Category Archives: Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss

Blogging about real-life stuff where we apply God’s guidance

Christianity Before the baggage

We’re creatures of habit and tradition and may believe that Christianity today in America is like the original Church started by Jesus and perpetuated by the apostles. Actually, our Christianity and the Church Jesus began are miles apart. The Church was, at first, one organization made up of different personalities, gifts, and talents. The diversity ensured spiritual growth and success in ministry. Today, there are thousands of Christian denominations, cults, organizations, and fractures, and each attracts people who think, believe, and act alike (for the most part). The single, diverse Church rich in shared spiritual gifts, skills, and talents is gone. There are other differences too.

In the first couple of centuries, Christianity was a costly religion (and, therefore, valuable to its members) because of persecution and difficulty in buying or selling in the marketplace. Every member of the community was required to contribute to its welfare and worship. Everyone sang and prayed aloud. Everyone was expected to put their spiritual gifts to work (e.g., teaching, preaching, overseeing . . .). Church discipline for spiritual growth (not punishment!) was necessary and expected.

Today? We live in a world of free or cheap grace without much discipleship or accountability (write to me via the editor if you’d like to see the statistics!). Few are required to participate, and, therefore, about 85% of Christians are freeloaders who don’t contribute or engage in spiritual formation or discipleship. Oh – and discipline within the Christian community? Forget about it! Anyone who doesn’t like the message or accountability can just go to another church down the road. What about things like baptism and Communion?

Initially, Communion (the Lord’s Supper) was a simple, intimate, worshipful dinner between believers. No pomp or circumstance. Today, it’s practiced in many ways, from a simple, quick ceremony as part of a Sunday service to a deeply mystical encounter. Baptism is another practice that differs significantly today from its early Christian counterpart.

For the first several generations from Jesus, baptism was a simple ceremony that confirmed the convert’s devotion to God and entry into the universal Church. Interestingly, according to early accounts, the water could be cold or warm, running or still, or even spit (as a last resort). The point wasn’t the water but devotion. After a few generations from Jesus, heresies and false teachings abounded, as did weak faith that people left under persecution. To ensure that converts truly understood the covenant they were about to enter, the Church began intense training and observation—sometimes for as much as three years—before baptism. That’s not the case today—baptism requires nothing more than a verbal affirmation of faith, no demonstration.

You may be wondering about one more big difference: giving. I’ll need to write a separate article for that one! What about next week? We’ll compare and contrast individualism in American churches to Star Trek’s Borg.

For the Love of Money

The Bible says plenty about money management: work hard, pay our bills, avoid debt if possible, not cosign for others, pay taxes, care for fellow Christians, and save for a rainy day. And, we must be content with what we have:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”Hebrews 13:5.

Let’s explore each principle in more detail.

Work Hard. Those who can work but don’t shouldn’t eat! Remember the children’s story about the hard-working ant and the lazy grasshopper? It’s based on a biblical proverb (Proverbs 6:6-11 and 19:15).

Avoid Debt. Going into debt moves an individual from freedom into slavery (cf. Proverbs 22:7). Is debt contrary to God’s ways? Not necessarily, but there are risks and consequences. Here are a few tips to help reduce them:

  • Don’t borrow unless it’s necessary. Remember that borrowing turns us into a slave and any money we borrow will probably cost a lot more than imagined.
  • Put ‘skin in the game.’ Insert as much of your cash as possible to reduce the total amount of debt and the payment.

Never cosign!! First, the Bible tells us not to do this (Proverbs 22:26). Second, it’s risky. It’s as good as borrowing the money yourself since you’ll be responsible for repayment if the primary signer defaults. Another disadvantage cosigning may bring is that it can significantly stress or ruin close relationships.

Pay bills and taxes. God and His Christ have made it very clear that we’re to care for others and honor the authority of those placed over us. We do this in part by paying others what we owe and satisfying our tax requirements (cf. Luke 20:20-25). Paul tells us to pay our debts and therefore owe nothing (cf. Romans 13:8), and we learn in Psalms 37:21 that those who don’t pay their debts are wicked.

Be Charitable. Jesus gave us two commandments: serve God appropriately and treat man charitably (cf. Matthew 22:35-40). We’ll be judged by our obedience to those commands. (i.e., Matthew 25:31-46).

Save. I want to stress the importance of setting funds aside for a ‘rainy day.’ Many of us live paycheck to paycheck, praying that we don’t lose our job or suffer a catastrophic event. The lifestyle leads to stress and broken relationships—both of which can be mitigated by living within our means and regularly saving some of our resources.

What’s next? Have you ever wondered how the earliest Christians put Jesus’ example and God’s words to work in our New Covenant era? We’ll find out next week in my article Christianity Before the Baggage.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Devil Made Me Do It!

Sometimes, unwilling to accept that we may cause our unhealthiness or unfortunate situations or feelings such as anger, depression, or sadness, we seek to blame someone else—even evil spirits or the devil. This is unfortunate because it allows us to ignore our responsibilities and repentance and growth as we deal with difficult people or circumstances.

The idea of blaming Satan is a weird one in my experiences. Here’s why:

  1. Christians who are in the middle of strife and the trials of life are often quick to say something like, “I must be doing something right because Satan’s after me!” Blaming Satan gives him way too much credit! Bad stuff happens all the time because we live in a broken, fallen world; we make bad choices; other people make bad choices; stuff just happens.

Another problem with blaming Satan for our misfortunes is that we’re essentially stating that God cannot protect us from him. He does look around for weak and unfaithful Christians to destroy them:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.—1 Peter 5:8-9.

But God is more than capable and willing to aid those who resist the temptation to sin and Satan!

  • On the other hand, I’ve heard Christians say this to other Christians who are suffering: “You must not be living right, or these things wouldn’t happen to you!” Funny how things change when the table is turned! Essentially, the faulty thinking is that Christians will be well and prosperous if they’re faithful and that the supposed unfaithful Christians will have trouble. This bad theology could not be further from the truth!!

God never promised that we’d be wealthy or well. The sun shines on the righteous and the wicked; the wicked prosper; we left God’s provision and protection a long time ago in Eden. He will, however, help us persevere as we go through trials and keep our eye on Him.

. . . knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.—Romans 5:3-5.

If you believe that you’re being troubled by a demonic spirit of ‘this or that’ or Satan, just remember that everyone who genuinely has given themselves to God through faith and obedience has nothing to worry about—we’ll remain beyond Satan’s reach. In addition to God’s protection, we also have wisdom and guidance through His Spirit.

Next week, we’ll take a look at healthy biblical finances in For the Love of Money.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Exploring God’s Will

We often want to know God’s will—especially for us. His will is what He wants to do, primarily to keep us from destruction through our transformation and eventual salvation from His wrath. It is His plan for humankind. In the process, He desires us to be obedient, rejoice, pray, and spread the good news to others. Although we tend to think God’s will is some glorious plan for our individual lives, we should instead focus on helping God see His plan for creation through to completion. That’s all well and good. But what exactly does ‘will’ mean?

The word in the ancient language implies choice, desire, pleasure, or an inclination. So, God’s will can be something He desires (as in Matthew 18:12-14) or His plan for humanity (i.e., Matthew 26:42 or John 6:37-40).

Here are some of God’s desires:

  • That all people are saved from His coming wrath (2Peter 3:9)
  • Obedience, not legalism (Matthew 9:13)
  • Our good works, done because of our faith (1Peter 2:13-16)
  • That we rejoice and pray continuously (1Thessalonians 5:16-19)
  • That we proclaim the good news of His Kingdom & make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)

What are some benefits of partnering with God to accomplish His desires?

  • Redemption and forgiveness; the reward of everlasting life (John 6:40; Ephesians 1:5-13; Hebrews 10:35-36)
  • We get His Spirit and intercession on our behalf (Romans 8:26-28)

How do we participate in God’s plan and accomplish His desires? First, we must obey His commandments to honor the Father and Son and be charitable to people (1John 5:3; Matthew 22:36-40). We must also abstain from sexual immorality (1Thessalonians 4:2-4). We are to imitate God (Ephesians 5:1-20), allow the Holy Spirit to lead us (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:25). Making God’s priorities our priorities (Matthew 6:33) is critical, and we must obey our civil leaders and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17).

