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Elijah – From Elation to Depression

Life can be great; it can be challenging. Ups bring joy, and downs deep despair. Sometimes, it seems as if we’ve descended too deeply to return to the status quo, let alone ascend to joy or elation! If this describes your state of being sometimes, as it can mine, we’re in good company! This week, I’ll introduce you to Elijah, who went from great joy and confidence to deep despair in a hurry.

Elijah lived and prophesied during the reign of Ahab, uttering God’s words to an unfaithful Israel: Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1Kings 17:1)

Many of you already know of God’s victory against Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal. But, just in case you don’t . . . Through Elijah, God informed rebellious Israel that He would bring drought. And why not? Sometimes, it’s good for entitled people to remember just how powerless they are and how much better off they’d be if they’d honor a relationship with God! Evil Queen Jezebel, who forsook the God of her ancestors (e.g., 1Kings 18:18-19), consorted with prophets of the lesser god Baal (the god of the Canaanites). In a showdown, Baal’s prophets couldn’t coax Baal into consuming a sacrifice with fire despite dancing, yelling, and flesh cutting (1Kings 18:26-29). God’s turn.

No yelling. No cutting. No dancing. Elijah’s prayer was simple, and God’s response instant and complete. Fire from the sky consumed the sacrifice and the water Elijah had drenched it in (1Kings 18:30-39)! Elation for Elijah! But the joy wouldn’t last.

As you can imagine, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel weren’t pleased! They chased Elijah, who ran for days to escape their wrath. Discouraged and tired, he wished he were dead (1Kings 19:4). What a departure from the incredible elation of just a few days earlier when he basked in the glory of God’s victory! But swinging between highs and lows is what we often do as humans as the memories of successes and excellent stuff fade.

God nursed Elijah back to health and spoke to him. In a thunderous voice? No. In the middle of great wind or earthquake? No. The quiet space was God’s medium for parlaying with Elijah (1Kings 19:9-13). Our moods swing, but God is loving, patient, and faithful in responding to His children. You are one . . . right? If you aren’t (or aren’t sure), let’s talk! Regardless, listen carefully as God may speak to you in ways and places you don’t expect!

In summary, be on God’s side to help overcome adversity and deep depression. In the following article, we’ll revisit something many of us learned as kids: “Be careful little eye what you see, little ear what you hear!”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Weed Patrol – Weeds Beget Weeds! Part Two (Sexual Immorality)

In this final Weed Patrol article, I’ll address sexual immorality, which includes incest, adultery, bestiality, prostitution, and homosexuality. God detests these things that blatantly contradict His desires for how we use our bodies. He and others have said as much (e.g., Leviticus 18:6-17 & 23; Hebrews 13:4; 1Corinthians 6:15-16). Although practicing any sexual immorality will earn separation from God, I’ll spend most of this space addressing homosexuality. I honor God and care for people despite sexual preferences that are none of my business … unless practitioners identify as Christian. My job as a teacher and disciple-maker is to pass on truth and model it. Again, this article is only aimed at people inside the church—those who claim to fear God and follow Jesus.

Here are a few ways homosexuality in the church is rationalized:

“Love is Love.” Not quite. Our limited language has one word for love; biblical Greek uses three: lust, fondness, and ‘unconditional’ love. The latter insists upon doing the right thing no matter what we ‘feel’—unlike those who don’t control their passions.

“Homosexuality has always been an accepted lifestyle.” Untrue. It was tolerated in portions of pagan Greek and Roman cultures between grown men and young boys until the latter grew facial hair and were expected to pursue heterosexual relationships. However, most cultures found, and still find, homosexuality repulsive and shunned or outlawed it. This has always been the case (until recently) in Jewish and Christian cultures.

“Biblical homosexuality referred to only rape.” Nope! This is an attempt to redefine an instruction that’s unpalatable to some. Paul calls out male same-sex intimacy—those who “practice homosexuality” (1Corinthians 6:9; 1Timothy 1:10). He reiterates this and addresses similar female behavior and consequences in Romans 1:22-32. By context and definition, the word/act (Greek ἀρσενοκοίτης) is “a male partner in homosexual intercourse.” Force isn’t the issue, only abusing God’s intention for human sexuality. Admonishments against this behavior are found in the Old Covenant (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13). The undesirable conduct pervasive in Sodom and Gomorrah became the stuff of admonishments by Paul and Jesus’ half-brother Jude: “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).

“Sodom and Gomorrah were about being inhospitable, not sexually immoral!” Double nope! In Genesis 19:1-11, men of Sodom sought sexual encounters with angels they thought were male (19:4-5) despite being offered women instead (19:8). Check out all the biblical references in this article (please!). You’ll find that homosexual behavior incited God’s wrath then, as it will at the end of this age.

In summary, if we believe in a Creator, we should behave as He intends. What’s next? Even the godliest folks experience emotional highs and lows! Let’s look at one example in “Elijah: From Elation to Depression!”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Weed Patrol – Weeds Beget Weeds! Part One

Lately, I’ve written about ‘weeds in the church’—faux Christians who destroy it from the inside by introducing, tolerating, and perpetuating what God hates. Allow them to fester, and they’ll breed more weeds who tolerate and rebel, too, until the church’s DNA is damaged and spiritual transformation and purity become nearly impossible. So, it’s critical to recognize them.

In this and the next article, I’ll address certain weedy behaviors. I have no “stake in the game” or animosity toward anyone, regardless of lifestyle. I’m just a well-trained messenger wanting to relay God’s ways and protect His people. Who’s this and the following article for? People INSIDE the church (God will judge those outside (1Corinthians 5:12-13)). They’re for pastors, ministers, and other leaders and disciple-makers who must influence God’s people in love, purity, and morality and protect ‘the flock.’ In the process, we must love people as God loves them, hating ungodly behavior and reconciling practitioners to Him. If you’re outside God’s community, I’d love for you to know Him and for Him to know you! Let’s have coffee together and discuss this further! Now, onto the weeds!

Most weeds are easily recognized. They include people who practice lying, hurting others, stealing, causing division, and feeding addictions (among others):

  • “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
  • “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you . . .” (Galatians 5:19-21)

 These activities are contrary to God’s ways, and God’s got no use for anyone who practices them: “just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21 – see also 1 Corinthians 6:10)

 But there’s a more dangerous and covert weed (1Corinthians 6:18-20): the sexually immoral believer. God’s clear about how we must use our bodies, even intimately! More on that destructive weed in the following article.

In summary, churchy weeds can breed more weeds and choke the life out of God’s community. This week, I introduced some of them that also make more weeds by breeding bad behavior. These include liars, cheats, thieves, slanderers, gossipers, and others who practice hateful things against their own bodies and other people. In the second part of this final section on “Weeds Beget Weeds!,” I’ll address the most pervasive, covert, and destructive one: the sexually immoral practitioner.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Weed Patrol – Churchy Weeds!

Last time, I re-introduced the concept of weeds (fakes and evildoers) in the Church (Jesus introduced it first!) and explained that we need to recognize a weed to keep from becoming one and putting ourselves into God’s coming wrath. But what are we supposed to do about churchy weeds—those people claiming to be Christian who bring wickedness into our midst and poison us? Let’s see what Jesus and Paul had to say on the subject.

As is often the case today, the Corinthian church tolerated sexual immorality. Paul’s response? Remove the immoral person for their and the community’s sake (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you . . .  God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”

And the Thessalonian church permitted slackers (2 Thessalonians 38-15). Paul reprimanded them and instructed the church to expel the lazy people: “. . . Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. . . . If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. . . .” Reconciliation is key here!

Jesus explained in Matthew 18:15-17 that anyone rebelling against God’s righteousness (sinning) who will not accept correction must be sent out of the Christian community: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

“Ron! Why were (and are) correction and possible expulsion necessary?” We can’t maintain God’s standards without gentle guidance and correction within the Body of Christ. The spiritually mature must model and execute godly behavior, so others will know how to behave. Why must we identify churchy weeds—people who refuse to adhere to God’s standards? To protect everyone else and present a clear image of Him to the world. Don’t we remove rotten food to protect the good?

Unfortunately, discipline (for correction and reconciliation) is nearly impossible today. Why? First, there are too many weeds and not enough modeling. Second, the church is an open and unmanaged community regularly infiltrated by immoral people who corrupt the Body.

So, how do we remove weediness from within the Body of Christ? Teach godly principles—God’s righteousness, and model godly behavior (to show how to put it into practice: it rubs off!) Privately call out ungodly behavior and guide the rebellious and immoral to better behavior. What if that doesn’t work? Show them the door to protect God’s children.

In summary, we were never to permit or tolerate weeds in the church. It isn’t good for Christianity and presents a tainted image of our Creator. In the last of our Weeds episodes, we’ll explore how weeds make more weeds until they take over the Church!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Weed Patrol – Christian Style!

A lot is expected of pastors. I taught and shepherded but also patched sheetrock and fixed toilets. And I embarked on regular weed patrol from March to November. Why? Because the parking lot was full of cracks that offered freedom to the little critters that resembled green welcome things but weren’t. They would overtake the parking area if I didn’t identify and kill them.

On the other hand, my wife patrols for weeds in our yard. Not so easy! It’s all green, albeit different shades of the stuff. Separating weeds from flowers and grass takes skill and determination. I can tell the difference between green and asphalt, but Joanne can segregate harmful green from good green and irradicate the unwanted (thankfully!). What does effective weed patrol have to do with Christianity? Plenty!

Anyone who practices rebellion against God’s ways invites destruction. You might think that person is easy to spot, but a weed can’t spot a weed, and there are plenty in the Church! Here’s what Jesus said about the subject: . . . “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. . . . So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30, ESV).

The weeds are there and destructive. Let me give you an example. Decades ago, a weed named James invaded our church. He said the right things and impressed church leadership but ruined marriages, stole money, and poisoned people. Thankfully, faithful Christ-followers recognized the bad from the good, asked questions, and tested James and his motives. The challenges brought out incredible weediness. He was busted and ousted . . . but not before leaving a path of destruction and pain.

So, true God-fearing Christ-followers must exist with the sinful (even inside the church) until the end of time. But they’re always on weed patrol. They’re in tune with God by the Spirit and know His ways—so much so that they know when something doesn’t belong. They’re so focused on bearing His image and pleasing Him that the weeds become obvious. Be that wary person! Learn your weeds! Learn your wheat—the good stuff of God. Learn to tell the two apart.

In summary, recognize a weed to keep from becoming one. We all know what happens to weeds! In the following article, we’ll go ‘further into the weeds’ as we discuss what to do with churchy weeds.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

No Affirmation or Couch Potatoes!

Many Christians live at one spiritual extreme or another that could rob God of the partners He seeks. One supposes that Christians don’t have to do anything but admit Jesus is their Savior and that they are sinners. This dangerous position where most Western Evangelical Christians live produces spiritual “couch potatoes” and flies in the face of Father and Son’s commandments to honor, grow, love, and obey. How did THAT happen? Well, it’s been coming for many decades through gross misapplications of foundational principles such as salvation by grace, a lack of discipleship, bad teaching, and plain self-centeredness. Father and Son know who they are and what They’ve done—They don’t need our affirmation but DO want our partnership!

God seeks partners for reconciling His creation in this age and rulership in the next:

  • “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, . . . Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2Corinthians 5:18-20)
  • “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS” (Revelation 2:26; see also Revelation 3:21 and 1Corinthians 6:2-3).

The partnership role requires training and transformation through discipleship, which should be each Christian’s highest priority as a disciple and disciple-maker. All else flows from it, from worship to spiritual growth. But statistically, fewer than 20% of churchgoers regularly engage in discipleship or related activities like small groups, Bible study, fellowship, prayer, and accountability (https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). Additionally, only 14% of today’s Christians appear to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found consistent with those of Jesus (https://www.barna.com/research/christians-more-like-jesus-or-pharisees). The statistics suggest that little discipleship is taking place, and imitation of the One we claim as Savior is even rarer. No spiritually-lazy people are allowed in God’s Kingdom, though!

  • “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away . . . If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. (John 15:2-16)
  • “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)

In summary, God doesn’t need our affirmation, nor will He tolerate Christian laziness! In my next article, we’ll have fun going on weed patrol, Christian-style!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Faith-based Computer Networking

Decades ago, I managed computer systems and network teams at the University of North Dakota’s Aerospace College. Many intelligent people worked with and for me. Me? Not so much. I needed supernatural help on occasion (usually late at night when I was in way over my head!). I’d share those Spirit-enabled success stories with my wife but never labeled the practice until one particular evening.

I had invited a network administrator and his girlfriend to join us for a church-sponsored Valentine’s dinner. During the meal, my wife said, “You know how you pray because you don’t know what you’re doing?” My cohort blurted out, “Ah – faith-based network administration!” I’ll take it. After all, why break what works? But is praying for what I need wrong or selfish? It depends.

God encourages us to pray in our time of need—in dire straights or innocent desire for good things, not selfish gain or ambition. Praying to find car keys to rush a sick child to the hospital would be good and selfless. Asking God for a red sport car when you only need to repair the car you have probably crosses a line. Let me offer some quick guidance about asking for Godly help before continuing.

Someone recently said something like, “If God can love people how I think He should, then I can love Him!” Well, we don’t set moral standards; God does. He doesn’t owe us anything, let alone His ear, and He certainly doesn’t work for us! If our motives are impure or selfish, or we intend to rebel against His standards, God will not listen to us (Psalm 66:18; 1Peter 3:7; James 4:3). And we must be someone God knows in a complete (perfect) relationship if we expect anything from Him. Here are a few verses encouraging those in fellowship with God to ask for direction.

Remember that Jesus taught us to pray for deliverance from temptation and the evil one (Matthew 6:13). One Psalmist begs for God to order his steps and keep sin from overcoming him (Psalm 119:133). And Jesus’ brother James encourages us to ask God for wisdom and discernment (James 1:5). At the same time, Paul admonishes us to ‘pray about everything’ (Philippians 4:6). Do we have examples of this at work? Yep!

Paul got direction from God’s Spirit to go to Macedonia instead of Asia (Acts 16:6-10). Gideon, seeking guidance from God, asked for certain conditions (dry fleece, wet fleece) to confirm the future (Judges 6:36-40). The Jews similarly cast lots to receive guidance from God because they understood that He would direct the outcome according to His desires. Finally, King David continually sought wisdom from God. So should we.

In summary, God listens to His own and gives wisdom accordingly. What about the following article? Since we’ve touched on what God desires, let’s talk about how He seeks partners, not affirmation, zombies, or spiritual couch potatoes!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The God Box, Part III: Endless Possibilities!

So far, we’ve learned that a ‘God box’ is anything that keeps God’s Spirit from moving and stifles transformation (e.g., walls, business, religious rules and practices, and passivity). To be free, we must devote, love, transform and be transformed through discipleship. Worship God through action, not religion. Give of time, talents, and treasures first to honor God and love people. Fine. But what can we do with our newfound freedom?

With no God box, the Spirit moves; we can move. And where the Spirit is, there is freedom (2Corinthians 3:17)! We can be joyful and empowered as God’s partners led by His Spirit! Being and making disciples becomes a reality as we build deeper relationships than are possible in one hour a week. Our transformation happens as we move by the Spirit and are illuminated spiritually and scripturally once the restrictions are gone. Healing, love, and intimate prayer become possible when we are face-to-face instead of passively existing side-by-side in an experiential state during a typical service. And we can be God-fearing Christ-followers by focusing on Their instructions instead of human religious rules and practices. Thus, we can worship freely with like-minded Christ-followers of different backgrounds. Religious constraints on things like Communion, prayer, and baptism, which were done freely and intimately without segregation in the earliest Church, disappear. We can build intimate relationships beneficial for spiritual growth, discipleship, and charity. After all, we can’t give to and for what we aren’t aware of!

Speaking of giving, we can be free to care for others in unimaginable ways without the box. In my decades as a churchgoer, I never heard anything like, “Please, give first to care for people and then, if you’re able, give to the church’s business” from the pulpit. Yet, that’s what God commands (e.g., Matthew 22:39 & 25:31-46). Joanne and I visited a home church for a few weeks many years ago and witnessed firsthand the freeing effect of ditching the box. Without a church-imposed financial obligation, and being in such an intimate setting, we learned of others’ needs and finally had resources to help. Obedience to God’s order to love became possible! By the way: The Old Covenant tithe was used for Temple upkeep and an inheritance for the priests and their families. Now, we are encouraged to give without compulsion or limits (2Corinthians 9:7) to care for others and bring God’s Kingdom near to the yet-to-be-churched (see my first article in this God Box series for more information).

In summary, God, people, and discipleship first—religion second. Let’s lighten things up in the following article, where you’ll learn about my ‘faith-based’ computer skills. PS: Don’t tell anyone I couldn’t do my job without help!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The God Box Part II: Freedom

In my last blog, I explained that a ‘God box’ is anything that keeps God’s Spirit from moving and stifles convert transformation. Physical walls, a business focus, religious rules and practices, and a one-to-many approach during services from the fourth century top the list of God box building materials. Others include personal misconceptions, self-centeredness, and a lack of biblical training. Here, we’ll brainstorm things we can do to escape the box and become complete—perfect—in our relationship with God.

First, let’s break down the religious walls. To do this, we must devote all to God and focus on the Big-T tenants of our faith (see the last article). Remember that all else is secondary or church traditions, often built on bad theology (understanding God or His ways) or human religious doctrines. Don’t treat the secondary issues or human forms of practicing the Big-T stuff as soul-saving necessities.

Second, let’s break down the wall of self-centeredness. God commands us to honor Him and [actionably] love people. This is the prime directive. It’s OK to give to the church’s business (after all, we made it, we must feed it!), but don’t let that derail you from God’s command to give of time, talents, and treasure to care for His creation, again, especially people. Being outward-focused will help free you from self-centeredness.

Third, let’s break down the theological ignorance and spiritual immaturity wall. To be God-box-less, learn the truth of God’s Kingdom that will set you free. I’d say that this should be the first step in ditching the God box: you can’t honor what you don’t know or love well when you don’t understand true, action-oriented love. Understand that our one-to-many services leave little if any room for discipleship or movement by the Spirit. Today’s church service format is probably the boxiest part of the God box and incredibly stifling as well as enabling pew-warming freeloaders. What does freedom look like here? Make sure you don’t rely on Sunday morning alone for your discipleship, obedience to make disciples, or spiritual growth! There’s no substitute for regular Bible study (not devotionals!), life transformation groups offering study, prayer, accountability, and ongoing, never-ending discipleship.

Putting it all together. God called us to honor Him and love people (this is actionable, not emotional!). He didn’t call us to build stuff, lord it over people, or entertain the masses. If you want to symbolically free God and perhaps yourself from a God box, devote, love, and transform and be transformed through discipleship. Worship God through action, not religion. Give of time, talents, and treasures first to honor God and love people. No walls, physical or spiritual, are necessary!

In the final article in this three-part series, we’ll continue our discussion and soar to new heights in “The God Box Part III, Endless Possibilities.”

Dr. Ron Braley

The God Box Part I: The Box

We love religious traditions but may not understand that they can restrain God and put Him (or us!) into a spiritual container. I say, “Let’s let Him, and us, out!” Of course, that won’t be possible until we understand what’s happening first! Over the following several articles, we’ll cover these things: (1) What is the Box; (2) Freedom from the Box; (3) A New World Outside Awaits! Let’s begin our journey by understanding where we are today compared to how things were or should be.

The ‘box’ is anything that keeps God’s Spirit from moving and stifles convert transformation. But imagine a world outside of a religious container where people introduced to God’s Kingdom devoted all they were and had to Him and, in return, received God’s Spirit and just lived life well. No business-minded churches. No passive congregations. No elevated roles or privileges. You were an active part of the Body of Christ, singing, teaching, leading, loving . . . or you weren’t. There were no commercial walls, human doctrines, or soul-crushing rules or punishments. The Spirit moved freely and gifted individuals to accomplish God’s good pleasure. No Old Covenant religious burdens, not even tithing (since there was no longer a Temple needing upkeep nor priests receiving a God-ordained inheritance).

Baptism was a simple pledge that resulted in the Spirit given by God, also as a pledge. Communion was table fellowship, during which converts remembered what Father and Son had done for them. Money was just collected occasionally and voluntarily to feed the hungry and care for widows, orphans, and traveling evangelists (e.g., according to Paul, Tertullian, and others). That was mostly how things were in the first century. Fast-forward, and we see a religious box taking shape that constrains to this day.

To be clear, there’s a difference between the ‘big-T’ core truths of our faith that mustn’t change and the ‘little-t’ truths of how we practice. Big-T non-negotiable things include: the Father created everything and sent the Son to redeem His creation aided by the Spirit; the Son gave that Spirit to His brothers and sisters and sent them (and still does) as partners in reconciling creation; charity and spiritual growth are mandatory. No walls here.

On the other hand, ‘little-t’ practices can erect religious barriers that keep out the pure of heart and showcase the proud. Church traditions often make a mockery of Christ’s Law of love. And the Greco-Roman one-to-many presentation in place by the fourth century can crush any potential move by the Spirit and encourage freeloaders who occupy pews but are unfruitful. The box has been built, but there’s hope!

In the following article, we’ll continue our discussion in “The God Box Part II, Freedom.” Imagine what it will take to let God and us out of the religious prison we’ve created, free the Spirit, and put the Christ-follower to work! Let’s explore that!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley