Tag Archives: Bible

Playing With Fire!

God has always demanded allegiance and obedience. There’s no middle ground, no room for ‘fudging’ things, and no gray area. He commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. They disobeyed, and we lost our access to the Tree of Life (but only until God returns creation to the perfection it once enjoyed!). Lot’s wife played with fire and lost her life for taking one last peek at her old lifestyle (Genesis 19). There are many other examples in the Bible of people who ‘pushed the envelope,’ testing God’s commandments. We do the same today.

God tells us to stay away from interaction with the spirits of the dead, but we engage mediums and psychics (Deuteronomy 18:10-13). We indulge in astrology, relying on created things to determine our fate instead of trusting the Creator. And testing God’s commands where sexuality is concerned is a vast area where many Christians play with fire (literally and figuratively)!

God is clear about the destination of those who practice sexual rebellion, such as adultery and homosexuality (1Corinthians 6:9-10). We are also warned to carefully choose what we listen to and observe (Matthew 6:22-23; Job 31:1; Philippians 4:8). Here’s an interesting fact: people wanting to become Christians in the first couple of centuries couldn’t if they, at the same time, participated in the theater because of the sensuality and immoralities it often portrayed (just like today!). Why must we take care of what we watch? Because the input helps map the pathways in our brain and can cause us to ‘boil the frog’ as we slowly allow or condone or ignore—become desensitized to—the things God hates. This is where watching pornography comes in.

Pornography (Greek porneia and graphe) is a compound ‘catch-all’ word representing all kinds of sexual immoralities. Indulging in anything sexually immoral, even just visually, tests God’s commands and His desires for our conduct; it won’t end well. Here’s a shortlist of other ways Christians play with fire where God is concerned:

  • We must tell the truth—especially where the welfare of others is concerned (Exodus 20:16). But lying has become pervasive.
  • We must not idolize (covet) things, but we do it all the time (stuff, sports, people, multimedia—anything but God’s ways) (Exodus 20:17; 1 John 2:15-17).
  • We are commanded to rest one day each week (for many reasons, including physical, spiritual, and mental health) (Exodus 20:10; Mark 2:27-28); however, few do this religiously.

Just because the proverbial lightning hasn’t struck us down as we rebel against God doesn’t mean that our playing with fire won’t result in judgment and destruction. So, if you’re playing with fire by doing anything God is against, please stop and change direction—fast! Next week, we’ll continue to consider God’s desires as I outline the requirements for Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Corroborating Apocalypses

What do you think of when you hear or read the word apocalypse? Nuclear war? Missiles, tanks, death, and other violent stuff? The basic form of the ancient word means “to reveal.” In the Revelation given by God to Jesus to give to John to pass on to the churches in Asia Minor (phew!) in about 90CE, Jesus revealed events to come later. That’s why Revelation is apocalyptic. But do you know that Jesus had already told much of the Revelation events or characteristics when He was on earth about 60 years earlier? It’s true!

During the week of His crucifixion, Jesus and perhaps several of His closest disciples walked from the Temple complex to the Mount of Olives. He had said that the Temple would eventually be destroyed and not one of its stones left in place (Matthew 24:1-2). On the Mount of Olives, His disciples asked several related questions: 1. When would this happen, 2. What will signal Jesus’ return to earth, and 3. When will be the end of the age (Matthew 24:3)?

Jesus answers their questions in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, which inform of the beginning of hard times (‘birth pains,’ according to Jesus (Matthew 24:5-8)) to the judgment at the end of this age (Matthew 25:31-46). He gave much more detail about the same timeframe in visions to John about 60 years later. Here’s a brief comparison of what Jesus revealed on earth to what He revealed to John in about 90CE:

  • False saviors (Christs):                                                                 Matthew 24:5 & Revelation 6:2
  • War/violence:                                                                                    Matthew 24:6-7a & Revelation 6:3-4
  • Famine/pestilence:                                                                         Matthew 24:7b & Revelation 6:5-6
  • Terrible time of trouble and persecution (Great Tribulation) by the Antichrist:   Matthew 24:10-13 & Revelation 6:7-12; 7:9-17; 12:17                                
  • Christ’s second coming (ending the Great Tribulation):                                Matthew 24:29-31 & Revelation 6:12-17
  • The Great Judgment:                                                                  Matthew 25:31-46 & Revelation 20:11-15

A final note about the False Christs of Matthew 24:5 and Revelation 6:2, which can seem confusing: The horse in Revelation is white and the rider wears a crown, which signifies righteousness and authority; however, his weapon is a bow, not a sword, which is the weapon of Christ (Matthew 10:34; Revelation 19:15 & 21).

