Category Archives: discipleship

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

The Value of Worship

Last week, we explored the history behind our fractured Christianity. This week, we’ll take a brief look at the ‘Big-T’ non-negotiable practices of shared faith and contrast them against ‘little-t’ subjective truths of how we engage in religion, how we worship. But first, let’s define the term.

It is a 16th-century compound word that combines ‘worth’ and ‘ship.’ Basically, the word is action-oriented and represents how we assign worth to what we value. In the Bible, worship was actionable: bowing down, singing, praying, giving, sexual purity, kindness, etc. Jesus’ related point was that we tend to put our resources (worth) into what we value (Matthew 6:21). Let’s go back to the first century to contrast Christian mandates with today’s religious practices.

Two thousand years ago, Christians were charged with honoring their heavenly Father with all they were and had and to treat each other with the love of Christ (Matthew 22:34-40). They were to make disciples and baptize new converts into the faith (e.g., Matthew 28:18-21); those faithful newbies received the Spirit of God in return for regeneration (e.g., Acts 5:32 & Titus 3:5). Simple devotion, baptism, charity, and disciple-making while walking by the Spirit of God in the Christian community were essential Christian activities. Being a community, Christ-followers enjoyed table fellowship that brought the remembrance of what Jesus did for humankind and why, initially on Saturday evenings during corporate worship (prayer, teaching, singing, etc. (see Colossians 3:16 for a foundation)). No mystery or magic; no strict religious focus or a one-to-many format – well, not yet anyway.

By the fourth century, candles, chants, and rituals turned baptism into a solemn religious experience, although the primary intent remained: devote to God and renounce sin. Similarly, simple table fellowship and a communal remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the covenant it enabled became a formalized and mystical experience that not everyone could administer or enjoy. Corporate prayer where members in a Christian assembly participated has ceased to be a shared, communal experience. Collaborative teaching and the sharing of spiritual gifts have given way to preaching and a strict format that leaves little if any room for in-depth and applicable biblical teaching or movements by the Spirit of God.

“But, Ron – does how we sing, teach, pray, baptize, or take Communion in a worship service matter?” The answer depends on whether biblical teaching in disciple-making, heartfelt prayer, faith-fueled baptism, intimate sharing in covenantal remembrance or corporate singing and exercising spiritual gifts occur in true worship while involved in religious activities. We may practice our faith differently depending on religious culture. But, we must never forsake Communion’s intimate sharing, the devotion of baptism, communal prayer and singing, or the maturity found in discipleship.

Oh – I mentioned the phrase “Christian love.” Please join me next week to look at the different ways we do, and should, love!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

One body, 30,000 toes??

“Ron: Why do we have so many different kinds of churches??” Wow! Where on earth do I begin in answering this question? One source estimates that 30,000 or more different Christian organizations exist globally, and another states that more than 200 different church flavors make their home in the United States. The short answer is that it was never meant to be this way and wasn’t until about 400 years ago. Since then, a tendency toward individualism and a theological ‘wild, wild, west’ have led to many personal interpretations of the Bible and segregated churches. Add to that unchecked personal beliefs that God has given special revelation to some, and we end up with more Body of Christ fractures than the oil fields of western North Dakota! Perhaps a little church history would help us understand how we got here in such a short time – in about one-fifth of Christianity’s history.

The earliest and simplest Christianity modeled Christ in community and trained and then baptized anyone devoting their lives to the Father through the Son. Of course, there were occasional heresies and rebellions, but that was the basic approach. Over time, the Church split over differences in faith practices. For about 1,600 years, only two primary partitions of Christianity existed: Orthodoxy in the east and Roman Catholicism from about Rome westward.

Sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism, like many institutions, suffered corruption and some supposed unbiblical practices. Protestor Martin Luther (and others) pushed back against such things as indulgences and the idea that good deeds or money could earn a ticket to heaven. Although it doesn’t appear that Luther intended the eventual splintering of Christianity that we’ve witnessed over the last 400-ish years, this is what ensued. What began as an intended reformation of the Roman Catholic church brought on many unintended theological divisions and different worship practices.