Whew! That seems like a lot of stuff! But, we can learn what we’re to do in accomplishing God’s will or discovering the answers to our prayers by doing these things:

•           Study the Bible, which teaches principles that help in decision-making (2Timothy 3:16-17).

•           Ask for wisdom (James 1:5-6).

•           Seek wisdom (from family, friends, spiritually mature, etc.) (Proverbs 13:10).

•           Pray!!!

But, we can hinder the accomplishment of God’s will or desires – even for us – through:

•           Bad motives (James 4:3).

•           Bad relationships (1Peter 3:7).

•           Unrighteousness due to disobedience and the lack of the Spirit (John 9:31).

Summary: God has a plan for humanity: salvation through Christ. He also desires fellowship and obedience from us in a pursuit of holiness. We can join in and help accomplish God’s plans or desires, or we can rebel and keep Him from using us or even answering our requests. Of course, this rebellion will result in death. Next week, we’ll take a look at demons with job titles & the ‘spirit’ of biblical abuse.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

In Loving Fairness!

In our feel-good Christian culture, I’ve often heard said, “God is Love!”

God IS love; however, this love is often misunderstood. And, the common misunderstanding of the love that God is and does lends itself to a dangerous and pervasive view that anyone in His excellent favor should never suffer and will have anything they want. The misunderstanding is based on 1John (1John 4:8 and 16 in particular). The first thing we must do is understand the context of John’s comments about God being love. The next thing we’ll do is explore the meaning of that ‘love,’ which we’ll find is consistent, appropriate action—not emotion.

The theme and context of 1John Chapter 4 are a fair and just God that will judge the world and save the righteous. This text serves as a reminder that our actionable love, which is obedience to Jesus’ commandments out of our faith, mirrors God’s just nature and is the basis for our coming salvation. Here’s a breakdown of the verses—you may want to read along.

Verses 1-6: Differentiating Christians from the world.

Verses 7-17: God is actionable love. He has promised a savior for humankind and kept His promise.  We should be like Him and love one another with action, not just emotion, because He has done the same for us first.

Verses 18-21: A sobering reminder that actionable love born of our faith is critical to salvationrescuing from God’s judgment to come. Being nice, feeling spiritual, believing alone, or having lots of knowledge about the Bible without action is useless to God, our Christ, and the Church.

I keep mentioning ‘actionable’ love. It’s the kind of love that equates to, “I’ll treat you right despite how I feel.” We’re to be fair, kind, patient, repentant, self-controlled, etc.  Hmmm . . . sounds a lot like the actions (fruits) shown by those who belong to God and, therefore, have the Spirit as they remain in a relationship with Him:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. —Galatians 5:22-23.

So, God is love because He has treated us appropriately and kept His promise to send a savior despite the way He has ‘felt’ toward humankind at times throughout history. As so many New Testament letters show, He is just to save and forgive when we are in a relationship with Him. Act fairly, justly, kindly, and consistently as our God also has done for us . . . and live!

Next week, we’ll examine the will of God: what it is and how to discover it.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Hooking Up With Wickedness

We live in a world filled with people who are ignorant of God’s ways or the gift of salvation Jesus offers. Some know the truth but resist it. Without our influence through relationships, they’ll likely never know these truths. But we must not let influence work the other way around, allowing ourselves to be lured into sinful behavior.

First and foremost, we’re to spread the good news of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus to those around us by word and deed. As the apostle Paul pointed out, how will people learn of the Gospel—that great news of God’s Kingdom—if no one tells them? We’re all called to proclaim that good news through our speech and actions. How can we do this if we don’t interact with others who need to hear the message or see us model it (Romans 10:13-15)?

We’re also to be a shining example—a light to those around us. There’s no way to be that light without being visible to the world.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:14-16.

We can’t isolate ourselves and, therefore, shield our light from the world. We must be in the world to provide an example, but not of the world (repeating any of its ungodly values and behaviors). The apostle Paul explained that although we need to be flexible and enter into relationships to be Jesus to a lost world, we must be careful not to practice sin found in the world and give up the gift of salvation (1Corinthians 9:19-27).

Paul tells the same church that they must not have close relationships with unbelievers in other warnings too. Associate, yes—be bound together, no. The original language implies unequal yoking, which is vital to understanding Paul’s intent. Yoking together dissimilar creatures would be counterproductive and, while the act may help the weakest of the pair, may bring down the stronger (or more righteous in this case).

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? —2Corinthians 6:14-15.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals. —1Corinthians 15:33.

Who are your friends and business partners? Remember to be a light to the world but take measures to avoid having your faith corrupted and, therefore, jeopardizing your rescuing from God’s wrath to come!

Next week: God is love. True, but how? Why?

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Yes, Judge—but who??

The idea of judging trips people up. We know our faults or sins and feel we have no right to judge others as a result. Conversely, some people behave as though they must inform everyone around them of every sinful act. The truth regarding judging others resides somewhere in the middle.

Who should judge whom? According to Jesus, God will judge the world – those people who aren’t His. Christ-followers will be evaluated for their works done out of faith and rewarded accordingly at the end of this age. Meanwhile, we must hold one another accountable for spiritual growth and moral positioning. For instance, the apostle Paul called out sexually immoral behavior in the Corinthian church and told them this:

… Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. . . . Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. —1Corinthians 5:6-13.

So, how are we to judge other followers of Jesus? We must be careful and gentle according to Christ’s commandments, not by what we feel. The goal must always be to help followers who are ‘sinning’ turn back to the truth and be reconciled to God (e.g., James 15:19-20). Jesus also reminds us not to tolerate the practice of sinful behavior inside the community of Christians.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” —Matthew 18:15-17.

Now, I realize that some people will counter by quoting Luke 6:37, “Do not judge and you will not be judged . . .” But it and verses 38-42 deal with justice and mercy. And verses 41-42 remind us to become righteous before holding others accountable by God’s standard.

If you want to love your fellow Christians with the love of Christ, judge them according to His commandments with a sense of urgency before it’s too late for anyone practicing sinful behavior and earning a one-way ticket to God’s judgment! And let’s demonstrate God’s standard by not doing or condoning anything He opposes (such as sexual immoralities). Otherwise, we could be single-handedly responsible for leading the lost to their destruction.

Next week, we’ll look at healthy and unhealthy Christian relationships.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Dealing with Temptation

We’re often tempted to do or say unhealthy things. The temptation alone isn’t an issue. However, losing the battle in our mind by sinning or at least intending to sin (rebel against God’s ways) IS! Here’s what Jesus’ half-brother James had to say about this:

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. —James 1:14-15.

So, we must learn to squash temptations before they become intentions and sinful actions. But, what is temptation? It’s a strong desire, but still in the mind. So, it isn’t a problem as long as it stays there. By the way: temptation is common.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. —1Corinthians 10:13.

We have the freedom to do what we ought—choose the right path and not let temptation lead to sin. We who have the Spirit of God can walk by that Spirit to ensure we don’t sin.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. —Galatians 5:16-17.

Reading the Bible daily and praying and meditating all the while can help us imitate Christ as we walk in His ways and away from temptations to do bad things.

Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. —Romans 13:13-14.

And, we should avoid temptations we can’t control. For instance, anyone with a weakness to gamble should stay away from places that host gaming. Have a weakness for alcohol? Stay away from friends who drink and places that sell or serve alcohol. Tempted by sexual misconduct? Stay away from media that show nudity and sex.

Finally, pray, pray, pray!

Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. —Matthew 26:41.

Next week, we’ll look at the concept of judgment by Christians.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Ghost Pepper That Wasn’t!

Knowing that I like hot foods and peppers, my son challenged me one day: “Dad – I’m going to send you a scorching hot ghost pepper my friend grew in his garden. Take a video of you eating it and send it to me!” Not always the ‘sharpest knife in the drawer,’ nor one to back down from a challenge quickly, I replied, “Sure, son – bring it on!”

The day of the digestive inferno to be recorded for posterity finally came. Gingerly unwrapping the package and removing the potent fellow from its baggy with plastic-covered hands, I steeled myself for pain. Then, just when the little bugger was about to fly down the hatch, I thought, “Hey! What if I cut a little piece off the end first and taste it to see just how hot this thing is?” Emboldened by the epiphany, I chopped off an ever-so-slightly visible end and stuck it in my mouth, again, anticipating pain.

And then . . . nothing. The thing was a dud. But my son didn’t know that! So, I turned on the recorder and filmed myself bravely munching and swallowing the supposed death-pepper. My son and his friend were astonished, and I was once again the hero of the day—that is until I finally manned up and told them the truth, that the pepper was a fraud. A fake. A phony. A faux pepper. A decidedly dead dud of a dangling wanna-be. The experience did make me wonder, though, how this could happen.

As it turns out, cool peppers may be caused by a “combination of improper soil and site situations, variety, or even poor cultivation practices” (https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/pepper/chili-peppers-not-hot.htm). In other words, my son’s friend didn’t know what he was doing (lucky for me!). Believe it or not, there’s a good lesson here for those of us who desire to be disciples of Jesus and repeat the process in others.

Jesus taught us that good soil is critical for accepting the gospel of God’s Kingdom and growing in faith and spirit (Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23). And without the root of the Holy Spirit, there can be no fruit (Matthew 13:20-21; Galatians 5:16-26). A fruitless, actionless faith will bring spiritual death (James 2:14-26).

So, what’s my point? The dud-of-a-ghost pepper was fruitless and impotent because it had a bad start and improper care and feeding. So likewise, we can be fruitless self-proclaimed Christians headed for spiritual death without the good soil of God’s Kingdom brought by word and deed, the Spirit of God to keep us grounded, and discipleship to aid in our growth. Next week, we’ll check out how to effectively deal with temptation before it becomes rebellion or death.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

John the Revelator – a Timeline

John, the son of Zebedee, was a disciple who humbly proclaimed Jesus’ love for him (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7 & 20). He was an obedient apostle and a caring surrogate son to Mary, Jesus’ mother. He penned his own gospel account, several letters to the early Church, and unveiled things to come. But when and where did he do all this??

First, John lived during Jesus’ time. Biblical scholars agree that Jesus was born in approximately 4 BCE. So, it stands to reason that John would’ve been born near this time, although we don’t know precisely when. Second, Jesus was 29 years old (about 30 (Luke 3:23)) when He called John to discipleship. John partnered with Jesus during his one-year ministry from just before Passover until the following Passover (see my article “Why so Long??” from August 12, 2020).

He then became an apostle when Jesus sent him and the other disciples to make more disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Let’s assume this was about 26-27 AD. It would also be the year when Jesus charged John with caring for Mary (John 19:26-27), was crucified, and then raised by the Father.

Apostle John then went beyond Jerusalem to spread the good news of God’s Kingdom. He started the church in Ephesus (in modern-day Western Turkey) and likely started, or was instrumental in creating, others he would later oversee: Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. John and Mary settled in Ephesus until he was exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he continued to oversee the other churches and received his revelation from Jesus.

Emperor Domitian, who hated Christianity, exiled John to Patmos (a prison colony) in 94 AD, where he stayed for two years until freed by Emperor Nerva in 96 AD. Early Church Father Eusebius, who defers to Irenaeus, confirms this. John then returned to Ephesus, where he continued to care for Mary until her passing. John lived to be just over 100 years old. We know much about his life because of Prochorus, one of the 70 disciples Jesus sent out who later became John’s scribe.

So, what about his gospel account and three letters to the early Church? He wrote the gospel between 90 – 100 AD in Ephesus before being exiled to Patmos or immediately afterward. The same holds for his three epistles, although he most likely wrote them after returning from exile. What follows is an abbreviated and approximate timeline:

  • 4 BC: John’s birth
  • 26 AD: Called to discipleship
  • 27 AD: Charged with caring for Mary; becomes an apostle
  • 94 AD: Exiled to Patmos
  • 94-96 AD: Receives Jesus’ revelation
  • 96 AD: Freed; Returns to Ephesus
  • 90 – 100 AD: Writes, from Ephesus, his gospel and three letters to the Church

What about next week? I’ll tell you the woeful tale of “the Ghost Pepper that wasn’t!”

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley