Turning Bad Into Good!

Winter is coming. When I realized that, I probably said something like, “Man! Why?? My life is over for the next several months!” But is it?

As it turns out, winter is a necessary refreshing that gives birth to springtime and then summer. Like King Solomon wrote, “There is an appointed time for everything.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Enduring the cold, sometimes dreary weather actually makes me stronger in several ways. Now, I realize that making it through winter isn’t quite like enduring life’s hardships, but the idea is similar. Here’s what James, Jesus’ half-brother, said about faith and enduring:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3).

Sometimes, our life can feel like a perpetual winter. My sister and a good friend are working through bouts of cancer. Two other friends are unemployed and faced with potential financial hardships. I’m working through my own trials as I seek to re-enter the workforce after a several-year sabbatical and heal from a recent knee replacement. Yet, some of us are persevering—enduring—with outstanding attitudes and strong responses. That kind of character supplies hope, potentially in this life and indeed in the one to come. The apostle Paul taught the Roman Christians that their endurance through trials would produce excellent character, which would, in turn, develop hope:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Romans 5:3-4)

Don’t worry. If you’re going through trials or struggles and you’re a child of God, you have His Spirit to comfort, teach, and guide you. As with winter, remember that whatever you’re experiencing will likely end, and ‘spring’ will come. You’ve got this! But if you feel you’re losing the struggle or need a hand, seek professional help right away! What’s next? As we approach remembrance of the Pearl Harbor destruction of December 7, 1941, we’ll explore the dangers of being unprepared—spiritually, in our case.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

An Attitude of Gratitude for Latitude

The Bible reflects a grateful attitude for what God and others have done in many places! Here are a few examples:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. (Psalm 100:4)

Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing. (Psalm 107:21-22)

We also find a grateful apostle Paul:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Romans 1:8).

And he reminds us always to be thankful to God as we continue to ask Him to meet our needs:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

If you think about it, we can (and should!) be grateful for so many things, including family, friends, jobs, and God’s creation itself. So, expressing gratitude—especially toward God—seems to be important! Why? Giving thanks for what we receive or experience is an appropriate response that completes a transaction: you have received something, so you give something in return. And having a grateful attitude can also be physically and emotionally beneficial.

 Practicing gratitude “reinforces generous behavior, squeezes our negative feelings, and can help with depression” (https://www.heysigmund.com/the-science-of-gratitude/). Also, “research has found that we tend to feel more grateful for experiences than for things we have.” Being grateful causes us to change our focus from our issues and troubles and makes us feel better as if we’ve received an emotional ‘shot in the arm.’ I want to share one of my experiences.

In 1994, I opened an electronics repair and computer business. Naively, I wasn’t financially prepared, and my family was without money for food by early 1995. My church didn’t help. They were friendly, but not ‘kind.’ However, one of my customers, a kind Catholic woman who heard of our situation, rallied her congregation to buy groceries before, during, and after Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts for our four children. Her selfless acts were purely sacrificial and loving. Our gratitude for what she and the others in her church did gave us relief from our struggles and empowered us also be kind to others over the years.

In closing, I’ll tell you that I’m thankful for every one of you who reads and ponders my articles. They are my gift to you, and I’m grateful for your readership. What’s next? Well, let’s continue our journey of self-improvement in Turning Bad Into Good.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Fig Trees & The End of the World

“Ron, what do fig trees have to do with the end of the world and God’s judgment?” Lots! In the Bible’s New Testament, we find multiple end-of-the-world and fig events.

First, in Peter’s account that bears the name of his scribe, Mark, we find an interesting parable about Jesus cursing a fig tree on the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:12-14). Jesus picks out one tree of probably thousands to make a point about the nation of Israel. Although the figs weren’t ready to be picked (verse 13), there should’ve been fruit because there were leaves. The tree was like the Pharisees who gave an outward impression of [spiritual] fruit where none existed. Jesus, in an active parable, cursed the tree to demonstrate judgment that would come soon through Rome and at the end of this world. Think of this as a near-far prophecy revealed by Jesus with the fruitless fig tree. Are there other instances? Yep!

Second, Jesus explained days later to His disciples that any unproductive—unfruitful—person, including self-proclaimed Christians, would be destroyed in the last-days judgment:

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned (John 15:6). Also, read Matthew 25:31-46.

Or … If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10).

So, the one who bears spiritual fruit by obeying God’s commandments will not suffer the same fate (destruction) as the cursed fig tree. Alright—one more end-of-the-world figgie thingie!

Finally, Jesus used the blossoming of the fig tree at springtime in a when you see this, you will see that comparison to explain that the generation of people to see the signs He had just prophesied in verses 14-27 will also see His return:

Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Mark 13:28-30).

I understand that some Christians believe that “this generation” in verse 30 refers to the disciples’ generation. However, “this generation” will be the one to see the end-of-the-world signs, which haven’t occurred. By the way: this fig tree instance is a Jewish idiom (figure of speech) just like Matthew 24:28 (dead bodies and vultures).

In summary, we who desire to abide with God must bear fruit or suffer destruction by our own choice. What’s next? Let’s have some fun with being thankful in all circumstances in A Gratitude Attitude for Latitude!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Cheap Grace

Now, I’m a Protestant Christian by default, but we live in a Protestant ‘get saved quick’ culture whereby someone may be told to say a silent and unbiblical ‘sinner’s prayer’ to avoid hell and go to heaven. There’s often an invitation to invite Jesus ‘in’ instead of an outward devotion of all we are and have to the King (e.g., Matthew 22:37; Romans 10:9-10). Few understand the cost of a relationship with God, so that’s where things usually stall. For about 85% of people who ‘get saved,’ there’s no discipleship, disciple-making, or charitable activity. This grace is one-sided and cheap, and it devalues our ransom paid by Christ. The Bible tells of costly grace, though—something about which Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed in his book, The Cost of Discipleship:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

What about the ‘get saved’ history? It was never a thing until after the formal Protestant Reformation. From the beginning of Christian history until then, converts were either part of the universal Church or not. They responded appropriately to God’s call through Christ and lived transformed lives within their communities until they died, or they didn’t. The idea of an instant and permanent one-sided passive salvation wasn’t, and still isn’t, a thing in many Christian circles, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths. “So, Ron—then how do I become part of Christ’s universal Church?” Good question!

There’s nothing ‘quick’ about entering God’s rest now and rescuing from His wrath at the end of this world. The lifelong process appears to be: (1) become equipped for decision-making through things such as Scriptures and evangelism (e.g., John 20:30-31), (2) decide to respond to God’s call through devotion, love, and discipleship (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 10:9-10), and (3) remain in the relationship (John chapter 15). In other words, understand well, choose well, and then stay and grow spiritually, no matter the cost.

What’s next? Well, I’m an end-of-the-world guy (Finding the End of the World, 2011) and recently ate some fig bars on a mini vacation. So, I’m motivated to write about Fig Trees & The End of The World. See you next week!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

What’s in Your Wallet??

A wise man once prayed something like: “God – please provide enough for my family and me so that I’m not tempted to steal, and not so much that I forget what it’s like to be in need.” I like the prayer because it shuns gluttony but seeks ‘daily bread.’ It begs remembrance of the poor and hungry so that the one praying will then feed, house, and clothe the less fortunate, just as Jesus commanded.

The Son of God summarized the Old Covenant laws and prophecies with two statements from the ancient Jewish Torah: treat God appropriately and people charitably (Matthew 22:35-40). Do you know that we’ll be judged at the end of this age on whether we obeyed those commandments (Matthew 25:31-46)?

We often see two extremes when it comes to our treasures: those who give generously for their fellow humans and those who love wealth. In the first group, we find Jesus and other servants who have given their lives for people they often don’t know. They may have also given generously to help feed, clothe, or house others. These people reflect the face of our God who created the spirit within us; their focus isn’t on self and material things.

What about the other group? There, you’ll find people who horde resources despite the suffering around them. They love money and stuff and entertainment, and that’s their focus. Perhaps they’ll give a few dollars here and there for charity but then spend thousands on a new shiny bobble or the latest electronic thing. These people reflect not the face of our creator but passion and self-serving nature.

If we want to look more like the first group, we need to be content with what we have, avoiding the love of money, which is the “root of all sorts of evil” (1Timothy 6:6-11; Hebrews 13:5). If possible, stay out of debt to avoid becoming a slave (Proverbs 22:7) and don’t store up treasures on earth. Be charitable. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus also reminds us that “where our treasure is, there our heart will also be.” Where’s your heart? What’s in your wallet? Is it money earmarked to help the hungry or less fortunate? Or would we discover bountiful plastic or lots of cash destined for food, drink, entertainment, and the latest shiny thing?

What about next week? Let’s explore some of the challenges of our ‘get saved quick’ Protestant Christian culture in Cheap Grace.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley