Western world seems to be on the verge of doing, it is evident that there is a crisis in leadership. While warning us of the times just ahead, John Ritenbaugh turns the focus of leadership toward the church, exhorting us to learn the lessons of godly leadership now because our positions in the Kingdom of God will require their use.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us to value our calling, observing that, just as Jesus and His disciples were burdened with the doctrines of the scribes and Pharisees, so God's called-out church is encumbered with nominal Christianity, institutions which have militated against the whole counsel of God, even though they claim to get their teachings from the Bible. God places the blame for misleading and scattering Israel on the shepherds (sometimes metaphorically identifying the ministry or religious leaders, but more at governmental, judicial, academic, corporate leaders, and also the leaders of individual families). There is a dangerous leadership deficit in modern Israel, totally antithetical to the responsible leadership of father Abraham. A deceived nominal Christianity, hopelessly detached from God's covenant, has led people astray by lies. Modern Israel, by turning its back on the truth, has blown its opportunity for moral leadership every bit as much as ancient Judah did. Despite the moral failure of our elected leaders, we must maintain leadership in our individual families. The church is a unique institution apart from Israel and Judah, specially prepared by God in the last 2,000 years, having the responsibility of shepherding a distracted, lost, dependent flock abandoned by irresponsible, neglectful, self-serving leaders, teaching it God's Laws. Likewise, our current self-serving political leaders, steeped in godless humanism, are purposely destroying our country and civilization under the direction of Satan, leading to a perpetual civil war (of ideas and beliefs) in our country with no prospect of peace until Christ's Second Coming.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his survey of the themes of Psalms Book IV, and the Summary Psalm 149, points out that the clear focus of these psalms is on the work of the glorified saints (that is, the 144,000) in performing the duties of the Bride of Christ, serving as mediating priests under Christ. Psalm 92 is sung in a regular weekly cycle on the Sabbath in synagogue services. Psalm 94 is sung on Wednesday, perhaps signifying the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the midst of the week, while Psalm 93 is sung on the preparation day of the Sabbath. The Sabbath command in Exodus 20 refers to a specific segment of time hallowed by God- (the seventh day) Sabbath, not "a" Sabbath, chosen by man to be kept whenever he feels a need to crash. The Sabbath is to be kept by ceasing to do our physical work (signified by the Greek word transliterated as katapausin) as opposed to merely rest (signified by the Greek word transliterated as anapausin).Almighty God, who never ceases working, completed all His physical creation in six days, commencing the Spiritual creation on the seventh dayWe are commanded to cease all of our physical activities on the Sabbathéthat is, to put aside those activities pertaining to our job, our hobbies, and our own pleasures, switching our focus to developing our spiritual skills and gifts. The seventh day cycle commences at the very beginning of Genesis (2:1-3) and is an important, recurring cycle we are obligated to program into our nervous systems as God's called-out ones. We rest as God does, ceasing or pausing from the physical as we focus instead on spiritual goals; we stop doing our things; we start doing God's things. As glorified saints, we will be flourishing as a verdant tree, producing spiritual fruit. The Sabbath Psalm 92 has an upbeat, jubilant ambience and reflects our gratitude at being chosen (despite our unworthiness) to be joined with Christ in a kind of marriage relationship, preparing to assist Him in reconciling all Israel to God.
David C. Grabbe: Sometimes, circumstances conspire to scatter Christians into small groups or even from all contact with other believers and from the ministry that Jesus Christ gives to the church to equip them and encourage their growth (Ephesians 4:11-16)—in the biblical metaphor, leaving the sheep without a shepherd. ...
David C. Grabbe: Although Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd, He is not the church's only shepherd. From the days of ancient Israel up through the New Covenant church era, He has also appointed under-shepherds to watch over His physical or spiritual flock.
David C. Grabbe: A significant title of Jesus Christ is "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11, 14), and it is a perfect description for what He does in personally knowing and caring for His sheep. ...
David C. Grabbe: Most translations fail to bring out that two different words are translated as "love" in John 21:15-17. Twice, Jesus asks Peter if he had agape love for Him, and both times ...
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 ...
In days gone by, sheep were a common symbol of wealth. ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
In John 10, Jesus characterizes Himself as a "Good Shepherd" who loves and cares for His sheep. Martin Collins looks deeper into the personal relationship that exists between the Shepherd and His flock, which is shown in His kind and providential leadership of His church.
The Parable of the Good Shepherd is one of only a few parables in the gospel of John. Martin Collins explains that the apostle John emphasizes the sovereignty of Christ: He is the great and benevolent Ruler and Owner of His sheep.
Jesus' discourse in Luke 15 is essentially one distinct parable with three illustrations. His intention is to reveal that, as the Son of Man, He came into the world to seek and save the lost. This study analyzes what is commonly known as the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
John Ritenbaugh debunks the foolish notion that it does not matter what we wear if our heart is right on the inside. Our clothing as well as our outward conduct must match what is going on in our inner heart or being. Our clothing, often symbolizing righteousness, ought to reflect or symbolize our inward character. We are admonished to dress up to the standards that God finds acceptable. Old Testament examples of the importance of dressing up before God or when we enter His presence include Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons. When God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel, He dressed her up in quality clothing, but when Israel played the harlot, her seductive clothing became a symbol of defiance against God. As Aaron and his priestly sons were commanded to wear special clothing symbolizing purity and righteousness, we as a forming kingdom of priests, must give attention to our clothing as it symbolizes our inward spiritual character and submissiveness to God.
Globalism has an equal and opposite counterpart: tribalism. Charles Whitaker explains what tribalism is and how it affects the world and the church.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
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?
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!
God's people are often compared to sheep. Lately, however, some have begun to question whether they need a human shepherd. How does one know whether a minister is a true shepherd of God?
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
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