Tag Archives: discipleship

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.

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

Get Dirty But Shake Off the Dust!

I’m a discipleship guy. Why? Because, without it, there’s no transformation and the beautiful things to come. So, I’m all about change and spiritual growth—mine and yours. But what is basic discipleship, and how can we be fruitful as we do it?

First, discipleship is about imitation: presenting something worth imitating and mimicking what is seen and heard. Jesus taught, modeled what He taught, tested, corrected, and sent as He discipled. He gave disciples something good to imitate. Then, they did what Jesus did. Here’s an example as written by the apostle Paul nearly 2,000 years ago:

“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (Thessalonians 1:6)

Second, discipleship can be messy! It happens when we walk with someone in their rhythm of life, and our own discipleship and spiritual formation never end. The disciple-discipler relationship builds the trust needed to share struggles, woes, and joys. Importantly, authentic discipleship ensures that you witness a disciple’s behavior and are available to answer questions or provide correction. This is where it can get messy. But discipleship doesn’t happen without it.

Third, discipleship isn’t for everyone, and most of these relationships will fail. Why? Likely because of a lack of devotion to God or the discipleship process. So, what do you do if this happens as you disciple? Setting expectations about devotion to God and the discipleship relationship is critical. Then, hold the disciple accountable. But if they aren’t growing, showing up, studying, etc., then it may be time to ‘cut bait.’ Ditch the spiritual dead weight and move on! “But Ron, the disciple is my friend! Are you saying I must end the friendship?” Absolutely not! Keep that relationship but put your discipleship efforts elsewhere. Jesus had something to say about this in Mark 6:7-11.

To recap, discipleship is about your speech and modeling and others’ imitation of what they hear and see. So, be something worthy of imitation! And don’t get stuck in a dead discipleship relationship. There’s plenty of work for you, so move on! Next week? I’m thirsty, so let’s dive into Living Water.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

That’s Heavy, Man!

“Ron! Why do you write about such serious stuff? Just remind us that Jesus loves us no matter what and then tell a cute story or write something funny!” Indeed, my topics are often serious or deep. Why? I sometimes address a specific need or balance our lopsided Christianity that usually tells only half the story. Yes, Jesus loves us no matter what we’ve done or where we are. But we’re not meant to stay there! According to King Solomon, there’s nothing new under the sun. And the need to respond to current issues or provide guidance dates to the earliest days of the New Covenant.

New Testament (Covenant) letter writers usually addressed a particular audience to inform or solve a problem. They would often provide balance in a Christianity warped by heresies or immoralities of the day. Take Paul, for instance. He wrote to the Church in Rome to steer a predominantly Jewish congregation from focusing on religious format or works. Sure, God had predestined the nation of Israel to carry out His plan of salvation (Romans 8:18-30 – similarly, see Ephesians 1:4-6, 11). Its people—especially those who entered the Christian faith—probably felt special and believed that adherence to the Jewish religious Law was still necessary for the New Covenant. However, a focus on works negated the unmerited gift of life offered through Jesus.

The Corinthian Church was another recipient of Paul’s written guidance and correction. These believers, mostly Greek, often engaged in things like sexual immoralities (e.g., 1Corinthians 5:1-13 and 6:12-20). Many filed lawsuits against each other. Still, others practiced gluttony and self-centeredness and rebelled against customs like how women should respond in church or keep their hair. Why did he write against violating local traditions? Because the violations caused problems in the culture and could make God’s Kingdom unattractive to the locals. Paul’s letters addressed those issues (and more) to correct bad behavior and provide a clearer view of a righteous walk of faith. What about today?

We still misbehave toward one another, abuse our bodies, and neglect spiritual formation believing all the while, selfishly, that God has a unique plan for each of us and that He works all things for our personal good. The practices are unrighteous, and the beliefs are gross misunderstandings of Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 taken out of context. Yes, God Has a plan and has invited us to join Him in it, but it’s His plan for all, not personal spiritual elevation.

So, I write to you to offer balance and guidance and partner with you to practice your faith according to God’s good pleasure. I promise to lighten it up where I can! What’s next? Let’s learn how not to be aggressive—even passively aggressive—in “Vengeance is God’s, not ours—even in church!”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Ask Away!

Once upon a time, I didn’t study (or regularly read!) my Bible. I didn’t ask questions. Maybe it was because I didn’t know what to ask or why. I believed that I just needed to believe in Jesus with no other relational or growth requirements. And no one challenged my resulting lack of faith, which, as it turns out, must be based on wisdom about God. So, my faith was blind and shallow. Then, the dam broke one day, and the floodwaters of grief, joy, and passion rushed in. “What happened?” you ask. Good question! Let your inquiry be the first of many to come.

Decades ago, a friend challenged my faith by bringing to light my lack of understanding about the end of the world and Jesus’ return … or anything else biblical, for that matter. He was right. But I decided to become ‘found’ by devoting myself and all I am to God and vowing to learn about His ways and teach others what I discovered. I learned during the process that we must challenge what we’re taught in church—especially where good biblical knowledge is lacking, or wrong, or things just don’t make sense. I suggest that discovering the source of church traditions is a great way to start. There are many excellent reasons to question these things.

First, blind faith can lead to spiritual death. On the other hand, asking questions can make us wiser and aid our discipleship. And a healthy fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Why else would we go through the effort??

“Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:9-10)

Second, our inquiries can hold Christian preachers and teachers, who God holds to a higher standard (e.g., James 3:1), accountable. Your questioning can help them focus. We learn of one group, applauded for doing this:

“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:10-12)

Finally, others are probably wondering the same things you are. Your questions and correct answers can benefit many others too. In summary, wisdom about God and spiritual transformation is a matter of life and death. Questioning what you hear and asking new questions can aid wisdom, provide accountability, and benefit others. What’s next? I’ll explain why so many of my topics seem serious or hard-hitting in “That’s Heavy, Man!”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Jesus Said What??

We love to read or hear that Jesus loves us. We love to read or hear that Jesus forgives us. Forgiveness by others, including God, can be music to our soul. But Jesus and others like Peter, James, and Paul also told us stuff we may not be so eager to receive. However, heeding them is a matter of life and death. Here are but a few of the lifesaving tips:

  • Honor God and be charitable to others (Matthew 22:36-40). We are to honor God with our bodies and by good works born of faith (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; 1Timothy 6:18) … period.
  • Introduce God’s Kingdom everywhere by word and deed (Matthew 5:13-16). If the Spirit of God is within us, we will have no choice but behave that way (produce fruit). Godly behavior presents God’s Kingdom to people; arrogant, ungodly, self-centered, or self-righteous behavior makes the Kingdom unattractive and often unattainable.
  • Be and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:11-14; 2Timothy 3:14-17). As with honoring God and loving people, this is non-negotiable!
  • Count the cost of being a disciple, which anticipates appropriate responses to God and provides consequences, both good and bad, like any other relationship (Luke 14:25-33).
  • Forgive to be forgiven (Matthew 6:12-15; Colossians 3:12-13). We must give back what we’ve been freely given.
  • There will be trouble in life (John 16:33; 1Peter 4:12-19; Psalm 34:19; James 1:2-4 & 12; Romans 5:3-5 and 12:9-21).
  • But stand firm through that trouble to grow stronger and wiser and be saved from coming judgment (Matthew 10:22 and 24:13; Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 3:14; 2Timothy 2:12).
  • Be productive in the Kingdom of God . . . or else. (Matthew 25:41-46; John 15:1-8).
  • Choose to stay (abide) in the relationship with God (John chapter 15). He seeks active, fruitful partners in a reciprocal relationship. Persevere and live!

So, according to Jesus and others, we’re to enter a relationship with God through Jesus and stay. And as we remain, we are disciples who make them as well. Finally, we must be productive by honoring God with all we have and are and love other people. Otherwise, we’re of no use to God. The good news is that He gives His Spirit to help us do all the things I just mentioned and be successful in our spiritual growth and obedience. What do we have to look forward to if we remain in a fruitful relationship with God? His peace and rest now, and rescue from judgment at the end of this world.

What’s next? Let’s understand better why we’re to challenge what we see or hear—especially where God is concerned—in next week’s article, “Ask Away!!”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. 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

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

A Whale of a Time with Jonah

God is everywhere and knows all things. Still, we often believe that we’re so insignificant He doesn’t know our thoughts or see what we think we’re doing in private. There’s nowhere we can go to hide from God, as Jonah learned about 2,700 years ago.

Jonah was a prophet – a mouthpiece of God. His job wasn’t to tell the future but relay to the Assyrians what God told him. The problem was that the Assyrians (ruling most of what is now the Middle East) were bloodthirsty and violent—especially toward the Jewish people, God’s people. Through Jonah, He wanted to tell the Assyrians that they would have 40 days to change their ways or be destroyed. Afraid for his life and the possibility that the Assyrians would repent and be spared, Jonah ran from God. But God would have His way.

He sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah, who had been thrown overboard his escape vessel by its sailors. Several days later, after Jonah had time to reflect and acknowledge that God wins, the fish vomited up Jonah. He was now free (again)—not to do what he wanted to do, but what he ought to do: obey God.

So, a scary pasty-white Jonah (think about what three days in stomach acids could do to the skin!) walks to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, to give them God’s ultimatum: repent or else. Thankfully, our God was (and still is) patient and merciful, allowing options and the opportunity to choose wisely. Anyway, the Ninevites decided well and changed their ways (and fate). Jonah was ticked and complained to God, who reminded Him that He oversees all and shows mercy on whom He chooses (the Assyrians, in this case).

God used Jonah to help bring people back to Him. He still calls us to partner with Him to reconcile His creation:

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word 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. —2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

God wants us to respond to His call with a resounding, “Yes! I will give my self and all I have to you in complete devotion!” and then be His ambassadors in bringing the Kingdom of God to others. As we learned from Jonah’s example, we can’t run away from God or His desires, so we may as well get on with it!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley