sermon: His Eye is On the Sparrow (Part One)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 26-Sep-15; Sermon #1289; 78 minutes
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are rig
I am going to give you today what I gave as a Bible study when Richard and I were in London. I think that these are things that for the most part you have not heard. I wanted to give you some background on the Church of the Great God, how it came to be, and some of the experiences that Evelyn and I, and others went through during that period of time.
I built this sermon around three different scriptures, the first is in Psalms 11. It is very meaningful if you think of this in the right category.
Psalm 11:3-5 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? [Think of this in terms of the church and its underpinnings, the foundations seem to be shaking all over the place.] The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
There is a little difference there that I think is interesting to draw attention to. That is, many of the things that we go through, most of them are tests, whereas the world, the evil, the wicked, going through exactly the same thing, are being punished. For us, it is good to look at it as a test. His eye is on us at all times.
Living in Southern California twice, separated by about a twenty year period, one in the 70s, the next time it was the late 80s, every once in a while we would go through an earthquake. The worst one that our family ever experienced was in 1972, it was a 6.4 on the Richter scale. It occurred before daylight. I can remember the shaking and knew immediately what it was. I got up, ran over to the bedroom that was holding Richard and Sharon at the time. Sharon was still in a crib, she was two or under, Richard was about six. The first thing I saw was Sharon's crib bouncing around the bedroom—both children slept right through it.
The first thing that impressed me was, first the shaking, then it was the noise. The noise sounded like every nail in the house was being wrenched from its position, like hundreds of them pulling out at the same time, because an awful lot of stress was being put on the joints as the house was shaking around.
The next thing I thought of was far more serious. That is, there is no way I can stop this, I am at its mercy, so is my family, but as it turned out even the house went through it in good condition. It was one of the strangest feelings I have ever had, where there is nothing you can do. Even running probably would not help all that much.
The earthquake is the metaphor of what the Worldwide Church of God went through spiritually. It went through an earthquake, it was a spiritual earthquake, and it set off a series of events within the church. Please turn to Luke 12. It is from this that I get the title of the sermon. Jesus is speaking.
Luke 12:4-7 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
I have picked the title up from here because, in this study it looks as though the church is going through the spiritual earthquake, but the sparrows are the church members, and a sparrow to me is a good picture of what surely must be one of the most timid animals in the world. They cannot defend themselves, there is nothing that they can fight with if something is attacking them, all they can do is flutter around.
That is the way we. If you think back on it, most of us felt at the time when the Worldwide Church of God was breaking up, going through that we wondered, what am I going to do? Where am I going to go? Who is my teacher going to be? Are we going to have a congregation? All of those questions, and there was nothing that we could do either, except do what a sparrow does, flutter around a bit and hope for the best. There is a positive ending to this and I am going to pick this up in Philippians 4.
Philippians 4:19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
I can look back on the events of those ten, twelve years that the church was going through this, and see that God did supply the things that we needed. He took care of us, and despite all of our fluttering around, and feeling that there is nothing that we can do, God was in control. He was watching over the shop and things were being done.
In this sermon I want to give you a history of the Church of the Great God during that time and its evolution to what it is today, including the background of why we do what we do, and believe what we do at this time. It will be an overview of the historical events and biblical research that guided it. It was not all my research. It is the research that are the combined conclusions of quite a number of people.
I also want to let you know what motivated this. It was in late June. I and a number of other ministers of the scattered churches in the United States received a letter. The subject of the letter was an appeal to get things moving to reunify into a much larger group than now exists. As we begin this I am asking the question, is bigger really better at this time? The letter was well written, it did not contain any pointed accusations. It was written, in a sense, as an appeal to follow through on our responsibility to be of one mind, rather than scattered all over the map in each organization seemingly going its own way. It does have one implied accusation, the letter writer pointed out that it is our responsibility to be unified but we are not. That was his point.
This sermon is not going to be a rebuttal, but it is going to be an explanation of the Church of the Great God's position. Our position is, that we wait patiently until God makes His move regarding the reunification of the church. That thought begins with the fact that the church is His, it is not ours.
This thought comes after learning to more carefully search out things in His Word, and to make use of them. We believe that because God is sovereign, He will take the lead to unify the church, and we do not believe that we have seen His move being made yet. By patiently waiting I do not mean we simply stand still, doing nothing. The patience is in a settled mind, not fearing, not worrying—a settled mind understanding more clearly what is going on in the church and the world, and why these things happened and maybe are still unfolding.