In summary, Jesus, who came to earth to satisfy our debt to God, is the same Jesus who revealed end-times things again to John 60 years later. So, it makes sense that the information is related. It seems important! Shouldn’t we study the Bible and pray for illumination by God’s Spirit so that we can find out what God wants and do that before it’s too late??

Next week, we’ll leave the end-times and explore a dangerous practice by many Christians in Playing with Fire.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Mark of the Beast: Part II (What it means)

What exactly will the mark of the beast be? No one knows for sure, but there are a couple of things to consider:

1.                It will be a way of identifying someone who has intentionally aligned with the Antichrist or the authority (Revelation 13:18).

2.                It may be something physical on the right hand or forehead. Or it may instead indicate something you know (forehead analogy) and do in response (symbolized by the hand) (cf. Exodus 13:9 & 16, and Deuteronomy 6:8 & 11:18).

When trying to understand anything biblical, we must consider and compare all related Scriptures. The mark is no exception. God used the hand and forehead analogy when He gave the Israelites specific commandments after the exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus 13:9 & 16 and Deuteronomy 6:8 & 11:18). For instance:

And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. —Exodus 13:9-10.

He told them to remember how He’d saved the nation and to remember His commandments forever. God used the tangible and familiar “forehead” to represent the receiving and committing His commandments to memory. Likewise, He used the “hand” as an identifier for acting upon that knowledge. The learning, retaining, and acting upon God’s commandments would prove allegiance to Him. So, the significance of forehead and hand may be a pledge of allegiance through the learning, agreeing, and acting upon a particular set of commandments initiated by the Antichrist’s authority.  So, what about the number—666?

The number is that of a human, and this one will be one part of an unholy trinity: Satan, Antichrist, and False Prophet (see Revelation chapter 13). The number 6 historically represented a human, whereas the number 7 represents God, indicating perfection. Because of this and the unholy trinity mentioned above, I suggest the number 666 represents some identification or sign of allegiance that will come from the Antichrist (empowered by Satan) through the False Prophet.

An alliance with the unholy trinity may enable buying and selling during the time of the Great Tribulation, but it will bring personal destruction by God. Therefore, we must increase our faith by learning of God’s ways to avoid end-times deception and should, therefore, watch out for anything that may require ungodly allegiance.

Next week, we’ll continue our end-times journey by comparing what Jesus told His disciples on the Mount of Olives to what He revealed to John about 60 years later.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. 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

Love Yourself, Part I: What??

Early in His ministry, Jesus said something interesting to the religious Jews interrogating Him:

And He said to him, “’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.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

What?!? Love your neighbor as yourself?? Just what does that mean, and why should I do it?

First, we must understand that this love of self and others is NOT an emotion that comes and goes with the wind. It’s the kind of unconditional love that is actionable and not negotiable or optional. It’s doing the right thing for the right reason, no matter how we feel.

Second, doing the right things for yourself sets you up for doing the right things for others, to love them with the love of Christ. If you’ve flown on a commercial aircraft, you’ve probably heard something like, “If you have small children, please put on your mask first and then assist your child.” Why? Because you’d be of no use to your child if you’re passed out or dead. Loving yourself is sort of like that—you can be of little or no benefit to others if you’re emotionally, relationally, spiritually, financially, or mentally unhealthy.

So, we love ourselves in that agape action-type love by tending to our relationships, body, mind, spirit, and finances as God has taught through His prophets, our Christ, the apostles, and others in the Bible. And we learn to like ourselves through healthy living and walking by the Holy Spirit, who reminds us of who we are in God and Christ. We can also observe godly examples which, in loving themselves, can now love others properly.

In summary, Jesus has commanded that we love ourselves and, in self-love (care and feeding of our body, mind, and spirit), love others appropriately. Next week, we’ll dig deeper into how we can make this happen.

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 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

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