Category Archives: discipleship

THEOLOGICAL THUGGERY

THEOLOGICAL THUGGERY. Yep, I think it’s a thing.

Somewhere in the Theological Foundations section of my doctoral dissertation, as I considered the religious context in which I find myself in Taylor, I realized something interesting and sobering:

From outward appearances, it seems as though we Christians often believe that our job is not partnering with God to reconcile [all] creation but to beat other Christians into doctrinal submission.

Apparently, the task is to convince others of faulty theological thinking.

The funny thing is that all human-made Christian doctrines are flawed, some worse and more dangerous than others. Perhaps most can be traced back to one human and his or her baggage and philosophical influences.

Anyway, I’m guessing that THEOLOGICAL THUGGERY is not God’s mission or desire. So, learn well, live well, love well, and teach well … without doctrinal debilitation, theology thuggery, or biblical bullying!

Blessings and peace,Ron Braley

Why Bad Things Happen, Part II: Why??

Last week, we began examining “Why do bad things happen to me or any good person?” and learned that humanity separated from God, which introduced death and pain. We walked away from perfection and must deal with the consequences. This week, we’ll dig deeper into why bad things happen.

First, everyone is subject to fortune and misfortune, blessings, and catastrophe. Some wicked people will prosper – often because of deceit and injustice. Others will suffer from natural disasters or others’ bad choices despite their love for God and people.

Second, we experience the actions of others. Anyone can choose to harm us or who live carelessly.  But we know this – otherwise, there would be no need for end-of-the-world judgment and consequences. People will drive drunk and take lives. Some will steal and cause poverty and hunger. Others will, out of their anger or addictions, cause harm.

Third, we suffer from our actions at times (e.g., Matthew 26:52). Our lifestyles introduce risk. People who drive or ride in vehicles run the risk of being maimed or killed in accidents. Those who jump out of airplanes may die. Sportspeople may be killed or seriously injured, and so might those of us who participate in the national or local defense.

Also, our technology creates many risks! Cancer increases may be related to chemicals and carcinogens with which we pollute the air, water, and food. Genetic engineering may increase crop and livestock bounty but introduces the risk of human mutation and illnesses. God didn’t force us to employ electricity, vehicles, or chemical or genetic engineering, and yet we blame Him when we reap the consequences associated with our lifestyles and environments!

Finally, faithful followers of Jesus may suffer trouble out of faith (Luke 14:27-30):

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”

Next week, we’ll continue this train by considering how we can restrict, or enable, the presence of God in our lives. So, join me for Part III!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Why Bad Things Happen, Part I: It’s Not God’s Fault!

When exploring the answer to “Is God Judging Us?” last week, you may have wondered, “Why do bad things happen to me or any good person, for that matter?” And rightly so. I wish I could tell you that there’s a “one size fits all” explanation or a silver bullet that would take away the pain of whatever you’ve gone through or are going through.  But I can’t. The truth is that humanity separated from God, which introduced death and pain, and now we must live in the aftermath.

On a positive note, our Creator has given us His Spirit to help navigate this life while we await the new world and perfection to come. But, while God and our Christ do often intercede on our behalf in this human-made mess, it’s essential to start our conversation by taking the bad-stuff focus off of them and putting it back where it belongs: us. First, a foundation for discovering why bad things happen:

1.                God doesn’t tempt or mistreat us (James 1:12-14).

2.                We make choices & often choose poorly.

3.                No one is ‘good’ . . . “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17; Mark 10:18).

4.                Things weren’t always like this (e.g., Romans 5:12 & 1Corinthians 15:21-22).

Remember ‘free will’? God obviously has it and, because we were created in His image, so do we. It gives us the freedom to do what we ought and provides us with the ability not to do what we shouldn’t. Choice also trips us up sometimes. We’ll learn over the next couple of weeks that choice brings freedom and consequences. Sometimes, they can be useful – such as the Spirit and eternal life that come when we choose right living and a relationship with God through Christ. Sometimes, the consequences may be undesirable – as with environments we’ve created, or the judgment and spiritual death many will suffer at the end of this age (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 6:20-23, for instance). The truth is that we make our own bad choices or suffer consequences of our actions or from those of others.  We can also keep God from interceding on our behalf (i.e., Psalm 66:18; 1Peter 3:7).

