Category Archives: discipleship

Faith, Hope, & Love, Part II: Hope

Last week, we were introduced to the belief – faith – confidence – we are to have in God. It’s not meant to be blind faith, but a solid one based on things like Bible study, fellowship, discipleship, prayer, meditation, and illumination by the Spirit of God. Why is a strong faith important? So that we can stand firm in the face of trouble and persecution and know how to honor God in our thoughts, speech, and actions.

Today, we’ll also learn that a solid faith in what God has done and is doing also gives us confidence (faith) in what God will do in the future. That faith in the future is called hope, and it would be just wishful thinking and not expectation without the confidence that faith-building brings. Here’s what the writer of the Book of Hebrews says about the role of faith in hope:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  —Hebrews 11:1.

Hope is the expectation of fulfilling all that we believe will come about: salvation (rescue from coming judgment) and a new age when God will make all things new and dwell with humans. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. —Titus 2:11-14.

Similarly, the Apostle Peter reminds us that our hope is possible only because the Son (Jesus) died to pay for humankind’s rebellion against the Father. The Father raised the Son from the dead to become the first of all who the Father will raise for the new world to come.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. —1Peter 1:3-5.

Faith is the confidence in what God has done and is doing; hope is that same confidence in what God will do. But faith and hope are worthless unless they move us to love (faith in action). We’ll revisit that faith-born action (love) next week!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Faith, Hope, & Love, Part I: Faith

Faith is something to which we belong or have. I am of the Christian faith, and I have faith. Many of us will say that we have faith, but what is it? How do we get it, and how does it relate to our relationship to God and people?

First, faith is belief – confidence. The apostle Paul tells us that it is why we hold on tight to the unseen things of our Christianity, whether of spirit or fulfilled prophecies (Hebrews 10:39 & 11:1).

Second, it is not meant to be blind faith! The Bible repeatedly teaches that we must learn wisdom and knowledge that lead to a healthy fear of God and salvation (2Timothy 3:13-17). Why? So that we can stand firm in persecution and confusion and walk in God’s ways and not be deceived, something that Paul warns will happen in the last days (1Timothy 4:1). Be forewarned: deceit can come from within our churches too, but we can stand firm by knowing the truth of God (Colossians 2:6-8).

Where does our non-blind faith come from? It comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17), prayer, the Holy Spirit (for illumination), meditation (Psalm 1:1-2), discipleship (Ephesians 4:11-16), testimonies, and applying what we learn or experience.

Finally, faith MUST lead to action! All knowledge is useless to God and others if it doesn’t move us to act. That action is the agape, unconditional love, that feeds, houses, clothes, teaches, doesn’t react in anger, listens and encourages, and is kind. Here’s what Jesus’ brother James says about faith-born action:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?James 2:17-20.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.James 1:22-25.

Next week, we’ll continue our faith, hope, and love journey by exploring how our confidence (faith) in what God has done and is doing assures us that He will do all that He has promised.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

How to Read the Bible Part V: Change!

So far, we’ve learned that regular Bible study is critical to understanding God’s nature and His desires, spiritual growth, and salvation – rescue from judgment at Christ’s future appearing. We’ve also learned techniques and tools to help us. This week, I’ll share a few approaches to reading and applying what we read to become like Christ as God intends.

First, approaches to Bible reading. Here are three ways to read or study the Bible. All three can be done at the same time.

  1. By Genre. Stuff in the Bible usually falls into one of several categories: history (e.g., the Chronicles or Kings); wisdom and poetry (e.g., Job or the Proverbs or Ecclesiastes); prophetic (e.g., Isaiah); apocalyptic (e.g., Revelation); epistles (e.g., Paul’s letters to specific churches); gospel accounts (e.g., the book of Mark, the first gospel written).
  • By Topic. We’re real people with real issues. Jesus knew this, so He addressed what his hearers needed and referred to specific scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) to accomplish His purposes. Apostles James, John, Peter, and Paul did the same. If you look for scriptures that address a specific topic or need, just make sure that you keep the original meaning using what we’ve learned (i.e., context, concordances, and commentaries).
  • By Book. Studying a single book, like the gospel according to John, can be rewarding! Again, use your tools to stay focused on the writer’s intended meanings.
  • Sequentially. Starting at Genesis and reading the entire Bible (even if it takes a year or more) can be rewarding. Begin reading sequentially and never stop! Do you know that the Israelites were required to experience the Law of God repeatedly? Why? Because we tend to forget stuff, and what’s important to us changes over time.

Second, Making it Stick! Reading for pleasure and head knowledge is one thing; living it is another! Knowledge that doesn’t move us to action is worthless to God and our fellow humans (cf., James 1:22-27; 2:14-26)! To truly be transformed as Christ-followers, we can use this process when we read or study the Bible:

  1. Read the text, perhaps a few related verses at a time.
  2. Consider what it means in its context (not what it means to us!).
  3. Assimilate the text by thinking about it (meditate) while pausing to pray for guidance in applying what you learn.

In summary, start reading and studying the Bible and don’t stop! Use your tools and don’t be afraid to seek guidance about specific life needs. To make it stick, Read, Consider, and Assimilate! Next week, we’ll begin exploring faith, hope, and love and their relationship to each other and our relationship with people and God in a new three-part series.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

How to Read the Bible Part IV: Tools

By now, you may be feeling as though understanding the Bible is hopeless. Don’t fret! Tools abound! You may not be familiar with Jewish idioms or cultural influences on scriptures, but commentaries can fill you in! So you’re not a biblical Greek or Hebrew scholar. No problem! Dictionaries, interlinears, and concordances are your friends! The following are the essential tools, along with a brief description of each.

Lexicon. These are dictionaries of foreign languages that can also help bridge cultural differences between today’s world and Bible times.

Dictionary. This contains important words (e.g., people’s names, topics, etc.) found in the Bible and is based on specific translations. Many Bibles have abbreviated dictionaries in the back of the book. A Bible dictionary can help us understand historical and cultural contexts, key people and events, and the original meanings of words written in other languages such as Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.

Concordance. Key words in the Bible are listed alphabetically and can help locate scriptures related to them. If you can think of a word, the concordance can point you to the actual verse containing it. Strong’s Concordance is a popular version that also gives the original language wording and definition.

Interlinear. This tool is excellent for those of us who aren’t biblical Greek or Hebrew scholars! We often believe that the Bible is a word-for-word translation from original languages, which is untrue and impossible. The English language is severely limited compared to biblical Greek. For instance, our word ‘love’ must represent several different kinds of emotion or action mentioned in the Bible. An interlinear will show you the original wording alongside the English renditions so that you can see the intent of the passage.

Commentaries. Well-trained scholars write these to explain biblical texts. They inform of figures of speech, verses such as John 6:4 that have been added, and the context in which the scriptures were written. Because we are so far removed from the language, culture, and contexts of biblical writing, we should never consider doing serious Bible study without using commentaries! But here are a couple of warnings: 1. These are written by humans and, therefore, are often created through a personal religious bias; 2. Use multiple commentaries!!! No one is accurate and unbiased in everything. Using numerous commentaries will help provide a well-rounded understanding of the scriptures you’re studying.

Online Tools. Many Internet sites provide online access to Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, lexicons, and interlinears. Here are several good choices:

https://www.e-sword.net   (excellent downloadable Bible software with commentaries and Strong’s Concordance)

https://www.blueletterbible.org

https://www.biblegateway.com

https://www.biblestudytools.com

https://biblehub.com

https://www.studylight.org/bible-study-tools.html

https://www.bibleref.com/

Next week, we’ll add one more golden nugget to this series: change our life through what we read from the Bible. That’s a good thing since we’re to be transformed into the image of Christ!

How to Read the Bible Part III: Examples

Last time, we learned several practices for giving Bible reading and studying our best shot. Here’s a quick review:

Grammar. Match personal pronouns to proper names carefully. If the text is “He …” then find out who “he” is. Does the text state “this?” What is “this?”

Literal Approach. Take Bible texts literally unless there’s a good reason to do otherwise.

Figures of Speech. Hebrew speech and writings were often very poetic and rhythmic. Sometimes, they contained figures of speech, as does English. Using a commentary can help identify these so that we don’t create prophecies or doctrines where they don’t exist.

Contexts. Keep biblical texts in its sentence, paragraph, chapter, and book. Always understand the writer, audience, purpose, and any problems addressed.

Consider the timeframe and culture. What was going on during the time of the writing? Was it meant to be a command – or just something from which you can learn?

Here are two examples of what happens when we don’t apply solid reading principles.

  1. “Where two or more are gathered, so is Jesus!” The misquote comes from taking Matthew 18:20 out of context. Matthew 18:1-9 and 15-20 deal with removing stumbling blocks to the Kingdom of Heaven and correcting Christians who insist on practicing sin. In 18:20, Jesus quotes the Old Testament requirement for multiple witnesses to a crime that requires a death sentence (Deuteronomy 17:6). Why? Any Christian practicing sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21) and has earned a death sentence. Church discipline (not for punishment!) and discipleship can help keep this from happening. So, why does Jesus say “. . . I am there in their midst?” The Spirit of Christ is present whenever justice and obedience prevail.
  • “God has a special plan for my life!” The misquote is a gross and dangerous abuse of Jeremiah 29:11, where God rebukes Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. Here, God reminds her (the nation as a whole, not specific individuals!) of her role in God’s plan to reconcile the world. Why is the misquote so dangerous? While God often includes and equips people to play a part in His plan, there isn’t necessarily a ‘special plan’ for each person. Automatically thinking that there is can cause someone to lose focus of God’s desires and forget that we’re meant to be servants of Christ, not spiritual rock stars! How wasteful it can be to sit around waiting for a ‘special plan’ to unfold! What is the proper focus? Vow to serve God and ask Him to lead you to help in His mission to win back what He created.

We now know why proper study is essential, and we’ve seen multiple examples of the damage flawed study can do. Next week, I’ll give you tools to aid your quest for biblical accuracy and spiritual growth!

Blessings and peace,

Ron

How to Read the Bible Part II: How??

Last week, we learned that every Christian is responsible for growing spiritually through Bible study besides discipleship, prayer, etc. Not only that, we’re responsible for ‘getting it right.’ Putting someone else in charge of our spiritual development without our involvement is a horrible idea! So, together, we’re going to explore how to study effectively and find tools to help. To start, here are a few principles basic principles I present in greater detail in my book Finding the End of the World.

Grammar. The essential grammar-related thing to remember is to match personal pronouns to proper names carefully. If the text is “He …” then find out who “he” is. Does the text state “this?” What is “this?”

Literal Approach (when possible). Unless there’s a good reason to believe that biblical writing should be taken symbolically or ignored, keep it as written. The Bible does a great job explaining most symbols, so look before deciding that something is symbolic or that the text should be ignored or ‘spiritualized.’

Figures of Speech. I’m an end-times author, so I understand how important it is to be aware of Jewish idioms (figures of speech). A great example of careless theology is claiming, as some do, that the “budding of the fig tree” of Matthew 24:32-33 forecasts Israel’s becoming a nation in 1948. Here’s the text:

“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; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.

Jesus is just telling His and subsequent disciples that “when you see the signs I mentioned, your redemption will follow.” It’s like another saying He made in the same context (Matthew 24:28): “Where there are vultures, dead bodies are near.” In summary, it’s a “when you see this thing, you will also see that thing” idiom (saying).

Contexts. Make sure that you consider verses within paragraphs within chapters within books. Always keep text in its ‘home’ to keep the intended meaning alive. And, answer these fundamental questions:

“Who is the author?”

“Who is the intended audience?”

“What was the author’s purpose in writing?”

“If addressing a problem, what was it?”

Consider the timeframe and culture. And, remember that some biblical text is prescriptive (e.g., a commandment – something you must do). Some text is descriptive, something that may not apply to you (as in descriptions of cultural challenges Paul often addressed in letters, biblical histories, etc.). We can sometimes benefit from using descriptive stuff, though.

In summary, be diligent Bible detectives through proper techniques, watching for symbols and figures of speech, and keeping contexts. Why? To understand the single, intended meaning (one meaning, many possible applications!). Next week, we’ll continue our journey by exploring examples of theology-gone-bad through flawed Bible study.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

How to Read the Bible Part I: Why??

Each Christian can benefit from basic instruction for reading the Bible. Sure, we can read it at a high level and understand most simple messages. For instance, God’s desire to reconcile His creation through Israel and then Jesus is understandable. He loves the world, so He gave. Jesus’ mandate to respond with the same kind of love through obedient charity and personal purity is also pretty straight-forward. However, many messages can be challenging without essential guidance. Reading alone isn’t always enough, though – the texts are often meant to transform us through meditation and application. So, why should we care?

First, we need help in understanding the meanings and applications of things written thousands of years ago. Also, biblical texts in the form of poetry, histories, proverbial wisdom, and instructional letters were often written to or for particular people in a specific place for a unique reason. For instance, the apostle Paul wrote several letters to solve specific problems in particular churches. We’re not those people, and we’re far removed in language, culture, politics, and geography. We may not have been the original intended recipients, but we get a good shot of understanding the author’s intended messages if we use a few basic tools, which I’ll give you starting next week.

Second, we’re responsible for understanding biblical messages – especially if we pass on what we may think we know to others. Be careful: there’s a massive penalty for anyone who teaches anything other than God’s truths, even if out of ignorance (e.g., 2 Peter 2)!

Third, we can’t be what we don’t learn and internalize. In other words, we’re called to imitate Christ and reproduce that image in others through discipleship and godly living. We must become Christ in our communities. The process requires (1) learning truth through reading the Bible aided by tools such as commentaries, a concordance, or a theological dictionary and through illumination by God’s Spirit, (2) meditating on what we learn, (3) applying what we’ve taken in so that it becomes a part of us. Learning can also be aided by applying fundamental concepts such as using sound grammar principles to ‘follow the theological breadcrumbs,’ considering author, audience, and purpose, and thinking about the scriptures’ context.

Next week, I’ll begin giving the techniques I promised and will provide some very provocative examples of how carelessness has resulted in many rotten Christian understandings and sayings. We’ll unmask “Where two or more are gathered . . .” and “God has a special plan for my life . . .” And, you’ll learn about idioms (cultural sayings) and how not to turn them into the religious stuff.

Oh – here’s your first golden nugget of biblical truth: There’s only one meaning to a text but often multiple possible applications. Tune in next week for Part II: How??

Questions or comments? Email publisher@taylorpress.net.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Why Bad Things Happen, Part III: Do & Don’t!

Last week, we continued examining “Why do bad things happen to me or any good person?” We learned that there are several reasons for our misfortunes, including others’ actions, everyday risks, and our poor decisions. This week, we’ll uncover some things that restrict and enable God’s intervention in people’s lives.

As we’ve previously covered, our relationship with God and Christ is a covenant – a two-way spiritual union where we seek to please them through our actions and we, in turn, are transformed and saved from the judgment to come. The Spirit also comforts, guides, and teaches us along the way while we look forward to Jesus’ return and our gathering after this short life. Can we cause ourselves to block intercessions, healings, and blessings during those times when God would like to give them? How?

Not responding to God’s “I will if you will” call will certainly prohibit His intervention, and not treating God appropriately or our fellow man charitably (e.g., 1Peter 3:7) doesn’t help. Refusing to set aside time for prayer, study, and meditation to allow communication with God and spiritual growth can also restrict God’s ability to work. Furthermore, God disciplines those he loves (cf., Hebrews 12:5-13), and what seems wrong might be blessings or growth opportunities. The discipline or tribulation can be akin to a bodybuilder’s breaking down the body to make it stronger. Without pushing the limits physically, we’ll never grow stronger. The same is true for exercising our mental abilities or psychological and emotional strength. So, we have a choice to make when adversity strikes: use it for good or let it get the best of us.

Knowing why seemingly bad things happen is fine, but we should learn how to respond during those times.

Minimize risk from our human-made world. Drive safely, don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. Fellowship with Godly people and stay out of risky situations.

Learn lessons from each situation and improve your life. The approach will allow you to become better aligned with healthy living.  It will also enable God to effectively discipline for strength or prepare you for whatever He may have in store for you in life or ministering to others. Decide to use what you learn to help others. Think of the witness and healing power of someone who has overcome addictions or other adversities!

In summary, bad things happen because we’ve separated ourselves from God and created an environment full of risk and corruption. We must now live with the consequences, although God does often intercede on our behalf and help. We can minimize the risk of bad things happening and better-enable God’s help through obedience, right living, prayer and scripture study, and charity. Next week, we’ll begin our journey to become students of the Bible by learning how to study it effectively. Prepare to be energized!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

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