John Ritenbaugh avers that the Book of Hebrews is "must" reading for all members of God's church who ardently seek the key for personal spiritual growth through a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ—the most important Being Who has ever lived on this earth, far above angels, apostles, prophets, and the Old Testament priesthood. As Christ is the vine and we are the branches, we can grow only if we obey and follow Him, allowing Him to prune us and correct us, realizing that we cannot bear fruit if we do not abide in Him. The theme of the Book is the superiority of Christ over everything. Christ's unique sinless perfection qualifies Him to purge our sins and initiate a sanctification process. Christ became as one of us to model the process of overcoming temptation and attaining godly character. Coming to earth as a baby, He started human life on the same level as all other humans, yet was exclusively able to overcome sin and carnal nature. Because the Book of Hebrews contains no salutation, we understand its audience to be the entirety of God's family. The Book shows contrasts and similarities between the New and Old Covenants and contains highly pointed warnings against Apostasy and fruitlessness. The Church is now on trial. This epistle issues an appear to be faithful, strong and steadfast as we seek to enhance the relationship with our Savior, High Priest and Tutor, seated in the most elevated position next to God the Father.
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
Kim Myers, focusing on the significance of the altar of incense, first mentioned in Exodus 30, asserts that this altar symbolizes the prayers of the saints ascending to Jesus Christ, the High Priest and Intercessor, who serves as our Advocate before God the Father. It was at this altar that Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu died for offering profane fire to God. Incense is a type of Christ's mediation on our behalf, burning perpetually on our behalf, making it possible for us to enter God's Throne Room. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to pray every day, realizing that God's Holy Spirit will articulate the thoughts, untangling our sometimes hopelessly garbled efforts. God the Father will not accept anything which is unholy, but Jesus Christ continually intercedes, praying for us and protecting us from the Evil One. The golden bowls in Revelation 4:1-8 symbolize the sweet-smelling prayers purified by the intercession of our High Priest through His sacrifice on our behalf. We have much work to do as God's called-out ones, sending up incense symbolically as we pray for each other and for God's purpose to be fulfilled universally.
Austin Del Castillo recommends we take serious stock of ourselves in order to prevent commemorating the sacrifice of Christ in an unworthy manner. When we examine ourselves, we need to determine how useful we are when He uses us, or how available we are to Him when He needs us. In a repertoire of tools owned by a serviceman, some are extremely expensive, but used only occasionally and for special purposes. Ironically, some of the most valuable tools in the kit are those which perform less dramatic tasks, but provide more service than all the other tools combined, such as a screwdriver. As God's multi-purpose tools, we must increase our reliability by performing spiritual chores, such as praying, studying, meditating, and fasting. God has not called many wise and noble, but He did call a number, such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah, as well as prominent individuals in our time. For the majority of God's called-out ones, we need to stay sharp and useful like the reliable, 75-cent screwdriver.
Kim Myers, asking us whether we see God working in our lives, contends that Job was able to endure the multiple trials and tragic events in his life (the deaths of his offspring, the assaults on his health and livelihood, and the attacks on his reputation and integrity from his 'friends') by seeing the hand of God in his life, realizing that God works in his (and our) lives in both good and bad times. We must follow Job's example, looking for God's hand in both the blessings and trials, including the deaths of those closest to us, the deterioration of our own health, financial reverses, persecutions, etc. Amid our most horrendous trials, God often opens a joyous way of escape, including the ability to endure horrific pain. As we experience both blessings and trials, we should see evidence of God's intervention in our daily activities. The more we study and pray, the more we see God working in our lives. If we are not trying to live by every word of God, emulating Jesus Christ, we cannot be transformed into God's offspring. We are going to need the perspective Job attained as he was transformed through his horrendous, but faith-building trial.
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.
James Beaubelle reminds us that the creation process did not stop on the sixth day. Rather, the spiritual process of God's making offspring in His image has gone on continually from the foundation of the world. God has individually selected His people to become a part of the process of sanctification and transformation into God's family. Some of us may occasionally experience doubt whether we can complete the course set before us; sadly, sowing the seed of doubt can undermine our resolve. Doubt is a destroyer of faith. Sometimes we have doubts about what is and what is not our duty to God. Sometimes we have doubts about the gray areas within the doctrines and commandments. To have doubt is normal, but we must not stay in doubt. Thankfully, doubt can be an effective tool to drive us to seek God and His counsel, where there are plenty of resources to stabilize us from wavering between two opinions. If we remain in doubt, our faith will begin to erode. Five things we can do to dispel doubt include: 1) loving God with all our strength and might, 2) studying and meditating upon God's Word, 3) praying for wisdom and insight, 4) seeking counsel from others in the faith, and 5) giving earnest heed to the things we have heard, building steadfast faith in Almighty God.
Ted Bowling, asserting that meditation, prayer, and Bible study are inextricable, points out that King David commented more on meditation than did any other biblical luminary. Some synonyms for meditation include contemplation, reflection, ponder, weigh, and ruminate, describing what we think about continually. Contrary to false concepts of meditation set forth by Eastern religions, advocating losing control of the mind, God's called-out ones are mandated to maintain control of their minds, fully focusing on a problem or idea, using meditation as a teaching tool. David, in developing his meditative skills, in addition to scanning the heavens, probably also had a scroll of God's Law nearby, which he could ponder in depth, allowing him to meditate on those things which glorify God. Meditation proves a companion tool in prayer, allowing us to ruminate on specific occurrences during the day, enabling us to compare our choices with what the Scriptures teach us. We need to look through a mental magnifying glass, examining specific foibles or transgressions we have committed in order that we can repent with precision. As we pray for others, we should meditate to empathize with them, reflecting how our success in weathering trials may bolster them. Meditation, prayer, and study all one unified activity.
Ted Bowling, reminding us that prayer is our lifeline to God, a medium in which our faith is strengthened, focuses on several positions or postures used in prayer, including kneeling , bowing the head, or lying prostrate (all conveying degrees of submission and humility), but gives special attention to the posture of raising hands, symbolic of giving up or admitting vulnerability. David prayed with raised hands when he had come to the end of his tether, indicating that prayer is a time when we surrender unconditionally to God's power. Joshua's victory over the Amalekites was assured only after Moses in a posture of contrite submission with hands raised, assisted by Aaron and Hur. God honors the prayer of those who are contrite and tremble at His word, as symbolized by hands raised in submission.
Kim Myers, reminding us that we are in a lifelong battle with Satan every second of each day, cautions that all enticements to sin start in man's mind, beginning with attitudes. This battle commences at our baptism and does not cease until we are resurrected as Spirit being—or until we give up and yield to our carnal nature, marinated in Satan's foul attitudes. The process of being taken over by sin usually takes place over a lengthy period of time as we allow Satan's deceptive words to corrode our attitudes, permanently warping our character. Satan, in the first rebellion, took his time, probably persuading one angel at a time until he had a cadre of like-minds, poisoned with Satan's pride and discontent. As Satan corrupted other angels with words (all of the company of demons were at one time pure angelic beings), Satan also attempts to corrupt God's called-out ones with persuasive words. Satan corrupted our original parents with words; Satan may have fostered the final effect over a long period of time, but when doubt, lust, and pride were activated in Eve, her resistance became attenuated until it broke apart. As the Second Adam, our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, resisted the persuasive words of Satan with the words of Holy Scriptures, we must employ scripture in the same way, counteracting the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. As we approach the end times, we must continually guard against deception, especially since some of Satan's ministers are able to convincingly perform miracles. We are warned to cling to the faith once delivered, guarding against destructive heresies. We are in this work together, surrounded by both wheat and tares. Because Satan will attack us when and where we are the most vulnerable, we need to know God's words inside and out, being instant in prayer, continually "cracking the Book" for wisdom, counsel and godly insight, as well as to gain ammunition against the deadly spiritual forces around us, realizing the times will be much tougher as we approach the end of the age.
Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
Bill Onisick, using a fly fishing analogy, cautions us that Satan is selective in the lure he uses to trap us. We do not all succumb to the same temptations. Some people are tempted by food or alcohol, and others may be tempted by fame, while others may be tempted by pride. The vigilant trout become stream-smart about the lures that are tossed their way. Like the wary trout we must be cautious, realizing that the lure of sin, regardless how it is disguised, means death. We must be vigilant like the fish which can spot the fisherman's reflection. We need to trust and rely on God's faithfulness to help us resist and provide a way of escape. We should study and apply God's Word, hiding it in our heart for those times when we will need it, and cry out to God for power to resist the temptations.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that food has always been a point of contention throughout scripture, warns us that food is of a far lesser importance than exercising faith. When we get hung up on food, we have the natural tendency to judge others for their non-compliance of health laws. In this time of genetically modified food, we cannot always be sure of the purity of the food we consume. Judging one another for our carelessness is not an option open to us. The real solution to the food problem (and any other problem for that matter) is our relationship with God. We need to be thanking God for the food we receive and that He would cleanse it and purify it, making it acceptable to our bodies.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Luke 4 contains Satan’s temptation of Christ, and it is instructive to see what Jesus did in the face of evil. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking if we have ever been worried or anxious about something, suggested that fear is a normal human emotion. People naturally worry about their own welfare and the welfare of their loved ones, even though our God and Savior tells us to be anxious about nothing. Fears are pervasive and have deep tentacles, making them seemingly impossible to shake off. Stress (other than the several kinds of eustress) describes the negative effects of fear or anxiety to our nervous system, opening us up to many diseases, some of which may become fatal. God wants us to temper our fears with a change of perspective, realizing He has promised to ultimately rescue the children of Jacob after He makes an end of the world's godless regimes. We need to have the depth of faith and knowledge of God to realize He is with us and will rescue us, providing we trust Him, making Him our dwelling place, living obediently according to His commands, loving Him, serving Him with willing sacrificial service, and calling upon Him in constant communicative prayer, which by doing we could conquer our myriad fears and anxieties by changing our focus from earthly to heavenly things, growing continually in righteousness and godliness. We need to take everything to God in prayer, ensuring the peace of God will abound in our lives.
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.
Praying always and watching—or overcoming—affect every facet of a Christian's life. Pat Higgins relates how deeply examining ourselves for flaws and shortcomings, as we do each year before Passover, helps us to accomplish Christ's Luke 21:36 command.
Sometime in their Christian lives, many people hit a plateau in their growth and go little further. Have we have overlooked the simple principle of "ask and it will be given" spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?
The dual subjects of Luke 21:36—paying careful attention to overcoming and praying always—are top-tier priorities for those living at the time of the end. Before showing how to apply these commands practically, Pat Higgins explains how praying always is our primary weapon in the battle to overcome our spiritual enemies.
Jesus remarks that our lips tell the tale our hearts try to hide. Using this proverb as a foundation, John Reid asks us to consider our prayers in a similar way. What do they tell God about us?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the subject of effective intercessory prayer (highly essential for our spiritual growth as well as our salvation), reminds us that God expects us to intercede in behalf of others, including our brethren, unconverted relatives, neighbors, the world at large, and even enemies'but we must do this with wisdom, sincerity, faithfulness, and humility, invoking the help of God's Spirit, according to God's perfect will. The smooth functioning of God's work, as well as the physical and spiritual needs of our brethren, depend on the fervent intercessory prayers of His people. Acknowledgement of God's supreme power, gratitude, thanksgiving, and the willingness to forgive others (rather than self-absorption), must become an integral part of every prayer. Prayer must be according to God's will, in faith, in the name of Christ, in bold confidence, in a motivation of selflessness, putting a higher priority on other peoples' needs than our own.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
In this message on overcoming anxiety and fear of the future, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that since September 11, anxiety, fear, depression, and panic disorders have increased dramatically in America, characterized by feelings of loss of control, and hopelessness for the future. The key to overcoming the fear of loss of control is to admit that God is in control. If we have our priorities straight (Matthew 6:33) God will take care of the anxieties we encounter. If people do not have God's vision of the future, they will end up in aberrant behavior, eventually leading to death, but happy and blessed are they who keep God's direction.
God personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a reciprocal relationship. This relationship must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the architects and custodians of the trinity concept admit that it is a "somewhat unsteady silhouette," unsupportable by Scripture unless one forces external presuppositions, assumptions, and inferences onto it—as did Catholic theologians at the end of the fourth century. The Holy Spirit constitutes the non-physical, invisible essence of God's mind which He miraculously joins to the minds of those He calls, transferring His thoughts, attitudes, and character, and enabling us to have the will and the ability to carry out the creative work of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that prayer is perhaps the most important thing we do in terms of maintaining our salvation. The purpose of prayer is not to overcome God's reluctance, but rather to yield and conform us to His will. The oft quoted slogan 'Prayer changes things' is only true if the prayer conforms to God's will (James 4:13-15). Unlike indulgent tolerant parents, God does not give into the whims of His children, but instead grants petitions which lead to greater spiritual growth and conformity to His image.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan, through subtle doctrinal changes, has attempted to obliterate one major step in the conversion process, namely the sanctification step. Sanctification is the only step which shows (witnesses) on the outside; its effects cannot be hidden. Sanctification is produced by our choosing to do works pleasing to Almighty God. Works are not meant for our salvation, but for our transformation and growing in the knowledge of God. Without transformation, there is no Kingdom to look forward to (Romans 14:10; II Corinthians 5:10; and Revelation 20:13). As with physical exercise, spiritual exercise also mandates: no pain, no gain.
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the unique emphasis made by the apostle John in his gospel. Unlike the emphasis on Christ's humanity, shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John's depiction of Christ seems to be more spiritual, depicted in the image of the eagle, whose ability to soar, having keen eyesight and the ability to transport its offspring out of harm's way, gives Christ His proper God-dimension. John realized that he had been in the presence of God Incarnate—a Being indescribably transcendent?the very source of eternal life. Christ provides a model of how to live a godly life in the flesh, living life the way God lives it. Using His light, we can negotiate our way in this dark, hopeless world, finding eternal life and partaking of His divine nature.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Jesus Christ, through His voluntary humility (giving up all the perks of being God), has given us a model of the mindset that we need to have in order to attain membership in the family of God. Paul, desiring the Philippian congregation to attain spiritual maturity, urges that they (and we) take responsibility for the nuts and bolts process of overcoming or renouncing our carnal selves (working out our own salvation by the practical application of head knowledge) upon ourselves, cooperating with the shaping power of God (giving us the power to will and to do by means of His Spirit), who desires that we learn in the here and now the style of life (in a climate or environment of love as well as fear of soiling the family name of God) we will live for eternity.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
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