At the same time I believe that each person must be making every effort to yield to God as He gives us the means to do so. I will show you how my mind was shaped. Hebert Armstrong died on January 16, 1986. At that time I was pastoring two congregations of about four hundred people each, in the Chicago area. For about a year after his death, things went along pretty well, pretty much the same way they did when he was alive.
Before that year was out, the news of doctrinal changes and shifts in policies began trickling out from Pasadena, the gossip mill was functioning. I recall being concerned, wondering how many and how radical were the changes that were eventually to come our way.
On the outside, outside of me that is, to other people’s view, I thought that I was holding things together pretty well, there in the Chicago area. I restrained myself from talking about the changes, or the direction that the changes were making, to anybody in the congregation.
My pattern must have become apparent to some, because after being the pastor there for just three years, I was abruptly transferred to California, to pastor the Glendale and North Hollywood congregations. These were the two closest field congregations to headquarters in Pasadena.
I later learned that I was transferred because I was not openly supporting the changes in my sermons, Bible studies, or announcements. I was not openly challenging the changes either. I was simply continuing to preach sermons in agreement with what I had learned under Herbert Armstrong.
Mr. Tkach had some aggressive support in the Chicago area, that was were he was from. It was they, I later found out, who manipulated my transfer through phone calls to him—so he moved me. So I was transferred out there with no clear reason as to why. I was assigned to an area where I could be closely and frequently observed first hand.
In Glendale we were so close to the Ambassador Campus and headquarters it could be driven in five minutes. So visitors from there were present virtually every service, every Bible study, every activity. At this point I was still totally unaware of the intrigue that was going on, but it was leading directly to what I am doing right at this moment.
The mystery was not ending. In 1988, church administration abruptly removed the Glendale congregation from my responsibilities, they reassigned most of the members to the Pasadena auditorium morning congregation.
In 1989, they took the North Hollywood congregation away from me too, and reassigned me to the auditorium A.M. congregation in Pasadena. If I was in the military I would say that I had been busted from being pastor, to being a ministerial trainee to the pastor, who was Victor Root.
I had no assigned responsibilities, I was just there.
However, God was not done. Looking back I had to get two things firmly understood and believed first. The first was, despite the turmoil, God was not done with me yet. For three months I reported to my desk, which was right beside Victor's, with nothing to do except some small job that Victor might have assigned to me. Then like a bolt out of the blue, Victor resigned as pastor of that congregation. He left the church and went off with another woman!
I was abruptly told that I was to take over Victor's responsibilities. One day I was a ministerial trainee, and within an hour or so, I was pastor of an eight hundred member congregation, a teacher of theology at Imperial High School, in charge of the headquarters festival organization, a graduate spokesman's club, and in addition, pastor of the Spanish speaking congregation of one hundred and fifty people.
The most important change of all was, I was now given permission to make out the speaking schedule for the auditorium congregation. The very first opportunity that I had I put myself speaking every other week. That schedule had to be approved, by whom I have no idea, I just passed in on, it went to church administration, Joe Tkach Jr. or whoever, and they filled in the evangelist and others who would be speaking on the Sabbaths that I was not speaking.
What this meant in another very practical situation was, a number of people in headquarters were listening in on my sermons when I spoke there on Sabbath mornings, through closed circuit television. Among those was Joe Tkach, Sr., and Joe Tkach, Jr. and all of those people.
I did that for about six months, and another bolt out of the blue happened. I got done preaching a sermon, came off the stage, and somebody said, Joe Jr, is on the phone. The first thing I thought of was that I was fired. He told me I was being transferred to Charlotte, North Carolina. What happened was, the pastor of the North Carolina church was suddenly fired, and that is how Evelyn and I got to be in Charlotte, North Carolina. This was only two weeks before Pentecost and in that two week period I gave two sermons on Pentecost, we had to buy a house, everything was moving very fast for this to take place
You get the idea. It is like little earthquakes, aftershocks, we are taking right along with the big one that took place there in Pasadena. It is just because the earthquake occurred I began to realize this. It did not mean that God was abandoning either me or the church.
Malachi 3:6-7 “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you.” Says the Lord of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’
This scripture made a great deal more sense to me as we were moving through time and these things were occurring. I know that I did not fully appreciate the modern application of those verses at the time that the Worldwide Church of God was breaking up. I was experiencing things that became very strong support for my personal awareness of God, the immutability of His character, and His watchful sovereignty.
The two most important aspects in these verses for their use in this study are these: first is His declaration, “I change not.” When we go through some of the things in Deuteronomy regarding God and His rule over the church, we are going to find this very important.
Second is in verse 7, where it says, “Return to Me and I will return to you.” The lesson I was learning was that despite the way things looked physically in regard to the church’s spiritual condition, God is indeed faithfully managing His purposes, His way. Sometimes He introduces chaos into His work.
In this specific context, the “I change not” is in reference to His stated purpose in regard to Israel, despite the waywardness of Israel's divided loyalty through the centuries as shown in their conduct. God will nonetheless continue forward in His purposes because there are still faithful people there and God will be faithful to those that are faithful to Him despite what happens within the organization, be it the nation or the church.
This is important. This is why I said earlier, we. Even though the church is waiting for God to take the lead, this does not mean we do nothing. We do everything in our power, individually, personally, to be faithful to God regardless of what is happening within the organization.
God will be faithful to you. He said, “Return to Me and I will return to you.” God never did away with Israel totally and completely because He was faithful to those who were still being faithful to Him.
I applied God's very positive comment to the church. It began to come to me that His eye is indeed on the sparrow, a little timid thing, it is nothing, but to God, His eye is on it, and no sparrow dies without Him being aware and passing on it.
My responsibility was to firmly grasp that His faithfulness holds true regarding the church, just as surely as it does in regard to Israel, even though the difficulties regarding the church are eternally serious, far greater than what happened to Israel.
Deuteronomy 7:9 “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
He will never abandon us, though the world is crashing around us. That is kind of the way we felt about what happened in the church, it was crashing around us. Where are we going to end up? Mark this down in your minds: God's faithfulness is the driving center for the entire church, and as in the physical earthquake in 1972, my first order of business was to take care of my responsibilities to God and my family, and then we would go from there to see and experience what the future held. Therefore hold fast, because God is still on the job.
I believe that what happened to me in that period of the late 1980s and early 1990s, had quite an effect. The effect on me was a learning process regarding upgrading my faith in God, combined with more refined understanding of the church’s history and God's working within it. I slowly learned to look more carefully at His Word for patterns and examples that He will follow in His present day operations in and through the church. My responsibility is to see the patterns, believe the patterns, and follow the patterns, regardless of what others do.
Why does God work in patterns? It is so we recognize them! He does not go off and do something weird. We cannot see Him but we can see the effects of what He does. So we see the patterns in them, we see His faithfulness, and therefore we trust Him with our life.
Ephesians 1:3-13 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
This paragraph continues on a bit further. It taught me a very important truth: we have an overview of God's entire purpose of which the church is now a major part, and that purpose remains intact from the moment that He began. That is how straightforward He is, He has never diverted from what He planned to do at the beginning.
Because of God's faithfulness His purpose was and is right on course toward its conclusion, despite the scattering. We have a hard time getting that through our cranium—it is God's church, it is His plan, it is His purpose. He called us, everything is going right on time.
I am not implying that He planned the scattering from the beginning. He may, He may not. He does not tell us here, but it occurred on His watch, therefore it became part of the counsel of His will when He decided either to do it or He decided to let it occur. Either way it is going to produce good fruit. Get that through your head—problems are good, even though they do not feel good when they are happening.
What comes out of the problems is always better than it had been before the problem occurred. We have the experience of going through it, and from it we probably also grew in wisdom and in character as well.
I am not saying that God caused the break up of the Worldwide Church of God, but He did certainly allow it to occur, and because it occurred, we can be assured it is going to produce good fruit. He is faithful to His purpose and He is faithfully carrying it forward.
What I needed to do was to make sure that I was faithful to Him. I needed to work out my salvation in spite of what happened.
Years later, fifteen or so years after this stuff occurred (I want to throw this in here because I learned something valuable from it and can look back on what was happening), I read a book that was written by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's son-in-law. What he said applies here. FDR told him that nothing happens by accident in Washington, DC. Everything he said he meant in a governmental sense, everything is planned to occur. He said, we have all kinds of people working for us, carrying forth the agenda to make sure that the agenda of the Democratic Party was what was accomplished in Washington, DC.
That taught me that if men can do that in the capital of a nation, how much better can God do what He wants to carry out because He has an agenda? Nothing happens by accident in God's plan, it has awesome oversight of everything that is going on.
We all have a proclivity to consider the operations and works of men more closely and thoroughly than we do those of God and Satan and his demons. This is partly because what is out of sight is out of mind. We tend to give more credit or blame to men than God, or Satan. That is the primary reason why I am giving these commentaries. The information that I am giving to you is covering a span of at least six hundred years of time, picking out men who were leaders within their life span, and how they influenced what was going on.
The commentaries that I am giving are all of men who are under the influence of Satan the Devil, and how these leaders pushed, shoved, and pulled people in the direction of Satanic beliefs and practices. What they were doing was setting the Western world, primarily, up for the end time so that when the end time came they would feel that their plan is already established and it will go forward.
We have on the one hand Satan and his demons making plans, on the other hand we have God who is in full control. He knows what He will permit and what He will not permit, what He lets He allows to occur, and what He does not will stop because He is the party in power. You can understand then that the times that we are living in right now were formed and shaped with God's direction.
Hold that in your mind, this goes back to problems again. What God is allowing Satan to do and what God is directing is going to produce the very best fruit possible, even though it might be very difficult.
It is hard for me to endure what I see happening in the United States of America, it grieves me every day, because my memory goes back, at least comparatively, to when we were really free. It is not that way now. Gradually everything that is wonderful and beautiful is being taken away and replaced with things that are dirty, foul, and evil.
God is allowing it and He is in control. He wants us to experience it. I think he allows us to experience it so that we will be so sick of it we will never, ever allow anything like this to happen again.
At this point in the sermon I want you to think about something. I said, we tend to focus on what men are doing, whereas God and Satan are more important. Because they are out of sight, there is a tendency for them to be out of mind, and we do not think that they are involved in what is going on.
What happens is, we place blame anywhere for things that are going on. We blame Adolph Hitler, we blame Joseph Stallone, we blame Obama, we blame human figures. I am not saying they are not to blame, because they have blame and they have guilt, but over and above that is a God who is either directing them to do what they are doing, or He is permitting it to occur. So we should not get overly angry at the wrong people, because they are being influenced and one of the things that we are learning as we go through Ecclesiastes: how many times did Solomon say, do not leave God out of your thinking.
Solomon wants us to be wise but he says, sometimes wisdom does not work. The reason it does not work is that it was either inappropriate at the time, or God stopped it from working because He wanted something else to be created in that circumstance.
Ecclesiastes 8:17 then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.
One of the more obvious sections in Ecclesiastes that touches on this same principle is Ecclesiastes 3, where it begins by saying, to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die. There are twenty eight different events that are given there in those first eight verses.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
Basically what he is saying there is, that when God initiates a program, it is perfectly organized and we begin to see it, maybe adjust to it. Everything is determined by what God wants. He is running His creation, He is in charge of all that is going on, nobody takes that from Him, He will not permit it. His judgments are judicious. In every case He does the right thing, but we have to adjust to those things, because we do not know where God is headed from time to time.
Job 1:6-12 Now there was day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has and he will surely curse You to Your face.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold all that he has is in your power, only do not lay a hand on his person.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
That is so instructive. If you were looking at Job and his life, you, right along with Job, would have no idea that God and Satan planned this together. What was the reaction of Job's friends? They blamed Job for everything. This is what I mean. It illustrates that we have a tendency to look at men rather than really understanding that God might have done that on purpose—His purpose.
We will look at a couple of examples that God shows actively working, unseen, behind the scenes, something besides Job.
Isaiah 10:5-6 “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.”
You read in the history books that Assyria came sweeping down out of the north onto Samaria, where the capital city of Israelites was at that time. They conquered them, took them off away from the land, emptying the land completely. Who would you blame if you were just looking at this scene without knowing that God actually planned it and carried it out? You would look at the men who did it, the king of Assyria and his generals, his captains, his fighting people, but you see it was actually God who did it, it was God who timed it. It was God who gave Assyria such a complete victory.
This is what I mean by this principle. It is so important! God is working behind the scenes, He is out of sight, but He is guiding and directing everything. It is His creation, it is His purpose, so we need to have confidence and faith in Him.
By the same token, we look at the destruction of the Jewish area and we would see that it was Babylon who did the dirty deed. Please turn to Lamentations 1 to get a foundation of what we are talking about here.
Lamentations 1:8-9 Jerusalem has sinned gravely, therefore she has become vile. All who honored her despise her because they have seen her nakedness; yes, she sighs and turns away. [Jerusalem is personified as a woman.] Her uncleanness is in her skirts; she did not consider her destiny; therefore her collapse was awesome; she had no comforter. O Lord, behold my affliction for the enemy is exalted!
Lamentations 2:1-5 How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel, and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger. [Notice all of the pronouns.] The Lord has swallowed up and has not pitied all the dwelling places of Jacob. He has thrown down in His wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground; He has profaned the kingdom and its princes. He has cut off in fierce anger every horn of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy, He has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire devouring all around. Standing like an enemy, He has bent His bow; with His right hand, like an adversary, He has slain all who were pleasing to His eye; on the tent of the daughter of Zion, He has poured out His fury like fire. The Lord was like an enemy. He has swallowed up Israel, He has swallowed up all her palaces; He has destroyed her strongholds, and has increased mourning and lamentation in the daughter of Judah.
I want you to see that it was not Babylon who did this on its own initiative. It was God who put the thought in their minds and then used them to destroy Judah for the sins that they had committed in dishonoring their God.
In such a situation it is very easy to blame men. Men are used and men are guilty, but they are not the entirety of the cause. To blame them is only partially correct. It is right here where the “I change not” principle fits in. Despite the destruction that God caused, His promise to be faithful will still be true.
We have to transfer this principle into church history, considering the spiritual earthquake that blew the Worldwide Church of God apart. When we begin to do that we begin to understand this from the right perspective. In Lamentations 3, by the time we get to this place, Jeremiah, who is probably the author of Lamentations, was beginning to have his mind clear as to what was going on.
Lamentations 3:22-27 Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.
Can you understand that after all that he wrote in chapters 1-3, he calls it the Lord's mercies? Did you ever think that in a destruction like that it was actually merciful on God's part to do that? Jeremiah thought that. If God had let it go on, those people probably would never be in the Kingdom of God. Where can you get better advice in the midst of utter destruction? We can see why Jeremiah was such a faithful man.
Jeremiah is reaffirming God's faithful consistency. He is proclaiming that we can depend upon Him to act and react toward the church, and us individually, according to the same general patterns He has already shown. The lesson to me, when I got to this point is, I had to learn to look at God's Word and buck myself up. That is what Jeremiah did.
Thus, if we know those patterns and believe what He says in them, we should be able to survive and continue on toward the Kingdom of God regardless of what has happened in the Worldwide Church of God as an institution.
I had to make the next step, which is to figure out why did the earthquake happen to the Worldwide Church of God? Again we will look at a pattern.
John 14:14-18 “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.”
“If you love Me” Jesus said. We need to understand this biblical principle. It actually goes back to Deuteronomy 7. Why did God say that He called Israel to make a covenant with Him? He told them right out, because “I love you.” God wants that love in return. “I called you because I love you. And I love your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Right here He says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Why this emphasis on love? Because loving someone produces the right quality of practical reliance upon and submission first to God, and the things that you do in relation to other people.
It is hard to hurt someone you love. If you really love someone you will never commit adultery with someone else because you love that other person so much. That is what love does—it makes you do the right thing, it motivates the right action. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” It is so simple.
How is love built? It comes from knowing Him. I mean knowing Him, and because you know Him, you know what His character is like, you know what His purpose is like. Everything about Him is done for our well being and we want to become like Him, so we are doing everything in relation to the purpose that He wants us to fulfill and we will do it because we love Him. What is going to be the action? It is going to be love, we will keep His commandments, we will submit to Him. In a sense it is like you are in cycle, love begins the cycle.
The first thing God does is, because He loves us He calls us. That is His first demonstration that He loves us. Then He continues to show us His love because He is so faithful. His character never changes, so we want to be like Him.
Why did He blow the Worldwide Church of God apart? Once you see it is so simple: because He followed the pattern with the Worldwide Church of God that He followed with His relationship with Israel. If He did it to Israel under a certain circumstance, He will do it to us under the same circumstance.
What did God do whenever Israel was guilty of idolatry? He blew them apart. He compares idolatry to adultery. Israel was unfaithful to her husband. You know what it says in Ezekiel 16. It is about the relationship with God and Israel and He finally kicked her out because of her adultery. Her adultery was really spiritual idolatry.
What was the problem with the Worldwide Church of God? It was the same problem, we were guilty of idolatry.
Going back to my story, they finally sent Evelyn and me back to Charlotte, N.C. And we lasted about eight months as pastor of the Charlotte congregation. We got to the place where we felt that we could no longer continue where we were, in the position we were in. Just prior to being sent to Charlotte, I was getting confused about what I should do. Evelyn said to me, call Rod Meredith and see if we can talk to him, because along with John Ritenbaugh, he too was persona non grata.
So I did call, and it began a string of meetings that Rod and I had, with our wives. It was Rod and Cheryl, his wife, and Evelyn and I. We met about every five or six weeks within a six month period. We would get together for a few hours at his house, we would talk about things in the church, spiritual things, principles. During that period of time I could see there was a difference between his approach and my approach. His approach was a great deal more aggressive than mine and I felt that we would have trouble getting along, so I decided not to go in that direction.
By the time we were sent to Charlotte, that seven month period went by, and we felt that we could no longer stay there and be loyal to what was going on. I first called Rod, and told him what we were going to do, and he appealed to me to wait one more day. I called him back the next day and told him we were firm in what we were going to do. I believe that was a Wednesday or Thursday, then on Sunday morning I called Joe Jr. and told him that we were resigning.
The Worldwide Church of God, without realizing it, determined our future because what they decided to do was, on the next Sabbath they had it announced in all of the congregations across the United States that John and Evelyn Ritenbaugh, John Reid, and a couple of others had been disfellowshipped. What that did was announce to everybody that we were no longer part of the Worldwide Church of God. The very next day we started to get telephone calls from all over the United States asking if I would be their pastor.
We had no idea that so many people were disgusted with what was going on. Up until that time we had no plans to start a congregation, I was just going to go back to the business world and earn a salary somewhere and we would continue to keep the Sabbath and things like that on our own.
Because of the telephone calls we decided that we better try to do this in some way. We got the idea on how to hold meetings from Barri Armitage, she was a deaconess. Barri said to try a long distance conference call. She found out the details and told us how to do that, and that is how the Church of the Great God got started—with conference calls. The first meeting was held in Laguna Nigel in Southern California. John Reid was there, Richard and Beth were there along with their children, the total number of people that attended were seventeen.
I opened by phone, I prayed, asking God to bless the service, we played a tape, “Do You See God?” Then by the next week we were better established and other people were beginning to come on the phone hook up. We had no Internet connection at that time, we used the phone for about a year or two. It was very expensive, but God supplied the money for that.
It was not too long after that that we started to use the Internet. We have people scattered all over the world now, and you might wonder whether the scattered churches are doing the work of Matthew 28:19-20, preaching the gospel around the world. Are we doing anything at all like Herbert Armstrong did? It is my considered opinion that the scattered church is doing a bigger job of preaching the gospel around the world than was ever done under Herbert Armstrong, because of the Internet.
There are three billion people in the world who are connected to the Internet. We send the Berean out every day, people write in and tell us they get it and they pass it on to others. We are just one organization. United Church of God, Living Church of God, and Philadelphia Church of God are all doing something similar, as well as The Restored Church of God, and Pacific Church of God. They all have websites and they are sending the gospel out by that means.
How difficult is it for God to pick a person out on a web site? I received something just before the Feast from the Washington D.C. Examiner newspaper, it is titled, “Digital Takeover.” Seventy-one percent of magazines lose subscribers, online news overtakes television, online websites have now submitted their position as the nation’s number one source of news, overtaking television and practically burying print publications six feet under, as younger Americans embrace the digital platform.
Look at what happened. God got us there at the right time in the right place. We were the first ones, the others have followed after us, United, Living, and so forth. They saw how well this was going, first with us, then with a general push toward the Internet as well. God put us in the right place, at the right time, and it is so cheap.
The work that the Worldwide Church of God did was very expensive, such as going on television. With the website we get by with almost nothing. That is God's doing. He put the scattered church at the right place at the right time.
The church is a great deal more unified than it appears on the surface. It is a spiritual organization. This is made very clear in John 4. It is a spiritual organization that connects us all together even though United, Living, etc. is doing that. It is the Spirit of God. We all have the same Spirit, and this is confirmed by Revelation 2 and 3. The seven churches there are really one church. God says to the end time church, repent and overcome. His time is coming.
We are right on track, we are doing well in terms of what we have been given to do, and we have found that the Church of the Great God is a spiritual resource that all of the other churches of God are using. They use our sermons, our sermonettes, they use them for their services or they take the form that we give them in the printed out messages and adapt them to their own uses in their congregations.
That is what God did with us. He organized us to be a resource for the other congregations. He called all of you fellows out of the world who have never spoken before, and now these men really give good messages, spiritual messages. These men are auto mechanics, painters, etc, and they do a bang up job.