So, our misfortunes aren’t God’s fault. On whom or what should we blame them? Ourselves? Other people? Stuff that just happens? Technology? The devil? Please tune in next week for Part II of our discovery of Why Bad Things Happen to find the answer!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Is God Judging Us?

Someone recently asked, “Ron – things seem pretty bad with wacky weather patterns, the Coronavirus, and ridiculous politics. Is God judging us?”It is an interesting inquiry considering all that’s happening these days. But is God judging us directly? Indirectly? Or are we just suffering from the stuff that happens in a fallen world?

My response. I don’t believe that we’re under God’s direct judgment. Stuff happens. We are no longer a Christian nation as I’ve written about recently. Americans often oppose God’s ways as a people. So we can’t expect Him to intercede in our broken, rebellious world. Also, things are better than you might think. What is the basis for my answer?

Our fault. Humans rebelled against the Creator near the beginning of our time and left His provision, protection, and partnership (Genesis 3:1-21). To make sure the rebellious people and their offspring couldn’t live forever, He removed their access from the Tree of Life by kicking them out of the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24). Human death then became a thing, as did perpetual human rebellion and trouble in the world not directly attributable to God.

Not God’s fault. As I presented a few weeks ago, the covenant with God requires commitments, and there are consequences for rejecting the partnership – walking away from His protection and provision or not honoring and loving as commanded (e.g., Matthew 22:34-40 and 25:31-46). Add to that the fact that evil abounds and Satan still attempts to corrupt God’s creation (1 Peter 5:8), and you’ve got quite a mess, none of which is God’s fault or direct judgment.

Not so bad. Finally, things are pretty good these days. We aren’t suffering from the mini-ice age of the 17th – 18th centuries, nor are we dying in droves from the famines and plagues that killed about half of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages. We’re not in the middle of either world war, and even the poorest people in the U.S. likely live better than most of the world’s population. And if you don’t like the state of American politics, remember that you live in a democracy and enjoy freedoms not realized by many citizens of other countries.

Hope. The good news is that God wants us back and has provided a way through the one we know as Jesus, who came from heaven, lived as a perfect human, died to pay the price for human rebellion, and was raised. Anyone devoted to God in response may suffer the things of this broken world but get something others don’t: His Spirit to guide and teach in this age and partnership in the one to come.

Next week, we’ll continue this train of thought by exploring why bad things happen to seemingly good people.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Covenant: Part II (New Covenant)

This week, we continue exploring the two-way relationship with the Father through faith in the Son and holding up our part of that relationship.

Quick review: the Old Covenant relationship was modeled after the human suzerain-vassal (lord-servant) treaty in place at Abraham’s time. The New Covenant connection to the Father by way of the Son is a continuation because Father, Son, and mission are the same in both, and so are the terms.

Terms. God’s obligation was to send a savior and love humans (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). He has honored the terms and continues to keep close to Him anyone who chooses to remain (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39). Jesus expects devotees to profess Christ to others openly (Matthew 10:32), confess sins, and bear each other’s burdens (James 5:13-16). They are to honor the Father with everything they are and have in complete devotion and charitably love one another (Matthew 22: 37-40).  Loving actions born of faith prove allegiance to the Father through Christ (e.g., John 14:15 and 21; 15:8).  Finally, Christ-followers are obligated to grow in spirit and make disciples who, in turn, create more disciples (e.g., Ephesians 4:11-16 and Matthew 28:18-20).

Blessings. Blessings by way of God’s knowing Christ-followers include receiving His Spirit, eternal life, and partnership in the age to come.  However, curses also exist for those whom God does not know—anyone who has rejected Him, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Knowing of God isn’t enough – He must ‘know’ us by our obedient love (1 Corinthians 8:3).

Curses. Negative consequences exist for refusing or walking away from a relationship with God. For instance, Jesus teaches that anyone who does not obey the call to be charitable to others will suffer judgment and destruction (John 15:6; Matthew 25:41-46). The same fate awaits those whose practices oppose God’s standard.  The Psalmist David calls for the unrighteous to be removed from the Book of Life (Psalm 69:28). Similarly, Jesus tells John that He will not remove the name of the righteous from the Book (Revelation 3:5). Finally, the names of the people who will choose poorly and align with the end-times Antichrist will be absent from it (Revelation 13:8 and 17:8).

Remain. A fruitful and continuing relationship demands that both parties remain in, and true to, the agreement. The covenant with the Father through Christ is no exception. The language used to denote the need to stay in a relationship with the Father refers to remaining or staying put. In scriptures like John 15:4-10, Jesus explains the need to stay with Father and Son, sometimes using conditional statements that insist people can choose to remain or leave.  The apostle John continues the theme in 1 John 4:16.

In summary, your Creator has called by giving you a way back to Him through Jesus. It’s your turn: devote, love, and stay.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Covenant with God: Part I

Last week, I presented an exciting riddle about 3,000 souls lost, gained, and then lost again (on American soil). I also mentioned the related relational framework (covenant) that may dictate the presence or absence of God’s provision and protection. We’ll unpack it further in this and next week’s articles.

God has sought partnership with His creation from the beginning of human time when He charged the first man, Adam, with caring for what He had made. Adam cultivated the garden and named the animals (Genesis 1:26-30 and 2:15-20). From then, a relational God who endowed humans with the ability to choose Him has regularly sought “I will if you will” engagements.

Probably the earliest example of a covenantal relationship (two-way partnership with terms and conditions) with God was what He shared with Abraham. In Genesis 15:1-21 and 17:1-14, God engaged him to fulfill a promise to provide a way back and redeem creation after Adam and Eve’s rebellion.  The relationship was based on an ancient Hittite suzerain-vassal framework that outlined the arrangement between the lord of the land and its occupants. The lord demanded complete devotion and allegiance and a tithe (10%) of what the land produced. His subjects received, in return, protection and provision. It was the standard arrangement in place at Abraham’s time, and it had a preamble that listed affected parties and a historical prologue providing the “basis of obligation.” 

Furthermore, the covenantal agreement listed stipulations (terms and conditions), blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience.  Regular readings of the treaty to keep it first and foremost in the participants’ minds was necessary.  That God used it should come as no surprise considering that Father and Son have always employed human language, practices, idioms, etc., in communicating with people.  The lord-servant arrangement was what Abraham knew. It would have made sense to him. God continued what He had started by reaffirming the agreement through Moses 500 years later.

God remembered His covenant with Israel when the people were captives in Egypt (Exodus 2:24). Upon their rescue via Moses, God confirmed the treaty using the same suzerain/vassal framework:

1.         Preamble/Title: “I am Yahweh your God . . .”          

2.         Prologue: “. . . who brought you up out of the land” (provides obligations and motive).

3.         Stipulations/Obligations: “You shall have no other gods before me. . . .”

4.         Periodic reading of the treaty.

5.         Witnesses.

6.         Curses and blessings.

Additional covenantal artifacts exist in scriptures such as Deuteronomy 4:32-40, 6:4-25, and chapter eight.

In summary, a God who exercises choice created humans in His image, and He sought reciprocal relationships with willing participants in the Old Covenant (Old Testament). Next week, we’ll see that this is still the case in the New Covenant (New Testament).

3,000 Souls!

Here’s a weird but real riddle: When in human history with God have we seen a single loss of 3,000 souls (human beings), then the additional of 3,000 souls, and then perhaps the loss of 3,000 souls on American soil? The answer hints at the importance of remaining in the covenant (two-way marriage-like relationship) with God.

First, God told the Israelites that He would be their God (King) if they would be His people. The arrangement was based on the ancient Hittite suzerain-vassal (lord-servant) covenant in Abraham’s day renewed through Moses. The Israelites agreed and then committed spiritual immorality by worshiping a golden calf while Moses worked with God to receive His Instructions written in stone. Moses commanded that all who aligned with God join him and worship God as they had promised. The rebellious died for breaking their word to God and leaving the covenant. Guess how many people died that day? Yep – 3,000 (Exodus 32:26-28).

Second, and conversely, 3,000 people gained their lives so-to-speak by embracing the covenant during the post-resurrection Pentecost celebration (cf. Acts 2:36-41). Alright – 3,000 lost souls replaced. Good. But have we then lost 3,000 again at any time on our turf in the U.S., perhaps because we’ve left God’s protection? Maybe.

About 3,000 (2,996) people died in the horrific September 11, 2001 attacks (https://www.history.com/topics/21st-century/9-11-attacks). You’re probably thinking something like, “But, Ron! Aren’t we a godly nation and in God’s good graces and protection?” Not really. We might have been hundreds of years ago.  After all, our nation was founded on Christian principles by God-fearing people. Schoolbooks used the Bible to teach anything from the alphabet to morality, and Harvard and Yale were Christian institutions. Abortion was not a consideration, and divorce was uncommon. Sexual immorality existed but wasn’t pervasive or acceptable behavior.

Today? Christianity in the United States is declining, and churches are closing their doors at an alarming rate. Abortion is legal and commonplace, and divorce frequently divides families inside the Church and out. Most schools cannot teach about Christianity, allow prayer, or tolerate Christian gatherings. Universities like Yale and Harvard discourage the faith and even teach against it occasionally. And we engage in or condone immoralities, not unlike that of Sodom and Gomorrah or Emperor Caligula’s Rome. Was the loss of 3,000 souls on September 11, 2001, related to a decaying morality and departure from God? Who knows? Still, the 3,000-soul death toll and our nation’s direction make interesting bedfellows!

The Exodus and Acts messages’ thrust is the covenant (two-way relationship) and dedication to the Lord God. Next week, we’ll explore that relational framework that began with Abraham and continues today. Why? So that you too may choose well.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

New Beginnings

Last week, I shared with you the untold Christmas story – kind of a ‘behind the scenes’ look at God’s peace and redemption Jesus set into motion with His arrival on earth. Because the new year will begin a week after Christmas, I thought we should now look at new beginnings. Here are a few examples of New Year celebrations and why we use them to make resolutions.

American/European: January 1st. We tend to gather the evening before and ‘bring in the new year’ with shouts, parties, countdowns, and resolutions. And some of those parties bring regrets and spawn resolutions of their own.

Chinese (Also known as the Spring Festival): 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The idea is like that of the American and European New Year celebrations.

Jewish, Religious – Pesach (Passover): The 1st Jewish month, when the time of the covenant between God and His ‘bride’ Israel began. It was a new beginning for her.

Jewish, Agricultural – Rosh Hashanah: The 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Interestingly, while this is the official state New Year, it also closely relates to God’s covenant. This New Year begins with the Feast of Trumpets and introduces a time of repentance, forgiveness, and rest.

Because we know of the good and bad things we’ve done or that the current year has brought, the thought of a ‘better’ new year can bring anticipation of good things to come! We want to change what we don’t like, which is where ‘repentance’ (even for the non-religious) comes into play. We’re sorry for the behaviors we don’t like and, therefore, vow to change. It’s harder than it seems! Here are three guidelines for helping you achieve your dreams and goals.

First, you must set goals for yourself. Follow the SMART principle:

Specific. Be clear about what you would like to accomplish!

Measurable. How will you know whether you’re succeeding?

Attainable. You probably won’t be a millionaire by the age of 50 – especially if you’re, well, 60.

Relevant. Why try to be a better poker player if your goal is to overcome gambling addiction?

Timely. When would you like to achieve your goals?

Second, if you intend to have a new beginning in Christ or embrace a lifestyle change, you must PLAN to achieve your goals! To quote some silly movie line: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail!”