Today, many Christian fragments exist, even within denominations. And they fall along a continuum of extremes. For some congregations, humans have no free will to choose a partnership with God. At the other end of the spectrum, God has no influence and exists only to make people feel good and respond when they need Him. Perhaps we should stop deciding for God how He will use His authority! He is indeed the Lord of all, and He seeks relationships with those who choose to receive the Living Water of Christ and walk by the Holy Spirit.

To summarize, there are 30,000 Christian ‘toes’ because each has a mind of its own and often wiggles to its own beat. Now, it isn’t all bad: some Christ-minded cultures that devote to God and love others have provided diverse and meaningful ways to put true faith into practice. Next week, we’ll explore worship and contrast Big-T truths of the Christian faith against the little-t truths of those worshipful practices.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

People lie with incredible ease these days. Empty, unkept promises fill the air, and it’s common to speak what we believe people want to hear. Flattery brings a smile or manipulates but leaves the victim empty and the liar or flatterer headed for destruction. Let me give you a couple of personal examples.

Years ago, a pastor would say, “Ron, I love you!” during each visit. The words, empty as I soon discovered, made me feel good at first. However, he regularly didn’t honor his word in our relationship. Outright lying and not fulfilling promises had become his way. I recently had a negative experience with a local business and was promised a call by one manager who didn’t keep his word. A second manager also made empty, unmet promises. The situation was finally addressed, but distrust had set in. Perhaps many of you have had similar experiences of flattery, empty promises, lies, broken contracts, or deceit in relationships. Maybe it’s a phone call that never came or an email that never materialized. I’m sorry if so! It wasn’t always this prevalent and certainly isn’t what God intends!

“A man’s word is his bond” was a common phrase once upon a time. And a handshake was as good as a contract because people kept their word. The understanding was that if a person could not be trusted, they would be of little value as a community member. God-fearers and Christ-followers understood that God valued honesty and word-keeping and that anything else would bring deadly consequences.

Telling the truth has always been important to God. At the beginning of time, He spoke, and stuff happened. The heavens and earth appeared, as did all creatures on land and sea and in the air. God spoke through the prophets and what He said through them came true. God promised to provide a way back to Him. Once again, He kept His word. God is fair and just; He does what He says He will do. Honoring His promise to send a savior is one reason why God is love – the kind of love He desires from us (1John 4:17-21). He has no use for liars and deceivers in this world, His Kingdom, or the coming age:

He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. —Revelation 21:7-8.

So, keep your promises, do what you say you’ll do. Don’t lie or deceive others but be trustworthy as God is trustworthy. In that, we can love as God loves and join Him in this age and the next.

Questions or comments? Email publisher@taylorpress.net.

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Ron Braley, Northview Christian Church

The Holy Spirit Part III: No Root, No Fruit!

Last week, I explained that the Spirit of God is our heavenly equipper. He enables capabilities through skills and dynamic heavenly gifts such as divine and human languages and interpretation, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and discerning spirits. The Father still gives Christ-followers His Spirit for service by way of the gifts I just mentioned. The Spirit also helps us in our transformation. What kind of transformation? A changed heart (mind) that drives changed behavior according to God’s ways. This is what God desires – not empty belief-only. “But Ron – if the Spirit is at work in a Christ-follower’s life, shouldn’t he or she look and act differently?” Yep!

Some people in Christian communities work according to the Spirit, and some don’t. Those who do walk by the Spirit of God produce loving action out of their faith. And, their behaviors and demeanor reflect the Spirit at work within them. The Bible calls those fruit-producing, Spirit-driven Christ-followers children of God (e.g., John 1:12; Acts 17:29; Romans 8:16-17; Matthew 13:38). They love, house, feed, clothe, sow peace, grow in faith, and make disciples who do the same.

On the other hand, many people are Christ-believersonly, producing nothing of value for God. His Spirit is not at work in their lives, as shown by the lack of fruit – manifestations of a Spirit-enabled faith. The Bible calls them spiritual ‘weeds’ (Matthew 13:24-30 & 41-42), and their fate is inevitable.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’”Matthew 25:41-43.

“Alright, Ron – I get it. True followers of Jesus can be identified by what they do, how they live, and how they love because of their faith. What kind of behaviors and activities should we see from them?” Here are the fruits (manifestations) of a Spirit-enabled Christian according to the Apostle Paul (notice that they are action-related in some way!):

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. —Galatians 5:22-25.

In summary, no root (Spirit), no fruit (Godly behaviors and output). Pray that the Father will give His Spirit to produce fruit that will stand the test of time! Next week, we’ll explore lying and empty promises in Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Holy Spirit Part II: The Ultimate Equipper!

Last week, I introduced the Spirit of God, our connection to the Kingdom of Heaven, as we await a new age when the Father and Son will dwell with all creation. Meanwhile, the Spirit instructs and convicts and gives lovely gifts. He brings comfort, knowledge, and the ability to discern between right and wrong. Here are a few glimpses into a contemporary yet ancient Spirit:

God’s Spirit was at creation (Genesis 1:1-2): In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

He filled the Jews with wisdom and craftsmanship (Exodus 31:3-5): I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

He enabled the prophets (Numbers 11:25): Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

Even today, the Spirit’s gifts include human languages (for preaching and teaching those of other nations) and that of heaven along with interpretation, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and discerning spirits. But the Spirit gifts according to the Father’s purposes, not ours. He will do what He will do through the Spirit to suit His excellent pleasure (will). Here are gifts of the Spirit for the common good of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:7-11):

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Here are additional resources:

Acts 2:4 – 13 (other languages to preach the Gospel).

Ephesians 4:1-6 and 11-16 (use the Spirit’s gifts for God’s purpose, equipping, and unity within the Church).

Regeneration by the Spirit enables access to the Kingdom of Heaven. Spiritual growth and equipping by the Spirit through gifts, talents, and the Church keep us heading in the right direction. Next week, we’ll uncover the discernible effects of walking by the Spirit and what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Holy Spirit Part I: a Life-saving Gift!

Last week, I mentioned that the Ruler of heaven gives His Spirit to anyone who is wholly devoted to Him and His Kingdom. We often allow humanmade doctrine and a lack of knowledge to complicate the simple, pollute the pure. The subject of the Holy Spirit is no exception. So, I thought I’d devote the next three weeks to providing clarity.

This week, we’ll learn about the Holy Spirit and why He is necessary for our transformation now and salvation to come. Next week, we’ll explore if and how the Spirit gifts and equips us for God’s good pleasure and our spiritual growth in this life. Finally, in the third week, we’ll uncover the fruit (manifestations) of the Spirit at work in Christ-followers as well as the consequence of being unfruitful.

First, the Holy Spirit is a gift from God to Christ-followers. By the way: I’ll write about the Bride of Christ soon to help you understand that gifting is part of a holy betrothal process!

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:38.

Second, the Spirit of God regenerates the one who receives the living water of heaven, Christ. No regeneration, no heaven or dwelling with God in the new age to come.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. —John 3:5.

Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God1 Peter 1:23.

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy SpiritTitus 3:5.

Third, rejection of the Spirit of God = spiritual death.

Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sinMark 3:28-29.

Why is the rejection of God’s Spirit the only rebellion against Him that is unforgivable? Because God’s forgiveness requires repentance (change in behavior because of a changed heart), no repentance is possible while someone rejects God.

So far, we’ve learned that the Spirit of God is our connection to the Kingdom of Heaven. Regeneration by the Spirit after devoting to the Father in response to Christ the living water is the only way to enter. So, learn, decide, and devote. But what then? Next week, we’ll see how the Holy Spirit of God equips for spiritual growth, faithfulness, and service.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley