Category Archives: discipleship

The Kingdom of God

“Ron – what is God’s Kingdom?” The easy answer is: “Where God rules!” Fair enough, but you might want to know where that is and more about the Kingdom itself. Let’s start with a bit of information about what is the Kingdom of God.

Indeed, the Kingdom of God is where God the Father rules. His Kingdom is where the Bible calls the 3rd heaven.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a man was caught up to the third heaven. … was caught up into Paradise … —2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

The first heaven is the space above where birds fly; the second is the cosmos where the constellations hang.

… both humans and beasts, creeping thing and birds of heaven (Genesis 6:7, ESV).

And take heed, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven … (Deuteronomy 4:19, NASB).

The Father rules the third heavenly domain with the Son – the one we English-speaking folks call Jesus, the Christ.

When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God —Hebrews 10:12.

 You might ask, “Doesn’t Jesus reign here on earth – in our hearts?”

Sort of … First, Jesus made clear that He and the Father are ‘preparing a place’ for the faithful. When ready, He will gather them. So, the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t physically here. But, you could say that the Kingdom of Heaven is ‘already within reach although it’s not here yet.’

Second, the Spirit of God given by the Father connects the faithful to His Kingdom and helps them persevere while they wait for Father and Son’s physical reign.

Third, heaven and earth will become one (in a sense) when evil, the world, and death are destroyed, and God makes all things new, returning creation to the perfection it enjoyed at the very beginning of human time. When that happens, the Kingdom of Heaven will be on the new earth and Father and Son will reign and dwell among creation.

To tie everything together, the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven) is physically in the ‘third heaven’ but will be on the new earth in the coming age when the Father makes all things new and dwells with His creation. That Kingdom is now within reach for those who acknowledge Him as the King of their lives, entirely devoting all they are and have to Him (see Matthew 22:37). The Spirit He gives in return becomes the connection to the Kingdom until the new age comes.

Blessings and peace, Ron Braley

The Way it Is (Discipleship, Part III)

Over the last several weeks, I’ve written that a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a copycat who makes more copycats and offered three essential tips for effective discipleship:

Tip #1: Be a Sold-out Copycat (of good stuff)!

Tip #2: Follow Jesus’ Model to Make More Copycats!

Tip #3: GO!

Together, we’ve also explored how the earliest Church discipled using Jesus’ approach. Now, let’s talk about how you can be and make disciples today.

First, it’s essential that we continuously develop ourselves spiritually through Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. After all, we can’t live, model, or share what we don’t know!

Second, we must be incarnational. What I mean is that we must be integral in our communities, whether at work, play, or anything else. That way, we can develop trust-building relationships that will allow dialogue about what we believe and why.

Third, we must be contextual. “Say what??” Exactly! We must be and communicate in the same ways as others so that they’ll understand what we’re showing and telling. Think about it: Jesus spoke in farming terms and figures of speech when He taught the good news of God’s Kingdom to farmers. And he used fishing sayings when talking to fishermen. He used examples to make His points more apparent and applicable.

Without being incarnational, there’s little chance of building the kind of relationships that will allow ongoing, deep and personal discipleship. Without being contextual – meeting and communicating with people where they are instead of expecting them to come, our modeling and evangelism will likely fall on blind eyes and deaf ears. “But Ron – how can I be incarnational and contextual?” Great question!

One way to build relationships incarnationally is to be involved in the lives of others by following a BELLS principle: Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, and Sent. Make friends, not numbers. Bless multiple people each day. Eat with others (it’s a great way to show care and deepen relationships!). Listen to the Spirit of God as He directs your discipleship steps. Learn about God and His ways, so that you’ll have something to model and tell those people with whom you’re building relationships. And make sure you GO (sent)!!

To be contextual in your modeling and telling, understand the dress, traditions, figures of speech, customs, and desires of those you hope to witness to and disciple. Show interest. Use terminology familiar to them, not Christianese. Finally, consider an ongoing Life Transformation Group of 2-3 people of the same sex for weekly prayer, accountability, and Bible study.

The Way it Was (Discipleship, Part II)

In the last blog, I wrote that a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a copycat who makes more copycats and offered three essential tips for effective discipleship:

Tip #1: Be a Sold-out Copycat (of good stuff)!

Tip #2: Follow Jesus’ Model to Make More Copycats!

Tip #3: GO!

Now, let’s explore how the earliest Church discipled using Jesus’ approach.

Early Christians didn’t have programs, bills, a different language (Christianese), or an expectation that people should come to them or their church. Instead, they lived life well in the community with everyone else, according to the words of God and ways of Christ. The yet-to-be-churched saw the gospel at work and observed consistent good works and Godly behaviors. What they saw built trust and made them curious. So, the earliest Church grew because God-fearing Christ-followers met people where there were. Here’s part of a letter written to the tutor of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century, which reflects this approach, especially the modeling aspect of discipleship:

Christians are not different from the rest of men in nationality, speech, or customs; they do not live in states of their own, nor do they use a special language, nor adopt a peculiar way of life. … they follow local custom in the matter of dress, food, and way of life; yet the character of the culture they reveal is marvellous … They share in all duties like citizens and suffer all hardships like strangers. … They marry like the rest of men and beget children, but they do not abandon the babies that are born. They share a common board, but not a common bed. In the flesh as they are, they do not live according to the flesh. They dwell on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the laws that men make, but their lives are better than the laws. … They are maligned, and yet are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless. They suffer insult, yet they pay respect. They do good, yet are punished with the wicked.

In the third of three discipleship blogs, I’ll offer a few tips for being light and the Kingdom of God by meeting people where they are today and ministering in ways they understand. As you can imagine, we must get out from behind church walls, or the building becomes the most expensive ‘lampshade’ on the planet! And there’s no point in bringing others the gospel of God’s Kingdom if they don’t trust or understand us! Don’t worry, though – I’m here to help!

Don’t forget to join me on October 3rd for Disciple-Con 20/20 Vision! For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.findingdiscipleship.org/disciplecon2020

Questions or comments? Email publisher@taylorpress.net.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

How Many Years??

In early August, I responded to this question in an article I wrote for the Taylor Press:

“Hey, Ron – was Jesus’ ministry really three-and-a-half years long? If not, why are we told that?”

Jesus’ ministry began when He was almost (about) 30 years old – so, 29, and lasted for just over a year. He was crucified at the age of 30, which may also account for the number (30) of silver pieces Judas received for betraying Him (taxes or fees paid sometimes were based on an individual’s age). The gospels agree very well on the flow of the ministry, and John’s account is the easiest to follow.

Why do we believe, incorrectly, that Jesus ministered for 3.5 years? John 6:4, which throws in a bogus Passover, wasn’t in the earliest manuscripts but added by the third century. Then, fourth-century Eusebius, wanting to crack the code of the ‘week of years’ before the end of the world, used the bad information and rounded up, perpetuating the false belief that Jesus’ ministry was three-and-a-half years long. If you leave out chapter six, verse four (as you should!), the flow of Jesus’ one-year ministry goes like this according to the Gospel by John:

  • John’s introduction, the start of Jesus’ ministry, and gathering disciples: 1
  • Jesus performs His first miracle; the ministry begins just before Passover at age 29: 2
  • Jesus’ first Passover; religious contention begins (March/April): 2-3
  • Jesus goes back to his home in the north, stopping in Samaria along the way: 4
  • Jesus visits Jerusalem for Pentecost (May/June): 5
  • Jesus heads back to the north for the summer; feeding 5,000: 6-7
  • Jesus goes back to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths in the fall (October-ish): 7
  • Jesus stays in Jerusalem until winter and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah in December): 7-10
  • Jesus leaves Jerusalem for the rest of the winter: 10-11
  • Jesus enters Jerusalem for the second and last Passover in His ministry; He’s crucified and then resurrected (March/April): 12-20
  • Jesus appears to various disciples and ascends to Heaven: 20-21

So, what did we learn? First, Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted just over a year from the age of 29-30. Second, the Christian tradition of a 3.5-year ministry was started by Eusebius when trying to rationalize his belief about end-of-the-world timing.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Covenantal Anesthesia

Today, we prevent unwanted pregnancies not by abstinence but contraception. No discipline; no problem. Do whatever feels good. Promises made in the dark remain unkept in an age where words and actions are disconnected and often in complete opposition.

Today, we avert the consequences of other ungodly acts such as homosexuality through medicine and contraceptive methods. Lying and litigation are acceptable means by which to achieve objectives. These aren’t God’s ways or representative of His love, which equates to justice and mercy. His speech results in action; He has always done what He says He will do. This was the posture of the early Church: speech-action that mirrored their faith and produced good works accordingly. Their speech and actions were indistinguishable.

Second-century Christian and Church leader Justin notes this of his contemporary Christians: “… community doesn’t consider people true Christians if they simply quote Christ’s teachings but don’t live them.” (Justin, 1 Apol. 16.8 by Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 15). He also lists the saying of Jesus under four categories: sexual ethics, actionable/charitable love, patience, and truth-telling. (ibid.) Many early Church leaders reported that the Christians lived among the non-Christians in community eating, drinking, and working beside them. However, their charity, honesty, and purity as well as patience under trials and hardships set them apart and made an impact that attracted those around the Christians to desire to learn of God’s kingdom and join the faith. Not so today in a world of watered-down preaching full of funny stories and anecdotes framed by entertaining music, coffee, and donuts; no so in a world where churches become the most expensive light-killing lampshades on the planet by hiding and entertaining consumers.

Today, the Western Church looks mostly like the world: same behaviors and worldviews; similar lack of patience, unrepentance, unforgiveness, divorce statistics, selfish driving habits, litigation, financial irresponsibility, and so-on. Why? In my experience as a minister, researcher, and writer, a driving factor is the lack of choice where a covenant with God is concerned.

Removing the consequences of immorality, lying, etc. through contraception, litigation, and ungodly laws can lure us into believing that the lack of consequences imply acceptance. Similarly, and in my experience, Western Christians are lured into believing that God exists to serve them and that prosperity is the goal because covenant and consequences have often been removed in the Church. Churchgoers are anesthetized by receiving a half-baked gospel where, if anything, a silent and personal ‘sinner’s prayer can save them without reciprocation. They are told there’s nothing they have to do – Jesus did it all! No self-discipline, no charity, no sacrifice, no two-way marriage-like covenantal response. No consequence for the pleasure-seeking individual uninterested in communal care who practices behavior antithetical to God’s ways. No accountability. No ongoing spiritual formation or discipleship (Barna, The State of the Church, 2016, for instance: https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). What to do?

There can be a fix – a positive change that once again draws others to our faith. Turn off the anethsiea of a covenantless gospel; stop entertaining and teach. Hold Christians accountable for ungodly behavior and gently train through discipleship. Move out of the church buildings and live out faith among others in our communities whether at work, play, or dwelling so that they may see our good works, patience, and purity and wonder just as the ancients did.

Blessings,

rb

http://www.ronbraley.com

http://www.findingdiscipleship.org

Gifts of the Spirit

Gifts given by the Spirit include the languages of men (for preaching and teaching those of other nations) and angels along with interpretation, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and the discerning of spirits (Acts 2:4 – 13; 1Corinthians 12:7-11). Read the rest of 1Corinthians Chapter 12, and you’ll learn that these gifts are for the benefit of God’s community, the Church (note the capital ‘C’ used to denote the universal assembly of followers, not local collectives/churches).

We find a reiteration of some of these gifts and their use to unify and train the Church in Ephesians 4:1-6. One important note: The Spirit gifts us according to the Father’s purposes, not ours. We may be enabled to use one or more gifts any given time, but appointing ourselves as apostles, healers, or miracle workers, etc. as if we are assigned permanent gifts may be prideful and could restrict God from working through us dynamically. God will do what He will do through the Spirit to suit His good pleasure (will). Next, we’ll discuss the discernable effects of our walking by the Spirit and what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit.

Blessings,

Ron Braley

http://www.findingdiscipleship.org

http://www.ronbraley.com

Western Christianity Versus the Borg

Jesus encouraged us to unshoulder our burdens and share them with Him (cf. Matthew 11:28); the Apostle Paul tells us to share our burdens with each other (cf. Galatians 6:2). Moreover, we are to use our resources to care for our Christian brothers and sisters. Still, we maintain a ‘great divide’ between laity and clergy and each other relationally – indeed a gap too wide to facilitate the transfer of our burdens to others or Christ. So they collect and weigh us down until we become the picture of spiritual unhealthiness and a questionable witness. Meanwhile, individualism prohibits deep interpersonal relationships necessary for accountability or the discovery of needs. How do we narrow the gap and once again participate instead of dictating or isolating? Through real community, not as a collective of individuals.

Our current one-to-many church model whereby a minister talks to a congregation and then sends them away has created a division between clergy and laity and defies the biblical structure meant for the assembly of Christ followers. There, everyone is equal, and they operate in parallel to use resources and spiritual gifts to equip the Saints for God’s ministry of reconciliation. Our contemporary Christianity, however, saddles clergy as paid religious professionals with laity responsibility for spiritual development and business tasks. As a result, growth is stunted, spiritual lethargy abounds, and opportunities for sharing God-given gifts and talents are nearly non-existent. Moreover, the congregation itself exists not as one body but a collection of individuals sharing the inbound religious experience.

Scott Boren, the author of The Relational Way, points out that the United States has been dubbed by many sociologists as the most individualized society in human history (12). Because our churches comprise complex, diverse humanity that doesn’t, for the most part, become transformed into the likeness of Christ, we too model individualism. We share little including struggles and needs or the Gospel for that matter. Why? Individualism and relationalism are antithetical; the former (us) creates a firewall that restricts relationships and, therefore, the trust necessary for sharing. Let’s have a bit of fun and look at something that looks more like we should: The Borg.

If you are a long-time Star Trek fan, you will likely know of the Borg – that single entity comprising many individuals functioning as that single consciousness; they exist to participate relationally for the betterment of the ‘one.’ Here are some helpful snippets from the Star Trek database (http://www.startrek.com/database_article/borg):

The Borg have a singular goal … This collective consciousness is experienced by the Borg as “thousands” of voices — they are collectively aware, but not aware of themselves as separate individuals. … Among the many advantages their collective consciousness affords them, the Borg hive-mind allows for instantaneous adaptations … with the power of their collective thoughts alone. … The hive-mind drones do not register as individual life-signs when scanned, only as a mass reading …

OK, so the Borg is fictional, and the Church is not. However, we could learn a serious lesson from the Borg concept: Participate to serve, not experience; Grow to help, not for self-gain.

In summary, God has equipped each of us to partner with others in His ministry of Reconciliation. Rather than congregate as self-centered individuals with a common desire to experience religion, let’s become more relational to build trust to enable training and service. Then, we can truly resemble the Borg … well, without all the tubes and stuff!

Blessings,

rb

The Incredibly Destructive Force of Negative Thought and Speech

Like most people, I’ve experienced the destructive nature of negativity from a distance and engaged in negative chit-chat from time to time. However, I’d never fully witnessed its destructive effects on a lingering personal and painful basis until very recently when I became the victim of collateral damage. The destruction came, in this case, from emotional atomic bombs dropped by those significant to me, leaving a swath of destruction and damaged relationships in their paths. My prayer is that this brief blog will help the healing process while relieving a little frustration and (most importantly!) helping others cope or change their behavior if necessary.

Allowing ourselves to get sucked into negative slander and back-stabbing conversation can feel good for a moment while it creates an air of emotional bonding over common foes or hatreds; however, there’s nothing helpful and everything hurtful about the practice that begins with a negative thought. Here are some sobering tidbits about the effects of negative thought and speech:

  • Fact: Cancer and this type of thinking and behavior are linked, as are physical ailments and crippling illnesses.
  • Fact: Emotional and mental fallout from this self-generated thinking and behavior include anger, depression, paranoia, and unhappiness at the very least.
  • Fact: There’s probably no quicker way to destroy personal and family relationships than to react out of anger with hateful or slanderous speech after working oneself into a frenzy about things that are likely to be untrue or exaggerated. The tongue is indeed a destructive weapon! “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
    And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.“-James 3:5-6.
  • Fact: Negative speech and thought are likely symptoms of deeper emotional or spiritual issues. Jesus, after all, made this related comment: “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” –Matthew 5:18-19.
  • Fact: Those aligned with God don’t practice negative, destructive speech. The alternative should be clear.
    • Slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. —Romans 1:30-32.
    • But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. —Colossians 3:8.

Regarding Confrontation. However, this isn’t to be confused with healthy, unassuming confrontation whereby issues and behavior can be addressed and resolved; forgiveness and healing are often the positive side-effects.

Where do we go from here? If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, then stop!! Begin substituting negative thoughts with positive ones, and getting clarification instead of making assumptions and harboring anger. Don’t engage in negative conversation. And, dwell on good and positive activities. On the other hand, if you already do those things and are, therefore, not a negative and slandering individual: Keep on keepin’ on!

Blessings,

Ron Braley

Soul Food, Anyone?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” resonates with those of us who understand the value of caring for what we value from home and car maintenance to finances. Care of the ‘soul’ should get no less attention and upkeep; spiritual formation points us in the right direction and can help us remain healthy in body, soul, and mind.

Because I understand the soul represents what the spirit doesn’t (e.g. body, mind, intent, etc.,) spiritual formation (soul-care) makes perfect sense to me as the ounce of prevention needed to be faithful, obedient, and healthy. The lack of attention to relative formation elements introduces the risk of stress, anxiety, poor physical and mental/emotional health, and limited or non-existent faith – all of which can become roadblocks to spiritual effectiveness!

Here are a few standard disciplines related to spiritual formation and the reduction of the risks I just mentioned:

  • Bible Study & Prayer. The Bible makes clear that our faith (belief/confidence) is formed largely through exposure to the Scriptures (e.g. Romans 10:17; 2Timothy 3:16-17). The learning provides boundaries and guidance, builds our ability to follow, and reduces the chances of deception (cf. Colossians 2:7-8). Most Christians (more than 98%, statistically) don’t read the Bible regularly. And, although prayer is our communication with God through the Spirit, we don’t do that regularly or effectively either. Setting aside at least one period each day (ideally at the same time) for prayer and Bible study will allow us to ‘renew our minds’, avoid deceptions (g., equip to train others, and petition or thank our God.
  • Physical Exercise. Physical exercise reduces stress and illness. And, the better we feel, the more efficient we’ll likely be in our walk as Jesus’ followers. A regiment of at least 30 minutes or so several times a week in some cardio and physical exercise would be an excellent start.
  • Mental Exercise. The brain needs stimulus too. Engaging in educational pursuits, intelligent conversations or debates, reading, etc. will help keep you mentally healthy and productive in your work, play, and witness.
  • Financial Stewardship. Financial problems provide much stress and distraction from important and healthy pursuits. Stress over financial trouble strains relationships and physical health alike. God calls us to be good financial stewards as shown by the Bible throughout the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Psalms 37:21; Proverbs 22:7 & 26; Matthew 25:27; Luke 20:20-25; Romans 13:8). Following biblical advice will aid greatly in keeping us healthy and financially stable.
  • Relationship Maintenance. Finally, we’re social creatures and must maintain our relationships to reduce stress and loneliness. Relationships are also critical to our ability to evangelize and disciple others. Therefore, we should make time to maintain our connections to family and friends.

In conclusion, my challenge to all followers of our Christ is that we continually engage in spiritual formation – ‘soul care’ – to ensure we’re active participants in our covenant with God.

Blessings,

rb

Come Back!!

The Creator Called: He wants His stuff back! Return. Partner. Live!

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ —1Thessalonians 5:9.

And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation —Hebrews 5:9.

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. —1John 2:17.