Joe Baity continues his exposition of the epidemic of loneliness and the addictive behavior (drug abuse and other compulsive activities) to which individuals turn to for relief. Addictive behavior provides a short-term reward of pleasure while systematically destroying the nervous system and body. Recently, research has posited the possibility that recovery is the rule rather than the exception if the subject benefits from a wide variety of alternatives instead of merely "to consume or not to consume." Whether measured in laboratory experiments on animals of by clinical psychologists, addiction becomes more difficult where the subjects enjoy healthy relationships, good nutrition and exercise. Individuals from stable families or those having a network of healthy relationships are less vulnerable to addiction than those who suffer isolation. Consequently, we must take seriously our commission to be our brother's 'keeper' (companion). Sadly, some the addict-prone individuals feel cut off even when surrounded by loving people. Our faith is bound up with the well-being of one another. Because of the horrible addictive nature of sin, we need healthy relationships with stable individuals within our fellowship, remembering that to love one another, we must become lovable.
Bill Onisick, recollecting a terrifying youthful experience when he was carried away by a riptide, draws a spiritual analogy from the warning given in Hebrews 2:1-3 that we resist the pernicious and insidious pulls of the world and the flesh. Our pride and double-mindedness are the root causes of this drift away from God. As the life-saving message drifts by us, we begin succumbing to the riptide of worldliness, estranging ourselves from fellowship with our brethren and God. If we turn back, God takes no pleasure in us. It takes faith to go to services (with imperfect people like us) and to sacrifice for one another. We must pay attention to the Greatest Messenger, humbling ourselves and overcoming pride lest we drift away.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
Gary Garrett, reflecting that Adam and Eve had a direct fellowship with God at the beginning of man's history, asserts that fellowship and fellowshipping are important to God. After Adam and Eve's removal from the Garden of Eden, the sacrificial system was the only way to maintain contact with God. Adam and Eve were progenitors of an Edenic culture that had a fellowship based on the presence of the Lord, whereas Cain established a culture in Nod, based purely on human reason independent of God. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, but only Abel followed the instructions outlined by God, which required an animal sacrifice, prefiguring Christ's sacrifice. Cain's sacrifice, a grain or cereal offering, was intended to symbolize love for brethren, which was demonstrated to be false by his intense jealousy and murder of Abel. Cain aligned himself with the wicked way of Satan and ignored God's counsel for him to repent. If we lack love for our brethren who live in the presence of God, we are emulating Cain. It is God's desire that we stay in the fellowship. Cain denied the importance of the Edenic fellowship, causing him to be separated from God, as well as his fellow men. Today the church is our Edenic fellowship; we must cling to each other as we continue our spiritual pilgrimage.
Will we let the physical circumstances of our lives determine this without making every effort to seek God's will diligently so that we do not fail in our duty to appear before Him?
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 ...
John Ritenbaugh affirms that faith and love require reciprocal works on our part, even though God has made the initial step, providing His only Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. As God calls us, He provides the power both to will and to do. If we do not work with God in our conversion process, things will fall apart. Because our responding to God's love is so important, we need to respond reciprocally to God. If we love another person we like to think about him/her, to hear about him/her, to read about him/her, please him/her, to be friends with his friends too, and we are jealous about their reputation and honor. We will not bring dishonor on our spiritual family's name by our behavior, not forgetting that we are collectively the temple of God and the Body of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
Richard Ritenbaugh, echoing a radio commentator's observation, "we wear our bones too tight" suggests that we are much too sensitive and litigious, greatly lacking in forbearance, tolerance and patience. A major part of God's character is forbearance, patiently putting up with over 700 years of covenant breaking by our ancestors, patiently refraining from giving them what they deserved. God put up with the foibles of Abraham, Samson, David, Job, and many others, allowing them space to repent and build character. We need to develop the godly trait of forbearance, having the capacity to have mercy on others while we wait for them to change. Forbearance when applied to our brethren leads to unity; lack of forbearance leads to scattering.
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
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?
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon part of the festival scrolls (the Megilloth) read during Pentecost, reveals that although many of the lessons allude to Old Covenant teachings, Ruth prefigures New Covenant principles also, including (1) God's mercy and mankind's loyalty to the covenant (Boaz serves as a type of Christ and Ruth serves as a type of the church), (2) God's unilateral work on our behalf (typified by Boaz's proactive watchful care for Ruth), (3) the vessels of water (Ruth 2:9) as a type of God's Holy Spirit, and (4) Boaz's acceptance of Ruth despite her gentile status indicates God's extension of His covenant or family relationship beyond Israel by means of union with Christ.
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.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
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