Third, we can rarely accomplish large tasks on our own, especially when they deal with weaknesses. The Spirit of God can provide strength and guidance, and accountability partners give us direction, wisdom, strength, and discipline to be successful.

Join me next week for an exciting look at 3,000 souls lost, then saved, then lost again.

Christmas: The Untold Story

Christmas is full of traditions, including the story depicting Jesus’ birth. Some renderings sport sheep, camels, and donkeys with costume-clad humans for effect. The event makes us feel good, and it can be a great time of fun and family. But is there more to the story – perhaps stuff behind the scenes that would make it more meaningful if known? Let’s see.

First, the Son of God, born a son of man, participated in our universe’s creation (John 1:1-4).

Second, this Son of God had to become human for a reason: restore the relationship between Creator and creation by paying the penalty for the first humans’ rebellion, and crushing evil (e.g., Genesis 3:15).

But paying the price required someone who could live sin-free. God began to send clues about this coming perfect Savior through various prophets like Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. —Isaiah 7:14.

This Prince would be born in about 4 BC and eventually crucified as shown to the prophet Daniel 500 years before Jesus came to earth (Daniel 9:25-26). His birth brings God’s peace to those with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14) but prompted the wrath of a man, Herod (Matthew 2:1-12). For Jesus’ safety, an angel told Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-15). But how would the journey be possible? After all, travel and daily life required resources, then just as they do now. Allow me to introduce the wise men.

To fully appreciate their contribution, we must go back to Persia 500 years earlier when Daniel had earned great respect and treasure. He was also well-trained in Babylonian arts, including astronomy. He knew when Jesus would be born and would’ve been familiar with Micah’s prophecy about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). 

So, Daniel, the Jew who spent his life in Persia, had treasure, knew how to chart star movements, and knew where Jesus would be born as well as the rough time frame. Therefore, we should not be surprised that Persian magi knew that Jesus would be the King of the Jews and of the alignment of the stars at the time and place of His birth. Daniel’s great wealth was likely the resource that funded Jesus’ trip to Egypt until Herod’s death. Our great God is indeed the master orchestrator who crafts all things according to His good pleasure!

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. —Romans 8:28.

Are you interested in making a fresh start physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Perhaps in keeping personal goals? Join me next week when we’ll explore New Beginnings.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

How Do I love Thee??

Last week, we looked at non-negotiable faith practices and contrasted them against subjective ways we worship. I also mentioned the phrase “Christian love.” We say that it is unconditional, but what does that mean? What are the different kinds of love?

“I love my car!”

“I love my friend!”

“I love Jesus!”

Several meanings, one word! Our English language limits how we express feelings and actions, including love. However, the Bible presents three primary loves: lust, fondness, and unconditional love. Let’s examine each.

Lust. Greek epithumia represents a firm intention to have something. Jesus tells us that someone who lusts after (intends to have) another’s spouse has sinned, even if the act falls through (Matthew 5:27-28). Intent (heart/mind) matters!! Our legal system tries people for intending to murder even if the plan was thwarted.

Fondness. Think words that begin with phil. These Greek words represent a fondness for something. For instance, philadelphia is a fondness for brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 13:1). Indeed, you’ve heard of or visited Philadephia, PA, the City of Brotherly Love! Fondness for humankind is philanthropea (Titus 3:3-5), and of money, philaguria (Hebrews 13:5).

Lust and fondness are emotion-driven and, therefore, come and go. You may like me now but hate me tomorrow – especially if my articles conflict with your beliefs. So, neither love is the unconditional love God has shown or that we must have for each other.

Unconditional Love. This love doesn’t come and go with an emotional wind. It’s doing the right thing for the right reason despite feelings. Greek noun agape is this love that God has for all creation. Verb agapao is love action. God is love (agape); God loved and loves as we should (agapo).

For instance, God hasn’t always been happy with humanity but still loves so much that He gave His Son for all people and takes His time before bringing judgment.

We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

… Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him (Acts 10:34-35).

So, how should we love?

… ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ (Matthew 22:37-39).

Next week, I’ll share the untold Christmas story.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley