Tag Archives: discipleship

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

Faith, Hope, & Love, Part I: Faith

Faith is something to which we belong or have. I am of the Christian faith, and I have faith. Many of us will say that we have faith, but what is it? How do we get it, and how does it relate to our relationship to God and people?

First, faith is belief – confidence. The apostle Paul tells us that it is why we hold on tight to the unseen things of our Christianity, whether of spirit or fulfilled prophecies (Hebrews 10:39 & 11:1).

Second, it is not meant to be blind faith! The Bible repeatedly teaches that we must learn wisdom and knowledge that lead to a healthy fear of God and salvation (2Timothy 3:13-17). Why? So that we can stand firm in persecution and confusion and walk in God’s ways and not be deceived, something that Paul warns will happen in the last days (1Timothy 4:1). Be forewarned: deceit can come from within our churches too, but we can stand firm by knowing the truth of God (Colossians 2:6-8).

Where does our non-blind faith come from? It comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17), prayer, the Holy Spirit (for illumination), meditation (Psalm 1:1-2), discipleship (Ephesians 4:11-16), testimonies, and applying what we learn or experience.

Finally, faith MUST lead to action! All knowledge is useless to God and others if it doesn’t move us to act. That action is the agape, unconditional love, that feeds, houses, clothes, teaches, doesn’t react in anger, listens and encourages, and is kind. Here’s what Jesus’ brother James says about faith-born action:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?James 2:17-20.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.James 1:22-25.

Next week, we’ll continue our faith, hope, and love journey by exploring how our confidence (faith) in what God has done and is doing assures us that He will do all that He has promised.

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!

Why Bad Things Happen, Part III: Do & Don’t!

Last week, we continued examining “Why do bad things happen to me or any good person?” We learned that there are several reasons for our misfortunes, including others’ actions, everyday risks, and our poor decisions. This week, we’ll uncover some things that restrict and enable God’s intervention in people’s lives.

As we’ve previously covered, our relationship with God and Christ is a covenant – a two-way spiritual union where we seek to please them through our actions and we, in turn, are transformed and saved from the judgment to come. The Spirit also comforts, guides, and teaches us along the way while we look forward to Jesus’ return and our gathering after this short life. Can we cause ourselves to block intercessions, healings, and blessings during those times when God would like to give them? How?

Not responding to God’s “I will if you will” call will certainly prohibit His intervention, and not treating God appropriately or our fellow man charitably (e.g., 1Peter 3:7) doesn’t help. Refusing to set aside time for prayer, study, and meditation to allow communication with God and spiritual growth can also restrict God’s ability to work. Furthermore, God disciplines those he loves (cf., Hebrews 12:5-13), and what seems wrong might be blessings or growth opportunities. The discipline or tribulation can be akin to a bodybuilder’s breaking down the body to make it stronger. Without pushing the limits physically, we’ll never grow stronger. The same is true for exercising our mental abilities or psychological and emotional strength. So, we have a choice to make when adversity strikes: use it for good or let it get the best of us.

Knowing why seemingly bad things happen is fine, but we should learn how to respond during those times.

Minimize risk from our human-made world. Drive safely, don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. Fellowship with Godly people and stay out of risky situations.

Learn lessons from each situation and improve your life. The approach will allow you to become better aligned with healthy living.  It will also enable God to effectively discipline for strength or prepare you for whatever He may have in store for you in life or ministering to others. Decide to use what you learn to help others. Think of the witness and healing power of someone who has overcome addictions or other adversities!

In summary, bad things happen because we’ve separated ourselves from God and created an environment full of risk and corruption. We must now live with the consequences, although God does often intercede on our behalf and help. We can minimize the risk of bad things happening and better-enable God’s help through obedience, right living, prayer and scripture study, and charity. Next week, we’ll begin our journey to become students of the Bible by learning how to study it effectively. Prepare to be energized!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Way it Is (Discipleship, Part III)

Over the last several weeks, I’ve written that a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a copycat who makes more copycats and offered three essential tips for effective discipleship:

Tip #1: Be a Sold-out Copycat (of good stuff)!

Tip #2: Follow Jesus’ Model to Make More Copycats!

Tip #3: GO!

Together, we’ve also explored how the earliest Church discipled using Jesus’ approach. Now, let’s talk about how you can be and make disciples today.

First, it’s essential that we continuously develop ourselves spiritually through Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. After all, we can’t live, model, or share what we don’t know!

Second, we must be incarnational. What I mean is that we must be integral in our communities, whether at work, play, or anything else. That way, we can develop trust-building relationships that will allow dialogue about what we believe and why.

Third, we must be contextual. “Say what??” Exactly! We must be and communicate in the same ways as others so that they’ll understand what we’re showing and telling. Think about it: Jesus spoke in farming terms and figures of speech when He taught the good news of God’s Kingdom to farmers. And he used fishing sayings when talking to fishermen. He used examples to make His points more apparent and applicable.

Without being incarnational, there’s little chance of building the kind of relationships that will allow ongoing, deep and personal discipleship. Without being contextual – meeting and communicating with people where they are instead of expecting them to come, our modeling and evangelism will likely fall on blind eyes and deaf ears. “But Ron – how can I be incarnational and contextual?” Great question!

One way to build relationships incarnationally is to be involved in the lives of others by following a BELLS principle: Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, and Sent. Make friends, not numbers. Bless multiple people each day. Eat with others (it’s a great way to show care and deepen relationships!). Listen to the Spirit of God as He directs your discipleship steps. Learn about God and His ways, so that you’ll have something to model and tell those people with whom you’re building relationships. And make sure you GO (sent)!!

To be contextual in your modeling and telling, understand the dress, traditions, figures of speech, customs, and desires of those you hope to witness to and disciple. Show interest. Use terminology familiar to them, not Christianese. Finally, consider an ongoing Life Transformation Group of 2-3 people of the same sex for weekly prayer, accountability, and Bible study.

The Way it Was (Discipleship, Part II)

In the last blog, I wrote that a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a copycat who makes more copycats and offered three essential tips for effective discipleship:

Tip #1: Be a Sold-out Copycat (of good stuff)!

Tip #2: Follow Jesus’ Model to Make More Copycats!

Tip #3: GO!

Now, let’s explore how the earliest Church discipled using Jesus’ approach.

Early Christians didn’t have programs, bills, a different language (Christianese), or an expectation that people should come to them or their church. Instead, they lived life well in the community with everyone else, according to the words of God and ways of Christ. The yet-to-be-churched saw the gospel at work and observed consistent good works and Godly behaviors. What they saw built trust and made them curious. So, the earliest Church grew because God-fearing Christ-followers met people where there were. Here’s part of a letter written to the tutor of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century, which reflects this approach, especially the modeling aspect of discipleship:

Christians are not different from the rest of men in nationality, speech, or customs; they do not live in states of their own, nor do they use a special language, nor adopt a peculiar way of life. … they follow local custom in the matter of dress, food, and way of life; yet the character of the culture they reveal is marvellous … They share in all duties like citizens and suffer all hardships like strangers. … They marry like the rest of men and beget children, but they do not abandon the babies that are born. They share a common board, but not a common bed. In the flesh as they are, they do not live according to the flesh. They dwell on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the laws that men make, but their lives are better than the laws. … They are maligned, and yet are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless. They suffer insult, yet they pay respect. They do good, yet are punished with the wicked.

In the third of three discipleship blogs, I’ll offer a few tips for being light and the Kingdom of God by meeting people where they are today and ministering in ways they understand. As you can imagine, we must get out from behind church walls, or the building becomes the most expensive ‘lampshade’ on the planet! And there’s no point in bringing others the gospel of God’s Kingdom if they don’t trust or understand us! Don’t worry, though – I’m here to help!

Don’t forget to join me on October 3rd for Disciple-Con 20/20 Vision! For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.findingdiscipleship.org/disciplecon2020

Questions or comments? Email publisher@taylorpress.net.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Covenantal Anesthesia

Today, we prevent unwanted pregnancies not by abstinence but contraception. No discipline; no problem. Do whatever feels good. Promises made in the dark remain unkept in an age where words and actions are disconnected and often in complete opposition.

Today, we avert the consequences of other ungodly acts such as homosexuality through medicine and contraceptive methods. Lying and litigation are acceptable means by which to achieve objectives. These aren’t God’s ways or representative of His love, which equates to justice and mercy. His speech results in action; He has always done what He says He will do. This was the posture of the early Church: speech-action that mirrored their faith and produced good works accordingly. Their speech and actions were indistinguishable.

Second-century Christian and Church leader Justin notes this of his contemporary Christians: “… community doesn’t consider people true Christians if they simply quote Christ’s teachings but don’t live them.” (Justin, 1 Apol. 16.8 by Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 15). He also lists the saying of Jesus under four categories: sexual ethics, actionable/charitable love, patience, and truth-telling. (ibid.) Many early Church leaders reported that the Christians lived among the non-Christians in community eating, drinking, and working beside them. However, their charity, honesty, and purity as well as patience under trials and hardships set them apart and made an impact that attracted those around the Christians to desire to learn of God’s kingdom and join the faith. Not so today in a world of watered-down preaching full of funny stories and anecdotes framed by entertaining music, coffee, and donuts; no so in a world where churches become the most expensive light-killing lampshades on the planet by hiding and entertaining consumers.

Today, the Western Church looks mostly like the world: same behaviors and worldviews; similar lack of patience, unrepentance, unforgiveness, divorce statistics, selfish driving habits, litigation, financial irresponsibility, and so-on. Why? In my experience as a minister, researcher, and writer, a driving factor is the lack of choice where a covenant with God is concerned.

Removing the consequences of immorality, lying, etc. through contraception, litigation, and ungodly laws can lure us into believing that the lack of consequences imply acceptance. Similarly, and in my experience, Western Christians are lured into believing that God exists to serve them and that prosperity is the goal because covenant and consequences have often been removed in the Church. Churchgoers are anesthetized by receiving a half-baked gospel where, if anything, a silent and personal ‘sinner’s prayer can save them without reciprocation. They are told there’s nothing they have to do – Jesus did it all! No self-discipline, no charity, no sacrifice, no two-way marriage-like covenantal response. No consequence for the pleasure-seeking individual uninterested in communal care who practices behavior antithetical to God’s ways. No accountability. No ongoing spiritual formation or discipleship (Barna, The State of the Church, 2016, for instance: https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). What to do?

There can be a fix – a positive change that once again draws others to our faith. Turn off the anethsiea of a covenantless gospel; stop entertaining and teach. Hold Christians accountable for ungodly behavior and gently train through discipleship. Move out of the church buildings and live out faith among others in our communities whether at work, play, or dwelling so that they may see our good works, patience, and purity and wonder just as the ancients did.

Blessings,

rb

http://www.ronbraley.com

http://www.findingdiscipleship.org